Sunday, 27 November 2011

Special Pirate Sets, the LEGO Idea Books

Taking a little break from my regular routine of following a faction, I have decided to show you some very special pirate pictures, in the hope that you all experience a little bit of nostalgia or possibly surprise.

 Back in the glory days of my youth, LEGO released a number of books simply designed to promote the idea of building your own sets. These were called ‘LEGO Idea Books’ and featured a small number of builds for each theme they had at the time.

From all these books (there were about twenty in total), LEGO explored Pirates twice, in Idea Book 260-1 (1990) and 697-1 (1997), I here with me now, the combined pictures from both those books, I hope you enjoy.

Book 260-1, Page 38 and 39 

Book 260-1, Page 40 and 41

Book 260-1, Page 42 and 43

Book 697-1, Page 14 and 15

Book 697-1, Page 16 and 17

Book 697-1, Page 18 and 19

Book 697-1, Page 20 and 21

One final bonus image is the below picture, it is a shot of a unreleased theme by LEGO called ‘Europa’, it was probably never released because it was too close to both castle and pirate. Personally I would never give up my pirate sets, but I would have bought these two, ahh a man can dream.

I hope you have enjoyed these slightly unusual pictures, and if you would like to see any of them in greater detail simply click on the links below and you will see them on my Flickr page or on Peeron, my next post will be on Dragon Masters I promise.

Cheers all

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Lego Wolfpack Sets 1992-1993

1992 saw a new faction enter the LEGO castle world; while others had been obsessed with fighting and glory, these guys had only one wish ‘Money’. An official LEGO source of the time described them as "a feared group of renegades. They won't let anything or anyone stop their quest for riches.”

The Wolfpack (also known as Wolf People by some) were the bandit faction, destined to be the underdog in any fight, and despite only having three sets of their own they stood up and tweaked the noses of both the Black Knights and the Dragon Masters (in sets 6086 and 6082 respectively). Indeed the below video shows just how daring they could be.

(On a side note, it was this advert and ones just like it that really made me fall in love with LEGO, such genius.)

Though similar to the Forestmen that came before them; these guys were not quite so noble, they were less clean cut and shiftier looking (the stubble and eye patch really made them look villainous).  They also had hoods instead of cloth caps and were surprisingly organised enough to give each member a coat of arms (a wolf symbol on their torsos).

They were also far fewer in number and as such had less equipment, troops and fortifications (one small castle and one cart was all the received). They clearly had an effect on the LEGO psyche though because they saw a weird reincarnation in 2001 as an odd combination of Bull Knight and key ring.

It should also be noted that when the Wolfpack were released every other faction was still available, so a collector could have these guys as well as Forestmen; this diversity in the early sets made the Castle series so popular, it felt like an ever expanding world.

(As you can see in the poster the Forsetmen’s Fortress is pictured just behind the Wolfpacks Tower, something sadly missing from modern LEGO Castle sets; just image Kingdom commenting on Castle)


Set Name = Ghostly Hideout 1596 (also as part of Value Pack 1597)
Piece Count = 37
Year Released = 1993

This is a surprisingly nice little set; the basic idea behind it is for a ghost to be able to magically appear out of the rock. The set is a small tree (black just like the Forestmen’s) with a rock formation next to it; it features a sliding surface to place the ghost upon so that it can be moved (see the instructions below if still confused). I really like that play feature, it’s nice to have a practical set that makes use of its figs (the ghost) rather than just including them arbitrarily. Also the fact that the Wolfpack fig comes with a sword, shield, spear and cape is extremely nice, as is the inclusion of the grey bird (it should be noted that the grey bird is seen in every Wolfpack set, I see it as some type of mascot). Overall it is a nice little play set and one in which I approve the inclusion of a ghost. 

Set Name = Wolfpack Renegades 6038
Piece Count = 100
Year Released = 1992

Don’t panic my fellow wolves, the supply wagon has arrived and it is mightily stocked. Yes the Wolfpack see their forces grow strong with a set like this, a nice sturdy wagon design (with a secret compartment), the only horse they ever receive, a chest of gold to fund their criminal activity and enough weapons to make a quartermaster sigh (and a barrel full of whatever your imagination can think of; mine is filled with Rum). It’s nice to see a simple idea done so well, there is enough equipment in this set to make it an instant army builder, my only problem with the set is the fact that the wagon is a hard to turn, there is little manoeuvrability in the front wheels, but I suppose that wagons from our own history were not the most agile of constructions anyway, so historically its probably accurate. Truly I can not find a reason not to love this set, my biggest problem I have with it is the fact that I only own one (I will happily take donations).


Set Name = Wolfpack Tower 6075
Piece Count = 236
Year Released = 1992

This is the only structure ever released for the Wolfpack and it’s rather a small dingy thing. Built on water baseplate the sets introduces itself with a long walk across a bridge up to a rather foreboding front entrance, from there you are lead to a bottom floor covered in water (however that’s a good enough place to leave their treasure), and from this murky basement a ladder leads up to a haunted tower with nothing inside it but a ghost, no wonder the Wolfpack only stuck around for such a short time. 

Despite this rather poor introduction, the set is really nice; it has a haunted castle vibe to it and is very different from anything that had come previously the red slanted roofs contrast well with the black walls and the blue water and grey bridge complete the ensemble perfectly; and it should be said that the design on the front is a thing of beauty.

I should be noted that the Wolfpack in this tower are really in need of their wagon riding brothers as they are actually less well equipped than them (which is surprising for such a difference in set sizes). This set was also the very first LEGO set to include BURPs (talk about progress).

Limited Availability 

That is it! Three was all that the Wolfpack were allowed, apart from a couple of single figure appearances in a few Dragon Master sets these guys only appeared as a tiny faction for only two years. Amazingly they are still well remembered today. 

I believe it is due to their richness of character and the quality of their sets, a faction a few years later tried to follow very similarly to the Wolfpack (the Bull Knights) yet never achieved anything as close to their greatness despite a much larger number of sets and all the advantages future LEGO design could bring.   

I much prefer a faction to release a few perfect sets and then leave me wanting more than constantly churn out a large number of mediocre or poor sets that make me wish LEGO would try something new.

The Wolpack proved that it is better to burn out rather than fade away.

To see some of my own creation's using Wolfpack, click on the following links, 

As always, Thank you for reading, next on my list Dragon Masters.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Lego Black Knights Sets 1988-1993

The third heavy weight castle faction to grace our shelves came in the form of the mighty Black Knights; distinguished by their symbol, a blue Wyvern Dragon and a love of Black in all their structures. 

Sadly due to the fact that the symbol on their shield was repeated by the Dragon Masters (albeit changed in colour) and that their torso printing had been used before. This faction is often overlooked or misunderstood; many see them as early Dragon Masters or late Crusaders, they are however a faction all to themselves, it’s just a shame they never received an original torso printing to call their own.

These guys hit the ground running fortified, by the excellent Black Monarch Castle (6085) in 1988, this set gave them the initial strength to take on the more established (and older) Crusaders and Falcon’s. They were noted to be on very good terms with the Crusaders; however they had a number of conflicts with the Falcon’s, indeed the final appearances made by the Falcon’s were as the aggressors in a number of Black Knights sets.

They were also noted to have the finest fleet ever, in the form of the Sea Serpent, Black Knights Boat and the Battle Dragon (until the Trolls and Skeletons came along and outshone them in the castle sets of 2007). This greatness of sea warfare was sadly the only true strength for the Black Knights as they had no large siege engines, carriages or infantry battle packs of any worth.

The Black Knights faction also featured a number of advancements never seen before. They were the first major faction to place facial hair upon their warriors, they were the first faction to receive oval shields and they were the first faction to have the dragon plume. They also saw advancement in horse armour, theirs were the first sets to feature Barding and they changed the standard horse saddle from having only one clip to two (1992 was the year LEGO implemented that particular change).

Set Name = Black Monarch’s Ghost 6034 
Piece Count = 46 
Year Released = 1990

In 1990 LEGO released the chest plate, ghost, falcon (the grey bird) and the new styled helm; in this set we see them all. It is a beautiful microcosm of all that was new and exciting at the time, I never get bored of these style minifigs and the fact that it comes on a horse is a brilliant heavy cavalry army builder, five or six of these and you truly have a brilliant foundation for a mighty army. The structure itself is very simple but it includes doors (which were also new) and the pin technique so that it can be connected to a castle, (so it has some useful parts for Moc’ing). I however would have changed the ghost for a minifigs so that you could image it to be a small outpost; that way the ghost would also be seen as a rarer fig and something to be coveted when found it larger sets, as it is the Ghost fig was almost too common in sets of this era (the glow in the dark plastic used for the ghost is now no longer used by TLC, so in some sense the figs are rarer now).

Set Name = Battle Dragon 6018
Piece Count = 56 
Year Released = 1990

 This set was already reviewed in my Falcon’s article, however I feel that it still deserves to be seen here as I truly believe that the figs are Black Knights, still I have no idea why the shield is included in this set. Overall it’s rather bizarre; however I like the boat design.

Set Name = Duel Defender 1491 
Piece Count = 48 
Year Released = 1992

 This little set is the strongest of the Black Knight’s siege equipment, a small twin armed catapult that sadly cannot be moved, it does however rotate and is equipped with a fair supply of stones, so at least it has some strengths. It also comes with two minifigs and a fair supply of equipment and a nice green base (rather large for a set so small) so as an army builder it’s an ok set. The biggest flaws I have with it is the fact that we have seen a better version of this with the Crusaders (Twin Arm Launcher 6039) and that the fully blue knights further confuse the general design of the Black Knights army (I think I added these two to my Falcon army and used them as artillery men for 6030), on the battle field the Black Knights sadly were the least uniform of all the Factions and I feel like that is a shame (though possibly most historically accurate). I hate to see a set de-evolve as the years progress sets should get better; this set is less exciting than the Crusaders one from 1988, not a good thing.

Set Name = Black Knights Guardshack 1888 
Piece Count = 49 
Year Released = 1992

Another small set and another ghost, I like the inclusion of the ladder and small printed flag in this set, but I always felt like the soldier looked like a Crusader who had darkened his helm (I had this feeling a lot with Black Knight sets). This set was part of a value pack (1891) which included a space, pirate and town set, so I guess the idea of this value pack was to show off the castle series, I like the fact that despite only containing two minifigs you receive five weapons but as a set it does nothing overly special. 

Set Name = Black Knight 6009 
Piece Count = 24 
Year Released = 1992

I love the fact that LEGO had to show how creative you could be with sets; looking at the back of the box you can see that their design ideas for this set were rather limited. That being said, this set is brilliant, we have here possibly the most over armed knight in LEGO history, crossbow, lance, shield and two swords (why two?), he has enough weaponry to equip three more men! I love the armour and the oval shield, and an extra horse is always welcome. This set, 6034 and the fact that both Black Knight castles came with four horsemen are all reasons as to why so many collectors have cavalry armies for their Black Knights, LEGO made it so easy; it should also be noted that the printed face added some much needed variation for any collection at the time. This is one of my favourite little sets for the Black Knights. 


Set Name = Black Knights Boat 1547
Piece Count = 58 
Year Released = 1993

 Another set and another value pack (including 1624 and 1596), luckily this was an all castle value pack (1597)so that it actually made it very worthwhile to pick up, sadly it was only available in the US and Canada so us European types missed out. I like this more than the Battle Dragon, because it makes more sense with two warriors clearly on the same side, a decent number of weaponry (including the oval shield), a dragon plume and printed faces; it’s simply a superior set. However I prefer the Battle Dragons boat as it has a nice second level to it (where you can put the leader) and the Dragon face on the front looks less comical than this one, swap the minifigs and we would have the perfect small boat set; as it is both are lacking somewhat.

Set Name = King’s Archer 1624
Piece Count = 22
Year Released = 1993

This was the also included in the all castle value pack (1597) and I really like it, you get a printed archery target, a shrub and a reasonably well equipped minifigs. A nice compact set, have a couple of these in your castle courtyard and your really onto something; shame it was only available in the US.


Set Name = King’s Catapult and Stone Bomber 1917 and 2890
Piece Count = 22 
Year Released = 1993 and 1998

This is a rather odd set, it was released in 1993 and then again in 1998 as part of a promotion for a Japanese candy company (at which point any other Black Knight sets had long since disappeared). We see here a sparse catapult that cannot be moved or turned, so from a effectiveness viewpoint it is rather useless (unless attached to a tower on a castle). It was only available in the US,  but it’s not the best set so I don't feel anyone is missing out, but I do appreciate the square bricks as ammo (I feel they looked better).

Set Name = Battering Ram 1971 
Piece Count = 36 
Year Released = 1993

This set was part of a five piece value pack only available in the US, so sadly I never owned it; however it is very easy to recreate using the bricks I have in my collection. I like the fact that it can stand on its own and the little shield at the front to protect the man pushing it is rather cool. I do feel that it is a little too small to cause any major problems to some of the larger castle gates, but it’s still a neat little set, the oval shield is very welcome.


Set Name = Sea Serpent 6057 
Piece Count = 126 
Year Released = 1992

I love this set, it’s so fun and still unique for today, the Trolls have a huge ship and the Skeletons have a medium sized one (both of which I still like) but the Black Knights have the only small ship and for a good fifteen years they were the ones in charge. Strong pros for this set are the sail cloth with a brilliant printed emblem, the solid design to the hull and the very fair number of figs and equipment (it has seven shields in this set). This set is the reason why the Black Knights were seen as the master of the waves (chainmail and plate mail armour on a ship seems a tad foolish to me though). This set is also very special as we see the last stand of the Black Falcon’s. My biggest problem I have with this ship is the fact that the soldier armed with the crossbow has no quiver (one shot is all he gets) and that LEGO never made any sets similar; this set is so nice but never had anyone to fight against and as such it became a bit redundant for castle fans.

Set Name = Knight’s Stronghold 6059 
Piece Count = 224 
Year Released = 1990

This set shows the final resistance of the Black Falcon’s, I almost want them to conquer the stronghold so that they have somewhere to stay (as in 1990 they had no more sets of their own for the last few years). This set is all good, the catapult is interesting, the castle to well built, hinged and contains a jail, the numbers of figures are good and we even get a horse. It was designed to be attached to Black Monarchs Castle, which gives this set even more strength, my only criticisms for the set are the lack of quiver (again) for the crossbow and the ‘all red’ look on the Black Knights is very unappealing. It is a great ‘all in one’ play set, with everything you need to start loving Lego castle.


Set Name = Black Monarch’s Castle 6085 
Piece Count = 702 
Year Released = 1988

 This set is ironically the first for the Black Knights and also the first to feature barding, so I guess you could say that the Black Knights entered with their best foot forward. It is a brilliant initial set and the castle itself is quite an improvement on the earlier ones. The front gate is very imposing (I love the portcullis) and the design for the winch is a clear advancement in LEGO technology, the sloping columns in between the wall panels give the castle a very solid design and the black brick choice gives the set a clear individualism over what came before. 

New to this set we see barding for the horses (I mentioned that above), black knight shields (10 in total), black knight flag, inversed printing on the wall and corner panels (it was grey with black printing, it became black with grey printing for this set) and the jail cell LEGO piece. At twelve figs and four horses this set is very generous on extras and the fact that the castle can be opened (similar to the previous castles) gives a lot of added play value to this set, the castle does not come with any opposition however so it is following the trend of all the others, somewhat to the detriment of playability. 

 As this set was released in 1988 we miss out on some of the newer LEGO pieces that made Black Knights so interesting (such as printed faces, oval shields, armour plating, ghosts, visor styled helms) however I don’t think the set suffers for it, this set is a brilliant evolutionary piece (the missing link if you will) from what was, to what was going to be, it has roots in the past but its intentions in the future, a modern style filled with dated figs.

 It is possibly the last of the traditional castles and possibly one of the best, after this set most castles could not longer be opened or connected, the beautiful connectivity of LEGO sets (as mentioned at the end of my Black Falcon article)was disappearing to be replaced with something else, raised baseplates and closed castle design. It was simply change, neither a good or bad thing, however this open design was to eventually return to LEGO castle sets we just had to wait almost twenty years.

Set Name = Black Knight’s Castle 6086 
Piece Count = 588 
Year Released = 1992

 This castle is debatably the finest ever realised by LEGO, even though the raised plate is disapproved by some, it is still one of the most interesting, largest and coolest looking castles around. Let’s add up the points on this set.

Point 1 the style: The nice mix of black and grey bricks keeps the castle looking good without over doing it; the flashes of red roof and yellowed wall panel add a nice variation to the colour scheme as does the green from the baseplate itself.

Point two the extras: The huge number of extra items add some great play value to the set, we see twelve figs, all of a good variety (a Wolfpack and a ghost), four horses, multiple weapons, two types of shield, barding, armour, visor styled helms, cloaks, a chest, a barrel, a ladder, multiple lanterns, a goblet, multiple flags, the new single mould portcullis, multiple dragon plumes and the unique white dragon plume, and the unique large dragon flag (that’s a long list). 

Point three the play value: The extra hidden play value to the set adds a lot, we have a drawbridge and portcullis, a hidden exit, a ghost’s tower, a well and underground prison as well as the home styled yellowed structure on the side of the castle, there’s just a lot to do. 

 I think this is one of the best castles TLG has ever produced, the design is just incredible and it makes the set look so unique. There are plenty of minifigs with it but every fig is also different (even if it’s just in some minor way), you also receive lots of accessories, rare pieces and great playability, this set is as close to perfect as LEGO could get, it’s a shame they took this brilliant raised plate idea and used it so poorly in future sets (which will be explored in future articles), it’s clear LEGO knew what they were doing, yet chose not to repeat the perfect formula.

On an interesting side note this set was originally called Dungeon Master's Castle, so it is possible that these more modern knights could have been a splinter group from the original (the Black Knights splintered to become Dungeon Masters); however this is just speculation and the name was changed rather quickly, still it’s interesting to see how LEGO evolves (first a Dungeon Masters set and then in the following year a Dragon Masters Faction).

The Black Knights

It was hard for this faction to make a real impression on the psyche of the very young and impressionable youth that was yours truly back in the early 90’s. I remember I liked both the castles (a lot) but the faction itself never really felt like they had an identity to me. 

I could always see the Crusaders ruling the land and governing the peasants, I could see the Falcon’s marching to war determined to capture the larger Crusaders fortresses and I could see the Forestmen swinging through the tree and carrying gold off into the night, but I never saw were Black Knights fitted into all this. I remember I made them mercenaries for a while, then I made them evil, then I made them allies to the Crusaders, they fitted a role as and when I needed it rather than being suited to a specific style, I always had a problem with what to do with them. 

Finally when Dragon Masters came out I simply used all my Black Knights as extra warriors for them and because the castles available for the Dragon Masters were rubbish (in the humble opinion of the eight year old child I was) I used the above castles as their main stomping ground.  As the years progressed I forgot entirely that the Black Knights were a faction unto themselves and had nothing to do with what came after. 

This could be completely unique to me but during my dark ages I could recall every faction from the 80s and 90s except for the Black Knights, I feel like that is a shame as they are a great faction and deserved better than to be forgotten by yours truly.

I guess this article is a way of apologising to them for that. 

Thanks for reading
(p.s the above picture is an old prototype castle from the late 80's, sadly it and many of the parts shown were never released)