How The Vikings Killed Time, They Killed the Partners
Living in the Viking Age was hard and it required the Vikings to spend much time working to survive. Enemies were not the neighbouring kingdoms but also the natural weather and disasters. But the Vikings put aside an amount of time for pleasure.
The Vikings played ball, lifted stones as weight, wrestling, or even duelling for entertainment. There were times that the Viking entertainment ended up killing one another.
Strength and Muscular Contest
We learn that the Viking Age was a warrior-producing age. They worshipped God of war and they joined many battles. So physical, not to say violent, games appeared in the Viking Age was not something out of the ordinary. Such games became contests where Viking men joined to show off their strength.
Modern reconstruction of the Viking wrestling battle
An ideal man in the Viking era should be strong and skilful in battle. These types of game were parts of their training. And sometimes, a competitor ended up with fatal wounds or even death in the contest.
Then fell certain young men to talking how that the day was fair and good, and that it were well, belike, for the young men to betake them to wrestling and merrymaking. ... Now the sons of Thord, Hialti and Thorbiorn Angle, were the chief men in this sport; Thorbiorn Angle was boisterous beyond measure, and drove men hard and fast to the place of the sports, and every man must needs go whereas his will was; and he would take this man and that by the hands and drag him forth unto the playing-ground. Now first those wrestled who were weakest, and then each man in his turn, and therewith the game and glee waxed great. (1900, English, transl. William Morris & Eirikr Magnusson, from the original 'Grettis saga)
Male strength could also be tested on the stone lifting competition which might evolve into weight lifting contests in this day and age.
Playing with ball
Icelandic saga had it that the Vikings of Iceland played a game with ball. It was known as "knattleikr". The game participants had to use the full body and the game included a bat which resembled the baseball or cricket. Little of the rules were known though. But commonly, it ended up with violence.
Saga of Egil Skallagrımsson described how Egil competed for the ball game with another boy. The boy was stronger and better than Egil although he was younger than Egil. During the game, Egil lost his temper and fought with the younger boy. As Egil was fought off, he ran away only to come back with an axe. Coming back, he wielded his axe and hit the head of the boy who died on the spot.
So generally, it was not the game that was violent. It was the Vikings whose blood was violent.
Indeed, the Vikings played board game. The Vikings were not savage warriors only. They were intellectual as well. If the wrestling game was to test the strength, board game was to test the intellectual prowess.
Archaeologists have found many pieces of board game from the Viking graves. This suggested the Vikings when alive usually played board game.
Those who played board games must be the noble according to the Viking Saga. Being good at board game was the first and foremost prerequisite to become a Viking of high social rank.
Inside the famous Birka BJ 581 excavation, archaeologists found out a set of Viking chess. This excited the archaeologists and Viking enthusiasts even more. For it meant the woman buried inside with the weapons could not only be a Viking shieldmaiden but also a military talent.