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Weekly Set Review: Vladek's Dark Fortress

Discussion of official LEGO Castle Theme sets and products

Postby NinthCircle » Mon Aug 28, 2006 9:46 am

Well I own one of these puppies. As I have said before, I came out of my dark ages with Star Wars LEGO. I was hooked pretty quick and started to move on to other lines. Castle in the late 80's was my favorite. So of course I wanted to give the new castle lines a shot. I got several sets and was only pleased, oddly with the Border Ambush (I just love that set!). My view of KK was tainted.

Then they rolled out Vladek's Dark Fortress. At first I sneered. After looking at lots of product shots and in store displays my interest was piqued. I was pretty excited to build it, but my enthusiasm faded away quickly as I built this monstrous thing. I'm just not a big fan of huge pieces. I was disappointed that it flew together so quickly. The build was too fast. I didn't get to luxuriate in making the offical set as is my wont. There are tons of cool pieces in there like the doors and lovely stairs. BURPS are even starting to grow on me. I even like the sloped gray "stone" printed pieces.

However, I don't really like the 1x1 and 1x2 bricks that are five bricks tall. The parts lend themselves to constructing huge castles. I like slowly sculpting my structures, then I get plenty of room for detail. I guess a lot of the parts just don't "speak" to me. I like the color scheme for the official set (very dark, imposing, nasty, and evil), but these just aren't colors I feel inspired to build with. I think I would have been more pleased with bley pieces and dark highlights.

The official set is quite a monster. It's very imposing and has some nice touches of detail. I like the main tower that winds up being close to 5 stories tall. Some of the functonal gadgets are cool like the cauldron. The draw bridge almost works, but the chain links kink on themselves and it becomes difficult for the bridge to raise smoothly. Any resistance in the coiling of the chain and the rubber band that attaches to the gear starts to slip. That's a minor annoyance. What really bothers me is that the gate won't raise up all the way and completely close. The tattered banners are a nice touch on this set and complement to the color scheme well.

One thing that seems to be new ground for LEGO castles (I've been out of the loop for awhile so feel free to correct me) is that there are interiors. The interior floors of different stories and not just 1 stud out but enough to place several figs, stage battles, add more detail. I think that's a positive move and has been the only detractor from even the best castle sets. There is some attempt to flesh out some detail like a furnace and crystal ball table, but they could have gone further with that. I also like the stairways to get to the different levels, not just imagining that the fig traipses up to the next level. I hope to see more of that in future sets.

The overall look is impressive, but at closer inspection a couple things needle me. The crenelations don't do much of the overlap technique which looks a little sloppy and decreases stability. I also don't like the huge gaps (especially on the ground floor). How are you going to defend your castle when siegers can just chuck spears and plunk arrows at the defenders? It has a nice dynamic design element, but it's so impractical that it bugs me. The gaps would be more appropriate on the 3rd floor or higher (then the defenders could through their own spears and arrows onto the attackers).

And finally the catapults, jellybean knights, speckled armor, and siege weapons. None of the catapults work very well and they're ugly. The jellybean weapons don't work at all and tend to fall apart. Yeah, I hate the jellyean knights. I like the scorpion knights, but I prefer a printed torso. for some reason the speckled armor just looks lame. The speckled stuff looks great on vikings, but not on scorpion knights.

I think there are some great design elements on this set. I like the gangway and drawbridge. I just wish there was a little more detail to flesh out the elements. I guess it looks like an unfinished model. It's got a great overall design, it just needs to get fleshed out.

Obviously I have mixed feelings about this set. It would be a good parts pack if I liked the colors. The official set is kinda cool sans the teletubbies and useless instruments of war (wish they could have dumped those in lieu of more bad guys), it just needs a little tightening on the detail.

I've rambled long enough. Goodnight.
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Postby kelderic » Mon Aug 28, 2006 12:35 pm

Does this set have a back to it, or is it like the main Ninja fortress?

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Postby Sir Kohran » Mon Aug 28, 2006 6:16 pm

NinthCircle - that was possibly the best review I've read of this set. Plenty of criticism and praise. Well done.

kelderic wrote:Does this set have a back to it, or is it like the main Ninja fortress?

Kelderic


Sort of - you can move the walls (and everything on them) on hinges around the gateway/tower, so it forms a box (think 6080). It's fairly good, but there are a few gaps. Still, it's a nice advance, IMO.

- Matt
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Postby NinthCircle » Mon Aug 28, 2006 11:53 pm

Sir Kohran wrote:NinthCircle - that was possibly the best review I've read of this set. Plenty of criticism and praise. Well done.


:oops: Oh. Uhhh... thanks.
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Postby Sheen » Tue Aug 29, 2006 2:02 pm

This was my first (and still only - why do all my hobbies have to be expensive?) set since my dark ages. That being said, it should be no surprise to hear how much I enjoyed the build! I had forgotten what joy I got from building an official set the first time.

Some of the things I enjoyed about this set: The new dark red color is very cool, I definately want to get more of this. This was also my first tan, again, I'd like to get more. These were my first KK minifigs so I was glad to finally see what everyone was talking about and own my own. I like their heads. I like the speckled armor and I like the shadow knights. I like the overall 'big' feeling that the castle gives, especially if you put it on a table and get down at 'minifig eye level'. I can see how all of the moving parts (catapults, vehicles) would be enjoyable to kids, but I never really was a person to 'play' with my LEGO, I'm more of a 'pose everything and let it get dusty' type person. I liked getting some of the pieces that I don't have in my old 80's collection, like the stairway, tall columns, spider webs and wooden tub. I also happen to enjoy building in black since it's my favorite color, so I was happy to expand my black collection, and also avoid the fact that the new grey doesn't match anything else I own. And one last good thing I can think of, this was my first set that had numbered bags, and that made finding the right pieces easier while building, I thought that was cool.

Some of the things I didn't like about this set: The construction and overall look of the catapults and to some extent the vehicles was not what I would consider 'castely'... the parts used to build them left them looking too futuristic to me. The holes in the ground floor... well I don't need a castle to be completely realistic, it's just the overall 'feel' or 'look' of something that I'm more impressed with. So I could care less that the whole back of the castle is open because it has to be in order to play with it and see the inside. But the holes in the wall in the ground floor did detract from that overall look. Also, while I was happy to get my first copies of the 'jellybeans' I'm really not feeling any desire to get more. I found their helmets and swords to be too big and the color to be overwhelming... maybe too cheerful would be another way of putting it. Lastly, while I am normally one to say there is no such thing as a bad brick... the big giant chunky mask and swords are pushing the idea of the brick a bit too far for me. These seem like normal-sized toys that children under the age of 6 months could safely mouth... that happen to have a hole or stud on them. They just don't seem like bricks to me.

Well that sums up my opinion. Overall, I'm very happy I got one :)
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Postby Old_School_Fan » Thu Aug 31, 2006 2:56 am

What a wonderful review! I thought I might reply to this, as I have one of my own. After purchasing the Castle of Morcia, I have to admit I wasn't too let down, as my hopes weren't high to begin with. :lol: I simply thought I would get a jump on KK2 and see what it was all about. After this experience, I was weary about buying the castle representing the darker side of this hero-villian culture that LEGO castle has become. However, I was very pleased! The build was fun, and there is high replay value, as you can set up multiple situations with what traps and other goodies are included. Plus, up on a shelf, its dark appearance seems to loom over you.

Funny story though, as I purchased it in Arkansas and had quite the drive back to Nebraska. The way the castle sides are connected to the gate house make for 'easier' mobility!
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Postby ottoatm » Thu Aug 31, 2006 4:50 am

I was thinking about this review and saw my VDF box under the bed, and decided to put it together last night just for kicks... looking at it now, I have to give it an even better review than I did before. This is BY FAR (IMO) the best LEGO Castle to come out since the days of the Black Monarch and the Black Knight.

It's HUGE compared to minifig scale, and streaches out ominously with two black and blood-red wings, draiped with tattered scorpian flags and fire-disc catapults (that really work).

The drawbridge bucket that drops fire cylinders down on invaders is cool, as is the easy way to refill it (just drop them through the floor above). The removable wall doesn't look flimsy and is a cool idea (especially since the good guys are trying to break through) and the inside has scorpians, the orb Vladek always uses and... >GASP< a LADDER between lower and upper floors! :)

My earliest and biggest complaints were that the castle didn't have a back, but I actually prefer it spread out and enormous looking. Also, I thought it waskind of "holy" (filled with holes), but that is actually not so bad, and TLG did a good job making whatever holes did exist very small or bristle with spear tips. Finally, I originally thought the big mask was cheesy, but looking at the castle now, I actually kind of like it - it gives the castle an even more ominous, ancient evil magic look... I prefer it.

Na... this is a gift to AFOLs from the TLG - it's far better than Morcia, the Royal Castle, and King Leo's castle. We must all remember this is a set... not a MOC. If you were gonna make an evil fortress (and I don't see anything wrong with doing this sometimes), then I'd say this is the way to do it.
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Postby Rayhawk » Sat Sep 02, 2006 8:13 pm

ottoatm wrote:This is BY FAR (IMO) the best LEGO Castle to come out since the days of the Black Monarch and the Black Knight.

I've been trying to avoid commenting in this thread since I have a kind of obvious bias*, but man, that review just about exactly describes my feelings about the VDF.

Yeah, it's still got the jellybeans and cartoony bits -- at the end of the day, LEGO can't afford another year in the red, so there will always be design and story concessions to the target market of non-AFOL seven-year-olds. But seriously: compare VDF to any of the $90 castles of the couple years leading up to it and tell me that it's anything less than a triumph for Classic values. To have gone from Castle Morcia to VDF in the space of one year is just phenomenal, especially considering all of CM's successes and awards -- by all normal standards LEGO had no reason to change the formula.

Of course I tend to judge all sets by how good they are for BrikWars, so my perspective may be skewed.

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Postby xbloodyfangs » Sat Sep 02, 2006 10:05 pm

As I said before, just a giant wall...
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Postby nazgul » Sun Sep 03, 2006 6:05 am

Rayhawk wrote: To have gone from Castle Morcia to VDF in the space of one year is just phenomenal, especially considering all of CM's successes and awards -- by all normal standards LEGO had no reason to change the formula.[/i]

That's interesting, I had never thought of it that way. But I suppose many of us are comparing something from 1 year ago to another 50 years ago instead of something 1 year ago to something 2 years ago. So the supposed "degrading" of the quality of lego castle sets has been gradual, so why can't the increase of quality be the same? Is that what you're saying? Because if not please inform me.


Like I said, very informative,
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Postby Sir Nelson » Mon Sep 04, 2006 3:20 am

nazgul wrote:So the supposed "degrading" of the quality of lego castle sets has been gradual, so why can't the increase of quality be the same?
Not exactly sure what that means, Nazgul. Personally, I think VDF is an advancement over the sets of the prior year, and the short timeframe for the improvement is very welcome.

IMHO, some LEGO Castle sets are just designed better than others; as are some themes/factions better, too. But, every kid/AFOL will have their own opinion on what makes a set "better". Indeed, I am sure there are some children who absolutely love the KK and KK2 sets, and will grow up with fond memories of playing and owning them. Hopefully they will cherish their memories, and will continue to support the hobby when they reach adulthood.

I purchased a VDF set at just about MSRP after reading a review here on C-C. I can honestly say that I am very impressed with the set and the pieces, and I hope that this trend continues.
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Postby dJOLe_sk8 » Mon Sep 04, 2006 11:46 am

One little question about this set, if I could...

Well, the giant Vladek's mask is there, I must handle with it...
I'm just wondering what color is it, exactly...
Bricklink has speckle-black silver variety in it's inventory, but I saw red ones in catalogues as the black-reded, too...
Or there's all three colors included in different sets?... I'm wondering the same for those giant swords...
:?:

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Edit: Just to confirm my assumptions: :)
http://www.hccamsterdam.nl/brickfactory ... /index.htm (in german catalog 2005)
http://images.amazon.com/images/P/B0007 ... ZZZZZZ.jpg
well, not the best picture examples, but it's here :)
Last edited by dJOLe_sk8 on Tue Sep 05, 2006 12:11 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby JoshWedin » Mon Sep 04, 2006 3:50 pm

dJOLe_sk8 wrote:Well, the giant Vladek's mask is there, I must handle with it...
I'm just wondering what color is it, exactly... I'm wondering the same for those giant swords...


My mask is speckled and the swords are pearl gray, naturally I don't know about anyone elses. :)

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Postby kelderic » Fri Sep 08, 2006 3:23 am

dJOLe_sk8 wrote:One little question about this set, if I could...

Well, the giant Vladek's mask is there, I must handle with it...
I'm just wondering what color is it, exactly...
Bricklink has speckle-black silver variety in it's inventory, but I saw red ones in catalogues as the black-reded, too...
Or there's all three colors included in different sets?... I'm wondering the same for those giant swords...


I thinks there are speckle black and silver, speckle black and copper, and speckle black and red.

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Postby smegged » Thu Jan 25, 2007 4:09 am

This set is awesome. Construction flew together, despite the 900 odd pieces. The numbered bags really helped I suppose. The castle itself is detailed, menacing and has some interior.

The only disappointment with this set is the minifigs. Jellybeans and their poor siege weaponry. Only 8 figs. However, the new speckled armours were really good (and unique at the time).

I can't think of a better castle since the mid 90s.

Construction 9/10
Design 9/10
Minifigs 5/10
Reviewers Tilt 10/10

Overall 8.5/10 (not an average).
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