Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

General Strategy for the Attackers

In the control of an experienced player, the king is unlikely to fall carelessly into the attacker's hands. The attacker must therefore restrict the king's movement, while approaching him with assassins or herding him into a prepared ambush. This is done by forming blockades.

The Blockade

The Blockade
The first aim of an attacking player should be to form a complete unbreakable ring around the king and all his forces. As long as this remains unbroken, the king can never escape. All he can hope to do is force a draw, or to hold off the attack for as long as possible in the hope that the attacker makes a mistake.

In games where the king exits at a corner, the edge of the board may itself be used as part of the blockade, as long as it leaves no route to either of the adjoining corners.

Closing In

Closing In
Once the blockade is formed, the attackers must close in carefully, restricting the defenders' movement more and more. The aim here is to deprive the defenders of breathing space, and therefore of choice. The ideal situation is to leave the defender at each turn with only one or two moves: moves which will put them in an even more precarious position.

As the attackers close in, forced moves can be used to expose defenders to capture, eventually reducing the defending forces to the king alone, or at least to isolate the king from his defenders. Once the king is alone, it is an easy matter to capture him. But as always, the attacker must be wary of forcing or allowing a draw.

Watching the Exits

Watching the Exits
In games where the king must reach a corner to escape, it becomes viable to concentrate some effort on the exits themselves. A single corner square can be barred with three pieces, twelve being enough to bar all the exits. A diagonal line of three men barring the corner is unassailable, and as long as it is maintained, the defender cannot escape.

These pieces must be put into place as quickly as possible, as the defender merely has to gain control of one gate to deprive this strategy of much of its power. In a small game of eight attackers, it is impossible to block all the exits, while in a game of sixteen attackers, most of the forces will be occupied in barring the exits leaving few to corner the king. But in larger and larger games the strategy becomes easier and more practical, as the number of attackers needed is fixed at twelve.

Next: Defending the King and Aiding His Escape


Why does it take 3 pieces? if diagonal movement isn't allowed, wouldn't two be enough to cover each exit?

Seton - 20:11, 26/02/2017

Two pieces would have to be placed immediately adjacent to the exits to block them. Most rules with a corner victory allow pieces to be captured against the marked corner squares. This makes a blocking formation with only two pieces vulnerable to easy capture.

Damian Walker - 14:42, 27/02/2017

In the "Closing In" example, if the defender was to move into the one available space and then the attacker move a piece down to where that piece was so that you have XOXOX, would the attacker take both pieces?

John - 17:55, 17/01/2018

Thanks for the query, John! Yes, in nearly all rules, in that example, both pieces would be taken.

Damian Walker - 07:55, 27/01/2018

With the berserk rules where the king can jump over normal attackers when directly beside them. How do you effectively trap him? 

Joshua Newns - 05:16, 10/07/2018

if white have captured a black can use blockcade ?

giannis - 12:49, 24/08/2018

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