So please don’t construe this as a paid advertorial or the like, because I didn’t receive a cent for it. Now, let’s talk about a LEGO set, 21305: Maze to be exact.
Unlike most sets, born in secret in the heart of the company by its employees, 21305: Maze was created by a fan. Jason Allemann, or “JK Brickworks” to you and me, came up with the idea a few years ago. It was originally called “Labyrinth Marble Maze” and it’s based on the game Labyrinth created in 1946.
Allemann later submitted the Maze to LEGO Ideas. Ideas is an initiative in which fans can submit LEGO creations they have built and, if it receives 10 000 votes from the community as well as the approval from the company, it will go on sale in stores as an official set. After a wildly successful campaign, 21305: Maze hit retailers earlier this year.
Even the box itself is better than your average set. It has thicker cardboard, more printing and the way it opens (with a flap) means that it can be reused. I was even able modify mine to carry the finished build around without damaging it.
Inside you’ll find 769 pieces that need to be put together. It’s actually a very simple build and the instructions (also of a higher quality: bound instead of stapled like other instructions) are easy to follow. It even implements a colour-coded system to line up the sides of the maze with its housing.
Once built, it’s rather pretty:
Once I got my hands on the two control gears and began to move the maze around, one thing came to mind: “damn, this is difficult”.
As Allemann himself stated in an interview; “controlling the model is very much a learned skill. The more you practice the better you will get at it.”
I’ve had the set for a couple of months and still have not mastered the standard maze, but I have the hand-eye coordination of a drunk bat, so I won’t count that against the set.
That being said, my skills have improved. Learning subtle movements to keep the ball rolling towards the goal is a lot of fun and will instill you with confidence… only for the ball to fall into a trap, ending your game and angering you beyond comprehension.
But, because of the tight controls, this is all on you. Surprisingly, the control mechanism here doesn’t use a gearing system, but instead relies of direct linkages. You can see them clearly in the image below. Simply move the control wheel, a linkage will react and the maze will tilt.
This works so well because of a great design, but also because of the insatiably tight tolerances enforced by LEGO.
Of course, all the action takes place on the maze platforms one places on top of this mechanism. The set contains two different mazes. You can see the default setup (that I haven’t changed yet) pictured on this page. The set also contains enough pieces so users can make a maze that looks like a medieval village.
Naturally, the fact that this is a LEGO set allows one to unleash their creative potential. Sure, you could master the default maze, but you can also build your own. How about a space-themed maze, or a miniature golf layout with a motorised windmill, or maybe even the Trench Run from Star Wars? All of those, by the way, are mazes that exist, created by fans over on /r/LEGO.
When you’re bored of one maze – or if you’ve mastered it – you can break it apart and create a new one and you’re only limited by your imagination. Well, that and the face you’ll need more pieces to realise your creation.
That having been said, 21305: Maze has a few niggles. Those clever linkages have a problem with their reach as one side doesn’t tilt as far as the other. This is a problem Allemann addressed, because it does interfere with the game.
Furthermore, the balls aren’t completely round due to the molding lines and they’re near impossible to control some of the time. The floor of the maze is made up of LEGO tiles and, while each tile itself is very smooth, the noticeable gaps between them can trap a ball, putting a hard stop to your game.
Those issues, however, can be addressed. The biggest problem in my mind is the price. International RRP is £59.99 / $69.99 / €69.99. In South Africa it will run you about R1 100. That’s a lot of money for what is essentially board game. It also hampers the ability to create your own mazes, an aspect I harped on earlier, because LEGO is expensive and there’s no way around that.
I must admit though, I think the huge price is worth it. I can’t think of a single product that is simultaneously a toy, a display piece, a work of art, a teaching tool, a puzzle and more. Throw in the fact that, I can modify it on a whim or simply dismantle it completely for its valuable bits, and it crosses over the line for me from ‘fun’ to ‘essential’.
In a lot of ways, the 21305: Maze set is the pinnacle of what LEGO is, and one of the best examples of why it is so beloved worldwide.
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