The detail of the Master Maze
system is the first thing anyone notices about it. Each piece is stunning and because they were all painted by hand, each has subtle differences. Each stone has the proper texture, the right shading and is painted a slightly different color.
For example, the floor has cracks. The portcullis gate can be raised. The doors can open. The secret door is a wall piece that spins, so that it can be cleverly concealed and still be useable. The columns have designs etched into their bases and the red marble is painted to look aged and worn. Some walls have brackets for torches and the torches themselves (which are removable) can be of the lit or unlit variety -- and the lit torches also belch forth wisps of cotton "smoke." The cavern pieces have rough, uneven floors and pools have gathered in some places. There are extra pools, stones and stalagmites to place as you desire, further customizing the display.
Each Master Maze
piece looks exactly as it should look. The cumulative effect of grouping the pieces together in a display is that of a museum diorama. A Master Maze
dungeon looks like a meticulously planned and sculpted scenery piece made by expert model-makers for a magazine layout. Nothing is missing; an entire dungeon can be built with no gaps or holes in the illusion.
The detail of a Master Maze
display is limited (there are no ceilings, for example, and the walls are all of uniform height), but it is automatic. The pics of Master Maze
online are exactly
what your display will look like. The detail of a Hirst Arts creation, on the other hand, requires a significant contribution from its users. With some exceptions, the Hirst Arts fans are modelers, and they enjoy painting and assembling structures with Hirst Arts as much as they enjoy the final product. Master Maze
is a sophisticated Lego set; Castlemolds
, on the other hand, are a hobbyist's dream, the perfect tool for a modeler.
The Hirst Arts homepage, for example, has a gallery of phenomenal displays, with remarks such as, "with grain-of-wheat bulbs and a 12-volt transformer," "tall spikes were made from calking tube spouts" and "a product called EnviroTex Lite Pour-On High Gloss Finish." Some people will see these remarks as helpful tips and advice; others will see them as an indication that this product will not be as effective in their hands if they do not have 12-volt transformers, calking tube spouts or EnviroTex High Gloss Finish. Don't get me wrong: Castlemolds
of this; these are all the tools of the experts. But many Hirst Arts fans find the advice of the experts inviting and fascinating, while the non-modeler will be left cold. Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle: extremely impressed, but certain I have neither the time nor the talent to use Castlemolds
to their full potential.
do not cost the same. But it is of course cheaper to make your own scenery than to buy it. Not everyone wants to make it. With Castlemolds
, you spend a great deal of effort in casting, painting, assembling and so forth ... but then, these are not unpleasant activities to people who enjoy modeling!
The detail of Castlemolds
is astounding. It has a variety of versatile pieces. And it is all outrageously cheap. But all of this is irrelevant to someone who cannot make an attractive display for want of modeling talent or for lack of interest. They don't come looking like that. They are a tool which one can use to try to make something like that. The user makes a crucial contribution and the final product will reflect what you put into it.
The first thing people notice about Master Maze
is the incredible detail. Even if it wasn't pre-painted, the pieces are carved with intricate stone patterns and individual floor tiles. If you look closely you can see bricks in the same wall were painted different colors. The #1 attraction of Master Maze
, in my eyes, is the Cavern set, which can't be replicated by any mold. (Update: 1/1/08 ... there are seven
cavern Castlemolds now.) The stalagmites and stalagtites look like they are dripping water. Master Maze
comes looking just like the pictures.
Although Dwarven Forge included bowtie connectors to hold the dungeon pieces together, I don't like the look. (See the pic above.) Lots of people need to pick the set up frequently, to move things around or to pack/store it again, so they don't bother with the bowtie connectors and that makes it look worse to me.
, on the other hand, are just as detailed but of course you have to paint them yourself. (See the three-color pic of the flagstone pattern above.) I've seen terrain pieces of many colors: sandstone shrines, green alien structures, bluish elven keeps and more. Castlemolds
bricks come in many patterns: chipped gothic stone, cobblestone, fieldstone, flagstone, caverns, egyptian, etc. (See the black & white picture below.) You can paint each of the tiles a different color like Master Maze
The fantasy architecture available from Hirst Arts makes the difference. Castlemolds
produce more than floors and walls. You can add gargoyle faces, pillars, portcullises or hundreds of extras, anywhere you want. This adds a lot of texture to plain walls. A dungeon made with the Dragon's Teeth Accessory Mold is incredibly complex!
There are molds with basic blocks, molds with accessories and molds that have all the pieces for specific buildings. The Wizard's Tower Mold has 25 pieces (7 different bricks) to make your own multi-level tower. The Dragon's Inn Mold has 21 pieces (12 different bricks) to make a tavern. There are molds for a Gothic Church, a Bridge, a Belltower, a Tomb, a Prison, a Roman Temple and a Pyramid. You can make fountains with the Turret mold and the Hirst Arts website has instructions on how to make it look like water is coming out of the gargoyles' mouths! The Ruined Tower Mold could make Weathertop. The Fieldstone Wall Mold makes walls of course, but you can also make a whole house with it.
I've seen dungeons the size of a table cast from only a couple Castlemolds
. There are actually lots of Castlemolds
dungeons on the web now. Once you've cast the necessary bricks, you can assemble them into rooms and corridors of any dimension you want. You don't have to stick to certain dimensions or plans, but if you want help, the Hirst Arts site has basic and advanced instructions on building a dungeon, as well as an online support community to give examples and advice.
To make a dungeon I recommend the Fieldstone Wall Mold #70 and the Fieldstone Accessories Mold #71. The Flagstone Floor Tile Mold #260 is a popular addition to that. MageKnight players like the Large Flagstone Mold #265 and Large Flagstone Accessory Mold #266. Personally, I use the Basic Blocks Mold #100 and the Cobblestone Mold #210 to make my dungeon.
The big drawback to the molds is you can see the cracks between the bricks. On the gothic brick walls people expect to see that -- but with the cobblestone floors or flagstone walls, it doesn't look natural. You have to build carefully to keep the seams from showing with Castlemolds
. You can clearly see the seams in Master Maze
dungeons too, of course.
This picture is from the Master Maze
caverns set. Note how the floor tiles appear broken and uneven. The walls are made of natural rock formations and mineral deposits. These twisting, turning corridors make for very realistic dungeons.
This picture, again by Stephan Meissl, is of the entrance to a dungeon. A dwarf stands on smooth floor tiles with gothic walls. The inset picture is the tomb that stands above the dungeon. This is just an example of the truly remarkable things you can do with Castlemolds