Home > Games > Why do some of them not have shields?

Why do some of them not have shields?

June 2, 2013

Hnefatafl is, for some reason, often referred to by English speakers as “The Viking Game”. In fact, that is what is printed on the front of our set. It is actually a Viking game, though I gather the rules are pretty much reconstructed and inferred from assorted patchy sources, not many of which go back to the Viking era. Still, it’s a pretty decent strategy game with the interesting quirk that it is asymmetric, with very different forces and objectives for each of the two players.

The invaders are closing in on the king.  Can he escape?

The invaders are closing in on the king. Can he escape?

I don’t know the game very well, so don’t really know how best to do handicaps, but Miss B knew we had the game and decided she would really like to have a go.

In our first game, she controlled the king with the objective of escaping the besieging army. Both of us made what an expert would surely see as terrible moves, but I soon managed to surround the king and thus win. So we turned things around for a rematch and took away some of my pieces to hopefully give Miss B more of a chance, though it occurred to me afterwards that this might actually make it easier for a quick king’s victory as there would be fewer pieces in his way. Whatever, I won the second game too.

This was always going to be tricky as a pure strategy game. When we play chess and draughts, I know the games well enough to know that removing pieces is an effective way to shift the balance towards Miss B as much as we like. With go, a game I know less well, there is a standard handicap system that works well for us too.  But for hnefatafl, I don’t really know the effects of changing the numbers of pieces.  I gather that one way to play is that players can bid a number of turns that they figure they need to win as the king, which is generally thought to have the advantage here.  Maybe we can come up with something like that: if Miss B can hold out for, say, 15 turns, she wins.  It may be worth trying something like that but for now I don’t think she’s massively interested in playing again.

The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6½): “I don’t like it because there’s just no luck in it but I think it’s really cool design.”

The game: Hnefatafl (traditional-ish), 2 players.

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  1. July 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    A couple of tips might help you for future games.

    1. To make things easier for the king, have him win by reaching an edge square rather than a corner.

    2. To make things easier for the attackers, allow them to capture the king by surrounding him on two sides, rather than four.

    • July 2, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      Thankyou very much for those suggestions, Damian. They seem really obvious now you mention them, but I wouldn’t have thought of them. I’ll suggest them to Miss B and see if she fancies trying them out.

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