Back in the summer I noticed some Lego-like toys in street markets in Hong Kong. Some of these were straightforward clones of Lego sets, but there were also a variety of military sets unlike anything Lego makes. I thought some were interesting, but didn't get any due to reports of low quality and also due to not wanting to spend money on it (I've got a Lego collection in storage, but most of it was acquired when I was younger, and I haven't bought much new in many years).

While looking around in a stationary shop in Taoyuan city more recently, I came across a small Three Kingdoms themed set from Sluban. This was interesting enough that I bought it to have a look, and now have acquired a small collection. There are several companies with Lego clones here, but Sluban seems to have the largest selection. It has some lines corresponding to Lego town, train, and pirate themes (but no space and no castle line in the same style as Lego, as far as I can tell), and also the Three Kingdoms line, various modern military lines, and some robot or mecha sets.

Quality is definitely much lower than Lego, with badly fitting parts and visible molding marks. However, I am reasonably impressed by some of their sets. This is partly because they are more similar to the 90s style of Lego that I am used to than many of the current Lego sets look to be, but also because of the variety in the less Lego-like lines. It is also significantly cheaper than Lego, at maybe one half to one third the price for similarly sized sets. I think the lower quality actually works well for some of the military sets, as it gives vehicles a suitably rough look.

Here in Taoyuan Lego clones seem to be sold mostly in stationary stores or small bookstores (often these are the same thing) and in dollar store type places, and generally these stores only stock a couple of sets at once. In Taiwan Lego clones don't seem to be a street market item like in Hong Kong. There is one store selling mostly Lego clones in the Wan Nian Commercial Building at Xining and Emei in Ximending in Taipei. It is on one of the upper floors near the end of an escalator. Some department stores and Toys R Us (about the only full toy store I've seen here) have real Lego, at about the same prices as in Vancouver, and no clones. When I bought the tank set described below, the owner of the store told Beatrice that Lego clones are less popular than they used to be because children are now wanting video games instead of that kind of toy.

There are some more pictures on my site under the tags sluban and lego.

Three Kingdoms Sets

I've got three small Three Kingdoms (the theme may actually be called Red Cliff in English, going by the Sluban website) sets and one larger one. Two of these were from a stationary store in Taoyuan and the other two (the largest and smallest) were from the store in the Wan Nian Commercial Building. These sets look similar in design to the 90s Lego castle sets to me, but I've never been much of a castle person. They seem to be designed more for fun than for appearance or realism. The most distinctive parts here are probably the minifigure equipment and the Chinese style roof pieces. A single person set, apparently Wei Yan Catapult and carriage sets A fortress set

For some reason the fortress has a dragon-etched window set into what seems to be a rock piece on top of the wall (on the right in the picture), which lights up in flashing patterns. The other larger sets in the theme look to have the piece as well. It's possible that this somehow makes sense, and sometime I'll have to get the Chinese on the box translated to find out.

Minifigure Packs

The store in the Wan Nian Commercial Building also has bulk packs of minifigures, and I've got three of these now. These have no brand markings, but seem to correspond to Sluban lines. Each pack has twelve minifigures with associated equipment. A few of these are well coordinated, but most are more assorted with strangely matched equipment or multiple themes of minifigures. The packs shown here are mostly modern soldiers of various themes, but the store also has some that are primarily townish and some that look like vikings or pirates. A pack of minifigures Minifigures from the above pack, which seems to match the Sluban Special Force line Minifigures from a pack with three kinds of modern soldiers, at least some of which match Sluban military and police lines Minifigures from a pack with modern solders, older soldiers, and firemen

A flaw of the packs is that the minifigures often can't grip their equipment very solidly. This is sometimes a problem with minifigures from the sets too, but not as commonly. It could be that the minifigure packs are rejects from regular sets.

Tank Set

More recently I also got a tank set from a little dollar store type place which focuses on toys. Box for the tank set The assembled tank

The tank is of somewhat different construction from the Three Kingdoms sets. It is built more solidly and gives the impression of having been optimized for solidity and appearance rather than for low piece count and playability. This is also in contrast to most of the Lego sets I am familiar with, although that may be partly because most of the Lego sets I bought when I was younger were at the very low end of the price range. In any case, the tank seems relatively model oriented. It has no interior, though. The base of the tank

As far as I can tell there is one place on the model where the parts simply can't fit together squarely. This occurs on the light mount on the left of the turret, where one of the transparent parts touches the stud in front of it and forces the support slightly out of position. If you look closely at the picture of the box you can see that the box model appears to be a little out of alignment here as well. The box model also has some pieces out of alignment at the front, which as far as I know is just from badly fitting parts rather than the design. Light mount on the tank

Another difference from Lego's sets is that the Sluban sets include a number of extra parts, whereas Lego tends to put in at most one or two. Possibly this is simply to make up for less quality control. The tank also came with what may be extra stickers. Some of the decorative stickers on the included sticker sheet are visible on the box model, but the control panels and some of the others are not. The extra parts from the tank set The stickers and extra weapons from the tank set