This Viking game was at its most popular during the Dark Ages in Northern Europe. It was played in the Viking homelands in Scandinavia as early as AD 400 and was carried by the Vikings to the lands they conquered. It is almost certainly the Old Norse board game known as Hnefatafl, which means literally 'king's table' and is mentioned in the Icelandic sagas. Playing of the game declined during the 11th century as chess grew in popularity. Most surviving boards have been made of wood. The pieces were individually moulded to slightly different designs and were made in wood with ivory finishes. The pieces in the picture are based on the Lewis chess pieces discovered in the Outer Hebrides, an area under Viking rule at the time the pieces were made. Most Tablut pieces found are cruder in design indicating the game's popularity among ordinary people who could not afford fine things.
Tablut calls for careful and thoughtful analysis by both players. The game concerns the fate of a Viking king who is attacked in his stronghold by a Muscovite army. Assisted by his men he tries to reach the safety of one of the corner squares. The attackers must try to seize the king before he succeeds. The counters can be moved along any number of squares at a time, either vertically or horizontally. However, only the king is allowed to stop in any one of the four shaded corner squares or the 'throne' square in the middle, although all counters are permitted to pass through the throne.