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In the midst of the building set scrum, a small Solana Beach, California company has emerged as a contender: Rokenbok. This is a modular building set similar to a million competitors. However, where Rokenbok differs from other systems is that it features remote controlled vehicles, with lit-up headlights and powered cranes and scoops. They are pre-assembled, so you miss out on some of the MINDSTORMS: NXT mayhem of LEGO. On the other hand, this is a distinct advantage as it represents a very quick start-up. Kids will be driving within minutes of opening the box, which might soothe some impatient youngsters.
When you buy Rokenbok you should begin with one of several Start Sets. This is actually very important because it is these sets that contain the all-important “Radio Control Center” (more on this later.) As you expand, you are presented with a plethora of additional vehicles and building pieces. Add a monorail track, roadways, buildings, cranes and girders.
Many of the Rokenbok sets are construction related. For instance, in the Conveyor Company Start Set lets you scoop up brightly colored balls with a RC front-end loader and send them hurtling through a four-foot series of chutes and along a motorized conveyor. Of course, as a modular building system, you can acquire additional sets to expand your “construction site.” These activities highlight an aspect of the system that Rokenbok stresses — all of their sets are cooperative and nonviolent in nature, though if you want to kick up a little competetive spirit check out their Defender Duel 2-Player Competitive Start Set which lets kids play Capture the Flag on a customized course. Unlike such competitors as K’NEX and LEGO, Rokenbok does not utilize licensed characters in its toys.
One area I felt was the most unique aspect of the system was its vehicles. All are RC, even the Monorail, and rather than being run by separate controllers, they employ a rather neat system of removable “vehicle keys” that assign a frequency to a particular vehicle. A starter set comes with eight numbered vehicle keys, and the controllers allow the user to switch between any of those eight keys at will, regardless of which vehicle holds that key. The Control Center connects to up to four control pads, which can individually or collectively control up to eight vehicles. The pad is similar to a Playstation controller, making adoption by game-savvy kids pretty quick, though, like a video game, part of the challenge is to learn the ins and outs of the interface.
The bottom line is that Rokenbok’s cool RC vehicles and expandable setting make this a great holiday gift for kids 6-12, and for grownups that like driving little cars around and building things!
Photo by Michael Plasmeier.