Tablut/Hnefataf Rules, Route and Layout


Hnefatafle/Viking Chess

Tablut is played on boards varying in size. The two printable boards in this pdf are 9×9 and 11×11 square grid. Accompanying the boards, there are 16 dark pieces and 8 light pieces plus a King piece for the 9×9 grid board, and 24 dark pieces, 12 light pieces and a king for the 11×11 grid board. The King is usually taller, sometimes in the same colour as the light pieces and sometimes in a more regal hue such as gold.

Tablut is a game of unequal sides and different objectives. The King is placed in the centre of the board and the light defending pieces surround him in the pattern shown in the layout below. The dark pieces are placed in 4 groups in a particular formation at the middle of each edge of the board.

Hnefatafle 9x9 layout.png

Hnefatafle 11x11 Layout.png

The aim for the defending light coloured side is to get the King to a corner square of the board. The aim of the attacking side is to kill the King before he escapes to a corner. 

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The attacking side – the dark colour  pieces – moves first. All pieces move orthogonally like the rook in Chess – in a straight line for as many empty squares as the player chooses. Pieces cannot hop over other pieces and cannot move diagonally.

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Capturing only happens when a piece is moved so that a single opposing piece ends up trapped between two of the players pieces. A captured piece is immediately removed from the board. It is possible to capture more than one piece at once.

There is a rule that says the King is unarmed and cannot capture, and there is another rule that states the opposite.

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Because the King is the only piece that can occupy a corner square, the corners are out-of-bounds to all other pieces. A piece that is next to the corner square can be captured by a single opposing piece. The piece is moved so that the opposing piece is trapped between the corner and the piece moved – the corner square acts as the second capturing piece.

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A piece can safely move to a square  between two of the opponent’s pieces without being captured.

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The King is harder to capture because opposing pieces must surround him on all four sides or, if the King is at the edge of the board, on the 3 sides available. Only the King is allowed into the corner squares – and, of course, such a  move wins the game.

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Variations of Tafl games abound. For instance: some versions say the King only has to reach the edge of the board. Some versions say that the King can be captured in the same way as any other piece. A good variation is that the King’s player must say ‘Check’ if he can get the King to the edge of the board on his next turn.

There are clues from the Nordic Sagas hinting that the King cannot take part in captures but many versions have an armed King who can capture.

Page  4. Printable 9×9 Board.

Page  5. Printable 11×11 Board.

Page 6. Printable counters. Stick to card and cut out. (Alternatively, use coins.)