The Viking Game Hnefatafl
NORSE GAMES

Hnefatafl

The Viking Game Hnefatafl was the most popular board game of its time.

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The NorseAmerica Viking Game “Hnefatafl” featuring playing pieces made in England out of a crushed stone and resin compound, comes complete with a designer box, cloth playing board and detailed playing instructions that were researched, designed and published by NorseAmerica. The Viking Game Hnefatafl is a wonderful gift for that hard to buy for Viking in your family.

The Viking Game "Hnefatafl" pronounced nef-ah-tah-fel, was the most popular Norse board game of its time. In fact, it was a household word back in the day when people could actually say Hnefatafl. Referred to in old Norse manuscripts, the word Hnefatafl, means the King’s Table. During the Dark Ages in Northern Europe it was played all over the Viking world. It has been found as far away as Ireland and the Ukraine. The Viking Game Hnefatafl preceded Chess by about 600 years. Its origins can be traced back to as early as 400 AD, but it was already well known long before then. Predecessors that may have evolved into the Viking Game Hnefatafl can be traced back even further to ancient Greece and Rome. Like so much of the history of the Dark Ages, our knowledge of the Viking Game had become obscured. Based on archaeological research, the Hnefatafl game has been reconstructed and can now be played as it was by the Vikings over 1,600 years ago.

Hnefatafl is a Chess like tactical warfare game and the strategy is on par with Chess. It is easy to learn and fun for the whole family. Its a game for grandparents, grandkids and everyone in between. However, it is not necessary to be a Chess player to enjoy playing Hnefatafl. Chess enthusiasts will find some aspects of the game very familiar, because every piece, including the king, moves like a rook in Chess. What’s more, there are some major differences that Chess players will find absolutely fascinating. Hnefatafl is unique since it is asymmetric. The king with his soldiers is outnumbered, but defends himself against attackers, and tries to escape. The role of the king is very different from the role of the attackers, making it like two games in one. Unlike Chess, the attack comes from all four sides. The rules are simple, yet require tactical skill to take the enemy by surprise and win the game. Chess enthusiasts will appreciate a new, or should I say old way of thinking.

History of Hnefatafl

Hnefatafl is part of the Tafl group of games such as Halatafl, “The Fox Game”, Freystafl, Skaktafl “Chess” Talbut and many others that originated in Northern Europe. The game Tafl itself was later replaced by Hnefatafl. The word “Hnefi” or “Hnefa” means king in Old Norse, and the word Tafl means table. Old Norse was a Germanic language and the modern day German word for table is also“Tafel” pronounced the same as “Tafl”. The game Hnefatafl also existed under many variant names in Medieval times depending on its geographic region. For example, the Celtic game Brandubh, the Welsh game Tawlbwrdd and the Christian game Alea Evangelii “Evangelist Game” are all alias versions of Hnefatafl. These games are miniature battles fought between unequal forces. The smaller force has a piece with special powers such as a king, which is taller than the other pieces. The larger force tries to hem in the lesser force while the lesser force tries to break out or destroy the larger. In the Tafl series of games it is expected that one side will win more often. The variations of the game alter the special power given to the side that is expected to win by imposing a series of checks and balances.

Hnefatafl was at its height of popularity around 400 A.D. When Chess started to gain popularity in the 11th Century, Hnefatafl began to decline. The game was last recorded as being played in Wales as late as 1587, and in Lapland in 1723. Hnefatafl and its many variants were played on odd-sized boards that allowed for a single square to be at the very center for the king to be positioned. Common board sizes are 7 x 7 i.e. 7 squares wide, by 7 squares tall, 9 x 9, 11 x 11, 13 x 13 and 19 x19. The smaller size boards are more commonly associated with the game Talbut. The 11 x 11 and 13 x 13 size boards are more common with Hnefatafl boards found in Trondheim and Gokstad, Norway. Finally the 19 x 19 boards are used for the Anglo-Saxon version of Hnefatafl and the game Alea Evangelii. Boards could be made out of wood, textile, animal skin, carved on rocks or simply drawn on the ground. The playing pieces could be elegantly carved or simple and crude. Hnefatafl game pieces are found in a wide range of sites and are made from stone, glass, walrus tusk, bone, antler, amber, bronze or wood.

Most of what we know about the rules for Hnefatafl come from the few surviving Old Norse manuscripts such as The Saga of Fridthjof the Bold, and one of the riddles in Hevar, as well as several others. Another source regarding Hnefatafl game play is an English manuscript from 925 AD documenting the rules for Alea Evangelii, which was being used as an allegory for Christian beliefs explaining the moves and starting positions of the pieces in terms of the religious significance. The expedition by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist in the 18th Century, to Lapland where the game was still being played, is other major historical source.

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