Quick Look: Labyrinth Adventures
Designer: Chris Zimmerman
Year Published: 2022 (Addition coming to Kickstarter soonish 2023, June or July?)
Labyrinth Adventures is a tabletop, dungeon crawling, adventure game system that utilizes basic roleplaying elements. Four characters are used for gameplay (each of a different class): The Warrior, Wizard, Rogue and Cleric.
If you’re new to roleplaying, this is a most excellent “starter” system! If you’re a well-seasoned gamer; you’ll quickly find that the light rules/heavy play components offer a nostalgic feel that says, “Welcome home!”
To play; you will need a rulebook, quest module, four or more 6-sided dice (each referred to as “1d6”) and a piece of scratch paper for taking notes and doing simple math (character sheets and maps are provided for you). Labyrinth Adventures may be played with up to four people and may also be played solo because no Game Master is needed for gameplay!
So; create your party, settle in for a story and… may the luck of the dice be with you!
I recently had the misfortune of receiving news that a much-anticipated KS game that I backed would likely not see the light of day due to the presumed passing away of the the game’s creator. Needless to say, even though I was extremely disappointed that I would not be able to try out this particular “map-making” adventure, my sympathies were nevertheless intact and residing with the family of the lead designer. I am sure he will surely be missed if that is indeed what happened.
With that being said and done, I was pleasantly surprised to recently find and come across another game that seemed very similar in concept to what I had been anticipating.
This new game is called Labyrinth Adventures, and while admittedly a bit smaller in scope and design than what I had been looking forward to in the other product, it seemed to have in its being all of the concepts and core elements that attracted me to the other “map-making” game. So I decided to give it a go.
Now it does not hurt at all that the game’s initial design seems to be spiritually modeled after the classic 80’s video game of Gauntlet (and I used to spend hours on just a single quarter playing Gauntlet : Legends much to the chagrin of the proprietor of my old video game arcade) condensed into a dungeon crawl PnP format.
Aficionados of the classic Wizard and Warrior tropes will immediately get the references and nods the to the past, and collecting keys to move forward is still a hallmark of the gameplay design, it would seem at a glance. Could Labyrinth Adventures somehow manage to contain this classic feel in a tabletop format?
One thing that I will say right off the bat is that the sense of gameplay that is evoked is not specific to just Gauntlet—you may feel a slight inkling of DnD due to its combative nature using dice, but in essence, this sensation is rather minuscule due to the fact that Labyrinth Adventures focuses exclusively on a d6 system rather than a collection of assorted sided dice, such as the d4, d6, d8, d10, and d20.
And let me be blunt, I am usually not very happy hearing that a dungeon crawl or RPG relies exclusively on d6’s. If you have read any of my other reviews of d6 rpgs, you may gather in reading between-the-lines that I am usually a bit miffed and frustrated at doing “new” things rather than using methods I am accustomed to . In a nutshell, my motto is many times “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and d20 systems for me have generally been paragons of what to expect in “good” gameplay systems.
To be brief, systems that rely exclusively on a d6 seem to be, for lack of a better term, bland, offering reduced choices and options.
And these days usually it goes like this :
1) Players make a decision and roll a single d6 to see what happens.
2) DM tells you what the happens. A roll of 1 means something extra and especially bad happens in addition to whatever you failed to do successfully. A roll 2 may mean a regular failure, a roll of 3-5 may mean a limited success with a more negated secondary side effect, and a 6 would mean a resounding success at whatever you attempted to do, adding an extra layer of flourish and grandeur to the outcome of the event.
3) Players move on making another decision and roll.
Perhaps you can see why I feel this type of approach is often limiting. I know I have commented on it in the past, and I will say that initially, this is something that can be a turn off for me.
The game creator for Labyrinth Adventures mentioned that the choice of relying exclusively on the d6 revolved around convenience—players are most likely to have a few of these lying around, and therefore, he felt these would be most suitable for bringing where ever you are going in a pinch. I can’t fault the logic presented, but next came the more potent question : could the game actually be good?
The upcoming Kickstarter for Labyrinth Adventures will come with two books to get players started. The first is a rulebook, comprised of about 56 pages, and the second offers an initial introductory quest to get players into the swing of things.
There are a few things that stood out to me right away.
The books themselves do not seem “loaded” with content. Now don’t take this as a negative per se, this is just coming from my perspective of having recently lost my shot at the aforementioned 3-volume hardcover map-making game I referenced earlier. I am still feeling the sting at having missed a chance at hundreds of pages of content, and I know I should not let that impact my thoughts here, but the fact remains that I will perhaps always feel that bit of remorse. C’est la vie.
But truth be told, once I got into reading the game mechanics, I found that I don’t necessarily need all of the extra fluff promised by the other campaign. I must reiterate , with Labyrinth Adventures, I strangely found that the core essence of what I expected from the “other game” felt very much present.
Now to get into the the game play, first characters will “roll” a character and write some basic information onto pre-generated character sheets. This is done in a fashion similar to DnD in that players will give themselves a name, and roll for Strength and Dexterity status, and note their weight limitations. But that is where the similarities end.
After that, each player will be locked into a role—The Warrior, The Wizard, the Cleric and the Rogue.
“But wait, you said this game was inspired by Gauntlet! Where is the Elf?” Well, never fear, the game will also let you use an Elf, and two other races, the Human and Dwarf, each with distinct bonuses, though in a perhaps unusual (thought in hindsight, cherished) design decision, players do not decide their race in the beginning of the game, but will roll for it. This randomization is something that I presume is done for the sake of making each game feel unique, and although it runs counter the the more modern norm of customizing virtually everything in your character from the get-go, I actually much appreciate this design choice.
The Cleric and Wizard will then (in DnD fashion) select the spells they have available, of which there are plenty, but they are limited in how many spell slots they have. They can freely choose a small number of spells, but once selected, they are stuck with them, and moreover they need to be careful and plan ahead exactly how many Healing spells they may wish to take with them, for example, as they also need to be careful in how they distribute the number of spells they have access to per day.
Of further note : No DM is required, just a pencil and paper.
Players will then be placed into a dungeon, represented at a starting location on a small gridded sheet that players can easily print out (you will definitely need to print out more of these if you plan on playing a lot!), and various other points of interest such as Treasure Troves or a mission Objective, either of which can be either randomly placed, or as in the case of the game’s story mode, predesignated on a specific area.
Assuming that you have elected to do the game’s introductory quest, you will also be given a bit of background to explain why you are in this particular dungeon at this particular time. This 10 page preamble is well-written, and though brief, is about on par with what I read in Dungeons of Infinity in terms of writing style, though I should point out that narrative is not the central point of this game in my opinion and should not serve as the highlight. Consider this element something to set the mood.
Players will then proceed to generate the dungeon from a starting location using the aforementioned d6 system. Players travel collectively as a group for the most part (on occasion one player may elect to stay behind if low on health to avoid potential enemy encounters) and will roll a few of the d6’s when entering through a new doorway. What type of passage it is depends on the total of the roll—it could be a left turn, right turn, straight passage, unlocked door, locked doors (that can be lock picked or bashed down) , a chamber, or something else.
An elected map-maker then proceeds to chart and draw in the new room on the gridded dungeon chart. In addition, when entering new rooms (not mere passages), rolls will also occur to determine the presence of traps, treasures and monsters. However, the types of monsters, treasures and monsters are not static—these will vary widely due to a secondary roll that occurs if some other dungeon element is indeed determined to be present when entering a new room. You may then have to roll a d6 for example, to see what chart you need to consult for various types of traps, so that in itself may immediately give you 6 charts each filled with 6 distinct types of traps for a total of 36 trap types that each deal damage differently. Likewise, monsters are generated in a similar fashion and in addition to there being a wide variety that are available to munch on you for dinner, you may just be unfortunate enough to spawn multiple baddies at once. Thankfully, you can also be lucky enough to find treasure, or even a room with both treasure and monsters that require you to vanquish your foes first before garnishing your precious loot (and gold/experience, which is used to gain new abilities between levels of the dungeon).
Play proceeds until the players reach the next level of the dungeon, which will be in a pre designated location that you may be locked out of entirely if you do not happen to be fortunate enough to connect your dungeon path to the exit! Once there, players will recover all Health, Used Spells, and will have a chance to purchase some enhanced abilities in addition to gaining a HP boost. It should be noted that monsters and challenges get more difficult as you go lower into the vaults, however, with a unique formula determining exactly how much of a boost enemies, traps, and door-bashing/picking difficulties increase. But any weapons you find will also gain a similar boost, so it may be worth it!
For the purposes of the intro quest, this means that after 2 dungeon levels, you will have “beaten” the game, provided that you of course dealt with the challenge at hand successfully.
However, it may be that you are also playing the game in an “infinite” mode that runs independently of any story whatsoever, simply progressing deeper and deeper in the dungeon just to see how far you can get, in true Gauntlet form.
This is at its core the essence of Labyrinth Adventures. I could go into describing things a bit further, but I do feel that at heart, the game is simplistic enough in concept that further embellishment would only ruin the fun and surprise for potential buyers for whatever other content that remains hidden in the rule set.
Now for my thoughts :
First the positives :
—This is a game that is very fit for travel. I can already see this being used on our vacations. Gameplay is not really boggled with complex decisions that can be difficult to make while on the road or in a plane. This keeps the flow going.
—You heard me complain about d6 systems. In most cases, you will always hear me complain about them for almost always using just a single d6 for everything. The fact that Labyrinth Adventures utilizes four D6’s and has you sometimes relying on them multiple times in a row for a single determination makes things much less predictable and more random. For some this may be a negative, but for gamers who like the unknown for the sake of replay value, this type of design choice is paramount.
—The game is easy enough that young players can be tasked with certain elements like the charting and rolling of dice. Even if they cannot necessarily comprehend the mechanics that are going on behind the scene, they can surely understand what it means when an adult says they hit the dragon successfully and get excited about it. I would call the game very family friendly for this reason.
—A wide variety of monsters! Not only that, it is great that the d6 system can be used to such an extent that it determines the order monsters attack in. Or even which monster head attacks first (if it has multiples) and who it targets, with what kind of attack!
—Critical hits! Wow, this was a very surprising addition! There are multiple different types of critical hits that can be inflicted by both players and monsters, each with very debilitating effects!
—Again, I usually do NOT like when certain games buck tradition, and in this case Labyrinth Adventures does just that where lower rolls are considered better than higher ones. However, I do find that because of this, the game can do some unique things that can’t necessarily be done with the traditional method of utilizing higher numbers as the better part of luck. The game and combat system works exceptionally well given they way it was crafted.
—Dungeon length is essentially up to the players and how quickly they want to try to navigate to the “Objective” on the map. They could try to go straight there if going for a quick game, or grind by deliberately moving away from the dungeon exits until they feel they are ready to move on. I could see these phases lasting anywhere from 20 minutes (not that this makes it more likely to survive without n gaining experience!) to 2 hours depending on what choices and random determinations are made.
—Gives a dungeon crawl experience without buying certain three-volume sets. Does not require a DM (though it has been suggested to me that other gamers are using a DM for story elements and letting the dice determine dungeon layouts. It seems like much is possible within this system).
Areas of Improvement :
—I hope this isn’t viewed as a criticism per se, but I do feel that (with those who have kids especially) the rulebook and intro quest books could benefit from being a more durable , hard-bound material at some point in time. I can see things getting bent out of shape rather quickly in the right (or wrong) hands. I do understand the limitations of manufacturing/printing costs, but I do hope that the future provides a means for a more durable set of books that can survive and weather the ages.
—I do find that (again, especially for those of us with kids) our group could benefit from a condensed sheet with all of the most commonly utilized charts to save us from handing and paging through the books so much. While the game creator did assure me that memorization comes with time, I am not sure that I will ever be in such a position to be able to commit these fine details to memory given all of the chaos that is usually happening around me! Perhaps at some point in time a quick-print file can be made for such use either by the creator or gaming community.
—The story is short (so far). As noted previously, we did find the introductory story to be particularly well written, but those of us who are accustomed to some of the larger board games and RPGs that heavily revolve around story may find this area lacking. Again, I would also reiterate that I do not believe that the story should be the highlight of Labyrinth Adventures, but others may disagree. It is what it is.
Final Thoughts :
I think that Labyrinth Adventures is delightfully simple in its design choices , but rather paradoxically, the mechanics are so gracefully employed that the game is much more profound and elegant than its mere 56 pages of rules might suggest.
I had been pining for a 300+ page multi-tome series with the “other” map-making game that I had been anticipating, but I am now left wondering if Occam’s Razor applies in this scenario, and if I should truly be left lusting for such a voluminous monster when the same can be achieved in a much smaller footprint?
I will likely never know the answer nor given the chance to compare the two products, but I will say that my family really enjoyed Labyrinth Adventures and its ease of accessibility—and most importantly it’s fun!
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer
Jazz Paladin is an eccentric at heart — When he is not learning to make exotic new foods at home, such as Queso Fresco cheese and Oaxacan molé, he is busy collecting vintage saxophones, harps, and other music-related paraphernalia. An avid music enthusiast, when he is not pining over the latest board games that are yet-to-be-released, his is probably hard at work making jazzy renditions of classic/retro video game music tunes as Jazz Paladin on Spotify and other digital music services.