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The Traditional Board Game Series Leaflet #24: Brandub

by Damian Walker
To learn more about hnefatafl as played in Ireland, the reader might like to
refer to the following books:
Bell, R. C. Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations, vol. 2,
pp. 45-46. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1979.
MacWhite, E. "Early Irish Board Games", Éigse: a Journal of Irish
Studies, 1946, pp. 25-35.
Murray, H. J. R. A History of Board-Games Other than Chess, pp. 55-
64. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952.
Parlett, D. The Oxford History of Board Games, pp. 196-204. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1999.
Copyright © Damian Walker 2011 -

Illustration 3: some example moves and

captures. The king may capture either
attacker; the top left attacker would be Board Games at CYNINGSTAN
trapped against the corner. Traditional Board Game Series
(Second Edition)
4 Leaflet #24
The Traditional Board Game Series Leaflet #24: Brandub The Traditional Board Game Series Leaflet #24: Brandub

king in the centre, the defenders ad- may act with a defender in making
INTRODUCTION & HISTORY jacent to him, and the attackers bey- captures, and may himself be cap-
Ireland is one among many coun- Poetry also suggests that they ond, all forming an orthogonal cross tured by two attackers, or two de-
tries to which the Norse raiders and played with 13 pieces: a branan, or reaching to the edges of the board, fenders may take an attacker.
settlers took their arms, their culture chief, with 4 guards against 8 at- as shown in Illustration 2. 8. If a piece simultaneously
and their game of hnefatafl. There tackers. 3. The attackers make the first traps two or three enemies in differ-
has been confusion about what the The game may have been move, followed by the king or de- ent directions, all of the trapped en-
Irish called this game, but literary played in Ireland by the 9th century. fenders, play alternating thereafter emies are captured.
evidence settles on the name It was certainly played by the 10th, until the game is finished. 9. A piece may move between
brandub, or brannumh, which when the Ballinderry board was two enemies without harm. One of
Moving the Pieces
means, inexplicably, “black raven”. made. Some of the poetry dates the enemies must move away and
While the size of hnefatafl from the admittedly vague period of 4. A player may move a piece back again to capture it.
boards varied from place to place, 1200-1640, showing the game was by sliding it along a line in any dir- 10. Either side may capture an
archaeological finds show that the enjoyed in Ireland for at least 300 ection to another point, as far as the enemy by trapping the enemy
Irish had a preference for the smal- years, possibly as much as 800. In player pleases, providing that it between one of its own pieces and a
lest of the boards, 7 squares by 7. all probability, the coming of chess does not turn a corner or jump over marked corner square. The central
Boards found at Downpatrick, Wa- to Ireland would have eventually another piece. See Illustration 3. square does not have this effect.
terford, Antrim, and a famous board put an end to brandub’s popularity. 5. Only the king may come to
Ending the Game
from Ballinderry, are all of this size. rest on the central point or one of
the four corners, though other 11. The king and defenders win
HOW TO PLAY pieces may pass the centre. the game if the king reaches one of
Most of the popular books have Beginning the Game the marked corner squares.
Capturing Enemies
been unusually reluctant to propose 12. The attackers win the game
1. Brandub is played by two 6. An enemy is captured by by capturing the king.
a set of rules for
players, on the surrounding it on 13. If play be-
playing brandub.
points or intersec- two opposite sides, comes repetitious,
The rules pro-
tions of a board of along a marked if one player has
posed here are
7 lines by 7, using line, by two of no legal move, or
based on the poet-
13 pieces: a king, one's own pieces. if the players oth-
ic and archaeolo-
four defenders and The enemy is then erwise desire it,
gical information
eight attackers. removed from the then a draw may
from an article by
The central and board. be declared.
Éoin MacWhite in
corner points of 7. The king
the journal Éigse,
the board are
from 1946.
marked, as shown
in Illustration 1.
2. The pieces
Illustration 1: the empty brandub board. are placed with the Illustration 2: the pieces set out for play.

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