When you think about it, the idea of a board game using LEGOs makes a lot of sense. There are plenty of other games that involve building or destroying things – Don’t Break the Ice and Jenga being two examples – so it was only a matter of time before LEGO entered the board game market.
LEGO Champion, like most LEGO games, is extremely simple, at least in part because the game is translated into multiple languages. Most of the instructions include visuals, but unlike typical LEGO models the game requires little in the way of design. The playing board is a rectangle made up of black LEGO pieces. The pieces are connected by green LEGO blocks, which also act as spots for each LEGO piece to move.
The game is for three to eight players of age seven and up. The box includes nine LEGO microfigures, ranging from skeletons to pink ladies. One of the microfigures is a bizarre-looking Oscar-like statue that wears the crown on its head. The trophy-guy is goofy to look at but it’s nice to hand someone the trophy when they win. I call him the LOSCAR. In addition to the colorful characters, there’s a pile of blocks that come with the set in blue, green, orange, pink, purple, red, yellow, and white. These colors are important, because they correspond to results on the customizable die.
The customizable die is a staple of LEGO games, which has soft rubber edges and removable face plates for each side of the die. Although you could technically use the six-sided die as is, the fun begins when you attach colors to it. These colors correspond with what happens on your turn. If you roll green you advance to the next green block. If you roll any other color you put that color down on the black track and then take on one of the LEGO challenges.
These challenges are actually mini-games. Three of the challenges are physical: On Target requires the players to play a form of Bocce by tossing bricks at the die, closest wins; Topple the Tower works like Jenga in reverse, with each player adding bricks before the tower falls over; and Speed Builder requires players to build a copy of the first player’s model using one of each color brick.
Two of the mini-games are mental challenges: Code Break requires the other players to guess the color order in which three blocks have been built; Bluffing Bricks requires all players to grab three bricks and then guess how many of one color is held in their collective hands.
Playing these games with my four-year-old was insightful because it shows the variance in each game. LEGO Champion on the one hand is pretty simple – simple enough for younger players. But on the other, it requires manual dexterity and memory skills that little ones might not possess.
For my son, on Target and Topple Tower were easy enough, but he had difficulty with Speed Builder. The mental challenges were fine, but I found the two of them to be too similar. In fact, I was surprised that there was no Pictionary-style game that involved more building. Perhaps this was due to there being another LEGO game just like it, Creationary. If LEGO Champion has a flaw, it’s that it doesn’t really embrace the building aspect of LEGOs. I’m all for memory games, but if I’m playing a game with LEGOs I want to mess with the structure of the game itself – there’s no rules to change the rather boring black track, for example.
There are however ways to change the game by changing the die’s faces. One way to make the game easier for kids is to switch out one of the faces for a bowling challenge which is exactly like it sounds: You set up six blocks and then bowl them over with the die. Not particularly inspired, but certainly kid-friendly. Some suggestions on how to make the game harder or easier for different players would definitely help adults who aren’t sure how to change the difficulty for players of different ages.
On the other hand, it’s evident that LEGO assumes you’ll figure out how to customize the game by yourself – it’s LEGO, after all. Game taking too long? Shorten the track. Want to change the challenges? Switch out the faces on the die. I came to the startling realization that with LEGO Champion I could conceivably create every basic kid’s board game in existence if I put in enough effort. Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land, look out!
But then, I could do that without regular LEGOS too. If you strip away the game structure you have the die and the figures – which I plan to use in my Heroica games. LEGO Champion is simple in its presentation, but with literally endless possibilities, it deserves a rulebook larger than two pages. LEGO veterans will have no difficulty modifying LEGO Champion to suit their tastes, but the rest of us may take a few games to get the hang of it.