Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Historical Boards and Pieces

Some years ago I wrote two series of blog posts on archaeological finds: one about pieces and one about boards. I've gathered them all together on this page to make them easier to find.

Historic Hnefatafl Pieces, Part 4


17 Jun: 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 ... (read more...)

Historic Hnefatafl Pieces, Part 3


10 Jun: Last week I wrote about the various king pieces used in historic times. You might think the others are boring in comparison. But far from it! They are, of course, simpler in form and simpler to make, but you will probably appreciate that if you are about to make 24 or 36 of them to go with your king. Attackers and defenders provide the closest thing to a standard in historic hnefatafl. Most pieces are what archaeologists call "hemispherical", ... (read more...)

Historic Hnefatafl Pieces, Part 2


3 Jun: In most mediaeval hnefatafl sets, the greatest effort in decoration was spent on the king, the most important piece in the game. This led to a variety of shapes that defy any kind of standardisation, or even categorisation, with a number of unique examples. The most impressive group of king pieces are the humanoid ones. These are also the most contentious: some of them have been found alone, leading some to question their nature as gaming pieces at all. ... (read more...)

Historic Hnefatafl Pieces, Part 1


27 May: Making a hnefatafl set is very rewarding. As I search around the world wide web for things about hnefatafl, I often see beautiful boards on which people have spent lots of time and effort. But so often, the pieces are a very disappointing afterthought. Wonderfully carved and finished boards are paired with uninspiring plain counters, or plain glass beads which, while pretty in their own right, don't do justice to the board they're paired with. Not everyone can make ... (read more...)

Historic Board Markings, Part 3


17 Nov: This week I'm rounding off the little series on historic board markings by looking at two thematic groups of boards: those with virtually no markings, and those with purely decorative markings. The first group is small, especially if I exclude the boards that lack markings because of wear, rather than by design. The most well-known example is the one from Toftanes in the Faroe Islands. Only half of it survives: it is in the form of a serving platter ... (read more...)

Historic Board Markings, Part 2


10 Nov: 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 ... (read more...)

Historic Board Markings, Part 1


3 Nov: When looking for inspiration on how to mark a new hnefatafl board, I've often looked at historic artefacts. I thought it might be interesting to look at some of these in detail, to see if there are any standards or themes that emerge, and to see if any significance can be placed on them as regards game-play. In the last few weeks I found pictures of two boards: one at Dun Chonallaich in Scotland, and the other at Bergen ... (read more...)


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