#856 – The Runes of Odin

Base price: $135.
1+ players.
Play time: At least 2 hours.
Buy directly!
Logged plays: 1

Full disclosure: A review copy of The Runes of Odin was provided by Puzzling Package Industries.

Hey, we’re back with more escape room games! As you might guess, having still not really left my home all that much, I’ve been doing a lot more of these at-home escape room game experiences rather than getting to go to the amazing escape room complex that’s only a few blocks from my house, but enough about that. At this point, we’ve seen lots of different at-home escape rooms from a variety of different places, so let’s see how Puzzling Package Industries measures up with The Runes of Odin!

In The Runes of Odin, you all are researchers working to uncover the powerful Odin’s Well, a source of magic and mythology for hundreds of years. After an academic disappeared during his search for it, you’ve finally gotten information from a variety of sources that might explain what happened to him (and perhaps, what happened to the well). Do you have enough information to piece it all together? Or will your inability to locate the well rune your day?

Contents

Setup

Not a ton! There are a bamboozle of components, but essentially, just digging out the various components, organizing them, and then reading the first letter from Redmond Herrington should be plenty to get you started!

Gameplay

Here, your goal is to discover the location of the Well, a seat of ancient power and energy once thought to be looked upon by Odin himself. There are some hints that others might have come close to it, but as companies and societies merged, suddenly a lot more information has become available, meaning you might be able to achieve a lead. Be careful, though; others have died in their pursuit of knowledge, so you’ll want to be thorough.

The game creators themselves note that there’s not an explicit number of puzzles to this game; instead, the game is one massive puzzle, with essentially mini-puzzles and checkpoints along the way helping you to your conclusion. So divide, conquer, and write each answer down as you get them. If you can find the location of the Well, you’re done! You may want a pad and paper to write things down, though.

Player Count Differences

Given the scope of the game, I think that more players is honestly almost always a benefit here, to a point. After four, you start having difficulty with information consolidation, but even with two players I felt like we could have probably done with an extra set of hands. This is a challenging puzzle, certainly, so beyond just the sheer volume of text to read through, having an extra brain’s worth of processing power would have backed us up considerably. I would probably recommend this game at three or four, unless you’re just escape room power sleuths (or you have a lot of time to spend with puzzles).

Strategy

  • I strongly recommend looking at the hints as a means for orienting yourself in the puzzle; there isn’t much else in the way of scaffolding beyond some puzzles being difficult to complete without other ones. Your goal is simple: find the Well. Getting to that, though, is what’s complicated. Look through the various clues; are there ways to corroborate certain events or perspectives or stories? What are these mysterious objects? How do they work? If you can put those things together, you might be on the path to something.
  • Keep an eye out; a lot of stuff here is flavor text, and figuring out what’s crucial information and what’s irrelevant is pretty key. Honestly there’s one thing that we’re pretty sure was 100% flavor text and the other seemed to be 50% flavor text at minimum, and basically everything else is between those two. Peruse at your own risk?
  • Translation is a rough business, so don’t necessarily expect a 1:1 English translation. You may have to fill in some gaps, especially since language translation is as much art as science.
  • Similarly, if you get a jumble of characters, you might end up with an anagram. This is more of a general level of escape room guidance, but bear with me, here: plenty of answers to plenty of puzzles in plenty of escape rooms are anagrams, so if you get a bunch of characters that don’t make any sense, just try to unscramble them a few times and see if you get something that does, rather than just assuming you got it wrong.
  • One thing that we ran into a few times is double-checking runes; some of the runes look fairly similar, and it’s easy to mess up a puzzle pretty badly if you confuse one rune for the other. This happened to me really badly once; a few of the runes look almost the same as other ones flipped upside-down, and if you’re reading in a hurry (sorry, Known Skimmer, here), you can pretty easily swap them around in your brain, which can lead to a bad time.
  • Remember, at the end of the day, you’re looking for the location of the Well. Everything that gets you there is useful, but the final answer is the location of the Well, if it exists. When you’ve got it, you should have a pretty good idea. If you don’t have a good idea, well, you can also just look up the solution on the website (or check that to confirm, for, you know, no reason). If it’s not a location, it’s not your final answer.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • One of the puzzles in this game might be one of the most fun puzzles I’ve solved across all the puzzle / escape room games I’ve done. Loved it, but can’t talk too much about it. On the plus side, since you can see there’s a massive horn included with the game, that might have something to do with it? Who’s to say.
  • The component quality is pretty great, as well; the rune stones are a particular highlight, along with the parchment and the letters. The parchment feels great to the touch while you’re playing, and the letters are not only dry and crinkly and such, but they also have ink transfers and realistic stains and such. The whole puzzle has a really good sense of authenticity, which I will say is probably better than any other escape room box I’ve played.
  • Gameplay-wise, this is a pretty immersive puzzle experience, given the sheer volume of content available for players. There’s a ton to do, and it’s all in-world, which I really like. If you’re searching for something online, that’s only because you, the modern employee sent to crack these mysteries, thinks that that’s a good idea. They don’t let anything out of the experience once you’re in it, honestly, and that’s a really smartly-designed experience. I really appreciate that.
  • I always appreciate when an escape room comes with its own Spotify playlist. I think this game prioritizes immersion to a pretty high degree, as mentioned above, and having a bit of thematically-appropriate music playing in the background does a lot to help that. I really like it when escape rooms do this.
  • I actually do enjoy when puzzle games / escape room games have players do some research / look some stuff up outside of the game. It makes the game again, feel more authentic when we’re actually googling things or using readily-available tools online, rather than doing everything inside the game’s own sandbox. We played one a while back that made their own fake websites, which I really liked, as well. That kind of stuff is a hoot; makes the puzzle feel very real.
  • There’s a lot of opportunity for players to split up the work here, so much so that I think three to four people would probably have plenty to do, even though we were playing with two people. There’s sort of a specific order in which the puzzles should be done, kind of, maybe, but there’s plenty here; a group could split up the puzzles fairly easily and divide-and-conquer their way to victory. With two, I kind of wish we had an extra pair (or two pair) of hands, so, if you really want to get into it, I think there’s a lot to do.

Mehs

  • One puzzle was just … tedious. We honestly just didn’t … feel like going through all the motions required to solve it. It would have just involved reading a bunch of things we had already read twice (and would ultimately have to read a third time, anyways). It frustrated us a bit because it didn’t feel like the puzzle was sleuthing something in particular; it was just looking for information and collating it. That said, the other half of the puzzle was very cool! I would have just liked to have done that on its own.
  • I think it would help pretty significantly if the game indicated its estimated playtime … anywhere. We tend to allocate about 1 – 2 hours for these kinds of things. Sometimes they take more than one session, like The Light in the Mist or The Emerald Flame, but other times we’re done with time to spare, like Decktective or any of the EXIT games. Here, we didn’t have a good sense of it going in (there’s no real prep sheet included with the game, probably to assist immersion). Having that would have helped, though.
  • Another game with a pretty big price point. I mean, you’re paying for component quality and puzzle design, I get that, but this is still going to be out of the price range for a casual escape room gamer’s night in. That said, if you spend 4 – 5 hours cracking this one with a few friends over the course of a day, it might be worth it to you! And certainly, local escape rooms are more expensive. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t mean to use the price as a value judgment on the contents; I only mention it in that the price as a number is high, not “relative to the value” or something. That’s not really my style.

Cons

  • Generally, the narrative design of the game didn’t work for us. The problem that we ran into was pretty straightforward; where to start? And from there, where to go next? The game kind of dumps all the materials on you at the same time, which is odd. I prefer games that have a clear throughline for both the narrative and the puzzles. That said, I think there’s a population that will really enjoy this. Without a clear narrative throughline, the game can be a lot more difficult! You can spend time on puzzles that you don’t have all the information required to solve, and even sorting out the order in which you need to solve the puzzles is, itself, a puzzle. The issue I take with that is that games like The Emerald Flame still manage to land that difficulty without resorting to fuzzing the pathway through the game. I just find that frustrating, personally.
  • The research seems pretty decent, with one issue; using the “blank rune” has some problematic undertones. I don’t profess to be an expert on this sort of thing, but I was playing with one, and she pointed me to a gap which was unfortunate. Bear with me, here; I’ve got an actual citation:

What is even worse is that most of the rune magic you find in popular books is based on Aristophy, a pseudo-scientific white supremacist ideology from the late 19th century. Such practices as rune meditation, rune yoga, and rune reading kits that include the “blank rune” and Armanen runes are all based on that very young tradition, which was invented by, well, white supremacists. All that has absolutely nothing to do with what the ancestors once did in terms of magic.

Dr. Mathias Nordvig, Ásatrú for Beginners: A Modern Heathen’s Guide to the Ancient Northern Way
  • [ROT13 SPOILER] Gur raqvat gb gur tnzr vf bqqyl qvfnccbvagvat. Znexvat guvf nf n fcbvyre, ohg, V guvax gung gur frpbaq gb ynfg rznvy lbh trg sebz gur thl ehaavat guvatf vf … jrveqyl vanccebcevngr? V trg gung gur rznvy vf fhccbfrq gb pbairl uvf fxrcgvpvfz, ohg vg geraqf qnatrebhfyl pybfr gb pbaqrfpraqvat, rfcrpvnyyl orpnhfr lbh’er pbeerpg? Bar vffhr V unir jvgu vg vf gur angher bs gur rznvy; vs V jnag n qhqr gb pbaqrfpraq gb zr, V pna tb gb zl qnl wbo. Gur bgure vf gung jr unq na 8-ubhe qrynl orgjrra gur svefg rznvy naq gur frpbaq pbasvezvat gung jr jrer evtug. V nccerpvngr gur gurzngvp pbafvfgrapl, ohg gung’f n ybg bs gvzr gb jnvg nsgre orvat gbyq lbh jrer cebonoyl jebat? Vg’f whfg n irel fgenatr jnl gb raq gur tnzr.

Overall: 6.5 / 10

Overall, we enjoyed our time with The Runes of Odin! Few things we’d probably rather have not had to deal with, mostly around the blank rune and the way the narrative of the game was structured, but I’m willing to chalk the latter point up to a certain level of immersion that we weren’t really looking for, I suppose? It might be that I’ve played too many of the same escape room games, and so I expect the games to run similarly, but here, it felt like we were just lost in a sea of documents and parchments and runes and didn’t really have a strong pathway to even start from. That led us to feeling confused, which is never where you want to start. Thankfully, the game has a fairly robust hint system, so we reoriented ourselves pretty quickly. Once we got into it, there were several clever puzzles, including a puzzle I absolutely loved, so, that was fun to get to experience. That said, I think the game sits in an odd spot. I enjoyed the narrative of the game, but I think that I wish the narrative were more scaffolded. I enjoyed several of the puzzles, but found one tedious enough that we skipped a large chunk of it. It’s the back-and-forth of some good, some bad. I think I know the exact kind of person who would love this, though, and it’s the mystery hunt-lover that really wants to just go in with nothing and have to find the pattern, find the underlying narrative, and crack all of it in one go. And for them, The Runes of Odin will be a pretty top-notch experience. If that’s you, or you’re fine using a few hints to get oriented, or you just are really (hopefully unproblematically) into runes and stuff like that, you’ll probably enjoy The Runes of Odin! I had fun with it as well.


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