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Hnefatafl

(First of 4 on historic board games.)

This week’s historic board game is Hnefatafl, (rough translation: Fist-table) a game originating in Scandinavia, with the earliest fragments dated to around the 4th century A.D. There are numerous variant rules and names across Viking-touched cultures, such as Brandub in Ireland, and Ard Ri in Scotland. It may be descended from a Roman game (itself descended from Greco-Persian sources) commonly called Petteia, but the reconstructed rules are different enough to call it an ancestor-game in its own right.

Gameplay is asymmetric, with one side consisting of 12 soldiers and a king, stationed in the center of the 11x11 board. The other side consists of 24 soldiers positioned in groups of six around the edge. All pieces move as rooks in chess (in straight lines only, no distance limit) and pieces are captured by sandwiching an opponent’s piece between two of yours. The king’s objective is to escape off the edge of the board before being captured by complete encirclement, and king’s side is generally considered easier to win.

Common handicaps are for a complete game to consist of 2 matches, with control of sides flipped for the second game and each player’s score the number of turns to victory, or playing only one game, with control of king’s side determined by downwards bidding on number of turns permitted to escape.

Hnefatafl is the source of the game Thud, featured in Terry Pratchett’s novel of the same name.

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Image source aagenielsen, credit Tim Millar

Posted by Michael M

6.127:01 AMsource