Go (Wei Ch’i) Vs. Tafl (Hnafatafl)

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Go (Wei Ch’i) and Tafl (Hnaffatafl) were both games established before 400 AD in entirely different regions of the world. While both share some rules and qualities like capturing units by surround them, they are considered in essence entirely different in their strategy and purpose. I will try and give a brief recap highlighting some of the reasons why these games are similar and contrasting, and perhaps we can all obtain a greater understanding of the meaning and purpose behind these ancient chess variants.

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Hnefatafl meaning “the king’s board” was a precursor to modern day chess and was played throughout northern Europe. The main player base were Scandinavian Norsemen but the game also gained popularity in Iceland, Britain, Ireland and Wales. Like Go it has a variety of board sizes ranging from beginner to expert, the typical sizes are 7×7, 13×13, and traditionally 19×19. Also like Go the pieces are depicted by black (attacking) and white (defending). The game represents the mentality of the Viking people in spirit. Starting positions reflect the technique favored by Viking sailors of northern Europe, a sudden assault to overcome outnumbered enemies. Players take turns moving individual pieces across the board but each player’s goal is different. Each player is required too decided at the start whether they will play the role of attacker or defender unlike Go in which each players goal is the same. Defender is defined by the King piece that starts in the center of the board and is surrounded by eight defenders. The goal of the defender is to get the king to safety off the edge of the board. Attacker is defined by the sixteen outside surrounding units placed along the edge of the board. The attackers goal is to stop the king by surrounding him on all sides. It is important to note that while attacker and defender play pieces amounts may vary, fare games are considered to have a 2:1 ratio of attackers to defenders. The main gameplay elements include movement like pawns and rooks from classic chess, and piece capture which happens by trapping units between two enemy pieces in a straight line. There is a plethora of other strategies as well that include safe placements, multiple piece capture, and kiting techniques. Tafl is nearly extinct in modern times as it was replaced by chess during the 11th and 12th century.

go-game-1-360x240            Wei Ch’i is considered by most Oriental game experts to be the greatest strategic skill game, far surpassing Chess in its complexity and scope. Most people who have played it would agree with this conclusion and, unlike chess no computer program has yet been written which as been able to compete with the best Go players. Originating in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago it is considered one of the four essential arts of a cultured Chinese scholar in antiquity. The Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans all have dedicated schools where people devote their entire lives to the game and a grading system similar to martial arts. At first the game was played only by upper class but it gradually filtered down to the educated lower classes over time. The pieces are white and black lens shaped stones and the wood boards are made from Kaya, a wood that is very expensive and comes from trees in Miyazaki Japan and can age over 700 years. Like Tafl the traditional board size is 19×19 with smaller boards used for beginners. It is a game based on territorial capture where the goal is to capture the most territory by the end of the game. Players take turns starting with black placing stones on the intersecting lines of the board, creating “groups” and “liberty” the core mechanics of the game. Go has very few rules and yet the game itself is extremely challenging. A group is a set of stones in the same color that connect orthogonally, empty points adjacent to a group of stones is a liberty of that group. Single stones alone form four liberties around them by the nature of the board. Groups that no longer have liberties are considered captured. There are many strategies in Go like using squared groups to create eyes in the middle to prevent capture, having a group with two eyes can make large groups that are invulnerable to capture. Other tactical plays include the ko, seki, sente, atari, and dame along with other special local situations. Go also uses a handicapping scheme for weaker players, awarding starting stones based on the level of handicap, which goes up to nine levels. The initial starting phases of Go are considered the most important because players must scope out territory for development and spread out while keeping a balance of nearby groups that can be used as defense against attacks. Eventually the players agree that no more stones can be played since all territory is claimed and all local battles have been concluded. Most professional games are decided from two games with players taking turns using black because of the first turn advantage and counting total territory collected from both games to decide the winner.

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Go and Tafl have many similarities for example they both use the same color orientation of black and white pieces along with turn based playing. Both games also use the same size board and capturing technique of surrounding units. While Go is considered universally more strategic than Tafl, both contain simple rules yet complicated structure and tactics. They both originated in completely different areas of the world but it is easy to see how they are somewhat derivative of each other in concept. The main difference between the two is the philosophy in which the games are presented. Tafl has two unique playing styles of attacker and defender and characterizes the emotional brute force enjoyment of battle and conquest. Tafl also has an equality imbalance due to the separate play positions, and while Go may seem more balanced in essence the vast difference in experience can create very imbalanced play sessions hence the handicap system. Go uses much more subtle messages of expansion and deceit to lure enemies into submission. Go also prioritizes territory expansion and treasure hording as its main reward elements while Tafl uses obvious domination of opponents as a means of reward. Out of both games Wei Ch’i has stood the test of time and continues to be played competitively around the world today, while Hnaffatafl lives only in memory through the modern iteration of classic Chess made popular through the European countries after its creation in India.

Author: Gavin Johnston

catch me on Twitch for more walkthroughs, comedy, and discussions http://www.twitch.tv/dirksteel

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Works Cited

Michael Wolffauer “Introduction to GO” Masters Games, 1999

Parlett David “The Oxford History of Board Games” Oxford University Press, 1999

Luk “The Viking Game of Tafl” Games for Your Mind, 2009

James Masters “Go Information and History” The Online Guide to Traditional Games, 1997

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About jedionston

Gavin "Dirk" Jedionston the "N" in "In N Out"

Posted on February 14, 2015, in Blog {{STAND BY FOR ASSIMILATION}}, LATEST ARTICLES and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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