Friday, October 28, 2011

internet alchemy : Nine Man Morris

Nine Man Morris is a 2-player, checkers-like game that requires a more sophisticated type of strategical thinking than what's typically required in a game of tic-tac-toe.  It's not as complex as chess, however, since all pieces follow the same rules, but there are similarities there as well- out-playing your opponent by trying to pre-think them.
The origins of Nine Man Morris are a little obscure, but it's thought that it was played by the Romans.  It was popular enough in medieval times for the board to be carved into cloister seats.

The great thing about Nine Man Morris is that the board is easy to make.  You don't even really need a board- you can draw one on a piece of paper or in the dirt.  You'll need 2 sets of pieces, 9 pieces each.  Stones, glass beads, wooden nickles, anything with a small diameter relative to the size of the board, and in two different colors or shapes so they are distinguishable from each other.  Keep them in a small pouch toss them in your basket for on-the-fly games.

Other than being old enough to not try eating the game pieces, your children really only need to understand the concept of game play- not necessarily the more strategical thinking involved.  The object of the game is to remove your opponent's pieces until they have no way of winning the game (typically when they are left with less than 3 pieces, but not always.)

The game begins with a blank board of three concentric squares joined at each of the four sides:


The two players pick who will go first, then each in turn, they place one piece on any circle point on the board.  The point of this initial game play is to try to strategically place your pieces at an advantage.

Anytime you are able to create a row of 3 of your pieces, called a "mill", you may remove one of your opponent's pieces.  It is preferred to remove any pieces not already arranged in a mill unless there are no others.  Creating mills and taking pieces off the board can happen during this inital piece-placement stage.  Removed pieces are out of game play completely.

Once all 18 pieces are placed (whether then lost or not), the game continues by moving pieces in turn around the board.  Players move a single piece along any available line to one adjacent space in their turn.  If they are able to create a mill with the move, they are then immediately allowed to remove an opponent's piece.  If the player is unable to move any pieces, they have lost the game.  If they are left with less than 3 pieces, they are no longer able to create mills, and cannot win the game- in other words, they have lost.

If you're looking to introduce period games to your child, Nine Man Morris is a very good one to start with, since the game play is about as easy as the board itself.  It's also easy to teach- encourage your child to teach his/her friends and organize tournaments.  It's also possible for children to be just as strategically good (if not better) than adults, so playing the game can often open up broader ranges of social interaction for children who may need more experience being around adults.

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