17.5.2016. 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.
Aage Nielsen, Denmark.

Historical rules of the ancient Scandinavian board game Hnefatafl.

Short overview:
King armed, captured from 2 sides.

The dark pieces (attackers) lay seige, their goal, to capture the king. The light pieces (defenders) must break the seige and get their king to safety.

1.   Two players, the king's side vs attackers. There are twice as many attackers as defenders.
Irish Brandubh 7x7 board Scottish Ard Ri 7x7 board Saami Tablut 9x9 board Welsh Tawlbwrdd 11x11 board Historical Hnefatafl 13x13 board
Board size and set up varies, 7x7, 9x9, 11x11 or 13x13 squares.

2.   The attackers' side moves first, the players then take turns.

3.   All pieces move any number of vacant squares along a row or a column, like a rook in chess.
move tafl piece
Moving a piece.

4.   Capture
All pieces except the king are captured if sandwiched between two enemy pieces, or between an enemy piece and a restricted square. The two enemy pieces should be on the square above and below or on the squares left and right of the attacked piece, i.e. not diagonally.

A piece is only captured if the trap is closed by the aggressor's move, it is therefore permitted to move in between two enemy pieces. The king may take part in captures.
capture tafl piece capture tafl piece capture tafl piece capture tafl piece captured tafl piece
Capture of pieces.
tafl piece not captured tafl piece not captured
The piece is not captured.

5a.   Restricted squares
Restricted squares may only be occupied by the king. The central restricted square is called the throne. It is allowed for the king to re-enter the throne, and all pieces may pass through the throne when it is empty.

Restricted squares are hostile, which means they 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.
The board edge is NOT hostile.

5b.   On the 7x7 board:

Ard-Ri: No throne square, i.e. there are no restricted squares on the board.

Brandubh: The four corner squares are also restricted and hostile, just like the throne.
restricted tafl squares
Brandubh, five restricted squares.

6a.   King's side win
If the king reaches the edge the king has escaped and his side wins.
tafl defenders win
The king's side wins.

6b.   Brandubh - King's side win:
If the king reaches any corner square, the king has escaped and his side wins.
tafl defenders win
The king's side wins, Brandubh 7x7.

7a.   Attackers win
The attackers win if they can capture the king.

The king is captured like all other pieces, except when he is on or next to the throne.

On the throne, the attackers must surround him on all four cardinal points.

If on a square next to the throne, the attackers must occupy the three remaining squares around him.
tafl attackers win tafl attackers win
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.
tafl attackers win
The attackers win by encircling all defenders.

8.   Perpetual repetitions are forbidden. Any perpetual repetition results in a loss for white.

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

10.   If it is not possible to end the game, fx. because both sides have too few pieces left, it is a draw.

Some examples of perpetual repetitions.

Perpetual repetition - the king must find another move:
perpetual repetition
White is confined and cannot avoid perpetual repetitions and lose:
perpetual repetition perpetual repetition perpetual repetition

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).
English text and diagrams: Adam Bartley (Norway).

Historical Hnefatafl Rules for print (Adam Bartley)
Règles du Brandubh en français for print, pdf (David Zolli, "branan")
Règles du Brandubh en français for print, docx (David Zolli, "branan")

Updated 10.2.2023
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