Type: Abstract / Co-operative

Time to play: < 0.5 hr (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 4-6 players (good at each of these levels)

The 2017 Spiel de Jahres (or Game of the Year) finds it’s self in the illustrious company of T.I.M.E. Stories, Stone Age Junior and Pandemic Legacy – to look back only two years! So what makes this game so special and so different that it has managed to be nominated for the coveted award? Simple – it takes every precondition of a board game and throws it out the window.

You need a board right? Wrong. You need a player that only you play as in the game? Wrong. You will be able to do multiple things in your turn? Not only is that wrong, but in Magic Maze you don’t even have a turn!

So what do you have? Well a simple set of four characters drawn of the archetypes of the RPG world – a dwarf, an elf, a sorcerer and a barbarian. With those four characters you will go exploring a dungeon crawl style expanding map but this time you won’t find any bad guys… instead you will search out your weapons which are also cast into the shopping mall you find yourself in.

The limitations; firstly each player can only move the characters in a limited direction / with limited actions. Secondly you will find limits that only certain characters can help the group move past. After all, it seems in this undetermined shopping mall each area can only be opened by the correct fantasy character. Now if that sounds confusing – it is. The one problem with this game is that the theme is weak and that makes explaining what you are doing in the game quite a bit tougher. After all, why can you each only do one action but you can do it with any character?

So suspending disbelief (which in fairness all games require), you now have your four characters, you each have your unique actions and you know that somewhere in the expanding maze are your weapons. Find them and then find the exits; that’s right there’s a second part – once you found your weapons you need to get out. Oh and if you want to really play the game in a way that tests you – you do all this in silence.

Last rule of importance – your doing all this against the clock. Sure there are sandtimers on the board which allow you to turn the timer, but that’s it and if the sand runs out it’s game over. There’s a number of other small rules about the dwarf moving through certain low arches, the wizard seeing the future tiles, and the barbarian smashing TV cameras – but these are pasted on for complexity and a smidgen more theme. They neither make or break the game.

It’s a pretty neat little game really, it takes next to know time to set up and about 5-10 minutes for a play through. You can vary the difficulty with the number of tiles in the maze that you are exploring and during the game the tension is incredible. The tension builds from that moment where you move the Barbarian North, but now the puzzle dictates he must go West before you can move him. In a cruel twist of fate you don’t have the West action, but you know who does. This is the point in the game where you take the large red piece that was spare and bang it uncomfortably down next to that player. Why? To remind him to look across the board and help you out. Just as he does though, the sand timer drips down and it looks like no-one is in a position to turn it! Oh no – GAME OVER! … Less than 2 minutes and you’re off again and you won’t make that mistake again!

As you can probably tell, I think this game creates incredible little moments and the fact that its so quick to set up and reset is key to making a frustrating event a funny and fast pace thrill. So for a games award that rewards family friendly games and laughter this is definitely a good choice.

The downside; much like any game which is co-operative this is a puzzle. Once you solve the puzzle you can move on to harder pastures, but the reality is that this is a puzzle that feels quite similar each time you play it no matter the level of difficulty – adding 5 tiles just doesn’t add much more. I am currently playing Onirim and whilst I think I will have the same view on that in two weeks, these repetitive simple structures have great appeal at first and then lose there shine quickly

Secondly, this game is good as a group / for a filler but it is not good with a small number. Below 4 players the puzzle is a little bit too easy. Lastly, the box…it’s just a bit bigger than it needs to be. This is a compact little game hiding in a shell twice the size it needed to be. It’s a small issue, but when it’s only the filler game it needs to be able to fit that slot in the rucksack – at least in my opinion.

Last notes:

  • If you play frantic, fast paced and co-operative games, this is a fantastic game for your group
  • If you want to learn the tricks of a game and build your engine in interesting and clever new ways, or fall deep into the complex and rich theme of a game – this is definitely not for you
  • If you win at this game then you have co-operated well and used the rules to your advantage – if you lost, then it’s time to work out how you single that the time is nearly up!