Category Archives: toys

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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Building a doll-house with magna-tiles

The photos of structures — dollhouses, parking garages, towers, etc, etc — that kids as young as 4 have built with magna-tiles over at amazon (LINK HERE) are pretty amazing and mirror the amazing (but also different) things that my kids have built. Who would have thought so many complicated mazes, castles, doll-houses, hot-wheels parking garages, stuffed-animal homes, airports, roads, etc, etc, etc. could be built with this one toy and keep kids of such different ages engaged! Interesting for the 4-year old and the 9-year old, and safe for the baby! And mom and dad don’t have to help. The kids do it totally on their own! What a blessing and the kids love it, of course! Independence! Imagination! Free and creative play!

As I’ve written about before…. this toy is really amazing! Better than legos! If you are balking at the ~$120 price for the 100-piece translucent set I recommend to everyone with kids I know, let me just tell you that after only a week I felt that this toy had already paid for itself in terms of the unbelievable hours of total engaging play and happiness it had given my 2 kids. And after probably a month, I bought a second set. So worth it!

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Marble Runs Review: Quadrilla vs… Hotwheels?

Parents (or dads?):

Yes, I know marble runs have a certain appeal. And yes, I know that Quadrilla claims to be for ages 4+ (!!!) but let’s face some facts:

1. Quadrilla is very cool.
2. Quadrilla is a bit tippy. Especially sets with curved tracks and sets with the older 4 loop funnels (notice, all the new sets including the set I recommend below have straight tracks and the new 3-loop funnels)
3. Even with the more accessible sets, one has to (at least for younger kids) think of this as something for mom or dad or baby-sitter to do WITH your kid/s.
4. The kids really do enjoy the sets when they are set up. But be ready for them to get knocked over too. And don’t stress!

OK, so here’s my recommended set:
VERTIGO (134 pieces). It has straight tracks, smaller funnels, that cool tippy thing. All good.

One of my favorite smaller sets is this one: Round About (91 pieces) (which is very similar to the BASIC from past years, but minus a few pieces)

(BTW, I can’t imagine the piece count is too too meaningful since some of the pieces are those little red “accelerator” pieces, etc. Vs the blocks and rails.)

HOTWHEELS

OK, but this review is also about comparing Quadrilla to Hot-wheels. My point is… kids love (even I did 35 years ago!) running marbles down hotwheels track or using hotwheels track in combination with a marble run setup (like Quadrilla) AND a good set of blocks. Here are some good blocks for example: Melissa & Doug 60-Piece Standard Unit Blocks

The basic idea is to skip the gimmicks and buy as much TRACK and BLOCKS as possible. And maybe a loop and a jump. For example, this one at amazon

Go for it!

SEE ALSO: All of my reviews

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Review: Magnetic Stick N Stack STABLIZER Building Plate 12×12 inches

I have a few things to stay about the gigantic 12×12 inch “Magnetic Stick N Stack STABLIZER Building Plate 12×12 inches with 128 magnets enclosed LINK. It’s a nice addition to a magna-tiles collection, but…

Basically, it’s currently too expensive. I bought one, and the kids definitely use it, but unless you really have a lot of money to spend, I think it’s a much better use of funds to buy 2 packs (6 pieces) of the Manga Tiles 6″ squares LINK. 2 packs even cost less than 1 of the huge 12″x12″ tiles.

Sure, especially if you have 3 or 4 of the huge tiles you can
– use it to help beginners stabilize (I haven’t really noticed this much, but I bet it’s true)
– build big car parking garage structures and such, but those are of limited use and the 6×6″ are good at that too.
– they are too big/heavy to use as walls or vertically or diagonally

the 6″x6″ tiles have much more interesting uses:
– parking garages (albeit smaller)
– roads
– building walls
– anything really.

The huge 12″x12″ size definitely has a purpose, and I’m glad I bought one, but I will be buying more of the 6″x6″ ones next time.

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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.

ADVANTAGE MAGFORMERS
– 3D geometrical shapes — one can make a number of these Archimedian solids if you have enough pieces.
– less expensive

ADVANTAGE MAGNATILES
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.

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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…)

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