History of Hnefatafl
The board game called Hnefatafl is often mentioned in the Viking sagas.
The game involves strategies like those found in the game of chess, and Norse
noblemen often boasted about their skills in this game. In one Scandinavian poem,
for example, one brother brags to another that he is a more handy man and can
play Hnefatafl better than the other. Accomplishments in Hnefatafl were valued
just as highly as skills in the martial arts. The word “hnefi” means king, and “tafl”
means board. Hnefatafl was played in Scandinavia before 400 A.D. and was
carried by the Vikings to Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Britain, Wales and even the
Ukraine. The Saxons had their own version of the game.
Hnefatafl was played on odd-sized boards that ranged in size from 7 x 7 to
19 x 19. The boards were made of wood, with holes drilled in the center of each
playing square, and the playing pieces were pegged to make them easy to store.
Some boards, instead of being made of wood, were just marked out in charcoal or
scratched onto the surfaces of rock. Sometimes the game was played with dice that
indicated how far a piece could move or whether it could move at all. Most
versions of Hnefatafl do not use dice at all, however, which makes it a true game
of skill.
The object of Hnefatafl is different for each of the two players in the game.
One side plays the king and his 8 defenders, while the other side plays the 16
attackers. The object of the king and his defenders is for the king to get from the
center of the board to one of the four corners of the board without being captured.
The object of the attackers is to capture the king and his defenders before they get
to the board’s corners.
Rules of Hnefatafl
Materials needed
9 x 9 board
1 yellow stone or button (king)
8 red stones or buttons (defenders)
16 blue stones or buttons (attackers)
Setting up the game
1.
Two players play the game. One player plays the king’s side and his
defenders. The other player plays the attackers. There are 8 defenders and
16 attackers.
2.
To set up the game, place the king in the center of the board, and surround
him with his defenders on the red spaces. Set up the attackers on the blue
spaces.
Object of the game
1.
The goal of the king and his defenders is for the king to get from the center
of the board to one of the four corners of the board without being captured.
2.
The goal of the attackers is to capture the king and his defenders before they
get to the board’s corners.
Playing the game
1.
The center square is called the Throne, and the four corners are Hostile
Spaces. Only the king may occupy these squares. The king can re-enter the
Throne anytime he wishes. Other pieces can go past the Throne only
when it is empty.
2.
The goal for the king’s side is to move the king to any of the 4 Hostile
corner squares. This means the king has escaped, and his side wins. The
attackers win if they capture the king before he escapes.
3.
The attackers’ side moves first. All pieces move one square at a time, either
up or down, or sideways, but NOT diagonally.
4.
A player is captured if he is
sandwiched between enemy
pieces (Situation 1) or between
an enemy piece and a Hostile
Corner Square (Situation 3).
A piece is captured ONLY IF
THE TRAP IS COMPLETED
BY THE ENEMY! A piece can
move itself, therefore, between 2
enemies and not be captured.
(Situation 2.)
A captured piece is removed
from the board. The king can
also capture attackers.
5.
!
!
!
Situation 1: The last piece to move in place
is the left (blue) Attacker. The (red) Defender
is sandwiched and removed from the board.
Situation 2: The last piece to move in place
is the red (Defender). Since the Defender
sandwiched himself, he is safe from the
Attackers.
HOSTILE
CORNER
SQUARE
!
!
Situation 3: The last piece to move in place
is the (blue) Defender. Since the (red)
Attacker is between a Hostile Square (corner
square) and an enemy, he is sandwiched and
removed from the board.
The king can be captured using
the same strategies discussed in Rule #4 above, EXCEPT when he is on the
Throne or on one of the 4 red squares surrounding the Throne.
Attacker
Attacker
KING
Attacker
Attacker
Situation 4: The King is on the throne. In
order to be captured, he must be surrounded
north, south, east and west on the red squares
immediately around the throne.
To capture the king while he is
on the Throne, the attackers
must surround him on all 4
“compass” sides by occupying
the 4 red squares surrounding
the Throne (Situation 4).
When the king stands on one of the 4
red squares surrounding the Throne,
the attackers can capture the king only
if they occupy the “compass” squares
surrounding the king on 3 sides, but
obviously not the Throne square, since
only the king can occupy that spot
(Situation 5).
Attacker
KING
Attacker
Attacker
Situation 5: The King is on one of the red
squares around the throne. In order to be
captured, he must be surrounded on 3 sides (3
red squares).
6.
The edges of the board count as
Hostile squares for the purpose
of sandwiching the king. This
means the Attackers need only 3
pieces to capture the king on the
edge of the board (Situation 6).
Attacker
(Edge)
KING
(Edge)
Attacker
(Edge)
Attacker
Situation 6: If the King is on the edge of the
board and becomes surrounded on 3 sides by
Attackers, he can be captured because there is
no place for him to move!
7.
The corner squares count as
Hostile squares for the purpose
of sandwiching the king, even
though the king is allowed to
enter the Hostile Square under
other circumstances. Only 2
pieces are needed to sandwich
the king if he is next to a corner
square (Situation 7).
HOSTILE
CORNER
SQUARE
KING
(Edge)
Attacker
(Edge)
Attacker
(Edge)
(Edge)
(Edge)
Situation 7: If the King is next to a Hostile
Corner Square, he can be prevented from
entering it when the Attackers form a rightangle sandwich.
8.
The king’s side loses if the king can no longer move safely.
9.
If the king sees that the path is clear to one of the 4 corners spaces on his
next move, he has to warn the Attackers by saying “Escape” or “Check.”
10.
If the Attacker sees that the king can be captured on the next move, he has
to warn the king by saying, “Watch your king” or “Check.”
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