“That was an Heroica effort”

About a year ago Lego started a new line of their famous brick toys: Lego Games. The idea was pretty simple; create board games using Lego pieces. Unfortunately, Lego was also wholly focused upon their core philosophy of toys to create with.

I say unfortunately, but it was more of a double-edged sword. Lego kept their games simple to the point of obsolescence. Ramses Pyramid had a nice core concept that was a little throwback to Ravenburger’s Coco Crazy but in essence was just boring.

The other side of the blade was that Lego wanted these games to be as simple as possible so players could expand upon them themselves. In other words, to bring the core concept of Lego’s bricks to games (and subsequently game design).

A valliant effort, but maybe a bridge too far. In the end only Creationary seemed to work as a board game as it was Pictionary with Lego bricks. While a brilliant mixture, it didn’t really translate the modular, expanding creation force that was behind the bricks to board games.

LEGO Dice
LEGO Dice

Fast forward a year and Lego presents a second attempt: Lego Heroica. The very first look I got at the game instantly rekindled an old flame within and I wasn’t the only one experiencing that feeling. Was this HeroQuest reborn? HeroQuest itself being the boardgame gateway-drug to proper role-playing games from the eighties made by Milton Bradley (Hasbro) and Games Workshop.

The brilliance of HeroQuest being that is was as modular as Lego is, allowing one board for a huge range of dungeons to crawl through. MB even released a creation-kit for it, so players could create their own adventures. Basically, the idea of HeroQuest captured in Lego was perfect. Insanely perfect.

As such, I ordered all four Heroica sets a week ago. Now that I finally sampled the actual game, the question can be answered. Is Lego Heroica HeroQuest reborn? No.

But (and that’s a huge but) it could be. Again, Heroica suffers from the same problem as the other Lego board games, it is simplistic. You move around a dungeon built from Lego pieces, but it’s mainly corridors you’re playing in.

Combat is resolved by rolling the die (funny thing: for some reason Lego refuses to call it a die, instead calling it ‘a Lego dice’?) which has more or less a 50-50 chance of defeating an enemy instantly or losing health.

The odd thing here is that different monsters have no difficulty, they just deal different amounts of damage if you lose. But for all intents and purposes, a spider is just as difficult to defeat as a Goblin Commmander for all players equally. Which is kind of silly as the game does tend to give you different weapons and skills.

LEGO Heroica – Fortaan
LEGO Heroica – Fortaan

Likewise, dieing dying is spectacularly meaningless. Lose all your health and you can spend following turns recuperating your health. Meaning that skill or defeat is wholly absent from the game, you just plod along until you finally defeat the boss monster.

It’s almost as if the game aspect wasn’t that important and the rules serve more as a way to provide a backdrop for Lego toys. In a way it’s just a very nice plastic Game of the Goose. Still, as I mentioned earlier, Lego’s aim was to instill that creation aspect into games and while this isn’t HeroQuest. It certainly can be. Of the four different sets, three have an additional mechanic on top of the basic Heroica rules.

Waldurk has moveable ‘magic doors’. Nathuz has blocking rocks that can be destroyed or negated. And Fortaan has doors that require players to collect keys. (The fourth set Draida, is really the ‘starter kit’ and actually has less elements than the others.) Again simple, but they hint at more than just roll-and-move.

There are also two variants described. Battle Heroica is the old RPG set-up with one player taking control of the monsters, while the others try to defeat him. There’s also Epic Heroica, which boils down to “you play your character in each set as a series of adventures”. The sets also hint at a grand set-up which involves all four sets combined as a giant adventure, which ups the strategic choices considerably.

All those concepts thrown together come awfully close to what HeroQuest was. Which basically leaves the combat system to be woefully simplistic. And guess what? Now the creation drive of Lego pops up and it becomes clear that while the games were kept simple to be played by anyone, all the elements are present to expand upon it: to create a new game.

Seems Lego hit the jackpot after all!

LEGO Heroica – Fortaan
LEGO Heroica – Fortaan

So, the sets are a great purchase. Not because of the actual game, but rather because it functions as a springboard to create something grander. I’ll be pouring over the old HeroQuest rules the coming days, trying to salvage whatever I can and transplant it into Lego Heroica. Might even post them here.

Lego Heroica may not be deep enough by itself, but it sure as hell is a great modular miniature system just waiting to be used for a truly heroic experience. And that, I take it, was exactly the point.

PS: You know what the brilliant thing is about Ramses Pyramid because of Heroica? It provides you with a small army of Heroica-ready mummies!