The Viking Game (Hnefatafl). The strategic board game of the Vikings (Hnefatafl or King’s Table, pronounced nef-ah-tah-fel) must rank as one of history's greatest board games. The Viking Game is simple yet very addictive. If you like games like chess, checkers, or other strategy games then we thoroughly recommend this game. This set contains 37 authentic replica playing pieces - one ivory King (4.5cm high) and 12 defenders, 24 brown attackers (3.5cm high) - all cast in polyresin, a decorative linen playing board (29.5cm across 11x11 squares), a set of rules and historical information in various languages, and comes in a cardboard presentation box.
About this Viking Game set
The set of rules included with the set are in four languages English, French, German & Japanese, and reflect how the game might have been played in the ninth or tenth century. The board incorporates typical Viking patterns in its design and is printed on natural linen, one of the few woven fabrics available to the Vikings, although understandably most surviving boards have been made of wood.
The individually moulded pieces come in two different designs made in simulated wood and ivory finishes. Besides wood and ivory Viking sites have revealed jet, glass, bone, and antler pieces. Most Hnefatafl pieces found to date are cruder in design than the set of pieces in this set which are based on the famous Lewis chess pieces discovered in the Outer Hebrides.
Object of the Game
The Viking Game is a two player game (defender and attacker) emphasising strategic planning and contingent action. The defending side (ivory pieces) must get the king to one of the corner squares before he is surrounded by attackers. Attackers (brown pieces) must kill the king for victory by surrounding him on four sides, either with attackers or a combination of boundaries and attackers. Pieces other than the king can be defeated by 'sandwiching' them between two pieces. The game is fairly fast paced allowing for two to three rounds in an hour. The unevenness of sides and the fact that each side requires a different strategy and has different objectives is an unusual feature in a board game but all add to the game's appeal.
It was at its most popular during the Dark Ages in Northern Europe, a period of scant records and shifting populations. Like so much of the Dark Ages our knowledge of the Viking Game is patchy, a mystery now half solved as a result of archaeological research. The game was popular in the Viking homelands in Scandinavia as early as 400AD and was carried by the Vikings to the lands they conquered. Over the centuries the game developed and different versions of the board have been found in archaeological sites from Ireland to the Ukraine. Occasionally referred to in manuscripts the game was known as Hnefatafl which means literally 'King's table'. The study of these manuscripts and examination of the various types of board and pieces has enabled researchers to work out how the game was probably played. There is no doubt however that many versions of the rules existed at different places and times. Hnefatafl was last recorded as being played in Wales in 1587 and in Lapland in 1723. Its decline began in the 11th century as chess grew in popularity, and it soon lingered on only in remote country districts.
National Museums Scotland, Scottish Charity, No. SC 011130