by Jon Cates
I was very excited when I learned that The Forge Herald had been gifted a copy of one of my favorite board games ever, Labyrinth!
Now, despite the obvious “lack of David Bowie factor” – sorry kids – “The Amazing Labyrinth” (as is one of its monikers) is mighty awesome in its own right. It’s simple to play, changeling without being maddening, and has just the right amount of “Oh good, I can’t get to where I need to be but I CAN be a dick to my opponents!”
The game is played on a board that is a 7×7 tiled grid, with one extra board tile. The four corner tiles are affixed to the board, along with every other tile. This enables every OTHER row, in which none of the tiles are affixed, to slide when the extra piece is inserted at any of the indicated points. The tiles feature various corridor shapes, either straight, “T” shaped or elbow shaped. Also printed on many of the tiles are certain treasure items, which players try to collect. As the board moves and corridors open, players move their game pieces to items they are trying to collect, as indicated by the pictures on cards they are given at the beginning of the game. On their turn, a player must shift the board but he or she does not have to move their pawn. The first player to collect all the treasures shown on all of their cards wins.
So the rules are very simple. The biggest challenge comes in, as one Doc Brown of Back to the Future fame would so eloquently put it, “thinking fourth dimensionally.” If your player token has a clear path from its current position to the desired treasure piece, fantastic! However, that is most often not the case. So being able to think ahead and mentally picture how the board will change when you make your insertion play is an important skill for any “maze master” to have. I am quite experienced with this game and pretty good at it, but even I made a few moves the last time out that had me scratching my head and pondering “How did I not see that THIS was going to happen?!”
One fun, more random dynamic featured in the game’s board shifting silliness is that which we have endearingly come to refer to as “the Pac-Man effect.” If a player’s pawn is resting on a game tile that is both in a movable row AND at the edge of the board, and that game tile is pushed off the board, that pawn re-enters the board in the same row but on the tile on the opposite side of the board. (Much like the screen portals that Pac-Man can utilize in the arcade classic which transport him to the other side of the screen.) This gameplay characteristic can be utilized with both great skill by players looking to access parts of the board from which it would appear they are cut off, or for simply “messing with you, opponents.” I have heard the phrase “Well, I can’t really do anything useful for my own token… But let’s mess with Jon!” on more than one occasion! (For which I would like to thank my friends dearly.) Haha!
Beyond these features, the game sports some comically marvelous artwork! The few versions of Labyrinth I have played have been fairly equally kitschy and cartoonish, a quality which is a good indicator of low-pressure, “challenging but not brain-busting” fun the game inspires. However, with that comes a ready supply of visuals just waiting to have their “slightly less than realistic” characteristics nitpicked to death by a gang of only mildly cynical nerds! In the most recent “Cossel casa contest,” the main areas of focus were “The eyeballs on ALL of these illustrations look a little too human!” and “This green wizard is CLEARLY a fellow who was plucked straight from his high school graduation and dumped into a semi-perilous puzzle dungeon, armed to battle any number of ‘creatures of might and magic’ with little more than his choir book, diploma and pretentious hippy sandals!”
For the record, aside from the green boy wonder, one could choose to play as red Gandalf clone, the old purple woman who bares a striking resemblance to the old, fruit-loving queen in Snow White, or a yellow, constipated witch wearing a road cone atop her ghastly head.
This game is, as I mentioned above, one of my very favorites. It balances very well on the scale of “challenge vs. relaxed enjoyment.” One key to mastering Labyrinth is having the ability to see the board as it WILL be, once one has made their board shift move for the turn. It’s easy to miss something and have the board corridors end up positioned in an unexpected arrangement, in which case the unpredictable nature of the game becomes evident. If you master the movement of the board, great! However, if you either can’t make just the right move or simply want to mess with your opponents, you can simply make your best attempt at trapping your opponent and live to fight another turn. Fun, right?!
The relaxed enjoyment factor is evident, as well, as it’s just as easy to sit down with some friends and take a very casual approach to the game. “Don’t overthink it,” as one might say. Just move some tiles and you’ll get where you need to go. For that reason, I give the game a solid B+ overall. The setup is minimal, the playing time is middle of the road at a half hour or so (at least in my experience), the design is clever, the artwork is fun and challenge level is just high enough to keep each game interesting. It’s reasonably priced at around $20 and is available at stores like Target and Walmart, so it’s easy to pick up a copy (which I strongly recommend).
© 2016, Patrick Cossel. All rights reserved.