My thoughts on the evolution of LEGO Castle
Posted 21 January 2011 - 03:22 AM
Classic Castle, where it all started; the beloved Castle theme way back in the late 70's. Looking back at it now, it doesn't look like much: brick-made horses, torsos with stickers, excessive use of the colour yellow... but hey, it was a beginning.
Next came the factions. This is where I started getting Castle LEGO, since I wasn't born/was too young for Classic Castle. We now saw several factions, starting with the Crusaders and the Black Falcons. And what great factions they were! To this day, I still think the colour schemes and shields made for these two factions are among the fines LEGO ever made. In fact, the Crusaders shield (both variants with lions) is #2 on my personal "best shields" list, only surpassed by the current Dragon Knights shield. Of course, their torsos were rather plain... but that's just how it was back then. The sets back then were pretty good, especially the castles themselves. Very classic looking in style and with lots of bricks and excitement, often with modular builds. The carriages and boats and whatnot were pretty nice as well, though often with excessive use of red and blue. What was that all about? But the castles and factions really made the theme.
Then came an expansion, with a very innovative and beloved faction: Forestmen. Completely different colourscheme, another great shield and some very different sets. And what kid does not love the Robin Hood vibe? Just too bad they didn't use brown much back then, as eg. Camouflaged Outpost would have been so much better with brown instead of black. The Black Knights were another fine addition, that introduced us to stylistic black castles and another very fine shield (yes, I do love a good shield - they pretty much decide whether or not I like a faction!). And iirc, this or Wolfpack was when we first saw a hint of fantasy in LEGO Castle, with the introduction of the ghastly ghost! Which gloved in the dark! Woo! Sadly, I never had one of those. Still want one. Wolfpack then replaced Forestmen and while they had some good sets (among the few they did get), a nice enough shield and (finally) some of the pirates heads, they just weren't as awesome as the Forestmen... which wouldn't be such a huge problem if not for the fact that they were more or less a direct replacement that leaned towards them in so many ways. Of course, it was heaps better than Dark Forest... but more about that later.
Fantasy time! Dragon Masters was next, and while their shield was quite nice (but too similar to Black Knights) this was - in my opinion - when LEGO Castle started going downhill. Sure, we saw some cool improvements: new headpieces, new weapons, new non-pirate faces... and a wizard and a dragon! I know not everyone likes the fantasy parts of various Castle themes, but I rather enjoy them as long as they are done well. The problem with Dragon Knights was that the dragons and the wizard pretty much was the epicenter of everything, with nearly all sets having one or the other. Some sets were good, of course, but not very varied... and having for example a giant dragon head spewing rocks or whatever from a fortress was simply taking it too far.
LEGO did abandon the fantasy theme again (for the time being), only to replace it with one of the worst LEGO Castle factions I have ever encountered: The Royal Knights. Sure, we saw a king for the first time. And flashy chrome swords and crowns and whatnot. And skeletons (though not undead) for, I believe, the first time. But OH MY the figures themselves sucked... terrible terrible colours with a HORRIBLE shield. This was by far the worst Castle shield LEGO ever did, it had no reedeming qualities whatsoever. The sets were not all bad, with the main castle being rather spectacular (though weird choice of colours for this faction). But a horribly boring and ugly faction overall.
They then added Dark Forest to spice things up a bit. And while I don't have anything bad to say about the figures, the shield (since it was the Forestmen shield re-used) or the sets themselves (which I find to be rather good actually), it just felt too cheap of them to throw two former themes together in what looked like a last-minute act of desperation to find a new filler theme. I believe it had only 3 sets, which I would have outright loved had it been just plain Forestmen (or even Wolfpack).
The return of fantasy then came around with the introduction of the Fright Knights. Which were frightening indeed... frightening bad. While their colours and shield were not as bad as Royal Knights, all their sets were pretty much horrendous. They introduced a witch, which was quite interesting... but went overboard with the fantasy element in the sets that saw what appeared to be small airplanes and helicopters, powered by witchcraft, dragons and... uhm... bat wings. And their helmets were weird and ugly pieces with bat ears that made the knights more laughable than frightening. In fact, I wouldn't believe this theme was ever made had I not seen it with my own eyes. Thankfully, instead of outdoing themselves negatively yet again, LEGO decided to take a break with European castle settings and took it to the far east with their Ninja theme. Since I'm only interested in the European medieval settings however, I'll skip that part. Never encountered a ninja set either.
Knights Kingdom reintroduced European castle with two new factions, led by King Leo and Cedric The Bull respectively. Leo's faction had a shield that was slightly less ugly version of that of the Royal Knights, but even though they improved it I simply cannot fathom why they decided to re-use that abomination. Cedric's shield was a bit boring, looking a lot like that of the Fright Knights only with a bull instead of a bat. I belive it's commonly accepted that this is when "juniorization" started kicking in, and the sets were generally not all that impressive. And wasn't this when we first saw the horrible "flick fire" missiles...? Anyway, the sets weren't all bad... and especially King Leo's Castle and the jousting set appeal to me.
Knights Kingdom II. Wow. Just wow. I think we can all agree this was the low point of LEGO Castle. Much bad has been said about this subtheme, and for good reasons. Man did it suck. Big time. Worst LEGO minifigs EVER in ANY theme, horrible sets and even worse colours chosen (at least for the good guys). Though the sets did improve with time, and some of the later sets are pretty decent. Especially some of the bad guys sets, which had a nice clean black tone. I'd especially like to own Vladek's Dark Fortress, which without the eye-gorging minifigs is pretty damn cool. But still a horrible theme overall. And don't even get me started on the weird action figure-ish releases.
Vikings. Well... not fully fitting in with the other Castle subthemes due to being of a slightly earlier timeline, it still wasn't all that bad. In theory. I know it was meant only as a filler subtheme and that it was actually quite popular, but it was dissapointing to see them only fight mythological Norse creatures (mostly dragons). And some of the sets seemed a bit half-assed. They did introduce some interesting new pieces both in regards to torsos, weapons, faces and other accessories - and weren't the Vikings theme the first Castle subtheme to give us the new style faces...? But they also had tons of flick fire missiles. TONS.
LEGO then decided to go all-in on fantasy this time, bringing first skeletons and dragons and evil wizards and eventually dwarfs and orcs/trolls as well, likely trying to exploit the LOTR craze. The human faction was pretty good, with a really nice colour scheme and a shield that wasn't half bad. The skeletons were an innovative idea for a faction, but for obvious reasons lacked variation. The dwarfs and trolls were pretty innovative as well, featuring great colours and interesting shields. This theme really revolutionized LEGO Castle in my opinion, bringing in so so many new things. Tons of new pieces and the best colour scheme to date (only surpassed later by that of the Dragon Knights from Kingdoms). Of course, it wasn't all good... some hated the fantasy focus. And while I'll rank some sets as being outright awesome (like Drawbridge Defense, which I'll be getting my eager hands on next week if everything goes right) we also saw some pretty stupid ideas like the Troll Battle wheel or the Troll Fortress itself, which both were more weird than interesting. The King's Chariot was somewhat the worst Castle wagon ever produced and like Vikings, this subtheme had waaaay too many flick fire missiles. Did I mention that I hate those? But apart from the awesome Drawbridge Defense, there were several other damn fine sets - like the Castle Defense and Skeleton Ship. Not to mention Medieval Market Village, the best Castle release EVER which I really really hope to own some day. This theme, like those in the years before, had more juniorized building techniques... but also served us the best Castle minifigs the world had seen at that time. LEGO could easily have kept this subtheme going, with elves and halflings and a white wizard tower and stuff like that.
And then... we are here, with Kingdoms. Which, except for a very cool wizard, has no fantasy elements (so far). It has, especially for the Dragon Knights (which, as you may have noticed by now, is my favourite faction ever) GREAT colours and equally great minifigs. I'm not such a big fan of the Lion Knights, as I find their red/white colours semi-dull (which is ironic, since I'm Danish)... but they are still among the best of the Castle factions. The sets here are not all great, but much more like the classic sets of my youth than any recent subtheme... while still retaining juniorized elements, which are obviously here to stay. This is the best subtheme in many many years, as I'm sure most of you agree. A step in the right direction for sure.
So what is my point with my long ramblings? Well, it's to cast a light on the evolution on LEGO Castle. When I first came out of my "Dark Ages", I was all "oh my, the classic castle from my youth is FAR superior to this new stuff from recent years" - and I set my mind on tracking down old sets, preferebly NIB (hard, I know). And I did get a few, to my great joy. I even went as far as buying 6087 Witch's Magic Manor from the Fright Knights subtheme for no other reason than it being available MISB and it being a "classic". When I got it, of course, the package dissapointed me enough to postpone opening it (which I still haven't done)... because it really is a crappy "castle". I then got myself some of the smaller sets from the new Kingdom line when it appeared, and that's when I started to realize something: I had been idolizing the classic castle sets and subthemes because of nostalgia, not allowing me to properly see what was in front of me. Sure, the sets back then had more bricks and a less juniorized build... but they were also much more simple, with less attention to detail. They had much less interesting pieces. All the faces were the same, boring old smiley face. The torsos were overly plain and primitive, not holding a great deal of variation. There weren't as many interesting pieces back then and they really used some insanely weird colours for their non-castle builds, far inferior to the colouring of the last two Castle subthemes. Yes, I'll agree that some of the Castles from back then with their higher brick count were more interesting builds - and I do love the old raised baseplates, those were awesome! But the castles lacked the detail seen today, though several of the castles from then could still hold their own today. And there were a few cool civilian sets as well, which seems to be coming back now though. So yay. But most of the non-castle related sets weren't as good, varied and interesting as today imo. And even if I managed to get my hands on one of the awesome old castles/castle walls/etc, I'd probably be wanting to spruce them up with some newer parts and accessories here and there... because by today's standards, most of them are semi-boring on their own. Yes, I know many of you will disagree... but now I said it! To sum up my point: LEGO Castle is overall greatly improved these days as a whole, with only modularity being something I miss from back then. So when people, like I did myself at first, talk about how everything was much better in the old days, I think it's mostly nostalgia speaking.
LEGO Castle is in 2011, imo, in a great place - and I see little reason to complain. :)
Writing this, though, I did get an urge to buy new torsos and faces to use with my Crusaders and Black Falcons, to make them 2011-stylish... has anyone done something like that?
Posted 21 January 2011 - 03:28 PM
Perhaps I got a bit incoherent in the end, it being late and me being tired... but to sum up my point: when people complain about castle these days compared to castle from the 80's/early 90's, I think they often forget about the TONS of improvements made... and only focus on the few things that were a bit better back then.
Speaking of one of those things btw... does anyone know why exactly LEGO changed the plastic on weapons from hard to soft? I'm not a big fan of the new types, to be honest. Too much pearl as well. But oh well.
Posted 21 January 2011 - 03:52 PM
Ah 6080, that was my favorite set as a child. And the fist set I rebuild as an adult a few years back.
I had very similar thoughts a few years back when I came out of my dark age. The modern castles all sucked in my opinion. Then 10193 and 7946 came out. After finishing the 10193 build my nostalgia and prejudices faded. I have still not built 7946, but I have the set stowed away for the kids.
Edited by Follows Closely, 21 January 2011 - 03:57 PM.
Posted 21 January 2011 - 06:57 PM
Personally, I stopped buying castle sets entirely around the Fright Knights, and didn't get any until Kingdoms came out. I've since gotten some Fantasy sets and enjoy them a lot as well. Overall I'd say I'm pretty optimistic about the theme for the future, and if the Star Wars sets keep increasing in price it may overtake Star Wars as my favorite theme.
My Sets via Brickset: www.brickset.com/search/?OwnedBy=Mabes
Posted 21 January 2011 - 07:39 PM
And when the Crusaders and Black Falcons came around, there were also the Crossed Axes which I consider to be a separate faction even though they are allied with the Crusaders.
I love the smiley face! I've found that I've been replacing more and more of my armies with it because it's really difficult coming up with unique heads once your factions start to number in the hundreds.
Posted 21 January 2011 - 07:51 PM
Case in point-- I recently grabbed the 7097 Troll's Mountain Fortress on sale during Black Friday. I'm not even entirely sure why... I wasn't sold on the set from reviews I'd read, but wanted another faction and as we all know, the golden rule to Lego is getting something in store while it's still available before having to resort to the secondary market. So I got one... and yes, it's not as beautiful of a set as 7744 Police Headquarters or 6210 Jabba's Sail Barge, but there's just something really cool and different about it. What it lacks in aesthetic beauty it makes up for in its own twisted character. I know people who LOVE the 10176 King's Castle, royal knights and all. But try not to be too judgmental just from a Brickset entry, you might be pleasantly surprised.
But still, a great perspective-- and I share your sentiments for flick-fire missiles and the skeleton faction! Black Falcons Forever!!!
Edited by Mr. Elijah Timms, 21 January 2011 - 07:59 PM.
ANXIOUSLY ANTICIPATING AMAZING AESTHETICS WITH THE ARCTIC EXPEDITION SETS!!!
Posted 21 January 2011 - 08:13 PM
I agree with this. When I came back to Lego recently, I found that I had a mental image in my head of how awesome my Lego sets from my youth used to be, but that image was way different from reality. The wolfpack and forestmen from my youth (and the original pirates) are quite simply less detailed than the building techniques and minifigs of today. I found the same to be true of "saturday morning" (kids) cartoons on television. Go back and watch something like Transformers or He-Man or whatever kids cartoon you remember from your youth. After about 40 seconds you'll realize that those shows have really bad animation and production values. It's like that; you remember things in a rosy light, and how you remember it is skewed by your perception as a child.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I only had a few forestmen and wolfpack sets as a kid. Good thing I'm an adult now and can buy them all ahahahAHAHAHAHA!!! I liked how you mentioned the ghost too. I forgot about him! My godchildren have all my old Lego now (my mom gave them away). It's good to know that they might be playing around with my old forestmen and captain redbeard right now.
Posted 21 January 2011 - 09:46 PM
I've always considered the Crusaders to be part of the Lion Knights faction and not a faction in their own right.
I differ in your opinion of the Royal Knights as I think there are some good sets in that faction, in particular 6090 Royal Knight's Castle.
I'm not keen on the Dragon Knights, Fright Knights, KK I, KK II and Fantasy factions.
The classic Lion Knights, Black Falcons, Forestmen and Black Knights cannot be surpassed in my opinion.
Of course, the new Kingdoms theme has bought us a new Renaissance to the Castle theme and we can look forward to the new sets this Summer!
Posted 21 January 2011 - 10:52 PM
Again, I can only base this on pictures I've seen on Bricklink so take that for what it's worth.
Posted 21 January 2011 - 11:28 PM
With Fright Knights and UFO lego introduced "bad guys" and while some may argue that this started LEGO's continuing trend of being more battle oriented and violent - I saw it as drawing away from human vs human conflict that, as a kid (and now) isn't as appealing to me. Philosophical rant aside - I think Fright Knights deserves credit for having the first (and only?) vertically designed large castle and giving us this: http://www.brickset....ail/?Set=6007-1 - There was no better way for a 10 year old to spend $4.50 - a black dragon, a cape, and a minifigure that looks like the "Dark Lord". Yes, please.
Edited by mcfarlandman, 21 January 2011 - 11:38 PM.
Posted 22 January 2011 - 12:37 AM
Edited by brickartist, 22 January 2011 - 12:38 AM.
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Posted 22 January 2011 - 02:26 AM
Supporting in Cuusoo: trebuchet, big trees, medieval theatre wagon, blacksmith's house...
Posted 22 January 2011 - 03:20 AM
Exactly! Same colourschemes and shields, but new torsos and heads.
And when the Crusaders and Black Falcons came around, there were also the Crossed Axes which I consider to be a separate faction even though they are allied with the Crusaders.
Sorry, my knowledge on the sets preceding Crusaders/Black Falcons is extremely limited... so forgive me for missing some guys there.
The guys with the crossed axes, did they not come with Crusader shields? Or am I remembering that wrong? They have the exact same colourscheme and only have the torso print differently, and I personally remember it as if they were Crusaders and used Crusader shields... but I could be mistaken.
How about we call it a tie?
No, can't say I had the pleasure...
To each their own. It's one of my biggest gripes with the old minifigs, it makes them way too generic... and even worse, the weird happy face just doesn't go well along with combat scenes.
You're probably right, most of my views are based on reviews here on Eurobricks. A first hand experience might change my views on some sets, but I doubt they'll change much in regards to my views on factions as a whole, colours used, acccesories, etc.
This is definately true. I had the exact same (very dissapointing) experience with Transformers, one of my favourite memories from childhood. Hell, I even got nostalgic and bought some old G1 figs about 7 years back... but yeah, those cartoons are pretty poor standard from more than one perspective. They are still heaps better than the recent movies though, but that's for another discussion.
Yeah I agree with you that the castle is good (as I think I wrote as well), but that's pretty much all I like from that subtheme.
Yes, some of those KKII sets did have some interesting and different ideas. I just feel they were poorly executed, for the most part... with eye-gorging colours and way too juniorized parts. But they were different, and there were some fair ideas. That I'll give you.
Again, thanks for all the responses - sorry if I missed commenting on something.
Edited by Hive, 22 January 2011 - 03:20 AM.
Posted 22 January 2011 - 03:57 AM
Absolutely! Or even just another wave of new and improved Black Falcons, or Wolfpack! Or Forestmen!! I've even thought of creating a window graphic for my car based on the Black Falcons shield!
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Posted 22 January 2011 - 08:41 AM
My dark age ended with the coming of the Viking line. I loved it, but if it was released today I wouldn't buy most of the sets.
Later came the Castle line, I like the Dwarf mine very much and the whole line as well. And it became even better with the coming of Kingdoms. ( A friend (not an AFOL) who played with 80ies sets said the Kingdoms line reminds him of the sets from the 80ies.
Although I don't own any of the Knights kingdom sets, I can live with Set 8813
In the time TLC released the KK sets, all other themes weren't that great either in my opinion.
I must agree with most of you about the evolution of Lego Castle.
It's nice to see that most people share the same opinion about what they like and don't like in the Castle sets.
Posted 22 January 2011 - 10:58 AM
I mainly disagree on some of the shields. The Royal Knight's shield always looked good to me - what is it about it you dislike? Big lion, crown, looks pretty good to me. I also quite liked the Fright Knights shield, though maybe because I only ever had one of it, so it was always somewhat rare. Still, it looks pleasantly evil to me, and while the winged helmet's kind of useless for actual combat, I find it good for suits of armour. Plus it fits a dragon faction well as well.
As for Knight's Kingdom I, I agree that the royal shield was a bit dull, but the bull's! I think it might be one of my favourite lego shields (along with the kingdoms lion shield, I'm a sucked for kite shapes), because it feels more organic and real with the nails around the edge. I've used it for saxons before and it works great.
Posted 22 January 2011 - 03:20 PM
Having a lion on the shields is nothing bad in itself, it was heavily used during the middle ages in real life. But this particular shield... well to me, it just looks like a silly logo from a kid's cartoon about happy animals living in a forest. It doesn't look at all like heraldy, unlike those shields of eg. the Crusaders, Black Falcons or those of the Kingdoms line - which all pretty much look like something that could actually have been coat of arms for a real faction/nation/family/etc in the medieval times.
But hey, it's great to hear some different views. It would be boring if we all had the exact same taste anyway.
Posted 22 January 2011 - 10:17 PM
Exactly. Sadly, I have quite a lot of those shields in order to match up with my minifigs. I much prefer Crusaders and the new Lions shields.
Posted 22 January 2011 - 10:51 PM
I think the original forestmen theme would have to be my favourite of all time, after the S1 minifigs popped up I bought way too many forestmen figures, I then had to buy some of the originals too! I was a kid when that theme came out but I was a space fan when I was younger and completely missed all of the old castle stuff, ive since bought a few of the smaller sets though.
Whilst i liked the Medieval market village,its the only castle set ive ever put up for sale,its good but not that good. Detailed yes but a bit dull compared to my castles etc...and it doesnt really go with the other castle stuff imo. Take a peek in the for sale section if you want mine!
Posted 23 January 2011 - 08:43 PM
All my old minfigs have new faces but not torsos, it makes them look great.
theres a couple of pics of them in my posts if anyone is interested in how it looks.
Hope that helps,
btw i agree completely that this is a great time to love lego castles
Edited by SirSven7, 24 January 2011 - 09:12 PM.
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Posted 02 December 2012 - 03:17 PM
Yes, the yellybean knights are horrible, horrible wastes of otherwise good plastic. And most of their sets are mediocre at best, terrible at worst. And while they include several different shields, none of them manage to impress me much. But on the other hand, Vladek's faction has really grown on me; several, if not most, of the Vladek sets are actually pretty good and high on my wanted list now, due to their great colours, better than average figures and amazing shields. And the structures themselves are often pretty good as well, like the previously mentioned Vladek's Dark Fortress as well as sets like Dark Fortress Landing and Vladek's Siege Engine. In fact, I consider Vladek's faction (let's call them 'Scorpion Knights') to be in the top 5 of all-time greatest Castle factions nowadays!
Has anyone else drastically changed their opinions on a theme or subtheme like that over time?
Posted 02 December 2012 - 07:47 PM
Strangely enough I was leafing through the instructions for 8877 Vladek's Dark Fortress the other night and whilst the jelly bean knights are still horrendous I have to say that it is one of the best castle builds available. Unlike the original 6080 King's Castle and 6074 Black Falcon's Fortress, both personal favourites, it's got considerable interior detail with snakepits and fires. Those BURPs and sloping panels whilst to many are considered dumb building, give the castle more substance than it could possibly hope to achieve through brick built means. Contrast it with the more modern brick built sets and you don't get anything with as much presence.
My intrest in raised baseplates has reached the point where I've just picked up a 6776 Ogle Command Center purely to see what I can do with the baseplate.
Posted 02 December 2012 - 11:52 PM
Take a look at the Fright Knight torsos. They have some of the best torsos ever produced for castel, IMHO.
This is my favorite:
These are both great:
i kind of like the bat helmets for an evil army too... :)
Oh, and I like this barding:
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