Hnefatafl is an ancient Norse board game that was played by the Vikings. The Vikings spread this game to many of the areas they traveled to including Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. On this page you will find information on how the game was played, where it originated from, and who played it.
The game was originally called tafl which translates to table or board. As the medieval Nordic people began to be play other board games they began to call the
original tafl game Hnefatafl. The exact meaning of Hnefatafl is disputed but it is most likely "King's table". As mentioned above tafl is the ancient Scandinavian word
for table. The beginning of the word probably is derived from the word hnefi which translates to "fist" and refers to the center king piece in the game.
Hnefatafl was probably derived from a Roman game by the name of Latrunculi. Latrunculi was probably derived from the ancient Greek game Petteia. Hnefatafl was very
popular throughout Europe up until the 12th century when chess (skak-tafl) became the most popular game.
How Hnefatafl is Played (Rules)
There were many variations of how the game was played and the size of the board however the list below describes
the rules they all have in common.
The game is played on a checkered or latticed board.
There are always two competing armies with one having twice the number of pieces as the other.
The army with the least number of pieces has a king piece.
The goal of the army with the king piece is to have the king escape. In some versions he tries to escape to any square on any of the board's edges. In other versions he tries to escape to any corner square.
The goal of the army with the greater number of pieces (attackers) is to capture the king.
The king piece always starts in the middle of the board.
Besides the rules listed above there is no clear description of how the game was played by the Norse
people. The closest description we have is by a man named Linnaeus from the 1732 diary of his travels.
Many of the rules listed below are derived from his diary and other documents about the game. Listed with several of the rules are some of the variations that may be
Pieces move in a straight line in any direction (pieces never move diagonally) for as many spaces as they
wish before hitting a side of the board or another piece.
Pieces can not be jumped over.
Players take turns moving. Passing a turn is not permitted. The non-king side usually goes first.
Certain squares are designated as king's squares. This is always the center square (where the king starts) and in some versions all four corner squares. There are many variations of rules describing if the king or other pieces can land on or move over a king's square.
Some versions have an "attacker's camp" which are the starting squares of the non-king (attacking) side. There are many variations of rules in regards to if the side with the king can land on or move across these squares.
Capturing the king is accomplished when the attackers have two pieces bracketing him on two sides. In some versions the king must be surrounded by 4 attackers.
Capturing a non-king piece involves the enemy bracketing the piece on two sides. In some versions the king or a king's square can be used in place of a piece to
bracket and capture an enemy piece.
In some versions a "hostile square" can be used in place of a piece to capture a king or opposing piece. Which squares are hostile, and hostile to whom (king or regular piece) also depends on the version. Potentially hostile squares can be Center king's square, Corner king's square, Edges, and the Attacker's camp squares.
The game is a draw if the players whose turn it is cannot make a legal move.