Game Review – Magic Maze

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In adventure movies, everything usually goes right for the band of merry heroes and you never really see any major setbacks in their journey. The party is usually well-equipped and ready for a perilous journey, but what would happen if all of their belongings got taken from them? This is where Magic Maze shows us what could go wrong when an adventuring party gets held up by a group of bandits and all their possessions are taken from them.

With a green band of adventurers, they aren’t well known and shop keeps won’t give them the time of day with no gold to pay for the new equipment. Adventurers need to have the right equipment to survive and complete quests, so the only thing they can do is plan a heist of the Magic Maze shopping mall (super store for adventuring equipment). Of course, they’re only borrowing the equipment and will eventually come back and pay for these goods once they become well-known heroes.

Designer: Kasper Lapp
Artist: Gyom
Publisher: 
Dude Games & Sit Down!
Genre: Cooperative, Real-Time
Players: 1-8
Play Time: 3-15 Minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 21

Buy it here (via He Said, She Said Games): Dude Games Magic Maze Board Game

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

IMG_4365Magic Maze is a cooperative real-time game where players navigate four adventurers through the Magic Maze mall to stores containing their equipment and then guide them to the correct exits. The players will only have three minutes (can be extended via actions) to complete the heist and escape. Each player will be in control of one or more of the seven available actions in the game (depending on the number of players in the game) to help the heroes explore the mall.

IMG_4367What makes this heist difficult is that during the game you are unable to speak to other players about what they should be doing. Only the “Do Something!” pawn can be used to notify a player that they should be performing their action somewhere on the board. Players will win the game if they can successfully steal the equipment and escape before the time limit is up. With 17 different scenarios included in the game, no heist will be exactly the same as new obstacles get added in each scenario.

Game Play

IMG_4366To start the game, a scenario from the rulebook needs to be chosen. This tells you what tiles you need to include in the draw pile. Once a scenario is chosen and the starting tile is placed, players can discuss strategy before starting the game. Once players want to begin, they’ll flip the sand timer to start the game. During this time, the players are not allowed to communicate with each other with the one exception of using the “Do Something!” pawn.

The following actions will be available every game, but distributed differently based on the number of players (each player receives a tile with the action(s) they can perform):

  1. Movement (left, right, up, down)
  2. Exploration (placing a new tile)
  3. Escalator (moving up and down escalators)
  4. Vortex (moving hero pawns to a matching colored vortex from anywhere on the board)

The game plays in real-time so players are allowed to perform the actions on their tile whenever and as often as they want.

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The first objective is to get the heroes to their corresponding loot icon spaces. The tiles containing these icons will be revealed as the heroes explore the Magic Maze Mall. Once all four heroes are on their tiles, the escape phase of the game will begin. Players will need to guide each of the heroes to the exit that matches their color for the heist to be successful. If players are able to do this before the sand timer runs out, they win the scenario.

You may be wondering how three minutes is enough time to do ALL of this. Well, players are able to extend the amount of time by activating special timer icons during the game to flip the sand timer upside down, which will give the heroes more time to complete the heist. Be careful about the timing of this action though because if you do it too early you won’t gain that much extra time.

Each hero has a special ability that players will need to manage throughout the game to complete the quest. The abilities are listed below:
Mage: Activate crystal ball tiles that will allow players to place up to two tiles anywhere on the board.
Barbarian: Disable security cameras
Dwarf: Go through crawl spaces that are too small for the other heroes
Elf: Allow players to communicate with each other when a green entrance is explored.

You’ll definitely need to make good use of these powers as the later scenarios become very challenging. Can you complete all 17 scenarios and help the heroes get the gear they need to continue their adventuring?

He Said

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I’ve always been a fan of real-time games because there isn’t any downtime and you typically don’t have to wait on anyone else. However, cooperative real-time games will have some downtime due to the reliance on other players each having only an action they can perform to help the team. This is especially true in Magic Maze because each person will typically only be in control of a couple movement directions and not being able to communicate much during the game makes it challenging.

The game play creates a really great cooperative experience that truly feels like a team effort where everyone really contributed to the win. You cannot win this game without relying on your teammates because everyone has a critical action that contributes to the group succeeding. It’s also because of this that it can become exhausting to play multiple games because it feels so frantic as the board starts to expand. Figuring out where to go next, how much time is left, and knowing where all the figures are located becomes harder.

Actions Speak Louder than Words
IMG_4369The thing that every cooperative real-time game does is prevent one player from dominating all the decisions in the game. This is especially true in Magic Maze because communication during the game is minimal and, even with a well thought out plan, the team still needs to execute it. By limiting communication, it forces players to make decisions for themselves on what the best route to a location is. You’ll always have to be on your toes since the route you have planned out can be completely different from someone else’s. One way or another though, you’ll get the hero to where they’re supposed to be. You’ll have to be quick and decisive because every second matters.

While I do enjoy the chaos and flexibility required to adjust your plans on the fly, it can be a frustrating experience trying to read peoples’ minds. There were many times where an obvious move to me was something that Mandee wasn’t seeing because she was focused on a different part of the map. Which always brings up a discussion at the end of the game about whether we should focus on one pawn at a time or if we should progress a couple of the pawns at the same time. I’ve always been on the side of focusing on one pawn and finishing it because it’s easy to lose track of where the pawn is once you start focusing on the other ones. On the other hand, this could be disadvantageous if there are still more tiles you need to explore or if a pawn should be moved from their goal to grab the sand timer action because they’re closer.

IMG_4377Controlled Chaos
There are 17 different scenarios that come with the game that will help introduce you to the game and increase the difficulty. The first six games Mandee and I played of Magic Maze were pretty easy as we got introduced to new beneficial abilities, but game seven was where things got pretty challenging. The introduction of a second tile with security camera makes exploring another tile risky if you’re planning on utilizing the time extender action.

The type of challenges that Magic Maze threw our way were good because we always felt like if we tweaked our strategy just a little bit we could succeed the next time. This kept us coming back for more to see what other kinds of challenges the game would introduce. On top of that, you can increase the difficulty of the last 10 scenarios by adding more tiles to the pile to make the adventurers potentially explore more tiles to find the correct locations and exits. So there is definitely a good amount of replayability for players looking to perfect their mind reading abilities with their teammates in challenging scenarios.

While the game is challenging it can also be very mentally exhausting to play multiple times in a row because it can be stressful. When you’re the one that’s responsible for one or two actions that are critical to succeeding and you aren’t on top of your game, it could lead to the whole team failing the scenario. On top of that, you’re working against the timer and also having your teammates placing the “Do Something!” pawn in front of you, which is a lot to take in while trying to focus on the best routes to take on the board. After about 4 or 5 games of Magic Maze, I usually need to take a little break to refocus and get ready for the next couple games. In return for mentally exhausting players, it creates a much more rewarding experience than other co-op games because it feels like you navigated through the chaos as a team and successfully completed the quest.

IMG_4382Silence is Golden
When the game is at its peak madness, it can be very easy to accidentally cheat by taking an action that you previously had or by letting something out verbally. I feel like this is pretty much inevitable because it is extremely difficult to not point something out that someone isn’t seeing. It’s kind of like being the code master in Codenames or the ghost in Mysterium except everyone is in that role instead of just one person.

In most games, there will usually be someone that uses the “Do Something!” pawn as a pointer to indicate what they want to be done or someone may frantically point at the sand timer as it dwindles down. Situations like these usually result in a memorable experience as a player just can’t contain themselves either verbally or through their facial expressions. This just shows that Magic Maze can really get players invested as they race to get the heroes to complete the heist.

IMG_4376Final Thoughts
Overall, Magic Maze isn’t like any other game I’ve played before. I’ve experienced timed real-time games with 5-Minute Dungeon and minimal communication with teammates in Codenames, but Magic Maze mashes these two mechanics together and creates a unique experience.

The game is straight forward with each player only getting to perform the actions on the card in front of them and it plays quickly too. This would be a good game to open up a game night with as it will get players right into the action and get their blood flowing. Like I said earlier in my review though I think the game will be best in small bursts because it can be stressful, which is why it might not be a game best suited for everyone. It’s also a game I wouldn’t consider playing at the end of a game night to unwind because it would end up doing the opposite of that. If you’re comfortable with some bursts of stress though, I would definitely recommend that you give Magic Maze a try because it is such a unique and rewarding experience.

She Said

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With the right group, a cooperative game can be a really fun way to spend an evening. But like most games, there are elements that can go wrong. In cooperative games, it’s possible for one player to quarterback the entire game or for the opposite problem of no one really stepping up to be a great leader. However, the game Magic Maze takes all of these potential issues with cooperative games and flips it. The fast-paced and frantic nature of the game makes for a unique gaming experience I’ve never had.

IMG_4372Quickly – Before the Fog Rolls In!
The first time we played this game, I was a little skeptical. I thought it would likely result in an argument every game because one of us was bound to get upset at the other for missing something. For the first few games, this definitely was the case, but once we both got the hang of the game, we slowly started to enjoy the game more.

This game is a bit chaotic and the hardest thing about it is not being able to talk. Sometimes it can be hard to remember what moves you are supposed to be making, especially when you end up having to switch actions every time the timer flips.

Other times, it can be incredibly frustrating to know that your teammates are missing something so blatant. But that’s what makes this game so awesome. You pass or fail based on your teammates, so you need to do everything you can to help the team succeed.

I typically do not enjoy real-time games. I find them unnecessarily stressful to the point of being frenetic. But because Magic Maze only lasts a few minutes, the stress feels temporary and, therefore, not as big of a deal as longer real-time games we’ve played like Captain Sonar. 

I will say that I prefer this as a two-player game. When we played with four players, it felt like there was a lot of downtime, depending on what move is yours. If there’s no need for anyone to move in that direction, you just sit there and wait. Other than passive aggressively put the “do something” pawn in front of other players, it can get a bit boring.

IMG_4360Communication is Key
One thing this game has taught me is that my nonverbal communication really needs some work. I often found it difficult to look around the board for my next move and also provide great nonverbal communication with my teammates.

When we played this as a four-player game, there were a few times where someone would have absolutely no idea what they had to do, even with the “do something” pawn being frantically placed in front of them. There’s a ton of things to notice on the board all at once and then you have the stress of the timer. Between keeping track of the timer and making sure you’re making all your moves and tracking that the pawns go where they need to, it’s totally understandable that every player will forget something at least once.

The worst is when this happens because someone didn’t pay attention to the timer. In one game, Calvin completely ignored the timer and even when I broke the rules a bit and put the “do something” pawn right next to the actual timer, he still didn’t notice.

The nonverbal communication is a unique aspect of Magic Maze, and without it, the game would be way too easy, but I think that is the main contributor to my high-stress level when playing this game. When I compare this game to a similar real-time game like 5-Minute Dungeon, I have to say that I enjoy 5-Minute Dungeon a bit more. It feels a lot less stressful and you don’t constantly feel like you are missing some major move that is screwing up the whole game.

IMG_4373Mall Madness
The fantasy theme set in a modern setting seems very strange to me. In Magic Maze, a band of four adventurers are in search of their weapons in a shopping mall and then must escape quickly before they are caught. But my main question is why would they be in a shopping mall in the first place? And why must they steal the equipment? I suppose a case could be made for the group actually being cosplayers looking for equipment, but it’s still a bit odd.

Magic Maze is obviously not a game where theme is the primary goal, but I do think there could be some explanation as to the actual setting of this game. Although it is challenging for real-time games to prioritize theme because they tend to be very short, so I can’t fault Magic Maze for not doing this as well.

IMG_4383Final Thoughts
Overall, Magic Maze provides a really unique experience that is unparalleled to any game I’ve played. There are other games out there similar to this one, but I feel like this one is most effective in its approach. It truly is a team game, and would make a great team building activity. Although this game is very frenetic, stressful, and the theme is a little odd, I enjoy the unique experience it provides and it’s a super fun game to start a game night.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
– Plays quick and is easy to teach
– 17 different scenarios to play through with ways to increase difficulty
– Unique game experience
– Avoids many pitfalls of cooperative games
– Great team-building game

Cons:
– Can be a bit too much downtime in games other than two-player
– Multiple plays in a row can be mentally exhausting
– Stress-level can be a bit too high, even though it is very temporary

The Verdict

He gives this game out of 6.5 Blue Light Specials out of 10.

She gives this game 7 Security Cameras out of 10.

BGG Page

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