Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Capturing the Enemy

Some examples of capturing moves
Some examples of capturing moves

Enemies are usually captured by surrounding them on two opposite sides with your own pieces; this is called custodianship. The piece trapped between the aggressors is removed from the board. It is usually acceptable to place a piece deliberately between two enemies without harm; capture must be a deliberate act.

There is often a special rule of capture for the king, called enclosure, where he must be surrounded on all four sides to capture him. In some games this applies only when the king is on his central square, in others it may affect him anywhere on the board, making the king a very powerful piece.

In most games, the king can help to make captures like any other piece. There are some in which he can't, however. These are usually games in which he would otherwise be too strong: games where he wins on reaching an edge, and requires four attackers to capture him.

Special rules cater for situations where a piece would be otherwise invincible; a king sitting next to his central square can be captured by surrounding him on the other three sides, and a piece next to a restricted corner square may be captured as if that corner square had one of your own men sat upon it.

Next: Gaining the Victory


Hi - I have a query regarding capture. I understand the "sandwich" concept but I can find no reference to HOW MANY can be captured at once. Is it only one ( as in xox ) or could it be more ( as in xoox or xooox etc ). I was bought a game and the rules only go so far!!! Every reference I have found says "a piece can be captured" but never "only one can be captured".

This has particular importance if black were to put two pieces either side of each corner...

Many thanks!! :o)

Tim - 11:43, 12/10/2013

Only one piece can be captured between two, i.e. XOX. But there is a way that multiple pieces can be captured: if the layout is XO-OX, and a third X moves into the middle, both Os are captured. It's possible to capture three at once this way (but never four; one side of the - has to be open to allow the piece to get there). The only game I know that explicitly forbids this type of multiple capture is Imperial Contest.

Damian Walker - 18:56, 14/10/2013

Hi! I have a question about the capturing rules. Can a defender be captured between an oposite pieze and the central square? Does matter if the king is in this square or it is empty? Thanks!

Víctor Diego Gutiérrez - 11:04, 13/02/2015

Good question, Victor! I've moved your comment here from the links page. It depends on the version of the game as to whether you can capture against the central square.

My advice, if your existing rule set leaves ambiguity, is to have capture of attackers or defenders against an empty central square on games of 9x9 squares and above, providing that the castle in that game is a special square that affects movement. If the king is there, then defenders are able to capture attackers against the king there as if he were sitting anywhere else.

Damian Walker - 11:10, 13/02/2015

Can the king assist in capturing?

Bob - 21:18, 14/03/2015

In some games he can, in others he can't. In games in which he can't, he's usually captured on four sides, and wins the game on reaching the edge. In most other combinations I know of, he can take part in capture. I've updated the page text to include this.

If you're playing with a rule set that doesn't mention it either way, I'd assume that the king can capture.

Damian Walker - 07:48, 15/03/2015

suasidal capture (ie moving between two pieces and getting captured0) is most certainly allowed in tawlbwrd rules in 1587 a writor says "if one piece is to come between two then he is captured and thrown from the game" he also goes on to say "if the king were to move to come between two and beforing moving to that space you said watch your king then he is dead but if he says I am your liege man before moving to that space then their is no harm" this clearly says that if a piece is to come ie to move as later used between two enemies then it is captured also linnaeus' text says "if one enemy were to be located between two enemies then he is dead and ejected from the bored" this also says that it is if the person moves between two now obviously I agree that one can trap one's enemy between your own pieces what I am saying is that it does not have to be connected with deliberate in fact in old references there is no connection between motion on the capturors part and capture. How ever I agree that one can move between two if one of the two is captured by said move.

ox - 19:03, 12/06/2015

four sided capture is never mentioned in the sources neither is corner escape except for brandubh just thaught I'd say it beannacht ort féin

ox - 19:05, 12/06/2015

The rules I found require the king to be surrounded on all four sides "without hope of rescue" (i.e. capturing one of the 4 men surrounding the king and therefore rescuing him) which makes it almost impossible to capture against an experienced player. I don't believe any of your rules include this "without hope of rescue" caveat, right?

Also, when you say that the king can capture, do you mean as the active or passive-only piece during the capture? The active piece would be the one that is moved in to surround an enemy piece and capture it.


Mike R - 19:36, 19/08/2015

I've not seen the "without hope of rescue" clause before. In all the rules I know of, the king loses the game on being surrounded (whether by two or by four according to which rules I consult).

In all the popular rules I know of that allow the king to capture, the king can do so actively or passively. I've seen the distinction discussed (often called "hammer" and "anvil"), but never implemented in an on-line or physical game.

Damian Walker - 08:19, 21/08/2015

Thanks for the reply. I wonder if the king is given more power in the variation I play because that version is based on points: you get 6 points for winning (attackers capture king or defenders escape with king to one of the corners) and one point for each piece that you capture. You then play a tournament of several games and the person with the most points in the end is the winner. So since the attacker has so many more pieces and can therefore do more damage against the defenders pieces, the king is given more power. I don't believe I've seen this point-based rules variation on your site.

Mike R - 01:22, 22/08/2015

The points system sounds interesting. I've not come across it before. Where are these rules? Are they publicly available on a web page, or do they come with a physical set or app?

I've heard of similar oddities before: a system of bidding to set a move limit for the king's escape, and a system of mobile app-style achievements like first capture. But I'd like to see what rules the point system works with.

Damian Walker - 14:33, 23/08/2015

Sorry for taking so long to answer your question. These rules came with the tafl set sold by Neversummer Chalet:

Mike R - 22:25, 17/09/2015

Damian - Really enjoyed your book! Saw the questions regarding the Neversummer Chalet variant. I added the points with the thought it would be a good feature for school Hnefatafl tournaments so each match could be have a time limit and the winner determined by points then move on to the next level in the tournament. Having a feature like that gives the tournament planner a very good idea how much time would be require for the event. Being an abstract strategy game similar to Chess but easier to learn - it would be nice to use Hnefatafl Clubs in schools so young people might get all the benefits of playing a game of this type and have the benefit of a fast learning curve. Another question came up concerning the king capture with the "no hope of rescue" rule - I added that to make him more difficult to capture and level the field more between the attackers and defenders freeing the defender to play more aggressive and attacker to carefully think the capture process through. Incidentally - I do have the web link for the Fetlar rules listed in the Neversummer Chalet rule booklet and recommend players experience it. One of the strengths of Hnefatafl has always been the flexibility and all the regional variants - I bet the best one is being played in someones rec room right now and no one knows about it yet.

Vern Phillips - 22:23, 08/11/2015

Can the king be captured by surrounding him with 3 pieces and an edge?

Daniel Andrew Ainsworth - 16:28, 08/03/2016

Thanks for your query Daniel. Some versions of hnefatafl allow this, and also allow the king to be captured against the edge and a corner with two attackers. But most of the more popular versions (like Fetlar and Copenhagen hnefatafl) don't. In those versions the king needs to be forced from the edge.

Damian Walker - 20:22, 08/03/2016

QUESTION on capturing,


say O------->


O is safe for the format I play, So how would "X" go about capturing a simple "O" defender (not the king)




Would this be a capture or would you haft to surrpound the piece with "x" being the attacker?


Dustin Pace - 21:58, 09/10/2016

Hi Dustin,

In your example, the third X wouldn't make a capture. Instead you'd have to do one of two things:

  1. Move one of the first two Xs away and back again to make the capture.
  2. Add the third X where you suggest, and move a fourth to capture the O from the left-hand side. This wouldn't be a four-sided capture; it would be a two-sided capture from the left and right, in which the Xs above and below the enemy O are irrelevant.

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

Got this for Christmas . What is to stop the nonking side to put two counters on every side of the corner squaresvand blocking them from the king. He can't get to the corner and the pieces can't get captured as they can't be flanked unless the edge counts as one side of a flank. Thanks.

Mark - 12:45, 26/12/2016

Edge capture rule: can a defender trap and remove an attacker, or a good size group of attackers, up against the sides alone?  This would allow the defenders to sally forth and take a bunch of attackers on the first go.

raul - 03:14, 27/03/2017

Hello Raul,

It's an interesting suggestion that I've seen come up before, though I've never seen it tried. My feeling is that it would make things far too easy for the defenders: the attacking pieces in their initial array would be so many sitting ducks waiting to be slaughtered by the defenders.

If you try it out then please let us know how it worked!

Damian Walker - 14:45, 27/03/2017

No answer for my question from boxing day. Seems such a flaw to the game that I must be overlooking something obvious.... but it's ruining our enjoyment of the game ...

Mark - 19:57, 27/03/2017

Sorry I missed your question, Mark! I must have been distracted by the festivities.

The corner squares act as capturing pieces for either side. So if an attacker stands beside a corner square, the king's side may capture it by sandwiching the attacker between the corner square and a defender (see the top right move in the diagram above).

To block off the corners safely, the attackers must place three pieces in a diagonal line across each corner instead, so there's a gap between the pieces and the marked corner square. That takes more time and effort and gives the king's side a bit more time to harrass the works.

The Attackers page, in the Strategy section illustrates the layout.

Damian Walker - 14:31, 28/03/2017

We got the Marbles Brain Workshop/Spin Master version for Christmas.  It allows "in one move, the maximum number of pieces that can be captured is three," and it clearly shows xooox.

My question is, what happens if the King is one of the middle pieces:  "xoKox"?  Nothing?  Or do the two "o"s have to be removed?

Thanks for any advice!

Sarah - 01:03, 29/12/2017

Thanks for the query, Sarah, and sorry for the late reply! In pretty much all the rules I know of, you can't capture a row of pieces in that way. The only way to capture three Os is like this:

x o X o x
_ _ o _ _
_ _ x _ _

where the upper case X is the one that's just moved into position. As for whether the king can be taken in such a capture, that depends on the rule set: if he's generally captured by surrounding of 4 sides, then no, otherwise yes.

I'm not familiar with the set that you mention, so it may be that the "xooox" capture is their own deliberate addition. If that's the case, I don't know what they'd intend for the king.

Damian Walker - 08:02, 27/01/2018

What are considered ‘refuge’ squares? The rules I have state one can move any number of squares unless stopped by a refuge square.

Bmac - 22:27, 31/01/2018

Thanks for your query, Bmac.

The central square is a refuge square. In some games it stops movement, but that's rare. In most rules a non-royal piece can't rest on it, but can pass over it.

If the king in your game wins by reaching a corner, then the corner squares will also be refuge squares.

Damian Walker - 14:09, 02/02/2018

I recently started playing this game and have come across a situation I was hoping to get clarification on  If there are 3 attacker pieces (A) diagonally accross the corner refuge (#), how could you possibly capture any of them?

[#] [  ] [A]

[  ] [A]


Brent - 22:31, 26/02/2018

Hello, I am having the same issue as Mark and I think his question was missunderstood.

If the attackers place two pieces in the 2 free sides of the corner squares, the game becomes impossible to win by the defenders. This layout is unbeatable and ruins the whole game for me, the attackers can't be killed and the corners are unaccessible.

Thanks for helping

Carles - 12:49, 25/08/2018

so can the king be captured if he is captured on all four corners but the Defenders are able to take out one of the pieces so that he will be able to move on the next move is this legal kind of like him being put in check but being able to get out of it my understanding is that the attackers only win if the King has no way out but if I'm able to take out a piece on my next turn for him to get out is that legal

David - 05:28, 12/10/2018

so what happened in the senario “xo-o” an x moves in to make “xoxo” which peices are captured?

Aidan - 00:08, 22/02/2019

hello. We are new to the game. We have played 20 games so far, rotating who attacks and who defends. In all cases King won.  How can attacker win this game?  Rules of our set say king can move any number of squares and must be captured on all four sides. Just seems so unbalanced in favor of defense/king. Is it usually won by defense?  Or do you recommend a variation to make it more balanced?

Aimee - 18:05, 11/06/2019

I saw the comment about edge capturing but it didn’t answer a question I have. Can a piece be captured against the edge if it’s surrounded on the three other sides?  Also since the corner piece can be used to capture (in the version I play) would this apply to surrounding a piece on two sides with the other two sides being the edge and corner piece?

Nick - 23:24, 28/06/2019

My board is 11 by 11 where the king wins by going to one of the corners and you capture the king by surrounding them on all 4 sides my question it if you have only the king left on the defenders side and you have




is it a tie? What happens? (No atackers Can move and it’s there turn)

Malachy Fernandez - 23:20, 14/09/2019

If the king in in one of the squares next to a refuge in a corner and all his defenders are captured, can the corner count as a hostile square.

With a formation such as: (K=King/ A=Attacker/ s= Safe or corner/ n=open-nothing)




By moveing the attacker in the third column upward, do you capture the king? Or do the refuge squaes not count as being occupied by enimies in tis case?

Nicholas - 23:19, 19/10/2019

Question: My king is 'two space away from entering the corner space. Black block the the path by place his piece between the corner and my king. Is this a legal move?

Rick Mosley - 15:14, 02/02/2020

I find it almost impossible for the attacking team to win if the King can capture. In my experience, not letting the King capture evens it up a bit more. Do you agree?

Josh - 16:05, 06/05/2020

As a newcomer to HNEFATAFL I understand that if I trap the opposition piece between my piece and one of the four Kings refuge castles,  I destroy that piece. But can either side carry out the same move, ie white piece  trap brown piece against the refuge castle OR brown piece trap white piece against the refuge castle wall, with same result?

Thanks very much, Colin

Colin Ellis - 14:57, 07/09/2020

If a piece is on the edge of the board, and another opposing piece blocks the opposite side square, is that piece surrounded and thus captured?

Rick - 16:46, 04/03/2021

Hello my query is to ask if a king is blocked from moving on three sides by his defenders and an attacker moved into the fourth spot; O X k o O Is the king just able to stay allowing the defender to carry on with his strategy or is he classed as not being able to move so forcing the defender to move, enabling the king to be able to move going forward? O X k o O (Key o=defender, x=attacker, k=King) I hope this makes sence, Thank you.

Jason - 14:50, 20/02/2022

New Comment

Yes No