Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

An Advanced Strategy Guide for Hnefatafl?

Basic 25-piece Hnefatafl Game, and other things.
Basic 25-piece Hnefatafl Game, and other things.

Saturday, 21st February 2015

A few people have recently mentioned the lack of a book on advanced strategy for hnefatafl. Many other games have such guides: obviously chess is the prime target for such literature. But there are also guides for draughts, backgammon, and more niche games like go, xiang qi and even fanorona. So why not hnefatafl?

There are many tutorials for hnefatafl on-line, but these tend to take the players from complete ignorance to competent beginner level, pointing out pitfalls to avoid and general positions to aim for. In my latest book "A Book of Historic Board Games" I treat tablut strategy in this way. But many players reach this plateau and would like something to help them further.

Sometimes people aren't that specific about what they think would help them, beyond "an advanced strategy guide". What would this contain? One idea that has been proposed is annotated games between high level players, pointing out good and bad moves, explaining why they were good and bad. At the moment, no such thing exists in hnefatafl.

There is a difficulty in doing this for hnefatafl in any great quantity - as in a book, for example. The sheer number of variants confuses matters here. Should a volume of work (be it a book or a web site) concentrate on one variant to the exclusion of others? That would cut out much of the audience who don't play that version. Or should it have examples from many different variants, to illustrate varying stragies such as corner play and edge victories? That would need great expertise in a variety of hnefatafl variants, and a lot of space to give to them!

I would love to write a book of the latter kind, with introductory chapters leading into advanced chapters with detailed discussions and examples of things like corner play, draw forts and tuichu victories. But there's one impediment: I'm not actually that good a player. To become one I'd need to spend less time writing and more time playing - and I have trouble enough finding time to write! So my strategic works would have to aim at producing "competent beginners".

Perhaps this would be solved by a team effort. If a handful of variants were chosen to take in all the different tactics that hnefatafl involves, then an expert player in each could contribute their own knowledge and example games. Someone competent at writing, even if not that good a player, could work that into an on-line resource or a good book dedicated to strategy.

So far, the popularity of hnefatafl has advanced happily with everyone doing their own thing. Some run excellent player communities, some give strategic advice, some make games, and others try to gather information and pass it on in an entertaining and digestible form. But I think the advanced strategy guide is something that may need more collaboration.

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