How to Play the Game of Rota (Roman Tic-Tac-Toe)

Updated on December 21, 2015

Rota: A Classic Game of Ancient Rome

The ancient Roman game of Rota is easy to learn, quick to play. It makes a great kid's 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 reconstruted 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.

BONUS! Have a free Printable Rota Game Board to use for gameplay! Roman god clipart from Karen's Whimsey Public Domain Images.

Ancient Rota Board

This lovely example of a Roman Rota board comes from Leptis Magna, a Roman provincial city in modern Libya.

Creative Commons Credit: By sebastiagiralt / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

How to Play Rota

Set-Up For a Game of Rota (2 players)

  1. First, draw a circle. Draw a plus sign in it (+) and then an X.

  2. Draw dots at the end of each line and in the middle where they coss.

  3. Now you'll need pieces. You can use coins (different coins for each player), buttons, pebbles, or anything you like.

  4. Each player gets THREE pieces.

The Rules for the Game of Rota

  1. Each turn, players can put one piece on the board in any open spot.

  2. After all three pieces are on the board, a player must move one piece each turn.

  3. A piece may move along any line or curving edge of the circle to the next empty spot.

  4. A piece may not jump other pieces nor move more than one spot.

  5. 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!)

TIP TO PARENTS: 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.)

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 Game - Click Each Thumbnail Below for a Play-By-Play!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Player 1 is in a hurry to get started, and claims the middle.Player 2 takes the southeast spot.Player 1 puts a piece on the south spot. Gee, what could he be doing?Player 2 knows, and blocks it by putting a piece on the north spot.Player 1 again tries to set up a 3-in-a-row by covering the northeast spot.Player 2 blocks it from the southwest.Player 1 is in trouble. He moves a piece from northeast to east.Player 2 closes the trap, moving a piece from the north to northeast spot.Player 1 moves the middle piece north to set up for 3-in-a-row, but there's a problem.Player 2 moves his southeast piece to the middle and wins the game!
Player 1 is in a hurry to get started, and claims the middle.
Player 1 is in a hurry to get started, and claims the middle.
Player 2 takes the southeast spot.
Player 2 takes the southeast spot.
Player 1 puts a piece on the south spot. Gee, what could he be doing?
Player 1 puts a piece on the south spot. Gee, what could he be doing?
Player 2 knows, and blocks it by putting a piece on the north spot.
Player 2 knows, and blocks it by putting a piece on the north spot.
Player 1 again tries to set up a 3-in-a-row by covering the northeast spot.
Player 1 again tries to set up a 3-in-a-row by covering the northeast spot.
Player 2 blocks it from the southwest.
Player 2 blocks it from the southwest.
Player 1 is in trouble. He moves a piece from northeast to east.
Player 1 is in trouble. He moves a piece from northeast to east.
Player 2 closes the trap, moving a piece from the north to northeast spot.
Player 2 closes the trap, moving a piece from the north to northeast spot.
Player 1 moves the middle piece north to set up for 3-in-a-row, but there's a problem.
Player 1 moves the middle piece north to set up for 3-in-a-row, but there's a problem.
Player 2 moves his southeast piece to the middle and wins the game!
Player 2 moves his southeast piece to the middle and wins the game!

Pssst... By the Way

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!"

Then try them on chess! It uses similar tactics.

Questions & Answers

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    Submit a Comment

    • profile image

      Jenn 

      20 months ago

      I get a forbidden link when I try to access the free printable. Any help would be great as I want to play this with the students in my class.

    • Pamelawm67 profile image

      Pamelawm67 

      20 months ago

      I am having difficulty with the link to print the game board. Any thoughts?

    • Michael Oksa profile image

      Michael Oksa 

      5 years ago

      Thank you so much for introducing me to this interesting game. Awesome lens! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Interesting lens, I had never heard of this before. I like to keep things simple and this is just that. - I think its great that this lens donates to charity.

    • mythphile profile imageAUTHOR

      Ellen Brundige 

      8 years ago from California

      @norma-holt: The above is based on medieval rules (see the introduction ;)) from games like Nine Man's Morris. We don't have the Roman rules, but there were a lot of medieval games like this which had the same basic rules, just different numbers of pieces or different shaped tracks. The assumption is that they were variants that evolved from Rota. I bet all those Roman soldiers playing it taught it to the "auxiliaries", the units composed of soldiers from provinces like France and Britain that Rome conquered -- so it spread everywhere!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 

      9 years ago

      This is fascinating. Were there any rules or hints recovered or is the above info based on modern concepts. Good topic 5* and fave.

    • triathlontraini1 profile image

      triathlontraini1 

      9 years ago

      I love learning something new! And this is new to me. Very nice job!

      5*

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      This is cool. I'll have to play this with my nieces, they'll like it. I'm lensrolling this to my Italy posters lens.

    • groovyfind profile image

      Samantha Devereux 

      9 years ago from Columbia Mo

      Cool game, I've never heard of it!

    • Brookelorren LM profile image

      Brookelorren LM 

      9 years ago

      What an awesome game! I should teach it to my daughter. Thanks for sharing.

    • mythphile profile imageAUTHOR

      Ellen Brundige 

      9 years ago from California

      @myraggededge: I wish I had kids! The cat won't play with me. :)

    • profile image

      myraggededge 

      9 years ago

      This looks great! I want to wake them (the kids) up right now to play. Oh, okay, I'll wait till the morning. Getting buttons out ready for the game pieces and preparing to get trounced by my 8-yr old daughter.

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