I recently finished watching the series Vikings on Amazon Prime. And by watched, I mean binged in 2 weeks. There were a few moments throughout the series of Ivar the Boneless playing a board game that resembles the game of Chess. The pieces are hand carven of course and looked like different characters that have different capabilities, similar to Bishops, Knights, Rooks, etc. Did the Vikings really play the game of Kings? Does the history of Chess really go all the way back to the age of Vikings? Introducing the guide to the Viking version of Chess, Hnefatafl.
Hnefatafl (also known as Vikings Chess) is a chess game mode that was popular back then in medieval Scandinavia. Hnefatafl became popular during the Vikings era in northern Europe with the game’s original set of rules being lost, being replaced by the rules of the same tafl game, which is “Tablut. While the rules of the game were able to be translated, the rules were poorly translated which resulted in an unbalanced game with the defender’s side of the game being favored less. Nowadays, there are modern variations of Hnefatafl that are both playable on physical and online boards with added features to make the game more balanced. In this complete chess guide, we are going to cover everything you need to know about Hnefatafl Viking chess.
The Viking Version of Chess
Hnefatafl, which is also known as Tafl, is the Viking’s version of chess. Hnefatafl is a popular strategy board game that used to be played by the Nordic and Celtic people during the middle ages. Hnefatafl is included in the Viking’s historical culture, with Charles Linnaeus being the one to discover and translate how Hnefatafl is played and how the rules are through observations from Lapp people who were playing the game. The modern revival of Hnefatafl dates back to 1981 when it was advertised as “The Viking Game.”
How To Play Hnefatafl
The rules of Viking Chess follow gameplay rules that were made during the 9th and 10th centuries. In Hnefatafl, both sides have different objectives, with the darker-colored pieces aiming for the King while the light-colored pieces are defending the King. The darker-colored pieces, who are on the attacking side, are aimed to kill the King piece before he escapes to a corner square on the board.
In Viking Chess, the darker colored pieces, which is the attacking side, always move first, with the pieces moving like the rook from chess – they are able to move in a straight line of empty squares as long as there is no other piece blocking the way, they can not move diagonally on the board and are not allowed to hop over other pieces. While the King piece cannot capture in the Hnefatafl, capturing can happen when a piece is trapped between two pieces of the other player; if a piece is captured, they are removed from the game. In Hnefatafl, it is also possible to capture multiple pieces at once. When a piece is on a corner, it can be captured by one opposing piece, with the corner acting as a second piece.
A piece is allowed to move in the middle square of two opposing pieces and not get captured by them. The most challenging piece to kill in Hnefatafl is the King piece because it requires him to be surrounded by the opposing pieces on all four sides. Standard pieces from both sides are not allowed to enter the corner squares, and only the King piece is allowed to enter a corner square which will result in the King’s side’s victory.
The Hnefatafl Board
Viking Chess has a board with a 9 x 9 grid of squares with 16 dark pieces, eight light pieces, and a King piece. In terms of appearance, the King piece is usually taller compared to the other pieces and could either be in gold or the same type of color as the lighter pieces. Both sides in Hnefatafl have different objectives, which makes the games’ sides unequal. The dark pieces are divided into four groups which surround the light pieces, which are placed in the center of the board, protecting the King piece. There are other variations of the game which would either contain a smaller number of pieces or different sets of rules that can affect the game’s overall balance.
Other Variations of Hnefatafl
With the game being an ancient one that has unclear rules and unbalanced gameplay, there are many variations of Viking Chess that are different from the original translated set of rules for Hnefatafl. In some variations of Hnefatafl, the King can achieve victory by simply just reaching the edge of the playing board, and the King can be captured similar to the other pieces without the requirement of being surrounded on four sides; and some variations where the King piece is allowed to capture enemy pieces.
Is Hnefatafl Easy To Learn?
While the game can be unbalanced sometimes because of the old poorly translated rules, Hnefatafl is relatively easy to learn and fun to play. Vikings Chess’ objective is simple, which does not complicate the objectives of the game for both the attackers and defenders side of Hnefatafl; if you are playing on the King’s side as a defender, then your goal is to make the King escape in one of the four corners while if you are an attacker, your goal is to capture the King. The game is overall relatively easy to understand and fun to play, involving various strategies that make every gameplay of Viking chess unique and exciting.
How Do You Properly Pronounce Hnefatafl?
A usual tricky question of how the Viking chess game, Hnefatafl, is pronounced. Hnefatafl is usually read and pronounced as “neffa-taffle” if you are reading it in the English language, but “ne-fa-ta-fal” is a more accurate pronunciation if you know the international phonetic alphabet. It should be noted that how the Vikings from the middle ages exactly pronounced Hnefatafl could be completely different from how it is pronounced in modern times.
What is Older, Hnefatafl Or Chess?
While Chess is the widely popular board game when it comes to strategy board games, Hnefatafl predates Chess and is the favorite strategy board game of the Vikings during the middle ages. Hnefatafl is a popular board game that was able to spread around to various places where the Vikings would travel to. However, with the game being widely unbalanced with the attackers having less advantage, Chess would eventually oust Hnefatafl and become the more widely known and popular strategic board game.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Hnefatafl?
Hnefatafl is what the Vikings called Chess. Furthermore, Hnefatafl is now known as Viking Chess.
What chess piece does Alfred give Ivar?
And so, Ivar the Boneless leaves Wessex with a final gift from Alfred. The heir gives Ivar a chess piece: A memory of happy times, or perhaps an artifact from their first battle.
Are they playing chess in Vikings?
The Vikings played a type of chess “called Hnefatafl,” which means game or king board, where “king” refers to a particular piece in the game. This board game was like modern-day chess, yet some believed that it mimicked a Viking raid, and the object of the game was interpreted as defeating the opposing king.
What Board Game Are They Playing in Vikings?
The board game that Ivar the Boneless was playing in the show Vikings is the Nordic version of Chess, called Hnefatafl.