Here’s what kind of board games the Vikings were playing:
- Hnefatafl – A war strategy board game similar to chess.
- Tablut – A version of hnefatafl for which we have the most complete set of rules.
- Kubb – The Vikings’ alternative to chess (kind of similar to hnefatafl).
While they weren’t waging wars and invading Europe, the Vikings indulged in many Tafl games-which loosely translates to tabletop games.
The Celtic and Norse people enjoyed various ancient tabletop games based on strategies, such as Hnefatafl, Tablut, Ard Ri, Brandubh, Tawlbwrdd, and Nitavil, amongst others.
They specialized in carving exquisite game boards, often featuring elaborate carvings with pieces carved from bone, wood, amber, glass, stone, and antler.
Some of their game pieces were also crafted with walrus tusk and ivory materials they acquired during their foreign conquests.
Ancient history sources reveal that Hnefatafl was the most popular game amongst the Vikings.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular board games the Vikings enjoyed.
Hnefatafl: What is it All About?
Hnefatafl is a war strategy game.
Hnefatafl was a lot like chess as the game’s objective was to capture the king game piece.
The revolves around a hostile army threatening to capture the king, while the king’s men rally around to protect their sovereign.
Much like chess, it was played on a game board featuring squares and black and white pieces.
The moves were made after throwing dice, which required acute strategizing and warring acumen.
In 2019, experts unearthed an incredible material, estimated to be at least 1200 years old, which they believe is a figurine of the king from Hnefatafl.
This exquisitely carved chess piece belongs to one of the Viking rulers, and it made its way to the British island of Lindisfarne during the infamous Viking raids.
As it happens, the Vikings raided a monastery in Lindisfarne in 793, giving us some insight into how this game piece found its way to England.
Tablut: What Does it Mean?
Tablut, which loosely translates into “play board games,” is a Viking game that survived the ravages of time. It’s a version of Hnefatafl that has the most complete set of rules.
A renowned Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, was generous enough to preserve its rules and gameplay during the 18th century.
However, Linnaeus recorded the rules in Latin, and during the 19th century, the translations made to English were largely misinterpreted and wrong.
The gamers who attempted to work through these translations concluded that the game is focused on aiding the defenders.
But over the years, experts succeeded in cultivating a set of rules to allow balanced gameplay.
Kubb: Another Chess-like Game?
Another Viking alternative for chess, Kubb, was quite famous amongst the Nordic invaders.
In some ways, it was quite similar to Hnefatafl.
This game was played on a rectangular pitch, and the two opposing teams would take turns throwing batons at rectangular wooden blocks positioned on their opposite side.
The team that succeeded in knocking down the blocks would make it harder for the opponent to win.
Once all the Kubbs are successfully eliminated, the leading team would have an opportunity to take down the king and claim victory.
Little is known about the exact rules and gameplay details of the board games enjoyed by the Vikings.
It turns out that these mighty warriors only played a handful of board games that were similar to each other.
Most were very chess-like with intricate strategies and tactics intertwined in war-like gameplay.
But whatever little details have emerged are intensely fascinating, don’t you agree?
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