I’ve been curious about LEGO board games for a while. They’ve been on the market for more than a year now, yet there really hadn’t been one that looked enticing enough for me to finally bite the bullet and make a purchase. But this past fall, LEGO unveiled their Heroica line of dungeon crawl games. “Great!,” I thought. One of my favorite genres mixed with everyone’s favorite building blocks – what could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, plenty.
Before we get to why, let me try and set the scene for you. Heroica became something of a hotly anticipated item in our house, both because my 7 year old daughter and I love building LEGO projects together and because in recent months she’d shown an interest in trying a dungeon crawl board game. Before getting tucked into bed, she’d often see our game group sit down to things like Descent, Dungeon Run, and Castle Ravenloft, and she’d always ask if I could teach her how to play. Two thumbs up for a kid that likes board games, but at the same time, even some of the adults in our group had trouble wrapping our heads around games like Descent. As much as I want to believe she can tackle anything we throw at her, most dungeon crawls seem a little out of her league.
Before we go any further, let’s make something perfectly clear. The LEGO Heroica series, like all LEGO games, is aimed at a younger demographic. This is a game that was made with her in mind, not me. And she loves it.
But despite my love for toys and games (and most things people tend to associate with children), I myself am not a child. And while there are some kids games I love playing with her (Kids of Carcassonne, Redakai, Pokemon TCG, Tok Tok Woodman), I’m also all too ready to call a game crap when it’s crap. And much to my surprise, LEGO Heroica is kind of crap.
The gameplay itself is alarmingly simple. Players will roll a custom die to move, and the object of the game is to be the first to make their way to a specific goal location. If you end up adjacent to a monster along the way, you’ll have to roll the die to defeat them. In addition to numbers for movement, each side of the die has a combat marking on it. A sword kills the monster, a skull means you’ve taken damage, and if it shows both, both have occurred.
Different monsters deal different amounts of damage, different characters have unique skills to use should you roll a special side of the die, and there are a few unique board elements like magic doors and treasure chests – but ultimately the game feels like little more than Ludo with a combat twist. And gameplay isn’t the only problem here.
Presentation – the one area you’d expect any LEGO game to excel – is terribly lackluster. Dungeon crawls are, for a lot of people, largely about great miniatures. Considering LEGO is well known for their awesome minifigs, this should be a match made in heaven, right? Instead, the game features mini-minifigs, lacking all of the detail and basic articulation of their standard minifig counterparts. Stand a Heroica figure next to any other LEGO minifig and they barely come up to their chest. Costumes are painted on, and they don’t even have arms. Should you acquire a weapon in the game, you can’t even give it to your character – you have to hold it outside of the board in their “hero pack.”
And because the miniatures are so miniature, the board ends up being a lot smaller than you might expect from a simple glance at the box. Once assembled, the entirety of Heroica: Waldurk (the forest-themed version we picked up) can fit on a standard 8½x11 sheet of paper. It feels like a travel version of the game you were hoping to find in the box.
There are a lot of other little niggling issues with the game as well. For example, you’re instructed to put any monsters you’ve defeated on your hero pack, but you’re never given a reason why. They can’t be traded in for gold or weapons, they don’t lend to any kind of a point total – and since some of the monsters can’t even really fit on there without taking up more than their share of space (spiders, I’m looking at you), the rules are asking you to overcrowd your hero pack for no specific reason at all. Other complaints of this nature abound.
The only neat thing I can really say for the whole package is that if this is your thing, you can connect it with other versions of Heroica to create a much larger game. A nice touch, offering a “gotta catch’em all” vibe for fans of the game. There’s also an alternate rule set included worth applauding them for. “Battle Heroica” puts one player in control of the monsters, which, while equally dull, at least gives the game a bit of variety.
Despite all of my complaints, there’s no denying that my 7 year old daughter really likes this game. And if that’s really who it’s aimed at, so who am I to judge? All I can say is this – if you’re a childless game geek picking this up for a few rounds of grown up fun, lower your expectations.
At least we had fun building it.
tl;dr Don’t let the awesome draw of LEGO fool you, this is a game that disappoints both as a LEGO product and a dungeon crawler