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Subject: This too is Hnefatafl, although not all tafl games are. rss

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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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Previous reviews in this series in order, including one introductory review of a non-tafl game, are:
0. Petteia/Lantruculorum http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/344703
1. Brandubh http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/344992
2. Gwyddbwyll http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2700987
3. Fidhchell http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2701290#2701290
4. Ard Ri http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/346545
5. Tablut http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2720444#2720444
6. Tawlbyund http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/347170
7. Hnefatafl http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/348185
This review is therefore the 8th of an actual talf game or 9th in an overall series planned for 10. The last review planned is for the game Alea evangelii.

1. Introduction

This is both the eighth review in a series of reviews of tafl games, to which another related non-tafl game was prefaced, but it is also a stand-alone review of the game in question. The discussion is informal and hence foregoes citations but attempts to be as historically accurate and complete as possible.

To those people in Norse society who played this game, it like the one previously reviewed in this series was merely Hnefatafl or tafl; the modern distinction of the two games is necessary by modern standards and concepts of what constitutes "separate games" but remains nonetheless a modern artifice. The rules of the game therefore are, not surprisingly, identical to those of the previously reviewed game, Hnefatafl-- apart from the initial position of pieces (albeit with an identical number and nature of pieces). The previous discussion of rules variations similarly applies.

This raises the natural and obvious question how much of a difference the board size and initial positioning of pieces makes to tafl games in general. Although Other tafl games with varying board-sizes and initial positions could be brought into this discussion, direct comparison of "regular" and "large" [h]Hnefatafl[/b], as per the images below
,
ought suffice and should definitely make discussion more tractable. (One will have to anticipate the rules presented below somewhat, but this is unavoidable if the discussion of game-play below is to be reserved more specifically to the game at hand.)

In spite of the unfortunately similar image sizes, the upper image is of a board of 13x13 spaces and the lower image of a board of 11x11 spaces. (Whether the boards ought be points or spaces is another matter.) Allowing for this difference, the attackers' position along the edges of the board is the same in both images. The defenders' position is however markedly changed. The board is much more open for the defenders, not to mention that the board has inherently more room to maneuver to begin with. In order for the king to be moved out in the smaller game, the defending player needs move at least two defenders out of the king's way. In this larger game however, the defending player needs only move a single piece out of the king's way at a minimum to move the king. That seemingly small change makes a huge tactical difference. The attacking player must move in for the attack more quickly consequently. One must remember-- if one wishes to analyze that piece of information correctly-- that the advantage in play (if any) of this game appears to novice players to lie with the defending player, but to seasoned players of the game the advantage is seen clearly to go to the attacking player if anyone. So, in this game, the defending player can in principle move the king out toward his goal a full turn sooner than the defending player can in Hnefatafl. The attacking player must modify his own tactics accordingly. Of course, the fact the king is more relatively open in this game can also be used by the attacking player to move his pieces in more quickly to surround the king; that openness is by no means a one-way advantage.

What this means is that each of the tafl games reviewed are very much truly different games in spite of the similarity of rules.

2. Rules

As noted, the rules are identical to those of Hnefatafl apart from the board size (13x13 in lieu of 11x11) and initial positions. Therefore, that rules summary of the previously reviewed game is here reproduced almost exactly, indeed exactly save for the points mentioned.

The rules of Large Hnefatafl used herein are those most standard of the game as played without dice. (For how dice would modify the game, one is referred to the review of Tawlbyund in this series.) For reasons previously discussed the actual rules varied widely; in brief, "house rules" WERE the only rules of these games traditionally. The object of the game for the defending player, who controls the king and defenders (pictured as white in the image below, although colors used actually varied, the king being in the center of the board initially and marked in the image below with a cross) is to move the king to any corner position. The object of the attacking player, who controls the attackers (pictured in the image below as black) is to capture the king. In principle, either player can also win by leaving the opponent in such a position that he has no legal move.

The image of the initial positions of the pieces above is correct, except that the game was most often played on an 13x13 grid of points (similar to Go) rather than of spaces (like Chess).

The attackers move first, with each player moving one piece each turn; again if a player cannot do so legally on his turn, that player loses. All pieces move similarly, even the king; namely, like rooks in Chess in that a piece may move any (natural) number of points in a straight unobstructed line in any non-diagonal direction. A piece however may not either occupy the same position as another piece nor jump over another piece. All pieces (attackers and defenders alike) save the king may neither pass over nor occupy either the center position (the king’s initial position) or a corner position.

As mentioned above, all pieces save the king are captured and removed from play custodially. Namely, if one moves a friendly piece into a position directly adjacent to an enemy piece such that another friendly piece is directly adjacent to that same enemy piece on the directly opposite side horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally, then the enemy piece is captured and removed from play. If a piece is move so that the situation occurs on more than one side of the piece moved, multiple captures do occur. Either player may use the center position (if unoccupied) or a corner in lieu of a friendly piece in making a capture, but one must still move a piece into a capturing position to make a capture.

The king is however captured if attackers occupy each of the four positions immediately adjacent to the king in all four non-diagonal directions. When the king is next to the board’s edge, occupation of the three positions immediately adjacent non-diagonally to the king by attackers will capture the king. The center position or a corner may also be used in lieu of an attacker when capturing the king.

3. Game-play

This is as all tafl games an abstract which combined the "simple yet elegant" and "brain-burner" modes of that genre of games. The fact that the ends of the cruciform formation of the defenders extends beyond the end of the line of attackers on the parallel edge of the board is to the defending player's advantage, as initially the openness of the board is. Yet, the attacking player has the opening move and begins on the attack. That attack takes the form of moving in to block the king and defenders while lingering just on the edge of offering the attackers up for a free capture. The defending player may be wise to open up the king on multiple sides before choosing an escape route, in order to force the attackers to enclose a maximum amount of territory; yet at the same time, the more turns before the defending player begins his push to a corner, the more able the attacking player is to close his net about the king.

I personally, tend to favor aggressive strategies on both sides and will move out the king as soon as possible. The defenders then can be compared to line-backers keeping opposing players off the quarter-back (here the king) if I'm using an analogy to American football correctly (which I realize I might not be). The attackers would then be compared by contrast to a pack of wolves--with the king as prey. Defenders are extraraw meat, but they remain mostly beside the way. The king is the focus of the game for both sides. The wolves try and enclose the king, leaving him nowhere to run. The defenders try and keep those wolves at bay.

The result is a genuinely exciting and challenging game. The length of the game is a bit less than that of Chess but the strategic depth really is not.
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