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He has the name of a bear and runs when he is thrown;" or, "It is the húnn in hnefatafl.
He has the name of a bear and escapes when he is attacked." The first problem is in translating the word húnn, which may refer to a die (as suggested by the former translation), the "eight horns" referring to the eight corners of a six-sided die and "the flocks" that he kills referring to the stakes the players lose.
Alternatively, húnn may refer to the king, his "eight horns" referring to the eight defenders, which is more consistent with the latter translation, "He has the name of a bear and escapes when he is attacked." but the king's objective was to escape to (variously) the board's periphery or corners, while the greater force's objective was to capture him.
Although the size of the board and the number of pieces varied, all games involved a distinctive 2:1 ratio of pieces, with the lesser side having a king-piece that started in the centre.
One riddle, as stated in Hauksbók, refers to "the weaponless maids who fight around their lord, the [brown/red] ever sheltering and the [fair/white] ever attacking him", although there is controversy over whether the word weaponless refers to the maids or, as in other versions, to the king himself, which may support the argument that a "weaponless king" cannot take part in captures (see #Balance of play).
One may also note that the assignment of the colours of brown or red to the defenders and fair or white to the attackers is consistent with Friðþjófs saga.
Hnefatafl was mentioned in several of the medieval sagas, including Orkneyinga saga, Friðþjófs saga, Hervarar saga, and others.
These three period treatments of Hnefatafl offer some important clues about the game, while numerous other incidental references to Hnefatafl or Tafl exist in saga literature.
Several are in the Egyptian or Greek and Roman collections at the Museum.
Sagas help indicate the widespread use of board games just by mentioning them—although rituals varied in the Viking period from region to region, there were some underlying basics to culture.
The fact that the sagas mention board games indicates this use because the sagas are read and understood by a very large audience.
Although the kings of Europe later claimed divine rule and sat upon the throne rather than being a physical presence on the battlefield, it was essential for a Viking chief to be considered an equal in war.
The importance of war is also reflected in Hnefatafl because it is a war strategy game, which can indicate an important reason why the gaming boards have been found with males of all ages.