The Tafl Family
These ancient games dating back to Viking times have many variants and a wide range of rules. All true tafl games though are asymmetrical, played on a board with an odd number of squares on each side so that there is a central square which is occupied by the king, and have half the number of king’s defenders to the opposing attackers.
This is an Irish board game of the tafl family known from literary references and associated with the 7x7 board game recovered from Balinderry bog in 1932 and now kept in the National Museum of Ireland. Reconstruction of the rules has an arrangement of men similar to Hnefatafl with four base camps of four and a king surrounded by eight men. The board has little room for movement and men move only one square orthogonally at each turn. Otherwise the game follows the traditional Tafl family rules.
Leather Fitchneal (7x7) board (8”sq) and wooden men in leather pouch -
£20 + postage
Tablut and Hnefatafl
The 13x13 and 9x9 tafl boards are probably the most well known of the tafl family and are thought to be the games played by the Vikings. Archaeological finds of men and parts of boards certainly link this game with Viking settlements across Europe. It was played though well into the medieval period and only slowly overtaken by chess towards the end of the 15th C. However the 9x9 game was still being played in Scandinavia in the 18th C.
The game represents the final stages of a battle where a king, on the losing side, is being attacked on four sides by an army with twice the number of men to his defending army. To win he has to escape to one of the corners. The king loses if he is surrounded on four sides. Foot soldiers on either side are captured by ‘custodial capture’, surrounded on two sides. There is no diagonal movement and pieces may move any distance in a straight line without jumping over another piece.
Leather Tablut (9x9) board (10" sq) and wooden men in leather pouch: £22 + postage
Leather Hnefatafl (13x13) board (14”sq) and wooden men in leather pouch - £34 + postage
This is the Welsh name for an 11x11 board, described with the rules of play by Robert ap Ifan in 1587 in a Welsh document (p.4 Peniarth ms) now in the Welsh National Library. This is not to say that tafl was not played on an 11x11 board in places other than in Wales. In fact it is probable that more than one size board was used at any one time and in the same place for playing tafl games.
Leather Tawl Bwrdd (11x11) board (12”sq) and wooden men in leather pouch
£28 + postage
Meaning ‘Game of the Gospels’ and documented in a 10th C English/Irish manuscript, this is the Anglo-Saxon member of the tafl family of games. It is played on a 19x19 board with forty-eight attackers and twenty-four defenders and the king. The men are set out at the start of play in a very different manner to the other games of the tafl family. Because of this and the size of the board some have said that it might represent a sea battle rather than the land battle of the other tafl games. The game though follows the rules of the other tafl games - pieces may move orthogonally as far as they wish on an unobstructed route. However due to the size of the board, and the distribution of the pieces, local skirmishes are frequent as the king tries to escape. Of all the tafl games Alea Evangelii takes longest to set up and longest to play but is possibly the most interesting and certainly the most tactical.
Leather Alea Evangelii (19x19) board (20”sq) and wooden men in leather pouch -
£52 + postage