Enlighten Bricks: Crocodile

Introduction 


Despite this blog's title, I am not a Lego purist. I will gladly get Halo, Assassin's Creed, or Monster High Mega Bloks when they show up in a clearance rack; the figures make nice enemies and the blocks are just fine for building walls and structures, even if the quality is not good enough for brick-built monsters.

I have not and never will buy the clone sets that are just cheap copies of Lego sets. I will not support intellectual property theft. However, the 'Enlighten Bricks' company is not just a clone brand. They have their own set designs and their own minifigures, many of which are perfect for a fantasy RPG:


Most of the Enlighten Bricks sets are only available from ebay or Chinese websites, and people who buy them report that they take weeks to arrive and about a third of them never show up. However, Enlighten also has an Amazon store, with a few of their sets fulfilled by Amazon. Most of these cost significantly more than they do on ebay, but there was one, Fury Crocodile, that was cheaper and looked good, so I decided to try it out.

Opening


The set arrived on schedule, like most fulfilled-by-Amazon deliveries. As the site stated, it came without a box in a bubble-wrap envelope. Inside the envelope was the set and instruction booklet, wrapped securely in another layer of bubble wrap. The set comes in four numbered bags, designed to be opened and built sequentially, like modern Lego sets.

 Also like Lego sets, smaller pieces come in little bags inside the bigger numbered one. Here is bag #1:

The set came with Enlighten's own design of brick separator. I sometimes used it in construction to help press little bricks into place when they did not fit easily.

Minifigures


The minifigs come with the hands separate, you have to put them in the arms in yourself. On one of them, an arm popped out when I first tried to push in the hand. I was able to reattach it easily. The arms seem to fit fine for most uses, although they would probably pop out if a child played with them. I actually like this fit better than the hard-to-remove Lego arms; it makes it easier to swap them out for character customization.

The three assembled minifigs:

The biggest flaw in Enlighten minis is the gap between the legs and hip. This gap is noticeable, it makes the people look less real, and it makes the legs wobble in a way that feels insecure. It makes the Enlighten figs slightly taller than Lego figures.

Enlighten legs are compatible with Lego hips. You can move the leg over to a Lego fig, with about as much force as it takes to switch out Lego legs, and it fits well. There is no gap, although the movement is a bit looser than Lego legs. So the difference is the mold that Enlighten uses for the hip.

Aside from that, the figures are great. The quality is good, the paint is good, and the art design is great. These minis, despite their hip gap, will be a good addition to my collection.

Brick Quality and New Pieces


The biggest concern with off-brand bricks is the quality. Overall, I was very impressed. The bricks are obviously not as good are Lego, but they are at least as good as the collector-series Mega Bloks. The fit is sometimes a bit tighter than Lego, but overall they fit well and are easy to assemble. Most of the time they have a 'click' that feels almost exactly like Lego, although there are a few times they do not.

There are two types of pieces. Some have blank studs, and others have 'ENLI' printed on each one. The printed ones are noticeably better quality; they have obviously upgraded molds but are still using up the old ones to save money.

A couple of bricks had visible mold flashing, and occasionally I would have to trim this off with a knife for a good fit. In most cases it was easy to remove, coming right off without leaving a mark.


However, several of the the claw pieces had mold problems that made it impossible to fit them where they needed to go, and required quite a bit of knife work to scrape down.

The set has several pieces I have never seen Lego use. One is a Mega Bloks piece, and another is an interesting sliding mechanism.


These tube pieces, fitting over a stud, are interesting. They are designed to securely connect a stud upside down. I have never seen them before, and I like them, even if their very tight fit makes them hard to remove.

The set uses two sizes of ball-and-socket joints. Each piece is a mold unique to Enlighten. There is a larger joint, used for the body connections, that is almost the size of the large Lego ball-and-socket joint but not compatible. The joint used for the feet is their own size, about halfway between a Mixel ball joint and the larger ones. It has good range of movement and a decent ability to hold a pose.

The sticker sheet is like a Mega Bloks sticker sheet. They went on fine and stayed put.


Set Design and Instructions


The instruction booklet is very good, better than Mega Bloks. It was easy to follow. Blocks from previous steps are faded out, which is nice. Lego used to do that, but then they stopped for some reason. The number of pieces added per step is more than most modern Lego sets, as are the number of steps printed per page. They are about equivalent to what Lego instructions were like when I was growing up. I prefer this, it always annoys me to see a whole page of an instruction booklet spent on adding just a couple of bricks.

The design of the set is good, competently using studs-out techniques and Technic-style pieces.

Overall, it felt more like putting together a Chima vehicle than an off-brand set. The build progressed easily for the most part. However, the looser tolerances meant that I sometimes had trouble attaching a larger subassembly onto the main build.

Bag 1 was the minifigs and crocodile head. Here is the build before opening bag 2. Note the extra tooth, the only spare piece in the whole set.

As with Mega Bloks, the design is very piece-dense. Lego designers are masters of using a small number of pieces to make something that is larger. Compared to a Lego build, this set has a lot of pieces and detail for its size, making it feel more like a fan creation. It also feels very solid and hefty when completed.

Opening Bag 2:

Bag 2 in progress. Notice the sliding pieces. I did not know what they were for.

At the end of bag 2, the build surprised me with an excellent play feature:

video

I had no idea this was coming, I assumed that the jaw required manual posing. This is a nice trick, one that I have not seen Lego or anyone else use. Enlighten clearly has creative designers that are working to build fun things from scratch.

However, the jaw mechanism is not that robust; it often comes apart in play. A better design would lock it in place with some sideways-stud building, or at least a few more connection points. 

Opening bag 3:

In bag 3, the instructions call for an illegal connection. It is a sign that they do not really understand things like Lego designers do, but also a sign that they are being creative and not just copying.

 Opening bag 4:

And the completed model:

The model has lots of joints and is very poseable. This is not apparent on a flat tabletop, because the bricks on top restrict freedom of movement, but becomes apparent when you put it on irregular terrain like the back of a couch.

In general, it is solid and fun to play with. Nothing falls apart, aside from the occasional disconnection if you snap the jaws a lot.

Conclusion


I am very glad that I got this set. It surpassed my expectations; the piece quality is good and the set is well-designed. It cost $20 but it looks and feels like $40-$50 Lego set. It compares favorably to Ninjago dragons and Chima vehicles, and the minifigs are a great addition to my PC creation tackle box.

I would not buy it for a child who was used to Lego, because children hate the feeling of getting something 'strange' or 'inferior', but it is perfect for a teen or adult hobbyist who wants decent cheap bricks and/or more variety to their minifig collection.

Enlighten has become a respectable off-brand, comparable to Mega Bloks. You can see from looking through their catalog that they have very interesting original designs, and that they are producing a lot of themes that Lego is not currently selling. I will be buying more, especially if they put more sets in their Amazon store.

Set Recommendations: Summer 2017

As always, the lineup of Lego sets has changed in the year since my last recommendation post. All sets here are available on shop.lego.com, which means that they are also in most stores, although you can usually get a 10-20% discount by going to amazon.com or walmart.com. Within each section, they are listed in roughly descending order of how much I recommend then.

If you are just starting to use Lego bricks and minis to run a fantasy RPG, see my Starter Guide.

Temporary Deals 

These are my top recommendations while the price lasts, but you should not expect them to be available at this price (or at all in standard stores) for much longer:

Water Dragon Adventure: For some reason, this very nice $20 set has been available for under $13 on the Amazon, Walmart, and Target websites for months now. As always with Elves sets, the terrain is really good, perfect to be dropped into a D&D game, but the dragon is the main attraction. It is way too cute for non-evil parties to kill, but you can easily fix that by replacing its head with something meaner-looking:



Each set usually comes with a spare dragon wing, so grab two. Make one according to the instructions, modify the other to make something a little different, and then use the extra pair of wings to make something completely new.

The Kryptarium Prison Breakout gives you five useful minis, including a four-armed one, and terrain with good play features that can easily be a fantasy dungeon after you take off the phone and security camera. It would be a good value for the list price of $20, and it is currently being sold for $14 on the Amazon, Walmart, and Target websites. This is a good one to grab in multiples, especially if you need more minis and dungeon terrain.

The Lighthouse Siege is the best traditional-castle-like thing in the current lineup. This $70 set, currently marked down to $54 on Amazon and Target, gives you get a nice solid stone-and-brick tower full of good play features. It is relatively easy to take off the oriental-styled elements and make it more like a basic medieval castle tower, and the modularity of the build allows you to make it a flat series of dungeon rooms. It also has a good selection of minis, both heroes and monsters.

The Classic Creative Supplement is another $20 set that is on sale for $14 in several places, and it is the best deal for basic bricks suitable for a fantasy game. As I showed in an earlier post, you can make a lot of good terrain with it.

New Sets

Goblin Village


This is my pick for the year's best Lego D&D set. All of the Elves sets are really nice, but this is the best. It is absolutely fantastic, in several senses of the word, and is perfect for a gnome, halfling, or fae village hidden in a mystic forest. In addition to looking great, this set is absolutely packed with really nice little features that invite all kinds of exploration and interaction. The 'boy' sets are focused mainly on combat, and tend to have little play value beyond that, but the 'girl' sets are designed to have dollhouse-like features, and to look and feel like real places that people might actually live in.

The Vermillion Attack is probably the best value for the money at list price. For $10 you get three useful minis and a very nice terrain piece. I almost never buy Lego at full price, but I got this one when it appeared on the shelves. For best results, add a circular plate to the technic axle in the bottom of the egg so that the snakes fly out when you open it:



The Goblin King's Fortress is loaded with new and interesting pieces, including greenish walls and red leaves. It makes a very good plant-infested mystic fae dungeon/castle in a way that is almost impossible to duplicate with past Lego sets.

Mighty Dinosaurs: This $15 set includes instructions for three giant creatures to fight, all of which are well-designed and teach you good techniques for integrating Technic and Lego parts in a large-creature build. Normally I'd recommend it highly, but it can't compete with the $13 water dragon set, which has a similarly good creature and also a mini and terrain.

Moana's Island Adventure: Licensed sets cost a bit more, but variety in settings and people is valuable for running games. This is the only set in the current lineup that will give you a native/islander/wood elf style encampment.

Ruina's Lock & Roller: Even though I gladly add airships and other magitech to my games, I consider most of the Nexo Knights sets to be basically unusable in a fantasy game, with their techno aesthetic and focus on giant vehicles. I picked up a few of the Ultimates when they were marked down to $5 at my local Target, but aside from that I have stayed away. This is the only recent Nexo set that I would consider getting. For $20, there are three good minis, two of them female, and if you took the wheels off the vehicle and turned the big gray ones into static terrain pieces, you would get some good dungeon terrain.

Heartlake Riding Club: This is the closest we are going to get to a realistic medieval-village building in the current lineup of Lego sets.

Still Recommended

Treehouse Adventures and/or Lakeside Lodge: All of this year's 3-in-1 Creator location sets are too modern to use, but last year's are still good. Each one has instructions to be rebuilt into three good adventure locations, and once you have experience building these from the instructions, you should be confident in your ability to make similar things from a pile of loose bricks.

Raid Zeppelin: This $30 airship packed with awesomeness may be a bit too much magitech for some fantasy games, but Spelljammer or Planescape fans will love it.


Classic Creative Supplement

Recently I decided to see what terrain I could make using only the Classic Creative Supplement, a box of basic bricks that lists for $20 but is usually available for $14 online.
I chose this set because it looked like the best way to buy new bricks suitable for fantasy terrain. Many of the other basic brick sets have a lot of unwanted wheels or glass doors.

Here are the sorted bricks. There are a lot, about twice as many as a typical $15 set with minifigs, and they are mostly bigger bricks suitable for making good-sized terrain features:

The terrain building went really well. I quickly ended up with many good terrain segments, capable of setting up a wide variety of scenes. I wouldn't want to try to run a whole campaign with just this box, but it gives a solid foundation to add to. Here are some example setups, with a grid cloth and minifig from my collection:




Here is everything I built all together:


I made the outdoor terrain first, a grassy hill and a rocky cliff face. There are enough slopes in the set to make a very nice natural effect.



Next came a giant stone skull, surrounded by magical flames:


Then the creatures. This set contains mainly bricks, with no plates or advanced elements aside from a few headlight bricks, so they are not up to modern standards of brick-built creatures, but they would work as animated statues.


Then I made brick walls and fountains:



Marble-and-gold temple wall and columns:



A torii gate:


And then the leftovers got mashed into a decorated facade:


Not pictured individually are a set of tables and chairs, a decorated gray pillar, two more animated statues, and the other red-brick water fountain.

I ended up with a lot of terrain for $14 and a couple hours of enjoyable building. My initial guess was correct, this box of bricks is a great way to build good Lego RPG terrain.

History of Lego D&D

After surveying the Facebook group, I found that people have been using Lego to play D&D since 1980. It is possible that someone else started even earlier. Let's take a trip through the past, to see what real and/or plausible games of D&D would have looked like using the Lego available at the time. Here are the best Lego sets available for running a D&D game, when various editions of D&D were first released:


Original D&D

When the very first version of the game was released in 1974, there were no Lego minifigs. The first proto-minifigs were released in 1975, the year that Greyhawk was released and the game became independent of Chainmail rules:

That is basically the entire catalog of minifigs, and of sets other than basic bricks that might be useful in a D&D game, in 1975. There was nothing medieval, and no fantasy elements, but you could have made it work. All you need for castles and dungeon walls is basic bricks, and cowboy hats are always a good way to represent adventurers. All of the monsters would have been brick-built, with no advanced building techniques, because they did not have any pieces other than wheels and fences to make studs go sideways. Here is a humanoid enemy build that one of the people used:
There was, however, a ready supply of giants with articulated arms:

Depending on the desired tone of the game, you could leave those faces or replace them with something brick-built. You could also use them to make four-limbed things.


Advanced D&D

In 1978, the year that the AD&D PHB was released, Lego started selling its first actual minifigs, and a Castle set with medieval weapons and armor:

There were a few other options for equipping minifigs for dungeon-delving. Here are some guys with pick, shovel, handaxe, and a different helmet style:

And that is basically it. Any game would have to use those minis and tools, plus brick-built things. But people were already running games with Lego. Creative children will use whatever they can get their hands on.


2nd Edition

When AD&D 2nd edition was released in 1989, Lego Classic Castle had been going for several years. There were more realistic castle/dungeon walls, a better variety of equipment, elements like barrels and treasure chests, and even minifigs suitable for elves:



Also in 1989, Lego introduced Pirates, giving more elements and clothing options, and minifigs with faces:



Also, by this time, most of the elements for modern building techniques, like clips, bars, hinges, and headlight bricks, had been introduced, as well as tubes and other elements needed to make things like a Beholder (although it would have used a colored radar dish for the central eye). You could easily make most of what you needed for a D&D game, and it would have looked right. By this time, Lego was already better for running games than pewter figurines, even though there were no obvious fantasy elements.


3rd Edition

By the time 3rd Edition was released on 2000, Lego had been producing fantasy-themed Castle sets for years:



There were skeletons, ghosts, dragons, witch and wizard minifigs, and a huge variety of specialized weapons and armor. There were also oriental-themed sets:


and the Adventurers sets:



At this point, Lego sets are practically begging to be used in a D&D game.

Everything produced since then is just icing on the cake. All of the new minifigs and accessories are nice, but not essential. The only things that I would really miss if I was limited to 20th century Lego are the click hinges, technic friction pegs, and mixel ball joints that let you make much better customized brick-built monsters.