hist-games: Halatafl - digression on hnefatafl

Damian Walker damian at snigfarp.karoo.co.uk
Sat Nov 12 22:09:52 PST 2005

Quoting Jane & Mark Waks's message of Friday:

> Hmm. We're talking about different definitions of "unequal". I don't 
> dispute that the sides are quite *different* -- all the information 
> bears that out.

I completely understand you now.  The word I would have chosen is 
"unbalanced", as you do later on.

> But the more interesting and common question is whether the game is 
> *fair*: whether one side has a decisive advantage over the other. That's 
> a topic of frequent argument among the hnefetafl community, AFAICT, and 
> one of the major topics in Mats' article. It's far less clear: many 
> interpretations of hnefetafl are wildly unbalanced, but some are rather 
> better in that regard...

Much of the imbalance comes with those interpretations which (almost)  
blindly follow the Laws of tablut recorded by Linnaeus.  As time goes
by, these seem to by dying out, as people now seem to realise that those
rules don't give anything like a balanced game.  Apart from the
occasional web site, I've not seen anyone try to use them since
Pritchard's book Brain Games in 1982.

As far as _how_ to restore the balance, that's where the dispute lies, 
as only small snatches of evidence exist to hint at possible solutions, 
and it's easy to add too much weight to them.  Personally I doubt that 
the same rules were applied to every game.  People try to make the 
corner an objective for the king on all sorts of board sizes, where the 
only evidence only suggests this on some 7x7 and 19x19 boards.  On the 
11x11 Viking Game board this seems to give the attackers an unstoppable 

For 9x9, 11x11 and 13x13 boards I prefer another solution that's only
doubtfully hinted at in a couple of sources, and that's disallowing the
king from making captures.  The idea of maids "fighting around their
weaponless lord" is doubtful, because of differences in the phrase in
early and late manuscripts, Robert ap Ifan says that an attacker is
captured "between two of the king's men."  Whether it's historically
accurate or not, this apparently minor tweak of the rules makes a very
playable variant on quite a few boards (the 7x7 board with 13 pieces

Damian - http://damian.snigfarp.karoo.net/

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