Mill games are a family of boardgames also known as Morris or Merels games. The main aim of any mill game is to try to form a row of three pieces, which is called a ‘mill’, and which usually allows the player to remove one of the opponent’s pieces from the board (usually not from another mill).

Most mill games are split into two phases of placement and movement, so that all pieces are placed on the board before any pieces are moved.

A Nine Men’s Morris game, just after all pieces have been placed
A game in progress, just after the placement phase has been finished, and all 18 pieces are on the board.
Shutterstock.com/FooTToo)

Games

Many of the games overlap so much that they could be considered to be the same game. For example, Morabaraba as standardized by Mind Sports South Africa has only two small differences from Twelve Men’s Morris as standardized by the Weltmühlespiel Dachverband. However, I have chosen to describe it separately due to the interesting history and cultural context around the game.

The most important representative of the type is Nine Men’s Morris, and it is a good place to start if you have never played this type of game before.

Large mill Board

The large mill board of three nested squares.
The large mill board of three nested squares, with diagonal lines.
Two different large mill boards, one without diagonals, and one with diagonals.
  • Nine Men’s Morris is the most well-known, and can be viewed as the stereotypical mill game. Many variants are described on this page.
  • Twelve Men’s Morris is the most common form in the United States. Eleven Men’s Morris is a variant with one fewer piece per player.
  • Morabaraba is a mill game played competitively in South Africa. It differs slightly from Twelve Men’s Morris.
  • [Shax] is a mill game played in Somalia. It is distinguished by not permitting capturing during the placement phase.

Medium mill board

  • [Five Men’s Morris] or [Six Men’s Morris] is a mid-sized version that is less common than the bigger or smaller games.

Small mill board

The small mill board of a single square.
The small mill board.
  • [Three Men’s Morris] is a simple mill game that is known around the world.
  • Tic-Tac-Toe can be viewed as a degenerate mill game (and could derive from Three Men’s Morris?)

Terminology

Pieces: names for the pieces.

  • Galloway, Scotland: “flitchers”. a[142]

Mill: three pieces in a row.

  • Icelandic mylna, ‘mill’.b[138]
  • Sotho molamu ‘staff’.c[35]
  • Somali charri ‘halter’,d[504]e[130] saddex ‘three’,e[130] or jare ‘cut’.f[4]
  • Zulu isibhamu ‘gun’ – this is used to “shoot” the pieces (cows).

Cross-mill: a position where a mill can be formed every other move, with pieces in a cross shape (with one empty square between).

  • German Kreuzmühle ‘cross mill’.
  • Icelandic krossmylna ‘cross mill’ or vængjamylna ‘winged mill’ b[139].
  • Somali afar ‘four’.d[505]e[130]f[5]

Running mill: a position where a mill can be formed on every move.

  • In Yorkshire: “running Jenny”.g[45]
  • German Zwickmühle ‘double mill’.
  • Greek δίπορτο ‘double door’.h[295]
  • Icelandic svikamylna ‘mill of treachery’.b[139]
  • Sotho kgutla/khutla ‘to return’.i[134]
  • Somali irmaan ‘milch’ (i.e. milk-cow).d[505]e[210]f
  • Swiss figgi or figge (there is a saying that one has one’s «Figgi und Müli», meaning “to have two options open”).j

Corner: a position with three pieces in a corner, which cannot be prevented from forming a mill upon the next turn.

  • Somali charrisoron ‘crooked halter’,d[505]e[130] or simply suran.f[5]

Other positions: unknown positions.

  • Icelandic rennihestur ‘sliding horse’ possibly refers to a “triple mill” position.b[139]

References

  1. (). . London, UK: Hamilton, Adams and Co.

  2. (). . Florence: The Florentine Typographical Society.

  3. (). ‘’. Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town.

  4. (). ‘’. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 61: pages 499–511.

  5. (). . London, UK: Hurst & Blackett.

  6. (). ‘’.

  7. (). A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0-19-827401-7.

  8. (). . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  9. (). ‘A Note on “Bantu Games”’. Journal of the National Institute for Personnel Research 6 (3): pages 132–134.

  10. (). ‘’. Zürich, Switzerland: Schweizerdeutsches Wörterbuch.

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