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How to Play Tablut

Tablut is played on a 9x9 board with a total 25 of pieces. This includes 16 attackers, 8 defenders and 1 king. It was played in Lapland as late as the 18th century and is the most documented hnefatafl game thanks to Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus. In 1732, while touring the area he came across the game played by the locals and described it in his diary.

Step 1: Arrange the Pieces

Arrange the pieces on the board according to the following layout:

Tablut Layout

The king piece goes on the central square surrounded by his defenders. The attacker pieces surround the defenders making a cross symbol.

Step 2: Learn the Rules

  • Attackers start first.
  • Pieces move like rooks in chess, horizontally and vertically as many spaces are there are available.
  • Pieces can not jump, skip, frolic, dance, fly or hop over other pieces.
  • Pieces can not move diagonally.
  • Only the king piece can go to the central square.
  • Once the king leaves the central square, he can’t go back.
  • Other pieces can pass through the central square after the king leaves but can’t stop there (think freeway with no exit).
  • Capture pieces by surrounding the other player’s piece on two sides either horizontally or vertically (not diagonally).
  • You can voluntarily enter a space between two enemies and not be captured.
  • You can capture pieces against the central square as though your piece is on it.
  • If the king is in the central square, attackers needs to surround him on 4 sides to capture.
  • If the king is next to the central square, attackers needs to surround him on 3 sides to capture.
  • If the king is anywhere else on the board he is captured like any other piece.

The defender wins by getting the king to an edge.
The attacker wins by capturing the king.

Step 3: Switch

After the first game switch sides and play again.

Generally speaking, most people feel that it’s easier to win as the defender. This is one of the characteristics of hnefatafl games due to it’s asymmetrical nature. The strategies of a defender is more long term. Not to worry, as each player gets better the game becomes more balanced.