As a dedicated LEGO fan, I have long since discovered that I love assembling reusable sculptures. Most of the appeal, of course, is in the fact that one doesn’t “use up” your LEGO. But there are things LEGO elements can’t do, despite the billions of pieces owned by builders around the world. Enter: Cross Beams. This collection of beautiful and creatively designed elements can make any shape, even operable machines.
The set I have is the Starter Kit, which includes at least 4 of every piece Cross Beams produces, but up to 64 of some pieces, for a total of 650 elements. It comes with 15 patterns, with dozens more available online. Many of these patterns are functional, including a Ferris Wheel, a hand mixer, and the Mars Rover.
The first mystery is in the name. Why Cross Beams? The answer is functional. Each piece has connectors which have a cross design. Above, you can see the receiving end of a “Join” element. The receiver isn’t just a hole, though. It is paired with a movable ring that locks the pieces together. Once the ring is engaged, pulling will not separate them. This means that builds are extremely durable.
Each “Beam” has a connector on either end. These fit snugly in the receivers. There is a small cut-away under each cross. This is where the ring engages. There are many kinds of Beams, including tiny beams that become invisible after connecting two Joins. Others are arcs, axles, and angles.
Above is a selection of elements. At the top are two specialty Joins. The silver-edged pieces are actually axles that turn independently from the rest of the connector. These Joins are required for the mechanic builds. Just below the Joins are a few rings. The Starter Kit came with a handful of spares. The rings aren’t easily broken, but they include a note saying it is possible. Along the middle, you can see an angle Beam, the two kids of axles, and a gear. The minifig for scale, but it’s not included. There are two types of wheels, the one pictured is considerably smaller than the other, however.
Building with Cross Beams takes a lot of space. With 46 different pieces, finding what you need can be a bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, the pieces are not pre-labelled, but they do come with a bunch of baggies to help you sort things out into whichever order makes sense to you.
The names of the pieces were fairly confusing without context. Thankfully, there’s an online guide to building which includes clear identities for each element. I immediately grabbed a Sharpie and labelled the bags, which saved a lot of later headache.
The Starter Kit came with 15 instruction manuals, but there are many more shared on their website. The cover of the build has very important info. The finished size of the build, the number of pieces, and the designer are all easy to spot. If you want a smaller build or one that goes together quickly, it’s easy to find the information you need. The smallest and quickest build is the hand mixer, at 67 pieces. The one that drew my eye, though, was the Super Car. It uses the most pieces, and a number of interesting mechanics.
The Super Car was actually a lot of fun to build. The steering wheel controls the direction of the tires, which was an interesting touch. The finished length was over 20 inches, which is surprisingly large, so I’m sure I’ll take it apart soon. Just like LEGO builds, taking it apart is easier than assembling. Unlike LEGO bricks, though, these pieces really need to be separated back out for storage, or else you’ll never find the pieces.
I was pleasantly surprised by the doors of the Super Car. Instead of swinging out, which would mean doors that flap all the time, the doors lift straight up. The doors never open unexpectedly, a mark of well-considered design.
Cross Beams claims to be for people who have graduated from LEGO, which I found interesting because I strongly believe one doesn’t outgrow LEGO. That said, the Cross Beams system is unique and flexible enough to merit a place with my building tools. Unlike LEGO, Cross Beams are not for young people. I’d suggest a minimum age of 12, but YMMV. The tiny pieces are only part of this suggestion, though. The rings have to be turned on every connection, and that can be difficult to manage. Despite the included pliers, my fingers were quite worn out by the time I was done building the car.
Overall, I’d say Cross Beams are a great building toy. Innovative and versatile, the possibilities are endless, and the community uploads new designs regularly. It’s not a LEGO replacement, but that makes it great for people who don’t like LEGO or want lots of options without having to buy thousands of specialized pieces. You can buy it from the manufacturer on Amazon for $187.
Disclaimer: I received a Cross Beams Starter Kit for review purposes. My love for the product is all mine, though.