Buzzworthiness: Labyrinth

I don’t get to play a lot of kid’s games.  Part of the problem is a) I don’t have kids, and b) the state of kid’s games in this country is just atrocious.  So when I find a good one, it’s a) probably from Germany, and b) worth doing a review for.  So, with that, here’s

image by BGG user kevintlee
image by BGG user kevintlee

Labyrinth (also known as The aMAZEing Labyrinth) is a 2-4 player game from Ravensburger and Max J. Kobbert.  The game was originally published in 1986, and takes 20 minutes to play.  The object of the game is to collect different objects from around the board by traveling around an ever-shifting maze.

The game comes with a board, 34 maze tiles, 24 object cards, and 4 playing pieces.  In the beginning, you set up the board by placing all but one of the tiles.  There are 16 tiles permanently affixed to the board, basically taking up every other spot in this 7×7 grid, and the loose tiles are used to fill in the gaps.  Each player puts their pawn on their starting space in one of the corner.  The cards are evenly distributed between players – 12 each with two, 8 with three, 6 with four.  These are kept in a face down deck. You may peek at the top card, but don’t show anyone else.  This shows your first target.

On your turn, you must first add the extra tile to the board.  Push it in at one of the arrow spaces.  This will shift the paths, and knock a tile off the other side, which will be placed by the next player on the next turn.  If you knock a pawn off, it reemerges on the opposite side of the board, aka the tile you just added.

Next, you move your pawn.  Move it as far as you can or would like.  You don’t have to move if you don’t want to.  If you reach your target, flip the card over and put it in your score pile.  If you get to all targets, head back to your start space.  The first person to make it back to the start is the winner.

COMPONENTS: The bits for this game are really nice.  The tiles are solid cardboard.  The player pawns are sculpted minis, and each has a different shape, which is good for color blind folks.  I think that previous editions of the game just used nondescript cylinders for the player pieces, so that’s a good upgrade.  The cards are all simply illustrated with the object you’re looking for, and that matches the object on the board – no text is required, just observational skills.

My favorite piece of the game, however, is the board itself.  It is brilliantly engineered with fixed points all around the maze.  This serves to increase the complexity of the game by having some rows and columns you just cannot move, but also keeps the maze in place.  One of the inherent problems with tile laying games is that it’s really easy to shift the tiles around, or not line them up exactly, which causes spatial problems later.  If this were just a 7×7 grid of tiles, you’d constantly be fixing the maze.  It couldn’t be helped – you’d push things out of line ALL THE TIME.  As it is, the tiles will bump into the fixed points and not move, so you’ll need to do some adjustment, but that’s oh so much easier than fixing the whole maze every time you add a tile.

THEME: There’s not a lot of theme here.  You’re running around a maze picking up treasures.  It’s enough to get you through the game as long as you don’t stop to think about it – why is this maze moving around so much?  Just go with it.  Some retimes have been introduced, including Spider-Man, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings.  I don’t know if any of those would really feel any more thematic, but there you have it.

MECHANICS: The central mechanism in play here involves placing tiles to get your pawn to its desired location in as few moves as possible.  It’s a route-building game.  There are no pieces to mark your path, and the path will change every turn, but you are definitely trying to make the optimal moves necessary to build your route.  There’s a spatial aspect to the game as you need to visualize where you want to move, and often set up moves in advance (moves that can be made irrelevant by your fellow players).  Movement itself is just moving from point A to point B, with you deciding where point B is.  You don’t have a certain number of spaces you can move, you don’t have to roll dice.  You just go until you stop.

The turn structure enhances the game by making you add a tile before moving.  Sometimes, this addition will do nothing for you.  Other times, it will get you exactly where you need to go.  Other times, you’ll already have your path set up by another player’s turn, and the tile you add needs to be placed so it doesn’t screw it up for you.  It’s an interesting dynamic to the game.  You also get secret objectives, and these can add to the fun as you try to figure out what your opponent is doing and figure out some way to mess them up.

Labyrinth doesn’t have a lot going on mechanically, but it all works smoothly and is quite intuitive.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There’s not so much strategy in the game as there is puzzling out the optimal move.  You may be able to set up a few moves in advance, but there’s going to be a new board set up every time.  So it comes down to tactical decisions, and where you want to end up.  Fixed tiles are good to land on because then you won’t get moved around.  But maybe you WANT to be moved around.  As you figure out what your opponents are looking for, you can try to use that information to your advantage.  The only real luck in the game is the cards you get dealt, the rest is figuring out how to manipulate the board to get you where you’re going.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is a children’s game.  I don’t know if I would necessarily classify it as a Gateway Game, but I would definitely put it in the Bait Game category.  It’s attractive, play simply, and is relatively fast.  In terms of educational value, it can be used to teach spatial awareness, observational skills, and some basic tactical thinking.  It’s interesting for kids AND adults, and still competitive no matter the skill level.  I recently taught the game to a nine-year-old.  She beat me in our first game.  And I was trying.  Sigh.

REPLAYABILITY: Because of the variable board set up and new hands of cards, this game has a lot of replay value.  I think its biggest selling point is the setup.  You do have to lay out all the tiles before your first game.  However, once you finish a game, the only thing you have to do to play again is redeal the cards.  The map can just stay the same between games.  It’s really cool the way that works.

SCALABILITY: This game plays from 2-4.  It gets more chaotic the more players you have, but I think it works well with all numbers.

FOOTPRINT: This game doesn’t take up too much space.  Pretty much, you just need room for the board.  There’s no extra bits in the game.  The box is long and rectangular, which is necessary since the board has an unusual construction.  This means it probably won’t fit on your shelf with other games, but if that doesn’t both you, the footprint of this game is not bad at all.

LEGACY: I don’t really know a whole lot of maze building games, and I think this one does it really well.  I would recommend this game over most games on the Walmart shelves (at least for someone trying to find a good kid’s game).  It was a Spiel des Jahres recommendation in 1986 (losing out on the award to Heimlich & Co.)

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s a great kid’s game, and a game that adults will find engaging as well.  I highly recommend that you check it out.  Thanks for reading!

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