I'm. a woman of slender means who likes building with Lego, but with surviving on just an Invalid's pension I can very rarely afford genuine Lego unless it's either cheap second hand or if new heavily discounted. I'm really keen on modelling railways in bricks, but the only way I can do this is by buying Enlighten's train series, - though just recently I've put a couple of Banbao's trainsets on layby with the intention of mining them for their trackwork, motor blocks and control systems as I'm only interested in steam era railways. The rest of the Banbao bricks will go into my storage bins for future projects; - and yes I do know that Banbao uses a different brick sizing to Lego, but it's easy enough to work around that.
The main reason I buy Enlighten's train series is that they sell individual coaches, goods wagons, locos and track packs and I can easily purchase them locally at a price I can afford. Yes I know they are frank copies of Lego's past train series, but the simple fact is I can't buy any of the Lego originals now unless I go chasing around on Bricklink buying them brick by brick and most probably spending far too much money doing it. Actually it might surpise some Lego zealots that some of their passenger coaches are Enlighten originals and not clones/copies at all and they are extremely good value too.
Sluban make a train series too which is an Oxford copy. I don't care much for any of the rolling stock designs Sluban offers, but I do like their steam loco. I have two on the water at the moment that I ordered directly from China.
I used to be heavily into wargaming at one time until I made the personal decision that I didn't want to be involved with anything that even resembled warfare. And yes I played Brikwars and found it to be better and cheaper than buying proper 'serious' wargaming models and then having to individually handpaint them all. Something the clone brands do very well is military models and military minifigs. Most of my military trucks and armor were by Cogo, though I did have a Banbao tank and two Kazi armored cars as well. Banbao's helicopters are better than anything any of the other makers do and that includes Lego, I ended up with three Marine helicopters, an Attack helicopter and a Medivac helicopter before I flagged wargaming away. All my brick military models are broken down back into bricks again, but I kept my Banbao Medivac helicopter assembled and on display because it's just such a nice model.
Yes I will admit that some of the copy/clone makers don't make very good bricks, but I quickly found out which makers to avoid. Ligo should be avoided, misshapen bricks are commonplace, the clutch is rubbish and the plastic used is variable in quality. Their minifigs are poor quality as well, the plastic is brittle and they can fall apart just standing around.
Kazi can be a mixed bag, - the two armored car sets I purchased were actually very good, but a battleship set I purchased when I was considering trying some naval warfare rules could only be completed by substituting a good few of the Kazi bricks with Cogo ones.
I find Enlighten to be generally pretty good. On the railway series models I've been building lately the clutch has been really good and once put together there's no problems with anything falling apart. Their minifigs are Ok, but tend to lack variety. Their detail printing is good though and they go together well and stay together once assembled.
Cogo make good bricks, but the design of some of their models can be a bit strange at times. I will still buy certain Cogo sets just to mine for their bricks. Generally I used Cogo's military vehicles as a basis for customisation because their sets contained some really useful parts not found in Lego sets. Cogo copies other makers Minfig details and designs. Cogo military minifgs have equipment that looks very Bestlock like as an example and one of their jeep sets has a minifig who has a nose (He's the only one mind you out of all their military set minifigs. I used to use him as an officer). Their horses are very nice and look much better than Lego ones. Most of my cavalry ended up with Cogo horses.
Sluban I find can be good in parts, but can be strangely inconsistent in the general design of their sets. Occasionally I've found miscast bricks in their sets and parts can can be oddly distorted sometimes. Sometime ago I purchased a large Sluban pirate ship set and was only able to complete it so it wouldn't fall apart by building in a lot more support pieces into the hull than were called for in the instructions. Their minifigs aren't anything great to write home about either, but the detail printing is usually alright.
Banbao is generally pretty good, but sometimes a brick will be found in a set that has little or no clutch at all. Mostly substitution will solve the problem, but I have had it happen with a special or unique brick that's essential to keeping the model together in one piece. Banbao bricks are slightly taller than Lego bricks and the studs are taller as well. Banbao bricks work ok with the old style Bestlock bricks, but need a little creative technique to get them to work with Lego and Lego clone bricks. Banbao minifigs are ok and I've never had any problems with them.
Lego is very expensive here in New Zealand and there are no dedicated Lego stores. Toy shops and chain stores in the main centres will carry a range of sets, but often without any great sense of imagination in the selection they offer. Local shops around where I live will buy in Lego around Christmas and the unsold leftovers remain on the shelves for the rest of the year with no more being ordered in until Christmas comes around again.
At the moment I can readily buy both Enlighten and Banbao from traders here in NZ who keep a good stock and range of sets on the shelves. The prices are really good too and after placing an order I usually have it within a couple of days. As I'm starting on building a town I've just purchased a couple of Wange villa sets to see how they will work out. I fully intend to modify these to suit my needs, but the way I see it getting 755 bricks and a large baseplate for $NZ36.00 is a darn good deal even if I might have to throw one or two bricks away because they don't fit right.
I will comment though that most clone/copy makers of bricks operating out of China aren't too clever about getting the brick count in the box correct. Once or twice I've had a surprising amount of left over bricks including some that are plainly not meant to be a part of the set. Two or three left over is fairly comon as is being one or two bricks short, but I can't say it's been a big problem as I own a considerable amount of bricks already and can normally find replacements fairly quickly in my storage boxes. The way I see it I'd much rather pay a quarter to a third of the Lego price for brick construction sets and risk the odd misshapen or missing brick than pay the Lego price and end up with a lot less bricks for my money. It's not a difficult decision to make really.