Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Dardell Games Hnefatafl

Dardell Hnefatafl set up for play.
Dardell Hnefatafl set up for play.

Saturday, 15th April 2017

At the end of a long search, I managed to obtain the fine Dardell edition of hnefatafl. This was produced in England in the 1980s as quite a fine version of the game.

The handsome wooden board is very heavy, and doubles as the game's box. The two halves of the board fold together so that the underside of the board becomes the inside of the box. The pieces appear to be some kind of heavy-duty plastic, and are cylindrical in shape. These fit into recesses in the underside of the board when the game is closed. Each piece has a felt pad on its underside, to prevent wear on the board, and half of the board's underside is felt-lined so that the plastic of the pieces doesn't rub on the wood of the box interior when closed.

The rules of the game are of the weaponless king type. In this, the game resembles York Hnefatafl more than Fetlar Hnefatafl and its relatives. The king has to move to the edge of the board to win, but he cannot take part in capturing attackers.

In comparison to York Hnefatafl, Dardell Hnefatafl imposes an extra limitation on the king: he can only move a maximum distance of three spaces. York Hnefatafl is fairly well balanced without this limitation, so Dardell Hnefatafl may favour the attackers a little bit too much. But this might suit two beginners, whose early strategies tend to favour the king. In any case, the imbalance is not proven, since a difference in layout from York Hnefatafl may counteract it. There have been no in-depth experiments on this game so far.

These rules weren't limited to this one set. Chess historian David Pritchard, who wrote on traditional games in general, adopted these rules in his Family Book of Board Games in the 1990s. The set is best played with rule sets that have edge victories for the king, because the corners are unmarked. This would include Dardell's own rules, York Hnefatafl, Tawlbwrdd or an expanded variant of Tablut.


Thanks for this discovery!

The Dardell game is probably well balanced. If two Dardell details, who work against each other: the board throne and the king's movement limitation, are removed, then we have the Sea Battle tafl 11x11, whose game balance has been measured to 107 defenders' wins per 100 attackers' wins.

The York Hnefatafl game balance was measured to 117 defenders' wins per 100 attackers' wins.

I wrote a post here:

Aage Nielsen - 09:36, 18/04/2017

What a beautiful set! Interesting how subtle the difference is between the king and the defender pieces.

Liz Lam - 19:16, 19/04/2017

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