Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Biggest Hnefatafl Goes on Trial

Damian Walker's go board is being abused for the alea evangelii trial.
Damian Walker's go board is being abused for the alea evangelii trial.

Saturday, 25th April 2015

A trial match of alea evangelii has started on Facebook earlier this week. Hnefatafl Grandmaster Tim Millar and Damian Walker are trying out an alternative form of alea evangelii (pictured). The aim is to see if this form is more balanced than those which have been played already.

Versions of alea evangelii tried out so far on Dragonheels' Lair and Aage Nielsen's web site have proved to be very unbalanced, favouring the attackers who start the game with an almost complete blockade. The aim of the current exercise to try to find a combination that works without "making stuff up".

The game on test uses the standard rules for tablut, with the exception that the king wins the game by reaching one of the four enlarged corners (covered with draughts pieces in the picture). The historical alea evangelii document gives some scope for experimentation because all of the pieces bar four are coloured black, leaving the reader to work out which should belong to each side. So the new reconstruction swaps some of the black and white pieces around to give white a better chance to break out--but hopefully not too much of a chance.

Damian explains his reasoning thus: "I wanted to avoid making up rules from my imagination to try and reconstruct the game. Special pieces might add spice to the game, but it doesn't bring us any closer to the game that the Anglo Saxons might have played." He sees the borrowing of rules from other hnefatafl games as a somewhat lesser, though necessary, evil. "The writer of the alea evangelii manuscript gave us very few clues about how the game was played, so we need to infer things like movement and capture rules from similar games."

The game is being played between Tim and Damian using Facebook private messages, as no web site supports the rules. But Tim is posting occasional updates through the World Tafl Federation page on Facebook. Those interested in the game can look out for updates and other interesting information at


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