Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Review - Heroes of the Maze

It has been ten days since I last updated my blog, which is far too long. Unfortunately, real life keeps getting in the way, so all I can do at the moment is churn out another slightly edited version of an old review that I original published on www.BoardGameGeek.com.

Heroes of the Maze

Heroes of the Maze
Published by Waddingtons
Designed by another one of those poor uncredited souls
For 2-4 players, aged 6 to adult

As regular visitors to my blog will know, I don't often write reviews of the newest, hottest games. When I write a review, I will tend to write about games that are not getting a lot of coverage at the time (Cadwallon, Claustrophobia), or games which are a little older or a bit more obscure.

So, that should explain why I'm writing about Heroes of the Maze, a plastic fantastic offering from Waddingtons that came out in 1991.

I picked up this little "gem" in a charity shop for the princely sum of £3, explaining to my wife that it didn't matter if it was on fire when I opened the box because at least the money was going to a good cause. As it happened, the game was in excellent condition with the exception of two missing pieces which are not really necessary to play, and which I am sure I will be able to find eventually.

So, what was in the box?

Surprisingly little, actually. Heroes of the Maze is a product of its time - a game desperately dressing up as a toy to try to attract attention away from home computers. The game board itself is made of good quality plastic. It is a circular maze, complete with walls and four completely irrelevant plastic arches around the edge that indicate the starting spaces for the players. The joy of this board is that the walls rotate by sliding levers around the edge, and this movement causes the path through the maze to change.

Heroes of the Maze - the board
The board - so fun, so plastic.

In the middle of the maze there is a pool into which you place nine rings (or seven in my case!). And on a column in the centre of the pool you place the fantastic green troll figure. The troll is the guardian of the maze and he has incredibly short arms.

The game is for up to four players, and each player is represented by an identically sculpted hero figure in one of four colours. These heroes are really quite nicely sculpted, depicting a typical-looking adventurer armed with a sword and a shield (they don't look anything like the guy on the cover of the box though).

Heroes of the Maze - miniatures
The heroes of the maze.

Finally, there are three dice: One standard D6, and two custom D6 with two sides showing swords, two sides showing shields, and two sides showing blanks.

Heroes of the Maze - custom dice
Heroes of the Maze - the custom dice.

The pieces are all really good quality, and even the box is pretty sturdy. It's a decent package - plenty of chrome to try to draw in the punters.

The game plays very quickly and easily. On your turn, you roll the dice. The number rolled indicates the number of times you can move the walls of the maze. You can then start moving your piece. You move your piece until you reach a point you can't advance, and then you can move the walls. After moving the walls, if the path has opened up again you can continue. You repeat this process until you have used all your moves for that turn. This is basically roll and move, but with a little bit of a twist as you are not rolling the number of spaces you can move (indeed, there aren't even any spaces on the board).

It should be noted, this part of the game is ace, and for children it really is good entertainment. With clever planning you can open up your own path while also blocking off your opponent's route, and in that respect the game is quite similar to (the far superior) The AMAZEing Labyrinth.

In the centre ring of the maze there are four target zones - one for each player. If you reach the target zone, you can challenge the troll to a fight using the custom dice. You roll the dice, and if you roll a sword you win; if you roll anything else the troll gets to fight back (you roll the dice and this time need a sword or shield). You repeat this process until you either roll a sword to beat the troll, or you roll a blank while defending.

Heroes of the Maze - the troll
The troll - short arms, short temper.

It should be noted, this part of the game is bloody awful. It really feels like the designer came up with the fantastic maze idea with moving walls, but once he had got that far he didn't know what else to do so just chucked together some rough and ready dice-rolling rules that aren't any fun.

If you lose against the troll you go back to the start and get to run through the maze again - yippee! If you beat the troll, you gain a ring and you place your playing piece on the central column. Interestingly, you place the troll on your starting space, and in subsequent turns you will control the troll. You get to run through the maze hunting the other heroes. This is a surprisingly neat concept, as suddenly your objective has changed - instead of trying to get to the centre of the maze, you are trying to stop other people getting there, and this can create some fun cat and mouse situations. Unfortunately, if you actually catch a hero, you get to do more dice rolling using the same naff custom dice rules. If you win, you get another ring. If you lose, you go back to your starting space.

If another hero gets to his target space, he can challenge the hero who is already on the central column for the right to take the hero's place and also take control of the troll. You guessed it - more rolling. This time both players rolls a custom dice and whoever rolls a sword when the other person rolls a blank is the winner. Yes, you read that right. You both roll, and you keep on rolling until one person rolls a sword and one person rolls a blank. Some of those fights can go on for a very loooooooong time.

First person to get three rings wins.

Heroes of the Maze - the rules
The rules - not bad, except for that crap with the custom dice.

Obviously this is a very light "filler" game. It has a great maze-moving mechanic, and the idea of fighting to take control of the troll is great. Unfortunately, the dice-rolling element is so random and so badly implemented it can suck the fun right out of the game. Watching as someone rolls one dice six or seven times to resolve one combat is never going to be in anyone's list of fun ways to spend the evening.

The game is also close to being broken with just two players. Once one player has got control of the troll, he can linger around the other player's target zone, and attack with the troll whenever the hero gets too close. This makes it almost impossible to make a comeback. However, with three or four players this isn't a problem.

Overall, I think the game is dumb fun for ten minutes for adults (did I mention there is NO setup time? - the board is assembled right out of the box and there are no cards to shuffle!), and I think children will have a real blast with it because of the "toy" element and the ability to play the "bad guy" and chase the heroes around. The game can also help to teach counting and spatial awareness.

All said, I am pleased to be able to include Heroes of the Maze among my collection of old and out of print games; but if I want to play a game with a shifting maze, I am probably going to choose the AMAZEing Labyrinth every time, which is an absolute joy with any number of players.

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