Nine Men’s Morris is a board game that was highly popular in medieval England and remained well known into early modern times. It was played on a grid of twenty-four points connected by lines in a distinctive pattern, and carvings in this pattern have been found at archaeological sites suggesting that the game existed in Roman times and perhaps even earlier.
Each player has nine pieces (“men”), and the objective is to capture all of one’s opponent’s men. In the first phase of the game, players take turns placing pieces on the board. If a player forms a line of three connected pieces, called a “mill”, they may capture an opponent’s piece of their choosing. Once all the pieces have been deployed on the board, play continues with pieces able to slide one point along the connecting lines, still seeking to form mills and thereby capture the opponent’s men. An optional rule is that when a player is reduced to three or fewer pieces, those pieces may “fly” – that is, move to any unoccupied point on the board, instead of just one point along the lines.
Although nine men’s morris is significantly less complex than games like chess or go (and in fact, like checkers, it is a “solved” game), its simple rules do give rise to interesting strategic and tactical play. Variants with other board sizes exist, including six men’s morris and twelve men’s morris.
The origin of the name “nine men’s morris” is not known with certainty. It may come from the morris dance, or it may derive from Latin merellus, meaning a game piece.