Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Historic Hnefatafl Pieces, Part 4

The Viking Game
The Viking Game

Tuesday, 17th June 2014

The spherical pieces described in part 3 come closest to a standard for hnefatafl analogous to the Staunton pieces in chess. In modern times, however, manufacturers have been slow to adopt the standard. In the nineteenth century they may have been ignorant of the link between these playing pieces and hnefatafl. In the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, production costs or a desire to make a visually-stunning set has meant that few sets have been mass-made in the old style.

In the nineteenth century, the humble pawn was the order of the day. Imperial Contest, from Jaques of London, used pawns, possibly of ivory. Its American copy Freedom's Contest I haven't seen, so I don't know what form that took. Pawns serve very well today, too, if one is not interested in modern showiness or strict mediaeval authenticity.

Pawns are also used in twentieth-century hnefatafl games like Papillon's escape. However, more interest was shown in moulded plastic or resin shapes, and many hnefatafl games use these: Swords & Shields, The Viking Game, and Brandubh by Floyd & O'Flaherty. These are beyond the resources of most people to make, though someone with a lot of time could work wood or modelling clay to good effect.

There are some exceptions of course. York Archaeological Trust used to market a very nice set with traditional attacker/defender shapes and a pawn-like king. A game marketed as "Oldenburger Königs-Spiel Hnefatafl" also uses the traditional shape to good effect.

The beauty of making your own hnefatafl game is that it's completely up to you what it looks like. A modern conversation piece using metal figures on a faux-stone board is probably a better coffee-table game than an authentic reproduction of a mediaeval set. But I hope, if you want to go down the authentic route, that this series of blog posts has been useful to you.


Just a note to say that I'm working on getting my Viking living history kit together, and this blog and website has been a huge help. Thanks.

Brynjolf - 12:59, 03/12/2014

New Comment

Yes No