Saxon England had their own version of Hnefatafl, and chose the name Alea Evangelii, meaning "Game of the Gospels". The primary source of information regarding this game comes to us from a tenth century manuscript which currently resides in the library of Oxford. In it, the author goes to great lengths to establish the game's religious significance and symbolism, relating its various aspects to parts of the four Gospels. While an initial board layout is illustrated, the author did very little to establish the rules of the game itself. As a result, most of what we know is based on deduction, as with most tafl games.

The Alea Evangelii board bears 18x18 squares, but since the pieces are placed on the intersections of the lines rather than the spaces between them, the playing surface is effectively 19x19. This also allows for the symmetrical piece placement which defines tafl games. The pieces were placed on the intersections as a religious statement, since each intersection is in effect a cross. The following diagram depicts the initial layout of the board. I have drawn the board as 19x19 and placed the pieces in the squares instead of on the intersections simply because it looks better that way in ASCII. The attacking forces are represented by * symbols, the defenders by @ symbols, and the king by the letter K. The % squares mark locations referred to as king's squares.

      ---------------------------------------
     | % % * - - * - - - - - - - * - - * % % |
     | % % - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - % % |
     | * - - - - * - - - - - - - * - - - - * |
     | - - - - - - - * - * - * - - - - - - - |
     | - - - - - - * - @ - @ - * - - - - - - |
     | * - * - - * - - - - - - - * - - * - * |
     | - - - - * - - - - @ - - - - * - - - - |
     | - - - * - - - - @ - @ - - - - * - - - |
     | - - - - @ - - @ - @ - @ - - @ - - - - |
     | - - - * - - @ - @ K @ - @ - - * - - - |
     | - - - - @ - - @ - @ - @ - - @ - - - - |
     | - - - * - - - - @ - @ - - - - * - - - |
     | - - - - * - - - - @ - - - - * - - - - |
     | * - * - - * - - - - - - - * - - * - * |
     | - - - - - - * - @ - @ - * - - - - - - |
     | - - - - - - - * - * - * - - - - - - - |
     | * - - - - * - - - - - - - * - - - - * |
     | % % - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - % % |
     | % % * - - * - - - - - - - * - - * % % |
      ---------------------------------------

It is important to note that, in the original document, no distinction is made between the attacking and defending pieces. It is obvious that the sixteen pieces immediately surrounding the king must be defenders, and the twenty-four pieces near the edges of the board must be attackers. The composition of the octagon-shaped construction in the center is somewhat in contention, however, and while the above diagram shows the most commonly accepted configuration, two alternate possibilities have been suggested:

     - - - - @ - * - @ - - - -        - - - - * - @ - * - - - -
     - - - * - * - * - * - - -        - - - * - * - * - * - - -
     - - * - - - - - - - * - -        - - @ - - - - - - - @ - -
     - * - - - - @ - - - - * -        - * - - - - @ - - - - * -
     @ - - - - @ - @ - - - - @        * - - - - @ - @ - - - - *
     - * - - @ - @ - @ - - * -        - * - - @ - @ - @ - - * -
     * - - @ - @ K @ - @ - - *        @ - - @ - @ K @ - @ - - @
     - * - - @ - @ - @ - - * -        - * - - @ - @ - @ - - * -
     @ - - - - @ - @ - - - - @        * - - - - @ - @ - - - - *
     - * - - - - @ - - - - * -        - * - - - - @ - - - - * -
     - - * - - - - - - - * - -        - - @ - - - - - - - @ - -
     - - - * - * - * - * - - -        - - - * - * - * - * - - -
     - - - - @ - * - @ - - - -        - - - - * - @ - * - - - -

Situationally, this game is sometimes represented as a naval battle, with an enemy fleet surrounding the king's waning forces, and the four corners being lighthouses or friendly ports to which the king must escape. More often, however, it is shown to be a city under siege, with the king attempting to reach safety in one of his four "citadels".

Note how, unlike most tafl games, each corner bears four king's squares rather than just one. In the original illustration, an extra piece was placed in each of the four corner squares (not the four corner intersections). Whether dubbed citadels or ports, they were not movable by either player during the course of the game. However, they guarded the four intersections which they touched. These intersections were thus hostile to the attacking player, meaning that they could be used by the defending player to help capture the attacker's pieces. Regardless, the king must still reach the very corner intersection in order to escape. For a complete description of the core rules of all tafl games, please refer to my write-up on Hnefatafl.

While most Hnefatafl variants are considered to be somewhat biased towards the defending side, Alea Evangelii is rather more difficult on the king. The defenders begin the game almost completely surrounded, and the starting positions of the attackers make it fairly easy for those remaining gaps to be closed. The two alternate starting configurations shown above were intended to make the game more balanced in that respect, the first allowing the defending side a number of early capture opportunities and the second providing more gaps for escape.

In addition, two other common variants in Alea Evangelii provide a little relief for the beleaguered king. The first changes the rules to allow the king to escape simply by reaching any edge of the board, rather than the corner. This is felt by many to tip the scales too strongly in the king's favor. Another variant labels the four warriors directly adjacent to the king as the "king's guard". These four pieces may only be captured in the same manner as the king: by surrounding them on all four sides, rather than on two like the other warrior pieces.

Tactics here are similar to basic Hnefatafl. As attacker, try to hem in the king and his warriors with diagonal lines, forming an impenetrable diamond around them. This is easiest to do in the original configuration of pieces, where it takes only three moves to completely seal off one of the four corners of your front line. In the second and third configurations, you will be forced instead to spend a lot of time playing gap control - trying to close holes opened by the defense as soon as possible. It is important to quickly capture any defending warriors which get outside your perimeter, as they can create a lot of capture opportunities for the defense which will further fragment your line.

Part of the defender's advantage here lies in the size of the board. Not only does it give you more mobility, but it is also more difficult for the attacker to keep track of everything that's going on - he has a lot more to watch and coordinate than you do. Spread out and use this to your advantage. Wanton sacrifice is not as effective here as in other tafl games. The larger board and higher quantity of pieces makes it less possible for you to open direct escape routes by allowing your warriors to be captured. Be more conservative, and capture attacking warriors when you can do so safely. Finally, if you're playing the "king's guard" variant, you should endeavor to get at least one of your guards outside the attacker's front line as soon as you can. The increased difficulty of capturing these pieces will give you more opportunity to use them to break gaps in his perimeter.

This is certainly one of the more complex and daunting variants of Hnefatafl, and takes quite some time to play and learn. If you've played some of the other games in the tafl family, however, and are up to the challenge, you should find it very enjoyable.

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