Rooms with no View – 41327 and 41341 – Mia’s and Andrea’s Room

The best kind of LEGO is the affordable (or cheap) one, so I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to get stuff with a discount. This also includes painstakingly browsing through the flyers of our regional grocery and drug stores and checking their web sites plus actually checking out their physical shops whenever the opportunity arises. You never know when that last leftover set that nobody bought yet ends up in the bargain bin.

Anyway, it’s that time of year where school is starting again, so many food discounters have a plethora of writing utensils in their weekly promos plus, since it’s tradition to shower first-graders with gifts as they get inducted to school, all sorts of small-ish toys that can be stuffed into their Zuckertüte as well. Lucky for me that included some LEGO Friends sets and while I wouldn’t say that I urgently had to have them, I still jumped the chance as a way of self-pampering and a small distraction in-between, being that I also seem to always find interesting uses for those crazy colored parts and don’t mind having them.

Mia’s Room (41327) and Andrea’s Room (41341) are part of a series of “rooms” for all of the Friends girls based on the same principle – you basically always build a heart-shaped base plate from a 8 x 8 studs plate with matching half circle plates and then add some details on top. Most of them have an MSRP of 10 Euros, so at a 20% discount I got them for 8 Euros. That’s okay, but clearly, given the limited number of parts there would be room to bring it down to 7 or 6 Euros even for the regular price, though of course you will have to allow some room for packaging, printed instructions and distribution.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Room (41327), Box

Mia’s Room in my view is the simpler, less attractive of the two, though arguably the lime green elements would be more useful for future custom builds. As it is, it pretty much merely repeats the “wild child” (nature-loving, adventurous) theme also found in Mia’s Tree House and doesn’t really add much to it.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Room (41327), Overview

Basically the set repeats every beat from the tree house with only minor variations. Rabbit bunny pen? Check! Skateboard? Check! Walkie-Talkie? Check! “Tree Bed Castle”? Check! Flag on top? Check! It’s really like the designers ran out of ideas. The differences are limited to the bunny this time being the larger version (I put the small one from the tree house next to it, so it looks like mom & kid) and some color variations of the parts, but drawing from the same palette.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Room (41327), Front

The bed post single-foot wide latter is an interesting detail, that would have made a nice idea for a climbing pole on the tree house, but aside from that this is as simple, mundane and obvious as it gets. Even a kid with no experience could have hacked together something similar, given the parts.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Room (41327), Reverse

What bothers me the most, however, is the total lack of that “room” feeling. There’s not a single large element (a panel, a column) or a bunch of stacked bricks that would convey that idea. For all intents and purposes, Mia‘s bed could indeed stand next to the tree house on an open lawn and she could fall asleep staring at the stars. That’s not a bad concept in itself, it just doesn’t fit the subject of what this is allegedly supposed to be.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Room (41341), Box

Andrea’s Room fares considerably better. to begin with, the build is slightly more complex and intricate, which ramps up the enjoyment factor while assembling it. In particular it is more focused on actually building stuff that makes sense and offers some play features rather than just letting it sit there statically, meaning you can actually rearrange the keyboard and the speaker and swivel the tiltable bed to change the scenery.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Room (41341), Overview

Most importantly this feels like an actual room. The colored glass panels used for the window in conjunction with some simple column-like white bricks provides a nice edge on one side, so the scene doesn’t “fall off” into infinity. On the other hand it’s still somewhat odd that they didn’t add the other wall on the right hand side.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Room (41341), Front with closed Bed

Why should that even matter? Well, it does once you raise the bed into its secondary make-up table position where it would have reflective stickers on the underside to represent a mirror. The point here is that in its upright position it looks like it will tip over any second. Backing it with a wall would have avoided this vertigo-inducing sensation. It also would have allowed some extra room e.g. for a small shelf with more cosmetics vessels.

What I also didn’t like was the somewhat too simplistic way the plates are connected primarily with the two 2 x 4 tiles. It seems like a wasted opportunity to not use more tiles and create a whole carpet, which incidentally also could have served as a “stage” for Andrea‘s performances.

As a final small niggle I would have to complain about the colors of the golden lamp-post not matching with the lightsaber handle in particular being oddly transparent and too light compared to the rest. This feels like a “Let’s use our leftover 2nd grade quality items here and reserve the better stuff for Star Wars and Ninjago.” and just doesn’t fit what you expect from LEGO – consistent coloring.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Room (41341), Front with open Bed

As with all LEGO Friends stuff – this certainly isn’t for everyone. For the most part these sets do not represent good value for money and to myself I could only justify the purchase with almost definitely having a use for the parts in the future. If that’s not the case for you, you probably should stay away from them entirely and go for the larger sets right away.

If your little one keeps bugging you for one of those on a casual shopping spree, regardless, I’d pick Andrea’s Room. It simply has more to explore and play with in a kids-friendly manner.

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September-Wan Kenobi

While I’m under no illusion that the LEGO Star Wars magazine is nothing more than a glorified marketing tool, the September issue really goes overboard. It’s full to the brim with adverts for the new collectible cards and of course prominently features a free sample pack to get people hooked and a special card you can only get with the magazine. I don’t really care for this stuff, but good for them, I suppose?

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, September 2018, Bag

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, September 2018, Cover

The Obi-Wan Kenobi minifigure represents him in the version from the Revenge of the Sith movie’s opening sequence or alternatively as seen in Attack of the Clones. Unfortunately it has the headset printed on, which limits the value when using it standalone in other contexts. It’s also inconsistent with how he is depicted on the special collector’s card, so ultimately perhaps not that useful one way or the other.

Overall an okay-ish issue for the amount of stuff you get, but I think I’m going to get more out of the next one, when there’s at least some bricks, this time for building a Droidika, with Dark Brown parts, no less.

Dino Time! (Round Two)

As previewed back then, the second volume of the Jurrassic World movie tie-in LEGO magazine Dino Special came out today here in Germany and of course I had to check it out, though a bit reluctantly.

LEGO Magazine, Dino Special, Cover

As I said in my original article, I would have much preferred to get another dino instead of a minifigure. Now of course this little matter kind of resolved itself in an unexpected way, but I’d still prefer to get one more of those little green goblins or for that matter perhaps even a third variation on the theme. The matter isn’t helped by the Owen minifigure being rather generic and to boot being included in several of the commercial dino-themed sets currently available. This diminishes the value of the mag further for people already owning one of those.

The parts for the surveillance post on the other hand are pretty useful, so not all is lost. There are some Dark Tan plates plus a good selection of brown parts which are easily reusable on other projects. The wedge part in Dark Bluish Grey for the roof is okay, though I would have prefered to build this from slopes, again for better reusability. The operator’s console is a printed part, but an old pattern that has been used a million times.

LEGO Magazine, Dino Special, Poster

A little surprise is the centerfold poster, which actually almost looks like something that I’d put up on my wall. the image composition is interesting and it’s simple and elegant. In the English version the tagline probably reads Tyrannosaurus ROCKS. Overall, though, this isn’t a must-have magazine. There’s simply not enough incentive for the adult LEGO connoisseur because at the end of the day there’s nothing truly exclusive about it.

Bricks by the Thousand – 10717 – Extra Large Brick Box

LEGO‘s Classic brick boxes are a bit of an oddity – overall and specifically within the company’s product portfolio. The short version of it would be that they neither seem to have the interest nor the ability to make them really good, because unlike the themed sets they won’t be able to sell them for high prices.

As a result, many of these sets feel like they are merely used as leftover dumps for bricks that don’t fit elsewhere. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if useful elements were included in sensible numbers, but that’s usually where you get disappointed a second time – you may have gotten over it and decided to build your house from those pink bricks, after all, and then you run out. The simple formula here is indeed “More is better!” and with this years new addition, the Extra Large Brick Box (10717) we might be a bit closer to finally being able to do sensible things.

I got the set because it was on discount at Toys’R’Us this week. Yes, the brand name still exists here in Germany though they belong to Smyth’s Toys now just like everywhere else – talk about trademark laws being different in different countries. At its full price of around 60 Euros it seems overpriced, but with 20 percent off or even more it’s acceptable. So watch out for those promotions at your favorite outlet(s).

What makes this a good value-for-money offer is first and foremost a sensible selection of larger parts. Being mostly focussed on more fragile, semi-realistic stuff I don’t have that many two studs wide bricks, but here you get quite a good number of them in various colors, including really useful stuff like 2×2 bricks in Dark Orange, Dark Red, Sand Green and Dark Green! Additionally there’s a good serving of 2×3 and 2×4 bricks in various colors. Most of these elements are included four times each, which may not sound much, but with a bit of strategic planning this can suffice to build a robust base for a building, a bridge or whatever you have in mind. There are also thirteen (!) blue 2×6 bricks, which almost tempts me to rebuild my Master Falls set with the necessary extra stabilization.

The goodness continues on the narrow bricks front as well with 36 2×1 and twenty 3×1 elements in Tan. That’s enough to build a small open house corner for a vignette and when you throw in the Olive Green, Dark Tan, Dark Orange, Dark Medium Flesh etc. bricks, you could build yourself some nice mossy walls with varied masonry colors. Quite unusual for these types of sets this one also contains a few 2×1 and 4×1 plates plus a bunch of smooth tiles. What also stands out are several Pearl Gold elements, which would otherwise be difficult to scrape together from other kits. As a final bonus there is a grass-green 16×8 plate to serve as a basis for whatever building you may fancy.

All of this seems almost too good to be true, but of course LEGO wouldn’t be LEGO if there weren’t a few oddities. Returning to the “dump” theme of course there is the usual ton of inverted slopes in all too flamboyant colors. Aside from serving as window sill flower boxes in Friends sets I find it really hard to find any serious use for them. Yes, they make sense for the small example builds included in the sets, but otherwise? Similarly, there are still those situations, where you just run out of elements to use. One really wishes they’d ease up on that and at least make sure that the smaller elements like the 2×1 bricks would be included in equal, sufficient quantities. Ten of each sounds like a good number, but definitely they should at least double the count on the colors that only come with four pieces to match the rest where there are eight.

On the whole this is a pretty decent set, though. Especially because of its good selection of “natural color” elements it can be recommended in particular to people who like me may be slowly building their parts stock in the hopes of doing reasonably sized custom builds one day just as it is a good opportunity to have a bunch of parts handy for small modifications of other sets, which incidentally is also something that fits my description when dealing with those smaller sets that may be a bit unstable due to shortage of parts like the Master Falls one. I’d be more than ready to buy a second box, just not at full price, so I’m biding my time and saving money until the next special sale comes along…

Wall of Green – 21041 – Great Wall of China

I admit that my interest in the LEGO Architecture series always has been rather limited. In my small flat I don’t have enough room to keep the models around in a nice, representative way (which is one of the main points with this series) and there are some other things that always bugged me about it.

For my taste, due to the small scale, the models are way too dependent on the intrinsic shapes of the elements they are made of representing the details – hollowed out parts stand in for windows, studs act as anything from decorative stucco elements to battlements and so on. Also the parts-to-price-ratio isn’t that great a lot of times. One tends to pay quite a bit for lots of 1×1 sized and other similarly small-ish elements. This often comes down to the fact that the series doesn’t appear to be much a hot seller, so there aren’t always the best discounts plus strangely enough even the vendors that carry the product line do not necessarily have every model. Therefore chasing for a specific set can become a trying and expensive experience.

With the first wave of this years new models several of these things seem to have changed to a degree, mostly for the better. The models in question, the Great Wall of China (21041) discussed in this review and the Statue of Liberty (21042), are designed to larger scales which in turn means that more emphasis is put on actually building the shapes, rather than relying on the optical illusions the bricks themselves can deliver. Additionally more focus is put on representing more details in a naturalistic way instead of going all too abstract. This is no doubt to better appeal to a mass market, which is not a bad thing because more sales mean more competitive pricing and better availability. So I decided to give it a try, after all.

LEGO Architecture, Great Wall of China (21041), Box

To keep things simple and cost-effective I started out with the Great Wall set, which with its 550 pieces can be had for 35 Euros. This seems reasonable and fair, in particular since it contains a good number of the dark green parts. Thinking strategically, those could always be used to simulate roofs and other bits once the model was disassembled again, which in my case was sooner than I had thought. More on the reasons why further down.

Though it’s called The Great Wall, it of course isn’t necessarily just one big, contiguous wall. With parts of a system of walls having been built, torn down and rebuilt over the centuries, even scientists can’t quite agree on some things. There are also considerable gaps and huge variations in style across different sections and regions. As such, any model can only represent either a specific tiny fragment of the whole shebang, or as LEGO did, a generalized abstraction of the overall concepts, based on the parts that are visible and accessible today.

With The Great Wall spanning thousands of kilometers and covering different landscapes and climate zones, color choices could have ranged from rusty desert colors to olive greens for a dry steppe to greys and even whites for different types of mountain ranges. As such settling on a Dark Green seems only fair and sensible. Whether you want to interpret it as a surrounding dense forest is up to you. It’s just as valid as viewing at as a reference to dark green Jade, as I prefer to think of it. Either way, it provides a nice contrast to the sandstone colored wall itself while at the same time being a calm, neutral color.

LEGO Architecture, Great Wall of China (21041), Left View

Given that the target demographic for these types of model will mostly people who may be looking for a decorative showcase item without spending too much time assembling the set, the build can be a bit challenging for them if they have no prior LEGO experience. One of the issues is that the Dark Green parts are many times a bit hard to discern on the black page background of the instruction booklet. Not in the way that you can’t see them at all, but rather where they go, sometimes behind other elements, and how some of the pieces need to be oriented correctly.

The other issue is that the actual wall components are quite literally plugged on to the landscape once that part is done. As a result, at times the build doesn’t seem to make sense and you don’t seem to make much progress. Additionally, and that is my first big criticism, it results in this odd building technique, where the wall is relatively loosely plugged onto some elements that were put into place long before you even knew what they were good for.

That wouldn’t be so bad if there were a) more of those connections and b) the wall in itself would be stable, but this is not the case, either. Instead the wall segments and watch towers are built in a kinda sideways technique onto hinges and tilted plates and have to carry themselves like the vertebrae of your spinal column. This is further exacerbated by the small scale not allowing much room to fit extra elements into the gaps.

You are basically are building a bunch of 4x4x4 cubes and the slopes that are supposed to act as wedges to fixate the angles dangle on only one stud on a modified brick protruding sideways. Not great, especially since it means that depending on how accurately you align those items, each and every model will look slightly differently plus if you accidentally touch those elements after you are finished, you can throw things out of whack again.

LEGO Architecture, Great Wall of China (21041), Right View

One thing I almost consider an epic fail is the all too obvious forced symmetry. First there’s the much-marketed ability to endlessly connect multiple models, which totally does not work for me. You just need to look at the marketing photos to see how ridiculous it actually looks. The thing is that it would be totally awesome – if only they had bothered to come up with a second model for variation. In the current state, however, I doubt that it looks compelling enough to get people to buy two or three of those sets just to construct a longer wall.

Aside from the above, even a solitary model shows severe signs of a weird constructivist symmetry disorder. Even the mountain parts look almost identical on both sides and this becomes painfully apparent in the top-down view. Granted, it’s probably rarely going to be viewed this way, but regardless…

LEGO Architecture, Great Wall of China (21041), Top View

And with that we arrive at what probably can be the only conclusion: How you rate this model really, really, really depends massively on how close you get to it. I’m more than willing to believe that it looks okay in some big corporate conference room on one of those huge tables or in a cleverly lit glass showcase against a dark wall, but 50 cm away on your computer desk – perhaps not so much.

From a near distance the shortcomings in the design become obvious and I simply found it too frustrating to look at all those cracks and wonky connections. This isn’t helped by some white bricks used on the internal support structure peeking through on some edges – yes, white bricks indeed. At least that could have been easily avoided by substituting them with Dark Green ones as well, a few of which are already included. why not go the full mile? Hard to understand the reasoning here.

Once more this is a bit of a letdown for me. I’m not saying it couldn’t work for other people, but I was too teed off by the sloppy building and the resulting cracked-up look, hence as I’m writing this the parts constituting the model already rest in a box waiting to be used for something else. I strongly believe that with a bit more effort (and more bricks) this could have been much better.

Making the model a bit larger would in particular have allowed to employ more traditional vertical building techniques on the wall itself. that alone would have eliminated some of the more apparent issues. And of course offering a genuine alternative B-model to build an extended wall would have done a lot. In fact I even might try that one day if I can manage to purchase two or three additional sets for a good price. The overall idea still has its appeal, LEGO just didn’t get it right…

Dolphin Special

The sizzling summer heat is still raging across large parts of Europe, so it’s more than fitting that the LEGO Friends Summer Special delves into that beach feeling. Imagine how out of place it would feel if it were one of those rainy years…LEGO Magazine, Friends, Summer Special 2018, Cover

The magazine comes in a slightly larger format than the regular LEGO Friends edition and also has some thicker, somewhat card stock like cover. This is necessary to actually build a pop-up style card printed on the back – if you so desire. The rest of the content ranges in the usual way from rather cheesy to downright awful, but what do I know about the appeal of this stuff to six-year-old girls? Could be perfectly fine for them.

The parts value is pretty good and in my view justifies the slightly higher sales price of 4.50 Euros, especially since there are a few large parts like the palm leaf, the yellow crab and of course the dolphin, all of which make up half the value of the magazine already, if you were to buy them separately from Bricklink. Add to that a clam shell, some brown 1×1 cones and the other elements and you can’t complain that much, especially since they come in very sensible generic colors that allow them to be used on many other projects such as the white hinges or the Tan colored 4×4 plate. If every Friends set was like that, more people would buy the magazine no doubt.

TIE me up, TIE me down – 75211 – Imperial TIE Fighter

I guess I should count myself lucky, but somehow that warm fuzzy feeling just won’t come. Exactly the opposite is true – the Imperial TIE Fighter (75211) from the Han Solo – A Star Wars Story movie leaves me rather unhappy on so many levels.

The huge irony here is that I got it as a gift, or more exactly as a prize in a questionnaire, and to top it of, one of the many that pop up on the LEGO website itself, no less. So yes, I’m totally going to complain about a free lunch here, but perhaps you still care to hear me out and even share some of my reasons and concerns. I even tried to swap this set for another one via some open Internet marketplaces, but alas, things didn’t gel and since I didn’t want the box to sit there forever, I decided to build the model myself, after all.

Could I have just left it untouched and bided my time to sell it with a profit in a few years when it’s no longer being produced? That is extremely unlikely since it’s already being sold with massive discounts ever since the movie totally bombed in cinemas. Anyone who considers himself a collector/ trader of antique LEGO sets will no doubt use this to their advantage to stock up, which totally ruins any hope of getting a decent price in the near future.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Box

The TIE Fighter itself is an unmistakable iconic design that even people who barely know Star Wars will recognize easily. That should be conducive to selling the models, but there’s the next problem: Since they appear in every movie of the series in one form or another, they have been done to death even in LEGO in the last fifteen years. You can do a web search and in there has always been some such model during all that time. Speaking of a certain oversaturation would be an understatement. Unless you are a die-hard fan who really needs to have every variation in his collection, chances are you won’t feel much of a need to get yet another of these things.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Overview

Of course it’s not entirely LEGO‘s fault. Or is it? Yes and no. As recognizable as this particular spacecraft is, it makes one hell of an example for what I do not perceive LEGO to be about – endlessly, tediously plugging together plates and other repetitive structures. The design is simply far from interesting when it comes to providing an enjoyable building experience nor does it actually showcase any advanced techniques or expose interesting details once it’s finished. The assembly more feels like a chore.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Front

Once you have finished the assembly you are left with a “So what?” feeling like you actually haven’t achieved much in those two hours it took. At least to me it’s a pretty joyless affair and I honestly don’t quite know what to do with the model. It’s too large to keep around with my limited shelf space, even more so since it doesn’t have any details worth exploring that would provide an excuse for keeping it.

Like so often, in my opinion this model suffers from the “150 percent scale” problem – had they built it bigger, they could have crammed in more details on the main fuselage, added round slopes here and there to make it look more realistic and all that good stuff. That would have ramped up the price, of course, but would also have resulted in a more classy-looking model.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Cockpit Detail Front

At least the model is extremely stable. Of course after a decade of basically re-doing the same design over and over you would expect this, but at least for that you have to give props to the designers. The main fuselage/ canopy are built on a massive bar made of Technic bricks wrapped with SNOT adapters onto which then again plate strips are plugged, making for an extremely robust “handle”. At worst you can accidentally pry off a few of the smaller sloped elements, but that’s easy to repair.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Cockpit Detail Aft

The massive wings/ panels are built separately and then slide into hinge clamps guided by some slopes, which makes for a very sturdy connection while at the same time allowing to disassemble them for transport. I was very skeptical about this, but it works surprisingly well and is almost indestructible.

The same can however not be said for the panel areas extending beyond the “core” where they are plugged on and least of all the grey frames on and around them. A bit too much pressure in the wrong places and you can easily see things cracking again. Not the end of the world and easy enough to rectify, but slightly annoying, regardless.

The fact of the matter is that I even would have been willing to accept this limitation and be more forgiving about it, had there been any special parts to mimic some extra details, but as it is, this is mundane beyond believe. It’s dull to the point that it makes you desperately crave for a single printed “computer screen” tile in the cockpit, because it is utterly barren except for the steering column.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Minifigures

Not having seen the movie at the cinema (always wanted to go, but didn’t get around to it, so now waiting for its home media release) I can’t judge how realistic the minifigures portray the protagonists, but I definitely like the finely detailed prints of the camouflage patterns and mud splats. It makes them feel very lively and is a nice deviation from the typical extremely sterile look of most Star Wars characters.

The crux of the set as a whole is that it exactly shows why LEGO Star Wars is in such deep, deep shit. The unholy alliance with Lucas Arts/ Disney seems to keep forcing them to churn out mediocre sets as tie-ins to the movies while at the same time everything appears so micromanaged, it can ever only be more of the same we already have and everybody loses in the process.

Here it is particularly bad because the movie failed to make an impression, so LEGO (and the distributors/ resellers) are in a pinch to sell sets that barely anyone takes any interest in, because only a fraction of the populace ever saw the film and knows its story. You could predict that there will be a slight improvement and resurgence of sales once this becomes available on Blu-Ray/ DVD and streaming services, but the damage is done.

As I pointed out, I like a few aspects of the model like the clever interlocking mechanism, but on a whole the set doesn’t do anything for me. It leaves me emotionless and I won’t feel bad about dismantling it for using the parts in other projects. Those black plates could be handy for all kinds of roofs, after all, and I’m sure those long tiles and plate strips will find their use as well. I never would have remotely considered buying this set and if I had, I’d be even more disappointed. It’s really that bad.