Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Top Five Things I Miss About Old School LEGO

Ok, hello again; now before I get too into this I would first like to apologise for my long absence (you don’t need reasons, just the knowledge that I am sorry for it), secondly I would like to state that in NO way am I belittling the modern sets of today. I love modern LEGO (seriously come to my house sometime and look at the shelves, I have them packed full of the stuff). That being said there are a couple of things about them that makes me somewhat nostalgic for the classic's.

5) Theme/ Faction Definition (or the Lack of it)

Now my first gripe is somewhat difficult to explain but I will try the best I can. Back in the day LEGO didn’t really care too much on defining the characteristics of a set, for example check this out.

Are they fighting? Are they friends? LEGO didn’t make you choose it simply said ‘here are a bunch of knights and a castle, now get to it kid and have some fun!’

Sure they had some definition (the Pirates looked badass for example) but that wasn’t what defined the theme and that wasn’t the focus of the sets. In the glory days the main focus was on ‘the build’ and the variety of possibilities that build offered. Why do you think the old sets gave variant builds on the back of their boxes?

What I am trying ‘inexpertly’ to say is that nowadays in the majority of themes we are told the names of the figures, what their motivation is and who they are fighting against as well as an overriding story arch for the entire theme.

It’s disappointing because it’s making children lazier why imagine some wonderful story when you can just watch Lord of the Rings and then act out that exact seen from Helms Deep. Yes I am being a little unfair here, but my point is no less valid. My ten year old brain had some amazing times (far better than any movie could ever get) me but now days that’s not the case. Shockingly enough I have even seen kids refusing to mix their LEGO sets because they don’t want to mix SpongeBob bricks with their city stuff! That’s not the way an eight year old should treat their LEGO. 

4) Packaging

The packaging of my youth had some magic to them, the big sets had fold up flaps were you could see all the LEGO, the back of every set had alternative builds and everything looked amazing as there was no digital images in the background .

Now a modern set looks good (if not a little focused on the action).

But the classic sets had an actual painting in the background and a constructed world beneath the figures feet. It felt like I could also achieve such perfection (simply by taking the set outside and losing most of it); whereas the cover of the modern set is an unobtainable fantasy.

I have a problem with modern packaging but I can understand why they put less effort into them. When I was a child I would visit the toy store every week, look at all the sets, shake every box and lift up every flap, it was exciting for me because that was how I saw what was new and available. Today finding a Toy Store is difficult enough and then even if you do, why go to all the trouble of leaving the house when you can simply order the thing online? (And probably pay less for it, ‘all hail the blessed Amazon’).
Nowadays there is no motivation for a child to leave the house, his universe starts and ends on a keyboard, everything he needs is there. I honestly don’t know any child aged below eight who doesn’t know how Amazon works or how to operate windows. Ok so this gripe is also against the modern world, things were better in my day, I like napping, mumble, mumble, mumble, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

3) Baseplates

Most classic sets had Baseplates, even the smaller sets; they would get a smaller Baseplate. Baseplates are awesome they give you so much freedom to do what you want and build what you like. Nowadays most sets (even big £80+ sets) don’t have Baseplates. This sucks.

I think I made my case quite elegantly there.

2)There was No Licensed Themes

 Now I know this gripe will be the one that causes the most anger, there are a lot of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Harry Potter’ nuts out there and they are about to be equalled by a similar number of ‘Lord of the Rings’ fanatics, so firstly I will state it again.

 I like these sets; I love ‘Star Wars’; I love all Licensed LEGO magic and I understand that the sets are an important revenue stream for LEGO and some are released to co-inside with movies. Ok now that’s out of the way, as a reward I give you the below image.

My problem with the licensed themes comes in three forms.

 My first problem with it is the lack of imagination it gives to children (I mentioned it above read number five to remind yourself if you have no idea what I’m saying now).   

My second problem with it is the cost, yes I know they have to pay for the licence but the sets are so much more and for a child with limited pocket money it just starts looking unfair. We all want Darth Vader and Chewy minifigs but this sort of purchase is at least 20% more than the cost of a non-licensed set (and can go even higher).

Average that out over the five years a child will normally collect LEGO (6-11ish) and they will have a much smaller collection. This smaller collection will again be tailor made to their theme and will allow little in the way of original building (wait I'm going back to point one again, sorry). It’s just that a child’s pocket money is special and to charge the most for the sets he (or she) is most likely to want seems a bit miserly.

My final and biggest problem with the licensed themes is the sheer number of them and the question of what could have been build instead. We have so many licensed themes that last a short while and then disappear; why go to all the trouble to release a theme when it lasts such a short amount of time?

Instead of having designers working on ‘Prince of Persia’, 'Toy Story' and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ sets for a year why not have a range that is worth something and doesn’t leave the collector felling like a jilted lover dumped halfway through their fourth date (the date just after they had put out)?

Imagine what LEGO could have designed without their overreliance on licensed themes?

1) Instructions

Instructions I hear you cry (its ok cheer up) we still have them, that’s not something to miss. Well actually the old style instructions were very different to the modern ones of today, they knew how to challenge a kid, and they gave the whole building process fun. Once when I was four years old they made my dad sit for five hours on Christmas day trying desperately to build the Kings Mountain Fortress rather than engage in his more traditional activity of getting hammered.

Seriously these old instructions were the boss; they even required you to build parts of the set without actually seeing were the brick needed to go and as for a piece call out for each step you can forget it. You show the instructions how clever you are, not the other way around.

I remember that building a bigger set felt like a real achievement. For example the 1989 Black Sea Barracuda (6285) required 28 steps to be built whereas the 2009 Brickbeards Bounty (6243) requires 57 and comes with two manuals; their respective piece counts are 909 for the Barracuda and 592 for the Bounty.

Seriously can we stop dummying things down for the kids; every generation before them didn’t start basing their heads against the wall when the received a challenge, these ones won’t either. You never know what could happen if they feel a little inspired.

As always thank you so much for taking the time to read this and I promise the wait will not be as long next time.

Cheers all


  1. Good article and I really agree on the instructions part, they are way to dumbed down.

  2. Loved this. You hit nail right on with the old instructions and boxes. I miss so very much the Alternate builds on boxes and the back of instructions. Those gave me a real sense of wonder as a kid in that any set i bought from the smallest 40 to 50 piece set to the biggest 600 piece and beyond behemoths made me feel that anything was possible with the bricks contained within. Such a shame. :(

  3. Spot on stuff. I for one cannot accept any of the movie themed sets though, never have and never will. Some themes like Star Wars have been rehashed for over a decade now! The only current ones I bought, and they were the first since the late 90's, were some Lego City sets this year, those are still very well done, and I never had many of the town sets as a child. There is another new faction out right now that seems to be "horror" themed....it actually looks somewhat interesting but I haven't bought any of them....

  4. Looks for subscirbe button :)

  5. Watching my soon to be 6 year old daughter play, I don't find some of these points ring true for her:

    [5] Themes: She takes what is at hand and makes up her own world. She had Star Wars minis used when building her scratch-built Hogwarts castle (I just read her the first book) and she never even thought twice about it. She has no pre-conceptions at her age about this; I am frankly more of a stickler on creating divisions as I try to keep her Lego Friend's seperate from my Castle set collection. :)

    [1] Instructions: The "new" format is frankly a gawd-send for her age. Whenever a new set appears, we sit down at the dining room table and open the instruction book. I hunt and peck for the appropriate pieces for each step and then she assembles it. For her, there is enough
    challenge is manipulating the pieces and diciphering the locations correctly. Breaking down the "what is different in this picture" style previously used into two seperate portions allows her to be in control of the build, as opposed to relying on me to tell what has occured. It is "dumbing it down" for some purists, but I find it helps her engage directly.

    The change in packaging [4] I am ambivalent towards, and the lack of baseplate [3] seems a bit chincy at times but all companies seem to be cutting costs where they can so I don't feel to put out by it (especially since I have a enough to cover a 4' x 4' through my collection already).

    BUT, the Licensing [2] issue is spot on. At best they are a cash grab; at worst a subpar distraction from existing Lego line that tend to be far less constraining in their use. The SpongeBob and Disney Cars sets might as well be single cast pieces, and the "fleshy" minifigs are something I'll never really think kindly of. They seem wrong in some way... which I guess makes me a conservative in the end.

    Nice thought provoking post.

  6. Can I add one more thing?
    I am a HUGE fan of Castle Theme, and I realize that in the old days, a big castle set will always, or most of the time, contain at least 2 knights, and many times 4! With horses and everything... Now, when we are lucky, we get just one... And the number of minifigures per set had decrease too... :(

  7. I have about LEGO hope you'll find what they're looking for Other LEGO set

  8. Thanks for your sharing. 6080 is the hottest LEGO castle in the world. XD

  9. i like lego star wars !

  10. Here's a lego article you might enjoy. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/01/why-are-lego-sets-expensive/

    1. Thanks for posting that!

  11. Nice collection. I love the last picture.

    Btw, off topic:
    Ive greatly enjoyed looking through your site and I was wondering if you'd be interested in exchanging links with my website, which has a related subject. E-mail me if you interested. Thank you.

  12. Totally agree about baseplates - they were really useful in building a city up.

    It also annoys me that road baseplates are now sold in T-road/Crossroad and Curve/Straight; an obvious money making ploy on the part of LEGO, and really disappointing.

  13. HI There,
    I have been trying to contact Lego blogs and fellow Lego enthusiasts to tell them about my new website and Kickstarter project.www.thebrickstop.com. Http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1401652493/the-ultimate-website-to-trade-lego-bricks-and-inst
    Please check it out.

  14. Great article! I like the lego one piece pajama photo! Very cool! Be sure to visit my lego page for tips on where to buy legos online cheap. Be sure to check out my legos page on tips on how to Buy Legos Online Cheap

  15. Building and playing with LEGO toys is fun and educational until it comes to putting them away for the day. Then it's just a chore.

  16. Hi,

    My name is Reekardoo and I've created this new sci-fi space saga in LEGO called GALAXY COMMAND.


    I need your help in reaching 10.000 supporters.

    Then LEGO will review my story and maybe will produce it for real.

    The story is only in english but you can find more informations on this fantastic new universe here.



    Thank you

    P.S. I see you like old castles so check my other projects in cuusoo. There's an original wolfpack castle there :)


    1. Nice, very original. I voted for you.

  17. Really well written...All of the ones I've read so far. Plus it doesn't hurt that I agree with pretty much everything you're saying too (there's not challenge in the knew ones, plus they all have massive designed pieces that further remove any building engagement). Wiki's lego castle article directed me to your classic castle review, and then I got sucked by that to read a lot more. Fun. Thanks.

  18. Cool creations... I also love to build and add my own creativity in Lego design. check it out at my blog Siraj’s Lego Creations - http://sirajc.blogspot.com/

  19. Hi Steve,

    I would thank you very much if you could give me a response. I ask you as a person that seems to be very informed about Lego. Look at that text, it was written by a follower of your Blog on the 1996-1997 wave of Lego Pirates:

    "1997 was the year I entered my dark ages. I remeber being very disappointed when reading the new catalog (last one for a long time) and seeing these awfuly designed fright knoight, juniorized town and NO new pirate sets at all. Yes the mediocre '97 pirate sets wasn't even released in my country (Sweden)."

    When I read that, it was unbelievable: I had exactly the same feelings. It seems that a lot of kids from that time, real fans of Lego, felt very disappointed.

    This dark period, in my opinion, starts in 1996-1997: We can observe a tendance of making the sets and the themes lazier, juniorised, poor, etc. In fact, there's no need to tell much about it: you know what I mean.

    Well, the question is: What the hell happened in Lego those years? Why this changes? Who took this decisions, and why?

    Sometimes I read that the reasons were related to the market tendances. But if the market demanded a simplification and a juniorisation of the themes, why Lego Star Wars, Adventurers, etc. was never like this? And, in the recent years, why the themes and sets are good, as they were before (Castle 2010, City in general, Pirates 2009 and Imperial Flagship, etc).

    In my opinion, it seems that all was about a dreadful decision taken by someone. A few people from Lego who thank in change, but in a very stupid way. Probably they were afraid of the videogames influence and the future of toys in general. Were this people the same that made the awesome sets from 1990-1995? I don't know.

    Well, what do you think Steve? And what do you think the rest?


    1. I can attest to the decline that started in 1997, I never gave in to the dark ages, but it was a real slog for several years. I remember looking through a catalog when I was in High School thinking to myself, why do I even bother?
      Things are much better now, but somehow I got fed up with the new stuff more recently because the same parts keep showing up everywhere. I actually do like some of the older specialized molds. I started getting back into the old stuff because of this blog. Albeit, I chose to go for Space, and this has been the result so far.


      LegoSteve, you were the sole inspiration for my blog, don't let anyone else take the credit... and good luck with that monkey.

  20. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0imA8XwACeM

    Check out this stop-motion lego film!

  21. I for one totally agree. There are some licensed themes which will last a while, but release a new one every single year?

  22. I completely agree with you on the old school lego. As a photographer I must also say your images are always a charm. Bright sharp and well composed. Thanks for blogging about an old hobby of mine.


    1. I Don't think all pictures are handmade but hey who cares.

  23. Nice collection and post. Keep up the great work with the blog :)


  24. Hey Steve, thanks for the Blog. I just finished reading all your castle posts, would love to see more! I can totally appreciate how life gets in the way of that though :)


  25. I so wish that I hadn't donated my son's thousands of Legos from the 1980s and early '90s to charity. What's out there now requires so much less creativity. As a former educator I long for the children making up their own stories and constructing structures from scratch not being told by the marketing executives what they should be building based on movie tie-ins.

  26. Love the collection!!! Keep it up!


  27. Life-Sized Lego Car Runs on Air, Is Unfortunately Not For Sale.....read more at http://latestblognewstrends.blogspot.in/2013/12/life-sized-lego-car-runs-on-air-is.html

  28. Steve, why no Lego Space?

  29. Wow well said Steve. You are spot on. There's also usually larger pieces in the newer sets and less minifigs. As a kid I remember using all of my pieces and alternating between castle, space, pirates and town themes for months at a turn. Good times. Regarding the licenced themes I read somewhere that the Star Wars range was one of the big reasons Lego was able to turn the company around 1999 - 2000. They were in a bad way back then which is no doubt related to the bad product range available 1996-1999 and lack of vision.

  30. if you want to do a visit, this is my website: http://www.legoblogworld.it/

  31. I really like the computer.If you want to check out my stuff here's my address : http://surgicallego.blogspot.com/

  32. Very good collection Homie!


  33. Yeah! It's great:) Good luck Man!


  34. A great page about Lego. I agree, that old lego are more fun. Good luck with new notes.

  35. Hi
    I started a website Bricks-Maniacs.com and I would like to invite You to take a look and maybe share some of Your Lego pictures or videos. Purpose of the website is to collect Lego related pictures (everyone can add theirs) and share fun, inspiration and cool ideas.
    I hope You will help developing this website and You will find something interesting ;)

  36. Muy buen blog!

    Te invito a visitar el mío!

    Blog de LEGO

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    Avisame si te interesa intercambiar links! mis blogs son pagerank 3!

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    Muchas gracias!

  37. Great articles,thanks so much for your sharing !

  38. great article!

    I thought I was alone on number 4, it is good to know I was not.