There has been a fair amount of buzz about The Walking Dead building block sets by McFarlane Toys. Described as a Lego-type building set but with a polished veneer, Todd McFarlane bragged that they would look better and more finished than the usual Lego sets because it wouldn’t show exposed “nipples.” The fact that McFarlane called studs “nipples” was a warning sign that he perhaps did not understand the appeal of Lego building sets. But they are out now and Walking Dead is more popular than ever, with the season premier for the fifth season broke ratings records, bringing in over 17 million viewers. The comic book also continues to sell more copies every month, even after 130 issues. I picked up all the available Walking Dead construction sets and will share my thoughts on them below.
The construction sets come in three types: construction sets, figure packs and blind bagged figures. The construction sets are similar to Lego and Mega Blok building block sets (to a degree), and the figure pack comes with a “starter set” of characters: lead character Rick Grimes, bad guy Merle Dixon, and three “walkers” or zombies. The blind bags offer Daryl Dixon, The Governor, Michonne, Carl Grimes, one of Michonne’s “pet” walkers, and three random walkers. The blind bags are an attempt to add to the collectibility of the line, all of which are based on the AMC tv show version of The Walking Dead.
The figures themselves are small but very detailed and feature good likenesses for the size. They are buildable. The people have an upper and a lower half, a head and two arms. This features some posability but it is very limited. The figures are obviously intended to be posed a particular way but you can raise or lower their arms, pivot their head to the side or turn their waist slightly. The feet feature one grip that can attach to an exposed stud or a clear stand they come with. You pretty much have to pose them as they are intended or they will not balance properly. The zombies are built differently. They feature a torso, arms, head, hip and 2 legs. This makes them a bit more posable but the hip to torso connector is very difficult to connect. It does not snap into place like a Lego figure. Instead, it has a ball joint that you have to push together and even then it may not secure itself all the way. You must do this as a first step because the head and limbs are very fragile and you would definitely bend, if not break, them when attaching the hip.
There are currently two construction sets: Daryl with Chopper and The Governor’s Room. If you are looking for a building experience like with Lego, you are in for a disappointing experience. It’s far more accurate to think of these as model sets. It’s a bit of a strange hybrid, to be honest so I’m not clear on what their intention is. If it’s to create a building set like Lego, I’d call it a failure. You can build their finished piece but there are simply not enough traditional bricks to build anything different. There are some traditional bricks and plates but everything is covered with a smooth exterior. For instance, on the Daryl set, you have one plate that you put various printed tiles on to form a road. The guard rail is built out of a small handful of more traditional bricks. Daryl himself is in a constant seated position, so he really only fits on his bike. He won’t be stopping to get off and kill that walker by the side of the road.
The sets’ value seems fair. The Daryl set has 154 pieces, many of which are custom or feature printing, and it retails for $15. It’s more than competitive with Lego which could easily go for $20. The set pieces are sturdy plastic (mostly) and snap together clean with a few exceptions. However, Lego features slightly better plastic, they will always fit together (unlike the zombie torsos/hips that I mentioned above) and have nearly unlimited replay value because you can build new things. But if you think of it like a model set that uses brick construction techniques, it makes more sense. The Daryl set comes with pieces of “grass” that you can put in the ground plates. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. The holes need a little bit of depth and if one of those holes lines up over a stud on the plate beneath, the grass can easily pop out and topple over. Once you’ve built the set, it’s fairly delicate. Putting Daryl’s bike together became a nightmare. It features two pieces that are supposed to fit into the engine block piece but have no way of “clicking” in to be solid. There is a tailpipe on one side and a kickstand on the other. I spent almost half an hour trying to get one in on each side in such a way that they’d stay and not push the engine block out of place. It looks nice when finished, but again, it’s delicate.
Many pieces are fashioned specifically for the set they come with. In the Governor’s room, there are zombie heads for his fish tanks, chair cushions, and lamp pieces that can’t be used for anything other than what’s intended. Again, the main figure is seated so he can do nothing but sit at home. His walls and floors are all made from a series of identical bricks and while they are the most traditionally “Lego” looking, it also made for a fairly monotonous building experience. It was just rows and rows of clicking the same brick into place. The set looks fantastic when finished thanks to the detail on the floorboards and the fact that the fish tank actually lights up. It comes with batteries for the lights but you will need a small Phillips head screwdriver.
Ultimately, the sets are priced reasonably for what they must cost to manufacture and nothing I used broke. However, it is very delicate. Also, the finished product is essentially a still diorama. There are no playset features as you would find in a Lego or Mega Bloks set. Also, the building experience does not feature any clever construction. So far it’s just ground and walls. Your enjoyment of the set will have everything to do with how much you like Walking Dead and how much you like the finished set. There are upcoming sets such as the camper and the prison tower that look like they may have a more interesting building experience. As far as playability, I would expect it to remain very low. The figures themselves are nearly statues. It says a lot that in the two building sets out right now, both of them feature a main character in a permanent seated position.