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Mjolnir’s Game

Monday, July 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- a wargame so different from chess and go... ]
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A modern version of Hnefatafl, via Sources and Methods

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As I noted in a comment at the time, I was deadly envious of Zen‘s recent post, The VA bows Before Mjolnir, but I feel a little better now that I can make my own post about Hnefatafl, which Kristan Wheaton recently characterized as The Ancient Viking Game Every Intelligence Professional Should Play.

Prof. Wheaton’s key findings:

  • It is an asymmetric game.  As you can see from the board above, one side starts in the center and the other side surrounds it on all four sides.  One side outnumbers the other by about 2:1.  The sides even have different victory conditions (the player with the pieces in the center need to get the “King”, the large playing piece in the middle of the board, to one of the corners.  The other player is trying to capture the King).  It is not too hard to see a game such as this one incorporated into courses, classes or discussions of asymmetric warfare.
  • It is a conflict simulation.  Most historians agree that there were relatively few large scale battles involving Vikings. Instead, most of the time, combat resulted from raiding activities.  Hnefatafl seems to reflect the worst case scenario for a Viking raider:  Cut off from your boats and outnumbered 2:1. 
  • It provides a deep lesson in strategic thinking.  Lessons in both the strategy of the central position (hundred of years before Napoleon made it famous) and in the relative value of interior vs. exterior lines of communication are embedded in this game. 

I really, really like the asymmetry of this game — WTG, Norsepersons!

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