“You remind me of the game.”
“The game with the power.”
“The power of voodoo.”
“Remind me of the game.”
If you have any idea of what that was all about, then Labyrinth might be the game for you. A thematic homage to the 1986 film which combined Jim Henson puppets, the architecture of MC Esher, and David Bowie in remarkably tight trousers, Labyrinth is a light, family friendly, cooperative Board Game for 1-4 players (up to 5 if someone controls the forces of evil).
Labyrinth: what’s in the box?
Most of the weight of the Labyrinth box comes from a large, heavy board depicting the eponymous Labyrinth itself, with the Goblin Castle at the centre. It also comes with 5 miniatures (1 per player-character + Jareth the Goblin King), boards for the players, a time-tracker, dice, tokens, decks of cards, and cardboard stand-ups for the henchman monsters.
People might mix up a D8 and a D10, but unless you’re colour-blind, “Purple” vs “Yellow” is hard to get wrong
There are 6 dice, each with a different number of sides (4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 20) and each in a different colour. whenever you need to roll a dice, you’ll be tolled which colour to roll: given that Labyrinth seems to be aimed much more at fans of the film than at hard core gamers, this allows them to ensure that players are clear on which dice to roll at any given time. (Even if my RPG brain kept wanting to know why they didn’t just call as D12 a D12). Most cards feature stills from the film, and the image quality on them is decent.
Overall the component quality is good, and the box insert allows you to sort things fairly easily, keeping it all together: the miniatures are nice (it’s no coincidence that the Labyrinth box has a clear plastic window to display the miniatures prominently), and the only real disappointment was the cardboard stand-ups for the monsters: these are large enough that the image resolution is a bit sketchy, and it does spoil the look slightly (although, the box comes complete with a flier for a Goblins expansion that will sell you some more miniatures representing the forces of evil).
Navigating the Labyrinth – how does it play?
Some cards go away (if you defeat them)…
The object of a game of Labyrinth, much like the film, is for Sarah, the young woman at the heart of the story, to rescue her baby brother from the clutches of David Bowie: in order to do this, she needs to navigate a way through the Labyrinth until she reaches his castle, then defeat the henchmen who guard it, before speaking the spell. If she cannot do this within 13 hours, her brother will be turned into a goblin and lost forever.
…others stick around, regardless
In the game, players move around the Labyrinth on their turn, revealing cards each time they land on a new space. Typically a card will give them a test to carry out, a reward for success, and a punishment for failure. Many cards can be discarded if you defeat them, meaning that the next time someone lands there, they can draw another card, but in other cases, you’re just trying to avoid losing willpower, or being moved somewhere you don’t want to go.
Whenever possible in a game of Labyrinth, you always want to land on an empty space, so that you can draw another card and move through the deck. This is because somewhere in the last 1/3 of the deck is the Gate to the Castle card, which opens the way for you to confront the goblin guards and trigger the end game.
There are always 4 characters in a game of Labyrinth (the box says “1-5,” but inside it explains that it’s really designed for 4, and if playing with fewer, you divide up the characters between you). Each of the 4 has stats, telling you the colour dice they roll when testing their Speed, Wits, and Brawn, with a bigger dice representing greater ability. Hoggle is slow but canny, Sir Didymus charges around on his mount, but is less insightful, and Ludo is big and strong. Overall Sarah, Labyrinth’s heroine is probably the most balanced character.
Sounds simple: is that it?
Some people have dismissed Labyrinth as being too simple, lacking decisions to make. It’s certainly the case that, much of the time, your decision boils down to “do I move left or right?” a decision which can be more-or-less made for you when the surrounding spaces are covered in cards. That said, there is a little more strategy than is perhaps obvious at first sight.
Going Slowly, Going Together
For one thing, your character’s speed dice represents their maximum speed – you can always opt to roll a lower value die. Now, it feels very powerful for the Sir Didymus player to roll a D12 and go charging round the board, but this actually makes it very difficult to predict or control where he will end up – often a smaller value of dice will significantly increase the likelihood of your character landing on a blank space (remember, you want to draw a card every turn if you can, to burn through the deck quickly).
You also have the opportunity in Labyrinth to move as a group: groups always move at the speed of their slowest member, and have to start with everyone on the same space and wide awake. However, if you do move as a group, then you can all roll for Wit or Brawn checks you have to make, giving the players more dice to roll, and thereby increasing the chance of success.
A check always works more or less the same way: you will be told what skill to test against what dice. So for example, if Hoggle is told to “test Wits against Yellow,” he takes the yellow 8-sided die to represent Jareth’s forces, and he checks his character card to see that his “Wits” are a 12-sided black die, and takes that. He then rolls both dice – if the number on the black die is equal to or higher than the number on the yellow, he passes the check. If not, he fails.
A Matter of Will – and time
Time is rarely on your side
When making checks, players always have the opportunity to spend one of their will tokens to re-roll a die, but whether this is wise or not will depend on the circumstances. Hoggle only starts with 3 willpower, so he can’t spare much of it, whereas Sarah has a more helpful 5. You can restore willpower by taking a turn to rest, but the chances are that’s time you don’t have.
If you ever run out of willpower, you fall asleep and wake up back at the Oubliette for a turn of resting, so allowing your supply to get too low is risky.
Generally, if the penalty for failure is only losing a willpower, there is little (nothing?) to gain from re-rolling, whereas discarding a nasty card can be worth the cost. It’s also worth noting that spending willpower only allows you to re-roll your dice, not the dice which determined the difficulty of the check. Given that Jareth always rolls a 20-sided blue dice, if the difficulty of the check came out very high, there may be little point in re-rolling.
Labyrinth: A blast from the past
Re-watching the film of Labyrinth in preparation for writing this review, I was struck by just how strongly it conveys a sense of the 1980s. Labyrinth the board game is a clear love-letter to the source material, and more-or-less every card references part of the film. There are even a few points in the game where players are expected to quote lines from the film from memory.
The game-play itself in Labyrinth also feels like a throwback to the sort of games we used to play as children (I was an 80s child) so, if that was deliberate, it was effectively done. Ultimately though, there’s a reason I no longer play Snakes and Ladders or Ludo – there are so many better games out there.
Whilst there is a bit of number crunching than can sometimes help you, two or three plays or Labyrinth will be enough for most gamers to have it sussed: use small dice for movement early on to reveal as many cards as possible, don’t waste will on re-rolls unless the penalty is significant, join up towards the middle of the game, and try to enter the castle in no more than 2 groups with plenty of will and your unique bonus left. Beyond that, Labyrinth is basically a game of blind luck, depending on which cards you reveal when, and whether the dice are for or against you today.
Final Thoughts: Lost in an endless maze
Mechanically, Labyrinth feels like it would probably work best as a game to play with younger children – but it’s unlikely that anyone who falls into this age bracket remembers the film, unless their parents are avid fans. Sadly, Labyrinth definitely feels like it has more going for it as an affectionate bit of reminiscing about the film it takes its name from, than it does as a game in and of itself.
If, like my wife, you first saw Labyrinth as a child, and fell in love with this cult classic, then chances are you’ll spend a fun few hours reliving favourite moments from the film, especially if you can get a group of you together to quote it at each other. If like me, you didn’t discover it until the 21st century, and don’t quite see what the fuss is all about, then you’ll figure out fairly quickly that there’s not all that much underneath the theme to keep your interest: blind luck and guesswork will be your best tools until you get tired of it.
Enjoyable for big fans, but not enough game in it for me – 5/10
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits in my new life as a dad.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Dice Masters and Destiny) when I can make it out of the house.Competitively. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.