Pros: Lots of building fun, easy and light weight
Cons: Lots of pieces to keep track of and clean up
I was in shopping for presents for my daughter's 5th birthday when I bumped into a large display of boxes in the middle of the aisle. And there was Cranium Mega Fort a tent building toy for children ages 4 and up. Since I've never really been disappointed by a Cranium toy for my children and there wasn't much on Bugs' wish list I bought the Mega Fort.
What is it?
Essentially what you have are lightweight pool noodles with metallic rod ends. These rods slip into one of 6 magnetic holes on a connector. The connectors are about the size of baseballs and the noodles are about 2 feet long. There orange noodles have a rod running the entire length to keep them rigid for building up. The yellow tubes only have connectors at the ends to allow you to bend them into any shape. Additionally there are round base plates to keep the structure steady and fabric panels held in place with snap on clamps. There is a small bag for storing the small pieces plus a handled tote that can be closed with Velcro to hold the tubes and fabric.
Is it a Mega Fort or a Super Fort?
The Mega Fort is available exclusively at Toys R Us while the Super Fort is found at other retailers. The difference is the number of total pieces. The Mega Fort is a 100 piece set while the Super Fort has 73 pieces. Those 27 extra pieces really do make a difference since you get 2 extra orange tubes and 6 extra yellow ones plus more fabric for a more tent like feel to the structures.
Building is really easy. You start out by setting up the blue base plates and sliding a connector ball onto the base post. The connectors have holes at the north and south poles plus 4 equally spaced along the "equator". The next step it so add the orange vertical supports for height. There are a total of 8 in this set. Next use some of the 22 yellow tubes to connect the structure horizontally. Larger structures may require using the yellow tubes for vertical supports, which simply makes the construction less sturdy. Essentially you are building squares that are a little over 2 feet and connecting them together to build anything you want. The flexible yellow tubes can be used to build triangles and curved shapes. The magnets in the connectors firmly hold the tubes in place, but don't require much power to remove them.
I only had to show my daughters the procedure for building a couple of times and they were ready to tackle it on their own, although they prefer an adult's help. The pieces are lightweight and easy for my 3 and 5 year old to work with. They love being able to play inside something they built or at least helped build. We have followed some of the suggestions in the instructions to build a pirate ship and a rocket and have also built many structures on our own. The nylon fabric can bit a bit challenging to put on and have it look as neat as it does in the pictures, but my girls don't seem to mind much. We plan out structures to ensure there is enough room inside for both girls plus enough height for them to stand. A 4' by 4' house with a peaked roof is their favorite play structure. It is easy to build, reasonably sturdy and has plenty of room for them both.
The only problem we have is with Destructo-Boy. As soon as my 1 1/2 year old sees the fort he heads right for it and has it down in a matter of seconds. The recommendation for children ages 4 and up I feel had more to do with their ability to be careful and not knock over the structures more than any skills. We try to limit the play with this to nap time, but the girls never want to take it down hoping each time their little brother won't destroy it. Maybe someday.
We have found the structures are definitely steadier when built on a firm surface instead of on carpeting. Part of our playroom has a linoleum floor and that provides at great place to set up. When done on the carpeting the bases and hence the whole structure tends to wobble a bit. Still this isn't something children can bounce around on and still have it stay upright. With the light weight comes minimal strength. The structures are good for pretend camping, a place to hide and read, play house or share secrets. This is nothing children will be able to climb on or going running through without causing it to collapse.
We did try taking the fort outside, once. Even the slightest breeze was caught by the fabric panels and caused our house to tip over. That, coupled with the uneven ground, I wouldn't plan on buying this for outdoor use even though Cranium implies that you can.
Of course my children have found some creative ways to use this building set beyond building with it. They have staged tons of sword fights with the tubes and so far haven't broken anything. They have also been used as golf clubs and baseball bats, blades for a helicopter and large flowers for me. Putting a couple of flexible yellow tubes together end-to-end makes hula-hoops. The fabric tent pieces have been used as table cloths, picnic blankets and superhero capes.
Clean Up, Clean Up
As you might imagine with 100 pieces there is the potential for a huge mess. At least everything does fit back in the included bags. The connector balls, fabric clamps and bases all fit inside a small drawstring bag. The tubes all fit in the large tote bag along with the fabric and the drawstring bag. The threat of taking it all away is enough to get my girls to clean it up quickly when the time comes. The pieces that belong to our Mega Fort are easy to identify; since they have a specific storage bag the kids can handle the clean-up by themselves. I usually suggest the girls make it a race with one assigned to clean up the little pieces while the other is on tubes and fabric.
Our mega set came with one broken orange tube and missing two yellow tubes. A quick e-mail to Cranium and they shipped out 3 replacement pieces right away. If you happen to loses or break anything replacement pieces can be purchased.
If you have the space to devote to such a large construction toy I highly recommend the Mega or Super Fort from Cranium. Cleanup can be a bit tedious and you may not approve of some of the non-building uses but it is still fun.