Fun review: Are Lego still any good?

I always was a big fan of Lego during my teens, especially the Technic ones. The objects were quite close to reality, pumps, motors, real fun. I stopped playing with them around 15 years ago, but I still remember those times when I built cars, trucks and when I dreamed of having the (now outdated) expensive drawing machine.

Recently, I decided to get a new one. The reason was that I actually found one box that reminded me of my youth boxes, so why not? Contrary to simpler boxes, this one seemed the most complex and engineered one.

Past

Lego Technic from 15 years ago were an increment on the traditional Lego pieces. You could put on top of the other, some had holes so that you could pin two pieces together either with an axis, a black pin (no relative movement) or a grey one (relative movements were allowed). You could have different types of wheels and cogwheel, with different sizes, and usually the difficulty to build and destroy a machine was reasonable.

At one point, Lego decided to shift this to something really easy to assemble. You had fancy new pieces that would only work for a specific construction, and actually not that many pieces, but for the same price as before. All my cars and trucks models were not sold anymore, and I had a book with additional custom models that became useless as no new model had these general purpose blocks. Meccano did the same in the same timeframe, and I actually lost interest in both.

Present

Perhaps 5 years ago, Meccano started shifting their policy again, because they noticed that people wanted challenge and general purpose pieces. Lego seemed to follow this in the last few years, and a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a magnificent crane, quite expensive, but it seemed closer to what I knew about Lego. So I decided to buy it and test it. Reviews online talked about 6 manuals, between 10 and 16 hours to build it, so it seemed appropriate.

Here is the box and its content:

First thing I noticed is that there are no plastic inside the box, so when I will destroy it, all the pieces will be together unsorted. That’s a big disappointment, I really like to having everything sorted and boxed in separate places.

Then I started building the crane. Second thing that I noticed is that you can’t plug two blocks together anymore, this link to Lego for the “babies” (city…) is gone (there was a small amount of these “legacy” blocks for the actual crane, but not that many). This means that you need far more pins and axis. And there are plenty of those, different colors (length two axis are red, odd length are grey, and even length are black, black pins, grey pins, blue pins for axis/pin…), new shapes… And when you build your crane, it really feels like engineering. You create a new block, and then attach it to the main construction. It feels also sometimes over-engineered: some pieces have a shape that is not useful for the construction (like some blocks that end with an axis shape, or half width blocks that are always used in pairs), I guess that’s because they must reuse a specific percentage of existing generic pieces, and mainly because everything is attached two or three times. And when you make a mistake and notice it 20 pages later, you are quite in trouble to unbuild just what you need.

This is the crane at 50% completion, 3-4 hours after I started:

There are not that many specific pieces, only the doors, some wide panels, and of course the curves blocks for the cabin. It’s far less that what I expected “knowing” what Lego did in the fast. It’s really a good surprise.

Conclusion

Lego Technic have evolved, for worse for some time, but now for good. I’m still missing the old blocks and some blocks that could change shape instead of having only fixed blocks, but it’s manageable. Now I need to check Mindstorms…

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