about a game..., Board Gaming, Family Gaming, Guest Posters

Worldbuilding takes a new turn

Editor’s Note: Today’s installment is brought to you by Pretty Sneaky, Sis field correspondent Chris Hodges. Welcome to the team, Chris!

“For variety of mere nothings gives more pleasure than uniformity of something.”  – Jean Paul Richter

Heroica: Desert of Despair

As a gamer and a parent, let me tell you that family games are tough. You always have access to those musty standbys

(Uno, SORRY, etc.) They vary wildly in inclusiveness, replay value, pace and strategic options. Not to bash them (I still think Monopoly is a solid enough game, in its way) but they indisputably lack a sheen and freshness, and I think that without that, analog gaming tends to pale in comparison to the digital alternatives available to families.

That’s one reason why I was heartened when Lego started releasing board games a few years back; there is a modern sensibility to them; a shininess that might make them seem relevant to my offspring. The other reason is that my son (Holden) is a Lego fanatic, so I knew they’d be an easy sell.

The games run the gamut from relatively simple roll and move games (on the low end of the line’s price range) to more complex strategy games (the Harry Potter Lego game is a fantastic game that could stand an article all of its own). The simpler games are fantastic for ease of play (it’s a rarity to have a game I can play with my 9 year old son and my 5 year old daughter and have them both be able to enjoy it and compete on a more or less even playing field) whereas the more complex games are a wonderfully insidious way to nurture my firstborn’s nascent gaming instincts.

So, you must imagine my excitement when I noticed their Heroica games. As a recovered roleplayer who had cut his teeth on D&D at a tender age, I was immediately smitten with a fantasy-themed adventure game using the trappings of Lego’s games. If you’re fortunate enough to remember Milton Bradley‘s HeroQuest board games, Heroica might be best described as, bearing a slight digression in complexity, ‘HeroQuest Lite’.

I really hope there is a skull shaped lair here, even if it has to be made of Legos.

The game is competitive, rather than collaborative; elegantly eliminating the need for a GM of any sort, while still retaining the core elements of a traditional “dungeon crawl” scenario. The game line is comprised of a number of distinct game sets, all of which can stand alone or be combined/revised to expand the game (in keeping with what it owes to its precursors, it offers rules for some continuity and [limited] character-customization between games). Each adventure is set in one of the various areas of the Heroica world (there’s even a big map. I love that shit.) and has its own options for what sort of hero to play (Knight, Wizard, Druid [hell yes, you read that right], Thief, etc) as well as different kinds of monsters and special items.

Each of the types of heroes has a either a unique melee or ranged ability (The Wizard has a ranged attack, whereas the Thief’s melee ability generates 1 gold [useful for either purchasing equipment between games or just for bragging rights] when defeating a monster.) Your heroes can also collect secondary weapons (there is a wand, for example, that essentially grants the wizard’s ranged attack, but with a smaller range), potions, magic items and torches.

The only thing missing is Link and the Master Sword.

So, there’s really a good bit of complexity to the game, but most of it’s intuitive enough that it doesn’t prevent the gameplay from being fairly fast-paced (the games usually run, not including some time for setup, 10-20 minutes at most).

Though my son and I usually favor custom-built courses (packed full of extra monsters and treasure, obviously) we elected to play the original scenario for the “Nathuz” set for our exhibition game. For “Nathuz”, your stalwart band is out to wrest control of the Scepter of Summoning from the Golem Lord of Nathuz (i.e. it’s a race to kill him and take his stuff. don’t underestimate the importance of setting such an example to children at a young age). To accomplish this perilous task you can choose to play as the Wizard, the Barbarian or the Thief.

Holden decided the Wizard (ranged: destroy a monster up to 4 squares away) was the best-suited hero to take on the numberless horde of golems (as well as the vicious bats that plague the area). I opted for the Barbarian (melee: defeat all adjacent enemies) because… well, sometimes you just have to play a barbarian.

Round One….FIGHT!

With our respective champions selected, we dove in. Holden came out swinging and took out a bat near the entrance, though it bloodied him (1 dmg, 3 hp remaining) in the process. I took a more cautious approach and stopped to pick up a torch (+1 movement, baby!). Soon, however, we found ourselves beset with foes made of sterner stuff. Well, really more Legos, but you get the point.

I encountered a golem and dispatched it, taking 2 dmg in the process (golems are stronger than bats, 2 hp remaining) and losing my torch. Holden, upon sighting the first golem to get in his way, killed it to claim some nearby gold though he also took 2 damage (only 1 hp remaining!) from the endeavor.

Thus bloodied, we achieved the inner sanctum of the Golem Lord at roughly the same time, with the Wizard a few steps ahead. Holden immediately charged  (who’s playing the barbarian here?) but the Golem Lord batted him aside as easily as he might a fly, taking the Wizard down to zero HP and into unconciousness (don’t despair- the game has a generous regeneration clause built-in for downed characters, allowing you to stay in the game in exchange for giving up a turn or two). Seeing my chance, the Barbarian strode forward to confront our puissant foe and (with the help of some lucky rolls) managed to vanquish him and claim the Scepter of Summoning.

In the end, it was the Barbarian, not the Wizard who defeated the Golem. Paper beats rock my ass.

In conclusion, the game is perhaps the ultimate “gateway” “gateway-game” a fantasy roleplayer could hope for. It has excellent replay value (between the hero options and near-limitless customization inherent with the form) and doesn’t eat up a ton of time while still being satisfying.

The Heroica series as of this point has six different settings (as well as a set of promotional cards) all of which can be played as stand alone or combined with each other for complete customization. Nothing less than what you would expect from a game based on Legos.

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