Sunday, January 1, 2012

How I Spent New Year's Eve

My apologies for the relative paucity of posts over the last week or so. Christmas is a very busy time for me, as it is for anyone with children and visiting relatives. Things are still fairly hectic and likely will remain so for a little bit longer. And truth be told, I could use the break. Getting Thousand Suns out the door at long last was a big (and slightly stressful) effort and I expect a similar experience with both my Dwimmermount releases and Petty Gods, which can now finally get my undivided attention and, I hope, see completion in January.

But enough of that! Last night, while waiting for the clock to strike twelve, I sat around my dining room table with my family playing LEGO Heroica. I mentioned this game earlier in the year. Ever since my son got it for Christmas, I was itching to play it, and New Year's Eve provided a good opportunity to do so. Heroica is basically a simple dungeoncrawl boardgame, a bit like TSR's Dungeon! but far simpler and with much more attractive components.
The basic game comes with enough pieces for three different "missions," which is what they call scenarios. A mission determines both the layout of the dungeon and its ultimate goal. The missions included in this set are, in order of ease, the recovery of a magic scroll, the recovery of the Helm of Protection, and the defeat of the goblin king. Each player can choose one of four characters -- a barbarian, a druid, a knight, and a wizard -- each of which has a special ability. Play proceeds by rolling a die to determine how far you can move in a turn. If you land adjacent to a monster or monsters, you must engage in combat, which is resolved simply with another die roll. Results of combat can be defeating the monster, being wounded by the monster (and thus subtracting one or more health points from your total), or defeating the monster and being wounded. Being wounded results in your character's also being pushed back one space on the map. If your character loses all his health, you lose one or more turns while you heal. How much you can heal is, again, based on a die roll and no defeated character can return to play until he's fully healed.
 In addition to monsters, there are also various treasures in the game, such as chests, gold, and potions. What's in a chest is determined by a die roll, with many chests being trapped and dealing damage. Potions have various effects, from increased speed to healing, and can be kept in reserve until you choose to use them. Gold can be accumulated to buy better weapons that aid you in your mission. Movement through the dungeon is simple; diagonal movement is not allowed. You'll notice there are doors on the dungeon map. These are all locked and can only be opened by finding a key. Once unlocked, a door stays that way, so anyone can pass through it. Alternately, if you don't have a key, you can take a chance and try to find a secret door into a room by rolling a die. There's only a one in six chance of success, but it's better than nothing, if you lack a key.

Each of the characters has a unique melee or ranged ability. This ability is activated when you roll a shield icon on the die -- another one in six chance. The wizard, for example, can use his magic to slay a creature up to four spaces distant, even around corners. The druid can heal himself to full health. The knight can charge, slay a monster, and keep moving. The barbarian can slay all creatures adjacent to him and keep moving. These abilities give each character a distinct feeling, though the randomness of their activation meant they didn't get used very often. That's probably more the result of the small starting map, though. I think, with one or more expansions (there are three currently available), the abilities would come into play more often.
What I found fascinating was how quickly my wife and daughter named and even "roleplayed" their characters. The barbarian, for example, became known as Hudge and my wife even adopted a funny, pseudo-Russian accent and diction on her turns. My daughter called her druid Greylon and I called my knight Sir James, in memory of my first D&D character. My son didn't name his wizard, leading us to alternately call him Tim or Talroc, though he insisted he was called "Just 'The Wizard.'" So, later, I started referring to him as "The Unknown Wizard." And while he didn't have a name, he did have a personality. In three games over an hour and half -- the game plays very quickly -- he forsook the stated goals of the missions and instead sought out gold and treasure chests. Apparently, he needed funds for his alchemical experiments.

Heroica includes the option of what is effectively campaign play, allowing characters to retain items they've acquired in previous missions. There's also an option allowing one player to take on the role of the monsters. Further, the rules (which are only about three pages long) encourage you to make your own missions and create your own rules, which my children almost immediately started suggesting. For that alone, I judge Heroica a huge success and I imagine I'll be buying the various expansions in the weeks and months to come (if only to add new monsters and characters). As I remarked to a friend of mine, who plays in my Dwimmermount and Thousand Suns campaigns, "Heroica is a better D&D Starter Set than the D&D Starter Set. Why the heck isn't WotC producing something like this?"

40 comments:

  1. Return of Ramses is also a good compact Lego game. It's board can be changed into any configuration, and it suggests that you change the rules; which is an awesome touch to the rule book. (Also provides some example alternate rules).

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  2. I am curious what you feel the age range of this game would be? The boxes for the various Heroica games are either 7 or 8+. My 3yo enjoys board games and loves the relatively simple Lego game Magikus. Can a toddler effectively play this?

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  3. My kids love the Lego games, we never got the big Heroica set, we have one of the smaller ones. The problem with it is that the Heroica set has typically been a bit more expensive then the other Lego games, and not quite worth it when compared to other Lego sets of the same value (in pieces that is). Given your review, I might just have to get this anyway,

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  4. Professor P, it would be tough for a 3-year-old to play this easily (at least it is for mine). On the other hand, my 6-year-old nephew took to it very quickly.

    I've blogged about the game, and it's good to see other RPG bloggers "discovering" how wonderful this game really is.

    Let the indoctrination begin!

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  5. Hmm. Personally, I think it's rather sad to waste a good time of year (New Year's Eve) on a RPG. Guys, don't turn something that's supposed to be a GAME into your religion, into the center of your lives...

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  6. "Hmm. Personally, I think it's rather sad to waste a good time of year (New Year's Eve) on a RPG"

    Playing with your family is wasting time? As opposed to doing what?

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  7. Well, if New Year's Eve is not a time to share with your kids (rpg or not), I don't know what is.

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  8. Yeah, I picked up Ninjago game for the skeleton figures - what do you think happens to all those dead goblins when you try to leave!!!

    Ramses Pyramid has a full set of mummies. And my kids want me to pick up Pirate Plank to introduce a pirate characters.

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  9. Well, not generally playing. But allowing RPGaming to invade even your new years eve is wrong. After all, RPGaming *is* supposed to be a game, not something you need to do any time you get together with your fellow-gamers. And then this bizarre "Let the indoctrination begin!" stuff, or "researching" the "hidden meaning" of Gary Gygax' rule books...

    You people don't play The Game anymore. IT plays you. At least, so it seems from the outside.

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  10. Personally, I think it's rather sad to waste a good time of year (New Year's Eve) on a RPG.

    I didn't waste anything. I was with my family and having fun, as were they. If that's a "waste," then I'm not sure what would qualify as something more worthwhile.

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  11. You people don't play The Game anymore.

    "You people?" Who exactly are we?

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  12. James, sounds like you had a great time with a fun little game that just helped to reinforce close and strong family bonds. I doubt there is a better way to spend a holiday with your family than that.

    As to why WOTC doesn't try to introduce their games in a way equal to this I will never know. I always assume its because the rules are too cumbersome now to pull it off.

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  14. James, Your question to WotC is an excellent one. Something similar, even using their "card game" approach would make a great way to introduce a new generation of role players, and pump some new life into a withering hobby.

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  15. Well James, you appear to be a middle-aged guy with a wife and family. You have a job, responsibilities, and a hobby that you enjoy. Evidently in the The Beyonder's eyes, that makes you some sort of fringe weirdo.

    The game sounds awesome. What's the recommended ages?

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  16. I picked up "Ramses Return" yesterday at an after Christmas sale (50% off at your local Indigo Chapters for any Canucks) and just played a couple of games with my 5y old son. And we both loved it! I like that they call the characters you play "adventurers" even though they're not much more than tomb robbers. Sound familiar? And encouraging you to make your own rules for the game was heartwarming to this gamers heart.

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  17. I've had a chance to play a few games with all 4 Heroica sets now, and it plays a lot better that way. Still very quick to play, but it allows players to use the few tactical options the game has more fully. I'm tempted to add a second main set to make even bigger dungeons.

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  18. Yeah, I picked up Ninjago game for the skeleton figures

    Lego used to sell bags of twenty or so skeletons. I couldn't figure out why they sold these and not bags of anything else, but I got one anyway! I don't know if they're still for sale.

    As to why WOTC doesn't try to introduce their games in a way equal to this I will never know. I always assume its because the rules are too cumbersome now to pull it off.

    In all fairness, the current D&D board games are quite good, and an "advanced" version of them would be much more to my tastes than D&D4.

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  19. I played "Dungeon Twister: Prison" (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/42124/dungeon-twister-2-prison) with my son. Great fun!

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  20. Back in the TSR days, they attempted pretty much the same thing with the black box basic set ("The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game"). I had already been a player of Second Edition for a while, but IIRC the black box was my introduction to "basic" style D&D (race-as-class and all that). This set was not quite as flexible as it looks like the Heroica sets are (as the map, presented sort of like a board for a board game, is fixed). It does have the advantage of being compatible with other D&D products though, and I think it went up to level 5. Something like this with dungeon tiles (and a few pre-made dungeons that use them) would be an excellent intro. It would also allow "fog of war" as the referee would not need to reveal the entire map at once (as the poster map requires).

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  21. Holy crap...I can't believe anyone would be critical about someone spending a holiday with his wife and kids playing a game. I wish I had a dad like James. This sounds like an awesome time playing a fun game.

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  22. Heroica also arrived at the RockyMountainNavy house this Christmas with "Santa" delivering Fortaan and Dad placing Waldurk under the tree. The recipient is 7 years old (almost 8). The game was a HUGE hit! So much so the youngster decided to spend his gift card to buy Draida Bay. I taught the youngster and his older brother the basic game and before I could do much more they went off and played and taught themselves the campaign rules. Like you James my kids have adopted their won favorite character and named them; essentially role-playing them. I have the same thoughts and look for Heroica to be a "gateway" game to the full-fledged RPG experience.
    BTW, we too spent the holidays gaming. Under the tree this year, in addition to Heroica, was Battleship, Forbidden Island, and a new game called Kallide where players flick magnets down a board and try to score points. Of course, the magnets interact with each other..... XMas Day also saw a large game of Sour Apples at the Grandparents house.
    These days we cannot imagine a family holiday without games. Even Mrs. RockyMountainNavy, who used to be ambivalent towards gaming, is now fully supportive. Sure, the kids got Just Dance 3 for the Wii (good exercise) but the real gaming happens face-to-face. I am happy to say my kids are socially-adept; they can look a person in the eye when they talk. I find that the neighbor kids who score really high on Call to Duty never look at anyone when they talk.

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  23. My daughters gave me this for X-mas and we had a lot of fun playing it. Definitely a great buy for anyone with kids.

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  24. I spent much of today playing wooden trains and building Lego Duplo castles with my 4 year old, but he put the D&D Dragon Collectors Set minis in the castles, so I'm not sure if that makes us weirdos too or if it's ok... :p

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  25. Thanks James. I always find the coolest stuff through your site. These LEGO games look amazing! I can't believe I hadn't heard of them before now.

    Plus, I didn't know what I was going to blog about today. Now you've given me some inspiration :)

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  26. My boys got this for Christmas. Haven't played it. Let them have at it on their own. Seems like it could be fun, and I've played some of the other lego games with them. As for New Years, I'm having a hard time getting my head around how playing a game with family is a waste of time. That's a new one.

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  27. That's sounds like a great way to spend the New Year's holiday. Every good wizard KNOWS you keep your real name secret...

    Oh and "Beyonder", if you couldn't read between the lines, I'm sure the indoctrination comment was a tongue in cheek joke. It made me laugh. Lighten up.

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  28. "Fringe Weirdo"? Where did I say that?

    As to the "lighten up" part, I might well take that advice...

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  29. I know this dad who loves fishing...took his kids on a fishing trip for the holidays...I called child protective services on that psychopath's ass...

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  30. Cultural myopia: still as dumb as it ever was.

    Sounds like a great evening with loved ones to me!

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  31. People have been playing games with loved ones as long as there've bee games and loved ones. We played charades, but your evening sounds wonderful too! Happy New Year and thanks for the cool posts!

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  32. Being both a gamer AND a Lego fanatic (Over the Holiday I made a pilgrimage to the Lego store at The Mall of America) Heroica has been on my radar for a while. Having a small army of minifigs I imagine that mechanically it wouldn't be impossible to 'blow up' Heroica to proper minifig size so that us half-blind old coots could play it ;)

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  33. I'm a bit cynical about this game, only because it seems like they could have made it with normal Lego, but then if they did that people wouldn't have to buy a new thing.

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  34. PS I looked into the idea of using Lego in place of miniatures and terrain, but it turned out that Lego would be more expensive!

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  35. PPS I'm not trying to besmirch your fun time though :)

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  36. Perhaps a better analogy is Heroquest. An introductory adventure game experience that lacks the tactile element of figures and scenery has two strikes against it already. One thing the OSR could provide is a "stepladder" rules set that would introduce things like ability stats, skill checks, and experience into a game that could be played with the Lego figures (trademarks discreetly smokescreened), while keeping things simple.

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  37. UWS guy:
    "I know this dad who loves fishing...took his kids on a fishing trip for the holidays...I called child protective services on that psychopath's ass..."

    He's not playing the fish anymore - the fish are playing him!! :-O

    Roger:
    "An introductory adventure game experience that lacks the tactile element of figures and scenery has two strikes against it already. "

    I had the ironic experience that when I first 'played D&D' with my young son on vacation, it was imagination & description only - "I shoot the duergar with my bow", and it worked fine. But when we got back from vacation and I introduced tactile stuff like minis, he immediately abandoned the roleplaying and plays with the minis just like any other toys, though he still calls it 'playing D&D', and he always makes me play with him, in a subordinate role of course.

    Like me he has a strong need to be in charge - he has a great imagination and could be a great DM one day, if he can avoid railroading. :)

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  38. Hi,

    Let's forget topic wasting time, etc...

    By pure coincidence, I've played with my son (5yr) on the same day like you then we went to some party and we have played the day after two times.

    Summarizing, this game can give kids a lot of fun and inspire them to think about game as kind of fun adventure/story. :-)

    On the other hand from board-game/rpg player game has a lot of drawbacks:
    - in 'close combat' figure special abilities ("rolling shield") really doesn't matter
    - distinction between monster 'levels' rather not matters
    - tactic run-to-finall-boss is rather always winning
    - some corner cases results in free rules interpretation
    - more than 1 box means scanning more than 1 bok/page with descriptions

    All above 'issues' are easily solved by not having advocate-like player - and hopefully my son is not :-)

    Bih advantage - very simple, clear rules, quick play and rules modification out of the box :-)

    What could be improved?
    - print cards for each hero and treasure to have it in one place
    - more diffrenate playing experience for different heroes - give feeling that ranger play differs from mage
    - etc, :-)

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  39. "bat in the attic" linked to this post and i don't believe anyone has mentioned it, but legos also offers a portable carry case for the current four sets that includes a large fold out map surface. it makes this game very portable and more expansive with there being four more sets in the works for the near future. these other sets are referenced on the map. my sons a lego fanatic and loves this game.

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  40. What's the recommended ages?

    The box says "8+," but, honestly, I suspect much younger kids could get a handle on it with ease.

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