Let’s Say You’re a Big Nerd…

…and you haven’t spent enough time with your kids over the past year.  Looking for a good way to spend many quality hours with the brood?

I give you…  Mobile Frame Zero.  (And if you’re not a big nerd, well, you may just want to stop reading right now).


A Game Where You Design and Build Your Own “War Mechs” Out of Legos?  Yes Please.
(My Mechs on Top.  My Son’s on Bottom.)

A 100% “Open Source” Mech Game That You Can Play for Free??

For nearly 30 years, I have been aware of games like Warhammer – epic tabletop nerd games – and wanted to at least try them.  But they are SUPER expensive.  You can rack up thousands of dollars buying the miniatures, and then spend forever painting them.  So, um, no.  I’ve stayed away.

But what about a mech game where you make your own miniatures out of Legos???  Pure freaking genius, especially considering that the people reading this post ALONE, in total, probably possess millions of unused Lego blocks.

Well, the creators of Mobile Frame Zero weren’t done there.  They also made their RULES free to download!  Optionally, you can choose to pay them $10 for the PDF, kinda like a donation.  Or you can buy a physical copy of the rulebook, like I did.  But they are VERY clear that they do NOT mind you downloading the game for free.  Put that together with the Legos you already have and you’re ready to play.  (Well, you need some dice too, but keep reading for a hookup).

We Enjoyed Building Our Mechs, But Would We Like to PLAY?

imageWe had an ABSOLUTE BLAST building our mechs yesterday.  My son remarked multiple times just how much he was digging this.  In fact his mechs were SO MUCH BETTER than mine, that at one point I slipped away and secretly spent two hours bringing mine somewhat up to par with his.  Yes, Dad needed some quiet time with his Legos, away from the critical eyes of the 11-year-old Master Lego Builder in residence.  I sneaked away from the football game we were watching and hoped he wouldn’t notice.  True story.

But my experience with many “prep in advance” games is that the prep turns out to be more fun than the game itself.  Would that happen here?  I was expecting to be underwhelmed.

I’m happy to say that MFZ turned out to ALSO be one of the best-designed game systems I’ve ever seen.  It’s stinking beautiful.  How many adjectives can I use here?  Elegant, Simple, Customizable, Variable, Learnable, Playable, Enjoyable, Social…

At this point it’s natural for you to wonder if I am affiliated with the creators of MFZ.  No, I am not.  Not in any way.  But the past 48 hours turned me into a HUGE fan of theirs.  And I figure some of you might want to play over the holidays, so I’m writing it up.

Brief Walkthrough:  Game Start


Game Start:  The Three Factions Square Off (Me = Purple, Blue = Son, Green = Father in Law.  Rectangles = Our Base Stations.  Ovals = Our Mechs.)
(Note:  All Images Can Be Clicked for HUGE Versions)

OK, I’ll try to stick to the highlights.  You prep your squads in advance, in secret.  Your mechs can be specialized – defensive, artillery, direct fire, hand to hand, spotter, sprinter, and combinations thereof.

I found my defensive artillery mech and my sprinter hand to hand mech to be very effective.  The value of spotters turned out to be immense, but next time, my spotter will carry some sort of weapons.  My pure “jack of all trades” mech turned out to be the least interesting, but maybe that would change in future games.

imageBut beyond customizing your mechs, there’s actually an advantage to deliberately building a weaker overall squad!  If your squad turns out to be the weakest squad at the table, you gain a BIG advantage that persists throughout the game.

My son and I both loaded our squads to the max, yielding a big advantage to The Larry’s slightly underweight squad.  Contested objectives were now worth 5 pts each for him and only 3 pts each for Clan Ebenezer and Darth Arjayus.

The Larry then also started the game “in the lead” before any moves were made, AND with defensive advantages not granted to others.  Of course, he also started the game with a huge bullseye on his forehead…

Release the Hounds!

The game is designed to be one of shifting alliances, like Risk.  Everyone beats up on whoever is in the lead, until the lead changes hands.  So when the game started, both of us went after The Larry:


Round One:  Purple and Blue Advance on The Larry’s Defenses,
While Larry “Leaks Out” to Flank Me (Green)

MidGame:  Larry’s Defenses Crumbling and Benedict Daddy “Turns”

The dedicated, relentless, and combined forces of Clan Ebenezer and Darth Arjayus.  Well, let’s just say no one wants to be in THAT crossfire for very long.

I talk with bluster, but in reality of course we were all learning on the fly.  The rules are actually quite simple, but learning to properly exploit them – THAT is the trick.  Kinda like the CALCULATE function actually…


Green X = A Destroyed Larry Mech.  But What Treachery is This?  Darth Arjayus ALSO Loses a Mech (Blue X) to Friendly Fire That I am SURE Was Accidental, Heh Heh.  And My Spotter Mech is Heading Over to My Ally’s Base to Um, Watch Over it For Him.

It’s been said that good sailors know which way the wind is blowing.  By this point of the game I was already predicting Larry’s demise, and positioning myself to stab my son in the back.  As a policy, I never pull punches when I play games with my kids.    They come back hungrier, smarter, and wiser from each defeat.  And when they win, which is not uncommon, they know their victories are authentic.  I love it when they kick my butt.  (As I write this, my daughter is stringing together a soon-to-be-legendary string of victories in Rummikub versus my wife and mother in law.  Atta girl, we will be introducing you to MFZ next week).

So yeah, I let my son’s forces take the bulk of the damage while wearing down Larry from afar, and then started “pivoting” toward a betrayal when the job was mostly done.  All those years of RISK as a 12 year old served me well.  My son has spent too much time on Xbox and this education was long overdue, muhaha.

I think you can figure out who won by the clues provided thus far, so let’s change gears and talk about…

…The Ruler!

Until today I had NEVER played a tabletop game without the use of a board with spaces on it.  So How do you play when there aren’t spaces, or squares, or hexes?  No, we didn’t use the Christmas Plaid tablecloth.  In MFZ you use…  The Ruler.


Each Ruler “Unit” Equals 5 Lego Studs.  8 Units on the Ruler.  One Unit = “Hand to Hand” Range.  2-8 Units = Direct Fire Range.  8+ Units = Artillery Range.

I really loved this.  Who needs a board?  You make your own.  With “cover” made from Lego of course.  (OK we also used cassette tape cases and beer bottles and Slinkies, but in the future we will stick with Lego because even the cover can be damaged, and have pieces removed from it thus diminishing its protective qualities!)

Also, the ranges are exclusive.  Meaning if you are within hand to hand range (one unit), the other guy can’t blast you with direct fire or artillery.  So a highly mobile, hand to hand unit turns out to be quite effective.

The ruler is also used for movement.  So if you roll a 6 on your movement die, you get to move 6 ruler units on the table.  Cool huh?

The Dice

Ironically this might be the likeliest place that you have to spend money.  Unless you’re a veteran player of games like Dungeons and Dragons (like my sister, heh heh), you may not have 8-sided dice and multi-colored 6-sided dice laying around:


What We Found to Be The Minimal Set of Dice for a Decent Game:  26 Regular Dice in 5 Colors (12 / 8 / 2 / 2 / 2) – Preferably in the Colors Here But OK If Not, and Two Eight-Siders (Colors Ideally Match Up As Pictured, But Not Strictly Required)

The instructions for the game speak in terms of dice by the colors pictured above (blue = defense, yellow = spotting, red = attack, green = movement, and white = utility).  So if you can find those colors, great, that will make it easier to apply the rules without need for translation.

That aside, you CAN play the game with other colors.  But you do need different colors.  It would get pretty, ahem, dicey with all one color.

Limited Time Dice Offer!

I bought extra dice this week with an eye toward a geeky giveaway.  I’m going to give away three “dice kits” to readers who write in to [email protected]

I’m going to pick the three recipients based on your emails.  I will use “first come first serve” as a tiebreaker only, but will try to pick the three by the 26th so I can ship things out.  Yes, sorry, US residents only since I don’t want to be shipping cheap dice via expensive freight, and ideally I want to get the dice to you before school starts back.

Getting the Game

Head over to mobileframezero.com and download the PDF.  Buy the PDF and/or the book if you want, but definitely download the PDF for free as a start.

Final Note:  Have You Hugged Your Neighborhood Game Store Today?

There are few things I enjoy more than neighborhood games stores.  I loved taking my son into two such establishments this week here in the farthest outskirts of Chicago.  Saying “hey son, these are the sorts of places where I hung out as a kid.”

So, Draxtar Games and Wandering Dragon, thanks for being there.  I love, love, LOVE folks like you and was positively thrilled to walk through your doors.

I wish I’d had the foresight to snap pics of my son standing in both of your shops.  Next time.