Hnefatafl began its life in Scandinavia. It probably developed from a Roman war game called Ludus Latrunculorum. It is known to have been played as early as 400AD but many believe it to be about 2000 years old.

It is one of several games in a Tafl series which are characterized by the uneven playing sides. This series of games is played on square boards ranging from 5 to 19 squares across.

The wooden board is 280mm square and 40mm thick and created from 4mm plywood which has three coats of varnish are applied to the playing surface and sides.

The drawer contains a copy of the rules and 25 stones of one colour for the attacking side, 13 stones of another colour for the defending side and two stones of the other colour representing the king. (These numbers include a spare of each colour in case of loss).

The game is one of pure strategy, played on a square board. A king and a small force of defenders occupy the centre of the board. A larger force of attackers, twice as numerous as the defenders, occupy positions around the edge of the board.

The objective of the king is to escape to the corners of the board, while the objective of the attackers is to capture the king, preventing his escape. The pieces move in straight lines up down or across but not diagonally, like rooks in chess, and capture is by surrounding a piece on two opposite sides.

There are variations on these rules, as the game was spread across northern Europe in an age before the printing and mass communication necessary for international standardisation. Each community developed its own “house rules”, and used a board and pieces appropriate to the materials they had to hand.

The board is always square, and always has an odd number of playing spaces. The pieces are set out on the board with the king on the central square, his defenders around him, and the attackers symmetrically around the edge of the board. So much is common to all hnefatafl games. But the size of the board and the numbers of men vary.

Historically, there were boards from seven rows of seven squares to 19×19, holding anything from 13 pieces to 73. Modern hnefatafl games tend to have nine or eleven squares on a side, with 25 or 37 pieces,


A board consisting of 11 by 11 squares.

A king

12 Defenders

24 Attackers

Preparation and Objective

The king is placed on the Helmet in the centre of the board with the defenders placed on the shields around him. The attackers are placed on the marked spaces at the centre of each edge of the board as shown in the picture above. The objective of the attackers is to capture the king by surrounding him on all four side or preventing all of the defenders from moving. The objective of the defending side is for the King to reach any of the corner squares.

Basic Play

The pieces move horizontally and vertically, but not diagonally.
The pieces can move along a rank and file as many spaces as they like but cannot pass over another piece. Only the king can land on the centre square or any of the corner squares.

Capturing the enemy:

Enemies are usually captured by surrounding them on two opposite sides with your own pieces; this is called custodianship. The piece trapped between the aggressors is removed from the board. It is acceptable to place a piece deliberately between two enemies without harm; capture must be a deliberate act.

The king must be surrounded on all four sides (called enclosure) to capture and win the game for the attackers.

The king can help capture attacking pieces.

As this is a game with uneven sides many people say that to claim to have won the game a person should play two games one as the attackers and one as the defenders and to have won both.


1) The centre square is not allowed for any piece including the king once he has vacated it.

2) The king is restricted to moving only to adjacent squares.

3) The king is not allowed to help capture an attacker.

4) A piece may be captured by a single enemy when it is standing next to the centre or a corner square as if an opposing piece was occupying the restricted square,  The king can be captured by 3 attackers if standing next to the central square.

5) The king wins by reaching any outside square (makes it much easier for the King’s side).In this case the corner squares are often not restricted for all pieces.

6) The central square cannot be passed over.

7) The king can be captured by custodianship (See capturing)

8) Three repeated moves by both players results in a draw. (Some play that the player in control must then make an alternative move which prevents a draw)