I just love a good one-time-play mystery game.
If you’ve followed some of my other work at Meeple Mountain, you know that I consider myself a seasoned purveyor of the finest in single-play escape room/mystery box games, such as Exit: The Game, Unlock!, Cold Case, Suspects, and the Unsolved Case Files series. When I learned that Ravensburger published a series of one-shot “audio mystery” games known as echoes, I signed up to get a copy of the latest game in the series, echoes: The Cursed Ring.
All four of the games in this series play the same way. Players take on the role of investigators who have the ability to hear voices and environmental effects from objects no matter how old the objects are. That means you have the ability to swoop in, pick up broken glassware, and hear the story of how that glass shattered in short sound clips.
Each echoes production includes 18 clue cards and six chapter tiles, and these items must be scanned using a free app to hear the sounds that will help piece together answers to the mystery at hand. All of the games play under an hour, and are meant to only be played once.
So, let’s give echoes this much: the system is really, really simple to administer, and it’s a perfect setup for a quick game night at home. But, is it fun?
Did You Hear That?
echoes: The Cursed Ring tells the story of a family heirloom that has been passed down from generation to generation. It may also carry a curse that is putting present-day family members in danger.
That’s about the best I can do to discuss echoes: The Cursed Ring without giving anything away. Depending on the difficulty level you want to try, the game’s six chapter tiles are laid out on the table with either nine of the clue cards, or all 18 of them. In this way, players can match up the first half of the chapters with their clues, or all of them; the latter takes a little more time to sort out.
To win, players must match three clues with a chapter, then get the items in the right order, to hear what “really” happened in that chapter. Then, after all six chapters have been successfully solved, the final test requires players to put the six chapters in sequential order to win.
The app for the echoes series is pretty well implemented here. Players can simply place one of the clue cards, or any of the chapter tiles, in front of their phone’s camera to initiate a short audio clip that gives a snapshot of what they are looking at. Maybe it’s a weapon, and we get to hear how it was used, or a doorstep where we get to hear what happened outside.
The voice acting and the sound effects in echoes are only average fare. The acting is appropriately over the top: sadness is registered as life-altering, and when someone speaks in a British accent, they need to sound really British. (The word “balderdash” was used at one point during a sequence, and between that and the use of the word “wench”, it almost felt like echoes hired its actors from Central Casting. The worst offender is the actor doing the prologue and epilogue voiceover…just, no.)
Occasionally, the sound effects were a bit too muddy to discern what the designers were going for, particularly in one of the late-game chapters where, well, two item cards seemed to be a bit too similar in their audio cues. But otherwise, I thought it was easy to tell where the game was trying to go, and we only had an issue putting one of the game’s six chapters in the correct order without trying all of the available combinations.
Which brings us to the verdict. echoes: The Cursed Ring is a bit too easy.
I don’t mind that the game was easy—the box even tells you that its difficulty is a two out of five, in its own estimation. That means I definitely don’t want to try any of the level one cases, since that would be a joke. For a challenge, I would only play The Cursed Ring on its “Master Sleuth” difficulty, where all 18 clue cards are on the table to begin the game.
But after 47 minutes (the app records your time after listening to the prologue), our game was over, and my wife revealed her thoughts: I’m not sure I would have felt good buying a game that was this short and this easy, even if it was a casual way to spend a Friday evening. You definitely can’t play the game a second time, so you’ll be looking to hand this to a friend to play after you finish up.
The bigger offender is that The Cursed Ring isn’t particularly memorable. Even writing this review an hour after playing it, I’m struggling to remember some of the character backstories in the early stages of the mystery.
The framework here is strong, however. I now want to try another echoes game at a harder difficulty, both in terms of the mystery and the starting setup. And if the sound effects are more titillating than people walking on cobblestone streets in high heels, I think you might have something special on your hands here.
As is, echoes: The Cursed Ring was OK. I think many gamers will do a shoulder shrug after wrapping things up before going upstairs to fold the laundry. Now, as a gift for non-hobbyists, I think echoes: The Cursed Ring might be more interesting. If you can find this in stores for a reasonable price—knowing that this is definitely a one-shot experience—I’d recommend echoes: The Cursed Ring as a stocking stuffer this holiday season.