Rare as it may be, sometimes you just know you definitely will buy a set because it sets your heart on fire after you see the first image of it. That’s what happened exactly when the Riverside Houseboat (31093) was announced as a new release for this year late last year.
Oddly enough it took forever for the set to appear on store shelves and online stores here in Germany with first examples only becoming available in march I had to wait quite a bit for prices to drop to a level that I would consider sensible. I’m not opposed to paying the full 30 Euro for this set, because it’s really good, but every penny saved is a penny earned and in my little universe I have to be as cost-effective as I can possibly be. That said, the 23 Euro you can get it for from most outlets nowadays are definitely worth it, considering this is an almost 400 pieces set, small though as some of them may be.
The appeal of the set becomes readily apparent when you see it. The boat itself is representative of those flatbed/ float style vehicles with a cabin on it that you can often find on slowly flowing rivers like the Mississippi, shallow lakes and swampy regions and for all intents and purposes hits every beat in conveying this feeling of just hanging out on it while watching the sunset as the boat drifts along slowly. You just wanna be there and have a good time.
The idea of being at a bayou in the Mississippi Delta is supported by some lovely little side builds of a crocodile and a pelican. Both would be typical inhabitants of those regions. Personally I wouldn’t have minded the inclusion of one or two solid molded crocodile figures. They haven’t been in that many sets, after all and it wouldn’t hurt to have an easy way of getting them for your collection. The brick-build variant is just fine, though. Had they opted to make it even more refined and used some of those sexy new small wedges (29119, 29120) it could have been downright awesome.
If you are looking for a good presentation idea, you should also try to get your hand on the Pelican (30571) polybag set. As I’m writing this it’s even included as a free bonus gift if you buy stuff worth north of 35 Euro directly from LEGO. You can buy it separately for 4 Euro a pop from other outlets as well. Anyway, it’s pretty cool to have the larger pelican next to this as a quasi “zoomed in” more detailed view of the more abstract smaller version. In addition, even if you don’t that polybag is also worth every penny on its own merits. I had to giggle about the idea with the cabinet as the large lower sack to keep the fish in…
A lot of the attractiveness of a set has to do with the choice of colors. I might have thought twice if this set came in some weird colors like is so often the case with Creator 3in1 sets, but lucky enough someone had the good sense to keep it natural and calm. It’s always good to have parts in Reddish Brown and Sand Green and the Medium Blue bricks feel like a nice bonus, as it’s a color that can be used just as universally in many situations. Additionally, the “boards” of the deck are covered with Dark Tan plates, which is also a nice wood-like color that one can never have enough of.
The only thing that bothers me a bit is the all too white roof. It might have been nice to assemble it from smaller curved slopes in different colors to get some variation. Naturally it would be dirty from rain and the engine smoke on the real thing, so a Light Bluish Grey assembly with a few differently colored “patches” would have been a better match, methinks. It’s debatable, of course. Clearly this is meant to be a play set first and foremost, no a super realistic collectible model.
The overall construction is rather compact with a lot of bricks crammed into a relatively small space. The model is in fact somewhat on the heavy side and you wouldn’t expect it to have so much weight at first glance. Especially in the ship’s hull there are several extra bricks hidden underneath the plates that cover the deck. It’s not really necessary, but a good use for those pieces that are required for the secondary models and otherwise would just float around uselessly. In any case, it makes for a pretty sturdy model that will take some punishment when handling it without falling apart right away.
The house isn’t quite as robust, but for the given purpose adequate enough. As much as I like this set, this part also ended up frustrating me. It’s a prime showcase for LEGO‘s decline in quality. First, there was a missing part – of all things one of the Reddish Brown 2 x 1 bricks. Second, and you can still see this in the photos, several of the 4 x 1 Medium Blue bricks deviate considerably in color from their 2 x 1 plate and 2 x 1 brick counterparts.
I’m not saying it’s the end of the world, but considering that LEGO sell themselves as a premium toy manufacturer it’s not okay, either. It seems an inefficient use of my time and LEGO‘s money to have to contact them for replacement parts way too often. Those fancy padded envelopes with a few pieces a pop don’t come for free, you know. I’m really beginning to wonder how much money they “burn” when someone has to go through their warehouse and pack those little bags…
As you would expect, the interior is rather sparse, but again I feel that this helps to maintain this sense of a crammed, but cosy little boat where after a long evening of fishing until dark you curl up on the mattress in the corner of your wheelhouse and have the coffee maker within arm’s reach the next morning. Truth be told, there are a few things missing that you might want to have for safety and comfort, though, like a wireless, navigation charts and some safety vests at least.
The latter would be rather essential, given that the way the model is presented it would require you to climb around on the railings to get anywhere. That’s one of the disadvantages of such a compact model and they simply ran out of space to squeeze in another door or at least a little manhole to crawl through.
All that said, of course it would be perfectly possible to fix those shortcomings – if you so desire. One of the good things about this set is that it quite literally is almost 100% old-school LEGO with elements being merely stacked on top of each other and no complicated sideways building techniques or whatever involved. Make the hull wider? Easy – simply get a second set and insert more of the curved slopes and bricks before covering them with additional plates. Make it longer? The same. Want another door? Just insert the frame from that second set somewhere.
If you get my point: This would be a perfect set to get your feet moist in custom building, as it’s really easy to deduce what you need to do just by building it once and then using that experience to draw conclusions on what to do next. The good price-to-value ratio also makes it easy to at least ponder this possibility. I haven’t committed myself to this yet, admittedly, but I might at some point. This could then also be the chance to build the secondary models from spare parts while beefing up the houseboat and putting them side by side. The possibilities!
Overall this is a super lovely model and it’s just fun to build and look at. It would even have been a good fit for Friends, City or Ninjago – with the typical stylistic changes – and that is far from the norm. It only further shows how well thought-out this is. If you are even remotely interested in such a scenario you definitely need to get this set. It’s also a great source to mine for parts on similarly themed “wooden” construction and buildings, so there’s definitely no harm buying it if you can.