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!

Customizing with the Community

My feelings towards Heroica are obviously felt throughout the community, and many individuals have attempted to create custom rules (or house rules) that they use when playing with their friends.  Below, I've linked to some of what I feel are the best attempts around the Internet to remedy the deficiencies in Heroica:

  • The LEGO Heroica Group on Flickr - Some great custom maps.
  • The Heroica Home Rules thread on EuroBrick - great collection of rules, including statistical analysis useful for making maps.
  • Zaratustra's Alternate Rules 2.0 - A great example of integration from other LEGO microfig-based games.
  • The community at Board Game Geeks (scroll down to the "Forum" section) - Fantastic ideas from people who live and breath board games.
  • Jettoki's Heroica House Rules Blog - In particular, I'm partial to his Peddler idea. (Update - It looks like Jettoki's Blog is now closed off.  I'll leave the link here for posterity, but it is no longer accessible)
This is simply a sampling of custom rules, and as I find more rules online, I'll be sure to expand this list.

UPDATE 8/18/2015:  In the three years since I originally wrote this, the online community has exploded with different custom and advanced rules.  Chief among these is probably Heroica RPG, an entire sub-community of EuroBricks dedicated to creating a Heroica-esque RPG.

What to Expect From a Rules Refresh

At the moment, Heroica is a cross between a dungeon crawler and an RPG:  players get to collect items and gold, and use this to help explore the map.  However, the game doesn't have much more than that.  There is no leveling or experience, and the different classes of characters are more-or-less identical.  Enemies are completely static, and the only impact you really can have on your "opponents" is getting to items before they do.  These things are what I'm trying to change.

However, the direction of change is very important.  Some in the community have attempted to take Heroica in a D&D direction, with experience, more complicated class structures, leveling, and basically the whole RPG works.  Other rules try to emphasize Heroica's dungeon-crawling aspects by making the game more of a Diablo-esque hack-n-slash.  Still others try to take advantage of Heroica's LEGO-given customizability, and add map-building rules.  I'm not yet sure which way I want to take my custom rules, because clear benefits (and detriments) can be seen in these approaches.  A Heroica RPG could increase the complexity of the game by a factor of 10 or more, making turns more complicated, and in general prolonging the game.  It could also make players care more about their characters, and would make the play experience more personal.  A Heroica hack-n-slash could keep each and every turn exciting, while at the same time keeping the game short and simple.  It would also narrow the focus of the game, would could narrow its user-base significantly.  And a Heroica build-as-you-go would return Heroica to its LEGO roots, but such high variability could undermine any added game mechanics.

As part of this series I'm going to explore each of these concepts in a vacuum, though my final set of house rules will likely include aspects from each.  At the very least, I know that I want to see the following features:
  • Balance through expanded diversity of the player classes: think Blizzard, but not World of Warcraft.
  • Dynamic monsters: if players can move through the map, why can't the mobs?
  • More diverse monsters: last time I checked, there's a big difference between a bat and a spider.
  • Integration with the other Microfig-based games: can you say ninjas vs. pirates?
  • More items, and more diverse items: weapons are cool, but what about spells!?
  • A more dynamic map: players and mobs should be able to affect not only each other, but the map as well.
  • More dice: adding dice variability would make everything cooler!
  • Better story: the stranded travelers killing the boss monster is so cliche.
  • More strategy: what's the point of playing a game if its almost completely deterministic?
  • More players: games that support at least 6 people are far superior.
As I think of more requirements, I'll update this list.

Heroica: Build-a-Board Game (Part 1)
Heroica: Dungeons, Dragons, and Microfigs (Part 2)
Heroica: Hack-n-Brick (Part 3)
Heroica: Building at House on the Hill (Part 4)


  1. Hi there! I'm really enjoying your in depth look at heroica having picked up the fortaan set recently. At the moment I've only played one quest but am already imagining all the cool things that could be built for it.

    I tried looking at the house rules blog but it says that it's invite only, I was wondering if you could advise how to be invited please?

    Keep up the great work mate, cheers

    1. That's interesting. When I wrote the article, all the content in the House Rules Blog was free and open. I'm not sure how to get access to it now.