hist-games: Halatafl

Jane & Mark Waks waks at comcast.net
Wed Nov 9 17:57:25 PST 2005

Huette von Ahrens wrote:
>>This is my first posting. I've made a little
>>research on the Viking
>>game Halatafl. What do you think?
>>Mats Winther
> Since no one else has answered, I think that is not a
> good site.
> The game is not Halatafl.  It is closer to Alquerque,
> but not the same.  The thing you have to realize is
> that usually Viking games are games of unequal
> opponents.  Halatafl is what we now call
> "Fox and geese".  It is played on a cross shaped board
> with one fox and either 13 or 17 geese, depending on
> which era you are using.  You can find better example
> so this game all over the internet.

Huette, I have to ask -- why are you so confident in these assertions?

I'm not convinced by Mats' page; I don't think he provides enough 
evidence for some of his assertions. But at the same time, it isn't 
clear to me that the evidence linking Halatafl so strongly to Fox and 
Geese is all that much stronger. I've just taken a quick dig through my 
books, and while all the major sources (Murray, Bell, Parlett) parrot 
that link, none seem to substantiate it. Indeed, I don't come across any 
  obvious evidence beyond having "Fox" in the name. That evidence might 
exist, but it's not well-documented in at least the common books.

And looking around on the Net, I find almost as many sites talking about 
reconstructions similar to Mats' as I do to the Fox and Geese ones. 
Indeed, the only archaeological evidence that *anybody* seems to adduce 
is the common assumption that the Ballinderry Board is a Halatafl board. 
(Of course, just as many people assume that it's a Hnefetafl board, 
complicating the question.)

As for the unequal strength of the opponents, that's also a matter of 
common wisdom more than certainty. Most interpretations of Hnefetafl are 
pretty deeply unequal, but again the evidence for those rules is weak at 
best -- the earliest concrete rules date to the 17th century, and it's 
unclear how close they are to the Viking version of the game. I commend 
Ragnarr's analysis for some examples of rules tweaks that make the game 
significantly more even:


I'm not saying that Mats' right, nor that you're wrong. And it's 
possible that the more knowledgeable experts (Thierry?) have more 
concrete evidence supporting one interpretation over the other. But I 
find myself leery of being too confident here, given how little evidence 
seems to be adduced by the sources I'm finding...

				-- Justin

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