hist-games: Hnefatfl, Tablut, etc.

Mats Winther mwi9 at swipnet.se
Sun Aug 6 22:58:15 PDT 2006

Den 2006-08-06 08:14:06 skrev Damian Walker <damian at snigfarp.karoo.co.uk>:

> Quoting Mats Winther's message of Yesterday:
>> I have continued my little research on the Hnefatafl family. I have
>> corrected a rather serious bug in my earlier implementation, improved
>> its strength, corrected setup of Brandubh, and added Large Hnefatafl,
>> and Alea Evangelii.
>> http://hem.passagen.se/melki9/tablut.htm
> It's nice to see your continued work on this.  I can't play it, as I
> don't have Zillions, or a Windows PC to run it on.  But it's nice to see
> the game have continued attention.

>> I have tested the following rules, proposed by someone on the
>> Historical Museum, Stockholm.
> These rules are good, but it's important not to spend too much effort
> trying to discover the "correct" rules for this game.  There were none.
> It was a living, breathing game in those days, undergoing change,
> something obvious by the variety of boards and the discrepancies between
> the two rule sets that have survived.  There is no reason why this
> evolution shouldn't continue, so I regard modern reconstructions just as
> much a part of the game as the historic ones.  The true test is whether
> they play well.
>> In order to capture the king both two-way and four-way interception
>> are used.
> This is one example of the discrepancies.  In tablut, the king was
> certainly not captured by two men (Linnaeus states this explicitly).
> In tawlbwrdd, he was only captured in this way.  As for other games, we
> can only look to the example of these two.  The idea of two-way capture
> away from the central square is a good compromise.  I offer it as an
> option on the applet on my hnefatafl page (which currently lacks a
> computer player).
>> Otherwise it would be very easy to capture the king on these four
>> squares as only one piece would be necessary.
> Bear in mind that the central square wasn't necessarily used for capture
> like the corners.  The construction of the alea evangelii board
> described by the Corpus Christi College manuscript suggests captures
> against the corner squares (which have decorative men fixed to them) but
> not against the central square (which does not).
>> It is not correct what they say everywhere on the Internet, that this
>> game is lopsided.
> It is true, perhaps, to say that bad reconstructions are lopsided.
> There are plenty which are evenly matched enough for an enjoyable game.
>> The escape to the corner squares, and not merely the rim, should be
>> the correct rule, because it carries greater symbolical value.
> I would argue that the escape to the corner squares is correct,
> historically, for boards which have them marked, like brandub (assuming
> that this is the game that the Ballinderry and Downpatrick boards are
> for) and alea evangelii.  On those boards which don't, like tablut and
> tawlbwrdd, we need to look to other ways to balance the game.
>> I suspect that variants, unlike these, that seem clearly lopsided were
>> actually played with dice. It is probably necessary to make the game
>> favourable to black when using dice, because otherwise White could
>> make better use of his winning strategies. One such game is Ard-Ri. It
>> is evident that White will lose several pieces already in the opening
>> (if the opening setup is correctly understood). White doesn't stand a
>> chance. Perhaps it would be different with a die. We know, from fact,
>> that these games were sometimes played with dice, on the British
>> islands. I might implement the lopsided games as dice games to see
>> what happens.
> Ard Ri appears slightly more sensible if you only allow the pieces to
> move to an adjacent square.  Otherwise, you are right, white has no
> chance.  I don't think that dice balance this out, though they do
> provide a slight chance that black will be prevented from making
> sensible moves for several turns in a row.
>> One curious historical fact that Alea Evangelii was actually played on an
>> 18x18 board, that is, a Go board proper. The pieces were placed on the
>> intersections, just like in Go. Pieces are captured by surrounding (only
>> more extensive in Go). Are these mere coincidences?
> Most probably.  Play on the intersections of points was used in Western
> games too.  Consider three- and nine-men's morris, alquerque and fox &
> geese.  There are also many Scottish and Irish hnefatafl boards of
> incised stone, with a grid of 6x6 squares, where the central
> intersection is encircled.  One of them, from Downpatrick, also has
> quadrants drawn inside the corner intersections, as in the Ballinderry
> board.


You could always buy a used Windows laptop on Ebay for $30, and
then buy the download version of Zillions for a few dollars more.

But the Vikings played Tablut extensively, they started training it
when they were young boys (training tafl and swimming). In Tablut,
Brandubh, and Large Hnefatfl, they could not have used the rule of
4-way capture beacuse it doesn't work. I have tested this on the
computer. It is an easy win for white. The game becomes completely
meaningless. The fact that the lapps used degenerated rules doesn't
mean anything. The Vikings coulod not have devoted so much time
to a game that doesn't work.

It's awkward to use 4-way capture because then the king
cannot be captured if it's positioned at the edge of the board, where
it cannot be surrounded on four sides. This proves that Linneaus rules
doesn't work. If that is going to work, then you have to use all peripheral
squares as capture squares, and then the game is even more lopsided.


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