I could not stop wondering how this game works, how many pieces it has, how it is supposed to be played and if it is related to chess in any way.
So without further ado, a very long post about all its appearances and possible pieces.
Viggo uses it as a metaphor (despite him disliking metaphors) for his battle with Hiccup. Its first appearance was during Viggo’s introduction, in which he held a dramatic little speech about how he came to love the game.
He shows us the first piece, the Viking chief which he speaks of as “honorable” although he could have also been talking about the player being honorable in his or her strategy. I’ll just call the piece the Viking chief, as honorable is not used as an important part of the piece’s portrayal.
Next we get a close up of the board, left we see a dragon, in the middle stands the Viking chief and just behind it lies a longship. On the right there is a figure facing the camera, holding a sword in his hands, I’ll call it the swordsman for now. The figure seen from the back looks like he is holding a shield in his hand. And lastly Viggo holds a spare miniature mace.
In the next episode Viggo leaves Hiccup a maces and talons board with three pieces. Hiccup pointed at the left one and said it was supposed to represent him, the Viking chief. On the right stood the chief of the Marauders, the leading piece of the other party. The two chiefs start sound like the black and white kings on a chess board. Both pieces carry the same title, namely the title of chief, and are clearly of opposing teams.
In the middle stands the impostor, or the traitor as Hiccup calls it. Viggo later confirms that the piece is named the impostor, but also goes by the name of the traitor, possibly because of its role in the game. Hiccup stated that the traitor always dies in the end, which bears some resemblance to the role of the spy in Stratego. (The spy can take out the highest ranking piece of Stratego if he attacks first, but dies by the hand of any other piece). It also suggests that the traitor is a much anticipated piece. Players use it a lot and as a result it dies so often it ends up dead during most of the played games. Both the impostor and the spy die most of the time, but are still pretty important pieces to a player.
Fishlegs comments that “the game was designed to test the abilities and decision making expertise of future chiefs in the heat of battle”, telling us that it is a game stimulating a war where the player is the leader of their force, not unlike popular real-life games such as chess and Risk.
By now we can also identify the figure from Viggo’s board that was seen from the back. It is probably the chief of the Marauders. Both pieces carry a shield in their left hands and both have a helmet with a shorter horn on one side. The impostor (as seen on the right below) also carries a shield, but lacks the belt that both figures on the left have. Its shield appears to be more ornate amd the sides of its mouth point downwards. Another difference is the sword in the right hand of the impostor. The chief of the Marauders does not hold anything in his hand.
The impostor is also spoken of as singular. It’s other known name and role as the traitor could very well mean that there is only one of these in the game, flip-flopping from the Vikings’ side to the Marauders’ and back.
Next we get a scene where Viggo and Dagur play the game using real life people as pieces. They speak of “my longship” and “your kingship”, implying that both players own one of each of these ships. Any of these four could be the ship seen on Viggo’s board, but my money is on the longship. I would expect something a little more impressive from a piece called the kingship.
There are also eight hunters, addressed with possessives as well, making the total sixteen, just like pawns in a chess game. The word “hunters” used to address their pieces could both be the official name of the figures, or the name given to them because they are played by dragon hunters.
At the end of their game one of Viggo’shunters/pawns holds a mace to Dagur’s Viking king’s head. This mace could very well be the miniature mace he used to knock over a figure during his introduction, making that mace one of multiple. If there was only one mace in the game, it would have been THE mace to Dagur’s Viking king ’s head.
Dagur has the figure of the Viking king, which I believe is the same as the Viking chief. Taking out Dagur’s viking king made Viggo the winner, in resemblance of taking out the king on a chess board. As seen on the board Viggo left Hiccup, the Marauder chief and the Viking chief are the leaders of their respective parties and probably the most important pieces as well. Having another king on each side would not make a lot of sense, so I’m just going to assume the Marauder king/Marauder chief and the Viking king/Viking chief are the same piece.
It is also worth noting that if Dagur plays the Viking chief, Viggo is the Marauder chief, just like he was on the board he left Hiccup. Apparently Viggo prefers playing the Marauders’ side. Maybe because it gives some sort of advantage in the way the player playing the white chess pieces starts the game? Or maybe he identifies with the Marauders more, seeing as the said himself playing the “honorable Viking chief” was what got him to lose from his grandfather.
The last we see of the game in season 2 is Hiccup holding the viking chief.
now we know that the game is well known because every member of the
gang seems to remember this game. Hiccup feels the need to point out which
figure is which and what their roles are, so the gang’s knowledge of it
might be a bit shady. This does not seem illogical, after all not
everyone can recite the rules of a real-life strategy game at the drop of a hat.
Only those who play it often (in this case Hiccup) may.
It has the following pieces: The viking chief, the Marauder chief, one or more impostors, two kingships, two longships, eight viking pawns, and eight marauder pawns. Figures not identified yet area swordsman and a dragon, both of which could belong to any of the two parties.
All those pieces can never fit on the board together without making it impossible to move them. Every time we see a Maces and talons board there are only a few pieces on the board itself. Either they have been removed, or as Dagur said “have been taken out” or they are yet to be added as the game progresses. A third option would be that a player is able to trade pieces on the board for pieces not used at that moment in the way a pawn can become a rook or queen. I’d personally prefer the second theory, making the board pieces similar to the troops used in Risk that a player can add at the start of each turn.
Lastly we know it is played by strategists to test their intelligence.
So far so good, now it gets confusing~>
The game makes its reappearance in the season finale as Hiccup meets Viggo and hands him a piece that is most likely the impostor. the confusing part is that he was seen holding the Viking chief back in season 2.
We also get a view of the board, with the longship from Viggo’s board back in Maces and talons Part 1, the dragon and the figure that looks like the Marauder chief, but with a sword. I’ll call it a pawn. (My explanation will follow later, keep reading).
We get two more shots of the board, both from roughly the same angle. They show the longship on the left, the swordsman in the back, two impostors in the middle, the dragon and on the far right the Marauder chief.
I don’t know if this was a mistake, intentional or just Hiccup messing with Viggo by returning him another piece. Viggo does not comment on this, rendering the last theory unlikely, unless he chose to keep quiet to frustrate Hiccup.
Next we see Ruff, Tuff and Fishlegs playing the game. On the screencap above stand the Viking chief and the swordsman and on the screencap below Fishlegs looks at the dragon, a longship and the impostor.
On Tuffnut’s side we have a pawn, the Viking chief (so far the Viking chief is the only figure with bent horns) and the swordsman. The Viking chief and the swordsman are likely to be the same as the ones two screencaps up. Not much new information is given.
On the contrary, the game’s last appearance is VERY interesting. Fishlegs and Snotlout play against Heather and Astrid and their game is in full progress when the camera hovers over the board.
There are two ships on the board and two beside it: the longships and the kingships. It looks like the animators used the same model, so we can’t tell the difference between the two kind of ships, but I am sure the characters can.
The two pictures above show that there are multiple pieces of the figure with the sword in one hand and a shield in the other, pretty much confirming that these are the pawns.
Below I have marked every piece I could identify. Circled in green are the four ships, two kingships and two longships. There are eight pawns in red, one impostor in blue and three dragons in orange. Unidentified are three objects in the top left corner.
All figures marked with orange have a tail and wings, making the total of dragons three while the Marauder chief and the Viking chief are nowhere to be seen.
There are three pieces left unidentified. On the side lies a figure without bent horns, with a belt and without a sword in his right hand. If I have to guess I’d say it is the swordsman. The swordsman has so far only been seen once per game and was not on the board itself. The little piece on the right looks like a spare mace to me.
In the middle lies something I cannot identify AT ALL, but given that it was hinted at that there were multiple maces in the game, I’d pin this object as a second mace.
Except for two little errors, I’d say maces and talons is a very detailed and logical game with many elements from real life war-simulator board games.
The first error is that Hiccup gives Viggo a second impostor in Defenders of the wing Part 1, despite holding a Viking chief at the end of Maces and talons Part 2. For the conclusion, let’s assume this was a mistake and Hiccup actually handed Viggo the viking chief. This would turn the impostor into an unique piece, matching Heather and Fishlegs’ game where I marked only one figure in blue.
The second error are the three dragons on Heather and Fishlegs’ board and the lack of the two opposing chiefs. My guess is that there is only one dragon and that two of these dragons were supposed to be the chiefs instead. This is a guess, as the dragon has so far only been seen once per board. It has never been addressed, nor hinted at, so anything about it would remain a mere shot in the dark.
With those errors fixed… Let’s move on to the real conclusion
The game features two parties at war with each other, the Marauders and the vikings. The parties are led by their chiefs, and taking out the opposing chief will win you the game, like the king on a chess board. Each party consists of a longship, a kingship, a mace and eight pawns. Furthermore the game houses one dragon and one swordsman, both without known designated roles, and one impostor who does not belong to either side an usually pays for this with its life.
Furthermore, the Viking chief holds two axes while the Marauder chief holds up his hand without holding something in it. A spare piece of the game is the Marauders’ mace, which I think could fit into the empty hand of the Marauder chief. If the Marauder chief wins, the player can take out the mace and knock the Viking chief over in a chessmate kind of style.
Not all pieces are on the board at the same time, usually only a few are seen on the battlefield, tying into the strategy-part of the game. Picking the right pieces to play with at the right time could be a huge intelligence test for the player, reminiscent of how a player picks a card to play during various card games.
There seem to be rules on how the pieces are supposed to move across the board as well, yet I do know them, nor could I figure them out.
All in all Maces and talons seems inspired by turn-based strategy games like Risk and Stratego to some degree, while keeping Chess as its main influence.
So what do you guys think? Feel free to add your theories! ^^