Playing Hnefatafl

So, earlier today myself and two other lads sat down and played a few rounds of Hnefatafl, which I mentioned in a previous post.

I suck at it. Out of 4 games I played, I only won once – and one of the other lads had at that point being awake for 36 hours! O_O That said, it was fun to play, and we got a better appreciation of the tactics you can use:

One is for the attacker to create a diamond shape on the board to surround the king, exploiting the restriction of piece movement (only left/right or up/down); however, if the defenders do a few kamikaze moves and force the defenders to break that to capture the pieces, it is possible for the king to escape.
Another tactic is for the attacker to plant themselves in the corners, blocking off the escape points for the king, but again it’s a double-edged sword: the corners and walls count as another piece for capturing an opponent’s pieces. It’s possible to lure the king out to this and then trap him, but I just can’t do that.
When playing as the king, the default strategy seems to be “get to the corners as quickly as possible”. We’ve noticed that it usually takes at least three turns to get the king out into the open (on the board we were using, he’s surrounded by guards at the start), at which point the attackers might already have three pieces in place for the “diamond trap”.
And finally, there’s also the issue of whether the king wins instantly or not if he gets to one of the corner pieces. In some variations of the game, he wins if he cannot be boxed in on the next turn, but that seems to unbalance things in favour of the attackers too much.

I can already see why it was so popular among the Vikings. It’s quite fun to play!

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About Philip

I'm a physics graduate, sci-fi writer, budding game designer, and amateur human.

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