Monday, January 30, 2012

Heroica: Build-a-Board Game (Part 1)

This post is part of a series about LEGO Heroica. Part 1 explores the existing state of Heroica Customization, and lays out a couple philosophies for custom rules series. At the bottom of this post are links to the other parts.

One of the coolest things to come of the LEGO Group in a long time is the Heroica series of customizable board games.  For those not in the know, Heroica is basically a turn-based dungeon crawler that pits 2-4 friends against each other to be the first to defeat the Goblin King and save the day.  Right now, there are four "maps" available, and they can be combined (or customized) to create a personalized adventure.

But lets be honest:  the game play of Heroica just plain sucks.  For a parent playing with a small child, they work very well because of their simplicity and highly deterministic nature, but for an AFOL, or even just a normal college-aged individual who wants to play with his friends, the rules are quickly mastered, and leave you wanting more.  This is where I (and this blog post) come in!

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Scales of LEGO

One of the biggest challenges in the LEGO community is agreeing on a scale for MOCs.  In the simplest case, the squat proportions of the minifigure make determining a scale for roads and cars incredibly difficult.  In the extreme case, the supremely high variability in various "micro" scales makes comparing models almost impossible.

In order to remedy this problem, there have been a few efforts to create standardized scales in various class-sizes.  The most important size classes are Minifig Scale, City Scale, and Micro Scale.

Minifig Scale

The most basic Minifig Scale is centered around the height of the Minifigure.  A common standard in many toy systems is that a figure is 6' tall.  This would make the Minifig scale 1:44.  However, the minifigure is very squatly, and at 1:44, the minifigure would be almost two and a half feet wide.  I prefer a scale of 1:36.5, which makes the minifigure 5' tall, and although that's somewhat short, I find it a nice balance between height and width (only (!) 1.9 feet), and also provides the advantage of each plate being 5" thick in-scale.

Another common Minifig Scale relies on the LEGO train system, also known as L-gauge.  Nominally, L-gauge is 1:38 based on track width, which would make a minifigure approximately 5'2" tall.  I like this scale, but it still suffers the same problem of having the minifigures be too fat. In particular, this poses a problem for seating minifigs side by side, either in a train car, or in a road car.  In real life, where you can fit four people and an aisle across a train car, in L-gauge, you are lucky to get two minifigs and an aisle due to the broad hip and shoulder width, relative to height, of the minifig.  If we use width as the basis for scaling, we'd find that a normal person should fit into a seat that is 17" wide.  This means that a minifig would be no wider than 17" at the hips, which corresponds to a scale of 1:27, which would mean a minifig would stand no more than 3'8" tall.

In particular, this width issue causes numerous problems for road cars.  To fit two minifigures side-by-side in a car, the car can't be narrower than 7 studs.  At 1:44, this would make the cars 8' wide.  To get a "normal" 6' wide car, you have to fall down to a scale of 1:32.5, or a minifigure that is 4'6" tall (and still incredibly fat!).

Obviously, the perfect solution for all this is for the minifigs to go on a diet! But barring that, the best solution to a definitive Minifig Scale is to play it by ear, and go with what looks best.  This is a creative hobby, you know!

City Scale

The most popular city scale, and one of the first community efforts to create a standardized scale, is the Micropolis scale.  The Micropolis scale is approximately 1:285, and corresponds to 7.5' between orthogonal studs.  The beauty of the Micropolis system is that, apart from its unifying scale, it also provides standard dimensions for roads, city blocks, and cars.  I personally love the Micropolis scale, and I find it a great scale to build anything in, from ancient Egyptian temples to space-age ships and buildings.  However, there is a glaring problem with the Micropolis scale.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Neo-Explorien MOCs

During the mid 90's during the heart of my youth LEGO experience, the Exploriens theme was introduced, and I fell in love.  Since then, Exploriens have been my favorite theme--bar none.  Once I rediscovered my enthusiasm for LEGO and joined the AFOL community, one of the first things I began looking for was neo-Explorien MOCs.  Sadly, there were few to be found.  I knew what I had to do.

At first, I tried to pull out and rebuild most of my Explorien sets, but I quickly realized that was futile.  Instead, I turned to my good friend Google, and discovered a post by a user RedBoost on the Aussie Fans of LEGO site.  RedBoost has been collecting the space sub-themes, and (s)he has great pictures of the sets.  Of interest in this case is the picture of the Explorien sets.

Beautiful, aren't they?

Given that my interest is creating neo-Explorien MOCs, I obviously need to understand the stylistic definition of the Explorien sets.  To that end, I've broken down the collection on various points of style:

The first, and probably most important, thing to notice is the color scheme. Explorien sets predominantly use white, with black here-and-there as accents. Notice that black almost always shows up on the extremities of the models as wheels, guns, claws, or similar features. The white and black scheme is accompanied by two transparent colors: trans-neon green and trans-dark blue. The trans-dark blue is almost exclusively used as windows/windscreens, but occasionally makes an appearance in weaponry (I'm ignoring the red/blue decoding apparatuses). Trans-neon green is used throughout the models as an accent color for antennas and weapons, but importantly, all engines/thrusters are shown in trans-neon green.

Stylistically, Exploriens have a forward-set cockpit. With two exceptions, the pilot sits at or in front of the center of the model, and in most models, the pilot sits at or very close to the front. Most models also have a wide front in the form of a front wing-like structure, similar to a Galor-class cruisers in Star Trek. It's not quite as forward as the Galor's wing, but it's a fairly prominent feature (primarily due to the use of this piece).

Another defining feature (in my mind) is the narrow abdomen of the Explorien Starship (middle left). In a number of other sets, though not nearly as pronounced, the spine of the vehicle is narrow, and only the wings/wheels "widen" it. (For contrast, look at the Space Police II sets in Redboost's post above.)

Other than components of the spine, the Explorien vehicles predominantly have dual symmetry, but that is not much of a defining restriction apart from wings. I do not believe an Explorien ship would have a central rear stabilizer, but would instead have them in increments of two.

Lastly, the rear of Explorien vehicles widens drastically with wings/wheels. The end does not taper down to a single engine, but rather its width allows for multiple engines across the rear. This feature is visible on most of the vehicles above.

There is one stylistic feature prominent in Explorien ships that I hope to avoid while maintaining the appropriate look. Most Explorien vessels are rather spindly, with significant gaps and breaks in their constructions. Instead, in my MOCs, I will try to copy the more robust appearance of the Space Police I and II sets.

Something to note is that most ships have asymmetric weaponry, but the high variability in their armaments makes this point something that I will probably ignore, though my own creative process will probably yield something similar.