Encounter at Prancing Pony Inn

The Lord of the Rings doesn't open for over another month, but we've already been inundated with merchandise.  Lots of companies got a piece of the license, and a company best known for their action figures, Playmates, is trying something different.

Combining their Intellitronic technology with the standard Lego style building block playset, they've come up with Intelliblox.  These building sets include several small figures, which when placed on the largest playset, speak a variety of lines from the movie.

There are three small (~100 pieces), $15 sets, two mediums sets (~200 pieces) at $30, and one large set so far.  I haven't seen the Mines of Moria set yet, so I don't know price or size.  The set I picked up is a medium set called Encounter at Prancing Pony Inn, clocking in at 225 pieces.

Playmates gets some points here for creativity, but creativity alone does not a great toy make.  These are showing up at retail at both Target and Toys R Us right now, but you might have to search.  Some stores are placing them with the action figures, while others have them with the other building block toys.

Intellitronic Feature - bupkis
What is an interesting idea actually hurts these sets.  To accomplish the intellitronic feature, each figure is mounted on a large, rectangular block.  The resistor is placed in this block.  When the figures are used with the large (and I'd assume, expensive) Mines of Moria set, they say lines from the movie.  How many, I don't know, but I'm betting it can't be too many for each character since all the figures are supposed to have lines.

However, since the large set isn't even out yet, and when it is many people won't want to spend the big bucks, the feature is pretty much useless in all the other sets.  Worst than that, they get in the way with these sets, making the small figures clunky looking.

Value - **1/2
It would be pretty easy to beat these up on value at first glance, particularly if you don't buy Legos.  At $30 for this set, you don't seem to be getting a whole lot.

Packaging - ***
Let's face it - this isn't the kind of toy that the packaging is too crucial.  But to catch your eye on the shelf and make the sale it's still important.

The three figures (Frodo, Strider and Pippen) are easy to see in the small window at the top right corner.  The graphics are bright and very attractive, and the entire line is well displayed on the back of the package.

Sculpting - ***
The sculpting on the three included figures is nice for this scale.  The detail is as good as you could expect, and the hands are sculpted to hold the included weapons.

The only flaw with these small figures is the softness of the plastic used.  You have to be particularly careful with the two Hobbits, as their ankles are fairly weak, and I can see having problems with them over time.

Paint - ***1/2
The paint ops on the small figures is terrific, with some great details.  The paint work on the set itself, including the fireplace, door and torches is great as well.  Overall the set is colorful and attractive.

Articulation - ***
The articulation is pretty good for tiny figures, with neck, shoulders and waist.  There's nothing for the legs, since they are mounted on the small blocks.

Again, the softness of the plastic comes into play though, and you should be careful with the arms.

Accessories - ***
The figures only come with two accessories, a sword and what appears to be a walking stick.  These two accessories fit into the figures hands well, and look good.

The set actually comes with what I would call several other accessories though.  There's a table, bench, fireplace, and torches which all attach to the other blocks.  These all look great, and help the accessory score for the overall playset.

Quality: **
Quality is important with building block playsets.  The blocks are well made, they fit tightly together, and the windows and doors are well designed to work within the block structure.

However, my set was missing three blocks, and I consider that part of the 'quality' rating.  It's crucial that they don't make mistakes like that, since it frustrates the parents and kids, and turns them off to further purchases.

Playset Design - ***1/2
I picked up this particular playset because it was the most fun looking set of the current bunch.  That means that although I've ranked it high for cool play value, the other sets don't look nearly as good.

What really helps this set is the layout.  With the door, bench and table, there are all kinds of scenarios kids can play out.  The 'inside/outside' look and feel to the set also enhances it's appeal.

But if you compare this to Lego sets in the same piece range, you'll see that $30 is pretty much the going rate.  The smaller sets of around 100 pieces are actually cheaper than a lot of Lego sets in that range.

I think that Playmates made a mistake in pricing these though.  I'm sure they compared them against the market and decided that by going at a similar rate, they could bank on the license itself to sell the product.  I think if they'd priced these below other building block sets they might have been able to pull in more Lego collectors, and set themselves up for good sales on future licensed sets with other films or shows.

Overall - **1/2
If you ignore the Intellitronic feature, this set would have been an easy three stars, perhaps three and a half.  I know Playmates thought that by combining the two they might have a winner, but with only one set giving you any sound, it really is a wasted feature. These are neat little sets, but at the price point they aren't quite as good as I'd hoped.

Where to Buy
As I said earlier, both Target and Toys R Us have them on the shelves right now.  Toys R Us is charging five bucks more for the medium sets though, so I'd avoid them if you can.  I haven't seen these on-line anywhere yet.

By the way, if there are any glaring errors or mistakes in this particular review, you'll have to excuse me.  I've been watching the Michigan State/Michigan game while writing it and I'd just like to say GO GREEN!

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford

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