Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Modern Innovations

Hnefatafl was never standardised. But when the game faded into obscurity, and the original rules were nearly impossible to find, people became especially innovative with rule changes.  From the weaponless king over 150 years ago to the shieldwall capture and special pieces of the 21st century, new rules have provided interesting new forms of the game.

This blog series examines a number of innovations not found in the historical hnefatafl rule set, and looks into how they might alter the nature of the game.

Modern Innovations: Altered Ratios


27 Jun: One of the things that unites hnefatafl games is the ratio of attackers to defenders. In addition to the king, hnefatafl games will always have twice as many attackers as defenders at the start of the game. Well, nearly always. For people have experimented with this, too. There's plenty of historical evidence that the ratio of attackers to defenders was a constant 2:1 regardless of the total number of pieces. Two Irish poems tell us that brandub had a ... (read more...)

Modern Innovations: the Weaponless King


23 May: I was uncertain whether to include the weaponless king in my series of blog posts about modern innovations in hnefatafl. For one thing, it's not particularly modern: its first confirmed use is in 1855, when Jaques of London introduced it into their Imperial Contest variant of tablut. For another, the historical support for it is disputed, but not disproven. So what is the weaponless king? Simply put, it's a king who is harmless, and can't take part in captures. ... (read more...)

Modern Innovations: the Shield Wall Capture


11 Apr: In this series of blog posts I'm looking at new rules that have been added to some hnefatafl games, rules that we can be fairly certain the Vikings and other historic people who played hnefatafl didn't use. I've already looked at berserkers & elite guards, and hostile base camps. Today I want to look at the increasingly popular shield wall rule. The shield wall is an entirely new kind of capture. It was devised to address a problem that ... (read more...)

Modern Innovations: Hostile Base Camps


14 Mar: At the end of January, I wrote the first of a series of posts about modern innovations in hnefatafl: the use of special pieces like "elite guards" and "berserkers". A bit later than planned, I now turn to another innovation: hostile base camps. The base camps are the starting positions of the attacking pieces. The idea of hostile base camps is that, once the attacking pieces have left them, they become inaccessible to pieces, and in some cases pieces ... (read more...)

Modern Innovations: Berserkers and Elite Guards


31 Jan: I like historic hnefatafl games. Where these have to be reconstructed, I prefer rules of the "plain vanilla" variety, that are in keeping with what we know about the historic games, usually exploiting slight ambiguities in historical documents or borrowing rules from one game to complete the rules of another. There's another school of thought, though, which says that any addition or correction to historic rules constitute "making stuff up", and that if we're going to make stuff ... (read more...)


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