Rules of 11x11 Hnefatafl

( Viking chess )

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What is Hnefatafl

Hnefatafl was a popular game in medieval Scandinavia and was mentioned in several of the Norse Sagas. The rules of the game were never explicitly recorded, and only playing pieces and fragmentary boards still exist, so it is not known for sure exactly how the game was played.

It became a popular game in Northern Europe during the Viking era (8th to 1000th century AD), a turbulent time full of violent conflicts, but when chess became a popular game during the Middle Ages, the rules of Hnefatafl were forgotten over time.

Hnefatafl was particularly popular in Nordic countries and followed the Viking civilization to other parts of Europe, primarily to the British Isles and the Viking country of Gardarike in what is now part of Russia.


The attackers (shown as black) lay seige, their goal, to capture the chief. The defenders (shown as white) must break the seige and get their chief (shown as white with mark) to safety.

The defenders and the attackers. There are twice as many attackers as defenders.

layout at start

Copenhagen Hnefatafl 11x11 board

The attackers' side moves first, then the players take turns.

All pieces move any number of vacant squares along a row or a column, similar to a rook in chess. This piece may not jump over nor land on any other piece

piece movement

move tafl piece


All pieces except for the chief are captured if sandwiched between two enemy pieces, or between an enemy piece and a restricted square. The two enemy pieces should be on the square above and below or on the squares to the left and right of the attacked piece, but not diagonally.

A piece is only captured if the trap is closed by the aggressor's move, it is therefore permitted to move in between two enemy pieces with no consequence.

The chief may also take part in captures.

piece is captured

captured tafl piece captured tafl piece captured tafl piece captured tafl piece captured tafl piece

piece not captured

tafl piece not captured tafl piece not captured

Restricted squares

Restricted squares may only ever be occupied by the chief. The central restricted square is called the throne. It is allowed for the chief to re-enter the throne, and all pieces may pass through the throne when it is empty.

Restricted squares are hostile, which means they can replace one of the two pieces taking part in a capture. The throne is always hostile to the attackers, but only hostile to the defenders when it is empty.

The four corner squares are also restricted and hostile, just like the throne.

The board edge is NOT hostile.

the board

restricted tafl squares

defenders win

If the chief reaches any corner square, the chief has escaped and the defenders win.

defenders win

tafl defenders win

Attackers win

The attackers win if they can capture the chief.

The chief is captured when the attackers surround him on all four cardinal points.

The chief cannot be captured on the board edge, UNLESS he is the only white piece remaining on the board and is completely surrounded by black.

attackers win

tafl attackers win tafl attackers win tafl attackers win

chief not captured

tafl chief not captured tafl chief not captured

If the attackers surround the chief and ALL remaining defenders, then they win, as they have prevented the chief from escaping.

chief captured

tafl attackers win

Final Notes

If a player cannot move, he loses the game.

If the game does not end within two hours, it is a draw.

If it is not possible to end the game, for example, because both sides have too few pieces left or because of repetitions, it is a draw.