Other Board Layouts
Some board layouts have become widely adopted, particularly Linnaeus' layout and the diamond-centred layout on the 11x11 board, and the alea evangelii layout is practically undisputed on the 19x19 board. But there is a vast number of alternatives as people have experimented with the game. The 7x7 and 13x13 boards have no clear standard, while the 15x15 board has been so far neglected.
Many layouts conform to a simple formula: p = 6w - 29, where p is the number of pieces and w is the width of the board, in playing spaces. This gives a ratio of pieces to empty space of approximately 30%. More open space tends to favour the king by giving him and his forces more routes to escape; consequently less open space favours the attackers who will find it easier to make blockades.
There are many layouts which do not follow the formula, but these generally require adjustments in rules or layout to create a balanced game. For instance, more crowded games sometimes work better when pieces are restricted in the distance they can move, while sparse games like the alea evangelii compensate by having the attacking blockade in an advanced state at the beginning of the game.
Zillions Brandub Layout
The computer game Zillions of Games includes a brandub variant with this layout. It has the peculiarity that if the attackers move first, they can guarantee an early capture: moving one of the attackers inwards so it is directly adjacent to two defenders will create a fork.
Magpie Brandub Layout
Nigel Suckling in the Leprachaun Companion gives this as a layout for Brandub. It is probably the most attractive layout for thirteen pieces on the small board. But while this looks pretty, the attackers form a blockade, such that any defender that tries to break through is liable to immediate capture.
This layout differs from the rest in two points. Firstly, the number of defenders is not divisible by four. Secondly, it lacks the 90-degree rotational symmetry of the other boards. However, it satisfies the needs of those who think that thirteen pieces are too few and 25 too many for this board. I have seen this layout marketed commercially by Viking Crafts and Shannon Games, among others.
Unusual Ballinderry Layout
Some time ago I came by a game which is a vague likeness of the Ballinderry board, cast in resin. For its rules it adopts a strange 21-piece layout where the attackers are only one and a half times the defenders' number. The rules need to be adjusted in order to accommodate such a game without making the attackers' task impossible.
Ard-Ri Board Layout
This crowded layout is an attempt to fit 25 pieces on a board of seven rows by seven. There is little evidence that this was ever attempted before modern times, although a large number of boards conform to this size, and many piece finds conform closely to this number. However, with 51% of the board occupied, the king's task is extremely difficult without some changes to the usual rules.
Small Viking Siege Layout
The computer game Viking Siege uses this layout for its game on the smallest hnefatafl board. Compared to the ard-ri board, it gives the king's forces much more room to manoeuvre, but the king's forces are still very much hemmed in from the start of the game, with all the corner areas blocked off. Since the attackers also have a lot of room, it is easy to complete the blockade.
A number of people label this layout "fidchell", although literary sources suggest that fidchell was a game of equal forces rather than a hnefatafl game. The layout has apparently been inspired by the image on the Golden Horn of Gallehus, which arranges circular marks around the edge of the board in a similar, but more even, manner. It is not practical to use this layout in games where the king must reach a corner, as attacking pieces already occupy the corners.
Alternative 9x9 Board Layout
Linnaeus left us a precise drawing of the layout of pieces for a 9x9 board. However, this has not stopped others from experimenting in modern times. Papillon's Escape and Hnefatafl by Jumping Frog Toys are two commercial offerings that use this layout, and it is present in a couple of books in my collection. In all of these instances it is married to a set of rules in which pieces may move only to adjacent squares.
A Basic 11x11 Board Layout
Most games on the 11x11 board use a layout that puts the defenders in a diamond configuration. However, this causes problems in some rules, especially where the king must reach a corner. Aage Nielsen has proposed a more straightforward layout, where pieces are arranged in a serif cross as with the tablut layout. The serif-cross layout has an elegant simplicity, and can be extended to accommodate any board size.
Bell's Layout for Tawlbwrdd
This layout was proposed in 1969 by R. C. Bell for the game of tawlbwrdd, from the description given by Robert ap Ifan in 1587. It is probably the origin of the diamond configuration of defenders seen in other layouts. It was marketed commercially in 1997 as The Celtic Game.
Diamond-centred 13x13 Layout
Some people play the game on the 13x13 board by simply expanding the layout most commonly used on the 11x11 board, leaving a diamond of 13 pieces at the centre, and moving the groups of six attackers outwards to the edge of the larger board. This creates a very open layout in which the king has an easy task, with plenty of room to manoeuvre. It will be very difficult for the attackers to cover the four open ranks and four open files before the king gets out.
Open Serif Cross 13x13 Layout
A common layout for 13x13 adopts the same 37 pieces of the smaller 11x11 board, arranging them in the form of a serif-cross, leaving a gap between attackers and defenders. This creates a game with more open space than the usual 11x11 layout, and open space tends to favour the king. This layout is probably only practical for games with a corner objective for the king.
Closed Serif Cross 13x13 Layout
This layout uses 49 pieces for the board, set out in the form of a serif cross like tablut. It is a simple alternative to some of the more elaborate layouts that are common with games on larger boards. Few archaeological finds or literary sources support such piece numbers, a possible exception being the gaming piece collection found at Nes.
Large Viking Siege Layout
The computer game Viking Siege uses this layout of 49 pieces on its 13x13 game. It is an elegant compromise between the serif-cross layout and the more elaborate layouts that bunch pieces towards the centre.
This layout appears to have first been published in David Parlett's book the Oxford History of Board Games. It has been sold commercially by a number of small manufacturers, but the 13x13 board has not become as widespread as smaller layouts.
A Serif Cross Layout for the Coppergate Board
No layout has yet been proposed for the 15x15 board, the sole archaeological example being the one at Coppergate in York, England. The serif cross fits neatly if expanded to 61 pieces.
An Elaborate Layout for the Coppergate Board
Reconstructions of larger boards sometimes favour more elaborate layouts, possibly inspired by the Alea Evangelii diagram with a little help from R. C. Bell's Tawlbwrdd. For people whose tastes lie this way, I propose this layout for the 15x15 board found at Coppergate, which has so far attracted little interest by those reconstructing the game.
Next: Moving the Pieces