I recently purchased the smaller of the Heroica sets, Draida Bay. Whilst I do enjoy collecting LEGO (Star Wars specifically), the reason I purchased this set was to introduce Ali, my daughter, to games. That is, actual board games, with rules and dice! (and not just snakes and ladders)
The Heroica game is simple enough - roll a special LEGO die, move your micro-fig that many squares, and if you land adjacent to a monster, you roll again. The die's sides show numbers (in pips) and either a sword, skull, or both. These refer to you defeating the monster, or taking damage yourself. Being a kids game, there is no chance of losing - should you run out of hit points, you simply miss a few rounds, whilst rolling the die and regaining hit points until you reach the maximum amount, and continue your quest.
The monsters (goblins, in this set) do not move or act aside from the result of the hero's roll; they simply stand and wait to be confronted. This means the game is played cooperatively against the static environment. You could play to race to the end, but so far in our gaming, my daughter seems to be just happy to defeat the goblin general.
Playing the Game
Our first play-through naturally involved building the map itself, and this was something Ali most definitely enjoyed. Being only three, the instructions were a bit beyond her (not surprisingly, since it is recommended for ages 7+), but with my guidance and help, she managed to get most of the game set up. She has her own blocks (Duplo, Mega Blocks, and Kid K'NEX), and is always eager to play with, or help build, other more advanced sets, so this was not her time with regular LEGO blocks.
Understanding the rules was a little more of a hindrance. Being young, she was thrilled with rolling the die (which, with its rubber frame, bounces away all too easily!); even using the recommended lid as a rolling tray didn't stop the die escaping from the table on numerous occasions. Counting the pips was easy enough, though Ali often struggled with translating the count to the squares moved. More often than not, her piece was simply moved to a random square.
The "capture" of the goblin microfigs became a fun experience, and they quickly lost any fearful attitude they might have had, and were refined to another treasure to be collected. Interestingly, the one treasure in the game (a healing potion) was not allowed to be moved. Ali refused to take it, if she was allowed; and I was told to put it back, if I ever dared remove it.
Losing a combat was also a favourite: Ali still exclaims loudly "ow!" whenever she rolls a skull, and takes great care removing her hit point marker. For some reason, they always have to be stored in the same location (the corner of the general's square), and if they are ever left lying around on the table, I am quickly told "no, daddy, put them here!"
Aside from the cries of mock pain as she rolls the skulls, there is little story that goes along with the game. The die is the main draw, and the LEGO pieces a close second. But that's not necessarily a bad thing - even a good old Mr Men story is often beyond Ali's attention span or understanding. Still, as a starting point, I think it is valid. Eventually, when she is learning more about addition, and can handle more game mechanics, games in DnD's "Adventure System" (Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, and the like) will be adequate. (At the moment, she enjoys the miniatures, but wouldn't follow the game or the rolls...or be able to read the d20).
Slowly, stories could be made about the adventurers. After all, Ali already makes stories with her dolls (which include pirates invading the princess' dollhouse); stretching them to the adventuring Barbarian and Wizard shouldn't be too much of a stretch. So, I see potential for stories to develop and be able to be played out, and will be testing the water as Ali grows.
The game is a success - Ali often wants to play "the dice game", and is eager to proceed if I suggest a second run. She still does not understand the finer points of the game - each character has a 'special attack', but as they are still referred to as "the yellow one" and "the red one", those finer points can wait. Exactly what happens to the goblins when they are captured is not clear - they seem to be more trophies to be won, as opposed to any actual killing being done (and I am ok with that! She already likes shooting with non-gun things too much). And, the counting of positions is still a little rough. Counting dots is one thing - they are there, and have a definite number. Counting out how many places she is to move proves to be a little more difficult - often she will find herself ahead one or two squares. The miscounting doesn't matter in our games, but continued play could help her develop her counting skills...at least, to four.
Since the sets are relatively cheap, and are clearly fun and enjoyable, I will look into getting further ones over time, and add them to the current set as she grows in understanding and ability. I still don't know if they will be as fun when Ali is seven, but for now they are a quite worthwhile hobby.