Game of Hnefatafl


This is an old Norse game that is found in many Viking and Norse sites. It consists of a board (which can be cardboard or even paper) and game pieces. Students can make their own board and playing pieces and challenge each other to games until there are two champions of the class. The appendix includes a starting board layout and information on the game. The Old Norse played and a lot of board and card games in the winter. Can you guess why?

Hnefatafl (or hneftafl) [Nhev-eh-TAH-full] means the "king's board or game". It is older than chess and like chess is a game of strategy.

SET-UP: Hnefatafl simulates a Viking raid. The attackers are situated along the four sides, each side representing a ship. The king and the defenders are located in the middle of the board.

On the set-up diagram (above) attacking warriors are represented by the horizontal striped circles while the defenders are vertically striped. The king (in the middle) is represented by the dotted piece. There are twice as many attackers as defenders.

For our game, the attackers are made of antler disks, the defenders of glass drops, and the king is pewter.

The attackers' goal is to capture the king. The defenders goal is to help the king escape to safety. To win the battle, the attackers must trap the king so he can't move.

This can be done by surrounding the king on all four sides of the center square.

The king can also be trapped on three sides against the center square. Only the king can stay on the center square although another piece can move through it.

The defenders win when the king gets safely to one of the corners (king's squares).

Players play only one piece at a turn.

All pieces move in straight lines, either vertically or horizontally - no diagonal moves permitted. You can move as many squares as you like but can't jump!

Only the king can move onto the king's squares, the center square and the corner squares.

You can eliminate a standing piece by sandwiching it between two opponents. You can also defeat a player piece by sandwiching it between a corner square and the opponent.