How to Play Hnefatafl

How to Play Hnefatafl

Image for postHnefatafl, a surprisingly rich board game with Viking origins

All credit should go to the Fetlar Hnefatafl Panel for standardizing and balancing the rules.

First of all, let?s figure out how to pronounce this. ?neff-a-tafl?. Not as tricky as you thought, right? Hopefully I can convince you the gameplay isn?t tricky either.

Hnefatafl, sometimes referred to as Tafl, is a unique mix of hunt games like Fox and Hounds, and war games like Chess. Hunt games have one player whose goal is to get their piece from one spot to another, while the other player tries to stop them. Because the prey has only one piece, these games are often difficult to balance, are simplistic, and lead to sharp gameplay. War games are fought between players with equal armies, naturally leading to more compelling and balanced gameplay. By giving the prey an army as in Tafl, a new class of board games emerges unlike any mainstream game played today.

Intrigued? I sure was. Now let?s explain the gameplay. This article is meant to be as concise as possible, so please let us know if you feel any sections are confusing or unnecessary.

The Starting Position

Image for postThe attackers have 24 warriors. The defenders have 1 king and 12 warriors.

The attackers start with 24 warriors, and the defenders start with 12 warriors and 1 king. The 5 refuge squares are the dark squares, which are the four corners and center square.

Endgame Conditions

Attackers win by capturing the king.

Defenders win by bringing the king to one of the four corners.

The game is drawn if a player cannot move. The game can also optionally be drawn if a position is repeated 3 times. A position is defined by the location of all pieces, as well as whose turn it is.


Attackers move first. Both players alternate turns until the game has ended.

Image for postThe selected attacker?s warrior has 8 available moves.

Each piece moves horizontally and vertically, but cannot jump over or onto other pieces. As pictured, the attacker has 8 available moves. Note refuge squares can only be occupied by the king.

Capturing the King

Image for post

The king is captured when all 4 adjacent squares are occupied by an attacker. The king may also be captured if he is on the central refuge square.

Capturing Warriors

Image for post2 attacking warriors capture a defending warrior

All other pieces are captured when they are sandwiched horizontally or vertically by their opponent?s pieces after a move has been made.


Image for postRefuge squares can also be used to capture warriors, with one exception below.Image for postThe center refuge square is not hostile to defenders if it is occupied by the king.


  • Captures are not obligatory.
  • The king may be captured if he is on the central refuge square.
  • The king cannot be captured on the edge of the board, because he cannot be surrounded on all 4 sides.

Image for postYou cannot capture your own pieces.Image for postYou can capture more than one piece at a time.

If you want to play Tafl, we invite you to play it with us at Boardom. You can also challenge me directly. Don?t worry, we?re definitely not too good at it yet.

Your move,



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