Gaming In Scandinavian History

Posted 5 months ago in More

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Gaming has always been a big part of Scandinavian culture, be it just for fun or financial prizes (a trend that continues today with things like Bethard Bonuskod). But back in the old days, when Vikings ruled the lands, one of the most popular games to play were Tafl games. Tafl, which derives from the old Norse word for table, was a game popular wherever the Viking had made their presence felt, from Scandinavia itself down to Ireland and as far as the Russia and Ukraine.

Tafl was popular between around 300AD and 1100AD, when its cultural position started to be replaced by chess. As a game, Tafl was a little like chess, a strategy board game that involved trying to capture the king piece (or help it escape, depending on which team you chose). Various different version of the game existed, with different communities having had different rules. However, very few of the different sets of rules for each different version have survived to modern times. The exception to this is the set of rules for tablut, the version of the game played by the Sami people. This game survived for longer than many of the other versions, and was still being played up to the 1700s when intellectual and botanist Carl Linnaeus came across it on his expedition to Lapland. He saw the game played there and recorded the rules, a recording which survived to modern times (albeit with a misunderstanding for a time due to inaccuracies when Linnaeus’ report was mistranslated). The tablut game featured a team of ‘Swede’ pieces defending the king piece from a team of ‘Muscovite’ pieces, names that reflected the regional rivals of the time. The game was played on a reindeer hide on a board of 9×9 squares. Tablut was actually just a general Sami word for board games rather than the name of the game in general, but has now gone into the books as the official name for the Tafl-adjacent game.

Tafl games were later revived in the late 20th century, and now players can play in big meet up tournaments, annual championships and online. So if you fancy it, there’s a way to relive the gaming of the distant past.

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