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, 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.
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)
- 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.*
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
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.
Recommended Link: Another Roman Board Game
- Other Roman Board Games, Including Tabula Lusoria
If you followed the link under the photo of the ancient Roman Rota board, you may have seen commenters refer to it as Tabula Lusoria. In fact, that's another Roman board game, whose name we know from the Roman poet Martial.