Tablut (also known as King’s Table) is just one of a family of games collectively referred to as “Tafl” games. They are all very similar asymmetrical games popularized by -- get this -- the Vikings. If that doesn’t bode awesome for these games then I don’t know what does.
The games are all essentially the same, but played with different sized boards and number of pieces. They are not entirely abstract, but the games are cool enough that I’m willing to look the other way on this one.
The rules for this game are extremely debated. Although Tablut is the best understood of the Tafl games, there is still no complete, satisfactory account of the rules (it’s a pretty old game). I’m presenting the “best” rules that I have found, which I’ve assembled from many reading tons of different accounts of the game. These are what I believe to be the most authentic, fair rules -- that is, the game is pretty evenly balanced between the two players.
Like all asymmetrical games, though, it’s always best to play the game in multiple rounds, switching off each time.
The board used is a 9 x 9 rectgrid, usually with a few squares decorated in some way, although this isn’t really necessary. The game can be played on the interesections of a standard chess board but, since I think most people are averse to that, here is a dedicated board that you can print for free. Note that the squares are a bit small, so you might want to use dimes for this one.
There are 25 tokens total -- 16 of one color, 9 of the other. The latter need to be eight ‘pawns’ and one ‘king,’ so distinguishable in some way.
Setup is a bit complicated, so refer to the picture. The king always starts in the center, surrounded by the rest of the defenders, with the attackers on the edge of the board.
The game consists of the “attackers” (traditionally called the Muscovites) trying to capture the king of the "defenders” (traditionally, the Swedes) before he can escape from the board. The defenders move first.
Pieces move like rooks in Chess -- orthogonally, any number of spaces, unable to move through another piece. They do not capture like rooks, however. Instead, something called “custodial capture” is used: if a player surrounds an enemy piece on two opposing sides with his pieces, that piece is captured and removed from the board. Although it is possible to capture up to three enemies in a turn, you can’t capture “groups” of adjacent enemies.
Pieces can still move between two enemy pieces without being captured, as long as they don’t land directly between them. However, if there is a configuration like black-white-space-white, and a black piece moves between the two white pieces, it would be safe -- it would capture the white piece “before” the white pieces have a chance to capture it.
There is a special case in capturing: if the king is still in the center square, it must be surrounded on all four sides by enemy pieces. Once it has left the center, however, it can be captured normally. The king can participate in capturing enemies just like any other piece.
Finally, there are a couple of restrictions on movement: no piece can enter or pass through the center square after the king has left it, including the king, and once an attacker has left its “camp” (the group of squares that the pieces started in), it cannot return, although it may move around within the camp before leaving. The defenders can never enter or pass through these camps (thus the king cannot escape through them).
Movement for two pieces indicicated. Note that if the defender moves
to the red square, the adjacent attacker would be captured.
If the defender’s king has a path to escape, he must say “raichi,” which is basically like “check,” to warn his opponent. If there are two paths, or if there is no way that the other player can block his escape, he says “tuichi,” which is essentially “checkmate.” You could just say check and checkmate if you want. I don’t even know how to pronounce those words correctly.
The game is over either when the king escapes from the board or the attackers manage to capture it. There are a few extra rules to deal with potential stalemates -- if the king moves to a raichi position, then is blocked, then moves to a new raichi position, and is blocked again, it cannot move back to the same position if that position is still raichi (that is, if the same attacker that initially blocked the king had moved to block it in the new position). You probably won't encounter that very often, though, and there's no real consensus on the rules.