Digital Hnefatafl Roundup

Hnefatafl?

Hnefatafl, or just Tafl, is a viking-era board game, starting in Scandinavia, but was also taken through conquest or trade to the British Isles, Iceland, Greenland, France, Germany, and Ukraine. (See The History of Hnefatafl)

Tafl means table or board, and Hnefatafl can be translated as either as either King’s Table, or Board Game of the the Fist. (See Tafl games) Presently, you will also find the game referred to as Viking Chess.

The game was never standardized, with rules varying from one location to another. Today there are multiple variations of the game in existence, and with time there has been better scholarship related to more faithfully recreating historical game rules. (See Hnefatafl: a Game in Decline, Hnefatafl Today)

The game is an asymmetrical game in which the offensive and defensive players have different goals. Exact rules vary, but as defense you are trying to protect your king and allow him to escape to one of the board corners. As offense, your goal is to capture the king before he escapes. If you are studying Scandinavian languages or cultures, or are just a fan of historical board games, this is a great opportunity to become familiar with a less well known game.

Digital Roundup

If you are unfamiliar with the game, you probably aren’t going to want to go out and purchase a physical set, but luckily there are a fair number of digital game versions to get you started exploring the game and it’s multiple variations. Feel free to just browse through all the reviews, or for your convenience you can jump to one of the following below. Note that I have not tried all platform versions for each digital game, so the game and interface shown in the screenshots may vary from platform to platform.

Hnefatafl (Fellhuhn)

  • Platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux (Ubuntu), iOS, Android
  • Cost: Desktop – $9.99; Mobile – Free with ads ($4.99 to remove ads)
  • Play: Steam, Website
  • Overview: While there are a lot of great options, I would probably have to pick this version as my top pick overall. It has nice art, with plenty of customization options, two player (offline or online) and multiple AI opponents. The game has nice visual gameplay instructions for each of the variations, and the language can be set to Norwegian which is a nice benefit for language learners. The game offers multiple play variations including: Historical Ard Li, Magpie, Historical Brandubh, Federation Brandubh, Historical Tablut, Foteviken Tablut, Linnaeus’ Tablut, Simple Tafl, Berserk Hnefatafl, Copenhagen Hnefatafl, Fetlar Hnefatafl, Historical Hnefatafl, Old Hnefatafl, Sea Battle 11×11, Tyr 11×11, Tyr 15×15, Coppergate Hnefatafl, Historical Alea Evangelii, or create your own!

Play Hnefatafl Online (Aagebueksen.dk)

  • Platform: Web
  • Cost: Free
  • Play: Website
  • Overview: The site is associated with the World Tafl Association, and offers online two player games and tournaments. Various play variations are available including: Market Hnefatafl 9×9, Historical Hnefatafl 9×9 (Saami Tablut), Historical Hnefatafl 11×11 (Welsh Tawlbwrdd), Simple Tafl 11×11, Tyr 11×11, Copenhagen Hnefatafl 11×11, Hnefatafl 11×11, Total Hnefatafl 11×11, Sea Battle 9×9, Sea Battle 11×11, Saami Sahkku 3×15 (Kaafjord), Daldos 3×14, Saami Daabloe 11×9, and Frisian Dablo 11×9.
Aagebueksen.dk Gameplay Screenshot

Litafl (Litafl.com)

  • Platform: Web
  • Cost: Free
  • Play: Website
  • Overview: This is a great basic platform for fast online games ranging from 1 to 15 minutes. Litafl offers a few variations including: Hnefatafl Classic, Cross, Lewiss Cross, Tawlbwrdd, and Tablut. Fair number of members on discord.

Viking Chess: Hnefatafl (Rain games)

  • Platforms: Mac, Windows
  • Cost: $4.99
  • Play: Steam
  • Overview: This is probably my favorite 3D version of the game, with some epic graphics. Personally I sometimes find playing in 3D challenging to see everything, so it is nice that it has a “tactical” mode which shows a top down view of board should you need that. There are two player (offline or online) and AI modes, and for those new to the game, there is also a nice learning mode.
  • Viking Chess: Hnefatafl (Rain games) Gameplay Screenshot

Ancient Board Game Collection (Klemens Strasser)

  • Platform: iOS
  • Cost: $2.99
  • Play: Website
  • Overview: Nice art and clean interface with clear instructions. The app includes various other ancient games, so if you are not a serious Hnefatafl player, but are interested in playing it, along with other games, this could be a good choice. Two player (offline or online) and AI (Training) modes. For the Swedish language learner, you can set the language to Swedish.
  • Ancient Board Game Collection Hnefatafl Gameplay

Tafl Champions: Ancient Chess (Gritstone Games)

  • Platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android
  • Cost: Free + required purchases for continued play
  • Play: Website
  • Overview: Decent graphics with nice fire crackling audio in the background. Uses Tablut variation rules, and offers two player (Offline or Online) play. No AI available.

Hnefatafl: Viking Chess (CeakMentiras)

  • Platforms: Windows, Linux, Android, Android (Amazon)
  • Cost: Free (Desktop); $.99-$1.00 (Android)
  • Play: Itch, Android
  • Overview: This version of the game has a fun cartoony gameplay, along with sound effects and background audio. The game has a nice feature that you can change colors for those who have color blindness. The game offers offline two player and AI modes. While typically pieces move similar to the rook in modern western chess, this game also adds an option to change the way pieces move, mimicking the way the rook, bishop, or knight move in western chess.
Hnefatafl Viking Chess (Mentiras) Screenshot

Hnefatafl-3D (Tomás Longo)

  • Platform: Windows
  • Cost: Free
  • Play: Itch
  • Overview: For a basic 3d gameplay experience, this is a nice option. Two player offline play only.

Tafl Games (Levi Moore)

  • Platform: Android
  • Cost: Free
  • Play: Website
  • Overview: This is a decent free app without ads that offers Hnefatafl, Hnefatafl (small), Ard Rí, Brandubh, Tablut, and Tawlbwrdd variations. The game also allows you to tweak the specific rules to your preferences. There are offline two player and AI options, be aware that the AI takes an increasingly longer time to make moves as AI difficulty increases.
  • Tafl Games Gameplay Screenshot

Chess Remix (Alexander Everett)

  • Platform: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android
  • Cost: Free with ads/limitations; Full version ranges to $24.99
  • Play: Website
  • Overview: If you are interested in playing a large variety of chess variations (along with other types of games), this might be an interesting choice for you. In terms of Tafl variations this offers the following: Hnefatafl, Tablut, Brandubh, Ard Rd, and Tawlbwrdd. The app also has the ability to set the language to Swedish, which could be beneficial for the Swedish language learner. Local player vs player or player vs AI modes.
  • Chess Remix Hnefatafl Gameplay Screenshot

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