Come Inside and Have A Cup of Tea! – Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth:

The Adventure Game

Design Team: Ben Milton & Jack Caesar
Publisher: River Horse
Page Count: 294
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $38.67
Print – $44.99

In 1986, Jim Henson directed the fantasy musical Labyrinth. The work almost exclusively featured Henson’s puppets, save for Sarah (played by Jennifer Connelly) and Jareth (Played by David Bowie), and had a reported 25 million dollar budget. Unfortunately, it was a box office flop for Henson and the others, grossing only a reported 12.5 million. Despite the dismal box office sales, there is and has always been something endearing about Labyrinth. Maybe it’s Henson’s puppets, or the story of teenage Sarah who has only thirteen hours to save her baby brother from Jareth, the Goblin King, or perhaps it’s the fun escapism it offered to viewers then and still does today. Although it is not quite a widespread cult classic, it does have a following of fans today.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game, published in 2020 by River Horse, is the result of two creators: Jack Caesar, author of the rules, and Ben Milton, who created the lion’s share of Labyrinth’s scenes influenced by the movie; guest scenes are written by Alessandro Cavatore, Jack Caesar, Patrick Stuart, and Matt Ward. The rules are simple and specifically designed to be accessible to a wide range of ages and experience levels while still capturing the movie’s feel. The scenes are a mix of encounters and puzzles for players to navigate as they make their way toward the Goblin King.

The game recreates similar fantastical themes and scenes seen in the movie as Sarah and her friends traverse the Goblin King’s labyrinth. It is designed for 2-5 players, ages 6+, but I would suggest at least 10+. The book is a beautifully illustrated digest-sized, linen-covered hardcover protected by a dust jacket. Three silk ribbons are present—two to mark pages for quick reference and one (red) specifically for in-game use. It also features a bookmark that doubles as a rules quick reference and a pair of six-sided dice.

Note: The book has a special cutout for the dice through the pages (see inset image). Readers should be careful that the dice don’t accidentally fall out when flipping through the book. The cutout serves no purpose other than to hold the game’s dice—keeping it all together when it was wrapped in shrinkwrap. Literally, everything you need to play is in the book save for sheets, pencils, and friends. No need to buy the dice separately.

The digital adaptation of the book is nice with a full complement of bookmarks, hyperlinked Table of Contents and Index, a fully hyperlinked scene index at the beginning of each chapter, and all page references within a scene are also hyperlinked.

Game Rules

The rules are simple and easily remembered. Everything needed to play and run is contained in a mere 35 pages. This includes character creations, resolution mechanics, player and Gamemaster (hereafter Goblin King) tips, scene progression, and more.

Character creation is a quick six-step process. Once players have their character sheets (available online), they choose between the seven available kin—dwarf, fiery, goblin, human, knight of yore, horned beast, and worm. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Players next choose one thing their character is good at (trait) and one they are bad at (flaw). The group then determines what the Goblin King has taken from them, the reason they are traveling through the Labyrinth. Finally, they fill in the final details like name, description, etc.

The game has two types of resolutions—Tests and Action Scenes. Tests are used in scenes where creative problem solving is important, and there is a chance of failure. Resolving Tests is quite simple. The Goblin King determines the difficulty, ranging from 2 (piece of cake) to 6 (it’s not fair!). The player rolls a single die; if the result equals or exceeds the difficulty, they are successful. Rolling a 1 (an owl on the included dice) is always a failure. Rolls may be modified by traits or flaws; players roll two dice and take the highest (trait) or lowest (flaw). Readers should note that failing is not a bad thing. Sarah didn’t succeed at every challenge presented to her in the movie. Imagine how boring that would have been.

Action Scenes happen when clever thinking won’t solve the situation, and direct action is required, such as physically engaging the Goblin King’s forces—not all in the Labyrinth are allied with the Goblin King. Action Scenes can last several rounds and follow a prescribed sequence. In short, players describe one thing their character is doing, and if necessary, use Tests to determine success or failure. The last phase involves the Goblin King determining the outcome of the round with a little narrative flair and deciding if another round is required or if it comes to a conclusion.

The game is played out by exploring scenes and overcoming the situations presented in each. Player progress is marked using the red ribbon; when directed by a scene, the Goblin King moves the red ribbon to that scene, thus marking that as their “current progress.” When a scene is complete unless directed to another specific scene, one player rolls a die and adds their current scene number; the result is the scene they next arrive at. Some scenes direct the Goblin King to inform the players that they have lost an hour. Remember, players only have 13 in-game hours to complete the game. The thirteen-hour countdown timer is only changed when instructed by a scene.

This high-level look at the rules doesn’t cover everything, but all the high points of the simple system are laid out for you. A few other more nuanced rules and a number of tips for both players and the Goblin King pull it all together. The rules are short, sweet, and elegant in their design.

Scenes

The game is played out through a series of scenes. Each is a two-page spread with all the necessary information for the Goblin King, including a keyed map, all necessary tables, and Consequences–free player-facing maps are available from River Horse. Scenes are broken into five chapters, with each chapter having a specific theme. However, scenes are not evenly distributed across the five chapters. Consequences are instructions for the Goblin King on what to do when the scene concludes. They include things like update progress, lose an hour, etc.

Transitioning from one scene to the next, as mentioned above, is either directed by Consequences or results from a roll. When the result takes the characters to a new chapter, they start at scene one of the new chapter regardless of the die result. The game, like movies, is not concerned with the minutiae happening between the scenes. Hence, the direct movement from scene to scene. Players and the Goblin King should envision these transitions like how they are commonly portrayed in any number of movies—one scene fades out as the next fades in.

Scenes offer a wide array of challenges for characters to navigate and overcome. Some are presented as puzzles to be worked out as a group, while others involve characters dealing with denizens of the Labyrinth who hope to stop their progress. No matter the type of scene, Test or Action Scene, the characters need to work together to have the best chance of successfully reaching the center of the Labyrinth. Once there, they will have to contend with the Goblin King.

Conclusion

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game, while simplistic in its design, offers an emerging storyline that is engaging and, in a lot of ways, mimics the movies to good effect. Gamers looking for an easy to learn, pick-up style of game that offers some replayability will find Labyrinth a good choice. It’s also very kid-friendly, but I wouldn’t introduce it to children under ten, as I mentioned previously. It’s not a result of the themes or rules complexity, but rather the puzzles and situations that need to be negotiated, need a little more creativity and deductive reasoning than a 6-year-old can offer.

Some veteran gamers may find the scene transition mechanic a tad frustrating or more like a “choose your own adventure,” but they should be reminded that they are in a Labyrinth after all and not a linear storyline to be followed, but rather an emerging story.

The game offers some replayability as a result of the scene-changing mechanic. However, players and Goblin Kings may find they are revisiting several of the scenes in future play-throughs. While it does offer replayability, it will be limited to some extent if playing with the same group of players repeatedly.

~ Modoc

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