I used to think magna-tiles were the clear uncontested champion in comparison to magformers. But now I’m not so sure. They aren’t on top either, it’s just that each has it’s uses. I’ll explain briefly here, then follow up with some better pictures.
– 3D geometrical shapes — one can make a number of these Archimedian solids if you have enough pieces.
– less expensive
Everything else! They have slightly weaker magnets, but they are solid (get the translucent ones. prettier) and are better for:
– 2D arrangements (they sit perfectly flat) such as: (and here I will just include everything my kids have used them for…)
— roads/racetracks/airplane runways
— functional checkerboard (we used 2×2 duplos as the pieces) when stranded in a snowstorm without checkers!
— making words
— making numbers
— 2D planes/people
– matchbox car and airplane parking garages/hangars
– some simpler 3-D shapes hold together if you are VERY gentle, but the magnets aren’t strong enough to realistically build things like a icosidodecahedron for example.
OK, so I guess that’s still a pretty long list in the magnatiles column. Still, if you want to make cool geometric shapes the magformers are where it’s at.
Anyway, here are links to the sets I personally can recommend:
– MAGNATILES 100 piece translucent set
– Here is a link to all the magna-tile sets at Amazon… circa 2013 they list more options than they did back in 2011. There are also some less expensive compatible competitors that seem to get decent but slightly mixed reviews. See update below.
– Magformers — perhaps buy 2 of the “Magformers 48-Piece” sets to get enough to do some good stuff? To do the bigger 3D geometrical shapes you’ll need a lot. Including (ideally) some of the very big 6-sided pieces. Though the 3 4 and 5 can make a GREAT rhombicosi-dodecahedron!
Just make sure you have enough pieces, especially the magnatiles! It seems like approximately 100 is enough for kids (or grownups!) to feel like they aren’t being held back too often by a lack of pieces. They will want to build very elaborate villages of buildings, walls, roads and runways, plane and car garages. And stuffed-animal houses! You will be AMAZED!
And again, my favorite thing about these toys is the ability of age-mixed kids to play side by side. The little kids are safe (no little legos to chew on or swallow) and can actually build a few things, and the older kids are still quite well entertained.
2013 REVIEW UPDATE:
1. Magnatiles continue to impress big time. The kids are now 9 and 6 and they still pull them out and play for hours/days at a time quite regularly. A MUST HAVE TOY. They paid for themselves a million times over in kid (and dad!) fun! Still better than Lego in this household. Although Lego Hero-Factory/Bionicles does come first!
2. A new player on the scene is a company named “Magnetic Stick N Stack” which sells Magna-tile compatible tiles. From reviews it sounds like the magnets might be a TINY bit weaker, but the price is lower. Could be a good alternative. “Magnetic Stick N Stack” at Amazon. (They also seem to have a few different types of shapes including windows and wheels, but I doubt those matter much… the standard Magnatile shapes are classics. The kids never cared much for the magformer wheels…)