The Viking Game is one of several variants of Hnefatafl (also published as such, as well as a multitude of other names including The King’s Table), a genuinely ancient two-player battle that Vikings played and archeologists have pieced together the rules for.
The board (usually a cloth, laid flat) shows a grid with marked squares on the four sides and also in the centre – these are the starting positions for your pieces. One player is defending the King. Their pieces start centrally and their aim is to get the King from the central spot to one of the four ‘safe’ corner spaces. The other player’s job is to surround the king, which wins them the game much as a ‘checkmate’ would in chess.
All the pieces move the same way – as a rook does in chess, they can go as far as they like in any direction (except diagonally) until they come to an occupied square. Unlike a rook in chess however, pieces aren’t captured by claiming the opponents spot. Instead standard pieces are ‘taken’ by the opponent’s pieces occupying a square either side of them. The ‘taken’ piece is immediately removed from the board – though a piece can move into such a space (i.e. between opponent pieces) without being removed.
The King is harder to defeat and is only taken by being surrounded on all four sides by opponents.
For me The Viking Game is somewhere between Draughts/Checkers and Chess. It has more to think about than the former but less than the latter (far less, in fact). Part of the appeal is the tradition and part is the sets themselves which are often beautifully designed. The gameplay itself I admit I find a little basic and while I’m happy to play it once in a blue moon I think recent designers have come up with more interesting (Battle Line for instance) thematic (Memoir 44) and downright bludgeoning/sneaky fun (Quantum or Condottiere) versions of battles.
I haven’t played this in a while – I must confess I’d usually rather play a modern board game than a classic like this, Draughts or Chess – though Go has piqued my interest lately.
High. It's a battle.
Low-to-medium. It depends how fast your opponent likes to play (see Brain Burn below)
It's not as mentally taxing as chess so even the chaotic mid-game won't demand too much from you. But it's a thinky game rather than one that flashes FUN in neon letters.
The Viking Game is still around after literally centuries, so something about it appeals to people. It's best played as a pair of games with each player taking a turn as defender and attacker - the side with the King has an inherent advantage, and there's a system of betting (on how many moves the players think they can win in) designed to even things up for those who like that type of thing.