Today, we are going to learn how to play Rota, otherwise known as Roman tic tac toe, or Terni lapilli!
As you know, we love to find and play traditional games from around the world. It's fun to see the connections and similarities between board games from different societies. Kids today are very familiar with tic tac toe (also known as naughts and crosses), and 3-in-a-row games have a strong tradition across many cultures.
MORE: Be sure to check out these eight variations of tic tac toe!
Roman tic tac toe is a 2 player game but differs from the modern day game, because it uses a circular shaped playing board and movable tokens instead of being a pen and paper game. But the goal is the same: be the first player to get three in a row!
What You Need
Tokens. You'll need 6 tokens in total: three tokens per player. Use beans, coins, or borrow game pieces from a board game you already own. Just be sure each player's set of tokens is distinguishable from the other.
2 enthusiastic players. Enough said.
Game board. Draw your own our use our printable game board.
- To draw a game board make a large circle. Draw an X through the center of the circle, then draw a cross (+) through the center. It should look like a wheel with eight spokes. At each point where a line intersects with the circle, draw a large dot, plus one dot in the very center. There should be nine dots in total.
Decide who goes first. Flip a coin, thumb wrestle, play rock-paper-scissors. However you decide, just figure it out. Note that in a perfectly played game, the lead player has the advantage.
Watch our how to play Rota video, or scroll down for written instructions.
Player A places his token on any point on the Rota wheel.
Player B places her token on any empty point.
Alternating turns, players continue place their tokens on the board until all tokens have been placed.
Players take turns moving one token into an adjacent empty spot. You may move along the curved edge, or along a straight line.
You may not jump your token or your opponent's token, or knock it off it's spot. You may not skip a turn.
Play continues until one player has achieved three-in-a-row.
Unlike tic tac toe, Rota never ends in a tie.
Traditional games usually come down through the ages with varying sets of rules. Feel free to change the rules as you see fit. As long as you establish the rules at the outset, all is fair! Here are some suggestions to try:
- In the drop phase, no one can place a token in the center.
- Play a tournament of 5 games. Whoever wins 3 out of 5 games is the winner.
History of Roman Tic Tac Toe
The name "Rota," comes from the Latin word for wheel, but no one actually knows what the ancient Romans called this game. Some suggest the game was called Terni lapilli, meaning "Three pebbles.”
The wheel-like game board can be found carved into floors and streets in Roman buildings that survive in archaeological sites. Intriguingly, historians do not know the ancient rules of the game; the three-in-a-row instructions are speculative. The earliest set of rules I could find was from this 1916 article, "An Old Roman Game" in The Classical Journal.
But no matter what the exact history of the game, it's still fun for modern kids!