Wednesday 17 April 2013

Review - The aMAZEing Labyrinth

Where does the time go? One minute you're promising to do more regular updates to your blog, and suddenly it's a month later and you haven't done a thing... To at least give the impression that some new content is appearing here, I have reproduced a review of The aMAZEing Labyrinth, which I first published on back in March 2010.

The aMAZEing Labyrinth

The aMAZEing Labyrinth
Published by Ravensburger
Designed by Max J. Kobbert.
For 2-4 players, aged 7 to 99 years (according to the box).

I used to play a lot of board games when I was young. As I didn't know too many people who liked board games, I tended to own most of the games I played; but there were exceptions, one of which was The aMAZEing Labyrinth. I only played this game once when I was young, and I remembered it being an absolute joy - simple to play, with a nice mix of randomness, "gotcha" elements, and planning.

So, now I'm in my 30s, and finally I own my own copy. It was given as a gift from my mother-in-law, who has a knack of finding games I used to love when I was young. Does the game stand the test of time? Let's see...

This is a game for 2-4 players, each of which will be controlling a neat little pawn that looks like a witch or a wizard. Each pawn is a different colour and sculpt. Having a different sculpt for each piece is totally pointless, but it is a nice touch that adds to the overall package.

The aMAZEing Labyrinth playing pieces
I apologise for this bloody awful photograph...

The sturdy board for this game has certain tiles fixed to it (which don't move), and certain other tiles that are placed on it but which can move freely. This is the genius of the game: Every turn someone will add a tile to the board, which in turn will push one of the other tiles off of the board. On the following turn, the tile that was pushed off gets returned to the board, thereby removing a different piece. In this way, the board is constantly changing. Each tile has a picture of a tunnel on it (either a right angle turn, t-junction, or straight road), and as the pieces move around, paths will link up or break apart. When paths are linked, you can move along the tiles, but when the paths are broken, you have to try and move pieces around until a route opens up again and allows you to continue on your way.

The aMAZEing Labyrinth board
The board before being covered in movable tiles.
The aMAZEing Labyrinth board
The board during a game.

But what's the point?

At the start of the game, you will be dealt a hand of (very flimsy, badly illustrated) cards. Each card has a symbol on it which matches a symbol on one of the tiles on the board. The aim of the game is to move around the board, stopping your pawn on the tile that has the symbol matching your first card. Once this is done, you reveal the card to your opponents and then look at your next card. You repeat the process until you have revealed all of your cards, and then you return to your starting space to win.

A turn consists of taking the single tile that is not on the board, and pushing it onto the board at one edge (thereby removing a tile from the other side of the board). You can then move your pawn, moving along as many tiles as you want until reaching a dead end OR the tile that has the symbol on it you require. Sometimes the paths on loads of tiles will link up, and you will be able to travel several tiles in a single turn, but sometimes you will not be able to move at all.

The game is very simple, and can be taught in just a few minutes, but it is absolutely loads of fun. It is not possible to plan too far ahead, especially in a 4-player game, because the board will change so much before you get to move each time, so people looking for a deep, thoughtful game will be disappointed. However, for a very light filler, this is absolutely perfect, and it plays fast. It plays really well with children who enjoy seeing the paths linking up, and get very excited when they can match a tile; but surprisingly, the game is also a hoot with adults.

For such a simple game, there is also quite a bit of variety. The board is generated randomly at the start of the game by simply drawing the tiles and placing them one after another, and there are enough different combinations of tiles that you can be sure no two games will ever be the same. You are also dealt random cards, so you will rarely, if ever, be looking for the same set of symbols from one game to the next. Even the number of symbols you are looking for varies depending on the number of players.

The aMAZEing Labyrinth cards
My cards - wrapped in Hugo's Amazing tape, of course.

It is also worth noting that you can play different variants to tailor the game to the crowd you are with. In the standard game, you are secretly hunting the top symbol in your deck of cards, so you do not know what other symbols you will need, and no-one knows exactly what you are looking for. This can easily be changed so that, for example: you openly reveal the card you are looking for, enabling other players to try to block your path and creating more "gotcha" situations. You could also play so that you can look through your deck of cards and select the symbol to go after, rather than simply going for the top card in the deck - a variant that will make the game easier for children.

The aMAZEing Labyrinth rules booklet
The rules booklet.

I love complicated, theme-heavy games, and I love deep, strategic games, but I still think there is a place in my collection for this little gem. It plays so smoothly and elegantly, so quickly and without fuss, that you cannot help but get involved in the fun. With a few drinks and a crowd of adults (even non-gamers) you can pass an hour or two laughing at the misfortunes of others and trash talking, or you can settle down with your kids for a game that is not too "mean," doesn't involve a lot of direct competition, teaches pattern recognition and decision making, and is just good fun.

I have never played this with a group of people (of any age) who didn't enjoy it. And several people I have introduced it to have gone away intending to buy a copy for children they know.

Highly recommended.