We've done a lot of Lego-centric stuff in the past, but for the most part we write about the big extravagant sets. The ones that take a long time to build, cost a fair bit, and require some discipline to put together properly. Recently, though, Lego set over something completely different: two Lego Star Wars sets designed for kids as young as four years old. Specifically the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter.
This presented a bit of a challenge. I may be quite childish, but I'm still an adult in my late twenties and don't really see things the way small children might. Do we really need an adult's perspective on a set that's supposedly simple enough for a young kid? I'd argue not, which is why I gave both sets to my friend's six-year old daughter. Not only is she a small child, she also likes Lego and Star Wars, making her the perfect person to enlist. Not that I actually know anyone else with kids.
Lego's 4+ range is exactly what is sounds like. According to the box these sets are the 'perfect start' and are clearly designed to slowly tease kids away from really simplistic stuff like Duplo and get them used to building more intricate 'proper' Lego sets by themselves. The sets themselves are quite small, and avoid a lot of the fiddly little pieces that you get on something with a higher age rating. They're not the same level of quality as you would get with a more expensive, adult-friendly set, but that's the whole point. Children tend to be pretty dumb – relative to (most) adults at least – and the smaller they are, the dumber they always seem to be.
The main thing to say about the 4+ range is that you're not going to be able to give your kid a Lego set and expect them to be able to do everything unsupervised. For starters, my test subject needed someone to open the box and the plastic bags, because she was having zero luck doing it by herself. And you know what Lego is like: one wrong move opening up the bags and they turn into very annoying claymores - firing plastic shrapnel in every direction. But beyond that stage things went pretty well.
It helps that I gave both sets to a kid that had built Lego before, albeit she was helping someone else instead of doing everything herself. Then again, it's not very difficult to hand someone a bag of bricks and say "follow the instructions". Lego instructions aren't always the simplest things in the world, but they're usually pretty easy to follow when you're not working with very many pieces. It's the big complicated sets that tend to catch you out because you can't see every angle.
The build process took place over the course of about two hours, and for the most part they were built without help. There were a few places here and there that required some minor assistance, but that was mainly down to the bricks not wanting to go together properly. Why isn't clear, and since two adults had a bit of trouble make them connect properly I have to assume there may have been something wrong with this particular batch of plastic.
There were also a couple of times where it wasn't fully clear (to the kid) where some bricks were supposed to fit. You know those times where an adult knows to count every stud on the page, and hope they didn't forget a number somewhere along the way.
The multiple-building stage was also seemingly lost on her, and my friend had to point out in a few places that she needed to repeat certain areas more than once. Like the X-Wing's wing, for instance, which obviously had to be built four times. Adults can miss that from time to time (I know I have) so it's another thing parents need to watch out for. Otherwise a kid is going to get to the end and find they have loads of pieces and no instructions.
One interesting positive is that there are no stickers in either set. The TIE Fighter has a computer screen with a holographic view of the Death Star, with the design printed on. Nobody likes stickers on Lego sets, and even the most competent of adults can struggle getting them on properly, so a four year old has no chance. If only they could do that more often, everyone would be happier for it.
Overall, my friend's kid seemed to be having a fun time. She got distracted quite easily when the TV was turned on, which accounted for some lost time, but she did seem to be getting the hang of putting everything together by herself. Of course, a seasoned Lego builder would be able to put this stuff together in no time at all, but keeping a child quiet for a couple of hours while they put something together is priceless. Probably. I don't have kids, but I'm assuming parents like getting peace and quiet.
It'll be short-lived, though, because as soon as she was done she was running around with one of the two ships making aeroplane noises. Plus giggling when she dropped it and it smashed. Fortunately that also shows off the beauty of small and simple Lego sets: when kids break them they can put them back together again pretty easily. In a way breaking something turns into fun, rather than a screaming child upset that their favourite toy is ruined beyond repair.
For adults reading, it's important to know that both the X-Wing and TIE Fighter aren't going to be as detailed or as well built as you may be used to. While I've mentioned multiple times that Lego needs to release sets at this scale, they're not as good as the Slave I from Cloud City or the TIE Advanced from Darth Vader's Castle/Death Star.
They're for small kids, so they're blockier and feel a lot more fragile than serious Lego people will like. A good example of this is how the TIE Fighter's wings rattle about thanks to a pretty flimsy connection to the cockpit. There's also no space for R2-D2 on the X-Wing, which feels like a massive oversight. But it's a toy for little kids, and little kids really don't care about that sort of thing.
As for the six-year old's opinions, which presumably is why some people are here, she said the difficulty was "medium." The TIE Fighter set was the easiest to do, apparently, but she likes the X-Wing better. I agree, the X-Wing is much better as a set and a ship, especially since it comes with Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, and a lightsaber. Both sets have gone down well, according to my friend, which really is all that matters when you think about it.
This post originally appeared on Gizmodo UK, which is gobbling up the news in a different timezone.