This post is part of a series about LEGO Heroica. Part 4 looks at the pros and cons of expanding on the LEGO-given customizability, in maps, scenarios, and characters, of Heroica in the custom rules. At the bottom of this post are links to the other parts.
One of my favorite board games of all time is called Betrayal at House on the Hill. There are three major features of this game that I find absolutely wonderful, and significantly add to its replay value: a completely randomly generated board every game, a different end goal chosen based on the goings on of the players, and a different "bad guy," picked based on players stats, collectables, or position around the table in combination with the end scenario.
All together, these features create a highly variable game that players slowly explore and uncover with different results every time. Given that we are working here with LEGO bricks, it should be no problem for us to replicate these features. However, before we jump in head first, lets talk some pros and cons about each.
Randomly Generated Maps
In Betrayal, players draw from a stack of room tiles as they explore the eponymous house, slowly creating a random map. Certain tiles have restrictions on the ways they can be placed, and this adds another interesting element to the creation of the gameplay "world".
From a gameplay perspective, I think this is a great thing. There are, of course, some balancing issues that can arise with this (e.g., making the game too hard or easy on the players), but the added variability is so high, it's hard to go back to games (especially dungeon crawlers) with boring static maps. However, the challenge here isn't the gameplay issues: it's building the game.
In Heroica, if we were to duplicate this, we probably wouldn't have each tile or space be a new, randomly drawn space, because that could too artificially constrain the awesome builds that we could get. However, each local area could be "drawn" in such a way. Though, in order to prevent the game from simply being a rehash or reorganizing of old maps, you're going to need a lot of different areas. And if each area is sized somewhere around Draida Bay, you're already going to need a lot of different areas simply to create an epic game board. Depending on exactly what size of map and the repeatability you're going for, it's possible that you might need three or four dozen areas.
One benefit of LEGO is that, as soon as you are done playing a game, you can quickly re-design each area. This would limit the number of regions you would need to keep the game from being completely repetitive, but it wouldn't ameliorate everything.
A last benefit of the random maps, though somewhat secondary, is to randomly give your players a world size. This can be done by, for example, having different large world regions (e.g., forest, catacombs, castle) that start and end with specific pieces. Then, characters may find the end of the forest quickly, or it may take them a lot of trekking through the underbrush.
A large part of the replayability of Betrayal stems from its variable scenarios. Only once a certain number of cards have been drawn, and you get the right dice roll, do you reveal the Haunt: your specific end goal to defeat the baddy and escape the house of terror you find yourself in.
In Heroica, we could do something similar. For example, once everyone completes a region, a MacGuffin character shows up and informs you about some horrible goings-on in the kingdom (randomly chosen by, e.g. dice rolling), and how only you and your group can set it right. This may not be the easiest thing to setup, unless you have a pre-set end area, and then are able to configure different playing pieces on that end area.
For example, if you have three regions (forest, catacombs, and castle), you could, in two parts, learn the whole of the quest, which then activates a specific scenario and condition for the castle region. You then configure the castle region according to the scenario. But these scenarios don't have to just be about playing pieces, which brings us to...
For most Haunts, one of the players is revealed to be responsible for the strange and terrible happenings of the house. Suddenly, instead of being an all-against-the-house game, it becomes one player versus all the rest. The new villain varies depending on the specific haunt selected and the circumstances that selected it.
In our version of Heroica, we could have this kind of reveal. In the beginning, the group appears to be acting together, but after a while, a traitor is revealed. For example, if the end scenario is revealed to be that a Dark Sorcerer has put the King under a spell, one of the heroes could be the Dark Sorcerer, and the mission becomes trying to kill that player.
Personally, I'm not super fond of this idea. I want Heroica to be more of an RPG, and forcing a player to being a bad-guy part of the way through, after they've already developed their character, isn't going to help that. However, we could do the "reveal" in the beginning of the game. For example, one player could secretly learn they are the evil character who is causing all the problems, and a different player could learn they are the secret heir who will set everything straight.
In a Heroica RPG, we want to include features like exploration, quests, and surprise reveals. But we don't want these things to interfere with the ability for the players to create and embody the characters that they are playing. Not only do these features add complexity (for better or worse), but they risk trampling significantly on the creativity of the players. I want to include variations on most of these features in the game, but they will have to be added with care.
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)