Tag Archive | Vikings

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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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 S├ími (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!