My eldest son and I recently discovered Lego Heroica, part of the Lego Games range. We have a few of the more well-known family games, of course – Mousetrap, Snakes & Ladders, etc. – but were both bored with the 'roll and move' mechanics, even if they're dressed up with plastic geegaws, and wanted something a little more challenging. Full disclosure: I used to work for Lego, and saw the early range of Lego Games before they were released, and I was a little sceptical as to whether they would take off. But I think the reason they have is that, despite their simplicity, they engage the brain in a way that traditional family games rarely do, probably due to their origins in the European approach to tabletop gaming.
Anyway, as a D&D player I had to give Heroica a go – a Lego dungeon crawl: what's not to like? And it didn't disappoint. Despite the simple mechanics, there are plenty of cerebral elements to the game – selecting the best character to play, choosing the best path to the goal, deciding whether or not to make a diversion to gamble on opening a chest, working out whether or not to rely on your opponent to find a key to open the door in front of you.
After buying, building and playing the four sets, we started designing our own additions from the kids' Lego box (as both my wife and I are ex-employees, the kids are lucky enough to have a fair selection of bricks to play with). We supplemented the pieces with specially purchased elements from Bricklink.com, the fan-run website where individual bricks are sold for a few cents each. If you're thinking of doing something similar yourself, the two critical phrases you need to search on are 'Microfig', which is the name for the Lego Games playing pieces, and (deep breath) 'Plate, modified 2 x 2 with Groove and 1 Stud in Center' which are the plates with one stud that constitute the squares on the Heroica "board". Don't forget to get two colors so you can continue Heroica's checkerboard effect.
Pictured is the first one we made, a crypt full of sepulchres, which works well as an add-on to the Castle Fortaan or Waldurk Forest sets. We intended it as a bit of a game of Russian Roulette. Approach a grave and roll the dice. If it shows a skull (50% chance), up pops a skeleton, which you must fight, Strength 1. If it's a sword, find a treasure (33%), and if the shield, a treasure and 1 gold (17%). Then we pop a black plate on the top of the box grave to show that it's now open and been looted already.
The treasures were also salvaged from the kids' Lego box – some gold keys which we decided can get you through every door, some silver arrows which we figured must automatically kill the werewolves in Waldurk Forest, and some new potions. The skeletons are from the Ninjago game, and we picked them up on Bricklink.
I'll post a few more bits of Heroica inspiration over the next few days.