PuzzleNation Review: The Maze of Games

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Today’s review is going to be a little bit different. You might have noticed that I didn’t title this a product review or a book review, and that’s because today’s subject, The Maze of Games, defies classification.

It’s billed as an interactive puzzle novel, and it lives up to that description, combining the long-form narrative of a novel with a topnotch puzzle book and a strong element of choose-your-own-adventure flavoring on top. This is not a mystery with a few crosswords tossed in; this is a novel where the puzzle-solving is integral to the reading experience. And I can honestly say it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

The novel opens in the late 1800s with siblings Samuel and Colleen Quaice at the library, where Colleen is on a mission to read something macabre and engaging. After being offered the newest offering by Bram Stoker — a tome called Dracula — Colleen stumbles upon a slim volume tucked away in the stacks: The Maze of Games.

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Soon, Samuel and Colleen are swept into the realm of the Gatekeeper — a dapper, witty, and unforgiving skeletal game master who delights in challenging the unsuspecting to fiendish puzzle challenges — and they’re left to navigate the first of the book’s mazes: the Castle Maze.

As you roam the labyrinth with Colleen and Samuel, you encounter puzzles to be solved, each of which provides you with a keyword you’ll need for later. From word searches and crosswords to logic puzzles and code-breaking challenges, your puzzly chops will be put to the test and then some by the Gatekeeper’s many mind-bending obstacles. (Although meant for adolescents and teens, I think adults would also thoroughly enjoy many of the Gatekeeper’s puzzles.)

Once you’ve reached the end of the labyrinth, a final puzzle awaits you, and you must use your collected keywords and puzzly skills to escape the maze and move onward.

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Five mazes stand between you and victory over the Gatekeeper, all of them steeped in mythology, genre storytelling, and adventure-tinged backstory. (And several of which offer some wickedly barbed humor.)

This is a terrific concept, and brilliantly executed. The sheer variety of puzzles, not to mention the creative hooks that tie into the narrative, makes for a puzzle book that will keep puzzlers busy for quite a while.

And the novel aspect is just as enjoyable. Samuel and Colleen are no mere placeholders. They’re rich, fully-formed characters in their own right, bickering, bantering, and bringing different skills to every challenge they face. (Their ongoing banter with the Gatekeeper in his sporadic appearances is easily the highlight of the narrative.)

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Lush, atmospheric art backs up the storytelling, bringing the novel to life and adding wonderful personality to the characters. (Not to mention there’s both an ebook edition and an audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton!)

And if you’re still not puzzled out after tackling The Maze of Games (or you just need a break), there’s a bundle of bonus puzzles in the back of the book, featuring such familiar names as Ken Jennings, Will Shortz, Patrick Blindauer, and Brendan Emmett Quigley.

All of these factors contribute to as immersive a puzzle book as I’ve ever seen, and a testament to the sort of forethought, complexity, and creativity a first-class puzzler can weave into a singular solving experience.

Mike Selinker has been a fixture in the board game and puzzle world for years, and he’s really outdone himself with The Maze of Games.

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