Premature Christmas Bakery

Christmas is quite a few weeks away, but apparently we are already getting the respectively themed LEGO Friends magazine with the November/ December issue barely a few days after Halloween.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2019, Cover

As you would expect, it’s full of seasonal clichées and the Friends series being so gender stereotypical is getting more and moire cringe-worthy the more things progress on these matters in the real world. Perhaps a reimagining and restart of the series might be worth considering…

On the bright side, the CG renders are a little less creepy this time around, so it seems the artists responsible for this stuff are slowly getting a handle on their deformation rigs. It’s still far from great CGI, but knowing, as I do, that these things are whipped up on last-minute deadlines (always of course after the editorial staff have wasted months and months with being undecided which stories to actually publish) and minuscule budgets it’s okay.

Similarly the comics are compared to the other LEGO magazines still behind the times and just don’t look exciting or particularly enjoyable. This issue is also extremely scant on activities stuff, so if you were hoping to distract your kids for any thing longer than 5 minutes, that hope gets busted. The puzzles are really solvable by a three-year-old without much effort.

There’s a good volume of buildable parts at least, mostly owing to the inclusion of two “containers” for the cake fridge and a more regular storage box. Additionally there’s some related bits and bobs like cherries or the pretzels, so all around good stuff to have for detailing up a build. Even better yet, though probably total coincidence again, the next issue will focus on cake decoration and include even more decorations, so you could almost do your own version of The Great Bake Off

October Dèja-Vu?

As I keep on chewing through some of the Hidden Side sets, a new issue of the companion magazine has just arrived, so let’s have a look.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, November 2019, Cover

See something in the images below? Yepp, the cover is almost identical, a few minor differences notwithstanding. This had me confused at first until I checked the included minifigure. As hinted at last time it represents a version of the pizza guy also included in the Shrimp Shack Attack (70422) set. That’s good in that in its regular form it perfectly fits into an ordinary City scenario just as well. At the same time it’s a bit boring because it is way to unspecific and mundane for the ghostly world of Newbury.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, November 2019, Cover LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, October 2019, Cover

The rest of the magazine is very much in line with what you know from the other LEGO comics. What rubs me the wrong way, though, is that you can clearly see that a lot of effort has gone into some of the graphics. According to hearsay some illustrators labored over this for the last five years to prepare enough content for at least that long a publishing cycle as well, it seems. Yet it barely seems to pay off due to the individual panels being cropped and overlaid on top of each other in rather odd ways, obscuring large parts of some images.

Overall it is my impression that the mag has quite a way to go before reaching a certain level of quality. It likely doesn’t really help that for the next issue they are including the umpteenth Parker. L. Jackson figure. I really wish there was something a bit more exclusive as incentive to actually buy the mag regularly…

Graveyard Double Shift – Graveyard Mystery (70420) and The Rise of Voldemort (75965)

With Halloween imminent, I figured it might be a good idea to focus on reviewing some spooky-themed sets by ways of being built around graveyards – or sections of them at least. This includes the Graveyard Mystery (70420) from Hidden Side and The Rise of Voldemort (75965) from the Harry Potter line of LEGO sets.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Box

As you know, I’m quite a fan of Hidden Side – the sets are done well enough and to boot also very affordable because LEGO are pushing them so aggressively and there are discounts at every corner. This makes it easy enough to add them to the menu even if you are on a budget. The Graveyard Mystery can be had for as little as 20 Euro, which to me seems just about the right price. The full 30 Euro feels a bit out of proportion for what amounts to a rather slim model, on the other hand, and I’m not sure if I had picked it up then.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview

The set comes with the standard Parker and Jack figures along with Spencer, the ghostly dog. On the other side of the spectrum there’s a skeleton and the groundskeeper/ gardener, the latter of which is essentially the only really interesting bit in that department as with his overalls and all he could also be interesting for other uses e.g. in a City play scene.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Everything Closed

Being designed with the Augmented Reality app intended to be used with these sets in mind, the graveyard/ cemetery is kind of a panoramic arrangement, so that most parts are visible all the time and the camera can capture the entire scene. The layout in and of itself however is more or less a towel strip walkway with a linear progression. You enter through the gate, pass by a bunch of graves and then arrive at the angry tree with the keeper’s little storage shed underneath.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Markers Exposed

Since I don’t have the app, I can’t enlighten you about the specific meanings of the colors in the game, but there sure are a lot once you open up the respective areas and expose the insides and undersides of some elements. In fact I believe even the big green slope on the central grave may have some bearing even with the lids still down. The problem is of course that without the fancies of a mobile device the play options are ultimately limited. You can barely hide a minifigure in the central grave and even placing someone inside the little shed is finnicky. Doing a hide & seek  and guessing in which grave someone is hiding would not pose much of a challenge.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Back Side

A stand-out piece is naturally the angry tree with its “face” and “arms” being clearly recognizable. From what I’ve seen of the game it doesn’t seem to do much, though, and is merely whipping around. That is presumably not really useful. the same could be said for the mechanism on the real model in a sense. While I can appreciate the facial expression changing and the arms going up it still feels gimmicky. This is once more a case where a static, more detailed and more refined tree would have been preferable over such a very limited action feature IMO.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Angry Tree, Front Side

On the bright side, the set is full of pieces in very usable “natural” colors ranging from the various browns and grays to Olive Green. Nice to see that LEGO still can do such sensible stuff without them going bonkers or some higher-up instructing a designer to include bricks in crazy colors only to clear out the left-overs from previous production runs of other sets. There are no particularly unique or rare parts in this set, however. Thus there would be little point in getting this set for anything but buildings or indeed landscaping and cemetery building.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Angry Tree, Back Side

A small shortcoming, if you want to call it that, is the unattractive back side. Even with the emphasis on the panoramic effect it wouldn’t have hurt to have a few details here or at least the floor plates extend beyond the graves’ rear edges. To me it really feels like they chopped it off a bit too harshly.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Gate

After my experiences with the Hidden Side side I kept having this weird idea running in my head that perhaps one day I might want to build a larger custom graveyard, perhaps with a small chapel and crypt, so naturally I stumbled upon The Rise of Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Box

The point is not so much that I would be a particular fan of the series – quite opposite, as now 15 years later I look at these films and wonder how I could ever have been so foolish to buy the DVDs – but regardless, they are not without merit in terms of production design and at least some of the less WTF?-ish story elements. I know, I seriously need to read the books one day for a fair comparison.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Overview

Anyway, on of the key things that also made me consider this set is that when doing churches, graveyards and similar you have a need for some specific extras, that being large numbers of grey minifigure elements and decorative bits and bobs for the slabs/ grave stones. Lo and behold, this set comes with a fully formed angelic figure in Dark Bluish Grey, which of course is twisted into representing the Grim Reaper and there’s also a frog in that same color.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Figures

What also made the decision to buy this set easier is the consistent color usage compared to the first set. This means that you can easily mix & match and expand the ground thanks to the Dark Tan being used in conjunction with the same contrast colors for other elements. Or in simple words: You can buy multiple sets of both models and need not worry that intermingling parts would result in odd color combinations.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave Closed

The set represents that scene where Harry Potter gets accidentally transported to an alternate place during the Trimagic Tournament in The Goblet of Fire, to witness the resurrection of He who must not be named, so there are all the figures relevant present. Personally I don’t care that much for them and for my taste in the context of the set there are simply way too many minifigures. In a sense it feels overcrowded due to the smallness of the available play are vs. the number of figures. That’s in my view also the biggest shortcoming of this set.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave Open

One of the side-effects of this lack of space is that it doesn’t really capture the mood of the scene. There is no sense of dread and feeling lost because everything is crammed together. This also isn’t helped by the simple construction with only a central part in the middle and the small side extensions clipped on with hinges. This inevitably limits the options for disguising some gaps and open areas, which painfully becomes obvious with the insides of the grave. It just looks extremely shallow and indeed a figure doesn’t even fit into it without the lid remaining ajar.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave, Front Right View

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave, Back Right View

At the end of the day both sets have their flaws and issues, with the Hidden Side Graveyard Mystery at least offering a better value for money, however, due to being larger to begin with. I guess the ultimate test would really come once you actually start combining things, possibly based on multiple such sets, to build a more elaborate cemetery. The irony is of course once more that basically all the ingredients are already there, but LEGO trimmed away to many things in the interest of being “economical” to make either of the sets genuinely great. As a consolation, both sets are very affordable at least, so it would not be impossible to grab a bunch of them and make your dream project a reality, assuming you, too, have a thing for graveyards…

November TIE-Up

Nobody likes price hikes, so the November issue of the LEGO Star Wars magazine now costing 4.20 Euro instead of the previous 3.99 was not a pleasant surprise at the newsstand. As long as there is some good value attached that 5 percent increase would acceptable, though, so let’s see if that does add up.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, November 2019, Cover

For me this is determined primarily by the parts included in the mini build and I have to say it’s pretty good this time around. There of course have been any number of small scale TIE Fighters already and one would think that this subject has been done to death, but the one included with the mag surprises with yet another novel approach. That is in particular how the large cooling panels (a.k.a. wings) are attached inverted by ways of the new T-style brackets. Logically then on a symmetrical model you get two of those. To somewhat cover up the now exposed undersides of the plates you also get four inverted tiles and it never hurts to have those, either, be it just to make your model undersides scratch-proof to prevent damage while the are standing on your table. all nice stuff to have from a builder’s perspective.

The comics don’t tie in with a specific story line from the movies and thus function independently, with clear references to The Force Awakens and The Empire Strike Back, however. They’re both drawn in the new, more dynamic style and here’s hoping that this will be the new norm. The posters are also pretty good and I’m almost tempted to put up the first order pilots one just for giggles. If you care remember there is a commercial, quite similar poster out there and it could be funny to have them side by side. The games and puzzles feel a bit light in this issue. I admittedly have no idea how long a simplistic dice-based strategy game with only a handful of planets to conquer can keep your kids distracted, though…

Halloween Double – Brickheadz Scarecrow (40352) and Ghost (40351)

Halloween isn’t that far off, so it seems fitting we should have a look at LEGO‘s seasonal Brickheadz sets on that subject for this year, those being the Scarecrow (40352) and the Ghost (40351), numbered as the 84th and 83rd entries in the series overall, respectively. Let me begin with the scarecrow.

LEGO Brickheadz, Scarecrow (40352), Box

Born from the myth that birds would get scared off by anything that looks remotely like a human inevitably the clichée of them being imbued with human characteristics or even getting re-animated had become a popular trope in books and movies, but rarely ever in my life have I actually genuinely seen such a puppet anywhere. On the assumption that this is probably true for most people, the subject leaves lots of room for interpretation and one of those classics is the Mid-Western US version with its blue jeans overalls and oversized felt hat. This is captured in the LEGO model.

LEGO Brickheadz, Scarecrow (40352), Front Left View

By now the Brickheadz clearly have surpassed their prime, so almost everyone of them follows the same building pattern more or less, with only minor deviations and tweaks done every now and then to accommodate some more specific requirements of a given figure. Here a novelty is presented with the arms actually being spread out from the body in a T-pose instead of being incorporated into the surface contours. This is achieved by some plates going through the body across the upper chest. On its own this would look kinda weird, but to some degree this is mitigated by the golden claws used to represent straw sticking out extending the range further. This is further backed up by some crossbar being hinted at.

LEGO Brickheadz, Scarecrow (40352), Front Right View

Somewhat surprisingly the little dude has a rather elaborate hairdo which in itself accounts for a good chunk of parts. In an odd way it even contradicts the rest of the model because it’s almost too realistic. Most people wouldn’t put up with the effort to make it look that real unless they are set dressers on movies. 😉 I guess, like me, they couldn’t think of a simple and efficient way to approximate a simple straw wig and decided to go the full mile. At least off hand I can’t quite think of a part from LEGO‘s portfolio that could be easily stacked in large arrays to form something with separately recognizable stems/ stalks similar to the claws used for the hands. Figuring into this, and by all means only a small complaint on my part is the absence of shoes then. You know, with something that human-like, I would imagine it could jump of its perch and stomp around in secret when nobody is looking.

LEGO Brickheadz, Scarecrow (40352), Back Right View

The small ancillary tabs sure add parts value and help to contextualize the model, but overall don’t feel essential. They’re okay, but I wouldn’t have missed them. It would have been a cool idea if they had decked this out with those three-fingered leaf elements, but in autumn-ish colors like Dark Orange, Yellow and Dark Red. I also sort of miss a big black bird like a raven, stereotypical as this may sound. In fact even a hoard of sparrows making fun of little scarecrow and sitting all over him would have added a bit of a fun twist to what otherwise amounts to a mostly mundane figure. It’s not bad, but nothing to go particularly crazy over, either. I had a completely different feeling about the next one, the Ghost.

LEGO Brickheadz, Ghost (40351), Box

Chasing for this set was actually a bit of a pain, as it was in short supply even in the LEGO online store. It was in fact released even earlier than the Scarecrow some time in September, but didn’t really show up in stores. that’s why I consider myself pretty lucky having been able to obtain it on that magical Friday when I picked up both these sets, after all. I really wanted this one right after I saw the first photos because they completely triggered my “Aww, how cute!” senses. The reason for that is of course that this is far from a genuinely scary ghost but rather a very stylized version such as you would find it in Pac Man or a spectre ripped from an illustrated children’s book. It’s all too obvious where the inspiration came from. 😉

LEGO Brickheadz, Ghost (40351), Front Left View

In terms of construction this follows a similar novel approach with a long plate going through the body to represent the arms. It wouldn’t have been necessary as the arms could be just as well represented with their drooping “sleeves” simply attached to the main body, but I guess this is just the designer thinking his idea is super cool and re-using it on multiple models. The rest of the model is kind of pretty simple with the emphasis on making it look sort of rotund/ round-ish and the edges of the imaginary cloth draping in a nice regular wave/ fringe pattern. As a result, the model is hugely symmetric both in the Left | Right plane as well as Front | Back. this is helpful when building (but also a bit tedious) since you only need to build the elements twice and then it doesn’t matter where you attach them. Apparently the face would be the exception here, which BTW you could get creative with by placing the eye elements differently or even using black round tiles from your spares box to good effect. There’s several possible facial expressions.

LEGO Brickheadz, Ghost (40351), Front Right View

I also found the extras extremely useful. The Jack-O-Lantern minifigure head element might come in handy for anything Halloween-related, of course, I didn’t have any of the long bones and there’s a bat and a spider. Even the barrel in Dark Bluish Grey will be useful as a jet exhaust one day. Lots to love here. The one thing I didn’t quite like is the somewhat odd coloring choices. On a good day Dark Blue and Sand Green are of course nice colors and one can never have enough pieces, but, and I guess that’s the point here, they don’t mix too well with Olive Green and Dark Green, at least not when it’s meant to be some mossy/ moldy/ swampy thing. I would have preferred a more consistent coloring.

LEGO Brickheadz, Ghost (40351), Back Right View

In summary both sets are okay, but I’d always prioritize the Ghost if I had only the money for one of the Brickheadz. The Scarecrow just doesn’t bring much new to the table and simply feels repetitive. It’s just the same ideas from different other figures combined and flavored a little with some minute new stuff. It sure does the trick if you’re only looking for a decorative item or indeed are a collector that has to own them all, but it doesn’t particularly tingle my nerves as a LEGO builder. The ghost on the other hand is just lots of fun on every level and adorable to look at, so I would recommend it every time…

November Speed Trap

I don’t suppose that the LEGO City would be a multi-part series of fictional writing with a contiguous story, but as chance will have it, and that’s likely really just totally coincidental, one could see some greater story threads going on in the November issue.

LEGO Magazine, City, November 2019, Cover

If you care to remember, last month’s edition was all about fast pizza delivery and now imagine if that guy took things a bit too far and got caught in a traffic control. Yupp, the young police officer lady with her laser speed gun would sure have to say a thing or two to him. It could in its own way make for a brilliant play scenario and I think it would be fantastic if the magazine took that approach more often, unintended as this may have been. It would definitely be more attractive than just seemingly randomly firing out figures from the different sub-series.

Of course the female officer matches up with the rest of the ones we’ve gotten in the last few months, so at this point you could have about three or four of them to open up your own little police station without actually ever having bought a set. The buildable pieces don’t live up to that, though, and it seems we’re getting fewer and fewer with every issue. regrettably the various LEGO magazines are really becoming more minifigure packs with some extras than the other way around.

If donuts are your thing, then the comic is absolutely right for you as it’s built around the big sign from the Donut Shop Opening (60233) getting stolen. Funny enough I would in fact love to own the set for those special pieces since I have an idea floating in my head where such a large donut might come in handy. It’s just a bit on the expensive side only for that… Anyway, I digress. The rest of the magazine is okay and in particular the puzzles are a bit more demanding again this time, so those little brain teasers should give your kids something to do for a while on a bad weather fall afternoon.

When I’m on my Downeaster Alexa – Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419)

Borrowing that famous line from Billy Joel‘s song, it’s time we have a look at what is indeed a fishing boat – of sorts – the Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419) from LEGO‘s new Hidden Side series.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Box

I have no specific relation or affiliation to fishing other than enjoying being near the sea and in particular remembering those small fishing boats during my rehab at the Baltic Sea a few years ago. I’m totally intolerant/ allergic to seafood even and could throw up at the mere thought of the smell, but as you well know, I like oceanic creatures and some of the things relating to it. That’s why this set pushed a few buttons with me in a good way and I just had to get it eventually.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Overview

I also liked that the set represents a fresh idea overall, not just specifically to Hidden Side, but also in the broader sense in the overall LEGO portfolio. There have been any number of “fishing boats” over the years, but most of them were bigger trawlers or yachts. Getting a small cutter therefore seems like a missing piece of the puzzle is finally filled.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Figures

The minifigures are pretty much your standard fare (within Hidden Side) with Jack Davids and Parker L. Jackson making an appearance again as well as Spencer, the ghostly dog. The emphasis therefore has to be on Captain Jonas and Jonas Jr. and what can I say? They are some of the most interesting figures I’ve seen included in a set in a while. It’s not so much that they are super-special, but they are nicely done and have a generic appeal for anything to do with ships or the goings-on in a harbor or ship yard.

The key to this is of course the Bright Light Orange color representing the oilskin/ vinyl clothing or as we call it here in Germany “Friesennerz” as an in-joke to this being a fisherman’s finest everyday Sunday gown. The figures also come with the typical hat with the large rolled up rim hat and the knit wool cap, respectively, so in my world this counts as capturing the essence of these brave seafarers to the point, if in a stereotypical way. My only regret is the lack of opacity on Jonas Jr.‘s printed flap, which kinda ruins the illusion of the bib overalls.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Captain Jonas possessed LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Captain Jonas regular

Captain Jonas can be built in both a possessed and a regular form. Once possessed he turns into some sort of pirate ghost with tentacles coming out of his back and a glowing green sword. It doesn’t really add much for me, given that you can’t really do much with the boat itself to transform it accordingly. more on that further down. I suppose it’s okay, though.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Crocodile

Interestingly, the set comes with an albino crocodile. For a high seas them that is a bit of an odd choice even if in the play fiction the boat is thrown ashore/ stranded on a reef. The alligator would have kinda made more sense in the Riverside Houseboat (31093) from earlier this year. Still, nice to have one, regardless, given that there haven’t been that many crocodiles/ gators using this mold in recent years no matter the color.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Boat, Left Front View

Rather than relying on dedicated ship hull parts, the boat is built from more generalized standard pieces. This makes it easier to re-use them in other projects. You can of course argue endlessly whether using a large airplane underside part for the ship’s bow is really that much different, but in my opinion for such a shell in Dark Blue it’s easier to find alternate uses than say for a Coral colored large hull piece like on the LEGO Friends Rescue Mission Boat (41381). Your mileage may vary, naturally.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Boat, Left Aft View

It’s particularly noteworthy that, while it is part of a series aimed at kids and teenagers, the color choices are very restrained and even conservative. No wacky Orange or Dark Pink, it’s all in subdued natural colors like Reddish Brown, Dark  Brown and so on, nicely complemented by some bits in White, Black and Sand Green. The latter is always good to have and maybe one day even that bonnet piece used for the roof might come in handy.

People have said that this model would be perfect to go with the Old Fishing Store (21310) in the LEGO Ideas series from a few years ago. I well remember how I wished this set actually had a boat and would have rejoiced at the inclusion of what we have here, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not that easy, though not impossible, either. The truth is that in terms of scale even this relatively small boat would still be too large next to the building. There are comparison photos on the web that confirm this, should you care to look yourself. You will have to put in some work to make it more suitable, most notably cutting down the height of the wheel house at the cost of no longer being able to fit a minifigure in there.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Boat, Right View

Overall, though, the boat holds up nicely and includes everything you would expect with the exception of a hoist. That would really be more only serious concern, as even those small boats usually have some sort of crane to assist with reeling in the fishing nets or help with offloading the cargo at the port. Also notice the blank white discs. They are of course meant to be live saver rings where I just didn’t use the stickers. Thinking about it, if you don’t use those, it would be probably better to just leave them off entirely and replace the bricks with sideways studs they are attached to with smooth ones.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Rocks regular

Since it is meant to be a wrecked/ stranded boat there inevitably has to be something it actually crashes on and to that end the set contains parts to build a bit of rock face with some greenery tacked on. Once again I’m pleased by the color choices with lot’s of Dark Brown, Dark Green and Olive elements in addition to the ones in grey tones.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Rocks possessed

Now for a bit of a disappointment: Eagle-eyed viewers (or even your myopic granny) will clearly notice some pink/ magenta tentacles emanating from the waters surrounding the rocky island, which I interpret as some sort of octopus tentacles ripping the boat in half. You guessed it – they are nowhere to be found or even hinted at in the actual set. Respect to the graphics artist’s imagination going wild, but in this particular case it really feels like cheating and embellishing the packaging a bit too much. True, nowhere does it actually show those tentacles even on the photos on the back side of the box, but I was still hoping. It would have been quite cool and added another level of gameplay possibilities outside of the AR app.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Rocks with Boat

On the whole there is a lot to like and since it’s basically sold around 20 Euro everywhere (despite an MSRP of 30 Euro) there is little reason to hold back on a purchase. Even if you don’t particularly like the subject, you can make good use of some of the parts and get at least one or two nice minifigures out of it plus with a little bit of effort it could still become a nice model on the shelf next to that Old Fishing Store