Put a heap of adult builders in a room and soon the discussion will come to a point where the clone brands are mentioned like Kre-o, Megabloks and the likes. Opinions here are differentiated between `purists`, `in the middlers` and `je-m`en foutists` and the level of how far they are going to sponsor the competition.
But what is that competition? Is there even competition? Lego is a very strong brand, and a few years ago their CEO stated in an interview that it is not those clone brands they worry about. Lego is in the big leagues, their true competition is Nintendo, Sony, PC`s... they try to get kids be creative with bricks instead of playing videogames...
So what constitutes an actual `clone brand`? These are other building toys using a system similar to lego with studs and everything, and they look like, but aren`t exactly the same. Lego did sue some of them in the past, most notable a chinese company that even copied their box art only to have completely looking sets inside, and most of the lawsuits where about the patent of the studs and tube system by Lego.
The biggest difference lies mostly in the characters though. They are often bulkier then the iconic Minifig of Lego and not really suitable for mix and matching, but some make nice shelf ornament figures. I particularly have that with the Kre-O Transformer Kreons, I try and have some Autobots on a shelf...
But in recent years, some companies have been on the rise, not nearly rivaling the Lego juggernaut, but they do have some very intresting licenses.
Probably the one company, based in Canada, that comes closest to the Lego model. They have retail exposure, a wide range of franchises including World of Warcraft, Halo, Need for Speed, Call of Duty, the Smurfs, Skylanders and Hello Kitty. They also sell tubs of `just bricks`.
A small word of advice, if you can find the Halo boxes on the cheap at flea markets and so, grab them all, those are worth a nice penny in the secondary market, just have a look at eBay for instance.
The branch I perhaps have the most clone sets off. From Hasbro, they are the follow up on the Build to Rule line, and have nice series in their range like Transformers and Star Trek, and their `Kreons` minifigures. Yes, I will buy that Enterprise one day...
Build to Rule
The older Hasbro line, including actual Transforming transformers (though not very solid mind you!) and most of the series the current day Kre-O line flies, like GI Joe etc. Compatible with both Lego and Kre-O, but now for obvious reasons no longer in production.
A british company, they have the Stargate and Terminator franchises amongst others like World War 2 sets and such. I don`t have any of them, and the comments about it left or right aren`t that great, but that Daedalus...
A more educational orientated company, they do produce a series of Lego like sets under the Character Builder flag. Popular in the UK and surroundings mostly for one franchise: Doctor Who.
A Japanese company that produces Nanoblock, they have a (pretty) architecture line, and it is a quit popular brand in the land of the rising sun, as often Gundam fans use those for building their models. The bricks are generally flatter with longer studs and not really compatible though.
So those are about the most popular clone brands out there. But where do I stand on them?
I`m definitly not a purist. As you can note from the above listing, I`m not above buying some of the sets, though mostly for display purposes. I have almost all the Kre-O Autobots on a shelf, I have a WoW Blood Elf mini set standing between `regular` lego on a shelf (it IS medieval fantasy mind you), I`m totally crazy about the Enterprise, and often eye some other sets.
But do I use them in builds? Yes and No. I have a few of the Mega Bloks tubes of regular bricks, and yes, I dare incorporate them in some builds. Where they are not seen.
With that I mean, considering how cheap those bricks are (I once bought a whole tub on a flea market, unopened, for 3 euros. The owner`s kid didn`t want it because it wasn`t real lego) I tend to use them to fill up `closed scenery`. For example, the rock of the Wizard`s Tower you can find on my MOC page here, has been filled up with some pillars of those cheap clone bricks to prevent it imploding.
The bricks can`t be seen, and if I didn`t tell it here, no-one would know.
Is that wrong? Not for me, for me it is all about building creative things and enjoying myself, and if I can shave off one or two euros on a `build cost` for filler bricks that no one can see anyways, I`m not above that. It`s like those artists that glue their bricks in my mind...
And since I don`t enter things like builder competitions and such, I`m harming no-one after all.