Noggin the Nog - Hnefetafl

Introduction - History - Game Board and Pieces - The Story
Noggin's Game - Knut's Game - Thor Nogson's Game - Olaf's Game


Introductionthegame.gif (14259 bytes)

In the Noggin the Nog book, "The Game", Olaf the Lofty invents a new game, which sweeps the nation in a massive craze, at leadt until everyone realises that Noggin is better at it than them.

Eventually Nogbad faces Noggin in a showdown to see who is the better player, but inevitably it is just another Nogbad trick to try and win the crown...


The game described in the book does actually exist, and is based on a real game played by the Scandanavian people before chess was introduced into Europe in the twelfth Century.  There are game pieces and boards found in grave mounds as early as 400 AD, and there are many references to the game in Norse and Icelandic Sagas.

The rules for Nog's Hnefetafl are based on two accounts, one written by Robertap Ifan in 1587 and another by Linnaeus writing about the old Icelandic peoples.   Thor Nogson's game in which the pieces move like the knight in chess is an accidental invention by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, based on their misreading these accounts!

Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin would like to acknowledge the debt they owe to H.J.R. Murray, whose History of Board Games other than Chess, published by Oxford University Press in 1952, first led them to Hnefetafl

Finally, if anyone would like to publish this game, please let us know via e-mail at:



Game Board and Pieces
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The Story

In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their grat log fires and they play a game.

The play the ancient game of Henfetafl, which is a simple, subtle game where pieces are moved about on a board.  The pieces they use are carved images now but once they were real and alive and the moves of the game retell an old terrible tale  from the dark history of their land.

In those days, the Northland was new.  The city of the Nogs was yet to be built, the little fields had not yet been dug and the valleys between the mountains were covered with dark forests below the reach of the sun where lurked strange unlovely beasts.

Of these forests, none was so dark and dense as the wood they called Troldeskow and of these beasts none were stranger and less lovely than the heavy two-faced trolls that trod the twisted wood and kept it for their master the wicked one-faced king.  His castle was a cave in the middle of the forest, a cave rich with the wealth of the innocent travellers that he had lured there and rank with the stench of their bones for none who came to that place lived long enough to leave.

Then it came to pass that the young prince they called Noggin the Nog came to the forest of Troldeskow with eight of his warriors.  They came to do battle with the king of the trolls but the king took them for simple travellers and with magic and malice lured them through the forest to his cave meaning to slay them there.

The Nogs did not seek to correct his mistake until they reached the very cave.   Then the king of the trolls found out that his guests were more than simple travellers and that his magic was useless against Noggin who wore Olaf's ring, the stone of Nudrug.

So, at last, the dreaded king of the trolls was laid low.  His magic was turned against him  and bound him howling deep in his own cave.  The battle had been swift and short but the howls of the enraged king were echoing through the forest.   His subjects the heavey two-faced trolls had heard his cries and were moving, too late perhaps, to give him aid.

When Noggin and his warriors made ready to leave the cave, they saw the trolls moving about in the wood.  They left Noggin at the cave, which was a safe place because even the trolls would not come so close to their kind, and went out into the forest to do battle with the trolls and find, if they could, a path through the magic wood to lead their prince to safety.

How that day's battle fared is the matter of this game.  Some tell how Noggin and his warriors outwit the sullen trolls and come forth safely but others may find that the day fares ill for Noggin and he falls victim to the Trolls.

There are as many ways to play this game as there are versions of this battle's tale.   One of these, called Noggin's game is thought to be nearest to the truth of the contest and is played in the following manner :-



Noggin's Game

The board is the magic forest of Troldeskow.

One player is Noggin and commands the Nogs.

One player is the troll kings and commands the trolls.

The king of the trolls is imprisoned in his trollstone in the middle of the board and Noggin shall stand upon it.

About their Prince shall stand the eight Nog warriors on the squares marked with a sword.

On the squares marked with a ring shall stand the sixteen trolls.

Noggin shall move a piece first.  Then the troll king shall move a piece and thus alternate moves shall be made by both players.

A piece may move any distance along the straight line of squares on which it stands, but it may not pass or jump a piece that is in its way.  Noggin may only move one square at a time.  The troll king may not move at all except at the end of the game.

No piece may move diagonally.  Two pieces may not stand on the same square.

The task of the Nogs is to show their Prince a clear way to the ends of the board.   If Noggin shall come to a square from which he can see a clear way down a straight line of empty squares to the edge of the board his warriors shall should "UIT NOG".  The the trolls must close the way or the game is lost to them (because, although Noggin only moves one square at a time in the wood, as soon as "UIT NOG" is heard he can move as swiftly as a warrior and be off the board in the next move.)  If Noggin shall come to a square from which he can see two clear ways to the edge of the board his warriors shall rejoice and shout "TUIT NOG" for the trolls cannot close two ways out in one move and the Nogs have won.

The task of the trolls is to block Noggin's way, to take his warriors and to surround him, for, if the trolls are on three sides of Noggin, the magic that binds the troll king will be broken and witht he terrible cry of "HNEFETAFL"* he leaps from his trollstone and occupies the fourth square (without regard for any other piece that may happen to be there already).  Then Noggin is surrounded and the trolls have won.   On the centere square, he can only be caught by being surrounded on four sides.   Any piece except for Noggin and the troll king may be taken is two of the opponent's pieces stand one one each side of him except that if a piece moves himself into a square between two oponents he shall not be takedn (unless one of the opponent's pieces shall move away and later move back to take him).

Once Noggin has moved from his starting place he cannot return and the troll king, once revealed, cannot move but may take part in the capture of Nogs.

If a situation should arise where by reapeating the same moves over and over the game appears unendable, it shall be Noggin's duty to make a different move or yield the game.

*It is known that this is not the true cry of the troll king but the name of the game.   What exactly the troll king shouts is lo longer known for none have dared repeat his cry for fear of what it may invoke, and the memory is lost.



Knut's Game

Price Knut was the young son of Noggin and Nooka.  This is the game taght the children of the castle played.

The pieces are set up as for Noggin's game but without the king of the trolls.

The game is almost the same except that Noggin moves in the same way as the trolls and warriors and can be caught in the same way as them on any square except the center square.   This square is his home, and may not be used by any other piece, and he may only be captured on that square by being surrounded on four sides.



Thor Nogson's Game

Thor Nogson was the Captain of Noggin's Guard.  He was the bravest warrior by far, not so much for the valour of his deeds but because he was the most fearful.  He remembers the trolls as pouncing beasts which would come upon them from unexpected angles.

In Thor Nogson's game all the pieces, including Noggin, move either two steps forward and one to the fight or left, or one step forward and two to right or left (exactly as a knight does in Chess).  Trolls may leap over Nogs, but of the Nogs, only Noggin may leap.  Otherwise the game is played as Noggin's game.



Olaf's Game

Olaf the Lofty, Noggin's Court Inventor was surely the greatest thinker of his time.

He took a long time thinking about this game, using the paved courtyard of the castle as his board.  He painted the stones with many colours and runic signs and called for Noggin and Nooka, two of Thor Nogson's many warriors and other unhappy Nogs to stand around on squares as he expounded the infinite complexity of his game.  Night came before he had finished and his chilly pieces retired for supper.  Early next morning the lady Charnogs came with mops and buckets and cleaned the courtyard.  Alas, perhaps because nobody seemed willing to stand still on a paving stone while he muttered and capered, Olaf could not collect a full set of pieces again and now his game is lost.