The Path Designer's Diary
I have played a variety of tile-based maze games over the years. One of my favorites is Max J. Kobbert's game Master Labyrinth. Its tiles constantly shift around, changing the maze from turn to turn. While all players are racing on the same maze, the fact that the maze moves and that players often have different objectives in the maze keeps the game fresh.
Joshua Howard's game The Way is a 5 tile by 5 tile maze game that was an obvious inspiration for The Path. I borrowed from Howard's game the concept of running to a specific point in the maze and then back to the starting point. The Way has, in my opinion, an inherent flaw. Since both players are racing on a shared maze path, it is common for luck, rather than skill, to make it easier for one player to navigate the maze. While The Way provides some options to modify the maze during play, they aren't quite as extreme as they are in Master Labyrinth, and so the maze of The Way feels more static. Replay value diminishes accordingly.
James Ernest's The Very Clever Pipe Game was a significant inspiration. While it's not a racing game, it introduced me to the concept that a single maze tile could have multiple paths of different colors printed on it, each hindering or helping a given player differently depending on how the tile is played down.
Combining the concept from these games The Path features two distinctly colored paths on each of the maze tiles, requires each player to tag up with a specific point in the maze before returning to his starting point, and allows substantial tile movement within the matrix, making it more akin to Master Labyrinth than The Way. The Very Clever Pipe Game can be mentally challenging and fun to study the placement of the tiles. I also like how tile placement can help or hinder either player. Because of this inspiration, I added an option to The Path for players to collaboratively build the 5 x 5 matrix that the race occurs in. I find that this adds an additional layer of strategy. The maze building phase becomes almost a separate game unto itself. Playing with a random setup gets you playing quicker and puts the focus on the race itself. The Concentration-style setup involving face down tiles was a natural variant of this game. One of the first tile matrix games children play growing up is Concentration. Using this option, the racing is a bit less strategic and a bit more random, but the memory challenge may appeal to some players.
Contrary to some expectations, the game Tsuro had no influence over my design. I played Tsuro only well after designing The Path. The two games are quite different. First, Tsuro pieces move unidirectionally through their maze, and players are forced to move based on the characteristics of the maze, even if a player does not want to move forward. In The Path, players have more control over the movement of their pieces because the tiles can be exchanged and rotated during the course of play. At the same time, the tiles are much more restrictive in The Path. Each player can only use one path on each tile. As a result, it is sometimes required to chain together combinations of tile exchanges and rotations to create a specific path forward through the maze. Given that the number of tiles is small, you are often cannibalizing your own escape route while moving forward. Clever players of The Path can camouflage their escape routes, keeping them mostly intact, and unveiling them at a moment's notice after they've crossed the board and they are prepared for their return trip. Tsuro typically does not have that long term planning feature since you are still building the board as you are playing. Finally, the missions of Tsuro and The Path are effectively opposed -- in Tsuro the goal is to move as slowly as possible and stay on the board as long as possible, while in The Path the goal is to hinder your opponent while moving your piece as quickly as possible. My suspicion is that with the variant setup options available, The Path has a bit more replay value than Tsuro, particularly for two players. Tsuro's obvious advantage over The Path is that it supports more than two players. Tsuro is, however, a beautiful game, and I am deeply envious of its appearance.
When my friends and I play The Path, other than to straighten out tiles, we don't allow players to pick up tiles and test them. This makes the game a brain burner if you don't have great spatial relations skills.
I hope you enjoy The Path and play it frequently.
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