While most of the time we cover games for grown ups here on The Little Metal Dog Show, I must admit to keeping an eye out for those aimed at a younger audience. After all, we love to play which means there’s still a kid trapped inside most of us that’s screaming to get out and throw dice all over the place… Unfortunately, a lot of the games available that are aimed at children are really pretty duff, but thankfully the good folks over at LEGO are doing their damnedest to change that by developing their range of own brand games.
They’ve actually been at it for a couple of years now, even getting legendary designer Reiner Knizia on board as a consultant to try and help them make something a little bit different than the usual roll and move extravaganza that most children are used to. Early experiments were… well, a little hit and miss, but LEGO now seem to have found their feet and are focusing on quality releases over quantity. This past January saw them announce the release of four new games for 2012 at the London Toy Fair, and now I’ve had a bit of time to get my hands on them, I’m pleased to say that the company’s definitely heading in the right direction.
Of the four, Kokoriko is the smallest and silliest – that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable though. Essentially a very simple race to collect more eggs than anyone else, it’s accessible in the extreme with even the youngest of players being able to get a handle on it. Rolling a dice gives you a couple of different options: landing on the grey or brown sides allows you to take a chicken of that colour or – if you have one or more of them – they can each lay one of those all important eggs. Rolling blue gives you control of the Rooster which doubles your egg production for as long as you have him, while pink triggers a free for all where players rush to grab a worm token; the winner of that particular little battle then gets an egg for every chicken they have. It’s a lovely little game with plenty of take that – there’s something very satisfying about stealing chickens from an opponent who has built up an early lead – and is a great way to pass the time between heavier games.
Mini-Taurus is the second release and is a sequel of sorts to the earlier LEGO game Minotaurus. Set in an ever-moving labyrinth, between two and four players race against each other in a bid to claim a mythical sword. Again, the action is based around the roll of a dice but this game encourages a sneakier style of play. Yes, you want to work your way through the maze and be victorious, but you’ve also got plenty of opportunities to screw your opposition over by moving walls in order to block them or – if you’re lucky – set the terrifying Minotaur on them. Actually, he’s not that terrifying; he’s only a couple of centimetres high, after all, but again this one’s a nicely put together game that teaches young players the value of not just racing to the end – tripping up everyone else is equally as fun and often more productive.
City Alarm comes next – the classic standoff between cops and robbers made plastic. It’s a pretty simple premise: the bad guys want to escape will all their stolen money, and the police want to stop the lot and throw them in jail. Travelling around a small but busy board, the robber player must visit buildings in the town and take whatever they can get their hands on. If the thieves pick up all ten stacks of cash, they win, but if all four of them are thrown in jail it’s a victory to the lawmen. There are some really nice ideas in City Alarm; your moves are determined by revealing face-down bricks so you can work out what potential pieces are left and develop a strategy dependent on that information, plus there’s also areas on the board that act as train stations – essentially warp points that you can magically move one of your guys to should you pull the right tile. Again, it’s far from the most complex game in the world but it’s really quite entertaining and even older players will enjoy the surprisingly deep gameplay.
Last of all – and the best game of the four, in my opinion – is the fantastic Star Wars: Battle of Hoth. Again, it’s another chapter in war between good and evil, this time with the Rebel Alliance taking on the might of the Empire with some of the most awesome LEGO pieces I’ve ever seen (seriously, the AT-AT is amazing). Controlling a range of vehicles, each of which has a different movement and firing range, it’s simply a matter of wiping out the opponent’s forces. Victory can also be attained by destroying the enemy’s leader, opening up the game’s options yet further. The whole board is modular and as such allows you to move it around, opening up areas that previously couldn’t be reached and hopefully lets you get that opposing Rebel craft – because after all, who wants to be the on the side of the Jedi? One curious thing about Battle of Hoth is that thanks to licensing issues, it’s not getting a release in the United States. However, there are plenty of copies here in Europe… perhaps we should start a service for desperate LEGO Star Wars fans who want copies…
So, those are the four new releases. As always, they encourage experimentation with the included rules – they are LEGO after all, and are completely compatible with all other sets, so you could potentially build an immense area for City Alarm or pimp out your Kokoriko set by creating a spectacular farmyard diorama for your chickens to peck about it. However, even if you just want to stick to the basic games, you’ll discover that they’re all actually pretty solid, offering different gameplay experiences to the norm that will appeal to kids and grown ups. Play time for all the games is between ten and twenty minutes each, so there’s very little chance of the kids getting bored and having their attention drawn away. These are bite-sized chunks of surprisingly fun gaming that are far from disposable, so if you’re looking for something a bit different, why not check them out?
The four new LEGO Games releases will set you back between £8 and £25 and are available in all good toy and game shops as well as LEGO Stores. And seriously, Kokoriko can get shockingly cutthroat. Don’t drink and game.