Board Game Review: Magic Maze Kids

Kids versions of games can go one of two ways. Sometimes you get something which has been so watered down that you barely recognise the original, and are left wishing for something with a bit more meat to it. But there are also those games that take the heart of a game and just ease off on the complexity, retaining the main game but just making it simpler for those with a few years less under their belts – Ticket to Ride pretty much nailed this with their First Journey games. Magic Maze Kids is, thankfully, one of the better adaptations which keeps the ideas behind the “proper” Magic Maze and makes it far more suitable for younger audiences. Much younger.

For those not familiar with the regular Magic Maze game, the idea is to move a series of characters round a shopping centre, stealing stuff and escaping before it’s too late. Each player can only move the characters in a certain direction (for example you might be able to move any character whenever you like, but only to the North) and to top it off players aren’t allowed to communicate – you just need to telepathically figure out what others are trying to do. Awesome fun, but quite a challenge.

So how to translate that into a kids’ game? Well, first of all bring back the communication. You’re free to discuss your moves in this game, letting younger players chat about what needs to be done and how to go about doing it in the most efficient way. More importantly though, the theme is totally different, and instead of having creatures which are stealing things from shops, you’re now a range of majestic jungle creatures trying to find your way round to gather ingredients to save the king who has, unfortunately, been turned into a frog. Bummer for him. The movement is the same as the full strength game, with each player having their own set of actions they can carry out; playing with 4 players is the best option, and only allows each player a single action. But this being the same doesn’t hinder the enjoyment for younger players, as the ability to chat to each other takes away that danger of frustration creeping in. There’s the risk of one person taking control and just telling everyone else what to do, but keeping half an eye on what’s going on will easily prevent that.

The bulk of the game early on is taken up by tutorials, cleverly using sections of the game tiles to ease gamers into the main rules of movement, collecting stuff and avoiding the bad guys (who aren’t really all that bad, they just get in the way). Eventually you end up with some maps to play proper games on, using the random objective cards to determine how your game pans out. Each card asks you to gather certain ingredients, get certain characters together and so on, up until you’ve gathered all of the required ingredient in the very cool cauldron. After a quick stir they’re all tipped onto the frog card which, as if by magic, can then be turned over to reveal the cheery King in all his glory. There’s a satisfyingly huge sand timer if you want to add some urgency into the game, but otherwise players can take their time and not worry about losing.

Which brings me to the one thing that doesn’t come across overly well, and that’s how younger kids aren’t great at multitasking. In most games we played I was keeping an eye on all of the characters trying to get them into useful positions, but everyone else (who, to be fair, were the best part of 30 years younger than me) just wanted to get each character to the right place one at a time. It’s understandable, but goes to show that despite the developers doing a fantastic job of bringing this great game to the right level for kids there are some areas which end up not being quite as intended.

But what was the most important thing was that the kids loved it. They laughed, they frowned, they scratched their heads then laughed again. Only being allowed one movement and having no fixed turn structure was such a new concept to them that it took a while to get the hang of, but that was part of the charm of the game. If you’re after a way to entertain the kids or want something to enjoy with them, this could be just the ticket. It’s a great version of a great game, and should give you a very decent chunk of enjoyment.

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