BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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Roundup: LEGO Board Games

In which I trawl the internet for everything I can find relating to the forthcoming collection of LEGO board games, due out in August 2009.

When LEGO introduced to the waiting world their new line of ‘buildable’ board games (and the signature bouncing die) at the London and Nuremberg toy fairs there was a flurry of reporting on the gaming newswires. However, the Danes have been rather light-lipped about the whole affair which has meant that much of that reporting has been either incomplete or contradictory. I can’t say for sure that I’ll be any more successful, but hopefully I can do the gaming world a service by at least collecting all the speculation in one place!

Something we do know for certain is that the games will be released in the UK and Europe in August 2009; there seems to be no word of when or if a wider international release is planned (sorry about that North America/rest of the world).

I had seen quite a few photos of the flagship game Ramses Pyramid, which piqued the gamerati’s interest by featuring Reiner Knizia’s name on the cover, but precious little about the other games in the collection. Indeed, how many other games were in the collection? (Some reported 6, some 8; it turns out there’s actually 10!) What were they called? What were they about? What did they look like?

Since the news originally broke there has been scant follow-up so I decided to go hunting on the internet for all the information I could find.

First of all, here are all the games in the collection, together with their sequential LEGO part numbers, and including the number of players supported by each and an indicative game length. The only official-looking pricing I can find is in Euros:

  • Robo Champ (3835) / 2–3 players / 10–15 min. / €9.99
  • Magikus (3836) / 2–4 players / 10–15 min. / €9.99
  • Monsters 4 (3837) / 2–4 players / 10–20 min. €12.99
  • Lava Dragon (3838) / 2–4 players / 15–25 min. / €12.99
  • Race 3000 (3839) / 2–4 players / 20–30 min. / €19.99
  • Pirate Code (3840) / 2–4 players / 20–30 min. / €19.99
  • Minotaurus (3841) / 2–4 players / 20–30 min. / €24.99
  • Lunar Command (3842) / 2 players / 15–25 min. / €24.99
  • Ramses Pyramid (3843) / 2–4 players / 20–40 min. / €29.99
  • Creationary (3844) / 3+ players / 30–60 min. / €34.99

The amount and quality of additional information and images available for each title varies enormously. However two German online retailers (Kidoh and Buecher) both have (incomplete) listings of the games and feature some official box artwork.

Elsewhere on the web I tracked down some ‘spy shot’ photos of a few game boxes, which gives us our first glimpse of Minotaurus and makes it possible to see some more details of Pirate Code, Lunar Command and Creationary.

Official written information about the games is not easy to find. LEGO put out a press release during the Nuremberg toy fair (read it in German or Googlized English) which introduces the tagline of ‘Build – Play – Change’ and makes a point of highlighting Reiner Knizia’s involvement in the development process.

I think it’s clear from the information that is available that the only game that will have Knizia’s name on the box is Ramses Pyramid (elsewhere it has been reported that he designed all the games) but who knows? Perhaps the master’s hand has indeed been more extensively at work behind the scenes (making him a sort of éminence grise of the gaming world!). If LEGO had set out to choose one man to mastermind their expedition into board gaming who better than the Good Doctor?

All the remaining images I’ve found appear to be photos taken at the toy fairs (most likely in Nuremberg) and are of varying size and quality. However each additional detail offers up new clues to the gameplay of each title, and adds to the picture of the collection as a whole. The one game that remains the most mysterious (with no artwork or photos of the box or board) is Lava Dragon.

So, putting it all together, what can we know (or guess) about the gameplay? Let’s start by observing that the games appear to break down into three groups:

  • Creationary seems to stand apart: it is the most expensive (I assume simply because it has the most bricks in it!), comes in the biggest box (for the same reason) and is not played on a board of any sort.
  • Minotaurus, Lunar Command and Ramses Pyramid are the next-most expensive, all come in a big square box, and are all played on a board built on a standard ‘32×32 stud’ LEGO baseplate. These games all look as if they offer the greatest complexity (and the best chance for genuinely strategic gameplay) and are aimed at a slightly older age group (including grown-ups!).
  • The remaining six games (and the six cheapest) are Robo Champ, Magikus, Monsters 4, Lava Dragon, Race 3000 and Pirate Code. These all appear to be played on smaller, possibly modular boards (rather than a single square baseplate), have a lower average game length, and and are all presented in a smaller box.

All the games accommodate 2–4 players, except for Creationary (3+, and given its nature, possibly supporting team play too), Robo Champ (curiously listed as 2–3 players only) and Lunar Command (the only 2-player game in the collection).

  • Creationary’s gameplay (as suggested by the name) appears to be share some DNA with ‘Pictionary’. It looks as though players must create small models of different things (or people, places, etc.) and the other players must guess what those things are. The best model builders and best guessers will, one supposes, gain the most points.
  • Minotaurus looks like a fairly standard roll-and-move race within a maze, with the winner being the first player to get all his men safely from his home corner to the centre of the maze. We can guess that the minotaur menaces the players (capturing them and returning them home to start again) and is either moved automatically (based on a die roll) or by the players themselves. The brick-based twist is that some of the walls are clearly moveable, creating obstacles for the players’ men and the minotaur.
  • Lunar Command looks perhaps the most interesting game to me. It appears to be a head-to-head battle for 2 players, each racing to get their men to the rocket before it leaves. I’m guessing wildly here, but two sides of the board have tracks that converge on a rocket in one corner, with the rest of the board apparently representing the layout of a moonbase. And perhaps there are objects to collect and alien UFOs to avoid? Anyway, it looks like a lot of fun!
  • Ramses Pyramid looks like another race game — grab the little multi-coloured crystals! climb the pyramid! avoid the mummies! — and one can speculate on all sorts of possible gameplay mechanisms. The reason to be interested? Dr Knizia, of course, whose name on the box means that we can be confident that whatever the game is, it’s not just another race game!
  • Magikus (with its Harry Potter-inspired typography!) looks like a simple set-collecting game. If the players are indeed wizards, then it looks as though they are all trying to collect the correct potion ingredients from the multi-coloured shelves. Roll a (coloured) die, grab an ingredient, luckiest player wins? There’s probably more to it than that, but probably not much more.
  • Race 3000 is (obviously!) a race game, with player speeding their mini LEGO cars along the twisty-turny racetrack, possibly using the shortcuts to get ahead. Of all the games this looks like the one that can most easily be customized simply by adding a few more bricks and extending the racetrack. First car past the chequered LEGO flag wins!
  • Pirate Code looks like a sort of multi-player ‘Mastermind’, with each player concealing a ‘code’ of coloured ‘treasure’ in their own treasure chest. I’m not sure exactly how that’s likely to work, but perhaps the game is a ‘last man standing’ battle of logic and deduction… or something.
  • Robo Champ, Monsters 4 and Lava Dragon are complete unknowns in terms of gameplay, so your guess is going to be as good as mine!

So, it seems there is much to enjoy about the whole enterprise, but for me the central conceit of that buildable, bouncing die is the most delightful. Apart from being a great brand image, instantly communicating the entire concept to anyone who has ever seen a LEGO set, it’s also a brilliantly simple, simply brilliant idea.

As some of the images in the gallery above demonstrate the player (and game designer!) can make the die into a perfectly regular one if they want, but the possibilities are endless. By swapping in different faces you can ‘load’ the die to create a range of different probabilities, or introduce coloured faces (in whole or part) or special faces with icons to make the die a trigger for all sorts of gameplay.

As McCoy might have put it: It’s ‘roll and move’ Jim, but not as we know it!

Brett, I spoke with a LEGO rep in the U.S. early in 2009, and she indicated that the company had no plans to release the games in North America. Europe is the test market (or perhaps the only market), so it's no surprise that all the prices are in Euros.

not sure about lava dragon or monster 4, but i think robo champ is a building game based on what colour or limb you roll on the dice. probably (as with most of them) more to it than that, possibly stealing other players parts, etc.

but all the games look great, especially the Ramses Pyramid.

When is lava dragon in stores!oh!How big are the lego figures on lava dragon

I've seen the lava dragon game, and it looks very similar to the pyramid, albeit on a smaller scale, with players racing to the top of a mountain with the dragon placed on top. It looks fairly small, and simpler game to play. Can't wait for the "creationary" and "rameses pyramid"!

We now have pictures of all the sets at http://www.brickset.com/browse/themes/?theme=Games

Anonymous said...

June 19, 2009 5:40 pm

Lego Club Magazine did articles explaining the rules of Rameses Pyramid and Lava Dragon in Germany. I think there are translations on BZPower.

Anonymous said...

June 19, 2009 5:41 pm

Oops yeah - they're here: http://www.bzpower.com/story.php?ID=4209

we had the chance to be one of the 'marketing-testers' here prior to the launch, we as family tested 'Creationary' and it is real fun. Friends own the Minotaur and offered we could have a look at it too.
For German readers: http://ratgeber.shopping4everybody.de/post/2009/07/18/Neu-von-Lego-Gesellschaftsspiele.aspx

Great idea this whole Lego as a Board Game Thingy!! A bit strange only that they did not come up with something like this much earlier... ;)

Anonymous said...

October 17, 2009 4:44 pm

were did lego get its idea from for rameses pyramid ?

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