29 April 2021
Frustrating chaos has never been so fun
Magic Maze had a problem – its theme, already confusing by mixing a modern mall setting with fantasy adventurers, did not quite work with an almost entirely abstract real-time movement puzzle as gameplay. The follow-up, Magic Maze on Mars has not made the same mistake. The setting, premise and gameplay intersect perfectly. Players are robots that are preparing the surface of Mars to be habitable for incoming colonists. This task incorporates collecting and moving resources along colourful paths, building domes, navigating trash and avoiding space slugs. Rather than being in charge of the movement of a particular token, players are assigned specific colours and can do any action as long as it corresponds to it.
A player in charge of green and blue can generate the resources of the same colour and move it along the blue or green paths. However, if they come to an orange path, they will need to stop and wait for the player in charge of that colour to move the resource further. Sounds easy? Well, it would be, if not for one more tiny rule: players can’t talk to each other. Suddenly, a simple task of getting a token from point A across the map to point B is riddled with player miscommunication and confusion, which as you would expect, slows the whole process down significantly. Finally, add a sand timer into this mix and watch as mayhem ensues.
What otherwise would have been a zen game of moving tokens across paths and completing tasks, transforms into a tense, time-clutching race against the clock where players give each other stern stares, wave hands around to get someone’s attention and make panicked noises as the last grain of sand drops. There are a few allowed methods of communication within the game, like smacking a big red pawn next to a player on an icon that corresponds most closely to what you are trying to convey. It looks silly and most of the time is entirely unhelpful, but then so is waving hands in front of someone else’s nose.
Although the game comes with only five different levels, the randomised tile map layout and natural chaotic player interaction makes Magic Maze on Mars feel different each time. As you beat one level, you move onto the next, adding another element that raises the difficulty and makes the new coordination puzzle challenging to solve. The more players you have around the table, the more you are reliant on someone else to complete a task, which, of course, can only go wrong. It is messy, and even though no one is supposed to talk, loud, with banging of the pawn and rogue exclamations of frustration or alarm. Whether you complete or fail a level, at the end, when talking is finally allowed, everyone laughs, because how could you not?
Some players might not enjoy the uncontrollable chaos of movement on the table in front of them, and then this game is not for them. And there will be plays that are just frustrating and nothing is working well – that is only a natural occurrence in games that rely on the player’s mood and eagerness to work. Yet, when it all gels with everyone it is just the right mixture of hilarious and stressful, ridiculous and strategic to keep you wanting to play more.
Magic Maze on Mars proves the importance of good communication, especially when you can’t talk, delivering a game that is both ridiculously silly and deceptively hard.
If you like Magic Maze, then you will find that this Martian-themed instalment matches or improves on all of its aspects.
Designer: Kasper Lapp
Publisher: Sit Down!
What’s in the box?
- 27 Mars tiles
- 6 Bridge tokens
- 3 Wild tokens
- 4 Sand timer tokens
- 1 Warehouse board
- 6 Action tiles
- 2 Space slug paws
- 5 Colonist pawns
- 10 Trash pawns
- 5 Dome tokens
- 12 Resource pawns
- 1 ‘Do something!’ pawn
- 1 Sand timer
- 1 Communication board
This feature originally appeared in Issue 49 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.
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products