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Boda Borg
A Giant Computer Game for the Entire Family
by
Monica Gronlund - Click to Enlarge
Monica Gronlund

In the middle of nowhere - in the deepest of Sweden, 37 miles westwards from Sundsvall, after riding through endless woods and passing lots of small villages, you finally reach Boda Borg - an enormous castle-like house with one just-as-great annex linked to it.

Boda_Borg_exterior.jpg (62896 bytes) Boda Borg Exterior - Inside this aincient building from 1915, Miss Blomberg scared the pupils stiff already when she was alive and worked at Boda Borg as a schoolteacher for mentally retarded children. Now, as the "Black Lady", she serves visitors with sounds of chains, opening windows in the middle of the night and lots of other thrilling stuff.
Photographer: Monica Grönlund

You pay a modest entrance fee and off you go along one of the different paths in a giant physical computer game.

One path can have four, six, or eight rooms and you do not know from the start how many rooms you have to enter before you finally come to the next path. In each room you have to find out what is requested from you. If you fail, or if time runs out, you have to start the path all over again.

Boda_Borg_hotel.jpg (57792 bytes) Boda Borg Hotel - In the Hotel part - which does not look like any other hotels the richness of color and comfort is overwhelming as well as thrilling experiences for the hotel guests.
Photographer: Monica Grönlund

"The system is built on cooperation. If you do not cooperate, you are not likely to manage any of the rooms", says one of the managing directors, Ove Walter with a pleased smile. We often have companies sending their employees to Boda Borg for relaxation and recreation - in short to have a
lot of fun together.

Associations and groups of employees can, if they want, also spend the night at Boda Borg in the facility's famous conference hotel. A hotel which does not seem like any other. They have to prepare themselves on a somewhat scary night when anything can happen. Miss Blomberg, a ghost from the old days, called the Black Lady (back in the nineteen twenties), pops up every now and then in the corridors, or somewhere in the attic story. She might make noises with chains or sounds like a moose on the loose, or she might just open a window, without anybody noticing her doing it. She also turns out lights, when you least expect. For instance when a guest turns on a floor lamp in one of the rooms, it might be turned off in another room. 

"At times she does not show herself at all, but then we have to help her with some of the spooky items", Walter admits with a boyish enchantment. He also adds that this Black Lady scared the pupils stiff already when she was alive and worked at Boda Borg as a schoolteacher for mentally retarded children.

How it all Started

In the beginning there were four under occupied Swedes with different backgrounds and knowledges. What they had in common was an interest in creating something that nobody had done before.

They found this huge castle - sort of house, which was not in use. But the the owners - the county council - refused to sell it at first, just because they didn't believe the idea could be successful.

The idea developed from virtual computer games into a "real", physical computerlike activity. In fact the whole house is similar to one big computer game!

"I did not know much of computer games when we started. My son got me involved, and it was he who taught me the systems of those games", Ove Walter explains, and continues:

"We have consulted bureaus that have searched around the world but not found anything like it - not even in Japan or in the USA. Therefore we have applied for a patent, and until the 15th of January we have to decide which countries we want this invention to be patented."

Since around 1970, Boda Borg was just an old castle, not any longer in use for anything. After a lot of research and all the necessary preparations,the four innovators finally tried to get a staring loan from one bank in the neighborhood.

"We had to talk to a bank man who then tried to create interest at the bank's boarding meeting. The result was negative - of course, Ove Walter explains. How should we be able to visualize to one person, that this idea was a very good one, who in his turn should succeed doing the same thing to a whole group of people, who had not heard the original idea?

"This went on and on with several banks - but they were all negative.  Nobody believed that our idea would make any money. Then finally, one very clever clerk decided to arrange the boarding meeting right here on the spot - at the facility itself. We had only the many rooms and our ability to create interest by describing what was intended in each room, says Walter. This time we managed to get a loan of 750 000 Swedish kronor (about 90 000 $ US). All in all our total expenses landed on about 180 000 $ US, which was just enough to start. "

Boda_Borg_cooperate.jpg (73140 bytes) Cooperation is necessary in all the different adventure paths. However, not all require physical or athletic skills.
Photographer: Monica Grönlund

At this moment "Boda Borg" is a concept which can be bought on a Franchising license, which means that all the sketches and all the plans - in short: the key itself, is sold to new starters on a royalty basis, and a certain provision from the income goes to the founders of this first facility. In fact a new Boda Borg, has already started up in the south of Sweden (in Karlskoga) and four more are planned. Three in the south of Sweden, and one in Norway.

"Right now we are searching for a company or an individual to take up a Master Franchising license for Boda Borg. If we succeed with this - it would mean a lot to us, as the cultural adjustment in other countries demands special knowledges", Walter declares, and adds:

"There are only advantages to gain from more facilities staring up of this kind. Because when you have tried one, you go directly to the next one. This is how it works."

Accessibility

During the first year, from May to December 1995, Boda Borg had 13.500 visitors. Since then, the facility has grown. More paths and more rooms have been built and rebuilt. The visiting figures have risen to 26.500 visitors per year, from all over Sweden, but mainly from the local, and low
populated area. This figure would certainly be a lot higher if we would have shorter and milder winter periods. When the out door temperature reaches minus 20 degrees Centigrade, people do not dare to bring the family car, in case it would not start after several hours in the cold. Because it is a fact that each family or company that comes to Boda Borg, spends at least five hours inside the facility. Close to the conference hotel there are twelve engine heaters to be hired. Boda Borg in Mid Sweden can manage 450 visitors per day, but Walter says the queues to each room would be a bit long so they only accept 400 visitors a day as a most. At Boda Borg in the small town Karlskoga, which is not as cold during winter season, they had 53 000 visitors during the first year of opening.

"Even at Boda Borg in Mid Sweden the facility will be more accessible. A train platform is being built, and during the year 2000 the trains will have a special stop at Boda Borg, so then the visiting figures will rise above our imagination, here as well", says Ove Walter.

On our visit at Boda Borg lots of children and their parents were running about from one room to another, up on the third floor, the second, first and down to the cellar, laughing, sometimes screaming of excitement. In some rooms you have to use your voice to succeed - climbing, crawling or what ever is necessary.

"Normally we have 80 percent adults visiting us, and only 20 per cent children, says Walter. Some of the rooms even demand grown up thinking. We have all kinds of paths for all kinds of people - even grandma and grandpa can do this if they keep to the non physical paths. those are marked with green color and the most demanding physical paths are marked with black color."

"The funniest thing about it is that we never advertise in newspapers. The only time we had to put in an ad, was when we had to regret that all the tickets were sold out for the weekend," Walter continues.

He also tells us that the Swedish monarch, Carl XVl Gustav, and the queen, Silvia, visited Boda Borg when it was inaugurated in September 1996. "They both crawled around in their fine clothes to experience the facility in a proper way. All the journalists and reporters were kept outside in one
of the many corridors. The king, who is not very much for expressing feelings or talking much, refused to let his voice out in a room where he was supposed to scream. He was afraid that the media would hear him, so the queen suggested that he should whistle instead - but he refused to do even this, says Ove Walter.

In all the rooms there are sound sensors, light sensors and movement detectors. But they are all hidden from insight. So you never know what is required.

In one of the rooms, which Walter himself is very fond of, you have to cooperate by moving as much as possible. What you can see is just three large tubes from vacuum cleaners. When you enter the room the tubes start to blow a lot of air as to press up a little ball to a certain level. But
when a visitor lean forward to reach the ball, the air ceases to blow. You soon find out that while one person is leaning forward, the others have to move about, waving their arms as to keep the air blowing.

"This is great fun to experience, but also for me as a constructor to watch", admits Walter, and adds that the greatest success is won when you enter the rooms in a company of three - five people.

In another room there is a totem pole and the trick is to find out what to do with the pole.

"One old lady complained to me, saying " I have done this so many times and it has always worked - but now nothing helps, what is the matter?" "But what do you do to the totem pole"? asked Walter the lady. "I kiss it of course!", said the old lady.

"No, but you should not kiss it Mrs., you should touch the ears on each side of the pole! Probably you have been doing just that, while kissing it, all but just this last time!"

New layout

At the moment a totally new layout is worked out at Boda Borg. All the rooms are to be rearranged so as to become either six - or eight-cornered in the ceiling and in the floor levels. Behind each corner the sensors and perhaps machines or other secret stuff is easily hidden, and the shape of the room also makes an easier cleaning process. A consulting firm has worked out new colors from what is known of the human brain's capacity. For example when you look at yellow and directly close your eyes, you can see blue color instead. This is mixed together with triangular shapes in different sizes into an exciting pattern which all together stimulates the creative mind and puts stressed minds at ease.

So how is all this managed and done - what runs all the sensors and tricks? The answer is easy - computers - what else? It is only fair that a physical computer game should be run by programmed computers. But when I ask how many, Ove Walter is silent at first.

"If I told you how many computers we use, perhaps an ordinary facility owner or constructor would not understand, but, some one who understands computers would know too much, by the number of computers we use, how it is all done, he explains.

For a day's entertainment children under 11 years old, pay about $10 and adults $17.5, and a family of four $ 52.5. If you decide to spend the night at the hotel the price is $ 37,5 for a day at Boda Borg, one adventurous night at the hotel and breakfast for one adult. Larger groups can buy
special cheap-rate-tickets. Boda Borg is opened daily from 10 June to 20 August. Only Saturdays during September to May and other days on special requirements.

To manage all this Boda Borg has about 30 whole time and part time employees. Guests can bring their own food which they put away in the visiting room before entering all the fun games. If you go by train and do not want to carry a lot of food, you can dine in the restaurant, which is not owned by the four stockholders themselves. The restaurant simply hire space in the castle, next to the conference hotel.

The four owners each have their special responsibility to look after. There is Katarina Ödmark who is responsible for the management and administration of the facility. Börje Andersson is responsible for the upkeepings and repairs, which is done continuously so that all parts are kept safe and fresh.

Janne Säll is responsible for different projects, electric parts and service. and Ove Walter is responsible for the marketing and franchising. "Everything that we can not manage ourselves, we hire from bureaus or specialized or skilled advisers, because we believe in using the time well and we want to spend it on things that we know best how."

Happy Trails,

Monica Grönlund

# # #

You can Contact Monica at

Email:  monica.gronlund@telia.com  

Monica Grönlund is a Swedish freelance writer/photographer with ten years of experience in journalistic full time work on daily papers.  Monica takes mostly digital pictures and has found this kind of media easy to handle and flexible to work with.  Monica writes about all that is engaging and interesting, which covers everything from skiing in the snowy mountains to hot political news etc.  She lives in a poorly populated area (Härjedalen) where tourism is the biggest income source.

 

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