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Hnefatafl» Forums » Variants

Subject: King to the corners or border? rss

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Fred Barrett
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Across the board it seems that the modern rules for King's Table say that to make the game less biased in favor of white, the king must reach one of the four corners of the board instead of any of the squares in the outer edge. Fine by me. Sounds more challenging for both sides--a better game, right? Then I read the article in Abstract Games magazine.

Michael Sandeman referenced Linnaeus' description of the game from 1732, which seems to be the only description of the rules out there, and these are for the 9x9 grid version of the game (the larger versions may have different rules, but we don't know, so we play with the 9x9 rules). Anyway, these original rules have the king claming victory when he reaches the outer edge of the board (not just the corners). Critics felt that Linnaeus' rules were too biased in favor of white, so they added the corner rule, which then introduces pinning the king against the wall, capturing using the corner squares like the throne, etc. Essentially more rules. Michael Sandeman claims in the article that the bias isn't actual. He sites the now defunct braingking.com site that used the border victory in its games. Black won as much as white, and the games were challenging, although short, but corner victory games are short, too.

Last night I replaced my coffee table display of Cathedral with King's Table and began exploring scenarios between a corner victory game and a border victory game. The games played much differently, as black had to play more defensively with a bv, but the border victory scenario didn't seem "broken."

So, who else has played King's Table with a King's Border Victory? does anyone play this way regularly? Does anyone prefer this type of game? I'd like to understand this game better. It's rapidly becoming one of my favorites.
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Philip Thomas
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I have always played King to the corners. I would have thought it is self-evidently easier to get to the sides than to the corners, but I could be wrong.

I also own a horrible Hneftafl set with a 5 times 5 board, and if you played that as getting to the side White would win very easily.
 
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Steen Bang-Madsen
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To the corners.
 
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Fred Barrett
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It also seems that if you get your King to one of the edges, you pretty much have a good shot at the corner. Also, you don't get to call out "Raichi" and "Tuichi" as often, if at all! I'm still trying to figure out how the King can't just barge across the board, since it takes four black pieces to surround him. I'll have to play a few more times. Anyone out there who has tried the border victory?
 
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Damian Walker
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I have to point out a number of things about brainking: i. it's not defunct, it's there at http://www.brainking.com/ - I played there earlier today; ii. though the king wins upon reaching an edge, he's also unable to take part in captures himself, which helps to even things up, and iii. the ratio of defender/attacker wins is more like 2:1 than 1:1, but apparently this becomes more even between more experienced players. It seems that with these rules, like some others, the strategies for the defender are more easily grasped, but there are also good strategies for the attacker for players with the skill and patience to learn them.

It seems that there are two ways to even up the game: the corner victory (i.e. the king must reach the corner) and the weaponless king (i.e. the king cannot make captures). Either may be applied to the "orthodox" rules to make the game more even. I think the "correct" option is different for different games. For tablut I like the weaponless king, because Linnaeus doesn't state one way or the other whether the king may capture, but he does say (or imply by example) that the king wins upon reaching the edge. On the other hand, corner markings on the Ballinderry board and the alea evangelii suggest that in those games a corner victory was the rule.

I nearly always play "The Viking Game" (the popular 11x11 variant with 37 pieces) with the edge victory and weaponless king, as it seems that the attackers can ALWAYS win with the standard corner victory. The well known strategy of blocking off all corners with 3 pieces per corner leaves the attacking force with 12 free pieces to form a line across the board. This line can be gradually swept across the board to constrict the defending force. This strategy is very easy, and once discovered, makes the game too unbalanced AGAINST the king.

Edits are in red.
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Damian Walker
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I forgot to mention a third way of evening up the game: allow the king to be captured on two sides only, as in tawlbwrdd. This, in a game where the king does capture and wins upon reaching the board edge, seems to give a reasonably even game on the 9x9 and 11x11 boards.
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Fred Barrett
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Thanks for your help! I'm so glad BrainKing is there. It must have been down when I checked. I, too, discovered the weaponless king concept today as being crucial to the border victory. Linnaeus doesn't mention it? Michael the article writer does, but I think he was pulling from multiple sources, including Linnaeus.

I may beleaning toward the border victory. It's much more tense. We'll see when I play others. Thanks for your help!

Fred
 
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Damian Walker
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This is what's in Linnaeus (1811 English translation), regarding capture: "9. If any one man gets between two squares occupied by his enemies, he is killed and taken off, except the king, who is not liable to this misfortune." It seems reasonable to assume that the king can form part of a pair of capturing men but not be captured this way himself. But given that this language isn't precise, there is room for doubt about whether the king is allowed to capture. The original Latin reads "9. Si qvis hostem 1 inter 2 sibi hostes collocare possit, est occisus et ejici debet, etiam Rex," if that helps anyone.

The idea of the weaponless king comes from a riddle in one of the Icelandic sagas, the Hervarar Saga, where the question is asked: "Who are the maids who fight weaponless around their lord, the fair ever attacking him and the brown sheltering him?" In a later manuscript, "weaponless" applies to the king. This isn't conclusive, but in a 1587 description of tawlbwrdd it says an attacker is captured if he gets "between two of the king's men"--implying that the king himself wouldn't dirty his hands in this way.

None of this is particularly conclusive, but more compelling is the fact that Linnaeus's game doesn't work any other way unless you contradict him. Bear in mind, though, that the game changed as the Vikings carried it about, so these rules about where the king wins, and whether he can capture, might differ in other variants.
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Damian Walker
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Alea Evangelii isn't the only game in which the king may need to reach a corner. The wooden board from Ballinderry, with the 7x7 grid of peg-holes, also has corner markings, which may be exit points for the king. A stone graffiti board from Downpatrick, with a grid of 7x7 intersections, also has similar corner markings.
 
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Les Lauber
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I've played it both ways, and don't have a clear favourite approach. I think both are interesting. One of the things I try to keep in mind is that HNEFETAFL is not a balanced game--both the size of forces and victory conditions are different for each player. Whichever way I play, we usually switch sides and play a second game, with the person who has the fewest pieces captured in both games being declared the "winner."
 
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Fran Player
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I recommend you to download the book "Reconstructing Hnefatafl" by Damian Walker (e-book available in Amazon). It is the most scientific, historic, archeologic and informed reference I have ever found on Hnefatafl. In the book, after a well documented investigation, he demonstrates the following important considerations:
1) Favor the cross formation over the diamond one for the defenders. Although the commercially available Copenhagen/ Fetlar variants favor the diamond pattern, the cross formation provides the best balanced results and is consistent with Linnaeus sketch.
2) Have the king being captured like a normal piece with two pieces only, with the known exceptions of him being in his castle or adjacent to it.
3) Emphasize the Linnaeus goal of reaching an edge, not a corner, sharpening the elegance and beauty of what you call the Tablut variant.
4) Have the king being unable to re-enter his castle once it has exited it and have the castle become hostile to defenders also once it has been unoccupied.
I have thorougly tried this rules and have found Hnefatafl the most fascinating game and completely balanced.
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