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Plugged In

Lego’s heroic next step: Build your own board game

Plugged In

Not content with covering the floor in sharp, tiny bricks, filling your game console with hit releases, and expanding the imaginations of high-school students with its Mindstorms robotics sets, Lego has its blocky eyes on another conquest.

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Lego Heroica

Family game night.

Debuting in August, Lego's new 'Heroica' line of board games are targeted, laser-like, at families where Dad grew up building with Lego in between playing fantasy-themed board games like Hero Quest, or even fully-fledged role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.

Combining nearly all the trappings of the fantasy genre (hit points, varied character classes, potions, treasure, and, naturally, evil goblins) with the plug and play fun of Lego, the new series could be a serious holiday hit.

But upon cracking open a Heroica box, your first task isn't to study the rules and pick your characters. It's to build the board from a stack of a few hundred standard Lego blocks, constructing a series of sub-boards that themselves can be hooked together in a tremendous number of different combinations. Even the little racks that hold your hero's health tokens and his gold need to be built before you can start rolling dice.

Tedious? Not if you like Lego. The main advantage to this process isn't that you can break down the boards and use them to build any model you like (although, of course, you can), it's that you can customize and develop your own Heroica world using any other Lego bricks you want. Do you want to make the end boss a pirate skeleton, or a spaceman, or a zombie? Go right ahead.

This relaxed, customization-friendly approach isn't just skin-deep. Heroica's rules are simple -- too simple for players older than about eight or nine. That's where the imagination gets going.

What about if, when you roll a shield on the dice, you can teleport somewhere else on the board? Maybe the game lacks challenge, and you want to add tougher enemies, traps, or puzzles? Perhaps you want to make it a friendly cooperative game, or appeal to your family's competitive side by giving one player control of the monsters? Chances are your second and third Heroica games may not bear too much resemblance to your first.

It's a hit with the board game hardcore, too. Over at Board Game Geek, a site that's usually associated with serious strategic gaming rather than kid-friendly fare like Heroica, it's rating a creditable 6.6/10, and picking up some glowing reviews.

One of them is from K. David Ladage, who found it wasn't long before his family started extending and adapting the game's rules.

"It was right after the first game that my 6-year old ran into his room and made several more colors of potion stating that we needed more, and some that did new things," he writes.

"Fortunately, the structure of the game is such that it is practically begging you to write house rules...our next two games were in dungeon scenarios that we designed ourselves."

Heroica's current range spans four games, priced between $15 and $30. Each can be played on its own, but the real fun starts when you begin combining the sets, making expansive, monster-packed mazes that sometimes threaten to sprawl their way off the sides of the table. Start with the larger sets, like flagship four-player offering Fortaan, which are better value. Smallest sibling Draida Bay, at around $15, is a bit too limited to be much fun on its own.

With that in mind, it's hard to go wrong with Lego's latest. If your board game nights are in need of a bit more creativity -- and especially if you already have a few Lego sets' worth of blocks to cannibalize -- this hero's got what it takes.

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