Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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Editor's Voice - Lego Heroica

19 December 2011

Today, I’m going to do something a little bit different. I’m going to practice my editor’s voice.

I had the opportunity this weekend to play the new Lego Heroica with my nephew, Cutler. My parents had bought him two of the sets, and as the resident RPGer in my family, I was asked to teach him the rules. If you want some background, Randall Walker, deadorcs on Twitter), has an excellent post up here that will give some background.

I was surprised at the quality, honestly. The booklets included were very nice, and the rules were presented pretty well overall. However, there were a couple of issues that I thought I’d take a minute to point out. I’ll wrap up with some positive remarks at the end, as it was a good deal of fun.

On Rules and Design

If you’re going to go to the trouble to write rules for an RPG, then you need to keep one of two approaches in mind. The first we’ll call comprehensive, and the second we’ll call arbitration. I’m just using these terms so we’ll have something to call them. Don’t get too hung up on them.

With comprehensive rules, the designer makes an effort to handle every conceivable thing that could occur during the game. This approach helps give a consistent play experience from one group to the next.

With arbitration rules, some of the things that might come up in game are left to the discretion of one or more of the players. I’m including systems that have rough guidelines that cover all types of situations without being exhaustive in this category of design. This approach gives freedom and flexibility for the players to shape the game somewhat.

The designers of Lego: Heroica appear to desire a path down the middle of these two approaches. The rules are written as if they cover everything comprehensively, but within 15 minutes of playing the first time, Cutler and I discovered that the rules for movement left some noticeable gaps when two players happen to be next to each other with either a monster or a barrier (rocks in the case of the Caverns of Nathuz set). It’s easy to make up some rules on the fly, but that pushes us into the realm of arbitration rules. That’s fine too, but some blurb in the rules that this is intended / expected should be there.

The plot thickens when you get to the end of the rulebook and realize that they encourage the building of your own missions. Of course, Cutler and I did this (also combining his two sets into a larger map for added fun). This also created more interesting things not covered by the rules. What if a monster is right behind the rocks? What if I lock a player between two magic walls? The number of things not covered in the rules started to spiral.

Ok, back up a bit here. This is a game for young children (ages 8+). Why the vitriol? This is a good way to introduce younger players to the concepts of RPGs. As a dad whose daughter is showing geeky tendencies already at 3, I want something well polished. This might be her first exposure to RPGs. If so, I want that bar set high.

Also, why should the quality suffer just because it’s marketed to a younger audience? It can be simpler without sacrificing quality. You won’t convince me otherwise.

Side note: Lego should definitely be marketing this to geeky parents in addition to the kids. I think we should see advertising targeting the adults specifically. It’s a missed opportunity for the Lego Group, who should know better by now.

Ding Ding!

Now that I’ve beat up on the game, let me hand out some praise for it. Cutler had a blast, as did I. By the end of it, he was asking if we could swap the monsters and the heroes and play that way (reskinning anyone?). I’ve already said the books looked very nicely done. The rules were concise, and graphics were used along with words to convey information. The pieces were the high quality we’ve come to expect from Lego. The die was beautifully done and served triple duty as a movement die, attack die, and healing die.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, I was pretty pleased with the product. I’m seriously considering picking a few up and putting them away for when Gracie gets older (who am I kidding, I’d play it now without her). If I’d had the time and inclination, I might have started adding rules the night I played with Cutler. I might still do that and post my thoughts here.

Anyone else played it? What was your impressions of it?


ayvalentine said:

Although I haven’t played Heroica yet (the kids are getting several sets for Christmas - I love that they can be combined) the other Lego games we have are pretty open about not including all the rules and also encouraging you to make up your own rules in addition to or in place of any of the rules they do provide. While on some level this is annoying since issues with rules are inevitable, this explicit permission to make the game your own has given our budding game designers some interesting ideas.

TriskalJM said:

I fully support the permission to make the game your own. I think that’s a strength of it. It was hard for me not to start thinking about how to hack it. I think that would have overwhelmed my nephew. I’m definitely keeping it in mind for when my daughter gets older.

Shimrath said:

I have played the main set quite a bit with my goddaughter. It didn’t take her long to start suggesting alternate rules: Eat the turkey leg to regain health. First player to lose combat against a goblin gets sent to the dungeon, awaiting rescue by the other players. Monster player can send goblins that display poor tactics to the classroom desk to study. Monsters do an extra point of damage each time they hit.

As for the rules being vague, i kind of like that. A young person’s first rpg-like experience should encourage alterations to the game for the sake of fun. I think that’s a great quality to instill right from the get-go.


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