Little Shop of LEGO – 40305

One of the reasons for my haul in the LEGO online shop besides the H. C. Andersen book freebie was “that other promotional set” one read about so much, the small LEGO Brand Store (40305). For a while it wasn’t clear how it would be available here in Europe at all, as it seemed that several weeks before they decided to make it a paid model, after all, it was given to some customers for free in Asian territories. LEGO‘s policies can be quite confusing when it comes to those things.

The set comes at a price of around 25 Euros, which is kinda okay, but not exactly cheap. Of course as always part of the game for me is reusability of the elements and since a lot of bricks I have scraped together bit by bit are white, it seemed a natural fit to add this set and benefit from some extra parts. It might only take one or two sets more and I can seriously think about trying to build a custom “big” Modular Building style house using these elements. We’ll have to see.

What also helps is that this model uses other very reusable parts such as the 16 x 8 plates it is built with, the windows or even the large transparent panel as a storefront window. Yummy stuff! Even the many yellow slopes and tiles could come in handy some day. On the other hand the limited selection of colors makes it look a bit boring and lacking in contrast. It wouldn’t have hurt if the second floor had been done in a different color like Medium Blue, Dark Green or any other color that goes well together with yellow (which most of them are, even something weird as Light Lime Green or Light Purple).

One of the unexpected bummers with this set is that except for the fake computer screen used on the cash register and the ATM machine there are no printed tiles. That’s really lame for a (self-) promotional set from LEGO themselves. As a minimum I would have expected the LEGO sign to be printed and even possibly included more than once, as in real LEGO stores the brand name is also plastered inside the shops.

To me it also would have made sense to have printed 2 x 1 tiles for the faux LEGO brick boxes themselves so they could be stuck onto 2 x 1 plates. This would also have made for a nice gag to sneak them in as wall images, postcards etc. in other sets.

Why am I saying that? Because, as you can see in the above image, my sticker and the instruction booklet had suffered some considerable crumpling. This can be attributed to the box not exactly being packed to the brim and thus allowing too much room for things to move and flop around.

Overall construction is pretty straightforward in a very simplistic way – you literally just stack up the walls with bricks and insert the windows. Since the walls are very narrow and often only consist of two units wide elements that don’t overlap/ interlock with other bricks, it’s easy to break them off over and over until you add the final row of plates or bricks spanning them all on top. Only then will it get reasonably stable, though overall this isn’t a masterpiece of engineering and needs to be treated carefully.

That’s also the reasons why all you sleuths that bought the set multiple times to build a bigger model will run into trouble. You simply won’t have the parts to create a stable enough body just using elements from this one. You definitely have to have some extra spares from another model somewhere, be that just a bunch of 6 x 1 bricks for bridging the separate halves. Also note that this set uses the “tilt & click” method employed by current Creator sets to snap in some Windows and the main door. That’s okay while the model stands still, but these parts tend to fall out easily while handling the model.

The interior captures the typical elements of a LEGO store nicely with some assembled showroom models in miniature format, a minifig tower, some bargains trays, a Pick a Brick wall and the boxes on the shelves all crammed into the small area available in a rather “no frills” way. There isn’t even a stair!

While the model overall is rich with hints and clues that reinforce the “LEGO store” theme, the novelty of it wears thin rather quickly in light of the simplicity of the construction. I never had the intention to keep it around assembled, but if I had, I would have grown weary of it quickly and probably disassembled just as well.

It’s not a bad model on its own merits, it just doesn’t fit with my way of thinking nor am I that much of a fanboy that I would put it in a special place and enshrine it in my LEGO showcase. Had it e.g. been built on a 16 x 16 plate for the ground flor like many LEGO Friends models are and been a bit more fleshed out, I’d probably see it differently.

Point in case: As a regular model it would be nice, as a promotional effort it’s a bit of a letdown and doesn’t breathe that “crafted with love” feeling that you would expect from something that is supposed to put a positive spin on the corporate identity. I still can’t get over that LEGO tile not being printed, if you get my meaning…

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July Star Wars

The new LEGO Star Wars magazine just hit newsstands here in Germany and while I tried to exercise some discipline, I couldn’t resist buying it. Yes, as usual I don’t care much for the comics themselves, but the little bags with the bricks. This time it comes with an AT-ST, which pleasantly surprised me.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, July 2018, Cover

I don’t buy this magazine regularly, but I’m well aware that even the models get rehashed over and over every 18 months or so, so in fact this is most definitely not the first AT-ST they ever had. I already expected to see some recycled old model, but it’s actually quite contemporary from a design standpoint.

This is not least of all proven by the inclusion of two 3 on 2 jumper plates, which only came out as a new part last year and are still relatively rare and thus expensive when trying to buy them separately on Bricklink. The half pill-shaped tiles used on the back wall are also relatively new. The set  contains a turntable for the head to swivel around easily as well. The rest is standard material – a few 2×1 tiles and some curved slopes in Light Bluish Grey, a ton of 2×1 micro-ratcheted joints/ hinges on the legs.

Once assembled the model even looks pretty decent, so if you are into those little five-minute-diversions, there’s almost no good excuse to not get it.

Plastic Book – 40291

LEGO‘s promotional sets are a weird thing. It’s difficult to keep up where to get what at any given time. Some are only sold at LEGOLand parks, others in their stores (including the online shop) and some you get free when you make purchases of a specific minimum value in their outlets. The ones you have to pay for also tend to be way overpriced.

To make matters even worse, these items are often rolled out at different times in different regions, making it a nightmare to keep up with what is the latest plus when they actually become available, you only have a short window of opportunity and the clock is ticking. Either the eligibility period is very short or there are limited numbers of sets or both.

Lucky for me, most of the time the subjects chosen in the sets is not really relevant to me – What would I do with strange minifigure pods for instance? – so I tend to sit things out and pass over them, but I admit, this time LEGO got me and pushed the right buttons. After the announcement made the rounds on respective news sites, I took a note in my calendar to not miss the date.

With the help of the best mom in the world I scraped together enough Euros to put in an order in the LEGO online store on Monday morning. After much delay (apparently too many people ordering Bugatti Chirons) I was getting worried, but thankfully my package finally arrived and included the Creative Storybook: Hans Christian Andersen (40291) as I had hoped (amongst a few other things you will get to see here soon-ish).

LEGO Promotional, H.C. Andersen (40291), Box

Was it worth spending way too much money and paying LEGO‘s full MSRP on their sets just to get this? I can definitely say yes! With around 300 pieces this a full set that on its own would easily cost around 15 Euros, so you get a good bang for your buck, or in this case free, which, depending on what other sets you bought, balances the bill nicely.

LEGO Promotional, H.C. Andersen (40291), Front View

The build consists to around 70% of building the actual book itself, which is made up of a ton of Tan and Reddish Brown plates and tiles. The yellow parts are actually Bright Light Orange, which takes a bit getting used to. It’s okay, but clearly it shouldn’t have been too difficult to include at least the corner reinforcements in Pearl Gold or something like that, as in reality they would often be made of brass.

Building the book spine and the two halves is straightforward, but a bit repetitive, since in the latter case you of course have to do it twice. Everything is connected with simple clamp-on hinges and for the most part things are stable enough. You have to be careful, though, when handling the model as the pages can act like levers and things can easily come off.

LEGO Promotional, H.C. Andersen (40291), Rear View

The inserts in the pages are simple and quick to build, as you basically only throw on the tiles and a few decorative items. Ironically the instruction booklet shows little vignettes from several of Andersen‘s stories built onto equally sized plates, so it would have been easy to replace the inserts, but none of the parts to re-create ideas are actually included.

That is a bit of a bummer since it would have been super cool and lifted the product to an almost commercially viable one. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not asking that they should have included another ten minifigures, but it should have been easy to e.g. throw in some white and transparent blue parts to recreate that Snow Queen scene or a few golden bits and bobs for the various other royally-themed fairytales. It would certainly have helped people to get creative.

Am I complaining about a free lunch? I hope not, but I still always regret if a cool idea isn’t carried through the way I would imagine it. That is also still true for some more of the color choices. As far as those go, the fluorescent transparent green lamp bulb also sticks out and for the smallness of the simulated pond the bright turquoise pops out a bit too much until you get used to it.

LEGO Promotional, H.C. Andersen (40291), Better Colors, simulated

Getting to a point, I’m also not the biggest fan of those intense brown colors and would have preferred something else. In the above photoshopped image I used Dark Blue, but Dark Red or Dark Green would have been just as fine. In fact even Dark Tan would have worked to pose as plain, uncoated leather as it was often used in the olden days.

I also totally intentionally dialed down the Tan color of the pages. I understand that they were selling this as gilded paper, but say what you will, it’s a bit strong, especially since old paper tends to change color a lot less than most people think. In my youth I was part of an archival project at school and many books printed 200 years ago looked much better than modern ones printed on cheap acidic pulp. In any case, this makes also a good point that LEGO needs to introduce a off-white/ beige/ ivory color, which incidentally would be super useful for buildings as well.

Despite all my complaints making it perhaps sound otherwise, I totally love this little set. If all of LEGO‘s bonus sets had this kind of design effort and level of detail, it would almost be worth to order stuff from their online store more often (assuming it actually worked better and wasn’t such a cramp in the rear). If you hurry up and order something this week you still have a chance to get it as well. Personally I’m hoping we’ll see more like this and perhaps LEGO will even listen and give us that alternate vignettes set for the book I’m dreaming of. The development work has apparently be done already, they only need to produce and package it in sufficient numbers, if you get my drift…

Final Surprise – 42057 MOC – finished

It took me much longer than I anticipated, but I never lost sight of finishing up my custom version of the small gyrocopter (42057) I was so pleasantly surprised with back then.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Overview

After I had built a better-looking engine imitation (at least to my eyes), I started by recoloring my model, so after the issues with the black liftarms in my last article the photos I would take eventually would allow to discern the details better. I also used this opportunity to re-arrange a few pins in preparation for the additional steps I had in mind.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Left Aft View

The large rotor seemed easy enough and I stumbled upon this more or less accidentally when I realized I actually had those 12 x 1 plates in my inventory. That would provide enough stability and the curved slopes could easily be plugged on. Admittedly, it still looks somewhat bulky, but that probably can’t be helped. Those blades in reality are quite thin, but very wide and after I scrapped my idea of using standard helicopter rotor blades from the City line (which only would look okay if there were at least three of them, anyway) this is as good as it gets.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Bottom View

The other thing I so wanted to do was add some sort of damping on the landing gear. Those small vehicles often land on rough terrain, so something would need to be done to not only make this more bearable for the pilot but also protect the equipment from heavy impacts and vibrations. This doesn’t necessarily mean there would be explicit shock absorbers, though. The gear could be mounted to elastic connectors, the airframe could allow for some twist and torque with semi-rigid connections, the struts could be made of carbon fiber or another flexible material. There would be many ways this could be implemented.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Detail

Of course you don’t have these options with LEGO, so right from the start I had to think of somethings else. Due to the lack of space on such a small model using genuine shock absorbers with springs was out of the question, so I opted for the 2L rubber axle joiners as the elements to take the forces. The real trick then became to fit them in a way they could

  • serve their function as a damping element
  • keep the landing gear overall relatively stable and robust
  • not exert too much force on the plastic parts so they don’t crack or block pins by too much tension and friction
  • be mounted at reasonably perpendicular angles so as to not destroy the rubber itself by too much force.

This was further complicated by the fact that I wanted to retain the overall proportions of the vehicle and make it look halfway elegant by using only 0.5 thick liftarms. As a result of course some connections are a bit flimsy and other Technic aficionados might scoff at “not doing it correctly”, but for such a small model I find it perfectly acceptable.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Detail

Since all this long-winded hubbub of mine is not going to be much use, I have once again created a full instruction for you to follow along and build the model yourselves. I’m almost getting good at this…

Before you begin I would recommend you study the original LEGO instructions, especially if you don’t own the actual model. This will give you a better idea about the parts used and what elements you would have at hand if you were to buy the box:

LEGO Technic, Helicopter (42057) (LEGO website)

Keep in mind that, while you can make good use of the white panels and other elements in the original box, you are still going to need a ton of extra parts, so my pimped version will require to do a little shopping or resorting to your existing back-catalog of Technic parts from other sets as well as some stud-based LEGO. Some prior experience would certainly be helpful.

The colors I used in my model are of course only recommendations for a consistent, unobtrusive color scheme. As long as everything works, you can use whatever you want. Conversely, feel free to implement your own alternative solutions if you don’t have the parts. As they say, there’s many ways to skin a cat and before I settled on my final design, I tried out a lot of alternatives.

Click on the link or the image to download the building instructions!

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Instructions Cover

Dumbest LEGO Presentation ever?

At this point in time LEGO is not least of all known for its many external activities, be that licensing deals with entertainment content behemoths like Disney or things like getting their feet wet in software. Inevitably this means other parties being involved and one of those is Apple, a little company you may have heard of. It’s the time of the year where they hold their WWDC and show of new stuff. You guessed it, one of those, the iOS 12 ARKit Presentation, rubbed me the wrong way, so here’s a few thoughts on it.

First let it be known that I’m not a great believer in all that VR/ AR stuff. I’ve written a lengthy article on that on my old main blog which you can read, but if you don’t, here’s the basic gist in one sentence: As long as everyone tries to squeeze VR/ AR for money by selling you expensive hardware, software and services, it’s nothing more than an industry-driven fad at the cost of the user, i.e. you. they want you to buy expensive new iPhones, headsets and what have you, because naturally last year’s tech won’t do and of course it’s all tied to some exclusive service you have to sign up and possibly pay for. Sounds damning, doesn’t it?

Interestingly enough I could see a use for AR for location-based services like finding shops and restaurants near you just by looking through some glasses with a HUD and on some level I can even see it working for games, but I don’t count LEGO in that category. To me the whole point of building models with physical plastic bricks is to get away from all that “computer stuff” when you may have a day job where you are sitting in front of some screen already. I should know, as I’m still doing so much work on my PC even in my free time, yet I’ve made a conscious decision to go with LEGO to spend time with other things. In so many words: I couldn’t be bothered about doing LEGO virtually, even if I had one of those expensive iPhones.

Therefore IMO the presentation hit all the wrong beats. Aside from the fact that it felt way too forced and rehearsed (How credible is it even when some higher-level manager tries to play cool?), they picked the wrong content. Modular Buildings are typically not for kids playing with them, they are expensive collectible sets! So how on Earth did LEGO even think anyone might be interested in seeing minifigures actually running around the Assembly Square (10255)? True, people integrate those buildings in big LEGO cities all the time, but the presentation probably couldn’t be further away from reality, as most users will probably just leave the models sitting there and enjoy how they look.

Could we see another sign of LEGO totally not “getting it”, meaning them not understanding their own user base? I do understand their desire to branch out in other directions, but when it comes to integrating their products with the digital world I could think of a million other things first. Clearly, they haven’t been very successful with their digital ventures and the stench of failure just doesn’t come off LEGO. Dimensions, anyone? Whatever AR-based world-building they may have in mind, it could end up being just the same thing happening all over again.

The small streak of hope is of course that it’s all just a preliminary demo made to impress and no actual commercial product may ever come from it. Still, in times of diminishing revenues (totally their own fault) there’s always the risk of LEGO falling for a quick cash grab and that could have lasting long-term effects. One of those incidentally could be that they totally de-value their sets when making them available virtually, leading to a further decline in sales. The term “death spiral” all to easily comes to mind…

Wishing upon a Brick

LEGO is not a cheap hobby and while I try to make do and keep current on the latest new stuff with what limited resources I have, I find myself way too often thinking “Wouldn’t it be nice to have this and that set, but who’s gonna pay for it?”. That’s why as a start I have added a dedicated LEGO shopping list for Amazon to the sidebar, so people can have a look at what drives my imagination.

The point of this is not necessarily that I expect people to buy me a free lunch and beg for it (though clearly I wouldn’t object to get something like Ninjago City as a present), but perhaps some of you have one such set floating about that you have no use for and are willing to part with it for a good price, throw some LEGO VIP points at me that you don’t use or simply want to bolster my purchases with LEGO or Amazon vouchers.

As they say: Every bit helps. Obviously, also the more options I have, the more likely it is that I can share cool stuff and ideas here from which everyone can benefit. Who knows, perhaps this little adventure will turn into a useful LEGO resource one of these days…

Yummy Friends – 41311 – Heartlake Pizzeria

LEGO Friends (and to some extent also Elves) is/ are on some level (a) strange series, and I’m sure not just from a male perspective. The basic gist is that you always can literally feel that someone is pouring a lot of love into some of the details, but then it’s all messed up by forcing it into color schemes with really eye-popping colors and not in a good sense. It’s sometimes so over the top it may even put off the intended main target demographic, i.e. girls of a certain age.

Regardless of this I’ve been on the verge of buying one of the cheaper sets just for fun many times and that came true when I was able to pick up the Heartlake Pizzeria during an unexpected sale at a department store while I was on the road after one of my many medical appointments. It wasn’t quite as cheap as the lowest online price (around twenty Euros), but despite being on a tight budget I don’t mind spending two Euros extra when I can take the package home right away.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake Pizzeria (41311), Box

As should be evident from the pictures I picked this set because it looks reasonably “neutral”. Yet at the same time LEGO still kinda ruined it and quite unnecessarily so. Yes, of course I’m talking about the Medium Lavender plates and the Dark Pink elements. They could totally have gone with Dark Tan and White and would have been all the better for it.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake Pizzeria (41311), Overview

The model itself follows the typical Friends pattern and is more or less just a facade while pretty much everything else is an open space where you are supposed to play-act with your mini dolls. This set (aside from some bigger ones) is one of those containing a male protagonist as well as a female, so I guess that counts as “gender-balanced”.

The real play value is limited, though, despite a set of dishes and cutlery being thrown in and an extra vehicle. I generally find that one of the biggest issues with many Friends sets – they look nice, but the details are often too small and finicky to really play with them or the carpet monster will eat all those 1×1 round plates, flowers or ice cone tops when they inadvertently come off.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake Pizzeria (41311), Scooter

The delivery scooter is of course inspired by the Piaggio three wheelers and similar vehicles and will also look good next to your City or Modular Buildings models. You just might want to change some of the colors and add details like an actual steering horn/ wheel and a driver seat.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake Pizzeria (41311), Front Side

Construction of the actual building is quick and straightforward. There are only a handful of large bricks, some arches, a bunch of slopes plus some extra details that can be chucked together in under half an hour. Unfortunately as a result of this stability isn’t that great. The pizza oven almost always comes off when handling the model and it’s way to easy to break off the top floor wall, too. I would wager that even some other Friends sets are a bit more robust.

It would also have been easy here by adding some more arches and bricks and integrating them as additional side walls or supports in the back section. The set totally makes no use of the potential of its square floor. You could then even have had the oven be built integrally with the wall.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake Pizzeria (41311), Back Side

While I won’t say that I’m disappointed – I knew what I was getting into – this set still falls short in that it would have been super simple to make it better. It wouldn’t have required any major design effort to just repeat the principles and patterns applied to the existing walls to extend them and those few extra bricks would not have increased cost considerably. With some more parts and by buying two or three sets you could have had a nice basis for a small custom trattoria (not counting the lavender plates of course), but as it is you would need way too many extra parts to really turn it into something…