Last weekend I attended Viking Con in Copenhagen. Last time I visited was 2016 where I ran Death of Rapacus, a game of wizards duelling out personal issues. This time I brought my family and I presented a new game, Gaming weekend in Tranås, Sweden.
Same same but different
Viking Con begun back in the 1980ies when RPGs became popular in Denmark. Except for a break due to Corona, Viking Con has taken place each year since at the same weekend (first week of the Danish Autumn Leave) and the same place (Tårnby Gymnasium, Amager).
Even if years have passed, it felt pretty much exactly the same. A few more attendees with gray hair (myself included). The school premises even more worn and torn than usual due to ongoing maintenance work, but otherwise: Sign up as usual, information desk, shops, board game library, and play areas all as usual. My main issue was that Danes pay almost exclusively with Mobile Pay these days and this requires you to have a Danish mobile phone subscription. Which requires that you live or work in Denmark. Which I don’t.
My wife was super pleased to get a Hyggebillet, finally trying the famous Danish concept of Hygge.
After checking in and taking a quick tour of the premises, we were ready to play.
Viking Con Junior
I had persuaded a friend of mine to go, he brought his oldest as well. Saturday afternoon Viking Con volunteers offered events for kids aged 6-12 so we were aiming at bringing our kids there.
We arrived early so we sat down with a game of Catan with our oldest. I haven’t played for years, but it was a fun game to revisit with our kids. Both of them were quick to grasp the rules and with a little help here and there. They enjoyed trading and building and expanding their little empire on the map.
Viking Con Junior offered a selection of kids-friendly boardgames, roleplaying games and a minis painting area. We were late for the first rpg so kids picked a board game from the table. Later they also had a go at paining minis which they enjoyed. Late in the afternoon, our girls got into an all girl group of spelunking adventurers, having fun exploring and overcoming challenges.
Mio: A story puzzle
Between happy reunions with friends from my life back in Copenhagen, I sat down with the board game Mio and had a play through with my friend and my oldest. I felt that it failed to draw me into the story, instead being a very mechanical exercise in moving piece along a path on a map and making choices that was not anchored in any substantial stakes. It’s a long, long time ago I heard Astrid Lindgren’s story so I checked with my son which had recently heard the story in school: He did not connect the pictures on the challenge cards with specific events in the story.
For me as a game designer, it is an all too familiar trade off: Do you want the player to engage in the puzzle or in the fiction? Both can be fun, but doing both at the same time is super hard to design for. Puzzle wise the game does what it is supposed to do and is probably more fun second time when you have a better feel for the choices you can do.
Gaming weekend in Tranås, Sweden
My game was scheduled for Saturday evening with 3 groups playing. Lots of familiar faces from back when I lived in Copenhagen. I had a pre game brief with the two other game masters, then herded everyone into a room and quickly formed three groups.
Sounded like everyone had a blast. My own group swelled in the comedy and unveiled the mystery that kept our unlucky heroes from their favourite passtime — sitting indoor playing games. They stepped up to the challenge and saved humanity from extinction.
Play time clocked in at just over 4 hours, the other two groups closer to 5 hours. I ran my group with high intensity and an hourly 10 minute break. With 6 players it can be a challenge to keep everyone engaged but things went well. Partly due to the pacing, partly due to the game design and setup I think. I usually go to bed around 9 pm these days so I also had some concerns if I could stay awake past midnight. That wasn't an issue.
Reflections on game design
My design goal was to create a game where playing for comedy and playing to solve the mystery would support each other, not compete with each other. When I played the Danish RPG Fusion back in the days, sessions would often be great fun but it would often come at the expense of players failing to solve the mystery and resolve the situation. I wanted a game in a similar recognisable setting but where players could pursue their individual character flaws and goals, feeling assured that this would also further the reveal of the mystery and the resolution of the overarching story. At the same time, when players engaged as puzzle solving action heros, I wanted the game to help generate fun situations.
What I came up with worked extremely well:
All six players in my group pursued their personal goals at least once in the session. Characters are guaranteed to fail, but players roll for why it fails and earn a clue to give to another player for their character to discover. The generated failures happened to fit excellently into the fiction. My personal favourite was when the fire alarm went off just as Luke as the last one awake sneaks out his book to catch up on nerd lore.
Similarly, when players really wanted their characters to succeed with something, they went straight for the re-rolls that introduced detours to buy Swedish meatballs, take a leak behind a tree, or stepping on a rusty nail.
I also added a countdown which helped players navigate where in the story we were. It signals a sense of urgency even if the players initially don’t know the stakes hidden in the track.
Gaming weekend in Tranås II
I hadn’t considered doing a follow up, but on the way back home in the car, my brain cracked how to continue the story. I definitely feel like coming back next year with another game. Let’s see what it will be.