Product Review: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game

Originally posted on https://johnwombat.wordpress.com/ in 2020.

Whilst it was considered a commercial disappointment at the time of its initial 1986 release, with box offices sales bringing in less than half of its $25 million budget (despite the combined efforts of Jim Henson, George Lucas and David Bowie), Jim Henson’s music-laden fantasy film Labyrinth has gone on to build up a sizeable cult following (of which I am one). Starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, the majority of the remaining Labyrinth ‘cast’ is comprised of elaborate puppets developed from the conceptual designs of renowned fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, whom Jim Henson had previously worked with during The Dark Crystal film, released four years prior. Though heralded as ground-breaking for its extensive use of animatronics, The Dark Crystal had been criticised as too dark and menacing in plot for a ‘family film’, consequently Labyrinth, whilst holding a deeply fantastical aesthetic, fused greater comic elements with musical performances.

Labyrinth film release promotional poster, 1986. Art work by Ted Coconis. Copyright: The Jim Henson Company.

On the back of its original cinema release, a range of Labyrinth products and toys were launched; items included plush toys, puzzles, colouring books, a comic book mini-series, board game and computer game. The popularity of these things faded over time, though the plush toys, in particular, have gone through various incarnations with different manufacturers and remain available to collectors to this day, as do various puzzle sets. Meanwhile, David Bowie’s Labyrinth soundtrack album, which spawned the singles Underground and Magic Dance, fared well in sales at the time of its release and continues to be a sought after record.

Coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of Labyrinth first hitting the big screen, UK-based games design company River Horse (founded by ex-Games Workshop heavy weight, games designer Alessio Cavatore, whom at the time of leaving Games Workshop was the lead writer of Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and Lord of the Rings) released Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Board Game. Combining easy to follow rules with highly detailed playing pieces (designed and sculpted by Johnny Fraser-Allen), River Horse’s board game focused on bringing families together over a shared love of Labyrinth and its Goblin-populated setting. River Horse then added to their Labyrinth board game with two expansions sets, Goblins! and Fireys!deluxe playing pieces and gaming mat, and a beautifully illustrated card game. Released in 2018, the River Horse-Jim Henson collaboration continued with Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal Board Game, a game which allows up to four players to enter into the changing world of the Gelflings and Skeksis.

I recently obtained a copy of River Horse’s latest En-nies award-winning RPG (role playing game), Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game. Being a big fan of games, Jim Henson, and the Labyrinth film, I was very excited to see what this book had to offer, and I was not disappointed! This is my review of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game by River Horse.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game

  • 294-page cloth-bound hardback A5-sized book
  • Illustrated dust jacket
  • Special oubliette housing a pair of unique engraved Labyrinth dice
  • Double-sided adventure bookmark
  • Three coloured bookmarking ribbons
  • Complete adventure toolkit, complete with bestiary, tables and advice for creating your own adventures
  • Illustrations by Brian Froud, Johnny Fraser-Allen, and Ralph Horsley
  • Adventures by Ben Milton, Rules by Jack Caesar, Editing by Chris Caesar and Alessio Cavatore

Book contents

  • Rules
  • Stonewalls
  • Hedge Maze
  • Land of Yore
  • Goblin City
  • The Castle
  • Toolkit
  • Index
  • The Gallery

The Foreword of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game (named simply the ‘the Labyrinth’ for short, and a name that I will also use for purpose of this review) sets the scene nicely for what the reader can expect to find within the pages of this beautifully crafted book. With rules penned by Jack Caesar and adventures by Ben Milton, the Labyrinth is primarily a role playing book, allowing readers/ players to enter into the fantastical and challenging world of the Goblin King. In total there are 99 Scenes featured in the book, these Scenes represent challenges and different encounters between players within the game; “Think of scenes in the game as scenes out of the movie. They are the interesting choices heroes have to face in between getting lost.”

In addition to the RPG focus, the Labyrinth is a fantastically well designed and detailed ode to Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and boasts countless illustrations, art works, photographs, and quotations. In between the dust sleeve cover showing Ted Coconis’ original film artwork and the closing page photo of Sarah with her Labyrinth book are sumptuous illustrations from the legendary Brian Froud, along with extensive works from Chris Caesar, Johnny Fraser-Allen, Ralph Horsley, Rebecca Morse, Dan Mumford and Jeff Stokley.

  • Winchester-born artist Brian Froud spent the initial years of career working as a commercial illustrator in London. He then moved on to illustrating children’s fantasy books, and in the second half of the 1970’s an anthology of his illustrations, The Land of Froud, was followed by Faeries, a collaborative effort between Froud and fellow artist Alan Lee. Froud’s growing reputation as an illustrator of fantasy brought him to the attention of Jim Henson, who drafted him in as a conceptual designer for the films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

Rules

“The Labyrinth may at first seem unfair, but there is order spun amid the chaos. Every game has rules to bend and break, even if you don’t know what they are…”

The Labyrinth.

Designed for role players new and old alike, the Labyrinth’s Rules section explains what an RPG is (creative adventures, most often within fantasy or science-fiction settings, in which players travel through a series of challenges, using dice, pencils and paper to mark their progress), how this particular RPG works, and details the equipment needed; dice, pencils, erasers and paper, Goblin King Sheet and Character Sheet. Other than pencils, erasers and paper, everything you need to play Labyrinth is included within this book (though it is highly advisable to make copies of the Goblin King Sheet and Character Sheet).

The player that takes on the role of the Goblin King (or Queen!) is the one responsible for the running of the game, the ‘games master’, if you like. It is the Goblin King who sets the scene of the game and controls much of the Labyrinth. Meanwhile, rules and guidance for creating the characters for the other players are detailed clearly in the book; the Goblin King guides the would-be-Heroes through such aspects.

Flowing and easy to follow, explained within the opening pages of the Rules are six steps to work through in order to make the world of the Labyrinth your reality. Whilst including the common races within the Labyrinth, such as Dwarfs, Fireys, Goblins, Humans, Knights of Yore, Horned Beasts and Worms, the book encourages players to devise fantastical creatures of their own design also. From the very beginning of this book, there is a nice balance of a well designed rules framework fused with a passion for inclusivity for the players involved, and with the number one aim of the game being to have fun!

Dwarf: “Caretakes of the Labyrinth, Dwarves are quite commonly seen fixing masonry or tending to gardens. A Dwarf character should pick their particular profession and can begin the game with an item that would be useful in that job.” The types of work available to Dwarfs are Gardener, Mason, Exterminator, Plasterer, Plumber and Carpenter, with the tools available being Shears, Hammer & Chisel, Spray Gun, Trowel, Wrench and Handsaw, respectively.

Firey: “You are only allowed to throw your own head. Bright orange and covered in soft fur, Fireys are always down for a party. The most notable ability Fireys have is being able to remove body parts at will, and move those parts while away from their body – very useful for looking around corners!” A Firey character needs to be careful that they don’t misplace a limb while on their adventure, otherwise they won’t get it back! Firey characters can also create small flames from the tip of their finger, which is useful for lighting up dungeons.”

Goblin: “Goblins come in all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities. Goblins are by far the most common creature in the Labyrinth and there are many areas where a Goblin can walk unaccosted that other characters would fear to tread. All Goblins swear allegiance to the Goblin King, and as such, most would never oppose him. To play a Goblin you must think of an excellent reason that your character is a rogue Goblin, going against their master’s desires. On the other hand, this trait means that most Goblins will think you’re on their side!”

Human: “An oddity in the Labyrinth to be sure. Most Humans enter the Labyrinth from our world and few stay for long. A Human character is considered strange and exotic by many of the denizens of the Labyrinth; some may even react with hostility to their presence. Humans can be pretty good at a lot of things, able to compete with other races in athletics, academics and 1970s pop music trivia. Their unique perspective sometimes allows them to solve problems the locals didn’t even realise they had!”

Knight of Yore: The noble Knights of Yore stand for justice and honor. Each has vowed to uphold the values of chivalry. To aid them in these tasks are their mighty steeds. Each Knight must find a steed within the Labyrinth to call their own. Once you have found your steed, it may be a little uncooperative at first, but if you spend time with it and love it, it will learn to trust you back. A steed can be loyal and courageous, but it is not a fool and will not do anything too dangerous. Steeds may allow you to travel extremely fast, be ridden into battle, or have exciting abilities.”

Horned Beast: “Big, furry, and scary to some, Horned Beasts are a powerful friend to have. They Are known for their wild nature, with many denizens thinking them not much more than beasts, though few would dare say it to a Horned Beast’s face. A Horned Beast struggles to fit in some of the smaller areas of the Labyrinth, and may cause damage to fragile things, even if they don’t mean to.”

Horned Beasts also have an ability to mentally control a type of object. When making a Horned Beast character, choose any type of object, or dice roll on the table (1 = Treasure, 2 = Glass, 3 = Plants, 4 = Rocks, 5 = Furniture, 6 = Water). The Goblin King has final say on what type of object can be controlled using this ability. Most Horned Beasts can only control a few small objects at a time, but with training and skill their power will only increase. Note also that a Horned Beast cannot create objects or change their shape.”

The Humongous scene is included within the 99 Scenes covered within the Labyrinth (Scene 1 of Goblin City, p 182).

Worm: “The first thing you will notice about a Worm is that it is very, very small! Worms rarely leave their homes outside the Labyrinth as even a short journey is quite an odyssey. Sometimes a Worm will decide to go on a great adventure by hitching a ride with some friends and offering help where they can. You may think that a small Worm might not be much help, but you would be wrong. The Labyrinth has many obstacles to the larger races that a Worm can easily squeeze through!”

“It’s not a competition. Don’t worry about who is doing the best or who is in charge, because if everyone is doing well, you’re all doing well. The only winners of this game are those who are having fun!”

The Labyrinth.

Stone Walls: “The high walls cast long and sinister shadows, deja vu hides around every corner, and unfamiliarity bombards the senses. From the hill on which you stand, the Labyrinth stretches out before you in its entirety; vast, and impossible.” 22 Chapter Scenes included.

Hedge Maze: “A green and luscious expanse of ivy-strewn trellises and thick green hedges stretches out in front of you. Looking back, you see that the passageways through which you came is completely overgrown.” 22 Chapter Scenes included.

Land of Yore: “The stench is overwhelming. But at least the claustrophobic walls of the maze are behind you. Somewhere through this open sprawl of wild things the Goblin City awaits you. And beyond that… the castle.” 21 Chapter Scenes included.

Goblin City: “The bustle of Goblin City is constant and deafening, with Goblins peddling strange wares on every corner, shouting to be heard. Though every denizen is a Goblin, there are no two that are alike in manner of appearance.” 22 Chapter Scenes included.

The Castle: “Before you towers the castle of the Goblin King, its spires almost black against the sky. Despite everything you’ve been through to get here, the thought of turning back still taunts you.” 12 Chapter Scenes included.

Toolkit: “Within these pages you will find the bestiary and tables. These are tools that help you to generate creatures, characters, and curios within the Labyrinth. Perfect for Goblin Kings who want to create their own scenes and adventures.” This section of the book contains a Labyrinth bestiary, detailing all manner of weird and wonderful creatures, such as Black Hart (a colossal black stag with the ability to emit a cry that causes intense fear to Goblins), Cricket Man (otherwise known as the Sparrow Prince, and featured in Scene 1 of Land of Yore, p136), riddle obsessed Door Guards, delicate Fairies, eloquent Giant Badgers, party-loving Fireys, sneaky Goblins, and much more!

The Toolkit section of the Labyrinth provides tables for easily generating Characters for games; a roll of a dice against respective tables allows for Character names, tools and all game playing details to be created. For example, a dice roll of a 1 on the Random Firey table would provide a Firey character called Primus, a wild bright orange creature with a Spacey Personality, notable for his Long Ears and holding the Ability of being a Fantastic Climber.

An extremely helpful guide to enjoying your Labyrinth RPG, the Toolkit section also provides Random Tables for Encounters, Potions, and Items. Wonderfully in keeping with the strange and humorous style of the Labyrinth film, the potential randomness includes Fireys trying to pull their heads off, Worms racing each other, and an “excruciating” Goblin opera!

Summary

Not only is the Labyrinth a wonderfully fun RPG with clearly explained and easy to follow rules and guidelines which encourages player creativity, it is also a lovely piece of Labyrinth memorabilia. Anyone familiar with River Horse will know of their high quality standards and great attention to detail, and the Labyrinth continues in this vein. The book holds many beautiful illustrations, photographs and quotations, allowing the reader a wonderfully immersive experience. Complete with a premium dust sleeve featuring the artwork of Ted Coconis, a brace of special Labyrinth dice housed within an in-book oubliette, coloured ribbon bookmarkers, and perfectly resembling the original Labyrinth book owned by character Sarah, River Horse have produced a must-have collectors piece for fans of Labyrinth, Jim Henson, fantasy illustrations, and David Bowie.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is available for Pre-Order from River Horse HERE.

Official website for River Horse HERE.

Official River Horse Facebook page HERE.

Official website for the Jim Henson Company HERE.

Copyright © 2022 John Wombat & Ruth Moreira