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Very little is known about the rules for Tafl games. Most of what is known comes from the account given in the journal that Carl Linnaeus kept during his expedition to Lapland in the eighteenth century. Many rules have been translated from his account of the games he watched played by the native Saami people in Lapland. Although many rules were left incomplete, vague, or contradictory many variantions of the rules have appeared trying to reproduce a balanced tafl game.

Learn more about the history of Tafl at Cyningstan's Site.

Basics · Game Rules · Time Control · Board Layouts · Variants

Movement

Most modern reconstructions of Tafl games use the same basic rules defined in Linnaeus' original text. All pieces move horiztonally and vertically as many squares as possible without going through or stopping on another piece.

Capturing

Pieces are captured custodially by being surrounded on two opposed sides. The capture only occurs on the capturing sides move. A piece can safely move between two enemy pieces.

First Move

The side which moves first in the game.

In many variants black takes the first move to offset white's natural advantage in having the easier goal. However in some variants the overall weakness of the King's position or the difficulty of his goal may call for a white to have the initial move.



Objective

The Objective is what white has to do to win the game. For black the objective is always to capture the King.

Edge Escape

In Edge Escape the King's goal is to escape to any edge of the board.

Corner Escape

In Corner Escape the King's goal is to escape to any of the four corners of the board. When the Objective is Corner Escape the four corners will be marked and no piece other than the King can move to the corner. All pieces can be captured using the corner squares.



King Capture

In some variants the King is captured as any other piece by being surrounded on opposite sides by two enemy Pawns. In others it is captured as any other piece except on certain squares. And in others the King must be surrounded on all four sides.

Custodian

The King is captured as any other piece by being surrounded on opposite sides by two enemy Pawns.

Flexible

The King is captured as any other piece by being surrounded on opposite sides by two enemy Pawns except when on the Throne where he must be surrounded on all four sides. If the Throne is Hostile the King must also be surrounded on three sides when adjacent to the throne otherwise he is captured as he would be anywhere else.

Enclosed

The King is captured by being surrounded on all four sides by pawns or hostile squares. If the Throne is not Hostile and a black Pawn cannot move to the center square the King cannot be captured against the throne.

Confined

The King is captured by being surrounded on all four sides by pawns, hostile squares, or the boards edge. If the Throne is not Hostile and a black Pawn cannot move to the center square the King cannot be captured against the throne. If the Objective is edge escape this will be set to Enclosed.



King Strength

In some variants the King is limited in how he can participate in captures.

Weaponless

The King cannot participate in captures in any way.

Hammer

The King can only initiate the capture on his move.

Anvil

The King can only participate as the opposed piece in captures.



Throne

In some variants the square the King starts on has special properties. This is commonly refered to as the Throne or castle.

Exclusive

An Exclusive Throne can only be occupied by the King. Other pieces may move over the Throne but may not stop on it.

Forbidden

A Forbidden Throne cannot be moved to. Once the King has left the throne he cannot return. Pieces may move over the Throne but may not stop on it.

Block Pawns

A Block Pawns Throne blocks all Pawns from moving over it or stopping on it and only the King can move over it. Once the King has left the Throne he cannot return.

Block All

A Block All Throne blocks all pieces from moving over it or stopping on it. Once the King has left the Throne he cannot return.



Hostile

If the Throne can be used for captures.

In some variants pieces can capture using the Throne as a Hostile square. When the Throne is Hostile any white Pawn can capture a piece adjacent to the throne by moving to the opposite square from the Throne using it as it would any other piece. however a black Pawn can only capture using the throne when the throne is not occupied by the King.



Speed

In some proposed variants such as Ard Ri and Magpie the speed of certain pieces is limited to 1 square of movement.

King Limited

King Speed is limited to 1 square of movement.

Pawn Limited

Pawn Speed is limited to 1 square of movement.

All Limited

All Speed is limited to 1 square of movement.



Surround

The Surround rule states that black wins when it has formed an unbroken ring around all of the white Pawns and King.

When Surround is Disabled the white side will be able to create a draw fort in the center of the board.



Exit Fort

Exit fort is a modern rule that allows the King to escape on the Edge in Corner Escape when special criteria are met.

Exit Fort is enabled. An exit fort can be made by completely surrounding the King on the edge by uncapturable pieces where the King has at least 1 square of movement. If enabled on Edge Escape this will be ignored.



ShieldWall

ShieldWall is an alternative capture method developed in modern times.

When ShieldWall capture is enabled you can capture a row of pieces against the edge of the board by surrounding them and then moving a piece to one end of the row against the edge of the board. The king may participate as both capturing piece and part of the shieldwall surrounding the pieces if King Strength is Armed or Hammer otherwise he can only participate in the surrounding pieces. If the King is among the pieces being captured all other pieces are captured except the King. If the game is Corner Escape you can use the Corner to cap the other end of the row. If the game is Edge Escape you can use the edge of the board to cap the row.



Repetitions

In some rule sets repeated moves are disallowed to prevent games from going on forever.

Two Move Repetition

A board position cannot be repeated two times. The player who started the repeated move will have to choose a new move.

Three Move Repetition

A board position cannot be repeated three times. The player who started the repeated move will have to choose a new move.



Rated

If the game will count against your rating.

You currently have 4 ratings that will be affected by each rated game: Overall, Overall-GameSpeed, Variant-Overall, Variant-GameSpeed. Where Overall is the overall rating across all variants, Overall-GameSpeed is your rating at the timer speed class(Correspondence, Live, Blitz) across all variants, Variant-Overall is your rating in the specific variant being played across all timer speed classes, and finally Variant-GameSpeed which is the specific rating of the variant at the current timer speed class. You will only be able to see the Overall and Variant-Overall rating in the game as it appears under each players name with Overall on the left and Variant-Overall on the right.

Time Control

How various time control mechanics work. Times are displayed in Time Notation as #T where # is how many units of time T and T is one of: d(days), h(hours), m(minutes), s(seconds). These can be compounded such as 1d12h which means 1 Day and 12 Hours. If there is a + in the time the numbers after are the special conditions associated with the time control which will be explained further below.

None

The game will last until the game ends and will not end if nobody makes a move.

Simple

The amount of time specified is how much time each player will have to make every move. If they run out of time they will forfeit the game.

Absolute

The amount of time specified is the total amount of time each player will have to make all of their moves. Once time runs out the player will forfeit the game.

Byo Yomi

The first number specified is the amount of time the players will have to make moves. This Main Time works the same way as Absolute. Once the player runs out of Main Time they will have a number of Overtime Periods which work the same way as Simple time. If you make your move before the Overtime period elapses you get the entire time period back. If you fail to move before it runs out you will lose the Overtime Period. Once you are out of Overtime Periods you will forfeit the game. The Time Notation represents the maintime and then how many overtime periods lasting how much time. For example 1h+3x1m represents 1 hour of Absolute Main Time and 3 Overtime Periods of 1 minute.

Fischer

The first number specified is the length of Main Time each player has at the start of the game. This works similarly to Absolute time with the following extra mechanics. The second number is the additional Delay Time added to the clock at the start of every turn. If you do not use the entire length of the added Delay Time it is added onto your timer up to a Max Time of the third number. If your timer elapses you forfeit the game. The Time Notation represents Main Time and then how long the Delay Time is followed by the Max Time. For example 1h+1m\1h represents 1 hour of initial Main Time with an additional 1 minute of Delay Time every turn allowing you to accumulate a Max Time of 1 hour of Main Time.

Layout

A number of initial layouts have been proposed for various board finds over the years. The only one with direct observation was the Tablut board as recorded by Linnaeus.

Brandubh

Brandubh is a layout typically attributed to various ornate and graffiti boards found throughout Ireland. They often found with marked Thrones and Corners. This is used for the H.H. Brandubh, H.H. Ard Ri, and Magpie rule sets.


Ard Ri

Ard Ri was proposed by David Parlett as a possible layout for graffiti boards found in Scotland. They are the same size as the boards found in Ireland but are only found with Thrones marked. This is not used for any of the Rated variants. This variant is usually played with limited speed.


Ballinderry II

This was first seen in the CD-ROM Zillions of Games where it was part of a variant called Brandubh.


Ballinderry III

This layout was part of Nigel Sucklings 1999 book The Leprechaun Companion as an alternative layout for Magpie.


Ballinderry IV

This is the layout used by Shannon Games for their board game Hnefatafl.


Ballinderry VI

This layout has an unusual piece ratio.


Ballinderry VII

This layout has pieces that start in the corner. Even when set to corner escape these pieces will be able to move away from the corners even though moving them would be a last resort. It is recommended to play this layout on edge escape.


Ballinderry VIII

Another layout with an unusual ratio. This is like a reduced Ard Ri or an alternative Brandubh.


Ballinderry IX

Floyd and O'Flaherty's ornate 1994 Brandubh set used this unusual setup.


Tablut

Tablut is the game we know the most about. This layout was recorded through first hand observation by Linnaeus. It is used for the H.H. Tablut and Sea Battle Tablut variants.


Jarlshof Circle

Jarlshof Circle is used for the Sea Battle Circle variant.


Papillon's Escape

Papillon's Escape was a single step variant created to accompany the release of the movie Papillon in the 1970s.


Jarlshof III

Jarlshof III is an unusual reduction of the Tablut layout.


Tawlbwrdd

Tawlbwrdd is a proposed layout for the Welsh variant of the game. This layout is used for the H.H. Tawlbwrdd variant.


Lewis Cross

Lewis Cross is a proposed layout for the Welsh variant of the game propsed in a collection of articles by F. R. Lewis in 1941. This layout is used for the H.H. Lewis Cross variant.


Hnefatafl

Hneftafl is a layout commonly used for the Norse game of Hnefatafl. This is used in the Fetlar Hnefatafl and Copenhagen Hnefatafl variants.


Trondheim Cross

Trondheim Cross is a proposed layout for the Trondheim boards. This is used for the Sea Battle Cross variant.


Toftanes I

Proposed layout for the board found at Toftanes.


Toftanes II

Proposed layout for the board found at Toftanes.


Gokstad I

Proposed layout for the board found at Gokstad.


Gokstad II

Proposed layout for the board found at Gokstad. This is used in the H.H. Gokstad and Sea Battle Gokstad variants.


Gokstad III

Proposed layout for the board found at Gokstad.


Gokstad IV

Proposed layout for the board found at Gokstad.


Coppergate I

Proposed layout for the board found at Copergate.


Coppergate II

Proposed layout for the board found at Coppergate. This is used in the H.H. Coppergate variant.


Alfheim I

Fictional layout for a 17x17 board. Largely inspired by the Gokstad I layout.


Alfheim II

Fictional layout for a 17x17 board. Largely inspired by the Tawlbwrdd layout.


Alea Evangelii

This 19x19 layout is from a 12th centure manuscript.


Variants

There are several variants rule sets offered here to play in rated games. These represent popular, historical, and balanced variants that are well known among Tafl players.

Weak King

The Historical Hnefatafl rule set was one created by retranslating Linneaus' original text and applying the rules to various layout proposals and archaelogical finds creating a single unified ruleset. These provide some of the most balanced variants of Tafl games.

Variant Rules Layout
H.H. Brandubh Brandubh
H.H. Ard Ri Brandubh
H.H. Tablut Tablut
H.H. Tawlbwrdd Tawlbwrdd
H.H. Lewis Cross Lewis Cross
H.H. Gokstad Gokstad II
H.H. Coppergate Coppergate II

Strong King

The Fetlar rules were created by the Fetlar Hnefatafl Panel for use in the World Championship on the island of Fetlar. Copenhagen Hnefatafl was created by users on Aage Nielsen's site tried to improve the Fetlar rules by minimizing draws and inventing or including additional rules such as Shieldwall Capture and Exit Forts. The Magpie rules were created for The Leprechaun Companion by Nigel Suckling and is unusual for including a King which is limited to one space movement.

Variant Rules Layout
Fetlar Hnefatafl Hnefatafl
Copenhagen Hnefatafl Hnefatafl
Magpie Brandubh

Unarmed King

Sea Battle or Longship Tafl is a variant descended from the rules put out by Jaques of London with their Imperial Conquest board game based on translations of Linneaus' journal and including various rules thought to fix the balance of the game.

Variant Rules Layout
Sea Battle Tablut Tablut
Sea Battle Circle Jarlshof Circle
Sea Battle Cross Trondheim Cross
Sea Battle Gokstad Gokstad II


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