HolmCon & R.I.S.K.: Trends in Norwegian game design

At this year’s HolmCon (the sixth in a row, my, we’re getting old, time flies etc), there was too much to do. Everyone felt like they missed out on some great stuff, because there were too many cool new games.

Okay, let me repeat that. Too many cool new games. Produced locally.

It used to be that a new Norwegian game would cause quite a stir in Norwegian gaming circles. Even if you’d never played Muu, and it wasn’t in the shops, and it wasn’t your sort of game at all, you’d have heard about it, because it was… well, Norwegian. But now? I can’t even remember the titles of all the new games being presented at this year’s HolmCon. And that’s just crazy, because I’m obsessive about these things.

Luckily, the internet is my friend. Here are the games:

Kjærlighet i volvenes tid (love in the time of the shamaness). A game by Jason Morningstar and myself (Matthijs), based on the Archipelago rules. A shakespearean setup of rivalry, love, lust and magic in Viking times.

Alexandriavariasjoner (Alexandria variations). Based on Jon Bings famous books from the seventies about the library spaceship Alexandria. The designer Anders Nygaard didn’t make it because of illness, but interesting bits have been leaked on the internet.

Lykke (happiness). Tomas Mørkrid decided to explore the more positive sides of life in this game, through long and short scenes from the entire lives of everyday people. Death is a possible ending – but a positive one, apparently.

L’Esprit d’escaliér (spirit of the staircase). All about the “I should have said…” phenomenon – on the way down the stairs after an encounter, you come up with the perfect retort. By fresh designer Aleksander Rødner.

Drømmernes Selskab (The Society of Dreamers). A game full of ritual and dreams, exploring the nature of the mnemosites – creatures living in people’s dreams, and sometimes outside them. A red wine hippie structured freeform game by yours truly.

Morgenfri (morning free – a word play on “sorgenfri”, sorrow-free). A traditional fantasy RPG with an extensive setting, by Maja Kvendseth, a self-proclaimed traditionalist and anti-freeformer who likes to run impro workshops for freeform hippies.

Jegerne (the hunters). What White Wolf’s “The Hunter” should have been like. Presentation and playtest of this new design by Erlend Bruer and Lasse Lundin resulted in an extensive feedback session.

Livet, døden, havet og kjærligheten (life, death, the ocean and love). Possibly the strangest new game, which sadly didn’t get played, I think: These four contestants meet for a race, and the players are sports commentators rooting for their favorite… and betting their reproductory organs. By Martin Bull Gudmundsen.

In addition, there were several scenarios in various stages of freeforminess: D’Aubainnes By, using Itras By rules for Over the Edge; Døden er bedre enn Baronen, about the horrible (and real) Baron von Ungern-Sternberg; Pølsekonspirasjon, or sausage conspiracy, involving real sausages and T-shirts (which are banned at HolmCon); and Jakten på tidsmaskinen, inspired by the “Invisibles” comics.

And, finally, the R.I.S.K. games. Of the 15 new games this year, I believe five were played at HolmCon, and all of them were discussed – briefly or at length. The winner will be announced tomorrow.

So, what trends can we see in Norwegian game design?

  • No dice. Right now, it doesn’t seem like most people are using dice much; even hardcore traditionalists are experimenting with freeform, card interpretation and the like. There are a few exceptions, of course (Morgenfri and some of the RISK games), but in general, freeform is the rule.
  • GM decides or GM-less. In games designed to be run by others, we often end up going GM-less. I think probably half of this year’s designs go in that direction. Freeform GM’ed games being run at HolmCon tended towards the “GM decides everything” style – the GM selects techniques, owns the scenario (although he/she usually solicits and uses player input), sets the situation, resolves the climax.
  • Pick a theme, any theme. This is an anti-trend: It’s hard to see any connecting theme for the various settings being written and run. Some are absurdist, some silly, some social realist, some supernatural, some based on literary references. What we’re not currently seeing is ground-breaking new settings – there’s little real world building, and what little there is seems rooted in well-known fantasy tropes (albeit modified to fit the authors’ tastes).
  • Play, don’t publish. Ask this year’s designers whether they’re planning to publish, and they say “I hope so, maybe, when it’s finished”. There’s no rush to get things out there – they want to play, replay, discuss, hone, polish. After this year’s HolmCon, there’s extensive redesign and rewriting going on.
  • Refining personal vision. Some designers seem to have decided to stick with what they know, and do it better. They’re experimenting within their paradigm – there are enough techniques in their toolkit that they don’t need to acquire new ones right now. The focus is on finding the ones that fit.
  • We don’t all have to like the same thing. A common comment in this year’s R.I.S.K. is “probably an interesting game, and it looks like it might work, but it isn’t really my thing”. Whether it’s because a game is too traditional, or too hippie-feely-story-gamey, or too personal, or too Hollywood violent, people are getting used to seeing beyond their own ideas of what a game has to be, and looking at the games that are actually there.
  • We’re influencing each other. Your game uses my mechanisms. Your way of playing affects how I (re)design my game. We’re swimming in a sea of each other’s ideas right now, and it’s getting very hard to remember exactly who came up with what when. We’re not stealing like ravens – we’re more like kids sitting at a big table sending each other crayons to draw with. “Hey, I want that shiny gold one!” “Pass the black, please?”

If you have any questions about the games, or anything in the article – or if you just want to say something – please feel free to comment!

2 thoughts on “HolmCon & R.I.S.K.: Trends in Norwegian game design

  1. Pingback: Trends i nørdkultur og i norsk rollespil « Stemmen fra ådalen

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