Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

An Enemy in Your Midst, and What to Do About It

Saturday, 15th October 2016

A comment on the Capturing the Enemy page has given me an idea for a new blog post this week. What happens when an enemy piece lodges itself safely between two of your own?

Most hnefatafl games allow a piece to move between two others in safety. While being surrounded by two enemies is the way your pieces die, those enemies have to actively position themselves around you for the capture to take effect. A piece lodged between two enemies is a threatening tactic, and can form the basis of a fork attack. A player with an enemy caught between two of her pieces will want to do something about it pretty quickly.

Moving a piece away and back again to capture.
 The usual way is to move one of the pieces away, which threatens to capture the enemy irritant should that friendly piece move back again. This is generally the most straightforward way to dislodge the enemy intruder.

Sometimes this might not be possible or advantageous, though, in which case another solution would be to take advantage of the enemy piece's two open sides: move a third piece to flank the enemy, and then a fourth piece to make the capture. This looks like a four-sided capture, like some games use to capture the king. But really it's just a two-sided capture, where the first two pieces are irrelevant.

The intervening piece has created a fork.
 Sometimes, the piece that has moved between your two soldiers will have caught them in a fork. In a position like this, there will be other enemy pieces ready to capture one or other of yours. There's nothing you can do to prevent the capture, but you might manage to discourage it. If you have pieces ready to take the place of either of those about to be captured, then you will be able to retaliate against your opponent. Sometimes the counter-threat is enough to preserve your pieces - for now.


What a charming blog you have here! My wife and I were recently discussing this situation with regards to Brandub, which you review so aptly here: We generally find Tafl games appealing for their evocative ability to bring a person back in time to the days of warriors armed with swords and shields, and the idea of moving safely between enemies has never felt satisfying to either one of us. It's very obvious that the option to move between enemies is interesting, so I can't begrudge most Tafl players that they retain the option to move between enemies. But that is not the way that we play. In all of our games, the dictum "Move first, kill first" holds. By this I mean, if you can eliminate one or more enemy pieces by making a move, then you may freely do so. After these have been removed, your man survives if not surrounded; otherwise, he dies in turn. The rationale here is that a person may leap into a raging battle and take his enemies by surprise, but on not account would he expect to survive after walking directly between two enemies standing alert and undistracted. (Whether this unbalances Tafl games in favor of the king or the attackers, we've never noticed.)

Mark Graybill - 02:19, 20/03/2022

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