09 November 2021
Playtrains is a new range from Hornby aimed at the 3+ age group. The BRM team take a look, and because we're all a bit old, recruit some younger reviewers to let us know what they think.
How many of us started in model railways with a Hornby train set? The majority I suspect.
While Hornby and train set might be synonymous, the most basic offerings involve metal track with sharp ends and electrical connections that need to be properly made for the thing to work. They aren't exactly carpet-friendly either, no matter what the internet says.
At the start of this year, Hornby announced a completely new range of trains, aimed at the three years old and upwards market. The important word here is ‘Range’ as this isn't a stand-alone train set, but parts of an overall collection including extra track, locomotives and rolling stock. In addition, there is a website offering stories, puzzles and activities including extra buildings to download and build.
We have the first Playtrains product to review; 'Flash', the local express.
Opening the box, the first thing you spot is the bright red plastic track. Playtrains models are battery-powered and controlled with an infra-red handset, so there's no need for metal rails.
All the track sections clip together, and we are assured, have been tested hundreds of times to prove their robustness.
A plastic TrackMat is supplied, 1980mm by 973mm, which shows a railbed for the full range.
The basic oval measures 1470mm by 793mm. The track can be laid on the floor, or even taken outside.
Additional track packs are available to add points and sidings - just like a traditional model railway.
Flash is a modern, streamlined diesel multiple unit. The powered end is made up of a permanently coupled carriage and driving car, both with four wheels for easy railing. Four AA batteries provide power, fitting into a removable holder in the carriage, which is easy to use.
There are two switches on the locomotive, on/off and 0/1. The latter corresponds with the controller and allows more than one locomotive to be run at once.
Flash runs on 11mm diameter plastic wheels with a 14.5mm back-to-back. The driven pair are fitted with a traction tyre. These seem to operate fine on straight OO gauge Hornby track, happily running on Pete Waterman's West Coast mainline layout. If you want to re-wheel, the axles are 1.2mm in diameter, but it should be possible to open out enough space for a standard 2mm version.
On the track, Flash has three speeds and the powered end has working lights. Horn and station sounds are available from the handset. Adults will be relieved to know these are loud enough, but not deafening. Control range is at least 10ft, but you need to point it reasonably accurately in the direction of the receiver on the train.
As well as the train, a cardboard station and tunnel made from thick, glossy cardboard are included. Probably a job for a grown-up, or older child, but they feel strong enough to survive several assemblies and flattenings.
Finally, a sheet of stickers can provide the train with a face, just like the box art, with several expressions available.
Our impression is that this is a really well designed and manufactured set. It should stand up to many hours of play but being a range, there is the potential to expand the fun both in real life and by engaging with the online materials.
The price is reasonable; you could buy the entire range for the price of a single high-end conventional locomotive. It looks like Hornby has made Christmas shopping for the kids a whole lot easier! However, I'm not exactly the target market, so we recruited a few assistant reviewers:
Mummy put the set together and I think it looks great. I really like the station and tunnel, and the mat is nice and big with space for my farm animals and cars to also visit.
Flash goes really fast and I like sending him backwards and stopping him at the station. He also makes noises, which are really great.
(Thomas's mum tells us that she likes the way the set is quick to set up and pack away, although the card buildings will not last long if dismantled after every playtime. The idea of selling different expansion packs at very reasonable prices means it will be ideal for present suggestions and should keep him entertained as he gets older and wants to become a bit more involved.)
I found the red plastic track really easy to snap together, but you must keep your fingers out of the joints!
Flash is really nice and sparkly. At first, I wasn't sure how to add his coach, but you just push it near and some magnets grab it.
The sounds are cool, especially the horn noise.
It didn't take me long to learn how to use the control and I loved seeing Flash race around the track.
Making the buildings was a bit tricky and you might need a grown-up to help you. I needed a bit of help to fold the station up as it wouldn't stay folded until it was on the platform.
The website is great fun. I love how Flash's favourite food is healthy!
We downloaded a hut too, which I cut out and built. I think that could be where the people who mend Flash stay.
There is a sheet of stickers and I put a smiley face on him. I think you should put on a face that shows how you are feeling. I think everybody could enjoy playing with Flash, just like I do.
Bolt and Thunder Review
Bolt and Thunder are the latest additions to the range, both are available as add-on packs to join Flash. Each is a goods engine hauling freight, but with the same sort of play value.
Manufacturer: Hornby Plc
(R9332) 'Flash' The Local Express
(R9312) 'Bolt' Express Goods
(R9314) 'Thunder' Express Goods
(R9315) Local Express 2 x Coach Pack
(R9316) Express Goods 2 x Closed Wagon Pack
(R9341) Express Goods 2 x Open Wagon Pack
(R9334) Track Extension Pack 1
(R9334) Track Extension Pack 2
(R9334) Track Extension Pack 3
(R9334) Track Extension Pack 4
(R7330) Remote Control
RRP: £10.99 to £54.99
Weight: 318g (Flash)