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Just received the tree fort recently. I read all the reviews before buying and now here is my contribution!
First off, I bought the whole package: tree fort, the furniture sets, animals, and woodland friends, as well as a set of fairy family dollhouse dolls, and a 36-piece pioneer miniature dollhouse accessory set. I decided it was better to splurge for a complete package than have a incomplete toy.
I couldn't decide which dolls to get so I got both the woodland friends set as well as the fairy family dollhouse dolls, and now that I have seen them I prefer the fairy family overall, though they are more expensive. However I may keep looking around for other options or try making my own, since cute faces are so important to me and the dolls don't have the attention to detail in the faces that I would ideally like to see. It is good to have dolls with bendable bodies for this tree fort though (which both those sets have), to be able to sit in the swing, hang onto things, or sit in the chairs etc. The woodland friends have bendable bodies but their clothes are a little stiff, and they don't stand, while the fairy family does. The fairy family is a little oversized but they still work (see my note on how I set it up below).
If someone would be upset by a piece of split wood, chipped bark or variable product from the pictures they might do better to look elsewhere than this tree fort. My package had all of these things. But since the pieces are organic it actually didn't matter. The split was in a stair piece which you actually don't notice. The bark was off a furniture piece you don't notice either. The two bigger beds had come unglued (by the way they are different than the photo now, they are a plank with a circular headboard and footboard), but since they were too small for the dolls anyway, I use these pieces for other things (stepping stones, a plank bridge etc.). Since they are organic shapes, there is so much flexibility for their use.
The directions are black and white photocopied photos which are too tiny to see properly and, I agree, are not very helpful. But they give an orientation to start off with. Right away I noticed that some of my preassembled sections were assemble backwards to those shown in the pictures, but it didn't matter. Basically they are components that can be assembled many different ways, which I have come to believe is one of the absolute strengths of this toy.
To get the most out of this be sure to leave time for assembly. Do not plan to do this late Christmas eve when exhausted. But it is fun assembly, not frustrating. A bit like a functional design question. I tried about six different ways before settling on an optimal set-up. My prefect set-up will need an extra drilled hole or two for the bolts, but that is no problem for us.
The preassembled pieces are basically to be stacked on top of eachother. But they do not have to be directly stacked on top of eachother, they can extend off to one side, jutt out, etc. One preassembled stack is too small to accommodate the fairy family standing, but was great for a side bower/seat/shelf next to the living area.
I got the pioneer accessories which were great for the little bowls, apples, baskets etc, although we do not need all the things in the set at all. Some of the small things (e.g. like the little bowls and apples) might be a challenge for younger hands, but do add to charm.
Even though the fairy family are bigger, they can sit at the chairs etc. They do not fit properly in the beds, and there are not enough beds for a family of five anyway, so you could skip this if you want and use soft wool or material for the figures to sleep on. The wooden animals could easily be replaced with any little toy animals you can find at home/near you. I do think it is important one way or another though to have furniture/ objects to set up in the fort. So if you don't get the complete set, have a plan for what you will use instead.
I took another reviewer's advice and bought greenery and silk flowers to decorate the fort, and this definitely adds to it (no greenery comes with it). It's not expensive to do, and I recommend it.
From examining the pictures I can see the tree fort has changed over time in terms of exact product, but the concept is the same.
Another note: I ordered this from Magic Cabin and then saw one in a local store. The one in the store had a piece that wobbled, and I could see that maybe there is variety in terms of quality control. However the one I got assembled solidly.
Overall I am pleased with this toy. It appeals to all (my husband likes it, which says something) and is winning in the charm of the wood in organic shapes. Although a substantial outlay of money, I think it will last a long time and get extended use. I really like that it is wood and not plastic, rounded and not linear. The ability to change and rebuild the fort in different configurations is really fun and will be great for teaching children about building and spaces and design. A multi-use toy for sure.
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