Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 6 October 2020

A Maze, in Space, How Sweet the Sound:- Magic Maze on Mars

 Game: Magic Maze on Mars

Publisher: Sit Down Games

Designer: Kasper Lapp

Year: 2019

Mars is popular. That rust-coloured orb that floats throughout the night sky, our closest neighbour in the solar system, with such potential for life, if only we can learn the technology to inhabit it. Magic Maze on Mars takes the frantic, silent action of the original game and takes it to space! Instead of being thieving adventurers after free weapons you play as Robots, busying themselves creating the infrastructure needed for Humans to come to Mars. In order to do that you'll need resources, and the right ones in the right place at that, for humans have the strangest need for metals, crystals and bananas.

Of course in Magic Maze things are never easy. The game starts simple with only a time limit and no restrictions on speech, Over time the game adds rules to each new play until the full game is unveiled. The essence of the gameplay is that you have a sand timer tracking your time, should this ever run out you will all lose. In order to win the game you'll need to generate and move resources around the surface in order to unveil new locations, build habitation domes and manage waste. Eventually all the habitations domes will be complete and people will arrive, who also need to be moved around the roads to get them to their domes. All of this is done with each player being restricted to only using certain colours. That means you can only generate resources of those colours, used roads of those colours and spend resources on exploration spots of that colour to reveal a new map. To top it off you have to do this all in silence, with only a passive aggressive token to place in front of someone if you think they should do something.

I won't explain all the mechanics of the game in detail as it's best that some of the later changes come as at least a partial surprise while you play. Each game lasts ~10 minutes (you can flip the timer using certain action spaces) so playing through the entire campaign can be done in just over an hour. Of course, at the end of that there are a selection of tiles you can add to the game to enhance difficulty if needs be. In our experience that was needed, as barring moments of exceptional bad luck the game tended on the easy side. Though perhaps by design, as what you can do at any one time is more complex than the original game and marking those actions by colours is inherently more confusing than the cardinal directions you might be used to.

Activating the blue robot makes a blue resource token, but if we want to get it to that blue explore spot one of the players with orange as their colour will need to move it along the orange road.

Mechanically Magic Maze on Mars adds some fascinating new gameplay elements which do make it play radically differently than its predecessor. You're going to find your routes getting blocked by several different sources, each of which has their own unique solution to overcome. This includes your own resources as only one thing may ever be on a spot, this can lead to traffic jams of impressive proportions. When things go wrong in Magic Maze on Mars, they go very wrong. The problem that I found was that things could sometimes go wrong for reasons outside your control. One of the tiles is a bad tile, which causes all other bad tiles to be bad too. This gives you junk that you have to move around out of your way consistently. A fun mechanic in general, but if you draw all of these near the start of the game you may as well give up because you won't be able to move anything anywhere! To be fair the game gives you up to three tokens which can be used as a get out of jail free card, for most of the game-breaking jams you can get yourself in, or just used to save time and effort, but this can feel a little like a tacked on fix. Particularly as even in the second printing the manual gives an inaccurate introduction to these tokens!

The addition of the new board lets you hint what kind of action you want your ally to do, at the cost of not saying which ally should do it. I'm sure that won't be confusing at all.

There are two questions that struck me as I played this game. Firstly "Is Magic Maze on Mars a fun game that's worth playing?" Yes, absolutely, it's a fun experience from start to finish - the tongue in cheek humour of the robots in the instruction manual make it a charm to learn. The learning through play tutorials are a great way to keep the barrier of entry low for a game, even as it ends quite complex. I'd happily play more of this game should I ever be asked, but that brings me to question two. The second question is "Is Mars better than classic Magic Maze" To which I think my answer is no. The first game is more approachable, easier to understand, which made it a great game to bring younger/new gamers in. The added complexity comes at the cost of making Magic Maze on Mars less approachable, but it also feels like it has less content, the campaign is shorter, with the final mission simple being "eh, add some of these tiles if you feel like it". While still a satisfying experience it seems the void of space has taken some of the shine off of the Magic Maze series. If you loved the original and desperately want more frantic fun, then pick this up by all means. But if you are stuck choosing which to get, my money is on the first and best.


Magic Maze on Mars was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk


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