Category Archives: lego

5-star reviews: Lego Chima vs Lego Hero Factory

So you are trying to choose between a Lego Chima and a Lego Hero Factory set? I don’t think there is any issue. Both are great. I mean, look at the amazon links above to see the endless pages of 5-star reviews parents have given the sets. Kids love them both. My boys (6 and 9) play with their Hero Factory and Bionicle sets for HOURS and HOURS.

The only thing with as much or more staying power in this house has been the 2-sets of 100-piece magnatiles we have.

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REVIEW: LEGO CREATOR 3-in-1 brings back the LEGO magic!

OK you lego-loving moms and dads…

In case you were wondering where all the cool lego sets of your youth went and find yourself explaining “when I was a kid” look no further than the LEGO CREATOR 3-in-1 sets. After being unimpressed with the overly branded sets and the overly complicate technic sets, I have found lego nirvana for me and my kids!

My 5 and 8 year olds can typically build these LEGOs together without Ma or Pa. The 5 year old can pretty much to it himself, but likes when the 8 year old helps. But totally depends on the kids. Sometimes I help because I like LEGOS too!

BTW, if you have kids younger than 5 and 8, you should run not walk over to and grab a LEGO DUPLO TRAIN — the one with the electric engine. And buy a load of switches! The advantage being that with a 2 and 5 year old, you and/or the kids can play with this together without the 2-year old choking on anything or biting/tearing all the little yellow-arms off minifigs, etc, etc.

BTW, another aside… our 5 and 8 (and I!) still often have a lot of fun with the duplo train too. DUPLO fun does definitely not stop at age 5 if you buy tons of cool long pieces at or the like.

OK, so back to the 3-in-1 creator sets…

What I find works best is to keep each set in a gallon-sized ziploc/ziplock along with the instructions. One can of course mix sets altogether, and that is of course great for totally free-wheelin’ builidng but makes building from sets a hassle — takes a long time to find individual special pieces.

And speaking of “special pieces”, I think that (along with the 3-in-1 instructions!) makes these sets great. There are very few of what I call “special pieces” — pieces that are made pretty much just for that one set. Most are typical pieces found in many different sets.

OK, here are a few of our favorites (and some wish list items) around here. Most of these should be in the sub-$20 category. There are a lot of them. Here goes!

1. LEGO Creator Construction Hauler 31005 — 18 wheeler with digger/backhoe, cherry picker, offroad transporter with dune buggy

2. LEGO Creator Highway Speedster 31006 — sports car, roadster/hot-rod, tow-truck

3. LEGO Creator Super Racer 31002 — Formula 1/F1 race car, go-kart, quad bike/ATV

4. LEGO Creator Red Rotors 31003 — twin rotor helicopter, propeller plane, twin-rotor hovercraft

5. LEGO Creator Blue Roadster 6913 – -sports car, roadster/hot-rod, jeep/off-roader

6. LEGO Creator Thunder Wings 31008 — robot, car, jet plane

7. LEGO Creator Street Rebel 7291 — motorcycle, moped, chopper

8. LEGO Creator Propeller Adventures 7292 — propeller airplane, jet, hovercraft

9. LEGO Creator Super Soarer 6912 — jet plane, helicopter, dual-hull speed boat

10. LEGO Creator Dune Hopper 5763 — dune bugger, quad bike/ATV, trike/motorcycle

11. LEGO Creator Helicopter 5866 — mountain rescue helicopter, air show bi-plane, speed boat (online instructions for 4th model: high-speed swamp boat)

12. LEGO Creator Fierce Flyer 31004 — animals! eagle, scorpion, beaver

13. LEGO Creator Power Mech 31007 — robot, helicopter, pickup truck

Any I am missing? There are some more expensive ones too, but I prefer these cheaper ones. The more expensive ones get to be a bit much for my kids. And older kids I think would prefer Technic or Mindstorms. Most of these are pretty recent (circa 2012 or 2013) and should be available at Amazon. Just watch for price-gouging. If stock is low, stay away from the sellers looking for prices above MSRP.

You might be asking… how many different sets can LEGO make with a car, helipcopter, plane, ATV, hovercraft. One of every color perhaps? The tricky thing is that they don’t label the sets all that clearly. A helicopter can also just have “Rotor” or “Copter” in the name, or might not mention any of this at all if it is one of the alternate 2 designs.

See also:
REVIEW: Magna-tiles vs magformers

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Sorry legos, magnatiles are still the best toy ever

BELOW IS MY FOLLOW-UP REVIEW… we’ve had magna-tiles, motorized dexlue duplo trains, and magformers for at least 3 or 4 years now. So I know what I am talking about! (At least with my kids! 😉

Sorry Lego, Magna-tiles are better. They just are… better than legos! (Sacrilege! I know!)

At least if:

– You have multiple kids including a toddler who you don’t want eating or chewing legos or pulling off ALL the arms off minifigs. (And I do mean all.)

– You want to build a structure of some sort QUICKLY that will be playable with other toys (like dolls, stuffed animals, little cars, planes, etc)

– And Dad has fun too! IMPORTANT!

One can also do pretty well if you buy a TON of Duplo (Sorry again Lego, Duplo is totally interesting to kids MUCH older than 5, the age you put on the packages).

– Not quite as easy to get big/tall creations going. (It still takes a long time with duplos)
– And not as easy for the little ones. The magnets work magic (and don’t worry… it’s safe… they are embedded in the big plastic pieces so no risk)

That said… You will be amazed at the stuff your 7 year old will build if given a mountain of duplo. And his little siblings won’t choke on the pieces.

Amazon has some big sets, but is an invaluable resource for gettings lots of long/bigger pieces that are in short supply in some of the standard sets one can buy thru normal stores.

So, for instance, our 8 year old and 4 year old can play together with our huge electric motorized lego duplo train collection for quite a long time. I bought a bunch of extra switches, and a bridge, and along with all the generic big/long duplo pieces, they can build some pretty cool tunnels and layouts.

Magformers are very good too. But I see that more as fun for older kids (and parents) interested in building buckyballs and Archimedian solids and other 3-d shapes. The issue being that they are a little “mushier” in terms of how their magnets hold and they are hollow (both useful for building shapes, but not for building playable structures).

What set? We have 2 of the “Magna-Tiles Clear Colors 100 Piece Set”. That’s really the way to go. Then with 2+ kids there will be limited frustration.

OK, photos to come!

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Filed under contrarian, lego, magnatiles / magformers, reviews

REVIEW: MAGFORMERS vs MAGNA-TILES (also: Icosidodecahedron using Magformers)

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

3D buildings
– matchbox car and airplane parking garages/hangars
– forts/castles
– mazes
– stairs
– 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.



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…)


Filed under erik-reviews, erik-VS, lego, magnatiles / magformers, must-have, reviews, shopping, toys


Whenever I consider buying a random car/truck type thing for the 4-year old around here, I have a hard time justifying it because I know in most cases it will be ignored/forgotten/broken/etc very soon.  My latest logic is, when in doubt, by the LEGO version.  For example… fire truck:

1) It will live on as parts long after the interest in the actual fire truck has gone.

2) I KNOW for a fact that the LEGO plastic is not PVC w/ lead in it, versus everything else (the alternative)?  Who knows.  When in doubt sniff.  If it smells, you can pretty much be sure it’s nasty stuff.  (Think, the cheap junk BOB THE BUILDER little models.  Scarcy stuff with endocrine disrupters/phthalates .

3) Who CARES that it is “age 9 and up” or whatever it is.  With some of the models I have built lately, they have been tricky for ME to figure out.  So anyway, we’ll see how he does, but for now, the point is… it’s tons of fun to USE once he helps Dad build it.

Obviously this strategy only applies if you enjoy building lego stuff yourself.  And your kiddo likes cars/trucks/etc.

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