When I was a kid, I spent many boring classroom hours drawing elaborate mazes in my notebooks. My best friend and I would trade our creations and see who could work through them the fastest. (Disclaimer: iSlaytheDragon does not in any way condone doodling in class when you should be paying attention. Just sayin’…) Some of our mazes even had treasures in them that you had to retrieve in a certain order. (And had I been smart enough to patent that as a kid, I’d be rich now. Dangit.)
Labyrinth (formerly The Amazeing Labyrinth) came out a bit too late to coincide with my younger, maze-addicted self, but I was excited to discover it as an adult. Would it trigger that dormant lover of mazes, or would it remind me why I shelved my maze books and self-made maze creations after I simply got sick of them?
How It Plays
In Labyrinth, you are a wizard or witch trying to gather magical objects and characters. But of course it’s not as simple as going down to Witch Mart and buying the things you need. Oh, no. The things you need are hidden in an ever-shifting maze. To succeed, you must be the first to navigate the maze, gather all of your objects, and return to your home square.
On your turn, look at the top card in your pile without showing it to the other players. This card is the object you must now retrieve from the maze. To get where you need to go, insert a maze tile into the row of your choice and use it to push that row until another maze tile drops out of the other end (this tile will become the push tile for the next player). As you push the pathways change alignment, hopefully in a way that makes it possible to get to your object. You may only push one row per turn.
Once you’ve moved the row, you can move your pawn as far as you like along the open pathway you created. You don’t have to move if you don’t want to, though. If you cannot reach your object on one turn, try to leave yourself in the best starting position for the next turn. It may take multiple turns to retrieve one object.
You cannot begin your search for another object until your current object has been retrieved. Once you retrieve your first object, place that card face up in front of you. On your next turn, you will again take the top card from your stack and this will become your new target object.
The winner is the first witch or wizard to retrieve all of their objects and return to their starting square.
Amazingly Fun or Amazingly Bad?
Labyrinth is a very simple game, yet it offers a surprising amount of depth. It’s a game that is easy to learn, but difficult to master. Thanks to the modular maze, you never really have it completely figured out. Every maze will set up differently and the objects you must retrieve will be different and show up in a different order every game. This offers a ton of replayability for such a simple game.
There are quite a few ways to adjust the difficulty, as well. To make it easier for younger players (or faster for experienced players), you can simply end the game when the last object is retrieved, rather than returning to the starting square. You can also play with the variant that allows you to look at all of your cards and choose which one to go after next, rather than having to accept the random top card. Further, you can apply this variant to just the kids. The adults still have to take the random top card while the kids can choose which one is easiest to get to on their next turn. This levels the playing field a bit between players of different ages. You can also give the kids one less card to retrieve than the adults have. It’s also possible to play Labyrinth in teams, with adults helping the kids. Because it’s such a simple game, it’s open to house-ruling it however you want.
One of the other great points of this game is that the lack of text makes it playable by almost anyone. Much like Candy Land, kids don’t have to be able to read to play this. The box states a beginning age of 7 but kids younger than that should have no trouble, especially if they get a little coaching or team assistance from the adults.
Lest you think that this is just a kid’s game, know that it’s great for groups of adults, as well. We play most of our games in adult-only groups and everyone usually has a great time. There is enough strategy to keep things interesting, but not so much that people get frustrated or new gamers feel like they’re in over their heads. People who rarely play games have no trouble understanding it and playing it competitively. Games go fast and there’s almost always at least one person who says, “Let’s go again.”
Hardcore gamers often lament the lack of a strong challenge, but even they are willing to play it as a filler. Labyrinth is a game that requires thought to win, but it’s only one kind of thought. You only have to figure out where you need to go, think through the possible ways you can get there, then make your one move per turn. This is challenging, but not as challenging as a game that requires you to manage multiple types of resources or take multiple actions per turn. Gamers who are looking for the latter kind of challenge will find Labyrinth lacking.
With a group of adults it’s possible that the playtime can drag on a bit. If you get a group that wants to analyze five or six moves into the future, things can go slowly. The game is best played fairly quickly, only trying to plan one, maybe two, moves ahead. That’s all that will likely help you, anyway, because other players are going to be reconstructing the maze with every turn.
Whether you enjoy it with a larger or smaller group is going to be determined by your tolerance for chaos. With more players, the game becomes more chaotic. You can be sure that any plans you are making will get messed up. Because you have more people trying to make the maze serve their goals, there is a good chance that they will adjust the row(s) you were working on before your turn comes around again. This can be fun, but it means that you have to play your turns as they come around. You won’t be able to plan far ahead.
With just two players, you have an opportunity to be more strategic. There is less chance that your opponent will adjust the row you’re working on, meaning that the plans you make for future turns might actually work out. Of course, with fewer players it’s also possible to play this game in a more cutthroat fashion. It will be more obvious where your opponent is trying to go, so it will be easier for you to intentionally mess with their plans. There will also be times when no move you can make will help you, so you will want to intentionally mess with your opponent to slow them down.
In either case, there is a bit of luck involved in the game. The random cards and ever-changing maze mean that it’s possible for a player to put together a run of quickly completed goals if all of their needed objects end up close together or along one completed pathway. This doesn’t happen often, but players who despise any sort of luck element in a game may find it to be a turn-off.
If the fantasy theme doesn’t appeal to you, note that this game has been made over in many different themes over the years. Hello Kitty, Avatar, Star Wars, Sponge Bob, Disney, and Spider Man are just some of the variants/themes that have been made. Some are out of print now, but can be pretty easily tracked down on the used market, in thrift stores, or at yard sales. The base game is also easy to find at thrift prices and it is frequently offered during holiday sales. Even buying new and not on sale, it’s often found below $20 USD, making it one of the better values in the game market.
The value is excellent especially considering the components. The maze is made of thick tiles and the pawns are detailed plastic minis (earlier editions had less elaborate pawns). The box insert has a place for everything and keeps it all nicely organized and protected. It’s a very durable game and constructed much better than games that sell at double the price. If you have kids, this is one that can stand up to a fair amount of abuse. And if you’re playing with seniors, all of the pieces are chunky (this is a plus for kids with little hands, as well) and easy to grip with no tiny cubes to chase around. There’s no tiny text to read, either.
There’s a reason that Labyrinth has been around since 1986, was recommended by the SDJ, and has been republished many times and in many forms. It’s almost the ideal family/gateway game, combining easy rules and play with enough thought and strategy to keep players of all ages engaged. It’s something that kids can play competitively with the adults and the adults don’t have to dumb down their play to let the kids win. The kids can beat you fair and square. It’s also good for groups of adults who just want to sit down and play a solid, thinky game without getting stressed out over a ton of rules or lengthy game times. Sure, it’s not the most challenging game ever made, but if you can play and enjoy it for what it is, it’s a great time for almost everyone.