Posts Tagged 'hnefatafl'

Whose Rules?

Something I didn’t really touch on in considering So What Is a Game? is the number of players that may be involved – one player, two-player or multiplayer. Having two or more players does not necessarily make a game competitive, although it is likely to make the outcome of the game increasingly uncertain.

In their book, Game Design and Development: Fundamentals of Game Design, Ernest Adams and Andre Rollings describe the following possible combinations (pp.16-17)

• two player competitive (“you versus me”)
• multiplayer competitive (“everyone for themselves”)
• multiplayer cooperative (“‘all of us together’)
• team based (“us versus them”)
• single player (solitaire, ”me versus the situation”)

For each of the above game types, can you think of an example game, from both the world of computer games as well as ‘real world’ games?

In terms of how a game is played, why do you think two player games are singled out, rather than just being considered a class of multiplayer game? Is this distinction a good one to make?

One thing that particularly intrigues me about multiplayer games is the fact that the rules may be different for each of the players.

In other words: are my rules the same as your rules?

In a symmetric game, the same rules, starting conditions and goals apply to all players. But in an asymmetric game, different rules may apply to different players, and these players may then in turn have different aims.

(Turn based games are asymmetric in the sense that one player starts first, but we’d probably let that difference slip through if they were symmetric in all other respects!)

One of my favourite asymmetric board games is hnefatafl – Viking Chess.

hnefatafl board

In this two player game, the white ‘defender’ must move their king from the centre of the board to one of the corners, guarded by their ‘army’ of pawns. The black ‘attacker’, whose pieces are all the same, and start around the edge of the board, seeks to capture the king.

As the above diagram shows, even the initial configuration of the board can differ under different variations of the game.

You can find an online version of hnefatfl, along with a description of the rules, at

If you find a version of the game that can be played over the web, post a link and we could maybe have a game? ;-)

In the meantime, can you think of any particularly good examples of symmetric and asymmetric games, in respect of: a) different starting positions, but otherwise the same rules?, b) the same starting positions but different rules, and c) different starting positions and different rules?