Real time cooperative games are a growing genre with a lot of potential for innovation. I enjoyed Escape: The Curse of the Temple and loved Project: Elite, and was extremely curious when a friend introduced me to another unique, imaginative entry into that general category of games.
The premise of Magic Maze completely ridiculous. The pawns represent a party of adventurers that need to resupply and have decided to rob the … local mall. Yes, really. 🙂 The players share control of all four of them and try to map out the mall, get each adventurer to their favorite shop simultaneously, then get everyone out.
There’s several catches that make those objectives difficult, and Magic Maze a ton of fun. First, this is again a real time game, so players are not acting sequentially but all at once while an hourglass relentlessly winds down.
Second, each player specific actions they are limited to. I may only be able to move pawns North, while other players are responsible for the other three directions. Only one person will be designated to add new tiles to the board when pawns are in position to discover them, etc. Finally, all the teamwork that the previous limitations give rise to in order for players to be successful and win must be done in silence. Player can only tap a special pawn in front of other to indicate that want the other person to do something, without talking, pointing, or otherwise indicating what it is that needs to be done.
That last twist gets a lot of odd looks when trying to teach the game, but it’s an absolutely essential aspect and actually one of the most engrossing things once people start playing. The tension of others not quite seeing what you are or moving towards a different goal or not noticing time running out is palpable and incredibly compelling. Everything comes together wonderfully and the feeling of accomplishment as how to play effectively starts to click is great. There’s definitely a learning curve here, but the time nature of the game means those first couple of games needed just to get a feel for how things work go quick and the game’s uniqueness means it’s immediately compelling even during the inevitable early mistakes and failures.
The replayabiliy is incredibly high here, between increasing complexity and difficulty through additions like more tiles, special abilities, and restrictions, modified strategies needed at different player counts, and varying which players get which moves/powers.
So far I’ve played several two player games of this trying around five of the difficulty levels and a few with eight people at the introductory level (well, level 2 technically with each pawn having their own exit). The challenge ramps up naturally with the new additions, which all fit well within the basic framework. The game is incredibly well designed and balanced.
Playing with two, where each person controls two directions and some of the special actions (use stairs, warp to portals, or place tiles) is quite different than with eight where everyone has a single direction but all are duplicated (and the special actions are spread out among three players). But both were great and felt balanced. My inclination is other possible counts will present other nuances, and I’m looking forward to trying them out. Again, put all of the above together and this seems exquisitely built to stay intriguing and challenging through a ton of replays. Perhaps best of all, it always feels like a full experience while playing in (a max) of 15-30 minutes.
Overall Magic Maze is a fantastic real time co-op that features phenomenal design and brings something new and fun to the genre. It made a strong positive impression on everyone I’ve played with, and is a great addition to the game closet.