New Game Weekend: Lego Heroica


Like a couple generations of kids around the world, I grew up on Lego. My childhood was heaped with thousands of little plastic building pieces produced in Denmark and strewn in endless piles on my bedroom floor. Lego have changed a lot over the years from its early days as an abstract, creative and flexible building system of my early years to the heavily-licensed and more rigid playsets my own kids have been raised on.

In 2011, Lego launched Heroica, a brick-based fantasy-themed dungeon crawl board game. Each set included a set of bricks to build a series of rooms, hallways, bridges, paths and outdoor areas with which several configurations of game boards could be assembled alone or in combination with other sets.


My first game of Lego Heroica

This past weekend, I played Lego Heroica: Castle Fortaan with my 9-year-old son, a certified Lego and gaming addict. The game pieces go together nicely to create nifty modular rooms including a dungeon, castle walls, a hall with fireplace and a throne room. Four character adventurer figures and goblins in three varieties are depicted as tiny, rigid pawns which offer less interest than the very-popular Lego Minifigures common with most Lego sets. With a board built according to one of the included scenarios (or a game of your own making), players take turn rolling the special die, moving through the castle, collecting magic items and racing to the objective endpoint.


Gaming components from Lego Heroica: Castle Fortaan

As expected from Lego, the Heroica sets look great. Each player has their own rack on which they track gold and magic items collected and damage received during combat with goblins lurking throughout the castle. A weapons rack allows for the purchase of special weapons which give bonuses and added abilities. The special die (also built from Lego) offers faces with dual purposes for movement, combat resolution and other results such as regaining health and randomized treasure.


Our adventurers quest through the halls of Castle Fortaan

Despite the look of Heroica, gameplay leaves much to be desired. Unlike the collaborative spirit of most dungeon crawl games, Heroica is a straight-up competition and a race to the finish line. Strategy is also absent from the game, and the die-driven movement makes the game largely an exercise in die-rolling. Combat is overly-simple with any of the three goblins types easily destroyed on a single die result, no matter their strength. Purchasing an item from the weapons rack requires three collected gold, but finding three gold often doesn’t occur until late in the game when any bonus from an acquired item really doesn’t matter.

Lego suggests ages 8-and-up for Heroica, but this probably has more to do with safety issues with small parts than actual game complexity, interest or replay value. My son is a pretty experienced gamer, but he still liked the game most probably because of his overall passion for Lego. I’d peg the game more appropriate for 4 or 5-year-olds as a way of introduction to the basic concepts of dungeon crawlers including movement, melee and ranged combat, hit points, character abilities and collecting treasure and magic items.

Not surprisingly, Lego has announced the imminent discontinuation of the Heroica line of games. A fairly avid fanbase for the game exists using heavily-modified rules, but ultimately I really don’t think the game is worth the time and effort no matter how much customization is put into it. With so many engaging dungeon crawl games available and appropriate for a huge swath of ages, its pretty obvious why Heroica crashed in popularity in three short years.

As for dungeon crawling with my kids, I’m going to be heading back to my Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set from the late 1970s in the coming weeks — no plastic bricks required.

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