Today's guest review is from Lawrence Horsburgh,
better known to many of you on the boards as simply 'L'. Lawrence is a
unique product for us this time - Mega Bloks! The new line is Dragons
and, well, I'll let 'L' tell you all about it...
thought that my interest in toys would end up so broad that I would be
excited about a Mega Bloks product, but there you are, life takes strange
turns sometimes. Mega Bloks,
for those who don’t know, is a Canadian company that makes Lego-style
bricks that are somewhat cheaper than Lego. The plastic they use is thinner, the locking mechanism is looser --
they just don’t “look as good,” in ways I can’t quite pin down.
has just launched a new line called “Dragons” Although it is tempting to compare the sets to the Lego Castle (and
Harry Potter) sets, it’s not quite accurate. They are more of a cross between Lego and Playmobil, as I’ll
explain in a moment. The
“Dragons” line revolves around the war between two groups (Valherrans
and Warfangs) and each set gives you more soldiers and battlefield elements
to play out the war. Right now,
there are two varieties of “War Chests,” tin boxes with three knights
per box (plus assorted weapons, and enough building blocks to make a small
fort). The next step up is the
$10 “Dragon Slayer” set which comes with a knight, a dragon, some siege
equipment, and a few building pieces. The
next set is the “Battle Gate,” which gives you (for $20) a dragon, some
knights, more building pieces and bases, and a large electronic stone arch. The set I’m reviewing is the $30 “Sorcerer’s Lair” set,
details below. Finally, though
I haven’t seen it in stores, is the $50 “Warrior Fortress” set which
comes with just about everything, and a lot of it (including two dragons,
one blue and one red).
Packaging - ****
Mega Bloks normally gives us extremely bland boxes, with a
straightforward photo of the assembled model against a single color
backdrop. This time, they’ve
changed their approach. There
are full-scale battles going on in every cover, and in the larger sets, this
is quite a scene. The top of
the package is textured like dragon scales, with the logo written in fiery
letters. It’s an eye-catching
design, something I noticed from across the store in the Lego section. The logo is large and attractive, and the photos highlight what the
sets include in a dramatic way. Children
who like fantasy will WANT these when they see them.
Sculpting - ***
For a set like this, there are really several ways to
evaluate the sculpt. First,
there is the technical aspect. Does
it “work” as a construction set – is it easy to build, is it stable,
is it easy to take apart? Well,
kinda. The pieces don’t lock
together as tightly, or as automatically, as with Lego.
They feel a bit loose, and it’s sometimes difficult to “snap”
them in place. It’s just a
cheaper design. Even stranger,
the larger pieces frequently are not covered in pegs.
These limits the building possibilities, and that’s a shame.
The second way to evaluate the sculpt is just
as one always does, aesthetically. Here,
Mega Bloks does quite well. The
dragon is only a small step down from the dragons of the “Dragonheart”
line from a few years back – the basic design is the same, the
articulation is the same, and the sculpt is extremely similar.
It’s a big dragon, about 7” long, with standard articulation at
the shoulders and hips, and an opening mouth.
The scales are all sculpted on, the wings have sculpted bones and
arms, there are teeth and claws and horns.
The green base plates are not smooth plastic,
but have bumps and ridges unevenly, suggesting grass or moors or uneven
ground. The side of the bases
is rough and jagged, suggesting a cliff face.
This is important, for when the plates are stacked, it ends up
looking like a rugged cliff, effectively.
Some of the building bricks are smooth, like Lego pieces, but some
are textured like stone, and the sculpting on the window pieces is just
intricate enough to be memorable. There
are even frescos of dragons on some of the wall pieces.
Two of the pieces are long, thin dragon (or vulture, it’s hard to
tell) gargoyles, which can be clipped onto any wall to wonderful effect.
It’s well done. Plus,
there are the little details, like the metal plates and bolts on the
catapult, or the nails on the ladder, or (my favorite) the fact that each
banner is a different mold, not simply a repaint.
The Valherran one stresses their weapon of choice, the axe, while the
Warfang one is more spear-like. Attention
to detail like that runs throughout the set – like in the decorative
elements, the potions, spell book, a tree, a ring of stones and some removable
“fire,” various torches (also with removable fire), and an opening iron
grate door with a dragon head sculpted in its center.
The fire is all done very well, clear plastic painted yellow and red.
Perhaps the “cutest” touch is that the directions come in a
scroll that unfolds, and on the back of one of the pages is a full color
poster of most of the line.
The figures are similar to Lego in design,
though a little larger (and more triangular, with small waists and huge
broad shoulders). They
have sculpted details in their armor, chains and straps and emblems
and horns, and are extremely three-dimensional, unlike Lego figs. Unfortunately,
they are all the SAME knight, with a different head.
If you only have a small collection, that’s not a problem.
If you want an army, it’s also fine, and the line is clearly
designed to be a battle game for large armies.
Not to mention that, since this is a Lego clone, you could always
swap SOME parts with Lego figs for more variety (see pic).
But it is a shame not to have anything other than knights to use –
wizards, rogues, dwarves, elves, centaurs, griffons, the possibilities with
fantasy are endless, and there is only one variety of figure here.
That said, it does remind me of an especially
well done Playmobil set. These
are not McFarlane dioramas, they are not like the Mage Knight castle pieces
or the play sets 21st Century Toys has made for the XD line.
They remain plastic-y and toy-like.
They aren’t models. They
look nice, but let’s not get carried away.
Because the pieces are all large, and there are fewer building
pieces, it looks less complex and detailed than a similar-sized Lego set.
Articulation - **
How can a play set be articulated?
Well, I’m including two things here:
first, the articulation of the figures themselves, and second the
“rebuild” factor of a Lego-styled construction set.
The figures are just like Lego figures without the articulation in
the wrists. Their legs are removable,
but I haven’t tried swapping heads.
The construction feature is unique.
If you are a Lego fan, this is not quite what you want.
There are very few “building” bricks, and what there is have
major problems. There are basic
gray rectangular bricks, the hallmark of the Lego world, and then there are
specialty pieces: rocks, walls,
corners, window pieces, and crenellations.
Unfortunately, the corner pieces and the window pieces are meant to
go together, and fit together across a diagonal, so the seam between them
makes a “V.” Every window
piece, then, ends at a diagonal, and cannot be combined with regular bricks
or wall pieces. Similarly,
every corner ends at a diagonal, and cannot be combined with regular bricks
or wall pieces (see the pics if this is not quite clear).
In the end, it’s not clear why they bothered to make separate
pieces at all, since there is only one way to combine them – they may as
well have just made half-squares and left it at that.
With such a small variety of bricks, even if you had 10 of each set
in the line, there is a limit to what you can build.
There just is not much THERE.
It’s clear from the design of the set,
though, that it is not meant to be a Lego-styled set.
It more resembles the castles made by Playmobil, though it is far
more detailed than anything I’ve seen by them.
It’s certainly a major improvement over the dismal Lord of the
Rings Lego-rip-offs from Playmates, which were overpriced, made use of
poor electronic features, and included figures that were done in an
entirely wrong style (too realistic to be Lego figures, too simplistic to be
There is one way in which “Dragons”
really stands out, though: the
bases. Lego has three varieties
of base for its fans: no base,
flat base, and raised plate base.
Many sets, especially recent sets (Harry Potter, the Lego Studios
monsters) do not provide a base. Some
sets have flat square green bases. Others
have raised plates of various shapes, usually with a recess in the middle,
some steps in the corner, sometimes a ramp.
That’s it. There is no
way to really make Lego valleys, mountains, hills, cliffs, without buying
LOTS of green bricks, or maybe if you are daring, green and brown.
And it would not look THAT great, when done.
With the Dragons line, there are various shaped bases, some long and
flat, others smaller and higher, that are not simple rectangles, but built
to “lock together” (see pictures).
They fit together in various ways, and then can be locked together by
building on them. The smaller
bases can be placed on the larger ones, either to lock them together, or to
create a hill, or a valley, or a cliff face.
The real “rebuild” potential of these sets consists, not in the
fortresses (which will be somewhat uniform in design) but in the landmasses.
If you were to buy just the Battle Gate, Sorcerer’s Lair, and
Warrior Fortress, you would have enough base plates for a wide variety of
battlefields, each different from the last and visually impressive.
This feature is what really grabbed me, at first, about the Dragons
line, and what drew me to it.
One final comment about this aspect of the
toy: some people have pointed
out in message boards that the distinctive ink wash and textured sculpt on
the pieces makes them incompatible with Lego sets.
The figures may work, but the building pieces are too unique, they
would stand out and look bad mixed in with the non-painted, smooth plastic
of Lego bricks. This may be
true – even using the gargoyles or just the crenellated pieces might look
awkward in an otherwise entirely-Lego castle.
Still, there is a lot of potential re-use in this set:
the figures and dragon and horse, the torches, the campfire, the
banners, the catapult, the runic monolith, and most importantly the bases,
could all be used with Lego and not look awkward.
Value - (with apologies to Dr. Evil): one
Play Features - ****
First of all, there is of course the dragon.
It’s not the best dragon in the world, and I certainly wouldn’t
recommend getting these sets just for the dragons, but it is nice.
A button on the saddle triggers the wing-flapping, and even nicer, if
you place a “magic stone” on the dragon’s harness, the dragon eyes
light up. There’s a red bulb
that illuminates the eyes, and when you open the mouth, there is a faint red
glow coming through. Very
evocative of “fire-breathing,” and it looks great in a dark room.
Finally, the dragon has a magnet in one claw, so it can snatch
various knights, who all have some metal in their chests.
There is also a catapult (there are other siege weapons
in other sets) which is quite nice, with working wheels and a working
arm, plus four soft “rocks” to throw.
There is a trapdoor in one of the base plates – complete with a
lever to operate it, which is a bit clumsy and does not have the smooth flow
of a Lego trapdoor, but is effective all the same.
The centerpiece of the set is the great stone monolith.
It’s got two “teeth,” and there are runes carved into it.
When the “magic orb” is taken from the dragon and placed between
the stones, three of the runes glow red – it’s a bright bulb, it can be
seen clearly even in daylight. When
the runes themselves are pushed in a particular order (great attention to
detail!) the top of the taller stone slowly opens up to reveal a hidden
chamber, in which anything can be placed if it fits – it’s designed to
hold a scepter, with vaguely Arthurian implications.
(“Strange runic stones distributing magic scepters is no basis for
a system of government!”)
The set also comes with 10 knights, five from each army,
plus a battle standard for each (army, that is), and enough weapons and
shields for everyone. There are
no swords in the Dragons line, oddly enough, unless you count the sculpted
swords on the backs of the Valherran soldiers.
The Valherrans fight with spears and glaives of various sorts, giant
pole arms with axes and spikes; the Warfangs have hammers, maces, and clubs
of various nasty sorts.
All of this results in endless play potential.
The dragon gate opens to the dark chambers of the Sorcerer’s
Lair, in which we find spell books and magic potions.
The Valherran lieutenant arrives on horseback with his demands, his
standard bearer at his side, while Vorlod, ruler of the Warfangs, watches
in contempt (yes, the knights all have names, and are clearly identified
on the box). The Warfang king
is dropped by a trapdoor into his own dungeons, while the Valherrans
arrive on the dragon Stoneburner (yes, the dragons all have names as
well). The two armies clash
on the hillside, the catapult wearing down the resistance of those who man
the battlements, as the sorcerer attempts to solve the riddle of the
monolith and its runic inscriptions.
Well, the base plate design intrigued me, the play features
impressed me, but it’s the price that makes me rave.
$30 for the Sorcerer’s Lair is just a steal.
10 knights, a horse, a dragon, a working catapult, plus a fortress
with a gate, a trapdoor, torches, banners, and a field of battle out
front, it’s just astonishing what they’ve packed in.
The Lego Studios Scary Laboratory, recently released, cost $50 and
included only 5 figures, no base, and far fewer features, and was much
smaller. This set is one of
the largest sets in the Dragons line, and costs what a medium-to-small
Lego set would cost. The
tins, meanwhile would cost $5 at Newbury Comics (a local Boston
music-and-oddities place) if they were EMPTY!
$50 for the Warrior Fortress strikes me as a tad high, if only
because the building pieces are so limited one doesn’t really benefit
much from such a large set. Still,
it’s hard to knock a line in today’s market that gives you so much for
so little – tons of action features, electronics, figures, a big honkin’
dragon, all for what most of us are used to paying for something very
small (the only comparison I can imagine is the recent Muppet Labs set,
which is also an astonishingly good buy).
Overall - ****
It’s difficult to assign a low overall rating to a set
that gives you so MUCH for so little money.
At the same time, this is one of those “niche market” things –
it’s really only going to appeal to a select number of toy fans, because
it’s not quite an action figure, not quite a building set, and just in
general it’s a very unique item.
However, if this is your cup of tea, it’s exceptionally
well executed. The pieces all
look good, they lend themselves to a small degree of imaginative
reconstruction, and the set includes more extras and features than any set
I’ve seen in years. I’d
have been quite impressed without the dragon, the catapult, the electronics
– but with them, it’s a fantastic item.
There are a few places where improvements could be made:
there could be more building bricks, those that are included could be
designed in a more flexible way, the bases and floors could have more pegs
on them, the stud-and-slot locking mechanism could be tighter and smoother.
But even Lego fans who prefer more useful building pieces will find a
ton of useful items in this set for a small expense -- at $30, it’s
difficult to mind these issues, especially when you are distracted by the
pretty lights, moving parts, rugged valleys, and the armies massing on your
Figure from the collection of