How to Play the Game of Rota (Roman Tic-Tac-Toe)
Rota: A Classic Game of Ancient Rome
The ancient Roman game of Rota is easy to learn and quick to play. It makes a great kids game that teaches planning ahead and the points of the compass.
We don't actually know the Roman name for it, but scholars call it Rota, Latin for "wheel." Rota boards were painted, scratched, or scribbled everywhere that Romans went. It probably kept a lot of bored Roman soldiers busy.
Scholars guess that Rota is a three-in-a-row game like tic-tac-toe. They have reconstructed the rules based on medieval games that look a lot like it. Just like tic-tac-toe? Not so fast! Rota can never end in a tie.
Let me show you a real 2,000-year-old gameboard; then I'll explain how to play the game.
Also, here is a free Printable Rota Game Board to use for gameplay!
How to Play Rota
How to Set Up for a Game of Rota (Two Players)
- First, draw a circle. Draw a plus sign in it (+) and then an X.
- Draw dots at the end of each line and in the middle where they coss.
- Now you'll need pieces. You can use coins (different coins for each player), buttons, pebbles, or anything you like.
- Each player gets THREE pieces.
The Rules for the Game of Rota
- Each turn, players can put one piece on the board in any open spot.
- After all three pieces are on the board, a player must move one piece each turn.
- A piece may move along any line or curving edge of the circle to the next empty spot.
- A piece may not jump other pieces nor move more than one spot.
- The first person to get three in a row wins.*
*(I say, around the edge of the circle should count; others restrict the three-in-a-row to a diameter—a straight line. Decide before you start playing, since we don't have an ancient Roman around to ask!)
Example Game of Rota
I have a Rota gameboard made by Klaus the Toymaker, a merchant at the Pennsic medieval reenactment event. The pieces are turned wood. The board is a cloth napkin. Everything fits in a ziplock bag, making it great for camping. Let me show you a demonstration.
Demonstration of a Rota GameClick thumbnail to view full-size
- Really good players of Rota can keep the game going forever. If your kids get stuck in a perpetual motion machine, tell them: "Congratulations! You're smarter than the Romans, who invented concrete, decent plumbing, and roads that last 2000 years!"
- You may want to label your Rota gameboard with the points of the compass or have kids say words like "north" or "southwest" when placing a piece. (This isn't a Roman way of playing it, mind you; it's my own "spin" on the game.)