Author Topic: The Tablut Grandmaster's Guide (Bannerlord)  (Read 328 times)


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The Tablut Grandmaster's Guide (Bannerlord)
« on: May 31, 2020, 01:56:12 PM »
Tablut - A Grandmaster's Guide

Tablut - The Basics

Tablut is Bannerlord’s Imperial game, based on a real Saami game of the same name. That in turn is a variant of Hnefatafl, a real world Viking game that could be played on various sizes of board with a wide range of starting setups, usually much larger than the 9x9 one used in Bannerlord. Tafl can really be considered a range of games given the variation in rules and setups, and it's inspired a number of real and fictional games over the years, notably Thud! in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. Tablut is presented in Bannerlord as the Calradic Imperial game, an interesting choice given its origins in a more Sturgian-like society.

No full ruleset for Viking-era Hnefatafl survives: the modern rules are reconstructed using archaeological finds of boards, pieces, and images of people playing, plus 18th century rules for Tablut itself written down by Carl Linnaeus in the eighteenth century. The two main rules questions in viking Hnefatafl that we don't know the answer to (but a good deal of work has been done on them, including considerable experimental archaeology work to try and determine which rules are the most balanced) are whether the king had to exit from the corners or any board side, and whether the king needed to be surrounded on two sides or four to be taken. In Tablut you can leave from any board edge, but the king only requires two to be taken (simplifying some slightly more variable/complex rules and exceptions that exist in Linnaeus' version). This the king a far less viable attacking piece than in four-to-capture versions where it can be a powerful part of the defenders' attack strategies.

Anyway – Tablut is very, very easy to win reliably at, and should have you picking up an extra 500 gold pieces in every single Imperial city you visit. After one gambling win the gamer won’t play with you again until you’ve played a boardgame in another town, as far as I can tell.

So, how to win?

First, play defenders. Tablut at present is horribly skewed towards the defending side winning. This is mainle because the attackers AI is abysmally bad (which may change in later versions, but for now it makes our life easy). My experience playing attackers so far has been that stalemates are extremely frequent, which may just be me not cracking the strategy, but as stalemates in Bannerlord basically force you to forefeit and lose it's better to go for reliable wins if there's money riding on it!

Basically, the attacker AI for Tablut at the moment plays too aggressively. A good attacker AI would be predicated on blockades, with the defender needing to break formation in order go get the king to the board edge: it’s about creating good coverage so that the defending player is punished for that when they do so. Bannerlord’s attacker AI, though, is aggressive as hell and will just throw itself at you. All you need to do is hold the line, take pieces when they come, don’t rush things, and you’ll soon have cleared away enough enemy pawns to open up easy routes to the board edge.

Starting moves

In the early game, two rules hold. First, only move your outer four pawns, and generally only move them in the row or column they start in (so the topmost pawn can move along its row, the left side one up and down its column). Second rule, the inner four must stay locked in place. They create an impregnable barrier around the king and are the “anvil” that you’re tempting the enemy to move against in order to then use the outer pawns as a hammer and smash them out of the way. If the enemy doesn’t rush at you immediately, don’t panic, just keep shifting in patterns in the centre and they’ll soon come in. You should be able to eliminate your first few of the enemy pawns this way.

Here's a typical opening move set where the AI just charges into one of my anvil zones, and precisely what I do about it:

And here's another two boards. the formation on the right is a particularly strong one, as it dominates a large area whilst keeping all its pieces well protected: the AI can't easily move in on it.

Developing and endgame

Once you've taken 3-4 enemy pieces and started clearing one side of the board, you can start playing a bit more aggressively and moving the inner circle to go and hit more enemies. Always keep one of two strategies in place:

Strategy 1: ensure that two adjoining sides of the king's square are blocked off with immobile pieces. This ensures the king cannot be taken, and is a nice safe strategy as you work towards clearing a way to a board edge.

Strategy 2: ensure that two non-adjoining sides are blocked off with immobile pieces, and that you have mobile "hammer" pawns in place so that the second an enemy pawn moves adjacent to the king, you are able to run in and remove it immediately. The AI loves going in to attack the king - not unreasonably since doing so ends the game - so leaving the king apparently open from both sides will often bait the AI into going in to attack the king, sometimes repeatedly, even if there's an obvious ambush in place, which can be a good way to rapidly kill off the attacker pawns.

The other thing to remember when playing more aggressively is to check your back. When you want to move in on a particular enemy piece, ensuring that the row or column along which you are surrounding it is either clear or has "guards" disconnected from the attack but preventing enemy pawns rushing in to take you back can be well worthwhile.

Eventually you'll be able to move the king. Never move him only one square out from the centre tile unless you're really sure he's safe there, as he can be captured against it. Only start moving him out for the endgame when either you can run him straight to a board edge, or when you can run him to a position that gives him more than one board edge to run to on the next turn, so the enemy can't block him off. In the case of the sample game I used for this, I managed to clear a nice direct run to victory.

I'll hopefully work out a reliable strategy to win as attackers as well, but I've ended up deadlocked a few times so far so at the moment I think the defender game is a bit easier.

Hope that helped and was interesting, please do share your thoughts, strategies and ideas below in the thread. Note that if the AI is improved then the defensive strategy above may become rather less viable to play with! If people liked this and say so I might make a few more (and I'm happy to go into more depth on either the tactics walkthroughs or real-world background if people are interested).
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