Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

A Rule Book for Hnefatafl

The game is one of pure strategy, played on a square board. A king and a small force of defenders occupy the centre of the board. A larger force of attackers, twice as numerous as the defenders, occupy positions around the edge of the board.

The objective of the king is to escape to the periphery of the board, while the objective of the attackers is to capture the king, preventing his escape. The pieces move orthogonally, like rooks in chess, and capture is by surrounding a piece on two opposite sides.

There are minor variations on these rules, as the game was spread across northern Europe in an age before the printing and mass communication necessary for international standardisation. Each community developed its own "house rules", and used a board and pieces appropriate to the materials they had to hand.

If you want to make your own set, to use hnefatafl as an historical reenactment activity, or to hold a tournament, then you would benefit from a deeper understanding of the rules and variations. If you want to follow me, then I'll start with a look at the variety of boards the game has been played on.

Next: The Hnefatafl Board

Comments

lol i like vikings

HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII - 05:46, 19/05/2015

I built myself a board and some pieces... I freaking love this game!!!!

Colt Rodgers - 15:09, 16/12/2015

I'd love to see the pictures, Colt, if you have them on-line!

Damian Walker - 07:34, 19/12/2015

And if someone is pinned on the side of the board?

Simon Banzhaf - 23:29, 23/10/2016

Thanks for your query, Simon! In most versions of hnefatafl a piece cannot be pinned against the edge of the board. If it is a piece that can be captured by surrounding it on two sides, then two enemies are still able to capture it, by moving to either side of it along the edge of the board. If the piece needs four pieces to surround it (like the king in Copenhagen or Fetlar Hnefatafl) then it cannot be captured against the edge of the board - it must be forced to move away from the edge to capture it.

Damian Walker - 14:33, 24/10/2016

can the defense capture

Grant - 16:56, 01/01/2017

Hello Grant! The defenders can capture just like the attackers do. Some versions of the game say that the king himself can't capture attackers, so it's best to check the rulesheet for the particular version you're playing.

Damian Walker - 11:57, 02/01/2017

For a rank beginner to games of strategy - which set do you recommend (more pieces or fewer)?

Jan Sheldon - 17:39, 03/02/2017

Thanks for your enquiry, Jan! The size of the set doesn't really make a difference, it's the rule set that you play by that affects the difficulty. Tawlbwrdd and Sea Battle Tafl are the easiest to learn, and both can be played well on boards from 9x9 to 13x13. You can find them both on the Hnefatafl Variants page (see the link in the sidebar).

Damian Walker - 12:40, 04/02/2017

Hi

I have simple question, my children are playing the game, and asked.

if a piece white (Not the king ) moves between two piece black, will the white piece captured.  or would the peices black have to attack from either side for white to be taken.

Regards

Paul Bollands

Paul Bollands - 12:10, 13/04/2017

Thanks for your query, Paul! In that situation the white piece can safely come to rest between the two black pieces. Capture has to be an active move by the aggressor, so in this case one of the black pieces would have to move away and back again.

Damian Walker - 12:37, 14/04/2017

Can a drabant occupy the exit square in order to execute a capture? 

Scenario is King in first row, third square up and muscovite in first row second square. Drabant in row 2, square one. 

Heidi - 02:41, 02/06/2017

Thanks for your question, Heidi. In most rule sets where a king must reach a corner to win, no other piece can enter a corner square. The corner squares can act as capturing pieces for either side, though. So in the situation you describe, the Muscovite when it moves into the second square on the first row would be vulnerable to capture by any enemy that can subsequently move up to the third square on that first row.

Damian Walker - 18:50, 04/06/2017

I have just released on the Apple App store my App version which can play a whole series of these Tafl games ('The Viking Game' search also for Hnefatafl, Tablut etc.).  It also includes what I believe is the strongest A.I. Player yet developed to play these games.  I personally favour edge escape rules, as documented by Linnaeus.  My research and development in particular shows that these rules in their purest form provide an exceptionally strategic and well balanced game.

By releasing this App, my intention is primarily to promote interest and discussion of these games, and to give people a taste as to how they could have been played strategically over 1500 years ago.

Mike Fearn - 11:32, 28/11/2017

Question... if the player attacking the king moves a piece next to the king thereby surrounding the king on all four sides, is it a victory if the king could capture one of the four surrounding attackers with another move?

i guess it is a scenario akin to ‘Check’ in chess. The king may be surrounded, but he has a way out on the next move.

Duncan - 18:55, 02/12/2017

Hi, im curious of whether or not you have a digital copy of the main rules in downloadable format. 

Jacob Silva - 02:29, 10/12/2017

Thanks for your enquiry, Jacob. If you click on the "Rules Leaflets" link on the "Related Pages" sidebar of this page (to the right on desktop screens, or at the foot of the page on Mobiles), you'll see a range of downloadable PDF leaflets for different versions of the game.

In the same place as the "Rules Leaflets" link, there's a "Print-and-play Downloads" link too, with PDF game sets that also include the rules.

Damian Walker - 16:39, 10/12/2017

Apologies for missing your comment earlier, Mike. Surrounding the king gives immediate victory to the attackers. It's not "check" as such; when the king is surrounded he's considered to be captured.

Damian Walker - 16:41, 10/12/2017

good game but we need somthing we can understand

hdsifhedouge - 11:40, 16/01/2018

I fell in love with Vikings from the start, and with some research, very impressed by the factual basis behind the characters (altered for dramatical reasons)

i knew I had Danish ancestory (like millions of others) since I was a kid.  Travis Fimmell is from a place near to were I grew up, and has his part nailed perfectly.

S5 and the board game: I remembered something I’d been given ~20yrs years, which turns out to be TAFL (way cool), never used.

No instructions though, and researching on Web hasn’t helped due to variants of play.

What are the most generally accepted rules of play?

Thanks in advance.

Curious Onlooker - 14:13, 20/01/2018

Thanks for the query, Curious Onlooker!

There's no agreed standard yet. Online tournaments often use the Copenhagen Hnefatafl rules on an 11x11 board, though Tawlbwrdd is also popular. Tablut is popular on the 9x9 board. Brandub is used on the 7x7. All can be found through the search feature on this site.

Damian Walker - 07:53, 27/01/2018

I just made my own board and peices. Love this game i must say my board came out pretty well.

Makayla Rodriguez - 07:39, 01/05/2018

Hi, I haev a sert of this and teh rules I got with it say that to capture the king, you have to surroudn it on 4 sides, rather than the usual 2, but i find this massively unbalances the game in favour of the defenders. thinking about changing it so the kind can be captured teh same as the other pieces (with a piece of 2 opposing sides). would this work or would it just make it too easy for teh attackers? What do your rules say about taking the king? 

Alex - 09:10, 06/09/2018

Who typically starts first? The kings forces or the attackers?

Seth Hamilton - 20:11, 25/10/2018

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