Medium Azure Joy – Toy Shop Town House (31105)

At the beginning of my LEGO career only a few years ago I was deeply entrenched in Technic and didn’t care much for the traditional System based sets. Only when things took a turn for the worse and the Technic models began to get less interesting did I expand my horizon and it was at that time that with much regret I realized what I had missed out on.

In particular the buildings in the Creator 3in1 series (Bike Shop & Café [31026], Toy & Grocery Shop [31036], Corner Deli [31050] and Park Street Town House [31065]) piqued my interest and only through sheer luck was I able to pick up the last item during a clearance sale way back then. The others are still on my dream wishlist, but since prices have exploded for those sets, it will likely remain an an affordable pipe dream.

All that being the case, and finally getting near a point, I’m of course extremely happy that LEGO decided to pick up where they left off and include buildings again in the 3in1 series that had been missing so noticeably. Last year’s Pet Shop & Café (31097) perhaps wasn’t the greatest example, but the new Toy Shop Town House (31105) is pretty excellent.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Box

I’m not revealing any secrets by pointing out the brilliance of this little set, as it is actually quite apparent just by looking at the box art. It has exactly that lovely vibe that made the older sets so endearing and desirable. It’s oozing with charme, one could say. in addition to the main building the set comes with a little side build in the form of a kids’ rocket ride and two minifigures.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Overview

The figures are pretty much standard and represent a kid and a female toy store employee. Notice how I made a mess by not plugging in the kid’s legs tightly enough. The employee is interesting in that it uses the relatively rare yellow torso with the LEGO logo artwork on the back. Such figures are often only included in limited promotional sets, but even then not always, so if you ever wanted to build a genuine LEGO branded store as a model here’s your chance to get matching outfits for your mini people in a relatively straightforward and cost-efficient way that doesn’t involve buying overpriced collector’s items on Bricklink.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Minifigures, Front View LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Minifigures, Backside View

The rocket ride no doubt represents a reminiscence to the quite similar and only slightly larger Space Rocket Ride (40335) that was available as a Gift with Purchase (GWP) promotional item some time last year. Its rocking function even works thanks to a small crank mechanism. The only issue with it is that the model has no actual provision for nicely fixing it in place somewhere owing to the building being to small to permanently put it inside and at the same time the pavement not being fully extended. If you are thinking of integrating the building into your existing town you may have to create your own solution to that admittedly small problem.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Rocket Ride, Left View LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Rocket Ride, Right View

The main building itself just looks nice from pretty much every angle. this being a corner building with consistently butted-off side walls could indicate that the next building in this series might be one to go left and right of this to form an actual street layout.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Front Left View

Of particular note is of course the second floor due to its use of the Medium Azure color. This especially means that a few of the elements like for instance the 2×2 round brick become available in this color for the first time ever, which is always a bonus. It’s funny, though, that an element that basically existed since the dawn of LEGO time never was never produced in a specific color in 40 or so years.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Front Right View

In addition to the Medium Azure pieces the other interesting new entry in the parts department are the 3×3 windows in Tan. I still haven’t gotten around to starting my project with the Dark Purple versions from the Harry Potter Knight Bus set (75957), but it’s good to see that this wasn’t just a one-off and the part is proliferating across the portfolio in colors that will be more palatable to most users.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Back Right View

Other than that the build uses pretty much only standard parts as is typical for most Creator 3in1 sets. That being the case, the one thing I’m not happy with is the buildable bird. I know it’s tradition in the series, but in this case I really feel that for reasons of scale and overall cuteness this set would have benefited from the inclusion of a few of the small bird minifigure add-on. The model just screams to me that there should be a bunch of sparrows perched on the edges of the roof, before the main door and even on the balcony. doing the little birdy in a color like Medium Nougat or Dark Orange would then have provided even more incentive and made this super awesome.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Back Left View

While it’s not an actual Modular Building, of course the set borrows a bunch of building techniques and overall takes a similar approach. This is not only sensible in terms of building things step by step without having to worry too much about handling large chunks at once, but it also is the only way to be able to fully access the interior, especially on the ground floor.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Modules

Said bottom level features the eponymous toy shop from which the set derives its name and its stuffed wit ha few mini builds of assembled models and also comes with a number of printed tiles representing LEGO set packages. If it were up to me, they could have included even more of those to plaster the entire wall and give the impression of a seriously crammed, but cosy small toy shop like they still exist in many smaller cities.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Module, Ground Floor

The second floor contains a small bedroom and while it doesn’t introduce anything revolutionary, it benefits from the Medium Azure color and the small bay. One can almost see oneself snuggling up in the bed while looking out of the bay windows on a day with perhaps not such great weather.

LEGO Creator, Toy Shop Town House (31105), Module, Second Floor

All things considered, this is an almost perfect set. There are a few minor structural issues that can be annoying during the build (that old thing of some walls being flimsy until you shim them over with plates at the top for instance), but it never gets in the way of your enjoyment. Many people seem to feel similarly and there’s already lots of larger builds based on two or more instances of this set. I’m eventually planning to do the same and might build something matching the size of a genuine Modular Building.

On that note of course we have to talk price. While I have no objections over the original 50 Euro retail price given the merits and quality of the set, by sheer volume it still doesn’t feel justified. After all, the building is still pretty tiny. Therefore to me the average 40 to 35 Euro street price feels a lot more realistic, even more so if you plan on buying more than one of these boxes. You can’t defeat the arithmetic and in a bad scenario this would then be more expensive than a genuine Modular Building while still having less pieces. It definitely won’t hurt to keep an eye out for sales and promotions…

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…

Retro Future – Futuristic Flyer (31086)

Due to the lack of certain types of slopes and panels for flaps, rudders, wing edges and the like LEGO certainly isn’t the best way to pursue an aviation model hobby, but of course that doesn’t stop the company from trying just as it doesn’t stop me from almost instinctively buying every reasonably looking set of that type, especially since they are still relatively rare (not counting the many City helicopter and airplane sets here). The Futuristic Flyer (31086) set is no exception.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Box

Admittedly this model wasn’t particularly high on my list. It has a distinct appeal, but at the same time there are some glaring shortcomings that were clear to me even just by looking at the package and marketing photos. I was quite a bit hesitant and only committed to the model after Jangbricks did a review on his YouTube channel that alleviated some of my concerns as well as showing some of the interesting technical details.

Naturally, the most stand-out feature are the forward-inclined wings. As a longtime  aviation aficionado I could chew your ears off explaining the pros and cons of such a configuration, but suffice it to say that there are reasons we don’t see more aircraft of this type and it was and is more or less relegated to experimental planes like the old X-29 or as Jang mentions, the Sukhoij S-37 Berkut. On the model this is implemented quite ingeniously by locking the wings into place between some angled place using those small ball joints. The added benefit here is that the wings can be easily taken off for transport and clicked into place again when needed, allowing to use a smaller storage box.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Overview

The extra pieces depicted in the above photo are meant for the secondary and tertiary build, a sort of generic space fighter and a small Gundam-like mech. I haven’t really bothered with either, but at least the space vehicle seems on par with the jet in terms of complexity and quality while the robot really feels like a throwaway idea they just crammed in to get three overall models at all. It really doesn’t look that attractive and feels a bit out of place here.

Speaking of quality – that’s of course a relative term for a set with barely 150 pieces. That’s also why this set wasn’t a top priority initially. Unfortunately once you move on from the cleverly constructed middle section holding the wings, the rest of the model doesn’t really live up to that standard. To say it has been grossly simplified would be an understatement as it really feels like the nose and aft were just lumped on after the fact without much consideration. The nose is particularly disappointing as you just can feel how simple it potentially might have been to shape a gently sloped tip from a few different wedge plates and curved slopes.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Left Side View

The same can be said for the engine exhaust using the old plastic wheel. It completely ruins the otherwise sleek appearance. You know, it’s not like this hollow cone doesn’t exist, not to speak of even better solutions like dual exhaust pipes. Keen observers will also have noticed that the model sits terribly low. It’s simply propped up on some standard small wheel plates as commonly used for three-wheeler vehicles in City and Friends. It’s acceptable when you see this as a play item as it’s at least a stable solution, but of course could be improved.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Right Aft View

My main takeaway from this set is that it offers some good ideas and inspiration, but the technical execution could have been done better in places. It’s once more a matter of 150 pieces vs. perhaps 200 pieces where those 50 extra parts could have made a huge difference for the better. Don’t misunderstand me: I understand this this is aimed at kids for playing first and foremost, but the missed opportunity of making this also a better displayable showcase model is still highly regrettable.

Racing Frog – Rocket Rally Car (31074)

Odd as it may sound, but sometimes there’s this lull where I just can’t seem to find something LEGO that would make for a nice diversion after having exhausted other options. That is of course something within my budget, given that many more expensive sets are out of reach for me, anyway. Therefore the Rocket Rally Car (31074) was kind of a filler in an order of three smaller sets.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Box

Even though in this case it wasn’t on top of my list, this doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have bought it in the long run eventually. I have this odd thing going where I basically still want as many different parts in as many different colors as possible just in case I might ever need them for a custom build. This model has a few of them and the rest of the pieces also appeared useful, so I knew regardless of the sets own merits I’d get some value out of it.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Left Side View

Let me cut to the most important point right away: the color choices. Say what you will, but this is perhaps not the most attractive color scheme they could have come up with. In my view it’s some sort of bastardized Mia-themed vehicle as you would find it in the Friends series (minus the orange bits). That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing when viewed from the other side, as currently there isn’t such a vehicle in that series and this presents an easy option to expand the play value, but for a Creator 3in1 model it’s perhaps not ideal.

This can be spun in a million ways, of course, but something is off. Just like replacing the Lime Green with another color like Red would have worked, using indeed Orange in place of the Dark Azure pieces would have been an option. Personally this reminds me of photo editing work where you have accidentally inverted a single color channel and therefore the complementary colors appear.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Front View

The build turned out more elaborate than the marketing photos and other materials suggested and for me that’s always a good thing, be it just to extend the enjoyment of building by another five minutes. It’s nothing too complex or challenging, but you have to pay attention and keep track of things to not maneuver yourself into a snag. Keeping those brain cells stimulated is always a good thing in my opinion.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Front View with open Doors and extended Engine

The set builds into a reasonably robust model and offers a good selection of movable/ playable features. The doors are built from multiple plates and hinges and are actually quite large, so access to the interior through them is easy and unlike with other models there is no need to remove the roof. In fact the set offers no specific contingencies for this, so removing the top would drag along other items and damage the model. Using the doors is way to go.

The air scoop on the front can be pushed out using a simple mechanism hidden underneath the front bumper or pulled out manually. Unfortunately it never is fully flush with the rest of the hood, so it always looks kinda odd and not aerodynamically optimized as it likely would be on the real thing. I think if I were to build this again I’d simply forego the insert and cover the hole with some parts from the spares box.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Aft View

The rear comes with a fully openable trunk and in its basic form this offers a ton of stowage space. Should you decide to get this set as an ancillary model for some Friends fun, you could stuff a lot of things in there. One of the alternate uses is to tilt down the jet engine at the top and “hide” it inside, which again opens up some play scenarios like a transforming super hero/ secret agent vehicle or in more ordinary terms the engine just being tucked away for safety during transport.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Aft View with open Trunk

Interestingly, while I’m still critical of the selection of color, the Dark Azure parts such as the spoiler wings and the spoked wheel caps are rather unique and more or less exclusive for this set. I have no idea yet what I’m going to do with them, but I’m sure they’ll be handy one day. You could likely even just hang them as decorations on a wall in a Mia-themed house indeed. 🙂

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Aft View with Jet Engine inside

In its entirety this turned out a better experience than I had anticipated. The model comes together nicely and due to its play features would be an adequate choice for kids. It’s not worth the 20 Euro MSRP, but in most places you can get it for 15 Euro or lower and that checks out, given the size of the assembled model and perceived volume of stuff. I haven’t built the secondary models, but if I were to guess the Jeep would be quite similar structurally, just with a different outward appearance. the little quad doesn’t seem worth it at all, though, and sure wouldn’t be a reason to get this set.

At the blue Bayou – Riverside Houseboat (31093)

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.

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Box

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.

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Overview

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.

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Animals

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…

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Left View

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.

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Right View

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.

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Aft View

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…

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Right Side Interior View

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.

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Right Side Interior View without Roof

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!

LEGO Creator, Riverside Houseboat (31093), Top View

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.

RV on the Beach – Surfer Van (31079)

Last week we had the hottest day of the year so far, and while today it’s quite the opposite with temperatures only reaching autumn levels, it still seems more than adequate to talk about a rather summer-themed set like the Surfer Van (31079) from the Creator 3in1 series..LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Box

Good news first: I got this set as a gift from my brother, so it didn’t cost me a single penny, but you can get it for around 20 Euro almost everywhere. The set had been released last year, so naturally at the point of writing this article there is no longer much of a price competition and everyone has it on some sort of discount, which can only be a good thing. This is even better since in terms of the sheer bulk of pieces you’re getting quite a bit of stuff and it seems more than a fair price. As a matter of fact similar to the Race Plane (31094) this may be one of the few occasions where even the original 30 Euro asking price might be okay. There’s a caveat, though, so read through to the end before making a decision.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Overview

The set allows you to build a reasonably large RV (recreational vehicle) or in the more generalized sense a van converted for travelling and camping as the primary model. I tried to figure out what type it is supposed to represent, but me not being a “car guy” I couldn’t pin it down. Overall it looks very American, anyway, so it’s likely not anything I would recognize. The other models didn’t interest me that much. I tend to think, though, that the little buggy could be worth a try one of these days.

The color scheme looks okay, but ultimately feels boring. It looks too much like a classic Volkswagen Bully for my taste. They should have gone for something fresher and tried something different There’s enough summer-ish, bright colors to choose from even in LEGO‘s limited palette. I tend to think a Lime Green/ Bright Green combo with an orange pin stripe could have looked pretty awesome as could have Bright Light Orange with Bright Light Blue.

On the other hand – for me as a European even those boring standard beige/ ivory (Tan) liveries with brown-ish stripes (Dark Orange etc.) that seem so popular across the pond might have been interesting at least. You get the drift – I’m just thirsty for something that tickles my art-sy brain or at least feels a bit less repetitive and mundane compared to what I get to see everyday.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Roof removed

Now for the problematic parts. One of the biggest issues you will be facing with this set are warping issues in the parts. The roof is particularly bad, as it consists of only a long, narrow plate onto which some slopes are attached to form the contours of the roof. This begins to bend up immediately like a springboard, being that on the underside there are no additional plates or bricks that would counter the forces on the top. No matter how much you push and press, there is always a gap somewhere.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Roof Gapping Issue, Front View

Unfortunately the roof is not the only place where this is an issue, as in particular the left side that swings open (see further down) suffers a similar problem, if not as prominently. It’s built in part on 1 x 10 plates that expose a similar behavior. This being attached to the somewhat flimsy one plate high flat hinges also doesn’t help. Could this be fixed or avoided? Yes and no. Depending on how lucky your are, the issues could not even be noticeable. Otherwise you may be in trouble.

Point in case: After I gave the set a poor build quality rating in the customer survey, I got contacted by one of their service agents and they of course offered to replace the faulty parts. In my opinion this would be kinda pointless, as due to the specific nature of the issue you would have to replace a lot of parts and experiment around which one works best in which position. You would need to request so many parts that you bump into their internal 50 pieces limit and then the whole thing possibly won’t work out as you may still need to order more parts just to try.

Similarly, the second option of ordering different parts could be just as troublesome. Personally I’m of the opinion that one unit wide plates shouldn’t even exist in variants longer than 1 x 8 at most due to those issues, so the only “real” solution naturally would be to use shorter plates ans split the lengths covered wherever those long ones are used originally. Simple as it may sound, it wouldn’t be a straightforward replacement then, either, as of course you would still need to pay attention to get good overlap and interlocking of parts.

See what I’m getting at? To me this is a much larger overall engineering problem and I’m frankly puzzled how this could get through LEGO‘s internal review process before release. No doubt someone at least was aware of the risk.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Roof Gapping Issue, Aft View

The whole matter is a bit sad, as regardless of all that you are actually getting a nice model that has been crafted with lovely details. The interior is fully decked out and could almost work in reality as well.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Interior, Top View

The driver’s cockpit is able to fully accommodate two minifigures (unlike many other vehicles) and also supposedly serves as the only entry port to the aft section. This is perhaps a bit unrealistic. Most such vehicles would still provide access through an extra door on the side or the rear. I also feel that it’s a bit detrimental to the layout of the cockpit as it lacks any details. Foregoing this centralized “door”, making the cockpit one or two studs longer, having the seats on turntables to swivel around and having that extra door somewhere would simply have allowed more design options.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Cockpit

The living and sleeping area itself is nicely done and functional as you would expect. It really makes sense, is logical and follows the standard rules of most such vehicles with the bed being a large area snuggled into the rear and a small kitchen zone while monitors and tables can be folded away.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Interior with Table up, Side View LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Interior with Table down, Side View

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Interior with Bed, Top Down View

Since storage space is a premium in such vehicles every nook and cranny has to be used and so naturally the bed can be opened like a chest.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Interior with Bed, Detail View with Bed open LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Interior with Bed, Detail View showing Hinge issues

I promise I’ll stop complaining after that, but unfortunately this is one last area that we need to talk about. It’s not that I don’t get the concept and in fact as a display model where it’s just left shut this would be perfectly okay, but as a play feature the engineering is just not sufficient. As evidenced in the photos, the hinges just come off. It’s rather the norm than the exception and I actually had to fiddle around to get a photo where they open correctly while still attached to the Medium Blue tiles representing the blankets.

The obvious solution would of course be to simply attach a plate or those inverted round plates, but the caveat to that is the reduction of available space in the end only making the bed higher would genuinely fix it while keeping this play feature intact. Otherwise you probably shouldn’t give it a second thought and just leave it closed.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Extras separate

As a surfer van inevitably this has to have some beach accessories like chairs and an actual surf board plus a small barbecue grill. Not much to write home about, but it looks the part, giving a feeling of the vehicle being loaded to the brim when its attached and still looking okay when put up separately.

LEGO Creator, Surfer Van (31079), Roof without Extras

On the whole I really want to love this model, but there are quite a number of “if”s and “but”s attached that need to be considered. Fixing or improving them might prove an exercise in patience and may also require to obtain some alternate extra parts by whatever means, be that bugging LEGO‘s service with a support case to get replacements or buying them on your own dime from somewhere.

If you don’t care for those pesky details and are just looking for a playable model for your kids, then this one is pretty perfect as it gives them plenty to explore, looks reasonably realistic and is pretty robust, no matter what. kids won’t even mind if the roof comes off too easily just because it’s bent.

At any rate, this is an extreme case of “Your mileage may vary” depending on your personal priorities. My personal view remains that this is a good idea squandered by some poor design choices and while the issues are all fixable, one shouldn’t need to worry over such things on a commercial boxed model even if it’s a relatively cheap one by LEGO standards…

Stubby Flyer – Race Plane (31094)

I’ve been a (military) aviation buff all my life, so one would think I latch on to every LEGO model that is a halfway decent rendition of an aircraft, but not so fast. Indeed the Race Plane (31094) from the Creator 3in1 line wasn’t even on my radar until an unexpected opportunity changed that.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Box

Said opportunity came when I was browsing eBay searching for something else and they were offering a 10 Euro voucher for every purchase above 20 Euro within a specific (very short) time frame. I wasn’t planning on buying any LEGO stuff that day, but then I figured “What the heck.” and did it, anyway. The real trick of course would be to find a suitable set that would meet the minimum purchase value to be entitled for the voucher, yet not be overly expensive to make it worthwhile.

A quick search turned up this set being sold at 27 Euro with the original MSRP being 30 Euro and given that shipping was free, anyway, the math worked out quite favorably and I took the plunge. At 17 Euro effectively you couldn’t ask for a better price. Typically you can find this set for around 21 Euro, but given the bulk for once I would say that even paying 25 Euro would be fair. In fact, depending on your inclinations even the full price could be considered okay as this set really feels massive.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Overview

In typical 3in1 fashion the bulk of the parts goes into the plane itself, but this set has at least a pilot figure and two racing pylons. The latter feel a bit out of place in that in order to set up a real racing circuit you would simply need a lot more, ideally with different color coding as it’s used to indicate where the plane needs to take specific turns and loops or fly at different heights as in real aerial racing. It also stands to note that the cones aren’t used in any of the secondary builds for this set. I’m not complaining to have them, but it feels a bit inconsequential and redundant in either direction.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Left View

The plane itself is based on the old school premise of racing planes derived from old wartime planes like the P-47 Thunderbolt and/ or classic designs like the Gee Bee Racer that ultimately also drew a lot of inspiration from military planes of the 1930’s and on. As such the model represents a quite wild mix of different ideas, borrowing bits here and there. In addition to the already mentioned examples of course the one thing that stands out is the shape of the wings, very apparently based on the F4U Corsair‘s unique inverted gull wing design.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Right View

The main fuselage is built a round a pretty massive core made up of different types of bricks and plates, including ones with pin holes to which later the wings will be attached. This provides a pretty robust basis for the rest of the parts. The aft part of the cockpit is constructed from stacked wedges of the integrally molded symmetrical type. This also provides a lot of stability. Personally, though, I would have preferred separate pieces using sideways construction methods in the interest of better re-usability of the parts for later projects.

The vertical rudder could be a bit of a weak spot do to it being put together from slope bricks without much interlocking/ overlap and also being fixed to the body using 2 x 1 jumper plates. Mind you, it doesn’t fall off under normal conditions, but you have to handle it with care. There is also no moving parts, though i feel that would have been easy enough to do using some hinges and building the part from perpendicular plates plugged to the fuselage with pins or such. The blocky appearance is also a reminder that LEGO seriously need more thin slopes and narrow curved bricks to allow for smooth aerodynamic edges.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Top View

To me personally the wings feel a bit short, as a Corsair has quite an impressive wingspan. Inserting one more row of 2 x wide slopes/ bricks at the wing root and the same on the outer part might have improved this. I’m fully aware that wings on race planes are often clipped to increase maneuverability, but I can’t help but feel that they are simply not large enough to provide enough lift. I also think the “depth” (front to back width) would need to be increased on a real plane, no matter what. in relation to the rest of the aircraft the proportions fit, though, and look just fine.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Folded Wings

Like on many naval airplanes the wings can be folded up. I don’t think this is necessarily an intended thing, however, more a side effect of using the ratcheted hinge plates to create the angled attachment points in the first place. The downside to this is also that there are no stoppers on the underside, so the wings can actually have negative inclination, which not only looks odd, but just wouldn’t work on the real plane. Given that the wings are connected to the fuselage using Technic axles and connectors and the wheels are also attached this way this seems like an oversight. It shouldn’t have been that difficult to add a “stopper” pin or whatever somewhere to prevent pushing the hinges into negative angles.

The motor section is perhaps the weakest part. Not so much for how it’s done, but once again how illogical and inconsistently it is done. It’s like the designers had a ton of ideas and then couldn’t decide what kind of motor to emulate, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it. Or they just don’t understand how this stuff works. In any case, for this reason this section feels massively overstuffed and a good chunk of it could probably have been left out.

For instance you wouldn’t want a carburetor intake/ air scoop to obstruct your view. Doing so might also have offered a chance to simply add proper fairings and access hatches for this area, possibly also allowing an alternate build without the interior engine parts and just a smooth surface. The same goes for the coiling, which I would have preferred to be build from curved slopes around a square core, similar to how you build Brickheadz.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Front View

Finally I also think they could have done better on the propeller. In terms of length and width the small Technic rotor blades would have been a perfect fit here and I’m sure they could have produced them in black with yellow tips plus a new four- or five-fingered axle hub to hold them. This would incidentally be quite useful, anyway, not just for this set, so totally worth the investment in my view.

All my niggles aside (which are simply due to being involved in the subject so much) this is a very nice set. It hits all the right beats and most importantly is fun. It’s not super simplistic to build, but also not too complicated, so assembling it is enjoyable and a good way to idle away an evening. It’s also a very stable and massive model that can withstand a bit of mistreatment by children without falling apart at every turn. I was quite surprised how much I actually like this set, never having seriously considered it beforehand. I might even build the Alpha Jet like third alternative model one day just for fun. I definitely can recommend this.