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

A former scholar of classics and mythology, I've been creating webpages about my hobbies and interests for over 20 years.

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!

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

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

How to Play Rota

How to Set Up for a Game of Rota (Two 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!)

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.

Tips

  1. 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!"
  2. 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.)

Comments

Jenn on March 27, 2017:

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 on March 20, 2017:

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

Michael Oksa on February 07, 2013:

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

anonymous on January 06, 2011:

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.

Ellen Brundige (author) from California on September 03, 2010:

@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 on November 20, 2009:

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 on November 19, 2009:

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

5*

Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on November 19, 2009:

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.

Samantha Lynn from Missouri on November 18, 2009:

Cool game, I've never heard of it!

Brookelorren LM on November 18, 2009:

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

Ellen Brundige (author) from California on November 18, 2009:

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

myraggededge on November 18, 2009:

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.