review: Best-Lock U.S. Army Bag – 172 Pieces (14755USBAG)

bl-14755usbag-coverAny building block enthusiast who has been playing with bricks for a good amount of time will have heard the Best-Lock name.  Best-Lock was one of the first of the so-called “clone” brands, and it was also one of the first to see The Lego Group take legal action against it. However, it has managed to survive all these years by some miracle. (Heaven knows it isn’t due to its notoriously shoddy manufacturing and poorly designed sets. More on that later.) One reason is that Best-Lock, like other budget brands, are willing to handle intellectual properties and themes that would conflict with Lego’s internal policies. Lego would never make a set based on a real-world branch of a country’s armed forces, let alone a theme that focuses on contemporary military action. Best-Lock clearly has no such qualms. Let’s get to it.

army-endorsementThe first thing to point out is that this set is an officially licensed product of the U.S. Army. I’m a little curious how much the Army charges for the use of its name and associated branding. It’s somewhat surreal to see the Army’s seal on the packaging for a children’s toy. It probably bears mentioning at this point that this set is meant for children ages 7-14. Apparently, you can be too young to take an interest in a promising career in the military.

The bag is resealable. Before we continue, take another look at the rendering of the set on the bag. It may be difficult to tell, but take special note of the tank and the minifigure.

bag-contentsInside the packaging, you get two bags of parts,  two instruction sheets, and a sheet of camouflage stickers. You may be wondering why there appears to be an overabundance of black parts. The second instruction sheet is a hint of things to come. Before we get to that, let’s get to the tanks.

axle-flashWill you just look at the amount of mold flash on that axle! The first unofficial rule of building with Best-Lock? Have a hobby knife handy.

tanksHere are our two tanks. The treads are actually made of rubber. Unfortunately, the wheels are a little too loose, and the treads don’t run smoothly. The design could probably use an additional two wheels. The turrets rotate, but the barrels are immobile. The levers are supposed to represent machine guns. I’m not sure where you’re supposed to put those camo stickers, because there’s not enough surface area on the builds to apply them.  Which brings us to the matter of scale. Remember the rendering on the bag? The rendering shows the tanks standing at least double the height of the minifigures.

bl-minifigsHere are those minifigures.  Let’s call them “Jake” and “Elwood.” Jake and Elwood essentially are the same figure; it’s the tactical vest that makes one taller than the other. The print on the torso is a little odd. The black bars on the collar of the uniform makes them look a little like German soldiers from World War II.  The ordinance hardly looks like government issue. The vests look okay, though. They might be useful to military customizers.

bl-minifigs2
As you can see, the Best-Lock minifigure is in scale with Lego minifigures.

The other distinctive feature on the Best-Lock minifigure is probably the nose on the head. In a strange way, having a landmark like a nose on the head causes the rest of the face to look off-center. The rather featureless helmet is barely seated on the head so that the eyes can be seen.

We’ve seen the tanks. We’ve seen the soldiers. What else is left?

f117This is the second build in the set, and I have to say that it’s an ambitious one. Why wasn’t it featured on the bag? It’s a reasonably decent representation of a F-117 stealth fighter, and I wonder if Best-Lock cribbed the design from somewhere. This isn’t to say that the build is without problems. Large portions of the fuselage are connected to the wing segment of the plane by one stud. The instructions call for a 4×6 plate to be used at one point. It wasn’t  included. Instead, this was what was inside the bag:

wtfReally, Best-Lock?  Fortunately, there were two spare 2×6 plates that allowed me to complete the build.

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Conclusion

The MSRP for this set was USD$5, and you get two tanks, two soldiers and a stealth fighter for that amount. I still can’t say that you’re getting your money’s worth with this set. It seems like you’re getting a lot, and the stealth fighter is shockingly acceptable; but the under-injected plate, the gross amount of mold flash on the parts,  the poor quality of the plastic, the shoddy design of the builds, the fact that nothing is in scale with anything else in the set, and the quasi-deceptive packaging are really hard to dismiss. You would think the U.S. Army would hold their licensees to a higher standard, but I guess a recruitment tool is a recruitment tool.

I feel as though a lower threshold has been set with this review. Congratulations, Best-Lock, for being the standard by which all other brands’ inferiority will be compared!

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