Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 15 mins
Setup Time: 2 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Magic Maze is far from short on reviews, it got an SDJ nomination and deservedly so. Personally I would argue that it should have won, although its a less complete game, its a far more unique one and a more complete experience than the winner King Domino. None of this is the reason I want to recommend it here though.
In Magic Maze a maze is laid out during the game, players share control of their playing pieces but rather than controlling one piece or another they can move any piece but only in one direction. Pieces must be directed around the maze under time pressure without directly communicating with other players. Inevitably, there will come a point during play when someone cannot spot that using their directional ability is vital for the group to progress. To communicate this fact the only method available is to place a large, red pawn in front of the confused player.
Most reviews I've read of Magic Maze make much of this red pawn panic and pressure moment, including at least one interview with the designer where he relates stories of people who have ruined there tables slamming the pawn into them. Which creates an image of a rather aggressive and adversarial sort of co-op game. Personally every time I've played when the red pawn was used the game devolved into a rather unpleasant failure as players got more locked into only seeing their own route through the maze and closed down to the idea of other possibilities. If another player is not doing what you want them to its usually more efficient before grabbing that big red pawn to look and figure out what they want you to do. Much has been made of recent SDJ nominee The Mind and its telepathic game play but Magic Maze forces you to constantly put yourself in your fellow player's positions and unlike The Mind, offers you sufficient information to do so. I wish to praise Magic Maze then, not for the sense of frustration, panic and pressure it raises as the seconds tick down while two players stubbornly slam a large red pawn down in font of one another over and over. I wish rather to praise the genuinely magical moment when an entire group of players manage to move around the map as quickly together as they could if they could move their pieces freely alone.
There are many mechanics I admire, there are very few I truly wish I'd come up with. The mechanics of Magic Maze and the experience it creates at its best of almost telepathic teamwork and its attached satisfaction is one I admit to looking at with great jealousy. Play Magic Maze, but play it long enough to get past that big red alpha gamer's tool, because there's something actually magical behind it.