18th Oct2017

‘Jim Henson’s Labyrinth’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


As a child of the 1980’s, I spent a lot of my time recording movies at Christmas on my mum and dad’s VCR. From blockbusters like Star Wars and Indiana Jones to classics like Oliver, I probably had thirty or forty tapes that I watched over and over, occasionally bumping a bad movie from my collection and recording over it. As a result of this, I have a near perfect recollection of Christmas adverts for SCS, Argos and Toy’s R’ Us, but that’s hardly something I should burden you wish.

One of the movies I had a particular love for was Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. I would fast forward the opening scenes of Sarah faffing about in the rain and arguing with her parents and usually, I’d hit play right around the talking worm scene. I’d skip other scenes too – the masquerade ball for example – just to get as quickly as I could into the action scenes, especially the final battle in the Goblin City. Had there been such a lavishly recreated board as the one I am reviewing today back then, I am sure I would have owned it and at the age of seven or eight, I bet I would probably have loved it too.

Firstly, just look at it. The board is large, dark and richly detailed. At first, I thought it was a bit ugly, but believe me when I say that it does grow on you over the time. Then there are the miniatures – well cast and made to a good size, each one does a good job of representing one of the key characters in the movie, each of whom is required to play. The card stock is laminated and adorned with relevant scenes from the movie, which you might say is unimaginative, but then again, remember why you bought the game in the first place. There are actually relatively few other components – just some tokens, three standees, various dice, some character cards and a manual which is very brief.

In gameplay terms, Labyrinth is like a (mercifully) shortened version of Talisman, wherein players traverse around the outer edge of a board drawing cards from an adventure deck until one specific card advises them to enter the Goblin City. Each of the four player characters (Sarah, Hoggle, Sir Didymus and Ludo) roll a specific dice based on their speed rating (Sir Didymus rolls a D20 because he is fast, for example) and must move clockwise or anticlockwise around the board that exact number of spaces, then, if there is no existing card there, they must draw one and act upon it.

Acting upon cards commonly boils down to taking a speed, wit or brawn test. Again, each character has a dice for their prowess in each area. Failure will usually result in the relatively mundane consequence of losing an influence point, whilst successes will often remove the card from play and may perhaps provide another benefit such as (you guessed it) earning an influence point. Relatively few cards offer a permanent benefit, although there are some (such as the talking worm) that can be added to a players hand and used later.

Once the Gateway to the Goblin City card is drawn (it is engineered to be in the lower third of the deck) players are able to use it to do battle with Jareth’s standee minions, each of whom demands a brawn test. Once these foes are defeated, Sarah (and only Sarah) may tackle Jareth in a battle of wits. Players have thirteen rounds (represented as hours on an included Goblin Clock prop) in which to complete the game, with each round comprising of a turn for each player, until the final battle. Once Sarah faces Jareth, each time she rolls the dice against him and fails, an hour ticks past on the clock.

Having glossed over it at this level, I can imagine my pre-teen self quite enjoying the Jim Henson’s Labyrinth board game. Unfortunately as an adult, I simply can’t shy away from the number of dismal design decisions that contribute to the game that sits before me now. Roll and move is a bad thing, but roll and move exactly this many spaces is a very bad thing. Playing Labyrinth isn’t simply better with four players, it requires four players (which can include one or more players controlling multiples) just to remain balanced. However many players you have, resolving almost every encounter with a roll of the dice is frustrating, especially considering how often Hoggle is forced to use his brawn, or Ludo his wit, for example.

The final showdowns against Jareth’s minions (all of which are brawn) are almost the final straw, whilst Jareth himself is both the literal and metaphorical embodiment of it. Having three friends sit idle whilst the Sarah player rolls off against Jareth in a ridiculously one sided wit test (bear in mind he rolls a D20 and Sarah rolls a D12) is neither fun nor climactic. It is boring at best and infuriating at worst, as even with four or five hours left on the clock, the players are odds on to fail. As a respected game designer, I honestly don’t know what Alessio Cavatore was thinking with some of these ideas, unless he was given the brief to make the game as dumb as possible to appeal to an audience that is only interested in the movie and not actually in playing a decent board game.

In summary then, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth looks the part in many ways and it uses all the correct assets, but it uses them to create a board game that is intended to be simple, but ends up being entirely luck driven and largely devoid of fun. The player count restriction, the roll to move thing, the number of tests and those final encounters. Man… The beatings just keep coming. The incentive of course is to experience an interpretation of the Labyrinth as you’ve never seen it before, however limited it might be. For fans of the movie, that might be just enough, but sadly it isn’t enough for me.

** 2/5

You can buy Jim Henson’s Labyrinth online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.


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