The Mechaton rulebook already contains a very good guide to buying from Bricklink, but here I thought I’d write about my process for buying bricks, which has evolved from a haphazard process into a… slightly less haphazard process. Different approaches work for different people, so feel free to describe your own process in the comments.
Bricklink (for those new to this process) is an index of online lego retailers. You can search for any part, and find a list of all the shops that sell that part, their prices, and how many they have in stock. Bricklink also has a rating and feedback system, giving you some indication of the reliability of a shop (essential for online selling), and a parts catalogue.
The first thing you’ll need to do when considering a Bricklink order is find the right shop for you. If you’re a regular buyer, you’ll maybe have a favorite shop already, but shops vary a lot in their stock, so even if you have a regular source, it’s probably a good idea to go looking elsewhere from time to time. For Mechaton purposes, what you’re looking for in a shop is a place with a good range of parts (and colours). Price, at the volume you’re probably buying, is not a huge concern. The prices vary by such a small amount, that unless you’re hunting for a large number of a rare part, the difference in cost is not going to be great at all. What’s also important is that the shop has a good volume of the parts you want, and that there’s no minimum number of parts you need to order. It’s no good only having one piece of a certain colour if you need two to make a symetrical mech, and you don’t want to buy ten of a piece you only need two of.
Choosing a Shop
To find a shop, I first search for what I think is the rarest specific piece I’m looking for. Let’s say I want a sand green robot body. I’d search for that part. By default, the search lists your results by price, but most of the time, that’s not what you’re interested in. What’s important is volume. You can change your preference to search for the shop that’s selling the highest number of that part. That gives you a good chance of finding a place with a good stock. Once you’ve found a few likely shops (look for ones that will ship to you), you can open up seperate windows for all of them. Then you can investigate each of them in turn. What I look for in a shop is their stock of “bellweather” parts, like horizontal clips and “cheese” slopes. If they’ve got a lot of these parts in a good range of colours, it’s probably a good bet. Don’t forget to check the feedback. Especially if you’re buying used parts, you want some assurance that the parts will be in good condition, and that you’ll get what you ordered. Used parts should be almost indistinguishable from new.
It is a very good idea to have a list of parts. I’m pretty lazy about this, but it will certainly prevent a lot of frustration when your order arrives if you make a careful list of parts you need before you order. If you’re building multiple copies of a mech you’ve already built, take the mech apart and count every piece. Order multiples of the number you need. If you’re filling out your collection, take time to think about what you need. Look at some models online to get a sense of useful parts you might want. A good idea is to keep a list with your lego, and every time you’re frustrated because you don’t have the pieces to finish something you’re working on, write it down. Check out the Essential Parts List if you’re just starting out your collection. That will give you a good basis for further growth.
I like to buy things in even numbers. I usually go for four or eight of a part, given the option (sometimes you’ve just gotta buy all they have). That seems to work well for the needs of building mecha, where bilateral symmetry is common.
Colour is an important decision. If you’re on a limited budget (like most people), a good idea is to have a small range of colours you “collect”, and only branch out into other colours as you need to. Black, and the four shades of grey should be exceptions to this. They’re such useful colours, and can be reasonably easily intermixed, so they’re always a good investment. I’ve tended to focus on dark red and dark blue as my colours of choice, though I’ve also got a lot of red, blue, and yellow. Concentrating your colour purchases means you’re getting more usability out of the parts you buy. It’s no good having half a dozen sand blue jumper plates if they’re the only sand blue you’ve got. They’re going to look weird wherever you put them. Once I’ve gone through and got a bunch of the specific parts I’m looking for, I like to browse the shop by colour for a while, looking through all the colours I’m collecting. Often you’ll find interesting parts you had forgotten about of have never seen before. It is always worth taking a chance on buying some strange piece in a useful colour. You never know what you will end up using it for.
I hope this is a useful guide for people new to buying from Bricklink, and maybe informative even for people who use the store a lot.