The 39th Nome
I think our son has read every Rick Riordan book ever published now that he recently devoured the Kane Chronicles series. In the books people are informed they might have powers rooted in Egyptian magic and to prove it and join their Nome, they must compete a series of challenges. Of course as his birthday approached, he asked for a Kane Chronicles themed birthday.
We're still in the pandemic and friends aren't gathering, so we knew this would have to be his second pandemic birthday. Last year we didn't get to build an elaborate game and settled for cake decorating over Zoom, but this year we wanted to get closer to normal. This wouldn't be the first Egyptian themed game we have built, but for this one Beth and I came up with creating a series of challenges based around a scavenger hunt throughout the neighborhood that each kid could play independently but still give each other some occasional, socially-distanced help.
Since last winter we've been playing a few games like The Curious Correspondence Club and the Exit The Game series. The games are often mysteries or puzzles, and to complete them you must fold, cut, write on, or otherwise destroy the game pieces. You can only play once so your actions matter. Beth took on the challenge to make many of the puzzles for this game with similar mechanics. She produced a beautiful loose journal of clues, artifacts, and red herrings for each birthday attendee and we connected them to hidden boxes around the neighborhood.
We decided to have five puzzles with one additional, final puzzle. By solving each of the five puzzles, you collect an ancient amulet. Once all five amultes are collected, they were used to solve the final puzzle that proves your worth to enter the 39th Nome and to enscribe your name in the scrolls.
Many museums now have 3D scans of artifacts available for viewing and I searched through various museum collections and selected five Egyptian artifacts to use as amulets. Then, using Blender, I modified the models to get them ready for 3D printing and embossed a heiroglyph in the base of each amulet.
There would be six kids playing the game, so we needed 30 amulets in total. I printed the objects over several weeks while our son was online in class. Luckily he never heard the printer runnnig!
Each of the five puzzles led players to a hidden box. Some boxes were just hidden, while others also had various locks, whose combinations were revealed through their puzzle. Beth found several interesting locks including one with directional arrows, a lock with letters on rotating rings, and a lock with numbers. The boxes came with hasps, but they were too small for the locks, so I carefully removed the original hardware and replaced it with larger hasps that could accept the locks.
As is typical with these games, we don't get a chance to do any real play testing before hand. Our daughter did give some feedback, but for the most part we have no idea if it will be too easy or too hard. We decided to make the five main puzzles independent of one another so players could do them in any order if one proved too difficult. We also originally considered having all the puzzles unlock the Zoom call for the final party, but we were worried some kids wouldn't finish. We settled on delivering the journals a week before the party to give everyone time to play and we didn't hide the party link at the end.
The first puzzle required players to build a bridge across the Nile with wooden planks that were cut from a page in the journal. A message giving directions to the first location was revealed when the planks were assembled in the correct order.
The second puzzle was a jigsaw puzzle. The page contained a photo cut into pieces that revealed the hiding location. By cutting the page apart and assembling the puzzle, you could see where to go.
For the third puzzle, players were told where to look for the hidden box, but they had to also read a journal entry to and notice that it actually described heading in specific directions. Those directions matched the directional arrows lock.
A message encoded in heiroglyphics hid the combination for the fourth puzzle box. A decoder table was tucked into the journal and required to decrypt the combination to the lock securing the fourth box.
The fifth puzzle box was locked with a number combination. I built a tool to generate multi-ring code wheels that needed to be cut out of the journal and assembled. Once the wheel was assembled it could be rotated into place to revel the lock's combination.
The final puzzle started from the last page in the journal. Various shapes were printed on the page along with a website nome39.com. Going to the website revealed the same shapes, but with buttons to rotate through various heiroglyphics. To solve the puzzle, players had to figure out that the base of each amulet matched each shape, and the heiroglyph embossed in the base could be selected on the website. Once entered correctly, the page unlocked and allowed the player to enter their name into the scrolls as members of the 39th Nome!
Beth gave parents a heads up to expect a game to arrive the weekend before our son's birthday. I made the rounds and hand delivered a journal to each player on a Friday afternoon to kick off the game. Our son spent the evening pouring over his journal and theorizing about where the amulets where hidden.
He woke up early on Saturday and with his sister, spent most of the day wandering the neighborhood and playing. By late afternoon, and apparently five miles of walking, they had collected all the amulets and solved the final puzzle. Over the next several days various friends reported their progress, helped each other out, and worked towards their own amulet collection.
Although this didn't happen in person, everyone had a great time. By the day of his birthday, all the kids had roamed the neighborhood and enjoyed the game. Hopefully next year we'll do it together!