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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nanoblock: A review, consisting of many small parts

Yesterday I introduced you to "nanoblocks", a miniaturized "Lego clone" building system from Japan. We laughed, we cried, we bought the t-shirt. Well this time, I'm going to document my first hands-on experience with this product, to try and give you a flavor of what its like, and how it compares with Lego.

(Spoiler alert: Lego wins! Just kidding, this is not a contest. So everybody wins. Kind of like competitive sports in Kindergarten.)

For my first nanoblock haul, I chose two animal sets, a budgie and a llama, and one more set called Big Tree (although the Japanese caption says its a tropical tree, which explains the US flag of course, right?!). The larger sets are boxed, while the smaller sets are bagged. Raw bricks in single colors are also available, in jars. The two packs ran at ¥550 a piece, the larger set at ¥1250 (that's about $5.50 and $12.50).

The bags are tough, glossy, high quality affairs, and also re-sealable (for portability) thanks to a zip-lock top. I did not want to throw away the bag! Note the nice color picture, English name, and brick count.

Inside the bag, I found the pieces, nicely bagged by color (it is the best sorting method, after all!) including a baseplate, which was an unexpected bonus since its not shown on the packet. The instructions consist of a single glossy sheet and are printed in black and white.

Comparing nanoblocks to Lego blocks, some interesting differences emerge. There are no bricks and plates - its all just plates. Also, in this set at least, there is an exact 1:1 correspondence between type and color (all 2x2 browns, all 2x4 yellows, etc). Not sure if that is significant. The 1x1s come in both square and round varieties.

Size wise, a 2x4 nano plate is an exact size match for a 1x2 Lego plate. The studs are taller than with Lego or Modulex, and the underside lacks tubes - just a dividing flange.

Nanoblock instructions are a much simpler affair than Lego instructions. What would constitute a 12 page color booket in Lego is reduced down to a single B&W sheet. This certainly cuts down on cost, and bulk. But it makes construction more "interesting"! Colors are labelled, so you unless you can read Japanese, you want to hang into the packaging, to use as a color guide! (Full scan available here)

Because everything is plates, models are simply built up in successive layers. Each step combines several layers. Its designed so successive layers hold the prevoius layers together. But working with such tiny bricks, a hard flat surface is a must!

Amusingly, stuff carried over from one step is always shown white in the next step, which takes some getting used to. Also, the vertical guide lines (for getting the layers lined up correctly) are a bit tricky too.

I got a bit of neck and eye strain working through these instructions, but it only took about 10 minutes to complete the Budgerigar. The bricks actually stick together really well (not as snappy as Lego, but nowhere near as slack as MegaBloks). They are made from ABS, but are more softer/bendier than Lego. They don't 'snap' as much as Lego - they are more 'push on'. One plus is the lack of tubes means you can actually connect some pieces at arbitrary distances (and this is exploited in some sets).

...完成! (Completed!)

And very adorable it is too. I like the way smaller bricks allow more detail to be packed into such a small space. My son said this looked like an exact scale model of a budgie! He decided to construct the llama set, refusing any assistance, and managed it without any trouble. So its not beyond kids ability.

Another nice surprise was the large quantity of spares you get in each set! In which case, I would liked to have seen instruction sheets for a couple of alternate models. However, there is a nanoblog that shows ideas for other models. (...or, God forbid, you could actually use your imagination!)

So there it is - my review of Nanoblocks. Obviously they're not going to surplant Lego or anything (so purists, you can put down your pitchforks now!). But the smallness, good color palette, and simple brick types, makes for a great little table-top diversion for any brick maniac or bored office worker!

To see the entire Nanoblock product line, visit the Nanoblock website.


  1. The budgie is so cute. I may have to come over and see these in person.

  2. Great review. I'm thinking I want some of these too. The bottom of the Nanobricks remind me of some clones that I had in the 80's I think it was Tandem but can't be sure.

  3. Where did you purchase them from?

  4. is not a lama but an alpaca ;-)

  5. The contest is being held now!

  6. Hello, where in US or what English language website may I order nanoblocks? I will great appreciate your help!

  7. Hi, well be sensible, well-all described

  8. I heard that a company in the US got distribution rights to Nanoblocks. Apparently they're going to sell them at the Toys R Us in Times Square in time for Christmas, and then have distributed nationwide by this Spring.

  9. Got two of these sets from Okasan while I was in Kitakyushu last July. They are awsome! Once you've played with them, you can tell that the makers strive for quality in their product. Something to note is that these seem to be for model building instead of playing with. They do not even have any form of minifigure.

    Jared Anderson
    A few days ago, I was suprised to find that I got a package in the mail from My Japanese host family. One of the things they gave me was a Himeji Castle Nanoblock model. This one was larger then the others I recieved. Took me 2 days to complete, but it was very satisfying.

  10. Nanoblock is extremely frustrating.
    It gives instructions like
    "Attach 12 bricks together! Oh, and do it X6. Have fun!" -_-

    Also, because of the arbitrary distances on the bottom (the bottom is hollow and the bricks don't snap together like lego), it falls apart really easily! Not something you wanna display on an office desk, once touch is enough to destroy the whole thing even if you made sure the bricks were straightened.
    I think it's rather ironic it comes from Japan as you hear stories all the time how they hold earthquake drills and such, this toy will NOT fare well during an earthquake, hahaha...

    Though, I like that it gives lots of extra bricks so that you don't have to go to a store and ask for some, that it's considerably cheap -the lego versions would cost $200 while this costs $25 although scaled down, and it looks really pretty.

    I do NOT recommend it for 12 year olds (unlike what the nanoblock box says, 12 and up), probably 15 and up so they won't get too frustrated.
    Avoid the space station nanoblock unless you're adventurous, that will give you a massive headache.

    What wasn't mentioned in the article us that the box versions have the difficulty printed on them, in stars, from * to *****. Obviously, if it's your first time trying, avoid *****.

    As of today, local toystores (in my region) have stocked up this toy, but only the box versions, not the ziplock bag ones.

  11. I can't believe you managed to get your hands on the big tree ! Where did you buy it ? Was it from The States ? Lately, I've been calling the shop that's selling nanoblock, and half of the time they're telling me the big tree is either out of stock, or it won't be shipped to Malaysia.

    Anyway, you should take a look at the newly produced nanoblocks. They have USA's Space Center and the Satallite produced now, and I think its been sold across the world.

    I have the Space Center and I'm just gonna sit out and wait for the Satellite. I strongly recommend the German Castle too. It's quite small compared to the other buildings, but its still very cute and neat.

  12. Ohio Art, the Etch a Sketch people just started distributing in the US. They say they just started shipping. My local shop told me they would have nano block sets in April
    My 25 year old daughter says she is "addicted", her favorite are the heads from Easter Island

  13. i did the pig it took me 20 minutes

  14. I recently purchased a Mono Tone collection which was to include assembly instructions unfortunately it didn't and the company have apologised for misleading me. Now my dilema ...I need to get some assembly sheets for a grand piano, train, dog airplane,car, ship, cow...can anyone help???

    1. Did you ever get instructions for this set? I also have it (aargh) and have no idea how to construct the models on front of box.

  15. +++Same+here%21+I+%3C3+Nanoblocks+and+I+thought+they+were+really+good+when+it+comes+to+details.+I+bought+the+graffie+%28don%27t+care+if+I+spelt+it+wrong%29+one+and+it+looks+real+nice+on+my+book$0 ?2?TAD%0D%0A%(^LuF DJx+only+a+kid+too+you+know%21

  16. Sorry, the comment was in script but u get my point.

  17. Reply to Mornsta:

    Excuse me but I'm a 12 year old and I've completed the graffie moddle in only 20-!

  18. The only thing I might want Nanoblock to have was if any of you guys play Lego, you will notice the brick count thingy at the end of each instruction booklet. Since Nanoblock is tiny and easy to lose, it might make life easier if they have the brick count thanks!

    PS: I completed the graffie in 20 mins less!

  19. Thank you very much for your review. I made one Guitar nanoblock, and i was wondering if i should continue buying more and making more! Now I want too (:

  20. I love Nanoblocks =) ... I managed to build Darth Vader, R2D2, Bart Simpson, Captain America, Wall-E, Iron Man, Bender, etc using Nanoblocks ... can see them here ... http://fb.me/chrisnanoblock

  21. wow ... finally found someone with the big tree model. May i know where did you buy it from? Do you know whether there is any online shop selling this? Searching for a while for this ...

  22. I received some of these as a gift today (a lion and a drum kit) and my first impression was "minature LEGO!". I was researching these before trying them out as I was a bit worried about missing pieces, bad/absent instructions, etc. (especially considering the flimsy little bag thingy and some of our previous experiences with imitation LEGO) but I'm a lot more confident now and looking forward to trying these tomorrow. I'm just not sure how easy it's going to be to take apart again (I like to re-build my models a lot and try building other things), especially considering the softer plastic and the small size. I don't want to end up chipping and gouging them all with my fingernails... Also if you leave them assembled for too long they would probably yellow quite badly being of cheaper quality.

  23. I'm 12 and I was 11 when I got my first

  24. And that is not me there that's my mum

  25. And my name is David not Meg