Magic Maze is a real-time cooperative game similar to Escape: The Curse of the Temple or Space Cadets that playes 1-8 people in about 15 minutes. Unlike those though, players do not get assigned characters. Players can control any adventurer at any point of time according to their whim. Where it gets tricky is that players only have one action to complete, and aren’t allowed communicate with each other. There is, however, a large, red, passive-aggressive pawn that can be tapped impatiently or slammed in front of a player you suspect is missing something.
On top of that, there is a three minute timer to watch! If the timer runs out, it’s game over, man! The players lose. Lucky for them, there are tile locations that can allow players to flip the timer to briefly plan and power on. When a sand timer is flipped, players are allowed to communicate and quickly plan out their movements until someone takes an action, then it is back to silent partners.
So let’s sum up: Cooperative *check*, timed *check*, no assigned characters *check*, and players can’t verbally communicate with each other *check.*
Wonderful! This shouldn’t a be a problem at all…
To set-up players will choose which of 17 scenarios they will play. Each scenario has specific requirements on how to set up the tile deck and provides additional rules. Honestly, the first few scenarios (similar to Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle or Mystery: Motive for Murder) serve to get the players familiar with the game while slowly adding additional elements. They can be skipped by more experienced players. Each of the four pawns get placed in the middle of the starting tile. The goal is to get the all four pawns onto their designated space to steal their particular piece of equipment, and then out to the exit space.
To do this, each player will randomly get assigned 1 of the 9 Action Tiles. These are the actions that can be applied to the adventurers. They include directional movement, going up and down escalators, entering portals, or exploring and adding new tiles to the board. This is the only action a player can assign to an adventurer in the game. Once the timer is flipped, players begin to apply their specific action[s] to the adventures.
While I love the stress and tension of real time games, I tend to only be able to stomach a couple of these games in my collection. Fully cooperative real time games like Escape! Curse of the Temple are a perennial favorite while the team based real time games like Space Cadets: Dice Duel or Captain Sonar provide too much competitiveness along with the tension and tend to not last too long in my collection. Magic Maze falls into the former category and strikes a balance between high tension and short game length.
While the artwork and presentation make Magic Maze seem appropriate to younger audiences, the hectic nature of the game play, the limited time, and the complexity of the later scenarios make it a challenge for younger players. Similar to Hanabi, this game rewards repeat play with a consistent set of players. You will develop a sense of player’s strategies and suss out any tells or hints they unconsciously provide.
The interactions in Magic Maze are interesting. While most of the game is quiet since communication is forbidden, the small quick bursts of loud, harried talking when a timer is flipped add for a wonderful break of that silence. These occasional bursts are oddly exhilarating. It provides for a quick planning session while the timer is running and just enough to break the tension and get everyone relatively on the same page. Once you get two or three moves past it though, everything starts falling apart.
Scenarios not only increase in difficulty but also provide a scaffolding style of teaching the game through the first few scenarios. Each of the first few scenarios introduce new rules and slowly gives the players an opportunity to get acclimated to the game elements. Each of these learning scenarios can be played quickly and are a satisfying way of introducing the game to new players.
For a library setting, Magic Maze is perfect! It is hectic, silly, and oddly quiet. It plays quickly in a relatively small space. The cooperative and real-time elements of the game make it appealing to spectate. The slow increasing of complexity tempers the chaotic nature of the game making it more accessible, and this is one of the few cooperative games that successful mitigates the Alpha Gamer problem. It is also provides an mildly competitive feel when players with opposing strategies attempt to move the same pawn. The pieces are limited to nondescript pawns, tiles and some tokens, making circulation simple.