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The Wheel, or the Three Pebbles

If you wander the ruins of the forum of Leptis Magna, in modern day Libya, you can see this carved into the footpath:

This is the Ancient Roman game we know as Rota (Wheel) or Terni Lapilli (Three Pebbles). We don’t know what the Romans called it, but we know how to play it! (Well, we can make an educated guess based on the medieval version of the game.) It’s a deceptively simple game, because it plays a lot like Tic-Tac-Toe or Noughts and Crosses, but the more you play, the more you realise it’s trickier than you thought. And, unlike Noughts and Crosses, you can’t end in a draw. Somebody has to win.

So, what do you need to play? Your board, which is as simple as a piece of paper with something like this drawn on it:

Your game pieces. You can use pebbles or coins or whatever you have lying around the place. You get three game pieces, and your opponent gets three game pieces. Make sure you can tell them apart!

And a coin or a dice to see who gets to go first. Or, you can Rock-Paper-Scissors for that!

The Rules

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

  • After all the 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 cannot jump other pieces or move more than one spot.

  • The first person to get three in a row wins.

If you want a demo video, check out That History Bloke on Youtube.

Rota is a fun and a fast-paced game, and it’s a heck of a lot more interesting that the simple rules imply. All those bored legionaries carving the board onto the walls of their forts couldn’t be wrong, right?

Give it a go and let me know what you think!

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