Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Making Board, Peg & Dice Games (Review)

Cover of Making Board, Peg & Dice Games
Cover of Making Board, Peg & Dice Games

Sunday, 1st September 2013

This book by Jeff & Jennie Loader differs from many other board-game books I have seen, in that its emphasis is firmly on making the games. There are 28 games in all, many of them being invented for the book. A disappointingly large number of them are entirely luck based, but that would make them ideal projects for families with young children. The last game, though, is hnefatafl.

The history of the game is very briefly summarised, giving the main outline of the game's birth, and mentioning the variation in the sizes of the board. The setup and rules are the same as those used by Jumping Frog Toys, with a 9x9 board and pieces moving only to adjacent squares.

So for those just wanting to play the game, this book isn't particularly valuable compared to the many others available. But for those wanting to make a board, or to make a variety of boards, it's a gold mine.

Other books deal with making games. Botermans' Games of the World, mentioned in my first blog entry on this site, has lots of information on this, and some of the books by R. C. Bell touch on it too. But what sets Making Board, Peg & Dice Games apart is the excellent quality of the games. Every photograph appears to show a game that is professionally made, games that would not look out of place shrink-wrapped or professionally boxed and sold in a toy shop. The Loaders also begin the book with three chapters on craft techniques which should help the reader achieve similarly good-looking results with a little practice.

The hnefatafl set is nicely decorated with a combination of staining, marking, painting, varnishing. The pieces are small wooden clock finials. I must admit that when I first bought the book half a decade ago, I had trouble finding these at any rasonable price. But suitable wooden pawns are widely available now, often pre-coloured, so as long as your heart is not set on the clock finial look, it should be easy enough to get pieces.

But other games in the book might provide more inspiration. There's a very nice looking Viking-themed game earlier in the book, for instance. Four jigsaw-cut, brightly coloured Viking longships race along a sea-coloured square board, avoiding painted islands. The game itself is entirely luck-based, but its construction techniques could be used to create a lovely themed hnefatafl set, with a king ship trying to reach the board edge or perhaps one of four island havens in the corners. Other games in the book have animals, cars and flying saucers, any of which could provide a theme, and there are traditional peg-based games too, if you want to make a travel set.

Though this 1993 book is long out of print, it is currently available very cheaply. If you want to have a go at making your own hnefatafl set then this book is probably about the best out there.


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