Introduction: Nine Men's Morris
Some time back we had a camping holiday in Lincoln where we visited one of the museums on the hill up to the castle. In it there where a number of old games available for people to try out to see what people did in the past to pass time.
One such game was called Nine Mens Morris, some people call it Merelles , Marells or Morelles and even Cowboy Checkers.
Anyway - the rules were simple and the game kept myself and my daughter entertained for quite a while.
A couple of years later just before her 16th birthday (this year) she asked if I could make her a set for Christmas I said I would think about it, but set about making it for her birthday instead as a surprise.
What follows is how I made the game and hopefully in sufficient detail for you to be able to build it yourself.
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Step 1: Prepare the Board Blank
The original game was played on a square board using some form of marker, normally a disk, to identify the players pieces. I wanted to use the lathe to make the board so here was the first change to the game - Mine would be a round board.
The board would be made from re-cycled material, in this case part of an old table top. I cut a square on the band saw large enough to give a circle of about 30cms when trimmed and turned.
I marked the center of the peace followed by 5 circles, the distances were approximately equal and marked the positions of:
- The outer edge
- The tracks for the game , and
- The approximate location for a decorative center piece.
I then cut the disk out on the band saw and drilled an 8mm hole in the middle which would later be used to mount the disk on the screw chuck of my lathe.
When cutting the corners of to make the disk try to remove as much as possible - this helps with the turning and also makes it a bit safer to turn (less pointy corners to catch your fingers on), as well as improving the initial balance on the lathe.
Step 2: Turning and Decorating the Playing Board
The bank was only 3/4 inch thick which if mounted directly onto the screw chuck would mean the the screw would stick out and obstruct turning in the middle of the wood. so I used a nylon spacer at the rear to ensure that this did not happen.
The disk was turned round and sanded I then used a home made chisel to cut the circular tracks in the face of the board which once cleaned up and sanded smooth I used a rotating patterning tool to cut a partial spiral design into the tracks.
With that done I used a parting tool to make a recess in the center which would take a small Onyx disk I had which would cover the hole left in the middle once the game was finished. I made sure that the recess was only just large enough to hold the disk which required a bit of stopping and starting as I did not want the disk to drop out once complete (even though it would also be glued in place)
Step 3: Laying Out the Peg Positions
The board should also have a kind of cross hairs design on it, This I created by simply drawing straight lines across the center of the board at right angles to each other and used a set of small carving chisels to remove the wood along the lines in a 'V' shape - Only remove the wood between the tracks as shown in the pictures.
The next part of laying out the board was to drill the holes for the pegs.
Start by making another set of cross hairs offset from the first by 45 degrees then mark with a pencil the intersection of all of the cross hairs and the tracks - you should have 24 marks in total. Then take a punch and make a punch hole on each of the marks. This will stop the drill from wondering as the holes for the pegs are made. Next I used a 5 mm drill bit on a bench drill to make each hole a depth of about 6 mm - Note that all dimensions are approximate as they are specific to my game - if you create your own version then scale these to meet your needs
Step 4: Adding a Finish
At no time during the board layout have I taken the board off of the screw chuck, I did however remove the chuck and board off the lathe in one piece (it makes for easier handling).
Now to apply the finish I sprayed the whole of the tracks with a black lacquer , this settled in the lower tracks and holes. Once dry I remounted the chuck on the lathe and sanded the surface of the board to remove the unwanted paint and pencil marks to leave a well defined playing track. There where a couple of areas of paint that got removed in error, but were easily replaced with the aid of a black marker pen.
To finish the board I sprayed it with an acrylic sand and sealer followed by a couple of coats of lacquer.
Step 5: Making the Men (pegs)
For the pegs I used some African cherry for the black pegs and some beach for the white ones. To start with I formed a tenon on the end using calipers so that it had a diameter and length which would allow it to stand firmly in the holes made on the board. I then formed the rest of the peg into the shape of a little man (shoulders and head (no arms )) cleaned it up and polished it on the lathe.
Once the first one was finished it was a simple matter to create the rest using the first as the template. You need 9 of each colour for the game.
Note there is a variation of the game using the same board, but with 12 men so if you want carry on making them and you will have the option to play both versions. I stopped at 18 men in total
Step 6: The Finished Board Game
The pictures above show the completed board game along with a set of rules that I formatted to go along with the present. If you look in the middle you can see the Onyx disk covering the hole on the top and so that the board would not scratch table it will be placed on while playing I attached a circular piece of felt to the underside.
The next section holds a full set of rules for the game, but the basic idea is that each player takes turns adding pegs and later moving them with the aim of making three in a row allowing that player to remove an opponents piece and win the game by removing all of their opponents pegs.
Step 7: Rules of Play
I did not want to re-invent the wheel by recreating rules from memory, so I have taken this version from a single source and not wising to be accused of plagiarism that source is Wikipedia the link to the original article is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Men's_Morris.
The normal board is square whereas mine is circular, however the rules still hold true, my board just makes the game a little more interesting. :-)
The board consists of a grid with twenty-four intersections or points. Each player has nine pieces, or "men", usually coloured black and white. Players try to form 'mills'—three of their own men lined horizontally or vertically—allowing a player to remove an opponent's man from the game. A player wins by reducing the opponent to two pieces (where he could no longer form mills and thus be unable to win), or by leaving him without a legal move. The game proceeds in three phases: Placing men on vacant points Moving men to adjacent points(optional phase) Moving men to any vacant point when the player has been reduced to three men
Phase 1: Placing pieces
The game begins with an empty board. The players determine who plays first, then take turns placing their men one per play on empty points. If a player is able to place three of his pieces on contiguous points in a straight line, vertically or horizontally, he has formed a mill and may remove one of his opponent's pieces from the board and the game. Any piece can be chosen for the removal, but a piece not in an opponent's mill must be selected, if possible. After all men have been placed, phase two begins.
Phase 2: Moving pieces
Players continue to alternate moves, this time moving a man to an adjacent point. A piece may not "jump" another piece. Players continue to try to form mills and remove their opponent's pieces as in phase one. A player can "break" a mill by moving one of his pieces out of an existing mill, then moving it back to form the same mill a second time (or any number of times), each time removing one of his opponent's men. The act of removing an opponent's man is sometimes called "pounding" the opponent. When one player has been reduced to three men, phase three begins.
Phase 3: "Flying" When a player is reduced to three pieces, there is no longer a limitation on that player of moving to only adjacent points: The player's men may "fly" (or "hop", or "jump") from any point to any vacant point.
Some rules sources say this is the way the game is played, some treat it as a variation, and some don't mention it at all. A 19th-century games manual calls this the "truly rustic mode of playing the game". Flying was introduced to compensate when the weaker side is one man away from losing the game.
My daughter got the present on her birthday and loves it a lot and should provide hours of fun and competition.
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