Magic Maze is a real time cooperative board game released, back in 2017, by publisher Sit Down! Designed by Kasper Lapp, the game sees a mage, warrior, elf and dwarf robbing a shopping mall before they can go on their next adventure. The adventure however is never seen by players with the maze like shopping mall the sole focus of the game. Lasting less than 15 minutes per round, 1 – 8 players can get in on the robbing action. However, is it fun to charge around a Magic Maze in real time? Let’s find out!
At the start of a round the double sided starting tile is placed at the center of the table, with a draw pile of shopping mall tiles shuffled and placed within reach. Which tiles are included are indicated by the chosen scenario, with many tiles in the box. The four character pawns are placed on their matching colour starting locations on the starting tile, the large red attention pawn is placed within reach, action tiles are distributed and the 3 minute sand timer is flipped.
Magic Maze breaks many normal gaming logics from the get go. Whilst there are four characters, they are all in play no matter the player count and none are controlled by an individual player. On top of this there are no set turns to take actions on, nor a full list of actions every player can take. Instead each player is assigned an action tile. This can feature a number of actions, from one up to four. These are then the actions the tile owner can perform on any of the 4 characters at any time.
The actions include moving up, down, left and right separately; teleporting to set spaces; using escalators and searching. This means while you may be able to move characters left and use escalators you cannot make the character perform any of the other actions. To make everything clear the starting tile and the action tiles have a north pointing compass symbol. This allows players to match the tile with the board – ensuring that all directions are possible.
The general aim of each scenario, though a number of rules and things change along the way, is to explore, get to the item locations and get to the exit before the time runs out. Exploring is done by getting the associated colour pawns to the edge spaces with a matching coloured magnifying glass. The player with this symbol on their action tile can then explore by drawing a tile from the pile and adding it next to the explored location. Each room has an arrow indicating the entrance, making it easy to align to the old tile.
There are 8 spaces on different tiles that feature coloured spaces that are either the item locations or exit locations – 1 of each matching the 4 coloured characters. These need to be found from the shopping mall tile stack before players simultaneously stand on the item spaces – grabbing the loot. Grabbing the loot is not an action that a player takes, being the first of two “actions” that isn’t considered an action. When the loot has been grabbed the teleporter ability is nulled, making escape harder. This is indicated by flipping the action tile with it over. Note, it is always paired with another action so the player with it is not left sidelined.
Magic Maze may be about grabbing the loot but it is also a race against the clock, through cooperation with out conversation. Constantly trickling down is the sand timer and if you play with the non-beginner ruleset during regular play players cannot speak to each other. The only way to indicate to another player to do something is the large red attention pawn, that players will start hammering on the table towards others. Thankfully, there are breaks to this forced silence.
A number of the shopping mall tiles feature a sand timer symbol. This is the second non-action “action” that is activated by simply moving onto the symbol. Getting any pawn to one of these spaces sees the sand timer flipped, no matter how recently it was flipped. Instantly an X token is placed over the used sand timer symbol so it cannot be reused. Whenever the sand timer is flipped players can discuss their plan until they touch a pawn, when silence must resume. Note that during this discussion time the sand timer time is ticking so it’s best not chat/argue for long!
Flipping the timer is needed even for the first few levels when you initially play them. Scenario 3 then adds another rule into the game, with players having to pass on action tiles every time the sand timer is flipped. This really mixes things up and means noone is left doing the same movement for the entire round. This is but one of the many changes in store for the adventurers.
A round of Magic Maze can last as little as 3 minutes. If it has lasted only that long you are either of one of the best Magic Maze players of all time or, more likely, the group has lost by running out of time. Although the game and the actions aren’t difficult some players have struggled to visualise how the board will grow and how the actions interlink. Due to the short playtime it is much easier to put their mind at rest, making it easier to get the game to the table.
The concept of robbing a shopping mall is an entertaining one. It is also one supported by flair filled art on the tiles. Thematically, however, there isn’t much to tie the theme to what players are doing. It would have been great to get a little lore text for each of the 17 scenarios as you work through them, but they are just different rule sets. Some rules make thematical sense – like the orange character being a dwarf is able to move through low gaps the other characters can’t. The reasoning behind the rule is swiftly forgotten though.
At two players the game can still end in laughs, shouts of joy and cries of despair. However, the start of each level can feel extremely similar when replaying the same levels over and over with only two. This is mostly as a result of only having the choice of two action tiles. With more players each has less options and abilities. Therefore, there is more chance of variation and things feel less samey. At the same time I’d much prefer to play at 2 than at the upper end with 4+ often a mash of arms above the board attempting to move things.
It is worth noting that despite the game starts feeling samey Magic Maze is still a game that players will want to play one more round of. Whether you massively fail or get agonisingly close to the exit, there is something about the lighthearted gameplay that keeps players hooked. Magic Maze is more of an activity to do than a game, bustling with reasons to grown and cheer but not an abundance of mechanics. While some are added in throughout the scenarios, more importantly it is a fun group activity to be part of. It also opens the experience up for a wider group of players, not wanting a brain burning experience. Game or activity, Magic Maze is a box of entertainment that has earnt its space on my gaming shelf!
[Editor’s Note: Magic Maze was provided to us by Asmodee for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £18.49. It is also available from local board game stores, find your local store here]