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Lego's 2013 Starter Duplo Train Set
on August 9, 2013
Nut-job Lego-loving parent here. Ignore my star rating. I don't get free Lego for these reviews...
This set came out in 2013, replacing set 5608 from 2008. Lego released this set in the U.S. on August 1st and the MSRP is $45. It is always wise to crosscheck with the Lego site.
This set includes a battery operated steam engine (3 AA batteries, not remote control, but a push-button start), one passenger car, a trackside building, two Duplo people, a goat, and a filling station. There are 16 curved pieces of track, enough for a circle. The engine is motorized in only one direction and makes sounds (engine noise, horn, brakes) and it gurgles when the fill spout is connected to it. This set and 10508 include the engine auto-stop function which turns off the engine after 2 minutes. This helps save batteries because kids often forget to turn off their toys. Owners of earlier Duplo engines, please note: Lego has removed the sensor that stopped the engine if it was lifted off the track or hit an obstruction.
I like this set, especially the steam engine styling (new with this set). I think you will find, however, that a simple circular track gets boring, not just because you get tired of the train going in circles (you can get tired of a train doing any circuit) but because you can't build any other layout. So while I like the styling and I appreciate that this is an entry-level product, you will probably find your kids wishing for more track. In that case, you might think about the more expensive deluxe set, #10508, or adding an accessory pack (#10506 includes a crossing, two switches, eight turns, five straights, and a track design booklet -- a pretty good deal at $19.99). This set is completely compatible with earlier Duplo and Dacta trains.
"Why a Duplo train? They're so expensive!" We have lots of different trains in our house and we actually started out with a good size wooden train collection before stumbling on Duplo (if you click through my name and click on "Guides", you'll find my guide to wooden train sets). I like all trains and I associate wooden trains with early childhood. That said, if I were pressed to recommend a single early-childhood train, I would recommend Duplo. Duplo trains have been the most flexible and long-lived for the early age bracket. Duplo has an earlier age-safety limit (2 years) versus many of the wooden trains (that start at 3), and is easy for little hands to manipulate. Yet the building flexibility of Lego means that the system remains interesting even as kids move out of the recommended age range (into age 7 and 8). Kids can create their own engine and car designs AND use the same blocks to build towns, etc. So it is longer-lived, encourages more creativity, and is a durable, well-designed toy.
As to the cost, Duplo may seem expensive at first glance, but keep in mind that the mass-market trains (like Thomas the Tank Engine) are slippery slopes that hook kids on collecting large numbers of $10 and $15 engines and cars. You can tell yourself that you won't spend more than X amount, and then your child begins that slow, unceasing erosion of your will.
If you expect to use this train on shag carpet, you will have difficulty keeping the track together. The same holds for wooden train track. Low-pile carpet is not a problem.
So that there is no confusion, Lego also has a train system for regular size Lego. You can learn more about that system by clicking through my name and choosing the guide tab. The regular size trains are probably best for age 7 and up (give or take depending on your child).
One last comment: I recommend the 32 qt Sterlite Clearview boxes for storing all of this stuff. A lot of the fun of a Duplo train is building new layouts, so it is important to have an easy way for kids to clean it all up after a few days of play. The 32 qt bins are not so deep that parts get lost down at the bottom, and the bins are stackable or can be tucked under a bed. They are often on sale at major retailers. I'll say no more.