The Magic Labyrinth
- Designer: Dirk Baumann
- Players: 1-4
- Time: 15 Minutes
Children’s games… the maligned genre of the board gaming hobby whose offerings are, on many occasions, treated like the off brand of your favorite cereal that is just a cheap imitation of the real deal and whose contents will leave you feeling cheated. And you know what? It’s hard to blame a person for feeling that way. For many years now board games have been targeted almost primarily at very young children who are truly captivated by little more than colorful bits of molded plastic and the whimsical illustrations of anthropomorphic animals and candy. On top of that, they are often cheaply produced and about as much fun as a three year old’s attention span is long. So yes, why wouldn’t a person have misgivings about picking a “child’s game” off the shelf?
Well, I have good news everyone! It turns out that while the United States was busy mass producing bits of cardboard during the later part of the last century more akin to novelty gifts than games, other parts of the world were cultivating tabletop experiences that were clever, engaging and something the entire family could enjoy together.
(A quick disclaimer: There are many amazing designers in the US who cut their teeth on some fantastic designs during this same period, and there are without a doubt diamonds in the rough… but on the whole, we were definitely late to the party.)
The Magic Labyrinth is one of those amazing child’s games. Originally released in Germany in 2009, I remember hearing about this game and wishing it had an American release. It took many years for it to make its way across the pond, but it has finally arrived! The game itself is set in a magical maze that you and up to three of your friends will explore in search of unusual artifacts. The labyrinth is just an open field of stone parceled into a six by six grid. Players each take one of the four brightly colored pawns and place them at one of the four entrances. At first glance, it seems players could easily walk their way around the open floor plan collecting artifacts to their hearts content without much trouble. However, even as early as your first step into the maze, you realize it won’t be that easy. This labyrinth is after all magical, and it’s in no hurry to give up any of the treasures found within its cold and stony parameters. This is what makes the game truly brilliant. Invisible walls stop you from taking direct paths to the objects you seek, and each time to try to pass through one of these barriers you will find yourself instantly transported back to the entrance.
Here is how it works. The board itself rests above the table, nestled snugly inside the bottom portion of the box. Hiding below the board are modular walls that align with the stone grid depicted on the playing surface. Each player’s pawn is also a fairly powerful magnet who is suspending a ball bearing from the underside of the board. As players move their pawns across the open grid above, their ball bearing will on occasion collide with a modular piece of wall below dislodging it from the pawn and dropping into a collection tray to be retrieved at one of the entrances! The joy of the game then becomes remembering where the walls are as you roll a dice, move the appropriate number of spaces and try to be the first to collect six artifacts.
I have a four and six year old who have no trouble playing this game, and I have no qualms about playing it with them. If it’s not obvious by now, I love this game! And I love showing this game to people nearly as much, because it stretches the idea of what a game can actually be. I don’t know that I have ever been so infatuated with such a simple, elegant and clever marriage of theme and mechanics in a tabletop experience before. I think everyone, young and old, should own this game. It’s an amazing family experience, it’s the perfect opener to an evening of gaming and it has a wealth of re-playability as the walls can all be reconfigured to suit the players.
Pros: Simple, Quick, Family Friendly, Great Artwork, Gateway Game
Cons: This may be a little too simple for people with amazing memories.
The artifacts are drawn randomly from a bag and placed on their corresponding locations on the board. Technically the rules indicate that only one artifact should be present on the board at any given time, but we have found that playing with two artifacts at a time creates more options of players who may find themselves continually in the wrong place at the wrong time. Give it a try both ways to see what works best for your group.
Want more insight? Check out Episode 35 – Seafall & Village Life from our podcast library.