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Hnefatafl-art - 6/29/14


"How to Play Hnefatafl" by Kurios Halfdan "Two Bears" Ôzurrson.


NOTE: See also the files: Cards-a-Dice-art, games-msg, Hazard-Craps-art, Knucklebones-art, Shove-Groat-art, Kubb-art, games-cards-msg, court-bingo-msg.






This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org




This article was first published in the November 2012 issue of "The Dragon Tale", Barony of Selviergard, Principality of Oertha in the Kingdom of the West.


How to Play Hnefatafl

by Kurios Halfdan "Two Bears" Ôzurrson


The games of Tafl were quite popular in Northern European cultures. Tafl, which means "table" refers to a wide variety of medieval board games. Hnefatafl, which means "King's Table" was known in Scandinavia around 400 AD and was carried throughout the northern reaches by travelers and raiders alike.


There are many references to Hnefatafl in Old Norse literature. From the Poetic Edda to Fridthjof's Saga, it is quite obvious that our Nordic ancestors played this game and often enough to where it was written into the literary references.


There were many variants to the game of Hnefatafl, depending on the local geographic area. Game boards have been found as small as 7x7 squares and as large as 19x19 squares. The set up for these games were also different but followed the rule that the white team is always outnumbered.


The 11x11 board, which is the common Norse variant, is commonly seen today.



The white pieces, numbering twelve with one king versus twenty-four black pieces. The object of the game is for the king to reach one of the four corner squares; thus escaping the attacking army, or for the attacking army to capture the king.


Turns alternate between the players with black going first.


All pieces move orthogonally; like modern rooks in Chess. On his turn, a player may slide a single piece of his color any number of squares in any direction (except diagonally) as long as it doesn't jump over another piece of either color. The Throne and the four corner squares are off-limits to all pieces except the King.


Capturing the opponent becomes necessary in this game. If a moved piece ends up sandwiching an opposing piece between itself and another piece of the moving color or a corner square, the sandwiched piece is removed from the board. This is called custodial capture. It is possible to capture several pieces in a single move.


A piece may safely move to place itself in sandwich between two opposing pieces (or a corner square).



However, the King must be captured on all four sides or on three sides and either a corner square, the edge of the board, or the throne. Additionally, the King may be captured if the King and one defender is surrounded on all sides. When the King is in danger or being captured, black must call out "Watch your King", similar to calling "check" in chess. If the King has one clear path to the corner squares, the player announces this clear path by calling out "Raichi", or in the case of two escape routes "Tuichi."


Reconstructing the Game


Hnefatafl and all of its rules disappeared from us around the 12th century in Norway and Scandinavia. Wales and Lapland held onto the game much later, with the game disappearing around the 18th century.


Because Hnefatafl has only made its revival amongst the SCA and other historically-minded groups; the game rules are extrapolated from several sources.


In the Norse Sagas, the game could have so many different names that it became extremely difficult to determine which game was actually being played. However, through study and cross-referencing the Sagas; the individual games could be determined.


Additionally, some game pieces have been found in Northern European gravesites; helping the understanding of Tafl and all it's variations.


The final key to the puzzle came in 1732 by a Swedish botanist by the name of Linnaeus. The botanist kept great notes and wrote about a game popular amongst the Laplanders. The game was Tablut; a variation of Hnefatafl. It is from Linnaeus that most of the rules, including the terms used for some moves, comes from.




Period games add flair to our time in the modern Medieval era. They help us pass the time, enjoy friendly competition with one another, and add to the culture that we as the SCA recreate. Hnefatafl is no different even if the rules are not exactly as our ancestors would have used. The important part is to have fun playing "King's Table."


Copyright 2012 by Travis Abe-Thomas, PO Box 2254, Palmer, AK  99645. Thomassorngrym at yahoo.com. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org