Dale Yu: Two Real Time Co-op Games – Magic Maze (Sit Down!) and Dungeon Time (Ares)
Well, this is sort of an interesting coincidence… On the same day, I received packages from two different game companies with games similar in mechanism. Both of the games promise a short (<15 min) co-operative game experience that use a sand timer. I thought it would be nice to review them together here. If you read tomorrow’s piece, it’ll seem like déjà vu all over again…
- Designer: Kasper Lapp
- Publisher: Sit Down!
- Players: 1-8
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 15 minutes or less
- Times played: 4 with review copy provided by Sit Down!
The story in this game is that there are four adventurers (dwarf, elf, barbarian and mage) who are down on their luck and are without supplies. They decide to go to the local mall where they can steal the stuff that they need… When you start out – you can only see a single room or two in the mall. The adventurers are each represented by a different color pawn, and the players do NOT control a specific character. Any player can use any of the pawns when it makes sense. And, to make it more complicated – the players are not allowed to communicate verbally throughout the game. The game has a 3 minute sand timer. It will be flipped over at the start of the game. If the timer ever runs out, the players lose… So, there’s going to be plenty of time pressure too!
To start the game, the players choose a scenario – there are 17 included in the box, and I believe there are more floating around online. The scenarios will instruct you to set up a Mall tile deck – these are facedown in a deck, but will be revealed later in the game. The start tile is placed on the table and the four pawns are randomly organized on the four central squares on the start tile. Each of the tiles has a small compass on it, and you will need to make sure that all the tiles have the same orientation in regards to “North”.
Each player will get an “Action Tile” in front of him/her. There are 9 total action tiles in the box, and there are notations in the lower right corner to tell you which tiles are used in a game with certain number of players in it. Take the necessary tiles and randomly place one in front of each player. This is the only action that the player can take in the game, though they can take that action with any of the four heroes. The possible actions include movement (in a specific direction in regards to North), using escalators, using portals, or adding new tiles to the board. The rules clearly specify that you cannot communicate with other players using words or actions during the game, but there is a single red wooden pawn which you can place in front of any player as a sign telling them to do something… but it’ll be up to that player to figure out what you’re trying to get them to do!
So, once the board is set up, it’s time to go. The timer is flipped over, and at this point, all players are free to take their action(s) – some action cards have more than one action depicted on them – with any of the pawns on the board. The goal of the players is to get the four colored pawns each onto their designated target space at the same time, and then to get each of the pawns to their designated exit space. If the sand timer ever runs out, the players lose. There are red hourglass spaces on the board; whenever a pawn steps onto the hourglass, the hourglass is flipped over, regardless of the amount of sand in it at the time. A cross token is placed on the board on this space as you can only use each flip icon once in a game.
Normally, you are not allowed to communicate with other players. However, when the sand timer is flipped, the players are allowed to talk amongst themselves and plan UNTIL any player takes an action. As soon as an action is taken, it’s back to silent time. Also, don’t forget that the sand is still flowing while you’re talking, so don’t waste all your time jabbering around when you need to be moving the pawns around the board.
My thoughts on the game
Magic Maze is an interesting take on the co-op genre because you have to cooperate without communicating! Sometimes it’s obvious what a particular pawn should be doing, but there are plenty of occasions where it’s not so evident, and all you can do is nudge the pawn in the right direction and then hope that the next guy figures out what you want to do!
The early scenarios are pretty straightforward, but as we have progressed thru the different scenarios, they definitely get complex. One of the biggest things is managing the timer. We’ve had plenty of times when someone specifically left a pawn near a timer icon so that we could get the most benefit out of our flipping – only to have another player move it away trying to accomplish something else!
Of course, since I can’t tell you what I’m doing with that pawn, it could happen that someone just moves the pawn away to go do something else. I can glare at that person, but most likely, neither of us will be able to un-do that action given our action tiles… so then, we have to hope that the player who has the action that resets the move notices what we’re doing and gets the guy back in the right place.
Thus far, we have chosen to not develop any significant conventions. The rules make it pretty clear that all you can do is put the red pawn in front of someone and stare intently at them. You cannot point at things, you cannot stare at spaces on the board or the timer. We have also chosen not to set up a system about putting the red pawn on a particular side of an action tile to tell the person which of their two possible actions we’re trying to get them to do. (The rules say that you cannot make signs nor signals – and we felt that this would be a sign).
Each scenario is a pretty fun adventure with a lot of “read my mind”. We definitely use the times allowed to communicate as a way to plot out our next few moves, but once we get thru the strategy session, we then have to feel our way around until the next chance to talk – which is either when flipping the timer or when the green pawn explores a new tile. In either event, the talking has to happen quickly as the sand timer continues to run while we jabber amongst ourselves.
I like the way the rules are slowly introduced over the first 7 scenarios. It gives the players a chance to concentrate on how to play the game while adding only one or two more things each go-round. As you learn more rules, you’ll find that you start to pass around the action tiles with each timer flip. You’ll also find places that only the orange pawn can fit thru and video cameras which can only be disabled by the yellow pawn. With each of these intro scenarios taking usually less than ten minutes, it’s a great way to get everyone comfortable with the game and learn the rules in an organic fashion.
The game is flexible in player count, and this is a nice quality. It expands well up to 8 players – though with the higher player counts, some players will share the same actions… There are rules to even play the game solo!
I’ll admit that when I first read the game, my mind was filled with trepidation as it combined two mechanisms that I’m not fond of: cooperative play and real time play. However, this one has proven to be a hit here! We played it four or five straight times on our initial run, and we only stopped playing it as there were a few other games that we had planned to get to the table. Had we not had other plans, we would have kept going with this one for sure – and that’s definitely not something that happens with most cooperative games in this group…
At this point, I’ve played through all the introductory learning scenarios and just now moving into the more advanced ones – where it appears that each has at least one special rule (for that particular scenario only) to help/hinder your exploration. Definitely something I’m looking forward to trying again soon!
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Craig V (8 plays): As I mentioned in my comments for Dungeon Time, our group really enjoys playing cooperative games and love them, but somehow we never seem to do that well with them. We have yet to win at Samurai Spirit and we couldn’t get past the first level of Dungeon Time until the fourth play through of it. Even so, we still have a lot of fun and always seek out new cooperative games to try. Magic Maze has been a really fun and fascinating new cooperative experience. The theme is whimsical and the goals of first finding the treasures and then the exits are pretty simple. However, splitting the available actions between the players combined with the “NO TALKING or communicating other than using the big red pawn and staring” rule is such an innovative and clever design. Then add in the time limitations and playing the game becomes an overwhelming mix of excitement and frustration. It requires true teamwork to be successful, but it definitely isn’t easy. Like a mobile app, introducing the rules and expanding the goals one level at a time is ingenious and really makes this game approachable and addictive. I think we’re only at level 4 of 5 after about 8 plays, but I can’t get enough of it and want to play the game more! Magic Maze is another really fun and exciting cooperative game that will continue to challenge and taunt us for a long time to come.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Craig V
- I like it.
- Not for me…
- Designer: Carlo Rossi
- Publisher: Ares Games
- Players: 1-5
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 10-20 minutes
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Ares
In this cooperative game, the players are heroes who have their hands full of stuff, and they work together to meet the criteria of mission cards. There are 12 different types of items, each represented on 4 cards as well as 2 reward tokens. At the start of each game, players choose a scenario to play – and they then choose the 12 Mission cards for that scenario. Each of the scenarios has a pre-set number of Missions that need to be completed (out of the 12 possible) in order for the players to win. There is also a campaign mode which allows you to progress through a number of different scenarios of increasing difficulty.
An initial deck is made up of 2 Mission cards and some Item cards (following a formula in the rule book), and each player is dealt a starting hand. The remaining cards are shuffled together into a Draw deck.
The game is played in two phases – a real time Adventure phase and then a Resolution phase. In the Adventure Phase, players freely play cards from their hand to the communal stack. There is a five minute sand timer that acts as one of the limiting factors for this phase. The Adventure phase continues until either the timer runs out or players no longer want to play cards to the communal stack – whichever comes first.
Cards are played face-up on top of each other. At the start, players will only want to play Item cards. However, if you hold a Mission card, if you think that the required items for that Mission are present in the communal stack, you then play the Mission card onto the stack. Mission cards have two parts – the top half shows you what items are necessary to complete the mission while the bottom half shows you what the reward is for completing the Mission.
During this entire process, communication is vital. Players need to tell each other what they have in their hand or what they might need for a particular Mission. Each time that you play a card to the stack, you draw the top card from the Draw deck. The card back will let you know ahead of time if it is an Item card or a Mission card.
Once a card is played to the stack, it cannot be taken back – so be sure about the cards that you want to play! You can also choose to discard cards from your hand in order to draw new cards. These cards go into a separate discard pile and are out of the game. As you’ll discover in the Resolution Phase, you really don’t want too many extra cards in the stack…
The Adventure phase continues until the timer runs out OR the Draw deck is empty and players don’t want to play any more cards onto the stack. The game then moves into the Resolution phase where you see if you win or lose. The stack of cards is flipped over and tidied to make a deck and the octagonal Backpack tile is placed in the center of the table. Then, the top card is flipped over.
If it is an item card, it is placed on one of the sides of the Backpack. Each side can only hold one type of item, though it can hold up to 3 cards and tokens of that particular item. If you have more than 3 of a particular item, the fourth must start in a new Backpack slot. If you are unable to store your item in the Backpack, the Backpack breaks apart and the players lose.
If it is a Mission card, you see if it succeeds or not. Look at the top half of the Mission card to see the needed items. If all of those items currently surround the backpack, they are all discarded from the game. You then collect the reward as specified on the bottom portion of the Mission card – in general, this reward is mandatory – i.e. you must take the reward – though there are a few which are optional. You must be able to store the reward properly. If there is no room, the Backpack still breaks and the group still loses. The completed mission card is kept in a separate pile so that you can count up the number of completed mission cards.
If a Mission card is flipped up and the needed items are NOT all in the bag, the mission fails. The mission card is placed in the discard pile. Additionally, at this moment, the players can decide whether they want to discard any of the needed items from the failed Mission out of the Backpack.
The Resolution phase continues through the entire deck. Even if you have already completed the requisite number of missions to succeed at this scenario, you must still make it to the end of the Deck WITHOUT the Backpack breaking in order to win the scenario.
Once you are more familiar with the game, you can add in Adventures and/or Heroes to change things up. Adventures are special Missions that are added into the starting Deck. They can only be completed after a certain number of regular missions have been finished, and if you successfully complete them, they have certain special effects on the game from that point forward. Each player can also choose to play as a Hero. There are 10 Hero cards in the game, and players are dealt one. Each has a special one-time ability that can be used in the Resolution phase.
My thoughts on the game
Dungeon Time is a quick paced game that requires the players to work together (and remember together) in order to succeed. The time pressure in the Adventure phase can be great, and the players need to be sure that they are not working too fast lest they forget an important item or two.
The game is a giant logistics puzzle as you have to get the right cards down in the right order and you have a limited amount of time to do it in. Sometimes, things work out in your favor, and you get the cards that you need in your hands. More likely, you’ll have to make some hard decisions about when to discard cards from your hand so that you hopefully draw the cards that you need. Or you might end up playing a Mission card to the stack that you know that you can’t finish – perhaps to draw new cards or perhaps as a way to remove some items from the Backpack to save it from exploding! Of course, you can’t sacrifice too many items nor Missions as you need to complete a fairly high number of the twelve missions in order to win the game!
The game scales well with different player counts. The total number of cards in player hands is always between 14 and 16, so the game doesn’t feel much different. More people means more brains that can help remember what is in the stack, but it also means that you have to rely more upon other people because you can see fewer cards in your hand at one time. The game also presents a nice solo puzzle – it can be played alone, and you are required to remember all the cards yourself.
Trying to make sure that the Backpack is not too full is the big challenge for our group. It’s easy to plunk cards down into the stack, but you need to have the appropriate Mission cards come up at the right times to take stuff out of the Backpack before it bursts. Additionally, if you put too many things into the Backpack at the start, it becomes really hard to remember what the inventory will be once things are removed.
Be sure to pay close attention to the possible rewards from a Mission – you might be able to use a gained token to then fulfill another Mission card from your hand. The catch is that you might have to remember which token to choose when you complete the first Mission! Trying to remember whether or not you need to take the optional rewards also provides your group another opportunity to miserably fail at the memory portion of the game.
Thus far, my group has not been very successful at the game. We’ve run out of time, we’ve definitely overloaded the backpack, and then we started to discard too many cards trying not to blow up the backpack – but then not having enough things to solve all the quests. Despite that, everyone in the group still wants to keep trying again – and that certainly speaks to the fun that we’re having with the game.
There are plenty of different scenario setups provided in the rules as well as a campaign version to play through. Of course, until my group gets better at winning a simple one-off scenario, we’re staying away from the campaign! But, given our enthusiasm from the first few plays, I’m guessing we’ll get to that level soon enough.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (2 plays): Frank Branham introduced me to Dungeon Time by referring to it as Speed – Coop – Mamma Mia. And I think it’s a great way to describe the game – if such a thought intrigues, the game is well worth trying. If such a thought makes one want to run away in horror, the game is unlikely to surprise. For me, the speed and cooperative aspect were neutral – but the Mamma Mia connection worked, and I had fun with the game. Not quite a game I’m looking to add to my collection, but one I’d happily play again.
Craig V (6 plays): Admittedly, our group seems to suck at cooperative games. We get along great, communicate well, and always have fun, yet we almost always end up losing any cooperative game that we play together. Even so, I love cooperative games and am always excited to play. Now pair cooperative with real time and it seems like an instantaneous fail for our group. Truth be told, it was for the first three games of Magic Maze that we played as we couldn’t seem to get past the first level of the game. Things took a turn for the better in the fourth game and then we progressed through level two and onto level three and actually succeeded! The concept of this game is so simple, but it’s very tricky to get it all to come together correctly while racing against the clock and trying to remember what is needed and what isn’t. I also love how the game starts off “easy” and then increases the difficulty with each new level. That format reminds me of a mobile app and it’s just as additive! My only quibble is the octagon backpack tile that’s provided doesn’t really look like or cause me to envision a backpack. It could have just been a rectangular tile that was more reminiscent of an actual backpack with four slots on each side for the cards. Again, this is a really minor thing and doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the game. I’ve had a lot of fun playing Dungeon Time with my group and already want to play it more.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Craig V
- I like it. Dale Y, Joe H.
- Not for me…