If you, an adult, tell other adults that you play with Legos, one of the most common responses is something like:
"Legos were better when I was a kid, and they were all just basic bricks and you had to use your imagination, but then they made over-specialized parts for everything and ruined it"
A funny thing about this response is you get it from people of all different ages. When you try to identify the date at which legos switched from supposedly "all just basic bricks" over to "too many specialized parts", it gets real fuzzy, because it's always when the spaker was an adolescent. Almost as if any parts that Lego made when you were a kid were just part of the natural order of things, but parts invented after that were unwelcome intrusions.
Well I'm here to tell you that
Nostalgia is a filthy liar
If you compare the stuff we have now to the stuff when I was a kid (the 1980s), objectively and without rose-colored glasses? The stuff now is WAY better.
Video games are better than when I was a kid, cartoons are better, board games are way WAY better, and Legos are too!
Here are all the colors of Legos we had when I was a kid:
OK, for the sake of completeness, there were also several transparent colors, plus green and brown. But green and didn't even come in normal brick shapes! Green was only for minifigs, trees, flowers, and baseplates. Brown was only for minifigs, weapons, treasure chests, etc.
It was a big deal when space sets like Blacktron and Ice Planet started introducing a new transparent colors.
But those were just decorations. Your choices for the main color of your build were still limited to white, black, grey, yellow, blue, and red.
TASTE THE RAINBOW, BABY!
Look at this variety of subtle earth tones! Six different greens, six different browns/tans (and this isn't even all of them, just the most common).
So many different shades of blue! There are more shades of blue now than there were total colors in the 1980s.
Pink, purple, and orange!
Light, medium, and dark variants of each color!
Check out this selection of tiny curves, slopes, and wedges. They're indispensible for making smooth curved surfaces, or adding finishing details.
None of them existed when I was a kid! Not even that triangular 1x1 micro-slope piece, and now I use that everywhere. How did we ever live without it?
Shown here are more or less all the options we had in the 1980s for connecting sideways, at angles, or "off-grid". We had the "headlight brick", the center-bump offset, and a couple types of brackets.
See this piece? Ol' "bumps on every side"? They were the only way to make certain things, like minifig-scale robot heads. And they were incredibly rare and precious. I owned only four of these, and I hoarded them jealously.
Now? Every basic set contains more of these utility parts than you ever need. Somebody figured out that sideways, upside-down, and off-grid construction should be a basic, fully-supported feature of the system and they made it cheap and plentiful.
Check out these new ball-and-socket joints! I love these! Multi-dimensional flexibility, but strong enough to stay where you put them. Fantastic for building pose-able creatures.
And these extremely strong click-hinges: they can hold up a lot of weight while still being flexible, so they're great for the load-bearing joints of larger animals and robots.
For comparison, the one in blue is the only ball-socket joint we had in the 1980s. It was really floppy, so it was only really good for attaching trailers to trucks.
Above is a selection of tiny pieces in the "clip and bar" family of connectors, all new to me since I got back into Legos. None of these are strongly tied to any one particular use. They're open-ended extensions of the vocabulary. I'm just beginning to explore the possibilities they create for angles, hinges, and details in small areas.
Above are new shapes of tiles: round 1x1s, and even smaller-than-1x1s. These are perfect for adding surface details, like shaping the micro-scale coastlines and riverbanks of my Hyrule map.
Eyes, horns, claws, and teeth
These very common pieces are great for making monsters, aliens, and animals. Together with the ball-and-socket joints, they've opened up a whole world of organic possibilities.
As a kid I made mostly buildings, vehicles, and machines, because that's what the parts I had lent themselves to - largely rigid, rectilinear, and mechanical.
"Lego animal" back then usually meant one of these pre-fab animal molds:
Contrary to the "overly specialized pre-fab parts ruined everything" narrative, this represents a huge move away from pre-fab animals towards freeform build-your-own animals.
Mixels, a series of small sets from 2014, make great use of the claws, fangs, ball joints, and googly eyes to make endearingly goofy monsters:
I wish Mixels had been around when I was a kid. They would have been my favorite thing EVER.
(who am i kidding, they're kinda my favorite thing now)
bricklink.com's database includes 63,942 distinct Lego parts.
I can go in there, search for the exact parts I want, pick what color and how many, and bricklink.com connects me with somebody who can ship me those exact parts at bulk rates. Pennies apiece!
If I have an idea I want to build, I don't have to go hunt down sets which may or may not contain a few instances of a desired part. I can figure out exactly what I need and custom-order everything. If I decide I need 99 copies of the left hand of a minifigure who was only sold in 1992, for some reason? Bricklink.com has me covered!
Bricklink.com is a rare example of the free market working exactly like it's supposed to.
About those over-specialized parts
Are there some parts that are extremely specialized and not useful for general building? Yes, for sure. Those based on a specific IP, for example. There's a lot of Star Wars and Harry Potter stuff out there which isn't really good for building anything other than Star Wars and Harry Potter stuff* but you know what?
- would i add this to my collection? no
- is it made for me? no, it's made for a kid who loves Marvel movies
- Does the existence of this part affect my playtime, in any perceptible way? No, it does not
(* - although, a fun creative challenge is to take a piece that "obviously" has "only one" use and try to make something completely different out of it)