Comments on the Hnefatafl rules.

About variants.

Imagine living in the Iron or Viking Age - a long winter with short days, a thin population with not that many neighbours within walking or horseback distance, and fewer yet as skilled in Hnefatafl as yourself.

Wouldn't it be natural if passionate players shifted among several small variations in the game rules? Even if one set of rules were known to be the best balanced game between two skilled players (as players on this site have found with the "Fetlar rules"), still you would not necessarily enjoy to have the same game with your good neighbour Finboge all winter year after year.

For variation you would sometimes change the board size, the initial ordering and the winning conditions. Also, when you play with your lesser experienced kinsman Toke you would maybe even let your king be unarmed and let your men run a restricted number of steps etc. to give him a fair chance.

Thus small variations in the game rules could be a natural component of the game.


To get more variety in the game you can switch between the various boards (11x11 diamond, 11x11 cross and 9x9) and between the variants of the rules.
   You can also in each game choose a rules variant that matches the players' relative strength.
   On the 11x11 board fx.:


Comments on the Berserk Hnefatafl rules.

The Berserk Hnefatafl rules are deduced from combining the Fetlar Hnefatafl, the R.C. Bell's reconstruction of the Roman soldiers' game Ludus Latrunculorum, the Somali related game High Jump, and the Bergen Museum set of Hnefatafl playing pieces.

The logics behind the rules are this:

2-side king capture, or a weaponless king, results in a cautious playing style where the king is very immobile. On the other hand, 4-side king capture and the king beweaponed results in a much more vivid game. This is also the rule in Fetlar Hnefatafl.

When the king is this strong (4-side capture and beweaponed), he must go to a corner to win, like in Fetlar Hnefatafl.

The Bergen set of playing pieces include a king, 12 defenders and 22 attackers. This is the number of pieces which matches the 11x11 game board (with 2 attacker pieces missing). Four of the attackers are distinctively decorated, suggesting they should have a distinct position on the board, fx. in front of the ordinary attackers. So the initial ordering is that of Fetlar Hnefatafl.

This far, the rules are identical to Fetlar Hnefatafl, the only detail missing is whether or not the king can be captured on the board edge.

Now to the additions:

The Bell's Latrunculorum reconstruction allows any piece to continue moving as long as it makes captures. This rule is introduced to Berserk Hnefatafl as the Berserk rule (or re-introduced, as it has perhaps been there but was lost in time).

Four of the attackers in the Bergen set are distinctively decorated (all four alike) and must have a special function, fx. being four commanders (hÝvdinge, chieftains, hersir). And to that, one of the defenders has, when you take a close look, a nail hole in the top, suggesting some missing decoration here also. This piece could likewise have a special function, fx. being the king's knight or his personal guard.

The game now has three types of officers, the king, his knight and the Viking chieftains. These must have some kind of special abilities.

Those abilities might be:

The Bell's Latrunculorum reconstruction allows the Latrunculi officer, the Dux, to jump over enemies. Introduced (or re-introduced?) to Berserk Hnefatafl, the three types of Hnefatafl officers, the king, the knight and the chieftains, should be able to jump over enemies.

As in Bell's reconstruction the Dux'es are captured the same way as any other piece, so are the knight and the chieftains.

There is good use for a piece which can block the way between the powerful king and a corner, especially with the king's new ability to jump over an enemy and right into a corner square. This would be an obvious task for the attacker commanders, with introducing of a rule that the king cannot jump over a commander. With such a rule in effect, it is natural to generalize, so that the rule applies to all officers, meaning that the king, the knight and the commanders cannot jump over each other but only over ordinary pieces.

Another flavour of extra power to the attacker commanders can naturally be that two commanders can capture the king (with custodian capture) instead of the normally required four attackers. And just like the hostile king's squares can function as an enemy piece in ordinary custodian captures, it is logical that the king is captured by one commander against a king's square, the king's square functioning as a second commander.

If the king is always allowed to jump over enemies, it will be near to impossible to bring four attackers in place to capture him. Therefore this ability of the king's must be limited in some way. A natural bid would be that he can jump only to and from the five king's squares but not jump enemies in the open field.

The king has only one special helper, the knight. To give the knight some extra ability, it was tried to allow the knight to enter the five king's squares just like the king. But test games revealed that such a rule made the knight of very little use beyond that of an ordinary defender.
   In the search for some other ability for the knight to have, one notices that the Somali descendant of Latrunculi, the game High Jump has an alternative way of capturing by jumping over an enemy piece, in addition to the custodian capture. This ability given to the knight makes him a very powerful piece, which fits with the observation that there is only one distinctively decorated defender besides the king in the Bergen game.
   I assume that kings in their castles in England, Ireland, France did have knights. Fx. the legendary king Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table should be much earlier than Viking Age. Of course also Vikings had horses at home and knew to fight from a horseback, but it's not worth it to try and bring horses on far long ship raids, and I assume that it is not possible either to rob horses on location and immediately use them in battle. So there is only one warrior in the battle of the game armed with horse and sword - the knight.

Why is the Bergen set different from other arhaeological findings of Hnefatafl playing pieces, which have only one piece distinctively different from the others - the king?

Where usual sets of Hnefatafl pieces found has only one "officer" - the king, the Bergen set has three types of "officers". It is just like the Bergen set is more sophisticated than traditional sets. This brings to mind the transition between Stone Age and Bronze age, where stone smiths developed their art to hitherto unseen heights, to compete with the new goods made of bronze. It would not surprice me if the Bergen set was from around 1000 a.d. where the Hnefatafl game was first exposed to the competition from the new fashion game, chess.

See also note on the forum.


On the origin of Hnefatafl.

Summary on the Saami Tablut.
Summary on the Welsh Tawlbwrdd.
Summary on the Sea Battle Tafl.
Summary on the Copenhagen Hnefatafl.


Updated 17.12.2015
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