Do not buy this! – LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431)

The economics of buying LEGO can be tricky at times and so it’s inevitable that you occasionally end up with a total stinker of a set that you only bought to reach that magical limit that entitles you for a free “Gift with Purchase” (GWP) in the LEGO store or for that matter free shipping in online stores not called Amazon. The story of the LEGO Brick Sketches BB-8 (40431) is one such tragedy and we’re here to learn a thing or two from it. 

LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431), Box

Who dat guy?

Before we move on to the actual review, I thought it would be helpful to understand how Brick Sketches may have come about. Do you know a guy named Chris McVeigh? I didn’t until I heard about this product, but apparently he had been busy in the LEGO realm for quite a while and had been firing out MOCs. Among his many ideas was something that could be seen as the predecessor of the commercial product, i.e. Brick Sketches before they were called that.

Somehow the company took notice of it and that must have been part of why they hired him – someone somewhere may have seen the viability to derive a commercial product. He’s being a bit coy about it and this interview, but at the level of becoming an official LEGO designer I don’t believe in too much lucky coincidences. There’s always a bigger plan. And that may exactly be the problem.

Pricing and Contents

The set comes in at 171 pieces and a price point of 17 Euro. According to LEGO‘s weird Part Count x 10 Cent = Price that would track, however this is only half the truth. Originally all these sets cost 20 Euro and only after sales were terribly slow did LEGO give in and shaved off those three Euro. I would bet they did so rather reluctantly only after their own stores reported disastrous sales numbers.

Does that make it right? No, not at all! When these products were announced pretty much everyone & their mom expected them to be similarly priced to Brickheadz. Perhaps a bit more so they cost twelve Euro rather than ten, but not much more. Based on that, anything more than 15 Euro can only feel like gouging the customer and guess what – even many other outlets who even got free review samples agree at least on that one.

What makes this so bad is that on a whole this feels like LEGO are just trying to get rid of surplus stock of the most mundane standard pieces. If you follow my exploits on the various LEGO magazines, you literally know that every other month one of them has plenty of those wedge plates, 1 x 2 slopes, a handful of studs and so on. You name it and through the course of the year it’s likely to pop up in one of those little bags. If you buy them regularly, you have nearly all the pieces to rebrick one such set without having spent a single Euro.

In this particular instance there is a small twist in that there are actually some unique parts only in this sets, those being the orange 5 x 5 round tiles and a fully grey lever piece, but that’s pretty much it. The rest is just bog standard stuff and arguably if this wasn’t Star Wars related I might have given this a pass entirely. Or to put it another way: Out of the unattractive, limited choices this was arguably still the best one.

The Model

On the surface those models look super simple, but of course it takes time to work out what elements you use to represent specific shapes and you need to do so with limited depth available for stacking. At least this part deserves some props to the designers. It’s a bit like those pictures you assemble from scraps of colored paper or cut out shapes where you need to arrange them and see how it looks before gluing them into place. From sifting through the various PDF instructions available online it seems that most of these Brick Sketches are three layers of plates as the base and then a final layer of bricks and plates providing the final details. In case of this BB-8 this may be slightly skewed toward using more bricks due to the head being a more solid separate build.

LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431), Front Left View

The build process is not particularly demanding, but boring. There’s really not much to do other than following the instructions bit by bit and up to rather late in the build you don’t quite know what you are actually building. The picture is literally only forming once you have added certain key elements that provide delineation, contouring and contrast  after you lay down solid colored areas in the beginning. Another bit of tedium is added by the fact that for many of the smaller elements you need to put in extra care to orient and align them properly or else you have crooked gaps that ruin the illusion.

On the other end there is quite a bit of frustration due to the model having a lot of tension from its stacked plates. I was really struggling to place one of those 3 x 3 corner plates and the white curved slopes also proved resistant to just clicking into place. It also seems to me that this exposes the poor quality and limited precision of some LEGO parts because it’s so critical here. On a regular, more 3D-ish model you may not notice these discrepancies in the individual tolerances adding up and of course I could have requested replacement parts, but it is a concern that this is even happening in a product aimed at users that may not have any prior experience and just expect smooth sailing.

LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431), Front Right View

The underlying frame is simple and sturdy enough for what it’s supposed to do and as you can see, aside from just using the picture in standing mode, you can hang it on the wall with the hole from the 2 x 3 plate with the rounded top. I’m not sure how long this will survive on a sharp nail and the plastic getting brittle from constant exposure to sun light and household fumes.

LEGO Brick Sketches, BB-8 (40431), Back Side View

Concluding Thoughts

As the title says already, do not buy this under any circumstances unless you really can’t avoid it because your kid is crying all the time or your spouse is threatening to leave you. While on an idealistic level the concept has some merits, the way it’s put into practice just doesn’t work. It’s not an exploration of “art”, it’s just dull “paint by numbers” and with bad designs and poor colors from the dollar store at that.

LEGO killed all the joy simply because they didn’t understand that for this sort of thing trying to figure out how you represent complex artwork with the limited shapes the pieces offer may be the actual pleasure and challenge. This isn’t unlike my experiments with Dots and of course me criticizing pretty much the same “canned crafts” approach there. I would even dare to claim that this is one thing even Mr. McVeigh would support. I’m sure he had fun doodling around and experimenting more than the finished product gave him warm and fuzzy feelings.

The worst part about the whole affair however still is that this recognizably is a cheap attempt of LEGO trying to pry your cash from your pockets. So far they seem to not succeed and the series may thankfully be brain-dead, but who knows? This specific design with the BB-8 already is dull as heck and the other ones available don’t strike me as any better. The whole thing, while perhaps still attractive to a very few collectors, just doesn’t strike me as a viable, successful commercial product by any stretch of the imagination.