March 28, 2006 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Hnefatafl is an anglo-norse boardgame whose many variants are mentioned in the sagas (wearing a helmet during play is entirely optional) . Chess superseded it during the rennaisance, but Scholarly work has allowed the rules to be deduced in modern times, mainly on the basis of a 1732 diary account written by Linnaeus (he of the botanical naming system).

And now, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can play online.
posted by apodo (17 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The defender's side (usually the white pieces) has a slight advantage, especially for novices, but it depends a great deal on the victory conditions chosen.
posted by apodo at 1:50 PM on March 28, 2006

Nice. I played on the easy setting and was well chuffed with my victory.

Then I played on the harder setting and got completely pwned. Damn.
posted by bcveen at 2:38 PM on March 28, 2006

I've been fascinated by the way these ancient board games are all so similar, and yet each has their own intricate strategy.

I remember seeing in the British Museum that one of the great lions from the Lion's Gate of the Hittites had, in its base, the board for such a game etched by some gate sentry in ancient times.

I remember finding stone game pieces in the ground in a Punic dig outside of ancient Carthage.

I remember seeing, in the tiny Amazight village of Tamazret, in southern Tunisia, game boards scratched into the concrete back alleys of the village.

My finest traditional boardgame moment was when I came very close to beating a Korean friend in Go. Lee is an outstanding player. It was the height of my skill and I have never been so proud of a defeat in all my life, I think.

I'd love to see how and whether all of these similar games may have developed from each other, via merchants or mercenaries carrying their games from one place to another throughout the centuries...
posted by darkstar at 2:47 PM on March 28, 2006

Oh, and thanks for the excellent link, apodo!
posted by darkstar at 2:47 PM on March 28, 2006

dark, i'd think the Romans spread all the ones they knew about, and traders did the rest, no? (or the other way around)
posted by amberglow at 3:06 PM on March 28, 2006

this is great, but now my brain hurts.

*smashes self in head with brick.*
posted by shmegegge at 3:10 PM on March 28, 2006

Very cool! There is something magnificent about doing all the archival research to resurrect the game, then putting it online.
posted by LarryC at 3:26 PM on March 28, 2006

I have a version of this game. Someone bought it for me from one of those Olde Englande Hippyie Newe Ageie places about fifteen years ago. The annoying thing is it's a pretty good game.
posted by Decani at 5:36 PM on March 28, 2006

What Would Brunhild Play?
posted by homunculus at 7:30 PM on March 28, 2006

Excellent link, I have a friend who'll love this too. Also, wonder how long it'll take for another use of the "Hnefatafl" tag?
posted by Monster_Zero at 7:32 PM on March 28, 2006

Is that a challenge, Monster_Zero?
posted by Songdog at 8:15 PM on March 28, 2006

Curious. I first heard of this game via a Wikipedia front page link yesterday about Ragnar Lodbrok. Coincidence, or did you find it there too?
posted by zadcat at 8:58 PM on March 28, 2006

This is brilliant - it has made me want to find out much more about ancient board games. (Also I have discovered I suck at Hnefatafl, more practice needed clearly!).
posted by greycap at 10:12 PM on March 28, 2006

Some people think that it came from the Roman game Ludus Latrunculorum, which also looks interesting.

I also knew about it as a result of being bought a set from a cathedral gift shop or somesuch, years ago, but the wikipedia entry was a coincidence. In fact, my memory was jogged by a punning reference in - of all things - Going Postal by Terry Pratchett.

Yeah, bcveen, same thing happened to me...
posted by apodo at 11:26 PM on March 28, 2006

great link, thanks.
posted by johnny novak at 1:12 AM on March 29, 2006

Yeay you apodo for bringing the online gaming link here! I've been far away from friends who know how to play for a long time, this'll be great! *runs off to play*
posted by dabitch at 1:29 AM on March 29, 2006

THANK you again, apodo!

I've been wracking my brain trying to remember the name of that game. We thought the game pieces we found were from ludus sets used by the garrison of the fort just outside the walls of Roman Carthage. I got to keep one piece as a souvenir.

Which just goes to show, if you hang out on MeFi long enough, eventually all of your questions will be answered.
posted by darkstar at 5:55 AM on March 29, 2006

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