Waiting for the Winter Train – Winter Village Station (10259)

I owe many of my talents to my mom such as my artsy inclination because she introduced us to painting and crafting from the toddler age on, but her penchant for seasonal home decoration isn’t a trait I inherited. That’s part of the reason why my interest in LEGO‘s Christmas-y sets is limited and they tend to never float to the top of my lists, but somehow I couldn’t resist the Winter Village Station (10259).

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Box

I wasn’t exactly planning to get this set, which was last year’s special edition, yet somewhere along the lines I fell in love with it. It brought back memories when we would put up my grandpa’s and then my father’s model train stuff for the end-of-year-season and play with it.  If I wasn’t living in such a small flat I would almost consider continuing that route and build myself a small LEGO train track.

That and of course if I had the money, which is always a concern. In case of this train station that decision was made easier by the good price I got it for. I was able to order it for just under 50 Euros one day on Amazon, bringing it in just shy of that magical limit that usually makes or breaks my purchase decisions.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Overview

For what I paid I feel I got quite a lot of stuff and even better yet, good stuff. As you well know I tend to be quite critical of sets that contain too many “useless” parts, i.e. small, very specific parts in colors that are hard to combine with other colors, but here there is little to complain. One can never have too many parts in Sand Green or Medium Dark Flesh, there is a load of Dark Tan plates, including some larger ones, and there are some items unique/ exclusive to this set like the yellow arches for the aft wheel wells on the bus or the printed clock faces. Some yummy stuff that alone makes it worthwhile.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Station Front

The overall appearance of the train station nicely captures the typical look and feel of many small town/ village train stations built in the 19th and early 20th century you can find here in Europe, be that a more robust stone building like in the Swiss Alps and Germany or the more wood-based construction of the Northern regions and some eastern countries. The designers can be congratulated for evoking this familiarity without being too specific in the details.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Station Right

All that being true, there is a small criticism here, though. For all intents and purposes this should be a two-storied building, as back then those buildings were built to have the actual railroad operations stuff like the ticket booth or the station chief’s office on the ground floor, while above there were free living quarters for some of the personnel as part of their employee package. On the set specifically it would have helped to make the main building a bit more distinct from the platform and possibly also would have allowed to integrate the clock into a bay rather than making it a separate tower (which they rarely ever were).

Another minor shortcoming of the exterior is the lack of more snow elements. I’ve already tried to add a bit more variation using the spares that come with the set, but I would have loved if there were more white tiles and “tooth” elements to give the impression of thick snow areas and icicles. Granted, it wouldn’t be much trouble to source some extra bits from my collection, limited as it might be, but one shouldn’t have to. It feels a bit like LEGO have been miserly about ten or so elements that could have made a noticeable difference.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Station Back

The backside reveals a good part of the construction, which would have to be my second real gripe with this set. As you can see, it is built very loosely with separate walls and framework that isn’t always interconnected. This doesn’t make for the most stable construction and it is far too easy for my taste to inadvertently break off parts.

In particular I also found the foundation frame downright annoying. It tends to fall apart over and over at certain locations until you cover it with the plates for the boardwalk. I appreciate the desire on the designers’ part to be efficient and keep the model light, but regardless I feel that a simpler, more straightforward conventional construction with some large plates as the base for the brick frame would have worked better and spared some frustrations.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Station Detail

The detailing on the inside/ backside is not particularly elaborate, but sufficient. It’s basically the kind of limited dressing you get with most Friends sets – a coffee machine and some other contraption represented with a bunch of rudimentary bricks, in this case the ticket booth. It does the trick, but wouldn’t it have been fantastic if the floor extended a bit more and the booth could be facing opposite the door? This would also have allowed to extend at least one wall and add another seating area for customers to wait in a heated hall. Seems useful during winter time, don’t you think? 😉

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Figures

I’m still not big on minifigures and my use for them is certainly limited, but I guess the ones that come with this set are okay, even if they are as generic as it gets and variations of them have appeared in other sets already more than once. Given how small the set is, putting them all into their positions almost makes the model look overcrowded, so there’s definitely no need for more. It just would have been nice if they actually looked more wintery with real parkas, gloves, printed on thermal boots and the like. Them being dressed so lightly only reinforces the perception that the train station is more on the verge of spring, with good chunks of the snow already having melted away, instead of being in a deep freeze winter.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Railroad Crossing

Since this is a train-centric set, after all, it comes with four straight rail segments and on one of them you are supposed to build this little railroad crossing. Nothing out of the ordinary and a nice side build, though for me the two large slope parts are actually going to be more useful one day as a roof on some MOC as will be the rest of the parts then. The model is too fragile, anyway, and breaks apart easily so there seems little point in keeping it around unless you integrate it in a fixed position in your tracks. This is really only meant to be assembled once and glued into a fixed position, in a manner of speaking.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Bus Left

As already hinted when mentioning the exclusive parts of this set, the second large build is an old-timey looking bus and it simply looks gorgeous. LEGO could sell this as a separate 15 Euro set and I’d totally buy it, even more than once. Funny enough it looks more appealing than many comparable sets from the City or Creator series. that’s just how good it really is.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Bus Aft

The construction is pretty much a “no frills” affair and I guess that’s why it’s so appealing. It doesn’t try to be too clever by using specific parts like a custom windshield element and except for the roof Wedge elements could almost be built completely from stock basic parts you may have in your own repository, give or take the lack of a specific piece in a given color that may break the appearance. If you have a bunch of windows and arches from an architectural model floating around you could totally try to create your own flavor of the bus.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Bus Right LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Bus Front

Since it uses standard one unit wide bricks and window frames instead of the sleeker panels, the interior space is a bit limited and everything feels kinda crammed. That doesn’t take away from its quality, you just can’t squeeze in a ton of figures. I also tend to think that they could have placed the seats directly at the window and thus gotten a two studs wide walkway. It would have been more credible and in fact it could be reminiscent then of some really, really old busses, trams and trains that actually had their seats only arranged on one side and were completely made from wood. Could have been cool and cutified the set further.

A small caveat is the way the removable roof is affixed. The two 1 x 1 plates near the front portion tend to come off with the roof instead of staying put. it makes you wonder why they didn’t use the 1 x 4 tiles with the two studs at the opposing ends like they have been tried and tested on pretty much every Modular Building or other sets that feature removable floors and such. If you have some of those in your parts collection, you might want to rework the upper frame a bit.

LEGO Creator Expert, Winter Village Station (10259), Bus Interior

All in all I’m quite satisfied, though. This feels to me like what all LEGO sets should be like – reasonably enjoyable to build, interesting building techniques, nice colors, fun to have a play with and amazing to look at again and again. If only every set was that nice! I fully recommend this set not just because it’s Christmas season. Given the subject matter, you could derive some joy from it even in summer (and perhaps adapt its look to reflect the season). If I had the funds I could see myself buying at least one or two more sets to extend the platform and beef up the building. It seems one can’t really go wrong here, so get it while the set is still available!

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Flops, Tops and a potential *meh*

With this year nearing its end, it’s of course that time again where everyone is looking back at the best and worst of 2018 and while naturally it’s very much a subjective matter based on what your personal preferences are and a ton of other factors, at least to me the results over at Promobricks aren’t much of a surprise. Though not statistically representative, they represent how the German market ticks quite well.

Several Star Wars sets ranking among the stinkers and Betrayal at Cloud City (75222) taking the crown is less than unexpected. It’s a case of “My mom could have told you!”. Similarly, it didn’t require that much crystal ball reading to predict that other overpriced sets such as the Bugatti Chiron (42083), the Aston Martin DB 5 (10262) or the Vestas Wind Turbine (10268) would be on that list. LEGO can market the hell out of those licensed properties as much as they want, people just don’t care for this stuff beyond the day-one craze from collectors. Other sets are a bit more disputable. The Porg (75230) are a matter of “Love them or hate them!” even in the films, so that’s understandable just as is that Voltron (21311) situation – literally almost nobody around here ever saw the series, so to most it’s just another weird LEGO mech with an unknown background.

On the side of the winners the situation is a bit more clear-cut. I’m totally not a Potter-Head and in fact the more I look back at it, the more awful I find Harry Potter (I can’t fathom why I ever bought the first four movies on DVD), but you have to give it to LEGO – the sets are actually quite okay and within the weird logic of this series crafted well. If I had the money I would even consider the big Hogwarts Castle (71043) as a project to keep me busy for a few evenings. The one thing on that list I don’t agree on is the Roller Coaster (10261). I get that people who genuinely play around with it just love it, but to me it’s just plain ugly, as several not so minor shortcomings in its engineering and judging from the instructions makes for one of the dullest and most repetitive builds I can imagine.

Getting to the juicy bits, it will of course be interesting on which lists the new Modular Building, the Corner Garage (10264) will end up. So far the crowd seems to be divided and I have somewhat mixed feelings, too. While normally you can’t go wrong with these sets and compared to other LEGO models they are still comparatively cheap, the 30 Euros price hike is a bitter pill to swallow, even more so since it’s difficult to rationalize. After all, the building is cut in half and all those little details probably don’t really make up for the lack of interior space.

Some also have criticized the somewhat simplistic and mundane design and the crooked interior logic with the vet’s office being above a fuel station. Debatable points, yes, but then again pretty much not a single such set makes 100 percent sense nor are they meant to do so. In my experience one simply tends to forgive these lapses in logic and just enjoys the building once it stands finished on your table. I’m waiting to see it in a store before making my mind up about it definitively, but naturally this could indeed turn out either way…

January Christmas

It’s only the end of November, but the latest LEGO Friends magazine is apparently even ahead beyond December and already refers to January. Despite that slightly crooked calendar logic it can’t evade the Christmas craze, of course, and is themed accordingly.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2019, Cover

There aren’t really any surprises in this one, so I’ll keep it brief. The LEGO bricks are for a Christmas tree and a rather simplistic sled, which won’t stand any comparison to the skidoo in the City mag. If you have been a loyal buyer of LEGO Christmas calendars those past years and/ or the magazines, you basically know the drill already and your parts boxes likely are already overflowing with those green angled slopes. Same for the puppy and the present box – you probably have them somewhere already. Really nothing new here.

The rest of the magazine is forgettable as always from the ugly “uncanny valley” CG-rendered posters and inserts to the poorly drawn comic. One can’t help but feel that the publication and the Friends them as a whole seem to have run their course and are due for a major overhaul. New story lines and characters are desperately needed and it seems some of that could happen when the new 2019 sets arrive, pictures of which incidentally have been released just in time with the magazine.

From what I’ve seen they are certainly better than this year’s botched kart racing theme, but you shouldn’t expect revolutionary things. Most stuff has been done one way or the other and for me the most important aspect of some sets remains the fact that you get some parts in new color variations. In that regard of course Friends is a cornucopia for creating funky, vibrant MOCs.

Magenta Chocolate – Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van (41319)

Unfortunately due to my limited finances I’m in constant catch-up mode when it comes to LEGO stuff, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I have to reshuffle my plans because a product is soon to be end-of-line’d. The Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van (41319) from the LEGO Friends series is one such example. I only got it in October and since the pictures had been sitting on my harddrive. On the chance that some of you might consider a last-minute purchase therefore here’s my take on it in the hopes it will help you make up your mind.

LEGO Friends, Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van (41319), Box

Interestingly, those van style cars tend to be pretty decent in the Friends world in that they offer a good play value and, what is of course is even more important to me, a good selection of parts that you won’t necessarily find elsewhere like the various round bricks and tiles in those funky colors. This set is no exception with its heavy reliance on Medium Azure and Magenta.

LEGO Friends, Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van (41319), Overview

Since it is rooted in the winter-themed series (which will be withdrawn entirely as it appears), of course it has to have some bearing on the subject and that’s reflected by the inclusion of two sleds that to a degree almost look like professional luge/ skeleton/ bobsleigh examples in their design or at least those more contemporary aerodynamically streamlined plastic slide thingies.

LEGO Friends, Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van (41319), Slide

Unfortunately not a second thought was spared on how this would actually be used practically, so we only get a lumped together tiny “hill” with the usual standard (water-)slide half-pipes. This is basically completely useless, as the sleds are almost as long as one such segment and unless you have more segments from other sets to extend the length, you can’t really get the illusion of sliding. As far as that’s concerned, including a long plain plate that can be mounted at an angle and covered with tiles would probably have done more.

LEGO Friends, Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van (41319), Left View closed

The actual van pretty much follows the same pattern as Emma’s Art Stand and only varies some construction details. Most notably on the wheels it uses the traditional mudguards instead of arched bricks and the wheels are further apart. This in fact almost makes the whole car almost look like some of those self-steering electrically driving mini-busses that are being tested in some cities all around the world. That in itself might be an idea for a little MOC based on the design and/or parts of this set.

The interior can be accessed once again by opening a large sidewall piece, giving good access, though it will still be very fiddly to fit a figure inside and it will look too large. Thank goodness the roof can be removed entirely, mitigating this dilemma somewhat. Overall the available room will still be quite restricted, though.

On that note I would have preferred if the roof was entirely white or re-used the Medium Azure or Dark Blue colors found on the lower half of the van. I’m fine with Magenta for the decorative strip, but since it’s such a strong color, it really tends to look less and less attractive the more you look at it. It really stings in your eyes.

LEGO Friends, Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van (41319), Left View open

The “hot chocolate” or “(hot) cocoa” theme, as it’s called in some countries, is not particularly visible and mostly feels like an afterthought. If it wasn’t for the very prominent cup signage on the roof, you’d not think much of the car in that direction. It could have been  just as well yet another hot dog stand <insert your favorite joke reference here>. The cup with the steam/ cream top is nicely done, regardless, but remove it and you really can’t guess what the vehicle is supposed to be.

The chosen color them certainly doesn’t help to make that connection, but that’s basically an inherent weakness of most Friends sets, anyway. LEGO always lock themselves into a specific color palette and then have no room to maneuver and interpret things dynamically and liberally as needed. In this case the hold-up seems to be that in the other sets of this series the brown colors are reserved for the log cabin, so they can’t be used more extensively elsewhere. A real chocolate-y car in those colors would have been cool, though.

LEGO Friends, Snow Resort Hot Chocolate Van (41319), Right Views

A neat little touch and technique that you don’t see used that often is the sliding service window as opposed to using window blinds in Bright Pink or whatever other insane color LEGO have on their mind like on many other such models.

This model is by no means essential by any stretch of the imagination even in the Friends world, but now that it’s phasing out, snatching it up during a clearance sale with a heavy discount might still be worth it. The interesting observation for me is that by replacing a few parts with differently colored pendants this would fit nicely into a small City scenario and I think I might try just that.

It’s a good basis, but certainly would have benefited from being done a bit differently. It’s okay, but not great and of course the whole “winter” part is a joke and the parts only unnecessarily bulk up the set without adding anything. They could have sold it for 5 Euros less MSRP without those useless extras and the model would have been better for it and likely more successful.

News & Masters

This week has been full of news with LEGO rolling out imagery for the soon to come wave of new sets for early 2019. While 2018 will certainly go down in history as a not so great year for many of the regular product lines, things seem to improve quite a bit next year. Check the official photos on whatever is your favorite LEGO news site such as this one for instance.

I don’t care much for a Porsche being a Porsche, but what gets me pumped is that at long last we will be getting white mudguard and curved rectangular panels with Technic set 42096. This would finally allow to rebuild some older sets in consistent colors. The other Technic sets look quite okay, too, though with my drawers being filled to the brim with parts it’s unlikely I’ll get the Corvette (42093) or Tracked Loader (42094).

The new Stunt Racer (42095) somehow has the crowd divided with most criticizing the increased price while the model contains a few less parts and is smaller. While people accuse me of being overly negative at times, this time it seems the situation is reversed. If I didn’t already own the old Tracked Racer (42065), I’d be totally up for this model.

The point here is of course that nobody forces you to buy on day one at full price and I’d bet that just like the old set you can get the new one for 45 Euros one day if only you wait patiently for the right opportunity. That and of course you simply don’t buy these kits for design, you buy them to play. It’s a simple “Use it or don’t.” situation. My only peeve is that they are not using the new Powered Up! stuff, which I take as a bad sign that there are technical issues and the cost is too high. Likely another technological dead end LEGO created for themselves.

Elsewhere the The LEGO Movie 2 sets made waves. Personally I can’t get behind the retro-looking stuff, since I never had any interest in LEGO until a few years ago, but other people love it, so I guess those Benny the Spaceman (and his crew) minifigure sets will sell like crazy. For me the Systar-themed sets are much more interesting, which should come as no surprise if you read this blog regularly and know my inclinations towards Friends sets and the like.I really like those rounded shapes in White, Dark Turquoise and Magenta and the new Salmon color is the icing on the cake. Lots to love there for me.

The rest of the new releases (so far) are of limited relevance. I’ve never been much into City, so I’m not getting particularly giddy over the reintroduction of light and sound bricks, but of course it is a step in the right direction and should at least catch up a tiny bit to Playmobil et al. Star Wars is definitely showing signs of fatigue with most sets once again just being rehashes of older ones with the necessary adaptations and improvements. I kinda love the Microfighters set with the Sand Green Dewback, though, so it may be worth a look.

Overall I’m pretty pleased, even though of course on a highly selective basis. This most definitely gives me a much better gut feeling than many of the half-baked releases this year, especially when it comes to sets that are within my typical range of what I might be able to afford. Of course not all sets have been revealed yet and there’s still room for super-expensive disappointments, but at least there’s some options to fall back to. I’m ending this week with a good vibe after it started out rather icky with the German version of LEGO Master.

Yepp, I indeed wasted an hour of my life on Sunday watching it and I just found it plain awful. To me it’s typical low-brow private TV fare. Everything was hopelessly exaggerated and schmalzed up, but in the end it was just as boring as those cooking and baking shows following the same pattern and dragged on for way too long. Most disappointingly, though, it didn’t seem to be anything about the mastery of LEGO techniques. Lumping something together that halfway works seemed to be enough and that’s simply not interesting to watch when it should be all about finesse and sophistication….

Better Brick Box? – Fun Future (10402)

While I’m sure that nobody will dispute that LEGO these days is primarily about selling pre-designed sets, the original concept is of course an entirely different one. The idea of taking a bunch of bricks and creating something from your imagination certainly still has its appeal even today. Unfortunately LEGO don’t make it easy to live out this fantasy with the Creator Classic brick boxes often being a mixed bag, not necessarily always in a good way.

It seems someone at the corporate realized those shortcomings and incidentally the 60th anniversary of the original LEGO brick patents provided another good excuse to create a new product line and alas Building Bigger Thinking was born. We’re going to have a look at one of the smaller sets called Fun Future (10402), but I also already had bought Rainbow Fun (10401) some time ago. I got my hands on both sets during special promos, so I got them for 7 Euros instead of 10 Euros and 4 Euros instead of 5 Euros, respectively, based on the MSRP.

LEGO Building Bigger Thinking, Fun Future (10402), Box

At the time of writing this article, all the sets are already earmarked as being end-of-line, so if you don’t hurry to actually get one, it will be nothing but a passing memory of the year 2018 soon. As to why they are already being withdrawn is a mystery to me, as in fact this is one of the few cases where I can totally get behind the concept in that it seems to me that this was meant as an effort to get some of the more delicate, smaller and newer parts out there that also would allow for some advanced building techniques. They are commonly used in the design-centric sets, but typically not included in the Classic series or simpler sets like the basic City ones.

The actual reason may be different, but one can of course speculate why those sets likely haven’t sold that well, causing their demise. Let’s begin with the name. Yes, in my view that’s a big marketing SNAFU. While I get what Building Bigger Thinking was meant to imply in terms of liberating your fantasy and creativity, it actually doesn’t really roll off your tongue and is conceptually hard to grasp if you are not an English native speaker. It basically sounds like a Swedish English teacher trying to explain to a group of Polish tourists what “make it grand” actually means and struggling for words.

It also didn’t help that this barely was marketed, despite the festive occasion. If I hadn’t stumbled across the Rainbow Fun (10401) box during my weekly grocery shopping, even I wouldn’t have taken much notice. This makes the whole matter even more regrettable.

LEGO Building Bigger Thinking, Fun Future (10402), Models

Case in point: For the limited price, the models included actually look pretty decent and well thought out. They are simplistic, yes, but at the same time detailed enough to be truly representative of what they are supposed to stand for. This is achieved by including elements that are a bit rare due to either not being used that often at all or being new. The half-inset bridge type part is a good example as is the three-to-two adapter plate. This is made even better by those parts coming in colors that cannot at all be found in other sets currently or only a handful of alternatives. That means, if nothing else, those sets are a valuable source for parts in unique or unusual colors.

LEGO Building Bigger Thinking, Fun Future (10402), Special Parts

This logic extends to the extra/ surplus parts as well. Some of those little buggers are simply hard to find in a specific color, unless you are lucky enough to have unlimited funds and are able to buy large, expensive sets, where they are often are included. It’s also nice that most parts are included at least twice, so you can build symmetrical models and they even threw in some basic bricks, despite them not being referenced in a stock model.

LEGO Building Bigger Thinking, Fun Future (10402), Extra Parts

I’m really saddened that LEGO decided to give this series the axe and it won’t be continued. To me it looked like they finally had found their way back to that magic formula and tinkering around with those little bits and pieces is simply fun. With the disappearance of those sets it will also get more difficult to get some parts in those weird pastel colors that I so love for some of my projects, so there’s that, too. it’s really a shame. If you want to experience what I mean, get one of those set while they’re still around…

December Destroyer

Another month has flown by way too quickly and so it is time again to have a look at the latest LEGO Star Wars magazine.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, December 2018, Cover

Unfortunately it seems that the mag has run now for too long and overstayed its welcome, as the quality of the content appears to be getting worse with every issue. Those two posters look like an inexperienced intern at a media agency hacked them together on a bad Monday morning. *yikes*

The comic takes a stab at The Last Jedi and while it looks like they are adapting the more dynamic drawing style also used in the City magazines, it is still a far cry from the quality found there. The terrible, infantilistic writing doesn’t make it any better, though of course one has to concede that I’m way beyond the target age. Incidentally I also think that having one of those walkers on a vertical poster would have been a lot cooler than the shoddy LEGO Millenium Falcon from Solo – A Star Wars Story. It’s like they didn’t even try to make an effort.

The Star Destroyer model is okay-ish, but not particularly attractive. It’s really just lumped together from a bunch of wedge plates, which could be useful one of these days, but don’t do much here. Most annoyingly the few extra parts like the engine section or the bridge are attached so flimsily, they always come off. Not much energy and consideration was spent here, either and in contributes to this “all over the place” feel of the mag. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they would manage to produce consistent issues centered around a single subject/ theme?

Overall this isn’t the best mag and rather disappointing, considering that around this time of year one’s always hoping for something special and lavish in time for Christmas. Someone didn’t check their calendar and this is absolutely forgettable…