Theory:
The tafl games "Brandubh" (Ireland), "Ard Ri" (Scotland), "Tablut" (Lapland), "Tawlbwrdd" (Wales) and "Hnefatafl" (Iceland) are all one and the same game:
the Iron- and Viking Age Scandinavian board game Hnefatafl.


Historical rules of the ancient Scandinavian board game Hnefatafl.


1.   Two players may participate. One player plays the king's side, with a king and his defenders, and the other player plays the attackers. There are twice as many attackers as defenders.


2.   The game is played on a board with 7x7, 9x9, 11x11, 13x13 or 15x15 squares and with initial set-ups as shown:
Irish Brandubh 7x7 Scottish Ard Ri 7x7 Saami Tablut 9x9 Welsh Tawlbwrdd 11x11
For the larger boards, for example these setups can be used:
13x13 15x15


3.   The central square, called the throne, is restricted and may only be occupied by the king. It is allowed for the king to re-enter the throne, and all pieces may pass through the throne when it is empty.
    The throne square is hostile, which means that it can replace one of the two pieces taking part in a capture. The throne is always hostile to the attackers, but only hostile to the defenders when it is empty.

3a.   On the 7x7 board:
Ard Ri: No throne square, i.e. there are no restricted squares on the board.
Brandubh: Also the four corner squares are restricted and hostile, just like the throne.
Brandubh, five restricted squares.


4.   The attackers' side moves first, and the game then proceeds by alternate moves.
    All pieces move any number of vacant squares along a row or a column, like a rook in chess.
Moving a piece.


5.   All pieces except the king are captured if they are sandwiched between two enemy pieces, or between an enemy piece and a restricted square, along a column or a row. The two enemy pieces should either be on the square above and below or on the square to the left and to the right of the attacked piece.
    A piece is only captured if the trap is closed by a move of the opponent, and it is, therefore, allowed to move in between two enemy pieces.
Capture of pieces.

The piece is not captured.


6.   The objective for the king's side is to move the king to any edge square. In that case, the king has escaped and his side wins.
The king's side wins.

6a.   Except on the Brandubh 7x7 board, where the objective for the king's side is to move the king to any corner square, in which case the king has escaped and his side wins.
The king's side wins.


7a.   The attackers win if they can capture the king before he escapes. The king is captured like all other pieces, except when he is on the throne or on one of the four squares next to the throne.
    When the king is on the throne, the attackers must surround him in all four cardinal points.
    When he is on a square next to the throne, the attackers must occupy all surrounding squares in the four points of the compass except the throne.
The king is captured.

7b.   If the attackers surround the king and ALL remaining defenders, then they win, as they have prevented the king from escaping.
The attackers win by encircling all defenders.


8.   Perpetual repetitions are forbidden. A player who maintains a board repetition ("the aggressive player") must find another move to break the repetition, or he loses the game.
   "The aggressive player" is the player who continually side steps with a piece in order to find an open path to break through. The other player continually brings his piece in line with the aggressive piece in order to block the open path. In other words, "the aggressive player" is the one who has some choice in whether to repeat the pattern or not.
   If a board position is repeated for the third time, "the aggressive player" loses the game.
Perpetual repetition - the king must find another move.

8b.   Draw forts are forbidden: If the defenders repeat the defending board position three times while no piece is captured, the attackers win. (Only in force when the defenders have at least king plus five men left, which is the minimum of pieces needed to build a fort).


9.   If a player cannot move, he loses the game.


Hnefatafl on the 7x7 board was called Brandubh in Ireland and Ard Ri in Scotland, on the 9x9 board called Tablut in Lapland, on the 11x11 board called Tawlbwrdd in Wales (the Norse/Danish word Tavlbord = gameboard).
The text is modified from Sten Helmfrid's text on the Skalk variant.


Historical Hnefatafl Rules for print! (Adam Bartley)


Updated 9.11.2016
Copyright © 1998-2017 Aage Nielsen, All Rights Reserved;