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Panic Lab

RRP: £9.99
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RRP £9.99
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Amoebas have escaped and are slithering around in all directions! Catch them fast! In Panic Lab, the player-scientists have their hands full trying to figure out which amoeba to catch and where it might have oozed off to. To set up the game, shuffle the 25 cards, then lay them out in a circle. At the start of a round, one player rolls four special dice which indicate the colour, sha…
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Tags , , SKU ZVR-6039 Availability 3+ in stock
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Simple rules
  • Cheerful artwork
  • Fun, logical Ppuzzles
  • Quick to play
  • Travel-sized

Might Not Like

  • Poor fit for mixed-ability groups
  • Doesn’t work well for larger groups
  • Accessibility issues (Colour Blindness)
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Description

Amoebas have escaped and are slithering around in all directions! Catch them fast!

In Panic Lab, the player-scientists have their hands full trying to figure out which amoeba to catch and where it might have oozed off to. To set up the game, shuffle the 25 cards, then lay them out in a circle.

At the start of a round, one player rolls four special dice which indicate the colour, shape and pattern of the amoeba being sought as well as the colour of the lab it left and in which direction it was traveling. Competing at the same time, players need to find the lab, then move in the right direction to spot the amoeba (which may, of course, be striped and not spotted).

But wait! If you encounter a vent after leaving the lab, you need to skip to the next vent in the circle before continuing your search. (Amoebas prefer to travel in the dark when possible.) Plus, if an amoeba passes through one of three mutation devices in the circle, you need to alter the criteria for your search, looking for a tentacled amoeba instead of one with a tail, for example, or an orange/red amoeba instead of a blue/purple one. Zap!

The first player to lay her hand on the correct card collects a token, and the first player to collect five tokens wins!

So, your table is covered with a circle of cute, brightly-coloured Amoebas. These represent a 'Panic Lab' facility into which they will shortly escape.  Despite their child-friendly looks and age rating, these little critters can be genuinely brain-bending!

My Hovercraft Is Full Of Eels

The basic premise of 'Panic Lab' is that an escaped Amoeba's overall appearance are defined by an initial, multiple-dice roll. The players then have to 'chase' them around a circle of cards, seeking to identify them.  Complicating matters, the Amoeba keep on changing form as they pass various cards. They will also hop into and out of the ventilation system whenever they can.  The rulebook comprises less than two pages for any given language, and the entire concept can be understood fairly swiftly. Which brings us to the following visual aide (which I prepared earlier).  In the following scene, a Red-and-Orange, striped, one-eyed Amoeba has escaped the Yellow Laboratory:

Chasing the Amoeba clockwise (following the black arrow), we can see it undergoing various alterations in the grey 'Mutation Rooms'. They also skip large parts of the circle when hopping into and out of vents.  At no point does the Amoeba pass an image of itself… and so, on reaching the fourth Mutation, it explodes/disappears!  In practice, few 'Panic Lab' Amoeba make it this far.  Most will pass their own image at some point, and can thus be caught earlier.  But the image should give a feel for what slippery little characters they can be!

Conceptually, the puzzle players are required to solve isn't overly complex.  However, all players are simultaneously trying to achieve the same task.  Only the first to succeed earns a point… while those who make an error may lose points already won!

Shhh! The Amoebas Are Escaping!

This reveals what I consider the weaknesses of Panic Lab.  It only plays 'fairly' with a group of players of near-equivalent ability. The advertised age rating (8+) seems a bit of a stretch (I'd recommend it to 10+).  Older children, adults and faster-thinking players will always have an innate advantage. This may be difficult for others to overcome, although giving younger players a head start can help.

There is no player interaction aside from mutual time-pressure.  In my experience, it is near impossible to complete more than a couple of rounds with more than 5 people.  With more, the vague gesturing and mummering of the group independently tracking Amoeba can become hugely distracting for all involved!  You'd have to have 10 very quiet, disciplined and well-behaved gamers around a table to play without impacting each other's concentration.

So Is Panic Lab A Good Game?

Yes!  With a small group of well-matched players, 'Panic Lab' can be a great 'filler' game or icebreaker.  I seldom play strictly to 5 points (per the rules), but will often fit in a few rounds of Amoeba-hunting ahead of another game, or when time is limited.  Depending on the dice roll, rounds can end in a handful of seconds, or last a good minute. Even experienced players occasionally make errors under pressure and a close game can be great mental workout!  For children and less competitive players, the game can also make a fun 'logic puzzle'. Younger children may enjoy playing co-operatively with an adult.

This flexibility is, perhaps, the most endearing quality of 'Panic Lab'.  I've owned my copy for many years, and have found it to be an extremely flexible title.  How we play varies (competitively, co-operatively, quickly, steadily), and the game can support all of these.  In all cases, it retains its inherent charm and challenge.  Whilst you can't chat during a given round, it can often be fun unravelling the progress of the slippery critters between rounds.  This also helps you see where you (or your fellow players) slipped up!

Pocket-sized, Affordable Fun

For a budget-friendly, pocket-sized game, the components are of generally good quality.  The game comes in a pleasing, colourful tin which comfortably holds its components.  The square cardboard 'deck' is robust enough to hold up (and the odd mark to the cards doesn't impact gameplay).    The custom dice are nice, although they could be larger and/or have better contrast. Some of the faces can be hard to make out (I'm looking at you, White Arrow from the Yellow Laboratory!)  The rulebook is clearly written, and the scoring counters are handy (albeit easily replaced with a notepad or six-sided die if you prefer).

The most significant issue with the components is that they can cause some issues for colour-blind players.  While there is an effort to utilise a mixture of colours, there is still an over-reliance on blue-ish / red-ish colours. The Amoeba are also shown on green backgrounds.  If Panic Lab ever gets a reprint, it'd be great to see an alternate palette.

Absent any board, it easy to set out a game on a variety of surfaces.  You'll still want a modest table for anything more than a couple of players (and somewhere to safely roll the dice in where everyone can see them).  I probably wouldn't try playing it on a train, but you can certainly take it with you when travelling (adding to its family-friendly credentials).

In Conclusion

Panic Lab is a great little game, with a few minor issues that will be likely be forgiven by most players.  If you ignore the box and consider it a game for 2-5 players aged 10+, there are few games in its price / box size bracket I'd recommend ahead of it.

Personally, I've found it thrives best as a 'filler' game for groups of modestly-competitive problem-solvers.  However, played appropriately, it is a very flexible, family-friendly title.  I'm not quite sure if it's one of my favourites… and yet, somehow this tin of loveable Amoeba persistently escapes our sideboard drawer, ending up in my tote of games or my overnight bag.  And that's an endorsement all of its own.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Simple rules
  • Cheerful artwork
  • Fun, logical Ppuzzles
  • Quick to play
  • Travel-sized

Might not like

  • Poor fit for mixed-ability groups
  • Doesnt work well for larger groups
  • Accessibility issues (Colour Blindness)