This article was a request of ScrumMasters and Agile Coaches from all around the world, made at the Global Scrum Gathering in Vienna in October 2019.
You can find the german version here!

In the stressful working environment of an Agile Coach or ScrumMaster, it is sometimes hard to deliver learning content in a purposeful way. To design those content in a understandable and sustainable way often can often be a challenge.

One possibility to get developers out of their routine and build a suitable learning environment is: GAMES!

Games are building their own set of rules, meaning that the usual ruleset of the job are disregarded. In such a frame it is easy to open up for something new.

In my private time I always keep an eye open for things and ideas I can reuse to support my teams learning new things in a play- and joyful way. That way I discovered Magic Maze on last year’s Role Play Convention in Cologne. At the Pegasus Games booth (English publisher is Sit Down! Games) I found and play tested “Magic Maze” and fell in love with it in no time.

Since than I was able to play the game on different occasions together with other agile Coaches (e.g. the Global Scrum Gathering in Vienna or Agile Coach Camp 2018 in Rückersbach ) and with my development teams.

Therefrom I got a lot of feedback and reactions. From emotional reactions, to self-knowledge of behavior, to the transparent reflection of team dynamics.

What is Magic Maze?

The intro is as crazy as the game itself:

“After being stripped of all their possessions, a mage, a barbarian, an elf, and a dwarf are forced to go rob the local Magic Maze shopping mall for all the necessary equipment they need for their next adventure.”

Experts and fans of roleplay games will feel familiar in no time. But even a game newbie will catch the purpose of the adventures team.

The goal of Magic Maze is to collaborate and get all the equipment in a limited timeframe. But there is a trick – no matter if you play alone, with two people or in a group of 8, everyone plays with all of the figurines at the same time.

The participants aren’t limited on one figurine, but by different movement. While one person is only allowed to move an adventurer to the north, another one can only move west. The escalator to another floor however is only be operated by player number 3.

What made Magic Maze so especially interesting for my daily work as a coach, is another rule: You are not allowed to communicate!
Neither speaking, nor pointing, nor “uhhhh” sounds because of the few left grains of sand in the hourglass are allowed. Only the “Do-Something-Stone” is used as a communication token to show impediments. However the token doesn’t show, WHAT needs to be done.

Every 3 minutes (before the time runs out) the team needs to move one figurine onto an hourglass symbol. Doing so, it gets turned, so that the team receives a bit more time to achieve their common mission. Only after moving onto that field the team is allowed to communicate as much as they want unless they don’t touch any of the adventurers. However: the time goes on!

The Findings

If you don’t want to get spoiled, don’t read the next paragraph ?.

The findings while playing Magic Maze without changing the original rules are tremendous. Changing those rules to fit into an agile environment is not necessary to get all those team experiences. However I recommend you to facilitate the game to prevent confusion.

  • Most of the times, teams aren’t able to solve the game on their first try and therefore don’t reach their sprint goal. Even without moderation, the team automatically will start a retrospective.
  • While only speaking about who made which wrong move the first time the team is allowed to communicate, the communication evolves into a future oriented and supporting mindset. “Only you can go to the east. Could you give me a hand here?”
  • Due to the regularly get together of the adventurers the team creates realistic and reachable intermediate targets and talks about what is a realistic outcome till the next meeting.
  • In spite of the time running, the team still uses the communication time. No matter how much pressure is on us, without proper coordination we can’t produce value.

After playing the game and debriefing it together, I usually talk with the team about the parallels to normal projects and my intention. Teams usually reflect the game while looking at their daily scrums. Instead of doing a status report, like many teams use the daily scrum, teamwork and a goal oriented daily can emerge.

If you are searching for a professional Magic Maze facilitator or if you have any further questions, feel free to contact me I’m looking forward to your feedback and findings.

See you around and have a lot of fun while playing and discovering.

See more findings here:

2 thoughts on “Don’t get lost in the shopping mall! Magic Maze”

  1. Is the board configurable, so that you aren’t restricted to a single board layout and only one way to solve it? I wouldn’t want the play-ability to be limited to a handful of uses, if the outcome/movements/board are fixed.

    1. Hey Steve,

      thanks for the question!
      Short Answer yes to randomness, the single board times will get shuffled every time you play, that way you will always get a new board.
      Another yes: You can enhance the rules out of the box (it’s all in the official rules) using 17 different scenarios.
      A really cool Scenario here for example is scenario #9: There you introduce some kind of leader (project manager) into the team. Hilarious!

      You can watch some short game explanations here as well:

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