You Have to Play This 1,600-Year-Old Viking War Game. Especially if you’re a diplomat, soldier or spy, says one ex-spook, says Robert Beckhunsen in this recent article.
“Hnefatafl is a Viking’s worst case scenario: Outnumbered, cut off from their boats—and on the verge of being massacred. Understanding the game played by Viking war parties on the way to raid England of its booty meant understanding something about the way the Vikings saw themselves. The total time spent playing the game may have been more than any individual warrior spent sacking the Anglo-Saxons, for instance.”
Hnefatafl is interesting because it’s asymmetric – White has 12 “hunns” and has to hustle their king to one of the safe castles to keep him alive, whereas Black has 24 “hunns” and is trying to hem in, capture and kill the King. Ex-spook Kristan Wheaton thinks it’s great training for military and political thinking:
“I love the asymmetry in this game. To win in this game, you absolutely have to think like your opponent,” emails Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at U.S. European Command’s Intelligence Directorate. “Geography, force structure, force size and objectives are different for the two sides. If you can’t think like your opponent, you can’t win. I don’t know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict.”
While Hnefatafl is almost extinct as a game, there are in fact world championships – e.g. here in Scotland last year.