February White (K)Night

After last month’s brief intermezzo with some wood chopping it’s now back to police work (and next month firefighting) in the LEGO City magazine.

LEGO Magazine, City, February 2020, Cover

With the buildable parts once more we’re getting a superbike body. Thanks to this magazine and a Ninjago set I bought once I now have them in Black, Red and White. This almost makes me want to sit down and design some custom prints/ stickers, as sadly just like the pizza delivery version this is just unprinted. On such a large surface area it simply looks very plain and boring. If I ever were to e.g. build a motorcycle shop I’d definitely do something about this to make them look more attractive and even just a police patrol roaming the streets would benefit from some markings.

The rest of the magazine is just the usual stuff, though I was surprised to find a coloring picture on one page. Are we perhaps seeing a new trend, given that this was also the case in Friends recently? On a side note, the mag nicely illustrates why having named characters is not a good idea in the LEGO world. Duke DeTain? My ass! This kind of word play simply isn’t flying in German and the gag will be lost on many…

Snake or Lizard? – Fire Fang (70674)

Ever since I bought those sets for The LEGO Ninjago Movie (e.g. the big shark sub, of course) I’m kind of in love with the Sand Blue color. I sometimes tend to think of it as “the better grey” and that notwithstanding, it is of course a nice complimentary color for many other colors, including greys and the various light blues. A single piece of this color thrown in as an off-color panel or the like can add a lot of interest to a model.

Unfortunately LEGO are not using this color nearly enough, so whenever it pops up in reasonable quantities in a set a purchase decision becomes a matter of much pondering on whether it would be worth it for expanding my parts stock. That’s why it took a while until I committed to the Fire Fang (70674) set from the LEGO Ninjago line of products.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Box

As usual the decision was made easier when the price dropped below a certain critical point, which in this case means 30 Euro or less. The original asking price of 45 Euro isn’t that outrageous to begin with, but following my own logic of course the math has to add up. There are a few pieces with limited reusability in future projects and I also don’t exactly collect minifigures, so I at least have to feel like I’m not paying for these extraneous things.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Overview

Ninjago sets surprise me again and again with their wealth of contents and this one is no exception. In a time where many much more expensive Star Wars sets only have two minifigures getting four of them in a relatively affordable box in another series is almost something worth pointing out particularly. You also get the spinner and the main model along with some extras.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Figures

The figures for the evil-doers are interesting in that they follow the Egyptian style of a human body with a stylized animal head. For apparent reasons in a set with a giant serpent those would be snake-like, too. This is even more interesting due to the fact that these are dual-molded and if you place them right the internal transparencies catch the light in a way that gives the illusion of an actual glow. It’s unfortunately very difficult to capture on a photo, so you have to take my word for it.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Rider

The main baddie, called Aspheera, represents some sort of military commander that is riding the snake into battle. The two bronze/ copper colored guards can be used to hold the chains/ reigns or simply placed beside the head-honcho in a suitable formation. Interestingly the curvature of the serpent’s neck didn’t allow for the strap-on seat to be placed at the very top and at first this looks a bit awkward, but once you get used to it it actually looks pretty realistic. The seat even has provision to somewhat compensate for the incline by the seating area being built at an angle itself.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Top View

The chair or portable throne, if you will, is itself pretty basic and relies and tried and true clichées like you see them so often in films like the back made from swords or spears and of course those extra large battle banners. In the LEGO world this of course suffers a little from the flimsy single point attachments using hinges and I messed it up a couple of times even in those photos. The flag staffs’ horizontal bars also come of quite easily at the slightest touch, so if you let your kids play with this set you might want to leave them off for safety and not losing those parts.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Back View

The top-down and back views reveal the one thing that bothered me the most: The whole model looks kinda short and stumpy due to the tail only having three movable segments. Considering how long the tails on some of the dragons are (most notably this one) this is definitely odd. Point in case: It’s not quite an actual Cobra, neither really a Dragon Lizard (with those large collars) nor fully something like a Skink with very short legs. If there were more tail sections it might at least pass as a genuine snake of sorts, but this “neither here nor there” hybrid just feels incomplete. It’s even ironic that you can’t really put the tip of the tail in an up position to make use of the rattle mechanism (a bunch of 1 x 1 round tiles enclosed in the dishes).

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Aft Right View

My beloved Sand Blue pieces are used on the front/ underside/ belly. Most of them are slopes of different types but there’s also those flag elements. Don’t mind that I didn’t pay attention and some of them are completely whacked out and not aligned correctly. The construction of this S-shaped segment has some interesting build ideas, but ultimately still feels inadequate even if you spend time to e.g. position the black wings in an arced formation. Subdividing this into more segments would have allowed a better approximation of the overall curvature.

The way it’s build also feels useless since basically there is only this one pose. Several parts use hinges, but whenever you are trying to change the angles and positioning, they will give in to their own weight and snap back into the same position where they are stopped/ blocked by another part. I feel that this hasn’t really been thought through, even more so when you attach the printed foil pieces for the collar. There’s only so many ways to actually get them attached and once in place they will act like springs pulling everything into place.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Front Right View

On that note: As an adult builder I would have much preferred some more effort to blend the collar in, meaning there should be transitional concave regions built from transparent orange bricks to give the “flames” some volume. that might also have allowed for some different fixation of the foil pieces, which due to their tension tend to slip of the ball joint heads at the slightest touch. I would imagine that putting them back in place over and over again would even be frustrating for kids.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Mouth Open

On a positive note, the model is more complex than I anticipated and it took longer to build than I had anticipated, which always helps with the perceived value. Nothing worse than a boring model lumped together using uninteresting basic building techniques, if you get my meaning. That is to say the model is better than I expected, but it’s not without shortcomings.

The most apparent problem is that it doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. For a display model it feels a bit undercooked and lacking in details, for a playable model there are not that many options because it’s basically a solid, static block. This is yet again one of those sets where buying two packages and doing a bunch of simple modifications could enhance the look and feel quite a bit by breaking up the segments into smaller sections, extending the tail and so on…

B-Grade A-Wing – Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248)

Of course some of the sets for the latest Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker had been out since late October, but only now that the movie is out things are actually making sense in terms of how realistically the models represent the vehicles and how they fit into the story. One of them is the Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248).

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Box

As I wrote in my short review of the film, this is one of the fighter craft you barely get to see. It’s only visible for a few moments in the Rebel‘s jungle hideout in the run-up to the big final battle with some protagonists chatting in front of it. There are a few glimpses of alternate A-Wing fighters in different liveries, but overall we don’t get to see them that much. Then again this is of course true for most other ships as well that were only stuffed into the movie as fan bait for one last appearance.

Initially I didn’t have plans to buy the set. I was a bit torn on my inside since I had my eyes on the nice Dark Green parts, the canopy is of a type I don’t have yet in my collection and even the fins are new to me, but overall it just didn’t appeal to me as a must-have item. The actual vehicle is simplistic in structure and design and so naturally the LEGO version of it would not make for the most exciting model, either. Therefore I rather spontaneously picked it up when it was on sale in a drugstore.

To me 20 Euro still feels a bit too much, but it’s definitely better than the 30 Euro LEGO envision. It’s definitely not worth that and the price once more feels artificially inflated by licensing requirements, which may not necessarily be LEGO‘s fault but rather to blame on Disney then. Even as a die-hard fan you should see to it that you get it at the lowest possible retail price. There’s simply not enough content there that would justify it costing more than 20 Euro.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Overview

Why keep I bickering on about the price again already you may ask? Well, by its nature an A-Wing is flat as a flounder, meaning any representation in brick pieces will mostly be an affair of plugging together a bunch of slopes and making them look nice. There is not much volume there, which can easily be verified both from above and the bottom. The main fuselage of the model is literally not higher/ thicker than three bricks in most areas. In fact the bottom featuring any extra plates is merely a concession to stability requirements, not so much that they may have wanted.

Because of the flatness everything is built around a large cockpit tub piece. I get why they used this approach, but to me as someone who is more interested in getting universally reusable parts rather than large solid mold ones with limited versatility and flexibility that’s not very attractive. Conversely, it already eliminates quite a bit of the fun in building when you would have been busy for those fifteen minutes longer building your own cockpit frame structure from more regular parts.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Bottom View

Limited options as the shape may offer, it’s captured nicely by the designers. From certain angles it almost looks real. Given that this isn’t the first A-Wing ever I would take this kinda for granted, though, cynical as it may seem. There’s only so many ways to skin a cat and eventually even less experienced builders would arrive at similar construction methods, given enough times and of course all pieces being available. An experienced LEGO-employed designer should not have any difficulty at all with this.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Front Left View

In light of not much actual official information being available by ways e.g. of a specific “The Art of Star Wars” book for the latest movie and no way to re-watch it on Blu-Ray or DVD, the details are hard to verify and you have to rely on what you can find in the depths of the internet. Except for absence of the usual “lumps & bumps” (antenna blades and hoods, hinge covers etc.) everything seems to be represented.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Cockpit Interior

Things can be made to look a bit more detailed with some stickers, but as you well know I never use them, anyway. That’s why the cockpit canopy also looks a bit weird (aside from the fact that it is not 100% the correct shape to begin with). I really wish LEGO would always print those parts. I really can’t imagine anyone having fun applying thin sticker strips on a transparent part. The risk of messing it up and ruining the look is just too great.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Front Right View

While for the most part the fuselage is okay, everything really falls apart at the engine section, in particular the aft parts. This is supposed to look very much like the long gondolas on a Y-Wing with only a constrictor ring at the end, but here it just looks plain wrong. Those disk wheels really cannot be the answer, can they? Despite having produced tons of round parts, wheel hubs and different mudguard arches there is not a single piece in LEGO‘s repository that could actually be used to represent a thin ring in this scale as would be required.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Aft Right View

Similarly, the many visible Technic parts rub me the wrong way. The landing skids are just as bad as the engine and even the guns just don’t feel right, even more so since they are attached with only a single pin in a way they can easily be brought out of alignment.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Aft View

So where does this leave us? Given, how insignificant the fighter is in the movie and how limited its representation in LEGO parts, this is one of the sets that simply didn’t need to exist. It has limited value as a play set and next to other, more imposing Star Wars vehicles will also look quite boring in a collection. It doesn’t offer up much of a challenge that would stimulate your senses as a brick fan while building, either, since even that is kind of dull.

Therefore my conclusion is that this would only be truly worthwile for the most ardent fans of the movie or on the other hand if you can literally get it dirt cheap to keep your kids busy for half an hour. Most others can simply ignore this/ pass on it without missing much.

 

January Cake Decoration

The Christmas craze is now behind us and I hope everyone gut through it well enough, but of course the world doesn’t stand still and as hinted last time, we’re getting another baking-themed LEGO Friends magazine for January.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2020, Cover

The cake-centric topic is interesting not just interesting as a seasonal residual but of course also because there’s going to be at least one such themed commercial set, The Big Bake Show (41393). If you’ve been paying attention, i.e. actually buying these last two issues, you already have some extra pieces to deck out this scenario further.

Admittedly the buildable pieces in this set aren’t that special – a bunch of “squeeze bottles” for colored frosting, a small spoon, an egg beater and some decorative elements on a two-tiered cake, but where it gets interesting, and to me this was quite a pleasant surprise, are the little flower elements which for the first time ever are now available in Bright Pink.

Yupp, with years of Friends sets already one would think they are commonplace by now like their Dark Pink counterparts, but just the opposite is true: They have never been done thus far. Not only will this be super useful for this cake & cookie stuff, but also for real flower bushes and fancying up gingerbread houses, if you get my drift. One can only hope that they will become more widely available in foreseeable time.

The rest of the magazine is also surprisingly rich with some decent puzzles, a few coloring pictures and an acceptable comic. Even the poster with the two bunnies looks okay (the other not so much). Overall one of the better issues I’ve seen…

New Year, New Desires, New List

Just in case you keep track of these things: I just updated my personal wishlist page. I removed a few sets that are definitely going to retire and added the new ones as far as they are known. However, I also kept on a few “oldie, but goodie” sets that I wouldn’t mind to get regardless of circumstances, be that just as parts sources or genuinely expensive and coveted sets that I never was able to afford or just missed somehow. in any case, checking this list might give you some ideas on what set reviews may be coming one of these days, of course along with some other good stuff that I hope to produce. With that a “Happy New Year!” to everyone and a good start in 2020!

Looking back in…?

…Frustration? Anger? Bliss? All of them? End-of-Year summaries are a difficult thing and where LEGO is concerned, I sure have a bag of mixed feelings. So how was this year? Good? Bad? Terrible? Awesome? The answer is likely: “All of the above.”, so let me explain.

Personally I’m not that unhappy within the restrictions that I have to work within, anyway, meaning smaller, not too expensive sets. There indeed have been a number of good sets like my favorite Deep Sea Creatures (31088), a couple of excellent LEGO Friends sets that for once forewent the kitsch in favor of more palatable realism, a few surprising Star Wars models and even some of the The LEGO Movie 2 stuff was quite good. I also got a bit into Harry Potter and the new Hidden Side series also was surprisingly good.

On the other hand there has been a lot of frustratingly bad stuff in the same series I mentioned just as well. On top of that LEGO keep screwing around with Ideas by “improving” the sets in the opposite direction and over-optimizing them and this year has ruined Technic for me for good. Aside from the big and expensive showy models there is not much left there that would pique my interest. The smaller models are often just an embarrassment with their flimsy engineering. If that wasn’t enough, there’s that thing with a still barely functioning Control+/ PoweredUp system that gets stuffed into boxes with no rhyme or reason and makes models unnecessarily expensive for very limited return value.

On that note and on a more generic level I feel that the rift between relatively costly sets and the lower end is also growing. There’s definitely a dichotomy between pretty well-executed, large but expensive sets and many relatively lackluster packages in other price ranges. In addition it seems that LEGO are just trying too hard too see what they can get away with. There’s no way around it: Many sets feel unjustly overpriced and if it wasn’t for the magic powers of a free market regulating itself, i.e. discounts being available, this would be one heck of an expensive hobby/ special interest.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem LEGO haven’t learned that lesson yet and as the first previews for 2020 indicate, we’re in for another round of sets where you wonder how they even arrived at some of the rather ridiculous prices. That in itself could be considered a statement and what bugs me about the whole matter that they just don’t seem to care. In fact a lot of this customer squeezing has a somewhat desperate undertone and one can’t help but feel that things aren’t as rosy as the company will have you believe. Now it’s of course pure speculation, but there are some signs that things didn’t go their way this year.

First, of course The LEGO Movie 2 was an epic fail. In Hollywood movie terms it was a bomb and didn’t break even, which in turn of course affected sales of the sets associated with the film. A second wave was only rolled out reluctantly in August and just before Christmas all the remaining sets were shoved out in a sale with crazy discounts. That and just at the same time Warner Bros. not extending their deal and the development shifting over to Universal. Cynically one could say that a tainted property was dumped at a different outlet in the hopes of producing tons of cheap movies.

Another big bummer also right in time for the end of the year is of course the acquisition of Bricklink. This also fits the pattern of a company perhaps not doing so great trying to control the market. No matter what, it’s just bad for the AFOL community at large and repercussions are already felt only a few weeks after the announcements with major changes to sales policies affecting what can be found on there.

All things considered this may not have been an outright terrible year, but some of what has happened just feels unsavory and a few things have been set in motion that just don’t feel right. So far it also doesn’t seem that we will be off to a good start in 2020 and that is just as much reason for concern. There will still be plenty to buy and to cover on this very blog and I’m more than certain that just like this year we will get some more announcements every now and then, but overall excitement on my end is limited for the time being…

Snow Dino!

The Christmas holidays have jumbled up the release schedule of the various LEGO magazines quite a bit, so the next few weeks will be a bit of a race to keep up with those costly trips to the newsstand until the cycle is in sync again.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2020, Cover

The Star Wars mag comes with a rather unspectacular Snowspeeder model. Not that there would be anything wrong with Snowspeeder, it’s just that it doesn’t have that much to offer in terms of interesting details in the first place and shrinking it down won’t improve upon this, understandably. Most annoyingly the model looks very stumpy with no provision having been made for the short rectangular aft area and everything having been chopped off immediately behind the wedge section. For a freebie it’s okay, but it just would have been nice to get a more accurate model.

Since the price has gone up again and is now at 4.99 Euro, a bonus extra has been thrown in to console users and to preempt a larger uproar. Depending on which packaging you manage to get you either get a Snow Trooper or a young Luke Skywalker with blond hair minifigure. That’s okay for the time being, but regardless, asking so much for a few printed pages and some lightweight extras is pushing it…

The content of the pages is the usual mix of an acceptable comic, some very limited games and the usual adverts for other publications from Blue Ocean. The poster provides a facepalm moment in that it depicts the UCS Snowspeeder (75144) set from last year that you can no longer buy. Kinda stupid to whet people’s appetites and then leave them disappointed, should they decide to investigate the details.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2020, Cover

The LEGO Jurassic World magazine was a bit of a surprise release. There had of course been rumours and even confirmed info that there would be new issues coming out for 2020, but no actual dates were ever mentioned. If you remember, I wasn’t necessarily that satisfied with the older ones as were likely many other buyers (they basically always appeared to be dumps of surplus Owen figures and such), but it seems this is headed in a new direction and more effort is made to make them attractive. Let’s see how long that will last.

The first mag in the new series comes with a nice little T. Rex model, which with its 65 pieces even provides some longer-lasting building fun than the usual models lumped together from half that number of parts. The result is indeed reminiscent of the large T. Rex from set 75936, which I now thankfully had an opportunity to build, in terms of colors and also features some very useful parts like 1×1 brackets or the 1×2 curved slope wedges in Black that are also used for the toes on the giant version. After assembly it really looks the part and in a way is cute. My only small gripe is that there are a few too many black and dark grey parts that would have benefited from having been done in one of the brown colors as well.

A stand-out item this time is the poster with the T. Rex breaking through the wall, which is really something I could see myself actually putting up somewhere. The framing could be a bit better with a bit more visible wall, but let’s be thankful for small things. The comic is okay and funny enough there are more puzzles than in the Star Wars mag to be found here. It’s just odd how inconsistent this is at times. The best part for me is the preview of the next issue hinting at an equally complex Triceratops model, so there is definitely something to look forward to.

The German version here also comes with a free album and a sample pack for the new collectible stickers, but I can’t tell you much on that, being that aside from the free extras no actual stickers were sold at my news agent’s yet. I’ll probably just give the album to one of the neighbors kids and drip-feed them the leftover stickers I surely will get more of when buying other LEGO magazines…