24 November 2020
No bowie, but plenty of magic
Caught somewhere between an RPG and a choose-your-own-adventure book, Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is a curious experience that lets you dip a toe into the ocean of roleplaying without worrying about rules or preparation. In places this can make it feel a little awkward, but much of that is neatly countered by the bucketful of charm that splashes out of every single page.
The game throws its players into the world of 1986’s cult classic Labyrinth, setting them the task of retrieving some stolen treasure from the Goblin King – played by a tight-trousered David Bowie – within a 13-hour time limit. What the missing object is and who the players control is up to them, but the general shape of the quest is going to be the same each time.
Once things get going, this rescue mission plays out through the pages of the gamebook, with every spread spelling out the details of some location for the party to explore. Depending on how they overcome the obstacles and encounters thrown at them, which can range from simple patches of quicksand through to weird goblin birthday parties, the players may be sent to different locations or simply propelled further into the book.
What separates the game from an elaborate choose-your-own adventure book, however, is the way in which the players are given free rein to roleplay and dream up their own clever solutions to the puzzles placed before them. There are plenty of guidelines in the book about what might happen under certain circumstances, but for the most part the GM – or, rather, the Goblin King – is left to rule on possibilities and set tests.
This is, of course, exactly what you expect to happen in a more conventional RPG, but that doesn’t make it any less exhilarating or terrifying when the players seize on some wacky idea and you’re suddenly forced to play out the consequences. Indeed, the safe, guided nature of the rest of Labyrinth: The Adventure Game can make it even more intimidating when a table of friends or family members start throwing round ideas that will turn the game on its head.
Fortunately, while prospective Goblin Kings might worry about overenthusiastic knights challenging every other goblin to duels, there’s very little reason to be anxious about managing the rules. Really, it says a lot that the rules for using the book’s coloured place-markers are about as length as the game’s core mechanics.
There are no hit points or magic spells to track, nor any fancy systems for handling stress or fatigue. Instead, every single challenge in the game is handled by having the players rolling one or two six-sided dice and trying to beat some target value get by the Goblin King.
It really is that simple, which is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, you can explain the rules in mere seconds, and because there are very few worries that the you might mess up on some point of order. However, this also helps to keep the gameplay puddle-deep, and though the circumstances might regularly switch up it can all get a little samey once you get a few hours in.
This means that the entirety of your enjoyment is going to come from exploring, building stories and generally having fun in Labyrinth’s weird world. In turn, this kind of relies on you and your players being the kind of people who get on with the setting’s style and sense of humour.
One early puzzle for example, might see the players dumped in a dungeon – or more accurately, an oubliette – and presented with a cape embroidered with the letter ‘S’. The trick to getting out is realising that what they are holding is, in fact, an s-cape.
If this truly awful pun does nothing for you, that may be a sign that Labyrinth: The Adventure Game would start grating on your nerves within the first few pages. If, however, it made you groan and grin at the nonsense of it all, you’re probably going to be fine.
Indeed, one of the most appealing things about the game is the prospect of unleashing it on your children, younger cousins or even classroom. The rules are simple enough for kids to grasp with ease, and while the preteens of today might not know who David Bowie is or why you keep singing Dance, Magic, Dance, the twisted fairytale world of Labyrinth is still packed with charm.
If you’re after a wholesale Labyrinth RPG you’re going to be disappointed, but this makes for a great first step into the hobby for fans of the film, or an easy game to play with slightly older children
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Fighting Fantasy books...
Both conjure up fantasy worlds through the pages of a book, and though the handle things differently the magic is still the same.
Words by Richard Jansen-Parkes
Designer: Ben Milton & Jack Caesar
Publisher: River Horse
This review originally appeared in Issue 43 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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