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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!


Viking board games – for the computer

One of my IT courses is in Research Methods, and it includes a project to do over the whole year. Mine, along with two other lads on the course, is to look into a simulation of a Viking board game called “Hnefatafl”.

The word translates roughly as “King’s Table/Board”, and it’s essentially a Viking percursor to chess. The idea is that there are two sides, the Reds and the Whites; the latter have to get their king to one of the corners of the boards, while the Reds have to capture said king. All the pieces can move like the rook in chess, i.e. in straight lines only, without any limits on the number of squares they move. It sounds a bit like Thud!, which already sounds awesome.

The main problem with Hnefatafl, however, is that it’s pretty obscure. Even the best-known version, Tablut, wasn’t documented in full by Linnaeus, who didn’t speak Sámi (basically, what the Laplanders speak). One of the papers I found mentioned a few online resources, but most of them date from the late 90s, and some don’t even appear to exist any more. That said, I HAVE found one on Sourceforge, although it hasn’t been updated in about 4 years and I haven’t tried compiling it yet. We have a whole year to look into it and produce something, however, so there’s no real rush…yet. All we really need to do at the moment is develop some actual research questions, possibly to do with the AI.

I actually think this game would fit quite well into Skyrim as a minigame. Go kill some dragons, then back to the tavern for some mead and a few rounds of Hnefatafl!

I’ve modded a game

This morning, I managed to create a mod for Freecol, an open-source clone of Sid Meier’s Colonization.

The game is written in Java, but mods are implemented using scripts in the Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is a bit more readable; somebody once remarked on the Freecol site that requiring Java to mod the game is like requiring a degree in mechanical engineering to get a driving licence.

Anyway, what I did was to change the picture for the Petty Criminal unit, and then tweak them so that they can generate more ore while mining – they’re on a chain gang! Another unit, the veteran soldier, is even better at fighting but costs more to hire in Europe. So far, these work perfectly. 🙂

Another thing I’m trying is a way to repair artillery. When the artillery are damaged in-game, they turn into another piece of damaged artillery, and they can’t be fixed. What I’ve tried to do is set the armoury in a town to be able to “educate” the artillery into becoming a normal piece again. I have no idea if this will work, because I haven’t got damaged artillery while testing it so far.

But hey, the rest of it works. That’s a pretty good start.

My first game part

Basically, I just wrote out a programme in C++ to calculate the amount of health lost by an attack, with or without armour, and to display the remaining level if the player character isn’t killed in the attack.

Okay, it’s not much and it requires the command line to work, but it’s a start! Here’s the pseudocode for if anyone is interested.

main loop:

define the variables health, armour and damage;

ask the user to enter the health before the attack, then display it;
repeat for armour and damage;

health after = health before - (damage - armour);

if health <= 0, display a "game over" message
else display the remaining health points

While I think this is more suited to an RPG-style game such as Oblivion or a turn-based strategy game like Alpha Centauri or Battle for Wesnoth, I suspect something along these lines is happening inside most games, with the particular details varying from one game to another.

Star Wars as weather forecast

Hat-tip to my sister Olwen for forwarding this on to me: a site that compares the current weather in a location to a planet from Star Wars!

At the moment, Galway is like Yavin 4: hot and with clouds. Pieces of the Death Star may fall on my head if I go out for a walk –


Old game/mod review: Smokin’ Guns

I downloaded and installed Smokin’ Guns earlier today, and so far I love it. It’s a Western-themed first person shooter based on the Quake 3 engine, originally released as a mod for Quake III Arena in 2001 as Western Quake 3, then in 2005 another group took over and produced Smokin’ Guns as a standalone version.

There are four different types of game available in the single player mode, listed below:
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