Traditional Board Games

Five Men's Morris

This is a merels game from Europe, functionally almost identical to six men's morris which was favoured for a time in continental Europe. Each player has five pieces to be placed, then moved, on a lined board. Forming a row of three along a marked line allows an enemy piece to be taken. The player who is reduced to two pieces loses the game.

History of Five and Six Men's Morris

Six men's morris was popular in mediaeval Europe. It is mentioned in a French source from 1412, and a sixteenth century Italian player made a doodle of the board in a manuscript. It was played in England, where a triangular version was also invented.

The game had become obsolete in Europe by 1600, though a version was played in Ghana in the twentieth century. The African version features a development, in which mills can be formed by two pieces along the lines which connect the inner and outer square together; the European version allows mills only on a row of three connected points.

Five men's morris was known somewhat later. It was mentioned in a 1611 French-English dictionary by Randle Cotgrave, and in Thomas Hyde's 1694 book on games, De Ludis Orientalibus under the names "five penny morris" and "five pin morris". A refernece in 1626 also refers to "fippeny morrell", but describes three men's morris under that name.

Rules for Five and Six Men's Morris

Rules for Five and Six Men's Morris
1. These games are played by two players, with five or six pieces each, on the board illustrated.

2. The board starts empty, each player holding all his pieces in hand.

3. At first, each player in turn puts one piece on the board, at any vacant point.

4. Once all pieces are on the board, a player instead moves one of his pieces along a marked line to an adjacent empty point.

5. If a piece placed or moved as in rules 3 or 4 forms a row of three along a marked line (called a mill), he can take one of his opponent’s pieces, so long as that piece is not itself part of a mill.

6. If when capturing as in rule 5, all opposing pieces form mills, then any of the pieces may be captured.

7. A player wins the game when the opponent is reduced to 2 pieces and is thus unable to form a mill or make further captures.

Strategy in Five and Six Men's Morris

In these games the strategy is similar to their larger relative, nine men's morris, and is discussed more fully on that game's own page (see the nearby link). There is a subtle difference imposed by the topology of the board.

Since mills cannot be formed along the lines that connect the inner and outer squares, there only being two points along such lines, the corresponding points do not have the importance that they have in nine men's morris. Each of these points forms part of only a single mill, and are therefore of less strategic value than the corner points, each of which forms part of two mills.

Attacking play in the first part of the game therefore tends to concentrate on the corners. One tactic is to occupy opposite corners of a square; placing a piece on the third corner will guarantee a mill if the opponent has not already played a move to block this.

A subtle difference between five and six men's morris is that in the former game, when all pieces are placed on the board, there is more empty space in which the pieces may move. It may therefore be possible that there is more tactical scope in the smaller game.


You mentioned that a triangular version was also invented. Do you know what that board looked like?

Phil - 03:39, 24/12/2019

If you enter the words "sixpenny maddell" into the site's search box, Phil, and click on the search result for that game, you'll see a diagram for the board. It looks rather elegant, but I don't fancy making one to photograph!

Damian Gareth Walker - 13:26, 19/02/2020

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