Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Historic Board Markings, Part 2

Diagram of the Downpatrick gaming board.
Diagram of the Downpatrick gaming board.

Sunday, 10th November 2013

This week I thought I'd look at the boards from Scotland and Ireland, particularly the simple stone graffiti boards from Downpatrick and Buckquoy, which show close similarities.

All of the stone graffiti boards in question show a grid of seven lines by seven, play being on the intersections. The central point is marked with a circle. The Irish board from Downpatrick also has the corners marked with quadrants, making it a humble equivalent of the magnificent Ballinderry board.

A number of Irish 7x7 boards lack the corner markings. The wooden Knockanboy board had none, and neither does the similar board from Waterford. It's possible that there may have been painted marking that have worn away, but there are certainly no carved or etched markings surviving as at Downpatrick and Ballinderry.

The Scottish boards are more uniform. None of them have corner markings. The Dun Chonallaich board is marked differently, with pits rather than etched circles on the central point, and on the points around it. But the Dun Chonallaich board has a lack of corner markings in common with those at Buckquoy, Birsay and Howe.

This suggests to me a difference in rules between the games of Ireland and Scotland. Irish poetry suggests that the king should occupy the corner squares. For this to be possible, there can be no win when the king reaches an edge, otherwise he'd never get to the corner. For this kind of game to work properly, the corner squares need some protection, otherwise the attacker would merely use four pieces, in four moves, to prevent the king from winning.

The absence of corner markings on the Scottish boards suggests that the corners had no special properties, and that therefore a playable game would give the king victory on his reaching the edge. I've given a suggestion in a previous post about how such a game could be balanced.


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