Project 2: Tablut
"Tafl emk ǫrr at efla...." Jarl Rognvald Kali Kolsson

[Revisions to the project spec since its release are underlined.]


Tablut is one of the family of tafl (or hnefatafl) games: Nordic and Celtic strategy games played on checkered boards between two asymmetric armies. These are ancient games, possibly related to the Roman game ludus latrunculorum, that were generally displaced by chess in the 12th century. Tablut is a variant from Lapland (the northernmost region of Finland). The detailed rules of these games are generally disputed; tablut, having survived into the 1700s, is perhaps best documented (by none other than Carl Linnaeus, the fellow responsible for our state animal being known as Ursus arctos californicus and our state trees as Sequoia sempervirens and Sequoiadendron giganteum in scientific circles). However, his account is itself incomplete and additional confusion resulted from the later mistranslation of his manuscript from Latin. Therefore, any of you familiar with modern reconstructions of the game should not expect that our version will be identical to yours.

Tablut is played on a 9x9 checkerboard between a set of 9 white pieces and 16 black pieces. The middle square is called the throne (or castle). One of the white pieces is the king, and the others, his guards, are known as Swedes. The white side wins if the king reaches one of the edges of the board. The black pieces are known as Muscovites (referring to the Grand Duchy of Moscow). Their aim is to capture the king before he reaches the edge of the board.

Game of Tablut Initial Game of Tablut Move

Figure 1. On the left: a Tablut board showing the standard numbering of squares, and the initial placement of the pieces. On the right: the board that results after the three moves i6-g, d5-7, i4-g (the last move is a capture).

All pieces move like chess rooks: any number of squares orthogonally (horizontally or vertically). Pieces may not jump over each other or land on top of another piece. No piece other than the king may land on the throne, although any piece may pass through it when it is empty. The black (Muscovite) side goes first.

A piece other than the king is captured when, as a result of an enemy move to an orthogonally adjacent square, the piece is enclosed on two opposite sides (again orthogonally) by hostile squares. A square is hostile if it contains an enemy piece, or if it is the throne square and is empty (that is, it is hostile to both white and black pieces). The occupied throne is also hostile to white pieces when three of the four squares surrounding it are occupied by black pieces. Captures result only as a result of enemy moves; a piece may move so as to land between two enemy pieces without being captured. A single move can capture up to three pieces.

The king is captured like other pieces except when he is on the throne square or on one of the four squares orthogonally adjacent to the throne. In that case, the king is captured only when surrounded on all four sides by hostile squares (of which the empty throne may be one).

A side also loses when it has no legal moves on its turn, or if its move returns the board to a previous position (same pieces in the same places and the same side to move). As a result, there are no drawn games.


A square is denoted by a column letter followed by a row number (as in e4). Columns are enumerated from left to right with letters a through i. Rows are enumerated from the bottom to the top with numbers 1 through 9. An entire move then consists of the starting square, a hyphen, and the ending row (if vertical) or column (if horizontal). Thus, b3-6 means "Move from b3 to b6" and b3-f means "Move from b3 to f3."


When running from the command line, the program will accept the following commands, which may be preceded by whitespace.

Feel free any other commands you think might be nice.


When an AI plays, it should print out each move that it makes using exactly the format

 * a1-4

(with asterisk shown). Do not print these lines out for a manual player's moves.

When one side wins, the program should print out one of

 * White wins.
 * Black wins.

(also with periods) as appropriate. Do not use the * character in any other output you produce.

You may prompt a manual player for input using the form


where "..." may be any text. The grading scripts will discard any text from the beginning of a line up to a > character.

Your Task

Your job is to write a program to play Tablut. To run it in text mode, use the command

java -ea tablut.Main

to enter commands from the terminal or use

java -ea tablut.Main INPUT

to feed it commands from file INPUT.

The AI in your program should be capable of finding a win that is within 4 moves. Experiment a bit to see what works. The autograder will allow 3 minutes for a fully automated game.

The GUI is an optional (extra credit) part of this project. We will actually do automatic testing only on the commands

java -ea tablut.Main


java -ea tablut.Main INPUT

Staff Program

The staff-tablut program on the instructional machines runs our solution to the project. This version has additional bells and whistles that you are not required to duplicate. It is not the standard for this project, just as example of a solution. In particular, your GUI (if you do it) need not look anything like ours. The autograder will use this program in some of its tests to check your program's output.


We have only provided a token UnitTest file; you can add additional unit test files and list them in UnitTest so that they all get run by

java -ea tablut.UnitTest

(which is what make check does).

We have provided two simple integration tests in the testing subdirectory. They are certainly not adequate to test your program. Be warned, we will not run the autograder until near the deadline; DO NOT RELY ON THE AUTOGRADER FOR YOUR TESTING!

The integration test program, test-tablut, feeds commands to one or two running programs and passes appropriate moves from one to the other, allowing you to test your program and to test it against another program (such as the staff version). To run test-tablut, you'll use

python3 testing/test-tablut

to run through your program and

python3 testing/test-tablut

to run two programs simultaneously so that each one sends all of its AI's moves (such as "* i4g" as described previously) to the other program. (Replace "TESTFILE" with the actual name of your test file.)

Each .in and input file should start with a Unix-style command for running a program preceded by "#*", such as

 #* java -ea tablut.Main

(You will probably use just the command command above; the autograder will sometimes replace it with an invocation of staff-tablut.) The rest of the .in file is fed to this program as the standard input, except for lines that start with "#*" in the first column, which are special instructions to the testing script.

A few other commands apply only to the two-argument form of test-tablut. They are intended to allow two programs to play each other.

The idea with these two commands is that one of the two scripts will, at a certain point, contain the commands

#*remote move/win

and the other will contain

#*remote move/win

so that the first sends a move from its AI to the other program, which then waits for a response from its AI to send back, and so forth.

For the remote commands, both programs should generate "wins" messages, and test‑tablut will check that they are the same.

The test-tablut script throws out any other output from either program except for properly formatted board dumps, as are supposed to be produced by the dump command described previously. You can see all the output by running it with

 python3 testing/test-tablut --verbose


 python3 testing/test-tablut --verbose

which will show all the commands sent to each program and all their output.

The test-tablut program will report an error if a program hangs or times out, or if it exits abnormally (with an exception or an exit code other than 0). Finally, if there is a file TESTFILE-1.std or TESTFILE-2.std, make check will check it against the output from the program for (likewise for TESTFILE-2.std against the output for; make check uses on the script testing/ to do this comparison.


By Monday, November 11 (11/11), if your implementation is able to pass a staff integration test, you will receive 3 extra points . The test will cover the following:
  1. Correct program compilation;
  2. Board initialization;
  3. Non-capturing moves;
  4. Properly handling illegal moves (i.e., not changing the board contents).
Not all of this behavior is covered in the provided tests, so you are encouraged to write your own. Submit your checkpoint in the proj2 directory as proj2a.

Extra Credit

First get your program working, and then, if you feel the urge, try the extra-credit GUI (Graphical User Interface). If you do, the option

java -ea tablut.Main --display

should create the GUI. If you don't implement the GUI, this option should cause your program to exit with a non-zero code via System.exit(2). Your GUI does not have to look at all like ours. This will be worth up to 3 points.


Your final work must be your own, but especially on this project, feel free to get together with other students to discuss ideas and plan strategies. Of course, you should always feel free to consult your TA or me.

The board is an obvious place to start. We have provided suggestions for methods that you can use if you want, but you are not required to do so. We have structured the skeleton so that the different kinds of player (ordinary human at the keyboard using text commands, AI, or human using a GUI) are represented as different subtypes of a type Player, an example of how using OOP can cut down on pervasive conditional tests for types of player.