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Rules of Hnefatafl - Viking Chess


Rules of Hnefatafl - Viking Chess

These Hnefatafl rules are based on those played in the 9th and 10th centuries.


Hnefatafl Board Game

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Equipment, Preparation and Objective

Hnefatafl is played on a board consisting of an 9 x 9 grid of squares. Accompanying the board, there should be 16 dark pieces and 8 light pieces usually in the form of round counters plus an additional King piece. The King is usually taller, sometimes in the same colour as the light pieces and sometimes in a more regal hue such as gold.

Hnefatafl board- 9 x 9

Hnefatafl is a game of unequal sides and different objectives. The King is placed in the centre of the board and the light defending pieces surround him in the pattern shown. The dark pieces are placed in 4 groups in a particular formation at the middle of each edge of the board.

The aim for the defending light coloured side is to get the King to a corner square of the board. The aim of the attacking side is to kill the King before he escapes to a corner. For this reason, it is usually best to play an even number of games so that both players get the same number of chances to defend.

Basic Play

The attacking side moves first. All pieces move like the rook in Chess – in a straight line for as many empty squares as the player chooses. Pieces cannot hop over other pieces and cannot move diagonally.

White piece moves to the left to trap the brown piece.
Capturing only happens when a piece is moved so that a single opposing piece ends up trapped between two of the players pieces. A captured piece is immediately removed from the board. It is possible to capture more than one piece at once.

The King is unarmed and cannot capture.

White piece moves to the far left, trapping the brown piece between corner and the piece moved
A piece that is next to the corner square can be captured by a single opposing piece. The piece is moved so that the opposing piece is trapped between the corner and the piece moved - the corner square acts as the second capturing piece.

Brown piece moves the a square between two white pieces
A piece can safely move to a square between two of the opponent's pieces without being captured.

The King is harder to capture because opposing pieces must surround him on all four sides or, if the King is at the edge of the board, on the 3 sides available. Only the King is allowed into the corner squares – and, of course, such a move wins the game.


Variations of Tafl games abound. For instance some versions say the King only has to reach the edge of the board. Some versions say that the King can be captured in the same way as any other piece. A good variation is that the King's player must say 'Check' if he can get the King to the edge of the board on his next turn.

There are clues from the Nordic Sagas hinting that the King cannot take part in captures but many versions have an armed King who can capture.


Irish Brandubh

Currently unavailable






These rules are provided by Masters Traditional Games, an Internet shop selling quality traditional games, pub games and unusual games. For general information or for copying and copyright, see our Rules Information page.

Our rules are comprehensive instructions for friendly play. If in doubt, always abide by locally-played or house rules.

Copyright Masters Traditional Games © 2019. All rights reserved.

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