To enter Valhalla as a Viking and feast in Odin’s eternal battle hall, you must die gloriously. For example, by going to war heroically in a great battle. Fortunately, we can relive these Viking battles and naval battles from the comfort of our own home with Tafl King. By the way, the Vikings themselves loved a game too.
You are probably familiar with chess. The abstract strategy game in which players with all unique pieces try to capture or trap the opponent’s king is almost religious. For diehard chess players, other board games don’t even come close to the depth of chess, and don’t even get me started on chess variations: that’s swearing in the chess church. The ironic thing is, the chess we play today is a variation on ancient strategic games. In fact, the variant in which the queen is the strongest playing piece originated in France in the 15th century. Before that, of course, chess was also played – chess did have to travel the world, bringing influences from different cultures, peoples and playful traditions. The game of chess is probably more than thousands of years old and had many travels and many variations before the version we still play a lot today landed in western Europe.
Chess is not the only game and probably not even the oldest, but it is a game with an immense impact on humankind and its history. Games, however, are timeless and many have been played throughout history. Even the Vikings loved a game. Dice and other game pieces have been found in many Viking graves. Tafl is a collective name for various games from the time of the Vikings. Tafl is Old Norse for table or for board. In other words, board game. It was really just a name for various board games, but the name took on a life of its own and it actually became the name for various abstract games that did resemble chess. These different games were all played with a game board and chess-like pieces. One very famous variant is the more modern Hnefatafl (King’s Table) – aka Viking Chess – which is a hodgepodge of different games the Vikings would play, with streamlined rules. Since the Vikings were not hugely into writing, the actual game rules of older variants have always been a bit of a guess, but Hnefetafl offers a fairly modern alternative. Another well-known variant is Finnish Tablut which has its origins in lapland. The game board in both Tablut and Hnefetafl consists of a grid on which several playing pieces are placed. These strategic games resemble an asymmetrical variant of chess.
The name of Tafl King may already give something away about this new game from Gamestorm Studio. Indeed, Tafl King is an edition of a Hnefatafl variant with modern production, a set of rules in almost every European language and beautiful game pieces. Tafl King is part of Gamestorm Studio’s Viking’s Tales series. Did you know that we previously wrote several blogs about Viking-themed games (in Dutch)?
Setup and gameplay
The various pieces (white and black) are placed at the designated spots on the game board and players are ready to play. One player tries to enclose his opponent’s king in the flanks with his pieces. The other player tries to let the opponent’s king escape. In the center of the board is the king and in the corners of the board are forts to which the king can escape. The attacking player (in the black leur) may make a move first.
If a player moves a piece, this piece can be moved orthogonally in a continuous straight line. Thus, a piece cannot move through other pieces. Ordinary soldiers cannot enter forts or thrones. Pieces can also capture other pieces. Soldiers are captured if they are surrounded by two soldiers of the other color or by a soldier of the other color and a fortress. However, a piece is not captured if it encloses itself during its move action. The king can also be captured if it is enclosed from four sides. The king can also be surrounded by forts and the edge of the board, so the attacking player must always use at least two pieces of his own!
Tafl King is a fun variant/implementation of Hnefetafl. The various wooden game pieces are large, nicely designed and fun yet authentically illustrated. The included game board is also thematically designed and the game includes a handy pouch to store the game pieces. Should you happen to have a roll-up Hnefatafl board, you have a with this a nice travel game to grab. Perhaps a nice idea to make your own roll-up board?
The game itself is a fun, strategic challenge for two players. The game is smooth, easy to learn, but has enormous depth. One advantage over chess is that the pieces move the same and can capture in the same way, making it easy for newcomers to grasp. The depth is partly due to the asymmetrical carcass of the game, with both players having a different objective and thus playing style. As far as I am concerned, Viking chess is not just history.