Minotaurs and submarines

by Andy G

Andy G explores the world of Lego board games
In the throes of a quarter-life crisis, I recently became nostalgic for all things Lego. And Lego have been more than happy to oblige. Since I was 10, they seem to have expanded their range to the point where there is literally nothing that doesn't come in a Lego version. I don't just mean those weird Star Wars Lego video games - you can get Lego advent calendars (which are of course AWESOME! except that paying £20 for an advent calendar only made sense when I had a full-time job but was living at home rent-free) and Lego men ice cube makers (sound cute but in practice are rather macabre - if you put the ice cubes in a glass of coke, it looks like you have lots of pale corpses floating on the top in a Dead Marshes kind of way).

My most recent discovery has been Lego board games. These are, unsurprisingly, regular board games except that you build everything out of Lego pieces (including the board). It goes without saying that putting it all together is great fun (at least if you enjoy squinting at pieces of plastic trying to tell if they are 8 or 10 blocks long). But once they're assembled, how well do the games stand up as actual board games? In this review, I'll look at the two games I own - Minotaurus and Atlantis Treasure.


Minotaurus is a game for 4 players. Each player controls three figures, and the winner is the first one to get all three figures to the centre of the maze. But they can be blocked by moving walls, or eaten by the roving minotaur who guards the maze.

I hope everyone will agree from this description that the game sounds AWESOME (at least if you channel your inner ten-year-old). But it's also incredibly simple. When I play this with people, I can explain the rules in less than two minutes. Each turn you roll a dice (not a normal dice! even the dice has to be built out of Lego). If it shows a number, you can move one of your figures that many spaces on the board. If it shows a grey tile, you can move a grey wall section from anywhere in the maze to anywhere else. If it shows a black tile, you get to move the minotaur.

I was surprised by quite how simple the gameplay turns out to be. I had half-expected that it would be overcomplicated and gimmicky. But the simple rules still allow space for some very devious tactics. In contrast to other simple games like Ludo or Snakes and Ladders where you are racing against other players but have no way of directly obstructing their progress, Minotaurus allows you to be deliciously evil. You can block off other players by moving walls, send the minotaur to eat them, or best of all use the walls to trap them in with the minotaur. Every game I have played has ended up with the centre of the maze utterly congested with grey wall sections blocking strategic pathways, while there's nothing more satisfying than moving the minotaur to loom intimidatingly over another player (at which point it's a race against time - will you roll another black so you can eat them before they roll a black that allows them to move the minotaur away?)

The mechanism of moving sections of the maze wall takes advantage of the fact that the board is made out of Lego. But the Lego board generally works well as a playing board. Each round "stud" counts as a separate "square" on the playing board, and each of the playing pieces (and the minotaur) occupies one stud. It's easy to move and replace the figures, though it can be a little tricky to count the number of studs when making a move.

One thing I haven't really taken advantage of, however, is the fact that the game can be easily modified and reconstructed. The booklet that comes with the game suggests some changes to the rules (all of which make the game much better than the standard rules) and, as it says, you could easily come up with more (I have a rule that you can't entirely block any figure's path to their "home" at the centre, which forces people to be more strategic in the way they place blocks).

Overall, it's a fun, simple and wonderfully vicious game to play. It doesn't take long either to play or learn the rules.

Atlantis Treasure

Atlantis Treasure is also a game for 4 players, each of whom controls a submarine. The goal is to collect pieces of treasure scattered around an underwater maze. Rolling the dice either allows you to move an obstacle to somewhere else on the maze, fire a torpedo (which either destroys an obstacle or, if it hits another player, allows you to steal one of their treasures) or place a compass. A compass allows you to redirect your movement - normally, when you move you have to go in a straight line until you reach the end of the board or hit an obstacle, but if you hit a square with a compass your movement switches in the direction indicated by the compass until you reach the end of the board/hit an obstacle/hit another compass.

As this description shows, the rules are a little more complicated than Minotaurus, though this also allows slightly more variety in the tactics you can use. Every dice result can give you an opportunity either to help yourself (opening up the way to reach a treasure) or hinder your opponents (shoot them with torpedoes/block their path/mess up their carefully arranged sequences of compasses). So like Minotaurus, it is very vicious, though the gameplay isn't quite as intuitive (still pretty simple though).

As in Minotaurus, the mechanism of moving objects takes advantage of the Lego construction. However, overall I find Atlantis Treasure considerably more fiddly. It frequently requires tiles to be moved, which are a lot harder to prise off than normal blocks. The playing board is also constructed out of a grid of Lego planks, rather than being a single Lego board, which means it's slightly prone to falling apart during play (which is never a problem in Minotaurus). Finally, unlike Minotaurus, the assembled board doesn't fit back into the box after playing - you have to remove the corner pieces and the tall pointy statue at the centre of the board.

I admittedly haven't played this one as much yet, but I've also not yet found the ideal house rules. The basic rules for the game make things a little too random, while the advanced rules in the gamebook (which allow compasses to be "stored" and then multiple compasses to be placed at once) make things a little too easy. I think perhaps modifying how many treasures are needed to win or restricting the placement/storage of compasses would remedy the problem though. But these games do lend themselves very well to modification, so perhaps it's a matter of experimeting and seeing.

Overall, Atlantis Treasure is also great simple, fun. It just suffers slightly by comparison with Minotaurus and takes slightly longer to learn and set up.


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Comments (go to latest)
Guy at 12:38 on 2011-02-27
Mmm, interesting. How useful do you think these might be as a basis for creating one's own boardgames?
Dan H at 12:40 on 2011-02-27
You have totally made me want to go play with legos now.
Andy G at 13:20 on 2011-02-27
@Guy: If you have enough Lego pieces, I guess there's no limit. You could have submarines chasing minotaurs if you wanted.
Dan H at 14:30 on 2011-02-27
Presumably you could also do that with just regular lego pieces, of course...
Andy G at 15:39 on 2011-02-27
But you wouldn't have a Lego dice!

Seriously though, I haven't dabbled at all in putting things together any other way than they come. There could be all sorts of possibilities there (and the rulebooks explicitly suggest doing so), but I'm pretty content with the instructions I'm given. Maybe this is psychologically revealing.
Sonia Mitchell at 00:49 on 2011-03-01
I have Lego kitchen scales. They rock. I appreciate that that's only tangentially related, but it's not often I get to tell internet people about my scales.

Also I really want the Minotaur game now. I had assumed the Lego board games were simply nifty looking gimmicks, but it sounds awesome. So thanks for the review, it's now on my wishlist :-)
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 01:17 on 2011-03-01
Oh, Lego...

Over the course of several years, I managed to convert every piece of Lego (including the Duplo sets, the spaceship sets, and various other generic building blocks) into one gigantic Star Trek playset. Seriously, I had a literal armada of Federation starships, a squad of Cardassian ships, about half-a-dozen shuttles, two major stations, and enough ship interiors to satisfy three seasons of shooting (including four different bridges).

I never built a Borg cube out of Lego, though. That would be silly. I used K'Nex for that (and the shipyards).

I had a lot of time on my hands back then. And I reeeeally liked Star Trek.
Wardog at 11:18 on 2011-03-01

I was pretty lego-deprived as a child - I had some pieces but none of the cool shit. So I should probably take the opportunity of being nearly middled-aged to over-compensate, right?
Arthur B at 15:07 on 2011-03-08
It occurs to me that we've covered Lego games before.

Also: there's an upcoming dungeon crawling Lego boardgame which looks like Lego's answer to HeroQuest and Descent.
Andy G at 16:51 on 2011-03-08
Translation of the video: It's Lego's answer to HeroQuest and Descent.

They talk a lot about it being "like a computer game", which is a little worrying. I'm wondering what the advantage of it being Lego is once you reach a certain level of complexity - it looks very fiddly and not terribly easy to move stuff around without a lot of rebuilding. Apparently you can lay out the different world areas together to form one huge world, though that's still going to be a lot smaller than computer games or even normal tabletop RPGs.

On the other hand, it might just be an awesome way to introduce younger kids to the joys of dungeon crawling.

There's also a Lego MMORPG.
Arthur B at 16:59 on 2011-03-08
They talk a lot about it being "like a computer game", which is a little worrying.

To be fair, saying "it's like a computer game", whilst not necessarily accurate, is going to be a hell of a lot more meaningful to a hell of a lot more people than saying "It's like HeroQuest or Descent"...
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