Usually, my only contact with non-Lego interlocking building blocks is throwing out the Mega Bloks in the bulk Lego I buy from time to time. I have a sort of Nuremberg Law thing going and don’t tolerate any fake Lego to consort with the pure line. It is removed and given away as soon as I detect it.
I have however, just acquired some “nanoblocks”. In the shop I was browsing they just looked like adorable tiny Japanese copies of Lego bricks – I could see a lot of 2 x 4’s, 1 x 1s, 1 x 2’s and so on. The truth turned out to be more interesting.
First up, these things are tiny. In this picture you can see that a nanblock 2×4 is the same size and a Lego 1×2 plate.
Since this is a ‘brick’ it’s also significant that the ratio of the stud height to the brick height is much larger.
The second important difference is in the locking system. Instead of the once patented tube system used by Lego, the nanoblock bricks (wider than one unit) have two strips of plastic. The UK importer calls this the “double ridged backing system”. I imagine this is a way of sticking interlocking bricks together without infringing Lego’s patents. This locking system has a couple of impacts.
The first is that the bricks have nowhere near the clutch power of a Lego system brick. This means that nanoblock models are not playable – you can build and display them, but they’ll fall apart as soon as you lift them up. The second is more interesting; bricks are not forced into integer stud positions, they can be slid along.
At first I was horrified by this blasphemy, but it actually opens up a number of interesting building possibilities.
Although adding a substantial amount of flexibility, this feature also contributes to the lack of structural rigidity in models. One often finds that you need to squeeze bricks back into position, or that you are holding ‘straight’ edges of the model against the table and pushing bricks to get them to line up.
There is a much smaller range of brick types in nanoblocks, so if you are one of the old school crowd that hate poop you’ll be pleased with the restricted range. nanoblocks currently only have eleven brick shapes. 2×8, 2×4, 1×4, 1×3, 1×2, 1×2 jumper (glossary), 1×1, 1×1 round, 2×2 ball, 2×2 socket.
I purchased and built the NBC_144 Gray Wolf. It was a fun build – the main trickiness was just how damn small the pieces are (there are special tweezers available). The other problem was the earlier mentioned low clutch power and lack of strict stud locking location. It’s difficult to get the wolf’s legs as neat as in the picture.
Of course, the success of anything like this will always engender Chinese copies, and there are a few in this space. Notable are Loz Diamond and WEAGLE. of the two, the Loz brand seems to be the most popular. They seem to run a loser game as far as intellectual property goes and their bricks have the tube locking system presumably copied from TLG . Loz are substantially cheaper so I’ve ordered a set to look at.
Although I have a dirty feeling of having gone over to the dark side, these nanoblocks are a lot of fun. Their strength is going to be in making models to look at, especially architectural models. They do have a lot of licensed sets, including Pokémon, so if that’s your thing nanoblocks could be for you.