That card gave you hope that the game had more to offer, had some neat twists up its boring beige sleeves, before eventually resigning you to the fact that it was merely a sliver of light in a very dull game.
Jim Henson’s Labyrinth film has forged a place in the hearts and minds of generation upon generation of movie goer. The fantastical feature, dipped long in adventure and charm, with oodles of memorable moments and classic characters now dines at the top table of classic kid’s films.
Now, with that in mind, and with the board game at the table, there is a serious question that must be asked. How, in the name of all that is magical and otherworldly, did the creators manage to turn such a dream of a licence into one of the most unrewarding, disenchanting, and tedious games I’ve played in a very long time?
It’s almost a feat of genius, or perhaps dark magic, in its own right, to turn something that is so rich in possibility into a mind numbing roll and move, draw a card, roll, and repeat repetition filled playground. There is definitely some sort of mysterious force at play here.
The game, as it is, allows four players to embark upon a quest to reach the Goblin King, Jareth’s, castle, and rescue baby Toby from his clutches before the clock chimes thirteen. The players take the role of one of either, Ludo, Sarah, Hoggle, or Sir Didymus and his noble pooch steed, Ambrosia. The main playing pieces are admittedly beautifully depicted in miniature form, as is Jareth himself, but I’ll return to this shortly. Each player has a basic character sheet depicting which dice to roll for attributes; speed, wit, and brawn. There is also a meter displaying willpower. Entering the game as a first time player it’s actually quite exciting to imagine what adventure lies ahead. And then play begins, and that excitement quickly vanishes in a puff of smoke as the realisation of what is on offer begins to dawn.
Basically play goes something like this: player one, playing as Ludo let’s say, rolls an eight-sided die and then moves into the Labyrinth in search of the entrance to Jareth’s castle. Said player stops on a tile after moving and draws a card. Following the actions on the card will see the player either fight a creature, which requires a brawn roll against said creature with the higher score winning. Or, facing Jareth which generally requires rolling under slightly more difficult circumstances. Win a fight, or defeat Jareth, and…drum roll…nothing happens. Play simply moves onto the next player. Lose a fight and you’ll drop a willpower point or two. Lose too much willpower and it’s time for a nap as a few rounds pass you by without any involvement. Now, there is one other card in the deck that challenges players to recite a song from the movie, it’s a great moment when that card pops up for the first time and you get a glimmer of hope that perhaps the game has other little secrets yet to be found, and as another half-hour passes by, and it feels like an hour, you realise that card is, actually, an absolute bastard. That card gave you hope that the game had more to offer, had some neat twists up its boring beige sleeves, before eventually resigning you to the fact that it was merely a sliver of light in a very dull game. And back we go to roll, roll, and roll again.
There is a second part to the game. The part where having found the entrance to the castle, players get to fight in turn against ever tougher foes, yay! And then you roll and repeat, and roll and repeat, and want to kill yourself.
The guardians of the castle are depicted in cardboard cut-outs with scenes from the film on them, and in relation to the miniatures of the main characters, look really out of place and a bit cheap.
Labyrinth is one of those games where there is a point in the game that a wave of disappointment washes over you, or rather, smacks you in the jaw. It happened to me, and I remember glancing at the other assembled players faces and knowing we were all experiencing the same aching jawbones.
The game as I see it, has only one saving grace. It looks wonderful. In fact, thinking about it now, is this a saving grace, or is it another kick in the conkers that such a beautiful game can stink the place out so badly? Regardless, the game as a visual feast is thoroughly filling and deeply satisfying. The miniatures are brilliant and offer a level of detail rarely seen in many other games, every one of them is true to the film and add some level of immersion in the rich theme, at least before the game mechanics completely kill it. The board as well is stunning. Wonderfully decorated in detailed artwork that does the sort of justice to the film I can now only wish the action had. In fact if the play itself had only a fraction of the love and time spent on the looks, I’m sure this would be a game worthy of the licence.
However, what we have as a final product is the epitome of style over substance. The gameplay is drenched in tedium, random dice rolling luck, and quickly descends into board game hell.
I honestly believe even die-hard fans of the film would be hard pressed to find anything of note here outside an initial wave of nostalgia, and some nice figures.
One for the Kids?
I played this one with my daughter, Holly, 11, and my 16-year old son, Dylan. Both began play with the same optimistic air I had myself, and both quickly became bored with the repetition and shallow action.
Holly, 11, said, “It was a bit repetitive, and I think the cards could have been better, they were all very samey. The figures were very cool though, and I really liked Ludo.”
High hopes, and then bitter disappointment, and finally a lifetime of gathering shelf dust. This pretty much sums up my time with Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Publisher, River Horse, could have had something special, but have ended up with a deeply boring roll and move game that offers massive style, but minimal substance. The only way I can possibly recommend this to fans of the film is as a collectable to sit among items of a similar ilk, just please, I urge you, don’t open it up to play, there is nothing but shattered dreams within.
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