One of the neater gifts we received this past Christmas came from grandpa Wendell and grandma Judy. Vivian is now old enough to appreciate Lego and, more importantly, Nora is old enough not to take the Lego pieces for candy and make necessary a visit to the emergency room. And with Daddy never quite outgrowing his affection for the modular bricks (because, really, what self-respecting geek would?), parents and grandparents alike have been more than happy to ply the little tykes with the stuff.
An off-hand joke on the comedy series Community asked, “when did Lego get so complicated?” It used to be just about the bricks. Then the bricks became buildings and the buildings became trains. Suddenly there was Death Star Lego, and Harry Potter Lego. Lord of the Rings Lego is set to debut this summer. The gifted set from Wendell and Judy, labelled the Harry Potter Hogwarts LEGO game is yet another step up in complexity. Not only do you have a game to play, you actually have to put the game board together.
Which, if you are a Lego fan, is a heck of a lot of fun.
The set comes with instructions to build a game-board version of Hogwarts castle, the school of wizardry and witchcraft which is the centrepiece of J.K. Rowling’s literary empire. The design mimics Hogwarts admirably, while functioning quite well as a game board. One addition I made after the fact, however, was the use of a large baseplate (which the board was perfectly sized for). Without it, the game was less than stable on the carpet, and tended to crack.
The game itself admirably and ingeniously reflected the spirit of Harry Potter, in my opinion. It’s a simple premise: there are four classrooms at the centre of the classroom, each accessed by “staircases” that ring the sides of the game board. Your goal is, moving one square at a time, enter each of the four classrooms to collect four tokens (divination glasses, scrolls, magical creatures (spiders or frogs), and potions) and then return to your assigned commonroom (there are four pieces in the game, representing the four houses of Hogwarts — Gryffindor is red, Slytherin is green, Ravenclaw is blue and Hufflepuff is yellow). The player that gets all four pieces and makes it back first is the winner.
Complicating the process is that squares in the game — like the stairwells at Hogwarts — move. By rolling a dice (which you make yourself out of Lego), you have a 50-50 chance of getting to remove an empty staircase, and then sliding the pieces this way and that 1, 2 or 3 times. You also have a chance to roll to rotate a square, to make your task of entering the classrooms easier for you, or more difficult for your opponents. A helpful Marauders Map square on the dice allows you to access a “secret passage” that allows you to move into an adjacent square on the game board, whether the two squares are officially connected or not.
Vivian, Erin and I have played this game a few times, and have found it to be quite fun. The three of us are pretty evenly matched, too. Gameplay typically takes around 20 minutes, which is just enough time to be enjoyable without being overlong.
Even better, with this gameboard being made of Lego, possibilities abound for you to customize the game as you like, and the manufacturers explicitly encourage this. There are alternate pieces — a Dumbledore figure which, the rules state, can be added to the game to move one square at a time with a certain roll of the die. If you land on his square, he can point you to a secret passage that can lead you to an adjacent square that might not otherwise have been available to you. If you want to make the game more complicated, the cat Mrs. Norris can be brought into play, blocking access to a square. Players who land on the same square can have a wizarding duel for the right to stay on that square, but we haven’t tried that sanctioned rule adjustment yet.
The game set also comes with Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy figures, but with no instructions on how you can incorporate them into the game. That, the instructions say, is entirely up to you.
The Harry Potter Hogwarts Lego game set is good enough to make me a fan of the concept of Lego game boards. A lot of thought has been put into the design and playability of the game itself, and that bodes well for other games in the series.
And, of course, if a particular game doesn’t prove to be fun, you can always cannibalize your pieces for your own Lego Death Star.