Kasper Lapp is a Danish game designer and author of childrens books. His first published game, Magic Maze, was nominated for Spiel des Jahres in 2017 and won the InnoSpiel award the same year.
Jason (GameGobble): A common drawback of cooperative games is the tendency to create passive participants when a vocal player influences the actions of others. Magic Maze mitigates that possibility by limiting the communication among players. Talk about the origin of this idea.
Kasper: The creation of Magic Maze was the sparked by the idea “what if players moved pawns around in cooperation, instead of playing a pawn each?”. How? I asked myself. Answer: “One could move the pawns east, one could move them north etc.”
But I quickly realized that if this should be any challenge at all, you would have to have time pressure, and you could not be allowed to speak. It was only afterwards I realized, that I had inadvertently solved the “alpha gamer problem” – the problem with a vocal player influencing the others.
Jason: There are 17 scenarios in Magic Maze, variations on setup and gameplay that keeps the game both fresh and challenging. Scenarios 1 – 7 teaches players the different rules through playing under specific conditions, which I think is brilliant. What were some of the challenges of coming up with these scenarios and how did you address them?
Kasper: The challenge was to find the right amount of rules to add in each scenario, so it went neither too fast nor too slow. Each scenario should be more difficult than the former – even if the new rule(s) introduced actually helped the players – the characters special abilities does that for example. I realized that adding new tiles in each scenario would naturally make it more difficult because the maze expanded – so all character special abilities should have something to do with the new tiles.
Jason: One of the standout features of Magic Maze is the “Do Something!” pawn, a way for one player to indicate to another that an action should be taken without being able to say specifically what. This is a fun twist on the limited communication theme of the game. What is the story behind the development of this mechanic?
Kasper: At first the rule was, that you could only stare at another player to signal that he should do something. But you don’t always notice someone staring at you, so one testing group spontaneously came up with the “owl of disapproval” which was a small owl figure that one of them happened to have. You could place the owl in front of a player to show your “disapproval.” I liked the idea and incorporated it in the game, but changed “disapproval” to “do something!” – so it’s not about the things players do, but about what they don’t do. I first used a big black pawn, but the publisher made it red (which I think was a good choice).
Jason: Magic Maze is played in real-time and is constrained by a timer. Participants need to coordinate their actions but cannot communicate in conventional ways. All of this creates urgency and tension. What would you say are the key attributes of players that do well in your game?
Kasper: Getting good at this game is about learning to ask “what can I do?” instead of focusing on what other players should do.
It’s also about assuming that the other players have good reasons to do what they do. When they move in a direction that surprises you, instead of thinking “what an idiot!” and undoing their move, you should think “why do they want to move in that direction? What have I overlooked?”
That’s why I sometimes joke that this game will make you a better person 🙂
Jason: What is one thing you want gamers to know about Magic Maze?
Kasper: I want all current and future players to be aware, that a hero can use the “vortex” from anywhere on the board – they don’t have to be standing on a vortex to use it. It clearly says so in the rules, but 50% of players overlook it, which makes the vortex practically useless and makes the game way more difficult for them. So I use any chance I have to make players aware 🙂