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Making the Pieces

 

Here are more instructions on how to make a great looking Hnefatafl board and pieces.

With lots of tips and techniques for making something.

 

First thing to do in making Hnefetafl pieces from scratch is to find a few source images to see what you're working with. There are a wide variety of styles folks have used to make their pieces as you will see ranging from quite elaborate to something as simple as tumbled river stones, or the glass stones you have perhaps seen sitting at the bottom of a water plant pot or a fish tank. We found an image using relatively simple pillars which resonated with us quite well, so that is the type and shape we decided to use for our own pieces.

the pieces

Hnefetafl (or "Kings Table") consists of 37 pieces altogether. 24 pieces are Dark or Opposition pieces, while the remaining 12 are Light or King's Guard pieces. In the perfect center of the board stands the King Piece. The King Piece is a separate entity from either white or black but still counts as a Light piece; i.e. whoever controls the King's Guard of course controls the King.

We started by making our King Piece out of Marblex Self-Hardening Clay in Moist Form (Gray). Marblex can be a bit touchy to work with especially if you are not familiar with clay, but it's a great medium for your pieces.

The types of pieces

When Using Marblex, there are a few tips and tricks to consider.

Start with enough clay to sculpt your entire pieces, whatever it is. This way you won't be adding wet clay onto a drying (and therefore less adherent) surface. In our case, STC used a clump of clay which, when rolled around in the palms of the hands into an egg shape, fit almost perfectly into the palm of the hand. (The area where you would squeeze your shampoo, so to speak-that is, the very center.)

Make the ieces

Do be sure to roll around your clay before you begin sculpting. Roll it around in your palm to get it malleable, warmed up, and to remove any excess oxygen bubbles from the material.

Once you start working with Marblex, you have about an hour to really work into the clay without it cracking, becoming too dry, or being of a consistency that doesn't permit easy manipulation. The idea is to have your entire piece's general shape down to a T in forty-five minutes tops.

Use water

When working with any clay, a small bowl of water with a little clump of clay in it is absolutely necessary. This is, in sculpting terms, your slip. This watery clay substance can adhere pieces together if need be (things like cracks and tiny pieces of detailing), smooth out your entire sculpture as to give it a really soft and clean presentation, it will melt clay that is getting perhaps too difficult to work with into something a bit more reasonable to shape. In short, this is your magic cure-all potion. Utilize it.

Once your Marblex has dried, it is a good idea to seal off your creation with a latex based paint or polyurethane sealant. STC used a white latex primer. This is important to do especially if you plan on decorating your pieces by painting or other means.

As mentioned, we went ahead and chose to use a relatively simple pillar base for all of our pieces. STC decided to make the King Piece the largest piece of all since it's the most important and sits directly in the center of the board. Following the steps and tips used above (A, B, C, D) we made an 1 inch x 1 inch wide pillar base and stretched the top of the pillar into a triton-like crown. That is all we did, and we highly encourage you to be as creative as you like when working on your own pieces.

 

shape

The 24 Oppositional pieces we created stuck very truly to the concept of the simple pillar. We made (by hand) twenty-four 1"x1" based pillars. We basically took the clay, rolled it into our egg shape, and continued to roll that out into a tube. Once the sides were smooth, we took pressed each end flat on our work table to create the squared-off look we desired. We also took a thin paint brush and used the shaft to poke a hole into the bottom of our pieces. This allows for air to get inside the shape (permitting faster drying time) and is useful for painting the pieces in the future because then you will have a space to stick that same paint brush and will be able to decorate in 360 degrees without mucking up your process as you go. Again, it is as simple as that, and even though they are not uniform, we tried to make each one generally the same height and width. The most difficult part of this process is doing the same thing over and over again 24 times, but it is really worth it in the end as the aesthetic effect is quite lovely.

For the King's Guard pieces, we again followed the same formula, but when we stuck our paintbrush in the "bottom" of the pillar, we used our slip to drag out the top of the pillar into a point similar to that of a spear-tip or a pyramid. Then we used an exacto knife to shave off any excess clay, creating a much stronger prism-like pyramid shape, and repeated that process 12 times. Trust us; this part goes a lot more quickly after making the 24 Oppositional pieces.

All in all, our construction of the 37 pieces was very simple and we tried to approach it with as few steps as possible to be in keeping with the archaic and primitive feel of the 1,000 year old Viking board game.

Paint the pieces

Once the pieces were dry, STC chose to paint the 13 King & King's Guard pieces bright red all over with Windsor Newton acrylic paint in Crimson Hue. We chose red because red is the alchemical color of the King. Once the paint dried, we went back and decorated them with a Krylon 18kt. Gold Leafing Pen which yielded beautiful and ornate results. On the King's Piece, we simply looked up a runic symbol for "Lord" or "King" (see picture) and painted that on both sides as well as coloring the tips of the triton crown gold. It was a very successful execution. For the Guard pieces, we dipped the tip of the pieces in the gold leafing pen, then traced along the lines created by shaving down the sides with an exacto knife (see picture). Again, this was a quick and easy way to create a really lovely visual effect that is both ornate yet simple.

Add details

 

For the 24 oppositional pieces, we used a simple green acrylic paint to paint all of the pieces. Depending on the brand of acrylic you're using, this may take as many as four coats to achieve a solid color. In our case, it took us exactly four thick coats because our acrylic was very watery. Once those dried, we used runic numerals to decorate the pieces. Since they are dispersed about the four sides of the board in groups of six, we divided our pieces into four piles of six, and then numbered all four sides of the pillar with its corresponding numeral with our trusty Krylon Gold Leafing pen. Altogether, that will give you four pieces marked with 1, and so on until you have each set of six completed (see picture). Once the gold leaf dried on the numerals, we stuck our paint brush back in the bottom of the pieces and traced the tops and bottoms of the pillar, making a golden rim on each piece.

Again, this project is vastly opened to interpretation, and we encourage you to use your own colors and shapes if that is something you'd prefer. There is no right or wrong in the creation of your Hnefetafl game so long as there are the correct numbers of pieces and the correct amount of spaces on the board itself.

Now, let's get cracking on that board!

First, take a look around the web for some examples of Hnefetafl boards. There are many to choose from as your source image, however, the amount of squares on the checkerboard pattern may vary. Storm The Castle used the eleven by eleven square checkerboards as our prototype.

When choosing what type of material to use as your board, just know that generally any type of wood is best but foam board can also substitute when you're in a pinch. The only issue we ran into with foam board was the tendency for the board to warp from the paint. It can be avoided, but even with the most enthusiastic efforts to smooth out the board, it will most likely always be a little bit warped. If that doesn't bother you, then STC says: Go for it! If it may bother you, consider using a piece of plywood or Masonite, whichever you have available to you. Both work fine.

 

Since our board is 11" by 11", we measured out a perfect 15"x15" square* on our Masonite and cut it out with a jigsaw. If you don't have access to any power tools, do not worry, your local hardware store can most likely cut your square for you. If not, a simple hand saw would also work fine. In lieu of any of those resources, again, this is an instance in which foam board may be a better option for your crafting.

*The shape of your actual board can be any shape you like as long as the gaming grid in the center is a perfect square. Feel free to explore!

The board

Now that you have your board cut out, it's time to set up the gaming grid. We centered our gaming grid in the middle of the square by leaving a 2" margin on all four sides of the square (see picture). Then, we began by placing dots or markers above every inch along all four sides. This means you should have exactly eleven inch sides, which each inch marked off. This will help you line your ruler up and create straight, even lines for that perfect checkerboard. Once you've completed your preliminary measuring, give it another check just to be sure your dots line up by placing your ruler from one side of the grid to the other. If it all looks right, take a pencil and lightly begin connecting the dots. This should leave you with 121 uniform 1x1" squares.

Next STC white washed our board. White washing can be done with any white paint, watered down to leave it opaque. Many people will use gesso or primer to achieve this, but even watered down white acrylic paint will work fine. The idea is to coat and prime your board without completely covering the lines from the checkerboard entirely. This way, you can prep it for more painting and ensure that whichever medium you chose to decorate your board, it will not soak into the material you're using.

The board

This next part should be fun, it's time to decide what colors and shapes you'd like on your personal Hnefetafl board. Again, a Google search should give you an example of the wide, wide variety of styles others have used, and there is no reason yours has to look anything like that if you don't want it to. STC decided on a color scheme of gold, green, red, black, and brown. With a flat-tip brush, we started by painting the margin of the gaming board black. We used basic craft paint for this (Americana brand acrylic paint in Ebony). Once that was done, we grabbed our brown (Americana in Dark Chocolate), watered it down a bit and swirled it on the main part of our board* to create a scumbled appearance mimicking old wood. Where our oppositional forces would be set up along the sides of the board, we chose to paint red (Windsor Newton in Crimson Hue). Where the King's Guard pieces go, we painted the spaces green (Craft Smart in Shamrock). Finally, where the King sits, we colored in the centermost square gold (Krylon Gold Leafing Pen). Then, our last step was to trace the rim and every gridline with the Krylon pen and let it all dry.

*When we say, "main part of our board," we mean the parts that are not designated starting points for the pieces; the board's "negative space" (see picture).

-During gameplay, the four corners of the board actually act as safe zones for the king, they are the only four areas on the board in which he can escape battle and therefore win the game. Because of this, we looked up the runic symbol for "life-force" and used that rune known as Sowilo or "Sun" and drew it on the squares with our Krylon pen.

After this, you're ready to play Hnefetafl . You can continue to further decorate your board if you wish to, but after all the paint is dry, it's ready to go. STC wanted to take it a step further by adding some Celtic vine patterns along the sides of the table. To do this, we simply looked up "Celtic Vines" on Google and drew them out from our source image. We then traced the design onto the Hnefetafl board in pencil, then traced over the pencil with the Krylon pen once again. Voila! You've completed your Hnefetafl board!

 

Happy gaming!

 


 

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