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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > January 2018 (#14) > The Viking Game

The Viking Game

When they weren’t blood-raging or feasting for Odin, the Vikings loved a good board game – one that, centuries later, is making a comeback


Hnefatafl involves an asymmetric setup where one player attempts to protect their king while the other tries to capture him

During the 1880s, while excavating the ancient Swedish town of Birka, archaeologist Knut Hjalmar Stolpe unearthed a large, well-furnished grave containing a Viking warrior. Alongside the armour-clad remains, Stolpe found weapons (sword, axe, spear, arrows), two shields, the skeletons of two unfortunate horses and, nestled lovingly in the corpse’s lap, a full set of board game pieces.

The importance of this final element was only emphasised when, in September 2017, DNA testing confirmed that the remains were in fact female. The arms and armour suggested she was a warrior, but the game pieces encouraged the most exciting conclusion: that she was of high status – perhaps “a powerful military leader,” as archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson put it at the time of the revelation. Which means, in terms of upending our view of Viking society as male-dominated, the fact this real-life shieldmaiden could swing a blade is actually less significant than her ownership of a board game.

Tabletop gaming wasn’t just a frivolous pastime for Vikings – male or female. It was a sign of status. A huge deal.

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About Tabletop Gaming

January’s issue of Tabletop Gaming includes an exclusive preview of post-apocalyptic miniatures game Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, a chat with Mice & Mystics creator Jerry Hawthorne about his latest tale Stuffed Fables, a delve into the dark world of fake board games – including tips on how to spot a counterfeit in your collection – and much, much more. Reviews include Azul, Pulsar 2849, Civilization: A New Dawn, Dungeons & Dragons: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Indian Summer, Clank! In! Space!, Queendomino, Raxxon, Hunt for the Ring, Photosynthesis, Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate and many more.