Traditional Games in Norway

Instructor: Brittney Clere

Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.

The impact of the Viking culture can be found throughout Norway, even in the games they play. In this lesson, you will learn about the traditional games that entertain Norwegians, including some that can be traced back to the Vikings.

From nearly 800 to 1050 AD, Norweigan Vikings plundered, killed, and earned a reputation for savagery. However, they were also skilled craftsmen, traders, and sailors. Aspects of both sides of these ruthless warriors can be found in many of Norway's traditional games.

Children's Games

Just as the Vikings needed to be tough, many of Norway's children's games also require physical strength and agility. Basse is a game with five or six players who compete to keep a bag ball, called a basse, out of their designated region. They do so by knocking it out with any part of their body, except their hands, while also trying to hit it into another player's area. Each time it lands in their area, they receive a negative point. Once a player reaches a certain number of points, they are eliminated. When only two players remain, a sudden death round is played. The first person to hit the basse into their opponent's area is the winner.

Bro Bro Brille is also physically challenging. It is similar to the London Bridge game, but in the Norwegian version, it ends in a tug-of-war battle. As each child is caught by the falling bridge, they choose a side to go behind. After all kids have been captured and have picked a side, they play a game of tug-of-war to determine the winners.

Other children's games are similar to those played around the world. For instance, the game Gjemsel, is essentially hide-and-seek. Tikken is a game of tag and Stiv Heks, or Stiff Witch, is a game of freeze tag where the tagger is the witch who must freeze all the other players to win the game.

Traditional Card Cames

Vikings had to be quick thinkers, and so do the players of Norway's card games. Take Gris, for example. It is a version of two other games called Pig and Spoons. The players sit in a circle and receive four cards each. They then pass one card at a time to the player on their left while receiving cards from the player to their right. The objective is to collect four of a kind. In Pig, when a player gets four matching cards, he touches his nose. In Spoons, he grabs for a spoon in the middle of the circle. In Gris, however, he places his thumb on the end of the table. The other players must then do the same, but they must be quick because the last person to place their thumb is eliminated.

Another popular card game is Mattis. In the first phase, players collect cards by winning tricks. In the second, they try to get rid of their cards by beating those played by their opponents. The objective is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards. It's also the custom to make the losers wear an ugly hat called the Mattishaetta.

To play Gnav, each player has an equal number of tokens and receives one card. Instead of cards, Gnav is sometimes played with a set of chess-like pieces. For the round, they may keep the card or swap it with the player to their left. The objective is to end up with a high card because the player with the lowest card must pay a token at the end of the round. Beware of trading, however! Some cards carry consequences that just might cost you a token. A player is eliminated when they run out of tokens. Play continues until there is only one person left, who becomes the winner.

Gnav can be played with cards or pieces similar to chess pawns.
Gnav chess pieces.

Games of Strategy

Keeping true to Norway's Viking history, many games involve strategy and conquests. Hnefatafl is one such game, but it is also known as Tafl, The Viking Game, or The King's Table. One of the oldest games in the world, it can be traced back to the Vikings who played the game to keep their mind sharp for battle.

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