Welcome to the Labyrinth, and while you won’t find goblins of Froud or David Bowie (alas), you will find ghosts, dragons and minotaurs. It’s a single-player game that is clever and challenging. The game requires foresight, skill and a bit of luck to see you through all the way to the end. Suffice it to say, I’ve played it many times and only ever completely beaten it twice. Labyrinth is one of the few games provided by Reiner Kniza that isn’t based on an existing board game, but you would nevertheless expect it to be one.
As might be anticipated from the title, the game requires you to navigate through the eponymous labyrinth. This is done by offering a grid of four by four, and drawing up to 16 pre-drawn tiles. As each tile can be configured to have internal and external walls, their placement will either open up or close pathways from the bottom to the top of the screen, where the exit to a given labyrinth lays in wait.
There are three levels of difficulty, starting with hedge maze, to castle ruins, and scary dungeon. Each having the same basic tile set, and increasing numbers of hazards and blocks to impede simple tile placement. To complete a single level of difficulty, nine mazes must be navigated with care. Yet, tile placement are not the only hazard. All grades of difficulty are bothered by minotaurs that threaten the life of the adventurer. The adventurer has a number of swords, and one sword must be used per minotaur slain. If the adventurer opens a pathway to a minotaur without enough swords, their days are done. However, extra swords can be collected in each level, some appearing in various tiles, and others in one of four alcoves in the side, or if you’re lucky, in one of the treasure chests in the hidden chambers.
In the castle dungeons, the adventurer starts to face ghosts, which take up an entire tile.When encountered, they disappear and block out a single grid. Beware, for if this occurs as the last action in that maze, it will block out the exit. Then if one is fortunate enough to make it all the way to the scary dungeon, there one must face both the perils of dragons (who take up the entire tile and consume two swords), and a locked gate at the exit requiring the collective of enough keys through side trips.
The fun of the game play comes out because the surest path to the exit is ultimately a losing strategy. If one does not plan for side trips to pick up swords, keys (and loot), you will not be able to navigate all the perils. Swords are essential, because as the difficulty increases, the ability to entirely avoid some kind of encounter drastically drops. This is important because often the tiles with the most amount of options and best compatibility to journey through will have such monsters. Eventually, one has to start making strategic decisions between the risk of facing a monster now (and using up precious swords) and being forced into a confrontation with the placement of the last few tiles. Too cavalier and you die, far too cautious and you end up painting yourself into a corner and block your only viable paths through. Eventually, you will become familiar with the types of tiles that can come up and have some ability to anticipate such problems. Yet even then, all the best laid plans of tiles can come apart with one or two unlucky draws. Winning strategies require general conservation of resources, but assessing (and taking) the necessary risks of which dangers to face.
In playing this game, I really get the feel of a board game that was designed with the iPad in mind. For me, considering Knizia’s already prolific contribution of ported games, it’s nice to see someone who is thinking about what the platform can offer for new content and making it true to the style of a board game, rather than simply trying to port existing intellectual property that might not work so well. I think this is demonstrated best by the fact that the alignment for the game is portrait, rather than landscape and its aesthetic and game flow capitalises on that. It means the entire maze can fit quite nicely into your screen, and contains the scope of the gameplay.
The graphics work quite well, with cute little animations of dragons and minotaurs collapsing into piles of bone when they’re killed. The user interface is intuitive and I doubt anyone would need to take much time to figure out how to play. The real learning curve comes from learning what to anticipate from tiles, and developing some intuition of what opportunities you’re likely to block out through particular tile placement.
My only critique is that perhaps when I think about more complicated mazes I would have anticipated larger grids, and perhaps tiles that have more variety in their layouts. After a while, it becomes a bit tetris-like, as all the tiles are a kind of tetronimo in that they contain four segments, and each tile must be tesselated to produce an overall pattern. Once you learn those tile formations the sense of discovery diminishes. That being said, it would be a relatively easy process for the developers to release an update (or even in game addition) to expand the tile-sets and perhaps expand on the maze configuration.
Verdict 8/10 – All in all, the game has great replay value, and something that can easily cause you to lose a few afternoons.