Monday, August 25, 2014

Viking War Game

"This 1,600-year-old Viking war game is still awesome".  (Via C.M.)

Some excerpts:
The game is similar to chess, but with several important differences. Instead of two identical and equal opponents facing each other, Hnefatafl is a game where one side is surrounded and outnumbered -- like a Viking war party caught in an ambush.

The game might seem unbalanced. The attacking black player has 24 total pieces — known as "hunns" -- to white's meager and surrounded 12 hunns. But white has several advantages.

White has an additional unique unit, a king, which must be surrounded on four horizontal sides to be captured. Hunns require being surrounded on two sides, and that's pretty hard by itself. White's goal is also simple: move the king to one of four corner squares known as "castles." Black's goal is to stop them.

Other rules? All pieces move like chess rooks. Black makes the first move. Black cannot occupy a castle, which would end the game in short order. But black can block off several castles by moving quickly, forming the equivalent of a medieval shield wall...

Hnefatafl is a Viking's worst case scenario: Outnumbered, cut off from their boats — and on the verge of being massacred. Understanding the game played by Viking war parties on the way to raid England of its booty meant understanding something about the way the Vikings saw themselves. The total time spent playing the game may have been more than any individual warrior spent sacking the Anglo-Saxons, for instance.