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Tafl board games

Updated on April 4, 2015

How we got interested in Tafl ...

This all started when we had begun attending Renaissance and Medieval Faires and SCA ( Society for Creative Anachronism ) events. After a couple of years of being patrons, we decided that we wanted to be merchants at some of them in our area.

This meant we had to decide what we wanted to have as a product to sell.

As we all enjoy playing board games that seemed to be one of the things to offer. After much research (online, talking to people at the SAC events, etc.) we started making our games on leather, suede and fabric. We then added wooden game boards to our offerings.

The first of the Tafl games we were introduced to was the 9 square board which is really called "Tablut". This game used 16 dark colored pieces for the "bad guys". They are known as the "Muscovites". Then there are 8 light colored pieces for the "good guys" and they are known as the "Swedes". There is one King. It was a larger sized piece, shaped a bit differently than the others and a different color.

For those of us that were overly challenged by the game of Chess, this was a bit easier and shorter strategy game to play. We were hooked!


A bit of history of Tafl games....

Tafl style games are believed to be from a family of ancient strategy board games played on a checkered board with two armies of uneven numbers. The time period they are from is believed to have started around 400 A.D. An early Scandinavian board game is currently known as Tafl or Hnefatafl. Some varieties of the game seem to be from Germanic and Celtic cultures.

The size of the board and the number of checkered squares and game pieces may vary but all of the games have a 2 to 1 ratio of pieces, which is rare in strategy games. These pieces will be light for one side with the lesser number of pieces and dark for the other. The side with the lesser number of pieces will also include a separate King piece.

It appears that wherever the Vikings traveled, the Tafl game was introduced. These areas included Ireland, Britain, Iceland and Lapland. The Tafl style games were played across northern Europe for centuries.

An interesting note concerning strategy games is that it is believed that they were used to help teach strategy techniques for real battle.

A couple of real good websites to go to for more information and links are:

http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/games.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tafl_games




Fabric game board

Below is a photo of a "Tablut" game board I made made of fabric. The game board itself is of plain muslin with the design and squares done using paint pens. The game pieces are wood thimbles found at a woodcraft store and I stained the attacker pieces a dark color. The King piece is also from the woodcraft store and stained a golden color.

This board was made with a deep hem at the top, in 2 sections. This is so a dowel rod could be inserted and the board could be hung on a wall when not in use.

Basic rules of the game...

Tablut (generically called just Tafl) is played on a 9×9 board. The photo above shows the pieces in their starting position.

Game set-up:

The King starts on the center square which is the Throne. This is also known as the "konakis". No other piece can ever occupy this square. The four corners of the game board are also off limits to any of the other players. Only the King can occupy the four corners.

The 8 light colored pieces, the Swedes, start on the eight squares that adjoin the Throne. this will form the shape of a cross. They are the defenders of the King.

The 16 dark colored pieces, the Muscovites, start in groups of four at the center of each edge of the board in the shape of the letter "T". They are the enemy attackers.

The rest of the squares can be occupied by any of the pieces during the game. This is the neutral zone.

Strategy:

The King's forces usually possess a slight advantage despite being outnumbered. Tactically, the defenders, the Swedes, must arrange for the King to escape to the corners of the board. Therefor, the Swedes should try to capture as many of the Muscovites as possible to clear an escape route for the King. While doing this, not try too hard to protect his own men since they too can block the King's escape.

The attackers, the Muscovites, object is not only to prevent the King's escape, but also to capture him. The best way to do this is to avoid making captures early in the gam: instead, scatter the attackers to block possible escape routes.

Playing;

The enemy attackers (dark pieces) "Muscovites" move first. Turns alternate between the players. All pieces move in the same way. On his / her turn, a player may slide a single piece of his color any number of squares in either orthogonal direction. (up-down or left-right, NO diagonal moves are allowed) as long as it doesn't jump over another piece of either color.

If the King is off the Throne, any of the players may pass over, but cannot land, on the Throne.

The defenders (light color) "Swedes" are trying to open up a path for their King to a corner square to escape the enemy. If a Swede player moves so that the King ends up with a clear path to any of the four corner squares, he must announce that he has an escape route open.

If it's one escape route it is "Check" ( older terminology is "Raichi"). If there are 2 escape routes it is "Checkmate" (older terminology is "Tuichu").

On his next turn, if he can do so, the King may move to a corner square and escape. The Swedes then win the game.

If a Muscovite inadvertently opens an escape route for the King, the King may take advantage of it immediately. The Swedes then win the game.

If a moved piece ends up sandwiching an opposing piece between it and another of it's own team or a corner square, the sandwiched piece is removed from the game board. This is called "Custodial Capture". It is possible to capture several pieces in a single move.

***Note: a piece may safely move to place itself in a sandwich position between 2 of the opposing pieces or a corner square.

The King must be sandwiched along both axis to be captured. The Throne, corners and edges count as Muscovites for purposes of sandwiching the King, so the Muscovites only need 3 pieces to capture the king on the edge of the board or if he is right beside his Throne or two pieces if the King is right beside a corner square.

When the King is in danger of being captured on the Muscovite's next move, he must announce "Watch your King" to the Swedes.

Muscovites win if they capture the King. The King can also be captured if he and no more than one Swede are surrounded on all sides and incapable of moving.

Winners:

The Swedes, if he manages to reach a corner square for his King. The Muscovites, if he manages to capture the King.

Because the game is uneven for numbers of pieces on each side, it is good etiquette to play two games, switching sides.

There are some other variations to the playing of the Tafl games but all are similar to the above. The numbers of attacking and defending pieces vary based on the variation of the game and the number of checkered squares that make up the game board. Some of the varients are listed below.

Tafl game variations...

The photo above shows the Irish version known as Brabdybh, It is played on a 7 x 7 checkered square board with the King, 4 defenders and 8 attackers.

This is a board that we made out of a slab of wood we milled and by wood burning the squares and design and we are using colored glass pebbles that are easily found in craft departments or craft stores.

Another version played on the 7 x 7 board is Ard Ri, (High King) which is believed to be of Scottish origin. It is played with the King, eight defenders and 16 attackers.

The names of some of the other Tafl games are:

Hnefatafl,: Scandinavian origin

Tawlbwrdd : Welsh origin

This link to Wiki has more detailed information plus links to historical references, etc.:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tafl_games




Where to find Tafl games...

You can contact us directly. We make this game in wood and fabric. Our website is: www.mountainrogues.com/

As there are a number of other places to find these games, doing a search online will offer you the most options. ETSY is a great artisan website to look for the games. www.etsy.com/

If funds are tight, you can easily make a game board on a piece of paper or cardboard. Use a ruler to help draw the checkered board for the game variation you want. You can easily use colored glass pieces, coins, etc for the game pieces. Just make sure you have enough of each to be the King, the defenders and the attackers. For example, you can use a Quarter for the King, nickels for the defenders and pennies for the attackers.

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    • CuAllaidh profile image

      Jeff Johnston 22 months ago from Alberta Canada

      love tafl games

    • ruthasavage profile image
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      Ruth A Savage 22 months ago from Wardsboro, VT and Charlotte, ME

      Gramerci !

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