Max Kobbert: “The Crazy Labyrinth”: Inventor explains why children win so often

In 1983, Max Kobbert had a brilliant idea that would change his life.

Max Kobbert: “The Crazy Labyrinth”: Inventor explains why children win so often

In 1983, Max Kobbert had a brilliant idea that would change his life. Within a day, the now 79-year-old wrote down the basic rules for a game that became one of the most successful board games in Germany. In the stern interview, Max Kobbert reveals what the world-famous Rubik's cube has to do with its crazy labyrinth, why out of 100 game ideas only one comes onto the market and what is really important when inventing games.

Professor Kobbert, when did you last play “The Crazy Labyrinth”?

I play it every now and then. Especially when new friends come to visit us. They usually already know about it and really want to play it with the inventor. I still think it's good too. First you can't find a way, then you find a twist. This impulse is still alive in me.

Let's turn back time a few decades. You were born during World War II. What did you play as a child?

Of course, we didn't have much back then. So when I was a child, I and my younger brother came up with games for us. I still have the sketch from my very first one today. At that time we often played the great classic “Man, don’t get angry”. At some point someone asked why you actually have to roll the dice three times to get out of the game. Or why the six of all things means that you can put a figure on the game board. At first I felt like it was sacrilegious, like violating the Ten Commandments. But then I realized that the rules of the game are made by people. And that was the trigger for me to think about a game of my own.

What came of it?

I took some paper and drew a game board with 100 running spaces. It seemed exciting to me to muddle through it. But when we played the game, the other players wanted to know after just a few steps whether we absolutely had to finish the game. My passion for inventing games began with great frustration. But the most important thing was that I discovered as a child that games are invented by people. I was also very creative and always came up with new things in this field. Of course, never with the idea of ​​publishing these ideas. That came later.

Please feel free to take us with you.

On our honeymoon I had an idea for a game. That was 1971. Colomino. On this trip, of all places, I tried it with my wife. And it worked so well that I immediately offered it to Ravensburger Verlag. I was incredibly lucky because the director at the time, Erwin Glonnegger, was so impressed with the game that he included it in the program. Ravensburger then released it under the name Colomino. This is a kind of two-dimensional domino.

Max Jürgen Kobbert (born 1944) is a professor of art didactics and psychology. Until 2009 he taught, among other things, at the Münster University of Applied Sciences. His global success “The Crazy Labyrinth” and its sequel sold more than 25 million copies. Kobbert has been married for more than 50 years and lives with his wife in Münster.

It sounds a bit like inventing games is a child's game that anyone can do. You think of something, write it down, send it to a publisher and then they do it. Does it always work like that?

No. After the success of Colomino, I actually thought it would always work like that. But out of 100 ideas you submit, maybe one will come onto the market. Many game inventors come up with something, get friends together and the whole thing somehow works. But coming up with the rules of the game is one thing. Writing the rules of the game, putting them into words, is the greater challenge. You have to be able to suppress a lot of frustration as a game designer. That always motivated me. I tried to learn from it.

What was it like with “Crazy Labyrinth,” your later worldwide success?

That was very special. Typical and atypical at the same time. Even as a child, I was interested in drawing labyrinths where the mouse was supposed to find the cheese and things like that. At some point I thought to myself that it's actually a shame about the beautiful drawing that someone came up with and put a lot of effort on paper. I'll draw a line through it and then the matter will be over. So I thought about making a game where a labyrinth is constantly changing. Then I tried a lot of things. That something is turning, doors are opening and closing. None of that worked. Then came the time of the Rubik's cube. I bought it straight away and looked for solutions. And it was another reason to think about something new. So I came up with a puzzle ball. With a completely different mechanism than the one that Ernő Rubik (editor's note: Rubik comes from Hungary and invented the legendary Rubik's cube in 1974) had developed. The bullet worked too. So I patented it and found a manufacturer who was interested in it. But when the managers from London and New York wanted to decide what to do next at a meeting in Frankfurt, they suddenly had two balls on the table. Mine and one from Rubik. Now you can imagine which one they chose.

Another setback. What happened next?

I didn't allow myself to be discouraged and next applied the sphere principle to the surface. Unfortunately, there have already been similar ideas. But I wanted to do something of my own. Then I came up with the idea of ​​fixed and movable parts that can be moved around and thus change the pattern. At first I didn't know what exactly to do with it. At some point my old idea of ​​the changing labyrinth flashed back. So I drew labyrinth elements on the pieces, tried it out and it worked straight away. The pattern was ready in no time. Seven by seven fields in size. The simple rule was that whoever got out of the maze first won. That only took two minutes, so we needed a new rule. The idea was that you would be sent back and forth in the labyrinth to different destinations and finally home. It was written together in a day.

How did Ravensburger Verlag become aware of your idea?

First I got my family together, it worked perfectly and everyone was thrilled. Finally I went to a game designers meeting in Göttingen and presented the labyrinth there. That was in 1983. Then the then Ravensburger director Glonnegger looked over my shoulder, saw the prototype of my crazy labyrinth, tapped me and said:

Was he right?

Yes. It took another three years for Ravensburger to release it. And then it began its triumphant march and is still one of the classics around the world today.

Do you have any idea why your game is so successful? Is there a little secret?

I think it's two or even three things. On the one hand, it's fun to always find a way that seemed impossible at first. You solve a problem and have an aha moment. You have these experiences all the time in this game. The path to the goal is blocked. You look and look, you have a board in front of your head. Suddenly you realize that only one part has to be moved to get to the destination. These short-term successes are very important. That's the one point. The second thing is that you understand the game very quickly without having to read pages of rules. You watch for two minutes, then you can play along yourself. And thirdly: children can play the crazy labyrinth just as well as adults. We noticed this with our daughter. She was seven years old when we tested this and kept winning. Why? Children are particularly good at thinking clearly, sometimes even better than adults. That's exactly what the game requires. It's actually difficult to win against children. That's quite funny. So it's a perfect family game. I believe these three points contributed significantly to our success – not just in Germany, but also internationally.

Apart from your crazy labyrinth: what are classic games for you, what do you like to play most?

We played Mahjong in the family for many years. It's actually not as old as it seems. As a child and teenager we played the old classics Halma, Elfer raus, Yahtzee, 'Mensch, ärgere dich nicht' and Monopoly is still here and there. I play a lot with my wife again now. Our favorite games at the moment are three simple dice games. One is called "Noch mal". You get colored boards and then have to tick certain things off. The others are called "Qwixx" and "Qwirkle" and have a similar principle.

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