2011-02-14 : Tablut

This winter I learned a new game. Well, new to me; to the world, it's thousand years old. It's called Tafl, and in particular we've been playing mostly Tablut, a version from Lapland. It's an interesting game for a lot of reasons. Here's a tidy, playable version of the rules (and better balanced than the version we played, J and Eppy). Give it a try!

Play even one game and you'll discover that it's far more subtle than its rules reveal. For instance, the more pieces on the board, of both colors together, the better for the enemy player and the worse for the king's player. It's pretty easy for either side to set up a cascade of captures - I capture you, so you capture me, so I capture you - but with any such cascade, it's not straightforward who benefits more. The player who captures more and loses less benefits, yes, and so does the king's player. This means that the king's player can go more blithely into danger, despite having fewer pieces, more freely making bold and aggressive moves. The enemy player has to weigh constantly whether to engage in kind or to hold discipline. Very fun emergent play.

I'm thinking about maybe publishing an edition myself. In, y'know, lumpley games' copious free time.

1. On 2011-02-14, Kit said:

So, there's a lot of talk about imbalances and solved-ness of this game, but there are so many variants on the rules that it's unclear what this means; the version you link to sounds pretty well-balanced.

For a much more modern game with a somewhat similar feel, you might want to try Thud, especially if you're a fan of Discworld at all.


2. On 2011-02-15, Tim Koppang said:

The Tafl family of games are fascinating to me.  There's been quite an effort to reconstruct different versions of the game using archeological evidence and various incomplete sets of rules and boards.  The most recent English-language translation of the rules shed some light on the issue and are worth taking a look at if you're interested. The game is essentially unbalanced by design, but because the rules are customizable it's possible to adjust depending on the skill-level of the players.


3. On 2011-02-15, Tim Koppang said:

FYI, there is also a version you can play online at


4. On 2011-02-15, Vincent said:

The new translation, Linnaeus' Game of Tablut and its Relationship to the Ancient Viking Game Hnefatafl (pdf), looks like a rockin' good game. I for one won't mind playing a game where sometimes the king loses.


5. On 2011-02-15, Slow Dog said:

Tim's already pointed out that which I came to do. My pal surmised the imbalance of the rules was to purposefully teach any potential uppity rebels that the King always wins.


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