2 players, ages 7+, 20+ minutes
by History Craft
The Viking Game must rank as one of history’s greatest board games. It was at its most popular during the Dark Ages in Northern Europe, a period of scant records and shifting populations. Like so much of the Dark Ages, our knowledge of Hnefatafl (sometimes abbreviated to tafl) is patchy; a mystery now half solved as a result of archaeological research. Our Hnefatafl game pieces are based on designs inspired by the famous Lewis chess pieces.
The Hnefatafl Game was popular in the Viking homelands in Scandinavia as early as AD400 and was carried by the Vikings to the lands they conquered. Over the centuries the game developed and different versions of the board have been found by archaeologists in sites from Ireland to Ukraine.
Occasionally referred to in manuscripts, the game was known as Hnefatafl which means literally ‘King’s table’. The study of these manuscripts and examination of the various types of board and pieces has enabled researchers to work out how the game was probably played. There is no doubt, however, that many versions of the rules existed at different places and at different times.
The Hnefatafl Game was last recorded as being played in Wales in 1587 and in Lapland in 1723. Its decline began in the 11th century as chess grew in popularity, and it soon lingered on only in remote county districts.
There are 39 Viking game pieces in the set, made of resin and designed to replicate hand carved walrus ivory in Viking style. The Viking game board is made of thick linen fabric with a printed played area.
Hnefatafl, also known as The Viking Game, The King's Table or simply Tafl, is one of the rare breed of games with two unequal sides. The defending side comprises twelve soldiers and a king, who start the game in a cross formation in the center of the board. Their objective is for the king to escape by reaching any of the four corner squares. The attackers comprise 24 soldiers positioned in four groups of 6 around the perimeter of the board. All pieces move like the Rook in chess and pieces are taken by "sandwiching" i.e. moving your piece so that an opponent's piece is trapped horizontally or vertically between two of yours. There is a host of information on the Internet about Hnefatafl, including many rule variations that are worth experimenting with.