What do they mean by a system of play lego

Обновлено: 22.05.2024

children playing with legos

Mary Bellis covered inventions and inventors for ThoughtCo for 18 years. She is known for her independent films and documentaries, including one about Alexander Graham Bell.

Hailed as the “Toy of the Century,” the plastic Lego bricks that make up the Lego System of Play were invented by Ole Kirk Christiansen, a master carpenter, and his son, Godtfred Kirk. From these small interlocking bricks, which can be connected to assemble an infinite number of designs, Lego has evolved into a huge worldwide enterprise that makes toys and movies and runs theme parks.

But before all that, Lego began as a carpentry business in the village of Billund, Denmark in 1932. Although he initially made stepladders and ironing boards, wooden toys became Christiansen’s most successful product.

The company adopted the name LEGO in 1934. LEGO is formed from the Danish words "LEg GOdt" meaning "play well." Fittingly enough, the company later learned that in Latin, "lego" means "I put together."

In 1947, the LEGO company was the first in Denmark to use a plastic injection molding machine for making toys. This allowed the company to manufacture Automatic Binding Bricks, created in 1949. These larger bricks, sold only in Denmark, deployed the stud-and-tube coupling system that was the forerunner of the Lego bricks the world has come to know.

Five years later, in 1954, the redesigned components were renamed "LEGO Mursten" or "LEGO Bricks" and the word LEGO was officially registered as a trademark in Denmark, positioning the company to launch the "LEGO System of Play" with 28 sets and 8 vehicles.

Today Lego is one of the biggest and most profitable toy companies in the world, with little sign of slowing down. And the LEGO brand has gone well beyond plastic toys: dozens of video games based on LEGO have been released, and in 2014 debuted to critical acclaim.

LEGO System along with TECHNIC, is The LEGO Company's main line of building elements, minifigures and sets, and features the iconic standard LEGO brick which evolved from LEGO's first series of Automatic Binding Bricks that first appeared in 1949. The new pieces were first marketed under the name LEGO Mursten in 1953 and from 1955 to 1970 in the System i Leg series of toys. Later it was simply known as LEGO System. Most System bricks can be used with TECHNIC bricks.

LEGO System is also the brand under which most standard minifigure-compatible sets are marketed since 1978. The pieces in this line are smaller than DUPLO blocks. The iconic logo of LEGO System wasn't featured on boxes and catalogues until 1992. Most newer minifigure-compatible sets no longer feature the logo, although they are still considered a part of System.


The brick

The Automatic Binding Brick on the left, and the modern LEGO System brick (first known as Mursten) on the right.

The 1×1-stud System-brick measures about 8×8×10 mm. The sizes of almost all other LEGO construction toys are derived from this size and can be combined with it.


Early History

First distinct product lines

First minifigure-compatible themes (1978–1999)

With the introduction of minifigure-compatible sets in 1978, three major playthemes were introduced, Town, Castle and Space, inside each of which were later added several new subthemes, that mostly consisted of new distinct factions of minifigures and were all related to the respective main theme's core subjects.

With Boats and Trains, two minor themes where introduced that complemented Town but were not counted as parts or subthemes of it. Another unique theme was Model Team from 1986, whose sets focused on more-or-less accurate scale reproductions of real-world vehicles and were not designed to be minifigure-compatible.

Beginning with Pirates in 1989, LEGO added additional main themes to the LEGO System line that stood beside the three initial main themes. These four major theme made up the bulk of the LEGO System sets of that era and were also the most popular themes. Another minor System theme, Belville, was introduced in 1994, which contained larger figures and more specially-designed bricks. The next addition was Aquazone in 1995 followed by Western in 1996. Another small theme, Time Cruisers, was introduced in the same year.

The now six major minifigure themes (Town, Castle, Space, Pirates, Aquazone and Western) were subjected to bigger changes in 1999: Space, Pirates, Aquazone and Western were discontinued. Castle was rebranded to Knights' Kingdom. Town's core subjects were outsourced to Town Jr. and later City Center, while still being complemented by different subthemes which were in most cases only remotely related to city life. An exception was the smaller Adventurers theme from 1998 that was complemented with different subthemes until its eventual discontinuation in 2004.

The smaller Alpha Team was introduced in 2001 and lasted several years longer than most other themes.

Smaller themes and licensing (1999 onwards)

Small themes

Instead of slowly adding new factions and sets to existing main themes, most themes were now self-contained series of sets that, in most cases, had all of their sets released within the first year and only lasted for one or two more years. One of these new themes was Rock Raiders from 1999 and Life on Mars from 2001, a short-lived revival of the old Space theme.

Licensed System sets

The other side of the medal were themes that were based on popular media franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter. Those themes would regularly see new releases over the timespan of several years. Another possibility of releasing sets based on licenses was the Studios theme.

    (2006–8, 2012 onwards under the Super Heroes theme) (2004–9) (2001–7, 2010–2) (2008–9) (2003) (Studios subtheme) (2009) (2010) (2008) (2002–4) (Studios subtheme) (2006 onwards) (1999 onwards) / Toy Story 3 (2010–11) (2002–03)

Nevertheless, there were still some original LEGO themes that ran for several years and were regularly updated with new sets, like Alpha Team, which ran from 2001 to 2005, and to a lesser extent Knights' Kingdom II, which saw new releases from 2004 to 2006.

Relaunch of classic themes (2005 onwards)

With the introduction of City in 2005, the constant rebranding of the Town theme in the years after 1999 came to a halt. It also marked the first true revival of one of the classic major themes, and the initial concept of complementing a consistent, long-running theme by regular releases of new sets saw a renaissance as well.

Other recent themes were Castle (2007) and the continuation of Pirates. Space saw a partial revival in the form of Mars Mission (2007–8) and the new Space Police from 2009.


A few days ago I posted about some vintage LEGO I was able to sort and research. It was pretty awesome to experience the same sets my parents would have enjoyed as children. As you may already know, much of the parts I had in front of me were most likely from a very old Town Plan theme from the late 1950s.

According to Gary Istok on this page from Eurobricks , these sets were considered the first model sets to be released under the LEGO System i Leg or System of Play, the name that eventually became the sets we enjoy today. The Town Plan sets were most likely the beginnings of the current City theme, and these were very special indeed.

  1. 1310 Esso Filling Station (1956)
  2. 1306 VW Garage (1957)
  3. 1307 VW Auto Showroom (1957)
  4. 1308 Fire Station (1957)
  5. 1309 Church (1957)

It seems that back in the beginning, LEGO didn’t mind creating sets on religious themes. 1309 Church looks to be the only one, however. After looking at the parts and set lists with Town Plan, I’m not sure if these were strictly 5 separate sets, or a mixture of a few little ones that just happened to create the 5 buildings, but it’s still a great experience!

For the most part, this review will be focusing on all of the buildings together, as there is interesting parts common to all.


All of these sets use parts made from the cellulose acetate plastic, so it has a tendency to warp. Most of the parts were still usable, except for the large box window in the Auto Showroom set. That part had warped so much, I wasn’t able to connect many parts to it at all. There’s some great macaroni bricks (the corner bricks), but not many colours.

Colours in vintage LEGO is quite interesting, and still causes me to wonder exactly when this collection is from. In the early 1950s, LEGO had the Automatic Binding Bricks. These were before the System i Leg product. According to this post on Eurobricks from Gary Istok, the earliest Automatic Binding Bricks had 5 colours (red, white, blue, yellow and green). In 1951, blue was removed, and by 1954, it was just red and white. The sets in front of me are mostly red and white, but the blue caught me off guard. These may have been the first colours used in the LEGO System i Leg. I’d have to do some more reading to find out more!

Of all the parts in these sets, the most interesting are the named beams, and the parts without studs – the parts that look the least like LEGO! These are the trees, signs and petrol pumps. Let’s have a look at the named beams first.


These beams were first used in the Town Plan sets, and were really versatile, as they could be used on any build, and there were plenty of them. An endless variety of words in many languages were printed on white 1×6 and 1×8 bricks. Popular words were GARAGE, KIOSK, HOTEL, RESTAURANT and ESSO SERVICE. In the late 1950s, the bricks were of different colours. A very clear difference with these bricks was underneath. These bricks have been around since before the tube locking mechanism was added to the long single stud wide bricks, so these beams had a large opening on the base, with the brick only being held on by the outside walls. Because of this, they’re pretty loose.

For more information on the named beams, check out this Eurobricks link.

On to the trees!


Next up, the windows…


I vaguely remember these windows when I was a kid, but haven’t seen them for a while. There are a few things to note with these windows. Firstly, the different sizes of them! There are different heights and widths, ranging between 1 to 3 bricks high, and then there are 6 studs wide, 4, 3, 2 and even 1 stud wide, the same size as the Erling brick we know today. I also like the little angled window sill at the base of each window, with one type even having shutters on the outside.

The bases of the windows aren’t as strong as the ones today, mainly due to being a different plastic, but also the base isn’t a solid mould – it has teeth that fit between the studs.

Now, the petrol pumps and signs…


According to some searches on the internet, these pumps were slightly different for each country released. The one in front of me appears to be missing the light posts on the outsides. The pumps themselves are in pretty good condition, and still have the LEGO logo clearly visible on the underside.


Lastly, I want to talk quickly about the plates. The main, obvious difference with these plates is the pattern on the underside. This pattern of squares on the underside is known as a waffle bottom, seen on the left of the image below. These would have been quite tight back in the day, but the years haven’t been all that great to these old CA plastic parts, and they’ve warped and discolored quite dramatically.


The other interesting detail to note is the rounded corner plates don’t have the stud holes in the corners, so while they look great on the exterior of a building, they can’t be used on bigger plates like the blue piece in the photo below can.


On to the build! The hardest part of these builds was really the fact that the parts had warped, so it was tough to connect them. On the other side of the spectrum, some had warped so they were extremely loose. This was definitely the case with the church and fire station, where the church’s steeple was about to fall over by itself!

The other tricky part was the size of the instructions. For these boxes, the instructions were printed on the underside of the lid. This meant that there were only around 5 steps for each building, and sometimes, no colour. Obviously kids back in the day were very adept at reading LEGO instructions! Click each image to get to the website I used for the instructions and you’ll see what I mean.

Lego is probably one of the most beloved toy brands of our times, cherished by kids and adults alike. Starting from a simple but innovative patent — Lego building bricks — the company’s pallet of products has diversified to an incredible scale. We can’t help but be amazed before all the small-scale wonders that the Danish-based company produces, and they produce a lot of them — about 19 billion Lego elements are produced every year.

When looking at colorful Lego bricks of numerous shapes and sizes, it is somewhat hard to imagine that these joyful little objects all originate from oil.

We tend to forget that most of the plastic that is produced today comes from fossil fuels and its byproducts. That is the reason why the charming plastic bricks have been one of the guilty pleasures of many sustainably-oriented consumers.

In recent years, Lego has become seriously dedicated to lessening its impact on the global environment. For example, Lego has invested significant funds in offshore turbines, resulting in an impressive result — all Lego facilities are now powered by renewable energy.

However, the main Lego products — their bricks and sets — are still made entirely out of plastic, and we know how bad plastic is for our planet, from beginning to the end of its life cycle. Lego utilises 20 different types of plastic, and all have been sourced from fossil fuels — up until now.

To target that central issue, last month the company announced that the first Lego plastic parts made out of bio-based plastic will hit the market later this year. For its first renewable material, Lego picked polyethylene (PE) sourced from sugarcane.

The bioplastic parts will compromise 1–2% of the overall Lego production. That is almost a symbolic percentage, but it means that at least 190 million elements will be made from green polyethylene.

Sugarcane bioplastic will be the new substance of choice for moulding trees, bushes and other vegetation in Lego City sets, as well as some other softer parts like car wash brushes.

Lego chose to make bio-sourced plant elements, not only because of the symbolics. All the parts that are now sugarcane-sourced are by design softer, more elastic and feature a matte finish — just remember how a Lego pine tree looks and feels. Plant-based polyethylene can deliver those qualities, but, as we will shortly see, would be faulty in other Lego roles.

Bio-polyethylene, also known as renewable polyethylene, or green polyethylene (Green PE) is a plastic material that is produced mostly from sugarcane. It is estimated that green PE sequesters roughly 2,15 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of bio-polyethylene produced. This takes place mainly through the CO2 absorption of the growing sugarcane.

Plant matter is turned into plastic via ethanol dehydration, a process known since 1920s. Ethanol is produced from sugarcane, then dehydrated into ethylene, which is turned into polyethylene in the final stage of production. With the recent expansion of renewable materials and a bigger scale of production, bio-PE has finally become commercially competitive with regular, oil-based PE.

Of course, renewable polyethylene is far from perfect.

The final product still has the same properties as regular plastic. While this is good in a technological sense, since sugarcane polyethylene is of equal quality as its fossil fuel counterpart and both can be recycled together, the similarity also means it is not biodegradable and suffers from same risks as regular plastic, including pollution and adverse effects on human and animal health. Also, increased sugarcane production carries risks of deforestation and utilisation of land otherwise suitable for food production.

Although PE certainly has faults, using an already existing and widely available renewable material is a good ice-breaker for companies like Lego since it enables them go from research phase to the commercial product at a relatively fast pace.

However, the story is not as simple as “Lego has gone green, the end”. Lego’s example is a good illustration how it looks like when big companies try to take a turn towards sustainability in a world that is falling behind regarding the environmental protection.

Why can’t Lego completely switch to bio-based plastics now they made it this far?

Out of the earlier-mentioned 20 types of plastic, 80% of Lego elements are made from just one of them. It is the Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. ABS is a thermoplastic emulsion consisting of three components — it “combines the strength and rigidity of acrylonitrile and styrene polymers with the toughness of polybutadiene rubber”, as Brickapedia puts it. ABS is very hard and rigid, which ensures that bricks will hold shape, and that will hold on to each other well. ABS is also responsible for the trademark gloss of many Lego elements.

Superior hardness, rigidity and gloss make ABS a perfect material for toys from a technical point of view, but producing it has a significant environmental impact. ABS is derived from natural gas and petroleum; additionally, production of 1 kg (2.2 lb) of ABS resin in Europe uses about of 26.48 kW⋅h (95.34 MJ) of power. Also, it is not recycled as much as other types of plastic.

To make things more challenging for Lego and other responsible companies, no renewably-sourced material that would match the properties of ABS exists today.

Lego is hoping for the source material technology to evolve until 2030, which is the year the company has set as a deadline to switch to a completely sustainable production process.

While searching and investing in finding the new, green main material, Lego will seek to replace other, less unique types of oil-based materials. There is still time for ground-breaking research, as well as for improvement of existing practices. For example, lignin-based ABS with a durable tree molecule lignin replacing one of the petroleum components, is showing good results in the lab.

On the other hand, material technology doesn’t solve the issue of the end of Lego product life cycle. Plastic is still plastic. However, Lego bricks are certainly not a major pollution problem since there is a global market for used and vintage Lego sets. Also, it is always nice to put a smile on a child’s face by gifting or donating your old sets.

The name of the company — LEGO — comes from Danish phrase “LEg GOdt”, which means “play well”. Let us hope that Lego will continue to push for innovation to ensure the wellness of play also includes the wellness of our Earth.

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A few years later, in 2010, the LEGO Group decided to offer its SERIOUS PLAY® Method as a community based model under the Creative Commons License Deed.

Later, in 2012, I discovered the Lego4Scrum simulation from Alexey Krivitsky: I was thrilled! Even though I was still learning Scrum on the job I thought to myself: I want to try this one day :-)

And I did! A few times!

But something happened: after a few learning and improvement cycles, also known as iterations, the game that I play became very different from Alexey’s original one (by the way, you can get his Facilitation Guide version 2.0 here, or even better, his newest version in a book format here) and, within time, more “in tune” with the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method and the Theory behind it :-)

Let me share with you some of the most important changes I introduced over time, transforming Alexey’s original simulation into a “magical” Lean & Agile accelerated learning experience:

Why did I change my source of inspiration? Here are the 3 main reasons:

  • Because I always wanted to improve Alexey’s original simulation, reinforcing its Lean and Systems Thinking due to my Lean professional background and the lessons I learned while working as Product Owner for a Lean Manufacturing client.
  • Because I always intended to do it, that is, blend the Scrum simulation created by Alexey Krivitsky with the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method and Theory developed by Johan Roos, Bart Victor, Kjeld Kristiansen, Matt Statler, David A. Owens, Paul H. Howells, Robert Rasmussen, Per Kristiansen and others :-)
  • Because, as a firm believer of the Empirical Process Control Theory (also known as Empiricism), the same theory behind Scrum itself, I love to experiment new “cool stuff” :-) Simple as that. The way I see it: on every game I play I have the opportunity to create a new small shippable slice of the product (a workshop or training), inspect what and how I create it, and adapt the product and the way I build and deliver it, with built-in mechanisms for transparency to enable clear inspection (the final group feedback and my own self-reflection).

During the past years I have developed and facilitated the following LEGO® Lean & Agile Workshops, “powered” by the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method:

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