Odin’s Ravens: A Board Game Review

If you’re in search of a fast-paced two-player game, then look no further than Odin’s Ravens.

While the original edition debuted in 2002, designer Thorsten Gimmler released this completely redesigned version just this year. Having won the “Best Strategic Card or Dice Game” category at the UK Games Expo 2016, I’d say it’s been a success.

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The Basics

Time: 20-30 minutes
Players:
 2
Ages: 8+
BGG Rating: 7.2*
Baby Brown Bear Status: On loan

Unfortunately (and embarrassingly), my knowledge of Norse mythology is primarily based on the Marvel Comics movies (Chris Hemsworth, though, amirite?!). If you are in the same boat, please let me refresh you.

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Swoon.
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The only appropriate response to the above picture.
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*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10.

Baby Bear’s half-assed refresher of Norse mythology

Odin, also referred to as “Allfather” because he is considered the father to all the other Norse gods, is the multi-faceted god of poetry, magic, and war. According to legend, his unquenchable thirst for knowledge led him to sacrifice an eye (via self-gouging) in Mimir’s Well, whence he gained some sort of cosmic knowledge. Interestingly enough, you can see a replica of this well at the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration.

Another, more practical, way he gains his wisdom? By sending out his trusty ravens, Huginn and Muninn, to bring back news from across the world.

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Decidedly less swoon-worthy.
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In this game, you and your opponent are those ravens, racing against each other to see who can return to Odin the fastest. However, to do so, you may need to enlist the help of the trickster god, Loki (who, I just found out, is actually Odin’s blood brother and not his son, as the movies would have us believe). Check out the section in that link entitled “Loki’s Role in the Pre-Christian Northern European Worldview” for an interesting analysis of Loki’s importance in the Norse mythology universe.

TL;DR

You’re a raven and you fly across the world to bring information to Odin. If you return before your opponent, you win.

Setup

The setup is incredibly simple and is shown in the following picture.

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At the top of the picture is the stack of land cards. In the middle of the picture to the left are the two wooden raven figures, ready to race. To the right of those are 16 land cards. On the bottom of the picture are the black player’s 25 flight cards and 8 Loki cards, the rule book,  and the red player’s 25 flight cards and 8 Loki cards. The path the ravens must follow is a loop, meaning the white raven on top must go straight in front of him until he reaches the end of the row. Then he must go down to the other side of the card (in this case the forest) and circle back on his opponent’s side until he arrives back at the starting point.

Ravens start on the left side of the board and must traverse land cards. While there are 40 total land cards, they are shuffled and 16 are placed on the board. Players must make sure no two spaces in a row are of the same terrain (e.g., two fields cannot be touching). All remaining land cards are placed (in this case) on top of the board.

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Ready to fly.

Below the land cards are each player’s decks. Both the black player and red player have two stacks: 25 flight cards and 8 Loki cards. Players draw five total cards for their starting hand. They can choose to draw cards from either or both piles. I’ve personally found it best to draw at least one Loki card.

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An example starting hand includes four flight cards and one Loki card. Tom Hiddleston is a much more attractive Loki.

Turn summary

The nice thing about this game is that it’s pretty flexible in terms of what you can do, meaning you can play as many or as few cards as you can or want. That said, the basic actions you can take are flight or trickery.

Flight (flight cards)

To advance a raven, players must use flight cards that match the terrain of the next space on their route. If there are spaces of the same terrain in a row (which could only happen after moving cards around with Loki), a player can move his raven to the last card in the row, meaning the raven only uses one of those terrain cards to fly over all of that terrain.

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For example, the black raven must play a desert card next. Since there are two desert cards in a row, he will only need to use one desert card to fly over both of the deserts in front of him.

If a player has no matching flight cards, he can use any two flight cards of the same terrain in place of the one flight card he needs.

Once used, players discard flight cards into a pile that will eventually be reshuffled back into play.

Trickery (Loki cards)

There are four types of Loki cards and each card has two different actions. A player can choose only one of these two actions. Once the action is taken, the card is removed from the game. This means each player can use up to eight Loki actions total throughout the game.

The four types of cards are shown below. Their abilities are fairly self-explanatory based on the drawings, but more explicit instructions are in the rule book.

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Here are all four types of Loki cards. A player can choose to use the top OR the bottom action. 

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One of the Loki cards allows you to build a loop that elongates the route for the other player. For example, the white raven on the bottom is trying to move left. He must now play a forest card, a field card, and a fjord card to win instead of just a fjord card.

Turn end

After you are done playing your cards and have discarded them appropriately, you must draw three new cards to end your turn. You can choose any combination of flight and/or Loki cards.

Note: you can never have more than seven cards in your hand and must immediately discard down to seven if you do. Remember, discarded flight cards are eventually reshuffled into play, but discarded Loki cards are not to be seen again!

Game end

The game ends when a player moves his or her raven into the final space on the opponent’s side. If that player went first, the other player is given a chance to move to the end of his or her track. In case of a tie, the player with the most cards left in hand wins.

My Thoughts

Cons

  • Lack of strategy. The only real con is that there’s not all that much strategy involved in this game. You can plan a little bit, but you’re mostly at the mercy of the luck of the draw.

Pros

  • Easy to learn. This game is incredibly easy to learn. In fact, you can skim the rules and start playing within 20 minutes.
  • Quick pace. Odin’s Ravens is great “filler game,” as we often call them in our game group. By this I mean that it’s fast-paced, doesn’t take long from start to finish, and isn’t too heavy. You can play it to relax and catch your breath between longer and more strategy-heavy games.
  • Artwork. I really appreciate the illustrations on the land cards. Each terrain is unique, colorful, and surprisingly detailed. They make me wish I could fly over them in real life.
  • Two-player game. While some may view it as a con, I like that this is a two-player game only. It’s a nice option for weeknights when you feel like playing a game, but don’t want to play something that’s really designed for multiple players. It’s a good date night game, too.
  • Lighthearted. I like the theme on this one a lot (as evidenced by my need to go into a little more thematic detail above), but I especially love that it’s lighthearted. I’ve been known to become a little cross when playing more serious games against Papa Bear, but this one is just light enough that I feel like we can challenge each other to multiple plays with no hard feelings. Does admitting this make me overly competitive? Probably, but no one loves to lose to the same person repeatedly.

In short

Odin’s Ravens is engaging and approachable for all experience levels. It’s fast enough to play a few times in a night without growing tired of it, and is very easy to learn. So far, it’s one of my favorite games of 2016!

What say you?

 

Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration: A Chicago Spotlight

Hidden behind the clean-lined and somewhat inconspicuous exterior of Andersonville’s Swedish American Museum lies one of Chicago’s best kid gems: the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration.

By now, my inner Swedophile has made herself known a few times on this blog, but it bears repeating that I’ve yet to come across something related to the Scandinavian country that I didn’t love. Even though we’re more than four thousand miles away from Stockholm, this counts as yet another one of those things.

Before I take you on my tour, I’d like to note something shameful. I actually only visited this beautiful children’s museum to do just that, and failed to tour the rest of the Swedish American Museum. One of these days, I’ll move beyond the lobby, the gift store, and the top floor to meander through the rest of the exhibits. I’m sure I’d love them, too.

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Having been on our Chicago bucket list for some time, Baby Bear and I were thrilled when a friend invited us to a group play date at the children’s museum. As a bonus, it was on one of the museum’s free days (the second Tuesday of each month, as noted below).

Upon entering, we were met by one of the friendliest museum employees I’ve yet to encounter. As we sat comfortably in the foyer chairs next to the ornate Viking ship (which  entranced the babe) and waited for others in our party, she happily provided us with information about the museum. She also asked how we all knew each other and commented on how she is still in touch with women from her own mom and baby group from several decades ago. By the time we finally went upstairs, I felt like we were buds. In my experience, you don’t get that kind of sincere customer service from many museums in the city.

Despite it being a free day, I was extremely pleasantly surprised to learn that the children’s museum wasn’t crowded in the least. At most, I saw only about a dozen people, including babies. Already I knew this was my kind of place.

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This brightly colored map greets you off the elevator. I tried to show BB where we visited, but he couldn’t have cared less. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I took my first look inside, my inner kid came to life and wanted to run from one thing to the next.

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The sign above says the museum is intended for children between 6 and 12 years of age, but I think it’s great for babies, too. I’d just suggest waiting until they can at least sit up on their own. 

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There’s a Swedish farmhouse! (Or stuga, according to the site.)

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I was tempted to wear one of the little smocks, but decided my 2016 clothes would have to suffice. Maybe when Baby Bear can wear one with me.

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This is one of the things I’m most excited for Baby Bear to grow into so we can explore more. The little house is equipped with things authentic to the time period, including the dining and bedroom areas you can see here, plus a kitchen full of  old-timey cookware.   

A farm!

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The entire museum has a homesteading feel to it. Here on the farm, kids can milk the wooden cow, gather firewood, pump for water….

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And gather pigs for the slaughterhouse apparently. But really, how was I not to feel instant camaraderie with this breastfeeding mama pig? With the exception of only having one baby attached to me, I’m in this position daily.

A ship!

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Baby Bear and friends loved to stand up against the little box seats and push the oars back and forth. They would have been terrible rowers, but anyone who would hire a crew of 11-month-olds has it coming.

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After he grew tired of rowing, Baby Bear (of course) found some stairs leading him up to the top of the ship. Hey, this apartment kid has to practice his stair climbing some time, doesn’t he?

A pioneer log cabin complete with a garden!

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The garden was especially fun because all of the veggies are made from cloth. Yet another reason why I think of this place as a pinnacle of homesteading; it’s full of wooden, metal, or cloth toys and details. Fun, educational, and less plastic waste!

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Now if only I could read that Swedish blessing (I assume?).

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This cabin reminded me of how grateful I am to have been born in this cushy era. Can you imagine winters in this house? 

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Wait a second, chickens don’t lay apples.

And, jumping ahead about a century, space!

You may be wondering why in the hell they would have a space exhibit. Well, it turns out Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon after Neil Armstrong, is Swedish American.

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Some Swedish equipment (I believe it was a camera) that was used in the moon landing.

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Finally, there’s Buzz! Those chairs were the really exciting part here, though. That red button set off a countdown. Once the timer ran out, the chairs vibrated and rumbled to simulate blast off. Baby Bear and friends were a little alarmed by the new sensation, but they handled it like pros. I’m not sure I’m prepared for him to become an astronaut!

Rest assured, there’s even more to this museum that I haven’t shown you, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun.

In addition to what I’ve highlighted here, and other fun things for kids to climb on and explore, there’s plenty of educational text to accompany each play experience. Children can leave the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration with a great understanding of what it was like for Swedish immigrants coming to America (and by extension, what life was like for many other kinds of immigrants of that era too).

I truly do think this is a great activity for any kid or parent who’s a kid at heart. Plus, after your visit you can go ahead and visit the Swedish Bakery down the street, or just look at the little Swedish horse on the corner.

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Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

The Swedish American Museum is located at 5211 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640. The Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration has different hours than the rest of the museum. They are as follows:

  • Monday to Thursday: 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The museum is closed on several holidays, so make sure to check online before visiting on those days. For more information, click here.

Cost

The museum offers free admission on the second Tuesday of every month. 

Otherwise, admission for non-members is as follows:

  • Adults: $4
  • Children, students, and seniors: $3
    • Children under the age of one are free
  • Families: $10

Parking and transportation

The museum has a free parking lot located on the northeast corner of Ashland and Foster. From there, it’s a very short walk to the museum. Otherwise, Andersonville has plenty of paid street parking.

The nearest CTA ‘L’ stop is the Berwyn Red Line, which is about a half-mile walk away. As always, there are bus options available to you as well. I encourage you to map your trip using Google Maps if you need help.

Stroller or carrier?

With a decently spacious elevator and no shortage of room to park, bringing my stroller was a breeze. Especially during this heat, it’s nice to not have to wear my little furnace.

Final Word

I plan to make several trips back to the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration. If Baby Brown Bear enjoyed it as much as he did before he could even walk, he’ll absolutely love it as he continues to grow.

With so many engaging activities for kids of all ages, a helpful and accomodating staff, and a not-crowded atmosphere, this has quickly become one of my favorite Chicago spots.