The Halatafl 'splash' screen

Note: The images and concepts on this homepage and subsequent pages are copyrighted: copyright 1996 P.S. Neeley, all rights reserved.


Good woman, these dark eyes --

Icelandic ones -- have shown me

The long and uphill road

Towards that glittering gold

This foot of mine, my goddess,

Has stepped so valiantly

Over ancient pathways . . .

(Verses from Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla )

Halatafl -- The Fox Game -- for Windows. A game of the ancient Icelandic Vikings

It begins with the sound of weeping in the night, and ends with a prayer spoken over a lonely grave . . . It is about a little girl laid to rest 1000 years ago, a prized silver brooch, and a final bond of love. . . It is about a hapless kayaker, theft, repentance, and mourning . . . . . . It is a story of the Vikings . . . but for all of this it is really not a sad game at all . . . for it is an adventure in which a little Viking girl, happy to have finally found a playing partner, teaches a traveler how to play a favorite game -- Halatafl, The Fox Game. As they play and talk, Gudrun describes the life of a Viking and entertains with stories of the Vikings of old . . .

'Halatafl -- The Fox Game' is the most ancient form of 'Fox and Geese', one of the most popular 'Hunt' games of ancient Europe.

It appears to be an Icelandic Viking, or at least a Scandinavian game, that spread to Northern Europe and then all of Europe before 1000 AD. It was known as 'Fuchs im Huhnerhof' in Germany, 'Schaap en wolf' in the Netherlands, 'Voli i ovtsy' in Russia, and 'lupo e pecore' in Italy.

It is mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas as 'Halatafl' which means 'The Fox Game'. Some Historians believe it is also the game called 'Freystafl' mentioned in the later Sagas. In the accounts of the royal household of Edward IV of England (around 1460 AD., the time of 'The War of Roses') is recorded that 'two foxis and 26 hounds of silver overgilt' were purchased to form two sets of 'Marelles'. This is probably the same form of 'Fox and Geese' as found here.

The most ancient form of the game used 13 geese pitted against a single fox -- exactly the configuration used here. But 'Fox and Geese' is known to be an unbalanced game with the strength on the 'Geese' side (a competent player can lose one or two Geese and still win handily). Different board configurations -- 15 Geese, which cannot move backwards, against one fox, 18 Geese against 1 fox on a 46 cell board, 24 Geese against 2 foxes, etc. -- were used in latter centuries, perhaps in attempts to more closely balance the game. The game can be 'exactly' balanced, however, by using the concept of simultaneous games. By playing two games at once, with each player taking the Fox position in one game and the Geese position in the other, the task becomes to win as quickly as possible with the Geese while holding out as long as possible with the Fox -- a challenging and complex task.

'Halatafl -- The Fox Game' was played in ancient Europe since at least before 1000 AD. Now it is here again in the present, re-created through the magic of electrons and phosphorus, for you to play. Welcome to a game of the ancient Vikings -- Harold the Ruthless, Eric the Red, Leif the Lucky, and now you!

Download it right from here (halatafl.zip -- 734 Kb)

Interested in just the rules and history of the game?  Then download just the Windows Help file if you'd like.

Note: This program requires VBRUN300.DLL to exist on your system.

To learn more about the Vikings, please click on one of the following links:

The Vikings had a 'code of conduct' called the Havamal

Also, don't forget the Sagas, which are treasures of world literature. Halatafl again contains excerpts, but you can find a number of English translations on the web. Try one of the following to get your feet wet:

Saga of Grettir the Strong

The Life and Death of Cormac the Skald ("Kormak's Saga")

The Story of Burnt Njal (Njal's Saga)

Finally, if you'd like to learn more about Rune Stones, please visit Halfdan's site:

Halfdan's Page on Viking Runes & Futharks


Back to the P. S. Neeley Home Page

A portion of the Halatafl playing surface