Dino Chopper – LEGO Jurassic World Magazine, May 2021

With the world still under the veil of the pandemic, little moments of joy become ever more important and so I’m always marking the dates on my calendar when a new LEGO magazine is supposed to come out. This week has the Jurassic World issue for May on the menu.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, May 2021, Cover

The comic is a bit lackluster in that the usual chase story (What else could it be?) is missing a few exciting twists and progresses rather predictably. It’s also visually rather boring with large swaths of blue – a blue dinosaur, a blue helicopter, blue sky, blue water. It just doesn’t really jibe with me as it feels rather sterile and many panels are quite empty even.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, May 2021, Comic

There’s very little else to do, with nary any puzzles and quizzes. I’ve already noticed this across most of Blue Ocean‘s mags recently. One can’t help the impression that under the current conditions they can’t quite pull their editorial staff together and are living of existing material and what little new stuff they can produce, stretching it extremely thin. At least the poster is okay and aligns with similarly styled ones in previous editions, so here’s one more for your gallery wall.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, May 2021, Poster

I’ll freely admit it, but the extra, a small baby chopper, made me go “Whuuuttttt?” already when I saw it in the preview in the last issue. Similar items in the City magazine have been pretty low-brow efforts, but this one is just plain ugly. It doesn’t even pretend to be anything else but a lump of bricks slapped together with whatever minimum energy they could muster. And yeah, there’s Owen and the “wrong” Blue again. As if anyone already owning a dozen of these figures would have asked for another one…. *sigh*

This is not a good issue and for all intents and purposes you can safely gloss over it without missing anything. If i wasn’t regularly reviewing it, I would really only buy this mag if there’s nothing else around to satisfy your LEGO fix. Otherwise it’s just disappointing on pretty much every level…

Red Pistol – LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son’s Inferno Jet (80019)

Everybody loves free shipping and pre-Easter I figured it would not be the most terrible idea to get an extra Easter Bunny carrot house on top, so of course when I ordered the White Dragon Horse Jet (80020) it wasn’t the only item in my basket at the LEGO online store. Red Son’s Inferno Jet (80019) found its way into my home as well and we’re here to have a look at it.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Box

Contents and Pricing

Let me cut right to the chase: Out of the two jets this certainly is the less attractive option. As usual I got it “for reasons”, but if you are looking for a good bang for your buck this is not necessarily the way to go. Between the ultimately relatively small actual jet, the limited selection of minifigures and barely any extras this isn’t the best way you could spend 30 Euro. Point in case: This set has officially 299 pieces, making for an almost exact 10 Cent per piece price, which these days is nothing to write home about, especially when many of those items are just smaller standard pieces. Even some of the larger pieces feel more like they had to reuse leftovers of stock from production runs for other sets.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Overview

With that being said, the value here really feels more like 25-ish Euro at best and if this were sold through regular retailers it could then drop even lower. This would certainly help to bring it to a level where at least it feels more in line with typical Ninjago offerings.

The Minifigures

As already mentioned, the choices for the minifigures are anything but exciting as they’re all ones you’ve seen in previous sets in the series already. There’s another grunt, Red Son and of course Monkie Kid. The figures are not at all done bad in any sense of the word with their complex and elaborate prints based on unique designs, they just lack that extra magical touch and within the series already feel repetitive. It feels like a non effort to just grab some existing figures and slightly modify them without advancing the story or tailoring them more specifically to the set. In particular this set would have benefited from having at least one mechanic for instance, the reasons for which I’m going to explain a bit more later.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Minifigures

The Rock

The small rock piece is just that – a section of the many mountainous areas Monkie Kid comes across in his journey. This probably would look just fine next to the The Legendary Flower Fruit Mountain (80024), but otherwise I don’t quite know how it fits into a set with a jet unless you interpret it as being the tip of a mountain high up in the clouds with the jet zooming by. It just feels a bit random and arbitrary and the pieces allocation could have been used for something that would fit the topic better …like some maintenance equipment. See a common thread here?

The Jet

To get it out of the way, allow me to resolve my ominous hints at that “mechanic-ing up” right away: The one thing that attracted me to this set is its boar-ish appearance in the sense that in particular the front section is reminiscent of old cylindrical piston engine designs from the World War II era, the Korean War and even the Vietnam War. Think Thunderbolts, Corsairs and Skyraiders. That’s why I regret that the set doesn’t build more on this with open cowlings and oil-covered mechanics.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Jet, Front Left View

The other reason that also furthers my point and becomes apparent at certain angles is that the plane isn’t level/ parallel with the ground. As such it would have made 1000% sense to have it perched in some sort of launch rig or maintenance platform. This, again, would have been a perfect excuse to include a mechanic and, coming back to my earlier point, use the pieces dedicated to the small rock for workshop details and the scaffolding/ trusses of the actual platform. This to me would have made a lot more sense and I’m sure it would actually result in some better play fun as well.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Jet, Aft Left View

A lot of these considerations of course would be totally unnecessary if the vehicle had not been designed in such an obvious way as an arrow shooter pistol. This is even more tragic since the shooter functionality with only two arrows is kind of useless and not much fun in an age where you can buy your kid a rapid fire Nerf gun with 60 shots. I don’t quite get why LEGO keep adding these features where they can’t compete with toys that do it better and safer, even more so when it has the ill effect of affecting and limiting the rest of the design.

I feel this is pretty much what has happened to the placement of the wings and engine cones. Everything had to be spaced far enough apart to allow the little rascals to wrap their hand around the handle at the bottom and pull the trigger. This makes for flimsy attachments and is not particularly plausible in terms of engineering and the underlying physics as well. Guess how strong those wing spars would have to be to transfer the thrust to the fuselage. makes no sense!

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Jet, Aft Right View

From the side the pistol shape is even more recognizable, though in fairness it looks rather elegant at least. This is yet one more case where with a little bit of effort (well, quite a bit, actually) you could build on the basic design and transform it into a proper plane by adding proper wings, getting rid of the handle and trigger and re-arranging the engine exhausts. If I were to do it, I’d bring them in closer to the vertical tail fin and, to make it look cool, I would love to have more of the thick metallic tubes connecting up to them. You could even insert some transparent colored 2 x 2 round bricks to hint at some sort of “plasma flow”. Does that sound like an idea? I’m almost tempted to really try this one day.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Jet, Right View

The front section is the stronger area of the model as already mentioned. Mind you, it’s nothing in the way of introducing some super cool new technique you wouldn’t be able to come up with yourself, it’s just done rather well. Inevitably some of that has to be attributed to the use of the new 3 x 3 rounded bricks with curved surface, here in Dark Pearl Grey for the first time. This makes for a strong, smooth “lip” of the cowling that previously would have been difficult to render with its color also reminding me of the metallic rings in this area used on some real planes, either for decorative purposes or to minimize damage to the actual cowling.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Jet, Front View

The forward prongs for the flamethrower feel a bit weird, but perhaps it’s just my scientific-oriented mind getting in the way and thinking “This could never work!”. Still, it’s an odd choice to bulk up the model in this region so much, when it barely even doesn’t have any wings. On that note: I had to redo some of the photos a number of the times because the small tail wings are attached using regular hinges, not ratcheted ones, so they change angles at the slightest touch. Yet another design issue that speaks against this model.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Jet, Cowl open

As mentioned earlier, there is an arrow shooter mechanism well hidden inside the model, but with only two arrows available it really doesn’t do much. This is even more so the case as reloading isn’t that easy. Either you fiddle around and try to insert the arrows directly via the hole in the front cone if you have small enough fingers or you open up the cowling, which is attached with clip hinges. This is in its own way clever, but has the distinct disadvantage that it will quickly wear out if you need to use it too often or the clips even break.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Jet, Cowl Detail

The underside is extremely barren due to the open shooter mechanism. They didn’t even have a few inverted curved slopes to spare to continue and emulate the curvature on the 4 x 4 plate, much less anything to create a smoother transition.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Jet, Bottom View.

Unique Parts

As mentioned here and there, there are a few new parts in Pearl Dark Grey in this set such as the rounded elements. The ingot/ gold bar in this color, already mentioned in the white jet review last week, also makes an appearance here. The dual molded flame piece with the Trans Orange transitioning into the “smoke” Trans Black is not exclusive to this set, but overall somewhat rare and having four of them is not a bad thing. The round brick with the spikes takes the cake, as I indeed thought this would have been widely available in some older Ninjago or Nexo Knights sets that I never had, given that the mold has been around for a few years, but no, it’s actually the first time we get this one in Pearl Gold. some people are probably drooling over that already.

LEGO Monkie Kid, Red Son's Inferno Jet (80019), Unique Parts


Concluding Thoughts

Sadly this is one of those LEGO sets where an interesting concept presumably has been trimmed and bent into something entirely different, less attractive. That whole gimmick with the pistol shooter functionality feels mandated by some higher up because of course the had to have some “play feature” other than swooshing the model around, but integrating it came at the cost of the overall appearance, which could definitely have been more refined and complete.

It has its strong points and if you build on them, you could end up with a rendition of something akin to a classic propeller plane, but it would at least require a minimum of work to fix the most glaring issues, let alone a full redesign of critical areas. I would only recommend it if indeed like me you have an inclination for Ninjago aerial vehicles and have exhausted most of the options there and/ or are looking something nice that blends in with an existing line-up of these aircraft.

Most others will very likely end up unhappy and dissatisfied. There are better “shooters” even in the LEGO world just as there are better planes at lower cost. That and of course you are a Monkie Kid completist who has to have every set. That, in my opinion, pretty much covers it and I can’t really see where this fits outside that. It’s simply not compelling enough otherwise.

Edgy Jet – LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020)

While I can’t judge the situation elsewhere on the planet, it seems to me that LEGO‘s Monkie Kid isn’t really taking off in a way the company would like. For my taste they are trying a little too hard to promote it through their LEGO Ambassador Network (LAN), throwing out free review examples left and right, yet the overall reception seems lukewarm, judging from comments. This lines up with my own feelings about the matter – would love to love it more, but something always feels off and it doesn’t help that some sets are a helluvalot expensive. However, there are some things I still like and that’s why the White Dragon Horse Jet (80020) still ended up finding its way into my home. Ironically it does so for feeling more like Ninjago instead of Monkie Kid, but more on that later.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Box

Contents and Pricing

As I mentioned already, the price policy for these sets is a problem – for me, anyway. That’s why I’m always extra wary when deciding whether to get them or not and this means that a set has to have either some desirable specific items or enough bulk so an investment feels justified. Since the sets at this point are exclusively distributed by LEGO themselves, there’s no wriggle room for discounts, making that an even more important consideration. In this case I’m happy to say that the math does add up. The set has 565 pieces and while many of them are small ones, there’s just as many larger ones evening out the balance. The overall usefulness and perceived value to someone like me is also greatly helped by the fact that many elements are unique to this set. There are some notable recolors, some entirely new parts and a good selection of standard elements that you can never have enough of. Always a good thing to have this stuff handy for your next MOC.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Overview

With all that in mind, I feel that 40 Euro is more than a fair price. This is on a level with some of The LEGO Movie 2 sets – after discounts – that weren’t all that bad, just pretty underrated because the film bombed so hard. In other words: You do get some good value for your money, both during the construction process as well as with the finished result.

The Minifigures

Unlike other Monkie Kid sets that are overflowing with custom figures tailored specifically to the series, this is perhaps the weakest part about this particular offering. The point here is that with Si, the leftmost figure, we get “generic guy no. 703” from the overall LEGO minifigure mix & match repository, with the individual parts having been used elsewhere already. Similarly, the spider army huntsman feels like every other generic Ninjago evildoer, with the effect being amplified due to the current jungle island series also having purple enemies. The distinction between Medium Lavender and the lighter regular Lavender after that becomes a minor one. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time, should your kids decide to mix figures from the different series. It could be confusing!

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Minifigures

Mei feels a bit like she actually doesn’t belong in this set with her clothing feeling a bit too traditional for a jet pilot. In fact this is a point where they perhaps should have included her twice or offer an option to swap out parts so she could be built with a fashionable flight suit or in this more traditional sword fighter outfit. Finally there’s Lu, Sandy‘s cat, that now also has already been included in several sets. I’m not complaining as it’s my first, but they may need to come up with a new mold or some different prints/ colors to keep it interesting.

The Hoverboard

Speaking of Lu – he comes with his own little hoverboard/ aerial drone. Apparently it’s armed, if only with two stud shooters, to fend off the spider army. It’s a cute and hyper-efficient small build consisting only of a handful of pieces, but does the trick quite well. It might have been a good idea to add a small launchpad or hide this in a small truck, though. It seems a little far fetched that this would appear out of the blue with no technical support anywhere to be seen.

The Spider Drone

The opposing faction does of course have its own little drone arsenal as well and so there’s this spider-like version in this set. It is similarly to the hoverboard built only with a limited number of parts and ultimately that’s only even possible because a new type of clip/ bar element has been introduced. Without the 90 degree bar piece constructing the legs would have been nowhere near as simple and stability would not have been that great if this was bashed together using multiple hinge bar/ clip combinations using existing elements. That being the case I’m pretty sure we are going to see this new element used a lot in no time.

The Vending Machine

Both Red Son’s Inferno Truck (80011) and the Monkey King Warrior Mech (80012) contain small extra builds of kiosks/ shops and sections of buildings as they may be typical in some densely populated Asian cities and many reviewers loved them to the point of lobbying for full building-themed standalone sets in this series. I can certainly see the appeal and would be all for it, so it’s nice that LEGO also have included one of those cutesy models here. It’s a somewhat generic vending machine, in this case one allowing you to purchase glass jars with fancily printed lids (Perhaps to capture spiders?), but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless. This literally could be standing at many a streets corners. As so often, of course the single biggest regret is that none of the tiles are printed. Especially the large banner on the side, represented with one of the new 2 x 6 tiles, would likely have been an extremely popular item for people looking to deck out their own LEGO Chinatown. Alas, ‘t wasn’t meant to be.

The Jet

The meat of the set is of course the jet itself. It immediately caught my eye the first time I saw pictures of it due to its color scheme and overall appearance. Clearly the LEGO designers were aiming for something completely different from the done-to-death standard designs we’ve seen over and over again in the Ninjago universe. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but the formula gets a bit stale after you’ve built your third plane with sweeping wings or spreading “feathers” (swords), respectively. In that regard it’s really nice to see something that hasn’t been noodled out as much. Arguably of course soem will recognize a bit of Nexo Knights in here with some typical elements being featured and the general faceted look, but even then at least the overall impression is still something else.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Front Left View

Despite its brute-ish appearance the plane is in fact not that large with only slightly above 20 cm in length and just shy of that in wing span (depending on the inclination of the wings you chose). Point in case: The plane looks large, but really isn’t. This impression is furthered by how much weight the thing has. This is kind of inherent in how it is built: The cockpit area alone consists of multiple rows of the 2 x 2 plate modified with studs on the side and those add up, minor as each individual piece’s weight may be otherwise. Likewise, the model uses a lot of other small plates and bricks in many places to create the necessary staggering for all those wedges and slopes to be plugged on or to create specific patterns with differently colored elements. This also includes a few extra parts used to connect the left and right halves of the tip and other such directional changes.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Aft Left View

The exhaust/ speed streak is an element should be familiar if you even remotely have had an eye on one of last years cyber-themed Ninjago sets where they were included in almost every set in Trans Neon Green and Trans Neon Orange. The new version is Trans Bright Green, matching the rest of the color theme. Usually I wouldn’t make much of it and the blade element is easily enough removed, but once you do so (well, actualyl already during the build) you realize that it is just a cheap disguise.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Streak detached

Yes, while recognizably a lot of love went into detailing the rest of the plane, the jet engine is a non-effort on the part of the designers. Exactly zero energy was spent on it other than walking to the storage drawer, taking the old wheel element out of it and plugging it onto the rear end of the plane. they didn’t even bother to at least build a recess/ some panels around it, much less anything that would seriously resemble an exhaust if a contemporary jet plane. The funny thing is that, given the overall style of the vehicle, it would have been simple to just use the spiked coverings of e.g. an F-22 Raptor‘s slit-like thrust-vectoring engines as an inspiration, blatantly obvious as it may have been, but it at least would have been a lot better than what we got.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Aft Right View

The lackluster engine is particularly painful to see due to the stark contrast with the surroundings, which have been meticulously detailed. the “gills” on the back of the engine on a real plane likely would even have small hydraulics pistons or servos to change their angle in order to regulate cooling and airflow. Or they could be some extreme form of air brake… The large 1 x 8 slopes for the vertical fins is okay, all things considered, but of course I still would have preferred if they were build up from smaller elements. That might in fact also have helped with covering up the atrocious engine with some transitional pieces.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Gills Details

The cockpit area uses an existing canopy, but mounted in the reverse direction, a tactic which lately LEGO have used a number of times to add a bit of originality into existing parts usage. Interestingly, for this part the Trans Bright Green coloration is also a first, something which I wouldn’t have expected. In my mind it feels like I’ve seen this a ton of times on Nexo Knights and other sets, but with so many different types of windshields out there it’s easy to get them mixed up.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Front Right View

The cockpit interior is parse and doesn’t really make a lot of sense functionally. The most apparent shortcoming here is the odd placement of the singular instrument panel and the awkward flat, lying position the pilot is supposed to have. This would never work, both in terms of battlefield awareness and sustaining g-forces. You know, there’s a reason why pilot seats in combat aircraft are almost always mounted at a very specific angle that has proven the most efficient. For a play fantasy it’s acceptable, though.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Cockpit Detail

One of the reasons for the very bed-like seating arrangement undoubtedly is the extremely recessed canopy not allowing enough headroom – literally. This is one are I feel could have been improved just as well with a more conventional mounting point higher up instead of placing the hinge directly under the wedge bricks constituting the tapered area in front of the cockpit. If I were serious about it and planned to keep the models around for longer I would likely seriously dedicate some time to changing and fixing this.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Front Right Lower View

The other thing that becomes apparent from this low viewing angle is the complete lack of an undercarriage. I would not consider this essential for a model that is primarily meant to be swooshed around, but it would have been nice and given the structure there would have been room for it to the point that it might even have been integrated so well, that it could have been hidden under some panels and then only unfolded/ deployed if and when needed. This is yet another area I definitely would look into if I were to customize this model.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Front Left Lower View

In all of this I have one more peeve with the model: It looks awfully militarized by LEGO‘s own standards. The thing is that as someone who is still proactively interested in military aviation and occasionally also watches some gameplay footage of shooter games I do not strictly have an issue with weapon-laden vehicles in the general sense, but here it just doesn’t feel right. This is a kids series, after all and yes, Ninjago has cannons and rockets, too, but here I feel they overstepped that fine line between tolerable and too much. If your entire wing is a gun array and then there’s extra stud shooters something is wrong. If this were another manufacturer I wouldn’t be surprised, but for LEGO, who like to endlessly go on about their toys being creative and kids-friendly it comes across as if they operate on inconsistent rules and will break them if only it serves as a means to an end.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Underside

Finally a small little gripe with the underside, also slightly related to my comment on the landing gear: It would have been nice to have at least the central fuselage section covered with inverted slopes. While it’s not that visible and the colored stripe pattern is done well enough, it might just have been nice to add that little extra touch and in fact it might have been a good opportunity to do a version of this element, just with straight angled faces to match the overall style.

Unique Parts

As mentioned already here and there this set comes with a good selection of new and not so common parts that boost the value for potential alternate uses later on. As a structural part that solves many construction problems the 90 degree clip/ bar is perhaps the most noteworthy. The “cosmetic” items, however, don’t disappoint, either. as such the shield piece in Bright Light Green is exclusive to this set for the time being, but I have no doubt it soon enough will be used more widely elsewhere as well more important to me are the Metallic Gold grille and the ingot piece in Pearl Dark Grey. Both components will be extremely valuable to anyone occasionally building vehicle and machinery stuff.

On that note, of course I also like the new 1 x 2 tile with the control panel print. The clearer, more generic graphical style may not be everyone’s thing, but it’s always good to have options. That extends to the round 1 x 1 tiles as well. thanks to them being used as the lids for the glass jars in the vending machine you get a good selection of them that you would have had to source elsewhere otherwise. The golden eye so far only appears in the Monkey King Warrior Mech (80012) and the ladybug has been included in the respective collectible minifigure. The spider symbol is the mark of the evil guys and appears in other Monkie Kid sets as well.

LEGO Monkie Kid, White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), Jet, Unique Parts


Concluding Thoughts

All things considered this is a good enough set, if a bit of a weird one. The overtly militaristic look and feel is definitely going to rub some people the wrong way and takes some getting used to even for me. I also can’t shake the impression that within the Monkie Kid series this doesn’t quite fit into the general design aesthetic and story. Mind you, it’s not bad, but I view it strictly on its own merits decoupled from the rest or at best as a different spin on what potentially some Ninjago aircraft could look like. If you can see it the same way, you might enjoy it. The build is reasonably complex and satisfying plus it looks interesting. The price point is acceptable, too. It’s not perfect, mind you, but you definitely could do worse. If you have those 40 Euro and feel like killing a bit of time with an enticing model, this could be your thing.

Explorer-ing Plants – LEGO Explorer Magazine, May 2021

Spring is upon us and in fact we already had a few very warm days, making plants sprout from the ground and early blossoming flowers show their beauty, so a LEGO magazine issue on this sort of thing is a fitting match. Say hello to the latest LEGO Explorer for May 2021.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, May 2021, Cover

Okay, the mag isn’t really that much about spring flowers specifically, but rather a bit of everything – exotic plants, a bit of home gardening, environmental considerations. This is done well enough with a ton of info pages that cover a huge variety of subjects such as the ones depicted here about “crazy” (unusual) plants and pollination. It would have been ace if they actually had offered one of the giant plants like the Rafflesia or the Titan Arum as the actual build for this issue. At the same time I found it odd to tease people with the Dark Brown plant elements so far only found in the Stranger Things The Upside Down (75810). Try explaining that to your kid when it wants his own ball of tumbleweed…

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, May 2021, Info Page LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, May 2021, Info Page

The poster is similarly depicting some pretty far out plants you may never even have heard of. I always find this fascinating also from the point of a sci-fi nerd, as it explains some of the off-world vegetation designs found in this type of movies or series. Other than that there are a number of drawing pages, several puzzles and quizzes and even a page with instructions how to (re) grow carrots and tomatoes from leftovers, re-using the seeds and greens. Could make for nice project with your children for a few weeks as they care of it and watch it grow. I hope you have more talent for that than me with my brown thumb!

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, May 2021, Poster

As already said I wished for a different kind of plant, but as it is, we are getting something looking like Audrey from The Little Shop of Horrors. That’s a rather odd diversion from an otherwise very educational issue. It is serviceable as a weird looking toy for a few minutes, but it’s not looking that nice and collectible. At least there’s a few usable/ desirable parts like the 1 x 2 x 2 Dark Green slopes, but overall I feel they could have done a better job with a more careful selection of the subject and a nicer design.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, May 2021, Extra  LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, May 2021, Extra

Overall this is one of the less successful issues in this series, as it meanders around a bit too much in generic topics and activities not so much specifically related to LEGO. As a 3D artist recreating plant structures was one of my obsessions, so I would have loved a section on how to e.g. create different leave patterns with LEGO bricks or explain some tricks how to create the overall structures of branches, blossoms, tree stems and have them follow specific growth rules. In fact that’s one thing that’s slowly beginning to rub me the wrong way. A more experimental approach actually explaining the underlying scientific principles would be preferable to just showing stuff…

Firefighter Readiness – LEGO City Magazine, May 2021

The Easter holiday weekend is messing with the publishers’ release schedule, so some LEGO magazines have arrived a bit earlier than usual. The first is the LEGO City magazine for May 2021.

LEGO Magazine, City, May 2021, Cover

This issue  is centered around the firefighter theme once more, but actually in a good way. The comic is reasonably elaborate, with the story being a bit too wacko for my taste, though. I also found it quite distracting that it is interrupted with a puzzle or some advertising every few pages. That could be rather confusing for kids, given how disjointed the comic already is in its narrative. The puzzles are simple mazes and memory tests as usual and won’t keep your children busy for that long.

LEGO Magazine, City, May 2021, Comic

The posters are stylistically quite similar, but overall acceptable. The slogans actually even make sense from a German language point of view unlike some more awkward translations in the past.

LEGO Magazine, City, May 2021, Poster

The extra is interesting in that it has a somewhat unusual subject for the buildable parts. It’s an equipment readiness station with an emphasis on the pressurized air tank and mask. You would not necessarily find this en mass in many fire stations, as to my knowledge it really is only required for very qualified uses, maintenance of the masks/ tanks and testing/ refilling. Chances are that most fire departments only have a few of these and the equipment is otherwise stored in conventional lockers and shelves. Still, it’s a nice idea and certainly something different that should spice up your fire station. The figure on the other hand is super generic, but that must not be a bad thing, allowing for varied uses and customization without being limited or committed to all too specific stuff.

LEGO Magazine, City, May 2021, Extra

Overall this is a nice enough issue, with the best part for me being the extra. At least they are trying to do a few more unusual things and leave the trodden path of the umpteenth samey fire buggy or burning logs. Definitely worth a look if you feel the same.

Cube-ism – LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662 through 41666)

Heartlake City is a weird little town as is the LEGO Friends universe at large and so over the years there certainly have been a number of rather odd sets and products been associated with the series. Sometimes one doesn’t mind and they are halfway okay and useful like the heart boxes two years ago, other times one can only wonder what substances they must be inhaling in Billund to even come up with this stuff. One of those anomalies are the LEGO Friends cubes that have been around since last year.

I never had much interest in the first two series from the outset. to me it was always clear that this would be just a cheap way for LEGO to cash in with a minimum of effort. Sure, they had to produce the boxes and manufacture those colored animals, but outside that everything just appeared like recycling surplus parts readily at hand in the factory, and not the most attractive ones at that. Even the girls’ dress prints were the standard versions found in the respective wild life/ sea rescue sets at the time. Other than really wanting a Dark Azure llama or teddy bear there was really no good reason to get one of those cubes. I didn’t even like the odd color combinations with the Trans Blue/ Trans Purple lids, sometimes with glitter even.

All that changed ever so slightly with this year’s edition, that finally seemed to add some genuine value to the series and improved upon several aspects. So I added them to my list of things to check out and got four of them. I did not purchase Emma’s Dalmatian Cube (41663) yet, because it is actually the most bland one (which is a bit ironic, given that Emma is still my favorite girl), but I might do so at some point just for the sake of being complete with this series.

Price and Contents

Of course despite my “getting over it” the price to actual value rating for these sets is still terrible. With the suggested retail price locked at 10 Euro, you can’t really put it another way. That’s a lot of dough for two large box pieces, a minidoll and a handful of regular LEGO pieces. Therefore naturally the advice has to be to get them as cheap as you possibly can. In the past prices would dip down to around 5 Euro for the older series’ cubes, but due to the insane demand in the pandemic you should feel lucky if you get them for 7 Euro. That is unless you’re feeling really adventurous and want to wait for that clearance sale early next year with the potential risk of not being able to get everything you want then.

The packaging is the pretentious “bag” type. also used on the already mentioned heart boxes and also quite common for some Ninjago stuff like the various small Spinjitzu play sets. This means that apart from the actual cube there is a lot of empty space in there. Typically there’s one of the bags with the larger pieces stuffed in the tip, but overall still a lot of room for nothing. My impression is that they really could have packaged more nicely into one of the Brickheadz-sized boxes and retailers would likely have been the happier for them not gobbling up so much unusable shelf space.

A little bit of Decoration

A notable difference compared to the previous editions is the introduction of exterior decorations for the cubes. This was a big contributing factor to my decision to have a look at those sets. Granted, I don’t really care much for the cloth pieces, but if you know me, the new bracket elements used on the cat’s and pug’s ears inevitably caught my attention. This goes even further on the cat with the two 2 x 3 curved slopes in bright Pink, a piece otherwise so far only found on the ill-fated Overwatch D.Va & Reinhardt (75978) set. So yes, my obsession about specific pieces kicked in and drove me further toward a purchase.

LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662-41666)

Soul Mates – The Girls and their Pets

As I wrote earlier, I never had much interest in the surprise animals in the earlier series’ boxes. The concept of taking an existing mold and recoloring it just for the sake of coercing people to buy multiple such sets to collect them all is still extremely foreign to me and, given the cost, really also a bit unfair in my opinion. Okay, people do crazy stuff all the time and you need not look far when you see how some people spend a small fortune on minifigures, but to me it’s just weird. Aside from my financial restrictions maybe I’m just thinking too practically about these matters to be ensnared by any such collectibles stuff.

LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662-41666)

The animals are what the names of the boxes imply, with the only real novelty being that the pug, the cat and also Emma‘s Dalmatian are the new pup/ cub baby versions for 2021. Only the flamingo and bunny represent adult versions. The flamboyant bird is pretty much the only creature where this color stuff makes at least a lick of sense in that it looks credible and can be used rather universally. It’s as a matter of fact one of the few items from the previous series (with the seahorse being the other exception perhaps) that I wouldn’t mind having all versions of. Anyway, I got lucky on the first try and got the conventional version in Dark Pink, which is fine with me. As you can see, the other animals take some getting used to in these odd colors no matter how cute they look otherwise.

The most notable thing however this time around aren’t even the pets, but rather the girls themselves. Someone at LEGO must have realized that in order to compel people to buy this expensive stuff you have to give them something unique to make it worth their while and lo and behold, all of the girls have custom shirt designs reflecting their association with their animal! Of course that doesn’t preclude that those same prints may be reused later in regular sets as well, but for the time being you only can find them here. don’t get me wrong – I have limited use in my life for normal minfigures and even less for minidolls, but for a kid there could be some value here if they e.g. play with their vet clinic or similar. A distraught Mia having her injured pet checked out and arriving on the scene in a matching shirt has its value.

Olivia’s Flamingo Cube (41662)

The individual cubes are pretty much what you would expect – serviceable play scenes with a minimalist approach to the details. However, this series has netted us some unique items that also should be useful in the long term.

The first of those is funny enough the minifigure head with the watermelon print. This will make many people happy who are looking to spice up their grocery stores, organic café or garden. It’s really one of those little items that makes you wonder why it took so long, considering that we had the matching printed quarter tile for forever already. Another nice addition is the yellow leaf element after they were introduced in the Modular Buildings Bookstore (10270). And finally of course the pink frog, but as you may already know you can easily get heaps of them by just buying the Bonsai Tree (10281). A nice touch, but as I wrote in my various frog-related articles such as this review I’m still waiting for that Strawberry Dart Frog. 😉

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flamingo Cube (41662), Interior

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flamingo Cube (41662), Builds

Mia’s Pug Cube (41664)

The pug cube is easily the most mundane of the ones I bought. If it wasn’t for the ears and thus the brackets they are built with I likely would have skipped over them. There’s a bit of a crossover with the pug costume figure from the current Collectible Minifigures Series 21 with the Dark Turquoise bone chewing toy being present. I guess this connection could be incentive for some minifig collectors to buy this set as well.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Pug Cube (41664), Interior

LEGO Friends, Mia's Pug Cube (41664), Builds

Stephanie’s Cat Cube (41665)

The cat cube is again all about the ears and the brackets, but some additional value is easily found in the blue bird. They are still surprisingly scarce, only being included in a handful of sets. Would be good if LEGO really used them more often and also produced them in different colors so one could enliven your models. It’s almost tragic that you can buy expensive Modular Buildings, but for the life of it can’t have a flock of sparrows populating them. The other thing of value, and this is going to sound extremely crazy is – *drumroll* – the small white feather/ quill. You can look it up on Bricklink, but apparently these small minifigure head accessories fetch a high price as apparently they are in demand for restoration of old pirate-ish minifigures or Harry Potter stuff, among other things.

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), Interior

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), Builds

Andrea’s Bunny Cube (41666)

The bunny cube again has one of them yellow leaves along with two orange ones and some nice Dark Brown (!) elements. In addition, there’s also a recolored Red BB-8 droid head/ dome as a mushroom, a new variant for this year. As far as I know this can only be found in the Heartlake City Park (41447) otherwise.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Bunny Cube (41666), Interior

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Bunny Cube (41666), Builds

The Bracket Mystery

I’ve mentioned it a number of times, but indeed LEGO introduced a new bracket type element just for these sets to be able to create the ears on some of the cubes. For now they only come in Bright Pink and Bright Light Orange, which limits their usefulness for more generic projects right out of the gate, but beyond that there is also the lingering question of whether you would ever need them?! I have thought about this quite a bit and while I won’t claim to have considered everything, I can’t quite see where this would fit.

Point in case: In regular models without the challenge of having to build over a curved brick you would just use the regular perpendicular brackets and only use the curved pieces left and right of this. So far there really seems no advantage in using this piece other than using this as an option to create specific patterns or loosely attach stuff as I was pondering elsewhere already. We should find out soon if there are sets that put this to use and then perhaps things will click with me. For the time being it’s just a bit of fun doodling around. At least to those who were interested in this: Yes, it really fits of the arched bricks and not just on the cubes as the image sufficiently illustrates (I hope).

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), New Bracket


Concluding Thoughts

Make no mistake – while this year’s edition of these cubes is considerably better than the brainless efforts of the past, this is still not something I would consider in any way essential. It’s nice that they are investing a bit more into the series, but overall the concept strikes me as too limited to really go anywhere. This is typical fare you may want to bring along as a small gift for birthdays or buy for your child on a holiday when you are in a generous spending mood, but as “serious” LEGO this is simply missing too much.

It’s extremely likely that you can always find a 10 Euro City or Creator set that offers far more building fun and play value, not to speak of competitors’ offerings, which ultimately may be the crux of this product. It doesn’t feel that much like a brick-based toy, yet at the same time it would also be pretty poor choice to take on a trip to a sandy beach for instance. It’s stuck between those two sides and if the collecting aspect for the colored animals doesn’t even matter to you, it has very little going for it.

V is Victory? – LEGO Star Wars Magazine, April 2021

WordPress are driving me crazy with their forced transition to the Blocks editor, so bear with me if some things look a bit wonky. As an old school WP user I’m still too much used to working within a theme’s design rules and this new-fangled stuff takes some getting used to. Anyway, here we go again with the LEGO Star Wars magazine, this time for April 2021.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, April 2021, Cover

Unlike the wildly fictional concoctions in the last few issues, the comic is a bit more relatable again this time, depicting several encounters Yoda had/ has while roaming the forests of Dagobah. This is very akin to Luke‘s training in The Empire Strikes Back with all sorts of dangerous creatures and a force representation of Darth Vader also making an appearance. Of course there are some liberties here, but at least I like to believe that’s how it could have happened. I’m not an advocate of strict canon, but familiarity and adherence to existing the lore and rules of the Star Wars universe is always a bonus.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, April 2021, Comic

The posters deserve praise this month. Not only are they stylistically similar to the Storm Trooper chart from last month, but also both of them are actually good. To top it off, they even tell a story with Luke and Vader facing each other as exploded minifigures. Of course the downside to that is that you will actually have to buy two magazines if you want to put up both posters in the way depicted here.

The extra is a V-Wing fighter. Don’t ask me too much, as I have yet to manage to actually consistently watch The Clone Wars and catch up with its story and details, but apparently these fighters appear quite a lot there and are kind of important. Otherwise LEGO might have glossed over them and not done several models, obviously. as far as I know this is the first time it has been done as such a mini-model, though, so it’s something new.

The build is not particularly elaborate, but seems to capture the shapes well enough. The highlight are of course the Dark Red shield tiles, which so far only have appeared in the UCS A-Wing Starfighter (75275) and the smaller LEGO Super Heroes Hulkbuster (76164) set, making them a bit of a rarity item. The same goes for the curved slope, though it isn’t quite as scarce. On top of it you get five (!) full left/ right pairs of the 2 x 4 wedge tiles in Light Bluish Grey. Not a bad yield for such a small model!

On a funny side note, I was immediately reminded of Nintendo‘s Starfox games when I accidentally whacked the vertical air foils out of alignment. The details would need some refinement, naturally, but it’s surprising how similar the fighters look.

On the whole this is a fantastic issue providing some good value. A decent comic, some superb posters and a model that despite its simplicity looks cool. what more can you ask for? The only thing where it falls short is the activities/ puzzles, which are few and far inbetween…

Water Snake? – LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184)

I always try to resist the temptation of squandering my money on these Disney sets, but alas, here we go again with another review of one of them, this time for the Raya and the Last Dragon movie. The specific set in question is the smallest one from the line-up, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184).

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Box

Important Note: Since I don’t have a Disney+ subscription I haven’t seen the full movie yet and all my info is based on the trailers, clips, reviews and synopses of the film. Hence I may not get a few details right or mix them up. So please be forgiving and feel free to add any corrections via the comments.

Contents and Pricing

As usual, the set is technically too pricey. I’ve said it before and I make no bones about it here, either. With only 216 pieces, a regular 30 Euro price simply doesn’t make that much of an impression. The only consolation here is that the set uses a lot of large elements, resulting in the finished model(s) having some noticeable size and volume. At least on that level you could therefore get a certain satisfaction out of it and feel like things are acceptable. Of course I still didn’t pay the full price and relied on the usual discounts, regardless. At around 22 Euro things are simply more tenable. there’s likely some more room toward the 20 Euro mark, but I would not expect things to go much lower other than on clearance next year or so.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Overview

Figure

There’s only one figure in this set, a minidoll of Raya herself. While that’s okay in terms of the story, it feels a bit too sparse, contributing to the not so great price-to-content ratio. The specific point here is, that in a set dedicated to Sisu I would have expected that at least they would also include her in her human disguise. That appears to be one of the funnier moments in the movie and it would have made for a wonderful over-the-top colorful figure. It’s really regrettable that this opportunity was missed.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Minidoll

The Raya figure is done well enough, but ultimately nothing special. If it weren’t for the Jade sword and the printed tile with the map showing Sisu in her “sleeping” form as a river, there really wouldn’t be anything special here. Another miss is the new wicker hat. Don’t get me wrong – I love the design – it’s just too bad it’s integrally molded with the hair, thus preventing it from being used elsewhere. It would have nicely complemented the versions known from Ninjago. Maybe we will get a separate variant one day?

The Waterfall

The first model is a small section of the waterfall and the hidden shrine/ cave behind where Sisu and Raya first meet, if I’m correct. This is pretty much a no-frills affair using the most basic techniques you could imagine. As such it is serviceable, but not much more than that. An unwanted side effect of the oversimplification is that the model is actually kind of difficult to build. With the tall bricks and golden pillars you just don’t have too many stable connection points when adding the arches on the top and it’s easy to push them away when using too much force.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Waterfall, Front View

I also would have hoped they’d at least try and include a bit of the rock/ cave somewhere to make the model look a bit more interesting. The area behind the water curtain appears very bland and empty and at least a narrow plate to extend the surface “inwards” would have been a nice touch. On that note, the transparent piece for the water sometimes gets stuck a bit, again owing to the basic construction not being able to ensure consistent tolerances and not being stiff enough to avoid those tiny variations in gap widths and angles.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Waterfall, Back View

The Temple Entrance

The second model is a section of the temple, more specifically one of its entrances. This is again built with many large pieces and simplified considerably to the point of not even making an effort at e.g. covering up the angled plates. It’s really just purely functional, though with limited success. I found the connection far too unreliable as the large panels with the small arched windows used on the sides simply don’t exert enough clutch power. It’s really easy to break off the plates at the bottom. It really wouldn’t have hurt if this had been shimmed over with additional plates or at least there were some extra curved slopes to clamp in the V-shaped elements.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Temple, Front Right View

As usual I did not use the stickers, so the walls look plain white an uninteresting. If I did things might look a bit more interesting. I still can’t wrap my head around this, though. On one hand LEGO seem to go out of their way to dumb down the building process for young kids while at the same time they expect those same children to accurately place large decals. Just doesn’t make any sense.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Temple, Front Left View

The back side, or more accurately the inner courtyard side, is equally barren not just because the absence of stickers, but also not having that many details. You know, it just would have been nice if there was more to do and play with. There is provision to connect this smaller section to the big Raya and the Heart Palace (43181) with the blue ratcheted hinge piece at the end of the walkway. The big set has a matching element hidden underneath its central round floor disc. You can easily verify this by studying the PDF instructions. Just hope your kids don’t find out or thy’ll keep bugging you about buying the expensive package to complete their model…

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Temple, Back View

The only real play feature here is the hidden box with one of the gem stones in it, but even that feels half-hearted and doesn’t offer much in the way of playful interaction. they could at least have come up with some decorations for the hinge plate…

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Temple, Detail

Sisu

At the heart of the set is naturally Sisu herself which sadly also turns out to be the biggest disappointment. Where to even begin? There’s just so much wrong. First off let me preface this by saying that I’m fully aware that it may be extremely difficult to re-create a creature that is basically a flow-y, water creature with glowing skin in a medium such as LEGO bricks. inevitably there have to be some compromises and actually making good use of the 2 x 2 curved tube piece, new here in Medium Azure, isn’t the worst idea. The problem is how and where it is used.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Sisu, Left View

For starters, there could be more segments and the body be much longer. Nothing too excessive, but inserting an additional three or four such segments would have gone a long way. Yes, even if you merely watch the trailer you can see that Sisu is indeed that slinky and has a very elongated body almost like a snake.

Now of course this brings up the second problem: The whole trunk is effectively completely rigid due to how the tubes are connected directly. This more or less limits any poseability to the default, baked-in stance, an issue further exacerbated by the tip and the feathers/ water plumes attached to it also having a fixed curvature. Without some manual intervention to actually re-plug pieces, the sway to the left cannot easily be changed. Well, at least not without things looking wrong.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Sisu, Aft Left View

All that said, the apparent question hitting everyone is “Why aren’t there any intermediate segments or joints?”. I do get that it may have cost some extra effort to produce a few existing pieces specifically in this color for that purpose, but would it really have been that much to ask? Somehow one can’t help but feel that no consideration was even given to this and the whole budget burnt on the custom head.

This also extends to the legs, which ended up being the most basic build imaginable. They really only contain the bare minimum of pieces required to hold everything together, aided by the introduction of the new curved slope that allows them to use even less elements than might have been necessary before.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Sisu, Aft Right View

Point in case: The legs are so flimsy, barely hanging by the tiny ball joints that is indeed somewhat tricky to even get them aligned and touching the ground at the same time. The toes/ paws are downright pathetic – a simple 1 x 2 plate with a hinge clip and a 1 x 1 rounded slope on top of it. They couldn’t have been any lazier with this! Again, this is clearly a zero effort thing.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Sisu, Front Right View

What really broke me is the ugly head. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. The horn is way oversized and the hair feels more like a thick helmet. Whoever was responsible for sculpting this apparently did not understand that in order to get across the wispy feel of the fur in the movie you would have to reduce it, possibly even separating it into individual strands or breaking it up into multiple pieces that could be attached separately along the neck. As it is, this is more the stuff of nightmares than the funny, quirky face of a slightly annoying magical creature unaware of its own powers. It’s just upsetting that an expensive, triple-molded piece was ruined by utter ineptitude and bears no resemblance to the real thing.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Sisu, Front View

New Parts

One thing the set has going for it is the considerable number of unique parts. Some of them are genuinely fresh, others are recolors and revised versions of parts that have existed for a while. In the color shifting category there are a few Bright Light Yellow elements that to some of you may be familiar already from the Fiat 500 (10271).

Not quite unexpected, as you often can see these color waves ripple through the different series, meaning LEGO produces millions of millions of those elements for their stockpile and then uses them in as many sets as possible as a way of streamlining their processes. Yes, annoyingly this also means you get the “color vomit” hidden inside some models just because they use up their leftovers.

The hinge plate in Blue and the inverted slope in Light Aqua haven’t been around for a few years, so it’s nice to see them become available again, too.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Parts, Recolors

In the genuinely new department in addition to the already mentioned 2 x 2 tubes and “shoe” curved slope is the new 2 x 2 tapered and curved tree trunk/ creature tail element as well. This has also been sighted in screenshots of the Vidiyo app and with LEGO‘s recent obsession about selling artificial bonsai trees and similar I’m pretty certain we will see it in more colors soon-ish.

The same goes for the 4 x 4 inverted dish, which in my opinion should actually be sorted as a round “pancake” brick, given that it has fully formed anti-studs on the underside and can be used for regular builds without resorting to pins and axles. This item, too, is prominently used in the Vidiyo BeatBox sets to represent the headphones/ ear muffs and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of it being used elsewhere, too.

The final minor addition is at long last a 1 x 1 brick with an axle hole, matching its brother with the pin hole. I don’t expect it to do anything revolutionary, as it still needs to be clamped in with other bricks to actually be useful, but it may occasionally come in handy when you don’t have enough room to use the conventional 1 x 2 brick of same ilk.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Parts, New Items

While I have bashed it for being used in the most terrible way just as an excuse in this set, the new part 70681 is actually something to welcome and applaud. It closes a noticeable gap in the line-up of the different N x 2 x 2/3rds curved slopes that have been around forever by matching the inverse curvature. This allows several new creative ways to enclose those other slopes and can be used to design patterns just as it can be used as a new method of fixating some items without actually connecting them. Furthermore, since the slope also has a one stud inset/ undercut at its base, it can also double as an alternative way to get stuff locked in place with the added benefit of then still propagating the stud it covers up to its top and freeing it up for use. I bet it won’t be long because we are seeing it used everywhere.

LEGO Disney, Raya and Sisu Dragon (43184), Parts, Slope Examples


Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately this set does not deliver the goods. It’s one of those “You had one thing to do…” situations and in messing up the most important aspect, Sisu, the LEGO people pretty much ruin it for everyone. It is clear that all of this was likely a rush job (and from the looks of it so are the other sets in the series) that was caught up in the chaos of the delayed release due to the Corona pandemic. Nobody is faulting the designers for working off (possibly unfinished) concept art and not getting some things right, but they could at least have made an effort to make a “nice” dragon within the LEGO realm and bring it up to an acceptable level.

Now of course the detractors might argue “But it’s for kids!” which is a fair point and sure enough many of them won’t mind the shortcomings, but a short search on the web suggests that there are simply better toy tie-ins for the movie, including much better Sisu figures that actually look the part. One really has to wonder what went wrong here and it comes across as a non-effort on LEGO‘s part just as it makes you question the sanity of whoever signed off on this at Disney‘s licensing department.

Unless your kid insists it needs to expand its collection of brick-built dragons this is one of those moments where you are really being served better by other vendors. This set has not much to offer in play value and it looks at best mediocre. If you don’t have a taste for nerding out about specific pieces like I do, there is really no good reason to buy this even as an adult. It does not even come close to even the lamest Ninjago dragon and that in and of itself means a lot. Or to put it directly: If you’re looking for a dragon, you are being served better elsewhere.

(Not so) Little Red Tractor – LEGO City, Tractor (60284)

As you may have recognized already, I rarely do buy LEGO City sets for apparent reasons like the age demographic they target vs. complexity and overall usefulness of parts and similar. However, every now and then something comes along that tingles my taste buds or intrigues me and that’s how I ended up with this year’s Tractor (60284) edition.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Box

Some form of tractor is basically always part of each year’s line-up, but this particular small/ mid-size red tractor type hasn’t been done in a while with the most recent references that would be at least somewhat similar and that I could dig up going back to 2009 and 2011, respectively.

Pricing and Contents

Let me get the first thing out of the way: Though I’m very critical of LEGO‘s overblown pricing, this can’t be applied here. As much as I may want to find something to complain or niggle about, I really can’t. True, I’m hedging my bets on the usual discounts, but even at full price this is good value. There are only 143 pieces, but many of them are quite large. The tires and bucket alone contribute notably to the initial cost and then there’s three clear pieces, some large arches and a few other goodies. If you will: It’s one of the few cases where one can see where the money went.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Overview

That said, of course there’s no harm in trying to get this set as cheaply as possible. I got mine for 15 Euro, which is already five Euro off the suggested retail price of 20 Euro. I would predict that during a promotion e.g. for the upcoming Easter holidays it may get closer to 12 Euro, but you shouldn’t expect more and it’s really not necessary to get too miserly about this.

Minifigures and Extras

The set comes with two minifigures which are actually quite nice. The young dad and his daughter (?) both wear dungarees in different colors, which is a common practical attire for farmers and gardeners. The prints are not super fancy, but provide enough detail to sell the story. There are some minor alignment issues with the prints and legs, something which is particularly obvious with the white torso of the girl peeking out under the blue, but overall it is within acceptable tolerances. The faces and hair styles are standard types you probably already have seen several times, but they work well here

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Minifigures

The white rabbit is a bit of an oddity. I’m not complaining that it is included at all, given that it is still a somewhat rare little creature not found in many sets. It’s just that it feels a bit out of place, with my point here being that other than the girl’s play pet it doesn’t exactly make much sense. Assuming the farmer were into rabbit breeding there would have to be more to form at least a small huddle. If it was supposed to be a wild rabbit disturbed by the tractor or lured in by the carrots it would have to be a different color, obviously. The latter would of course have been something also useful on the domesticated variants. Imagine having a Reddish Brown, Tan, Dark Tan or Black rabbit or one with colored patches printed on! Maybe it’s time for LEGO to do such a set? In any case, I’m a bit foggy on the reasoning here.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Extras

In addition to the figures there’s a crate with some fruit and vegetables, those being a red apple, the already mentioned carrots and a pumpkin. Seasonally that puts the set into late fall, which is the only time all these are actually available at the same time. That’s another of those little weird inconsistencies once you start to think about it. The corrugated cardboard (?) boxes are based on a new piece, so without further ado let’s have a look at them.

New Parts

In addition to the overall good value one thing that attracted me to this set were a few new LEGO pieces that only have seen the light of the in the first 2021 sets. It’s not so much that I felt I would miss something as I’m pretty sure we’ll see them used quite a bit in a widespread manner soon enough, but my curiosity got the better of me and I grabbed the opportunity to check them out and add them to my parts stock by buying this set.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), New Parts

To me the most useful addition is the ribbed modified brick. Yes, naturally it’s structured sides will come in handy on buildings and technical stuff to mimic all sorts of cooling rips, chiseled bricks and so on. However, one thing this element might become more popular for is, that it gives you a simple way to substitute two 2 x 2 plates that have to be layered. Depending on how often a model uses such stacks this can greatly help to avoid some tedious building and more importantly also minimize tension in the model, which with many plates on top of each other can be considerable.

The other item of interest is the brick with the pin hole. The conventional 1 x 2 version has of course existed for forever, but now with another row of studs on a vertically centered plate extension it should be easier to integrate this in builds where you don’t want to get things too bulky just because you would need to lock the brick into place. Finally there’s the new upright 2 x 6 bracket introduced last year. There were two of them in White in the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444) and having at least one in Black now might come in handy, too.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), New Parts

The large tires are another novelty from this year and are otherwise only found in the LEGO Technic Jeep Wrangler (42122). The interesting thing about them is of course that in an interesting departure from LEGO‘s “Keep it simple!” approach with the tire treads being symmetrical and usable in all positions and orientations, this one has directional treads and you need to pay attention when mounting them on their rims as well as on the axles. The narrower, smaller tires don’t fall into that category, but for me are also a “first”, since they have only been used in some older sets I never bought. The most recent appears to be a Nexo Knights one from 2017, actually.

The excavator bucket is an improved version of an older model with two notable areas of enhancements: a) there’s a slightly raised ridge in the middle to strengthen the material and prevent breakage from too much stress and b) the ratcheted hinge having brought up to the new standard introduced late last year that changes the snapping behavior and angles to be more reliable, especially when using it as a static connection element.

The Tractor

The main build is of course the tractor. For a City set it ends up a pretty sizable affair at around 20 cm length plus 5 cm more for the bucket in the front. It’s almost just a tad too big to match the scale of other items in the series.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Front Left View

The construction process is pretty simple and straightforward as essentially you are building a two studs wide central block with a bunch of protrusions left and right. That’s why they had to use some of the new pieces to allow it to be so narrow. The build also uses an eclectic selection of other elements to similar effect, though personally I feel that they could have made it a little less messy in terms of colors used. When you have the same 1 x 2 x 2 brick with studs on the side in two different colors it just feels unnecessary, even if the ones in Tan are covered up and thus invisible. I guess it’s one of those things where some LEGO manager is mandating this use to evenly deplete their stockpile of parts.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Aft Left View

I have similar feelings about the mounting arm for the bucket, though I’m fully aware that some Technic parts like the axles only come in certain colors. It’s better to have uniform Light Bluish Grey than an even more messy mix of with Red and Black, I suppose. I don’t have an idea how this could have been improved, but the question of whether this could have been built differently undeniably still lingers in my mind. Might be worth a shot rummaging through my parts and seeing if I can find some exotic piece I haven’t thought of that would be perfect here.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Aft Right View

The rear end has multiple provisions for attaching towable gear, either with a ball joint/ axle hinge, a pin or a clip and any number of combinations of those, but as we all know LEGO do not offer separate kits of plows, sowing rigs, harvesters or even simple trailers, so you have to come up with something yourself. It might have been nice that they at least included a small open trailer as an example for people who aren’t that much into custom building. that may also have taken care of my earlier point with the rabbits. Doesn’t a portable rabbit hutch sound fantastic?

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Right View

From the side you can also see what is perhaps the one slightly more serious issue with the way the model is built – even though there is a sufficient gap between the glass pieces, there’s no realistic way to get a minifigure in there without removing the roof due to the large arches blocking access a bit too much. Not the end of the world, but a bit unfortunate since this all to often means you also inadvertently snap off other pieces. I really prefer proper “doors” where I just can slide in a minifig if I so desire.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Front View

The front looks a bit bland for my taste and could have done with some extra spot lights which many tractors have. I think I also would have preferred the front “weight” piece to not be a Technic axle holder. That could still be useful if you want to attach different equipment, but I think most people would prefer a winch for more play value.


Concluding Thoughts

At the end I still found some small things to bemoan, didn’t I? Still, I stand by what I said at the beginning: This is one of those rare LEGO sets that you can be perfectly happy with. The price is just right, it looks “real”, has some nice play value regardless and offers some potential for expanding it with custom equipment without too much of a fuss. There just could have been a bit more, which perhaps is the point: Even I wouldn’t have scoffed at a 25 Euro price point if there had been some extra rabbits, a few more crates and a small thing to attach to the tractor’s rear. Still, no matter what, you could do worse and this set is highly recommended if you even have a remote interest into the agricultural/ farming theme or are just looking for a robust playable vehicle for your little one.

Do not buy this! – LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431)

The economics of buying LEGO can be tricky at times and so it’s inevitable that you occasionally end up with a total stinker of a set that you only bought to reach that magical limit that entitles you for a free “Gift with Purchase” (GWP) in the LEGO store or for that matter free shipping in online stores not called Amazon. The story of the LEGO Brick Sketches BB-8 (40431) is one such tragedy and we’re here to learn a thing or two from it. 

LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431), Box

Who dat guy?

Before we move on to the actual review, I thought it would be helpful to understand how Brick Sketches may have come about. Do you know a guy named Chris McVeigh? I didn’t until I heard about this product, but apparently he had been busy in the LEGO realm for quite a while and had been firing out MOCs. Among his many ideas was something that could be seen as the predecessor of the commercial product, i.e. Brick Sketches before they were called that.

Somehow the company took notice of it and that must have been part of why they hired him – someone somewhere may have seen the viability to derive a commercial product. He’s being a bit coy about it and this interview, but at the level of becoming an official LEGO designer I don’t believe in too much lucky coincidences. There’s always a bigger plan. And that may exactly be the problem.

Pricing and Contents

The set comes in at 171 pieces and a price point of 17 Euro. According to LEGO‘s weird Part Count x 10 Cent = Price that would track, however this is only half the truth. Originally all these sets cost 20 Euro and only after sales were terribly slow did LEGO give in and shaved off those three Euro. I would bet they did so rather reluctantly only after their own stores reported disastrous sales numbers.

Does that make it right? No, not at all! When these products were announced pretty much everyone & their mom expected them to be similarly priced to Brickheadz. Perhaps a bit more so they cost twelve Euro rather than ten, but not much more. Based on that, anything more than 15 Euro can only feel like gouging the customer and guess what – even many other outlets who even got free review samples agree at least on that one.

What makes this so bad is that on a whole this feels like LEGO are just trying to get rid of surplus stock of the most mundane standard pieces. If you follow my exploits on the various LEGO magazines, you literally know that every other month one of them has plenty of those wedge plates, 1 x 2 slopes, a handful of studs and so on. You name it and through the course of the year it’s likely to pop up in one of those little bags. If you buy them regularly, you have nearly all the pieces to rebrick one such set without having spent a single Euro.

In this particular instance there is a small twist in that there are actually some unique parts only in this sets, those being the orange 5 x 5 round tiles and a fully grey lever piece, but that’s pretty much it. The rest is just bog standard stuff and arguably if this wasn’t Star Wars related I might have given this a pass entirely. Or to put it another way: Out of the unattractive, limited choices this was arguably still the best one.

The Model

On the surface those models look super simple, but of course it takes time to work out what elements you use to represent specific shapes and you need to do so with limited depth available for stacking. At least this part deserves some props to the designers. It’s a bit like those pictures you assemble from scraps of colored paper or cut out shapes where you need to arrange them and see how it looks before gluing them into place. From sifting through the various PDF instructions available online it seems that most of these Brick Sketches are three layers of plates as the base and then a final layer of bricks and plates providing the final details. In case of this BB-8 this may be slightly skewed toward using more bricks due to the head being a more solid separate build.

LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431), Front Left View

The build process is not particularly demanding, but boring. There’s really not much to do other than following the instructions bit by bit and up to rather late in the build you don’t quite know what you are actually building. The picture is literally only forming once you have added certain key elements that provide delineation, contouring and contrast  after you lay down solid colored areas in the beginning. Another bit of tedium is added by the fact that for many of the smaller elements you need to put in extra care to orient and align them properly or else you have crooked gaps that ruin the illusion.

On the other end there is quite a bit of frustration due to the model having a lot of tension from its stacked plates. I was really struggling to place one of those 3 x 3 corner plates and the white curved slopes also proved resistant to just clicking into place. It also seems to me that this exposes the poor quality and limited precision of some LEGO parts because it’s so critical here. On a regular, more 3D-ish model you may not notice these discrepancies in the individual tolerances adding up and of course I could have requested replacement parts, but it is a concern that this is even happening in a product aimed at users that may not have any prior experience and just expect smooth sailing.

LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431), Front Right View

The underlying frame is simple and sturdy enough for what it’s supposed to do and as you can see, aside from just using the picture in standing mode, you can hang it on the wall with the hole from the 2 x 3 plate with the rounded top. I’m not sure how long this will survive on a sharp nail and the plastic getting brittle from constant exposure to sun light and household fumes.

LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431), Back Side View


Concluding Thoughts

As the title says already, do not buy this under any circumstances unless you really can’t avoid it because your kid is crying all the time or your spouse is threatening to leave you. While on an idealistic level the concept has some merits, the way it’s put into practice just doesn’t work. It’s not an exploration of “art”, it’s just dull “paint by numbers” and with bad designs and poor colors from the dollar store at that.

LEGO killed all the joy simply because they didn’t understand that for this sort of thing trying to figure out how you represent complex artwork with the limited shapes the pieces offer may be the actual pleasure and challenge. This isn’t unlike my experiments with Dots and of course me criticizing pretty much the same “canned crafts” approach there. I would even dare to claim that this is one thing even Mr. McVeigh would support. I’m sure he had fun doodling around and experimenting more than the finished product gave him warm and fuzzy feelings.

The worst part about the whole affair however still is that this recognizably is a cheap attempt of LEGO trying to pry your cash from your pockets. So far they seem to not succeed and the series may thankfully be brain-dead, but who knows? This specific design with the BB-8 already is dull as heck and the other ones available don’t strike me as any better. The whole thing, while perhaps still attractive to a very few collectors, just doesn’t strike me as a viable, successful commercial product by any stretch of the imagination.