Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Defending the King and Aiding His Escape

While the attackers need to concentrate on long-term strategy, the king's quest places more emphasis on short-term tactics and on seizing opportunities. This gives the impression that it is easier to play the king's side: that is almost certainly true for beginners. But there is a more strategic element, which becomes more important at higher levels of play.

Taking Control

Taking Control
From the very beginning the attackers will try to restrict the defenders' access to various parts of the board. The defenders must do their best to prevent this by taking control of areas near the periphery, or better still, areas that connect the king's current position to the periphery. The attackers will have a harder time blocking out access to those parts of the board if the defenders already have a presence there.

Holding the Gaps

Holding the Gaps
Despite the defenders' efforts, a good attacking player will continue to form a blockade, concentrating on the parts the defender neglects, and switching attention from one area to another to take advantage of pauses in the defending works. But while there are gaps, there is still hope.

The ideal aim for the defenders is to break out through the gaps that still remain, getting pieces past the blockade into the enemy's rear. A secondary aim is to keep the gaps open: with care it can be possible to hold open the gaps with defenders who threaten at any moment to turn on the attackers nearby.

Pieces outside the blockade can attack it from behind: the attackers cannot safely advance to meet the entrapped defender if that would leave them vulnerable to capture from behind. The presence of even one or two defenders behind enemy lines gives the other defenders greater freedom.

Forcing a Draw

Forcing a Draw
Where a blockade is fully formed and the king cannot hope to escape, there are ways that a draw can be forced. This is not a satisfactory ending for either side, but a draw is better than a loss for a player who seems doomed. How to form a draw is more of a tactical discussion, but the method is usually the same: to form a protective shell within which one piece may move safely back and forth indefinitely.

Next: Short-term Tactics for Both Sides

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