Sunday, March 13, 2011


This game is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It remains in the top 50 of Children's games on BoardGameGeek; it is also the oldest game on the list to that point. The game's continuing success can also be measured by its many spinoffs, including: several "Master" Versions; a card-based version; a 3-D set.

All of these exploit humankind's fascination with mazes and labyrinths.

Mazes are a pretty obvious metaphor for life, and several common turns-of-phrase are maze-related:
  • dead end
  • going around in circles
  • blind alley
Bronze Age labyrinth stone carving
Walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral
The Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is one of the earliest Western incarnations of this obsession. Other cultures in the ancient world had similar myths and representations. Some medieval cathedrals had paved labyrinth floors; while some say their purpose was devotional, others claim they were decorative only.


Hampton Court Maze
Later, it became all the rage for the Crowned Heads of Europe to plant hedges in their backyards in the form of mazes; one famous example is Henry VIII's maze at Hampton Court. Here is a link to a blog with lots of great pictures of hedge mazes.

Today, anyone can go to Toys'R'Us and buy a Perplexus 3D marble maze, one of the most fiendish dexterity challenges I can name.

All of which is to say that humans seem to have an atavistic attraction to mazes. Which is why The a-MAZE-ing Labyrinth and its successors have had such staying power.

More advanced version
So in The a-MAZE-ing Labyrinth we have most of the ingredients for a successful game for children (which are really no different from the recipe for grown-ups):
  1. attractive theme(s) (in this case mazes, dungeons, treasures);
  2. attractive components;
  3. rules that take more than 1 or 2 minutes to explain (grown-ups are usually able to tolerate longer/more challenging introductions);
  4. replayability;
  5. interesting but not too many choices each turn.
It is in the last area where the game falls a bit short. The a-MAZE-ing Labyrinth can be a little overwhelming for young players, since there are so many possibilities for inserting your tile into the maze.

Today I played the game with my almost-7-year-old niece and 4.5-year-old nephew. The game is recommended for ages 8 and up, and yet it was simple to set up and explain the game to them. It didn't hurt that there was a picture of a dragon on the box cover, and my nephew LOVES dragons. The board is fascinating to set up--it's fun in and of itself to do it so that they all connect up (which definitely makes things easier to start with). And being able to push tiles in and out of the maze is something that kids and grown-ups enjoy.


No comments:

Post a Comment