Baker’s Delight – LEGO Friends Magazine, November 2022

It’s that time of the year where we’re making giant leaps towards Christmas and inevitably this has been a recurring subject in the LEGO Friends magazine just as well. Sometimes with Christmas trees, sometimes with fun in the snow and more often than not with baking activities. This year we’re once more going down that route.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2022, Cover

Interestingly, the comic doesn’t delve too deep into this and after a short introduction with the girls baking cookies it’s off to some winter-ly outdoor activities.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2022, Comic

The baking theme is taken up again on a coloring two spread, but strangely enough they’re suddenly making pizza. This feels a bit like they’re recycling a drawing that was originally intended for a different issue. There’s a second coloring page with a Mandala-like round design.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2022, Coloring Page

The poster is the same boring stuff we’ve gotten a million times already, but maybe there’s hope for next year when the revitalized and redesigned characters make an appearance and we get more diverse characters overall.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2022, Poster

The extra is a small cookie selling stand with an oven next to it. It’s serviceable, but really a bit underwhelming and too unspectacular. throwing in a bit more stuff wouldn’t have hurt.

This issue isn’t much to write home about and it’s “just okay”. Definitely not the special celebratory edition one would have hoped for and way too early to count for the holiday season. Thanks to the coloring sections it will keep your kids busy for a little while, though.

From Disco to Disco – LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708)

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a LEGO Friends set here and the multitude of reasons is still perhaps something I should one day lay out in a separate article. Suffice it to say that the price is a big factor, but also the overall boring-ness that has crept into the series and there just isn’t the appeal anymore except for the rare occasions like with this Roller Disco Arcade (41708).

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Box

Price and Contents

As mentioned above, prices are really becoming an issue with LEGO and it pains me to see this effect ripple down to Friends as well. It has always been on the more affordable side of the spectrum, but these days it sometimes feels you have to sell your house just to be able to afford some packages. Mind you, I don’t have anything against “adapting to the market” and compensating inflation and money devaluation, but LEGO are certainly taking this way beyond what’s necessary and are being greedy. Having multiple 100+ Euro sets in the Friends series just didn’t happen in the past, if you get my meaning.

With that in mind, this little crazily colored building isn’t even the worst offender. At 642 pieces for 60 Euro it is still priced reasonably, though I have this feeling that not too long ago it would have been marked as 50 Euro only. That’s why even with discounts you have to pay around 45 Euro most of the time. There were some crazy special sales where it was fired out for 35 or 37 Euro, but you can’t bet on those to be available when you may want to buy, of course. I bought mine for 43 Euro, but a good chunk of the cost was offset because someone had sent me an Amazon voucher shortly before and I only had to cover the remainder.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Overview

Figures and Extras

The set comes with only three minidolls, which is rather meager not only in relation to the overall size, but also the bustling free time activities hub this purports to be. You cannot even man each activity nor do you have any spectators. This should at least have had five figures. The minidolls themselves aren’t that special and can also be found in other sets. Jackson, the male, is apparently the token wheelchair guy and Evelyn the new girl with the blue hair. Andrea got a tied up new hairdo, which is about time. The old long hair was really getting long in the tooth.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), FiguresLEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Figures

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), ExtraThe only side build in this set is a small palm tree with a trash can in Coral parked under it. This is a new recolor that also can be found in a few other sets. Outside the Friends universe it’s not that useful, though.

 

The Building

I have no specific like for bowling alleys, arcades or roller skate discos, but somehow this thing pushes a few buttons with me. I couldn’t get that scene from La Boum out of my head where the kids sneak out of their homes to meet in the hottest roller disco in town. That and then the mere mention of disco triggers a whole slew of eponymous songs, be that Alcazar‘s “Crying at the Discotheque” or Whirlpool Productions“From Disco to Disco” as per the title of this article. This brings back so many memories from the time when I was a young lad pushing my bum across the dance floor. 😉

The other thing that immediately caught my attention is the mere flamboyance and exuberance of the design. It’s completely wacko, but in a good way. It brings back this slightly off-kilter style that I used to love about Friends, but which unfortunately seems to have been lost recently with so many sets being all too realistic to the point of being completely boring. I guess now those naysayers loathing Dark Pink finally got their way, but where does it say that it has to be this way?  As I’ve written a few times, the problem was never that Friends was so colorful, it was rather some unfortunate use of color combinations that looked uneducated and unsophisticated. So for what it’s worth, I’m glad that we got some of that back with this particular set.

The build process for this set is pretty straightforward with most pieces simply being stacked linearly on top of each other. There’s no fancy SNOT building or any of that here, only a few brackets and clips used to attach some decorations. You start out with the center section, the bowling lane, then the two side wings with the other areas which are attached via hinges. The result is a quite spacious building that’s very accessible and provides good visibility all round.

The downside to all that is that the stability and robustness of the whole thing isn’t that great. This begins with the plates at the base, where there is often only a single layer of other plates or tiles that holds together the multiple pieces. some areas stabilize a bit more after a while when you add some bricks and interior details, but overall this is not the best. This trend continues with the walls themselves. It’s nice that they are thin and elegant, but at the same time this once again comes at the cost of stability. A few 2 x 2 plates or some inset bricks to enforce the vertical structure would have been welcome and you could have disguised them as corner seats or similar. The wobbliness not only produces gaps in the walls but also extends to the “roof” where individual elements tend to loosen themselves a bit. The roof also feels incomplete with too many exposed studs. It would have been better if the overlap was actually three studs and a second row of rounded bricks or at least some tiles had been added to cap it off.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Open, Overview

An interesting nugget of information are the Trans Neon Green windows, which is actually the first time ever they are available in this color according to Bricklink. Once more one of those things where you would think that LEGO had run through all colors in the last 30 or 40 years already, but no. On the promotional photos they look Trans Yellow, which in a way that would have been even more useful. I feel the same about the tubes used on the outside which are “rigid hoses”. Once you’ve bent them into shape, it will be hard to get them straight again an d in the long run the tension might break of the clips. I’ve mentioned this already when reviewing the Luke Skywalker Helmet (75327). I’m definitely not a fan, but LEGO have used them in so many sets recently, we might just have to get used to it.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Open, Left Side

The roller skate part of the building comes with a small pedestal/ stage made up of two turntables with a microphone in the corner also hinting at its use as a karaoke/ music stage. as you can see everything looks rather crammed to the point where the turntables have gaps between them because there isn’t enough room to insert more of the plates with the inner rounding to cover the gears underneath. in order to do that, the building would have to have more length, or more exactly depth with at least another window (four studs wide) having to be inserted. It would have slightly whacked out the square-ish layout and rhythm of the colored columns vs. the windows, but would have been perfectly doable. It’s a somewhat odd decision and omission. The ramp on the door would of course also be way too steep for any wheelchair-bound person and there should perhaps be some longer gentle slope along the windows at least on the outside, which incidentally also might have helped with those pesky stabilization issues.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Open, Center

The center section has a bowling lane, which is actually even functional. You can take the pins from their studs and place them on the smooth surface, then topple them over with the red ball. The latter is the genuine “heavy” ball element LEGO unfortunately only drags out once every blue moon and that’s so coveted by people building GBCs, only for them to be disappointed and resorting to other alternatives. At the top of the gate you can see the two Technic arms forming a smartphone stand (also visible in other pictures). Unfortunately they were not recolored in a way that would look more graceful with this set, so they really, really stand out. Luckily they are easily accessible and only held by two pins, so you can easily remove them if you don’t ever want to use this functionality. 

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Open, Right Side

The arcade section is just fine, but of course doesn’t really look interesting without all the stickers for the screens and bling bling. The best part of it is the “dancing machine” in the middle, a genre which seems particularly popular in Asia.


Concluding Thoughts

This set has a lot of pros and cons at the same time. It’s good that it brings back a slightly more crazy version of the Friends universe, but there are many shortcomings in the mechanical/ architectural design. It feels a bit too flimsy for the size it has and while it can be handled well enough, it still requires a gentle touch. In addition a few of the details could have been refined and the whole thing made more plausible. What point is there in harping on including special needs people, when Jackson never actually could move around in the place? The lapses in internal logic cannot be overlooked.

The colors certainly aren’t for everyone and that is something you also have to acknowledge. Even I think there is something a bit off and that perhaps a more stringent color scheme with fewer colors might have been preferable. Especially the many dark colors feel kind of depressing at times and give the building an unfriendly, uninviting touch while on the other hand there’s a lot of overly bright accents with the Neon Yellow stripes or the Dark Pink roof. The middle ground is missing that would have toned down the contrast and acted as an intermediary.

All that said, this is still one of the better LEGO Friends sets and if you have similar feelings about those days rocking the dance floor or feel that simply the theme and design appeals to you, you should definitely get it.

Poodle-tastic Care – LEGO Friends Magazine, September 2022

As you may have noticed, this blog isn’t as much about LEGO Friends as it used to be (I could go into all the details why, but maybe that’s for another time), but that doesn’t mean I’m not into it at all anymore and still follow developments in that theme just as I still read the magazines. So here we go with the September issue.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, September 2022, Cover

One of the big topics in the series this year has been animal care with multiple sets and I reviewed the Pet Adoption Café (41699) and Pet Playground (41698) earlier this year. This months edition of the mag is all about that, too. The comic deals with some mayhem at the pet daycare center. The story is nothing to write home about, but the kids will buy it. It’s also an interesting observation that the more the comic veers away from slavishly rendering the characters in the style of the actual minifigures, the more tolerable it becomes. The protagonists looking more like regular people really does the whole thing good.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, September 2022, Comic

Unlike the previous issues this one comes up short in the coloring department with only a partial page as opposed to the double spreads before. that seems a bit odd, as no doubt kids would love to color their favorite dog breed or kittens.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, September 2022, Coloring Page

There’s an info page with a few rather generic photos, but it’s really not that specific on anything.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, September 2022, Info Page

The poster is kind of okay, but I’d bet most people will prefer the back side featuring quadruple Labrador/ Golden Retriever puppies. 🙂

LEGO Magazine, Friends, September 2022, Poster

The extra is one of those “pet grooming” scenarios we’ve gotten a few times over the years featuring the standard brush, a small basin with a water tap and some accessories. The teeter board similar has been seen before just as well. The poodle is the version with the Dark Turquoise print for the collar that otherwise can only be found in two other sets, so at least that’s a simple way of getting it here.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, September 2022, Extra

This issue is pretty mundane and even boring, so there’s no real urgency to buy it. It has very little to offer on all fronts. This becomes even more apparent after the pretty decent horse-themed previous issue.

August Pony Ride – LEGO Friends Magazine, August 2022

Little girls love horses. That seems to be one of those universal cosmic mysteries that nobody can explain. So literally Blue Ocean are right on the money with the August 2022 issue of the LEGO Friends magazine being centered around the subject.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, August 2022, Cover

As you know, I can’t quite get behind the Friends comics due to the unnatural faces looking like ugly grimaces. That said, this one is at least okay in terms of the visual density. Some panels would actually look quite nice if you substituted the characters for more appealing versions.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, August 2022, Comic

As is now an established standard feature there’s a coloring page, this time depicting the girls at the stables. As usual it would be even better if they didn’t plaster everything with those wannabe “funny” text overlays and graphical elements.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, August 2022, Coloring Page

There’s an info page providing some factoids about foals along with some cute photos, which will please the kids.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, August 2022, Info Page

That also goes for the reverse side of the poster, showing yet another of the little horses. The front shows two of the girls with the horse in the middle.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, August 2022, Poster

The extra this time is rather elaborate with a feeding and cleaning station, a water pump, some bales of hay/ straw and – surprise, surprise – an actual horse. It’s just LEGO‘s old foal mold in black that has been around forever, but it’s better than nothing. What’s even better is the fact that this extra would make a nice addition to the Pony-Washing Stable (41696), a low price set that contains another white foal and some more horse-centric elements to enrich your kid’s play fantasy. It’s definitely worth considering, even if only now after reading this brief magazine review.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, August 2022, Extra

Overall this is a pretty neat edition of the Friends magazine. As I’ve written in another such article, a consistent mono-thematic publication is always preferable over scattershot issues that try to cover too many different topics only to fail. The lucky coincidence of out there being a complementary set that would boost the experience can only mean to buy this issue, so just do it! 🙂

Juicy June – LEGO Friends Magazine, June 2022

It’s a well-established tradition that the LEGO Friends magazine is very seasonally themed and so here we are with the summer edition for this year.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Cover

As you would expect, the comic is centered around all sorts of activities one can do in the sun and the heat, most notably spend some time at a beach or a pool. Aside from my more general dislike for the Friends comics due to the girls looking creepy this one also comits a similar sin as the latest Jurassic World comic – everything looks just flat and lifeless and of course the story has very little substance beyond haphazardly trying to set you up to buy the latest pool-themed sets.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Comic

Personally I’m pleased that the magazine at some point has introduced more “real” activities and the coloring page has now become a staple. There are some more drawing-centric tasks plus a few puzzles. Another standout is a tic-tac-toe/ memory style “pack your picnic bag” game which could offer some ten minute fun. unfortunately it’s printed on one of the regular pages instead of the thicker outer wrapper, so durability and handling aren’t going to be great.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Coloring Page

The posters aren’t half bad this time as someone had the good sense to not plaster them with unnecessary typography or extra fluff character cutouts that don’t fit the subject and don’t match in perspective, the most common sin in many of Blue Ocean‘s designs.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Poster

The extra is a small push cart with a juice/ smoothie bar on it, which is rather appropriate for the subject at hand. It’s simple and efficient and well decked out with fruit, which is something one cannot always take for granted. Two bananas and an apple is nothing to balk at. The only thing that could have made it better would be one of the printed pineapple or melon minifigure heads, which I would have preferred in place of the smartphone tile.

This issue doesn’t quite give me the positive vibe I had with the last one, but it’s still quite good and absolutely serviceable to keep your kids occupied for a bit while enjoying the sun at a public pool or beach…

Cats & Vets – LEGO Friends Magazine, May 2022

While it fails to provide anything revolutionary, the LEGO Friends magazine keeps chugging along and still manages to tickle my feet every now and then. I wasn’t super excited for the May issue, but I knew it would at least be tolerable based on the preview in the last edition, so lets see what we’ve ended up with.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Cover

One thing I knew would make this bearable was the cat subject and the comic already is full of the little felines. The title of it, “Cat-astrophe” at this point is just lame word play, as this has really been overdone to death, but that’s just a minor thing. The overall style of the comics is still rather weird, but at least the story is relatable this time and not completely wacko. Some of the characters and scenes clearly point to the current sets as well with the pet clinic and houseboat for instance.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Comic

The coloring pages by now are an established standard, so that’s just fine. If they didn’t try so hard to always squeeze in all the girls it might be even better. Who doesn’t like coloring cats and kittens? 😉 There’s two smaller coloring sections on other pages as well. Oddly enough, even the puzzles scattered throughout this time aren’t all that terrible. Overall there’s good content here that could keep your kids distracted for a good while.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Coloring Page

The posters repeat bits of the comics and match the overall topic quite well. I also found myself wanting those crazy-looking mice decoys in some form, be that as a LEGO piece or as a plushy or felt animal. They look kind of cute and interesting.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Poster

The extra is another examination table, of which we had several versions already over the years, even more so if you count the various pet grooming stations as well. The build therefore is quite similar to what we got before with some slight variations. One of those is actually using a solid 4 x 6 plate instead of scattering the individual assemblies onto several bricks or smaller plates. I got one of those Lavender plates with the not so great Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), but it’s not so widely used in sets. If you want one in a straightforward way this might be a good option. An interesting tidbit is the use of an actual Light Bluish Grey door on the container which is unusual for Friends in particular, but also in a more general sense. Those grey doors are surprisingly rarely used in sets.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Extra

Overall I’m surprised at myself how much I enjoyed this issue. It goes to show that a consistent motto and story thread have value and thinking about these things and not just throwing together random stuff pays off. I’d definitely recommend this one, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for cats, of course.

It takes two! – LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699) and Pet Playground (41698)

There’s some things that just don’t work all by themselves in isolation and on the rare occasion that can be true for LEGO sets all the same. While within the individual themes and sub-series they of course are always designed with a consistent story or “group logic” in mind, you rarely find yourself in a situation where buying two at once seems inevitable because getting just one would feel incomplete.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Box

Those are the sentiments I had with the Pet Adoption Café (41699). Something was seriously missing and I just couldn’t avoid getting the Pet Playground (41698) to make up for those shortcomings and, at least in my mind, improve the overall value. It literally takes two (sets). Ever since I came up with that headline I can’t get the Tina Turner & Rod Steward song with that name out of my head, but that is perhaps a story for another time.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Box

Price and Contents

Both sets are in the more affordable range with the café clocking in at 30 Euro suggested retail price for 292 pieces and the playground at 20 Euro for 210 pieces. As you would expect, that’s not necessarily the “real” price and they can be had for notable discounts. The café can be bought for 20 Euro or less and the playground will set you back a mere 12 Euro if you’re lucky. Aside from my usual Scrooge-y-ness out of necessity this seems much more in line with what you expect, as the original prices seem rather random and arbitrary. One set is basically just a simple house cubicle while the other is a collection of small objects to decorate a scene. The official pricing just does not compute in my head in terms of value for money, regardless whether you pin that on the number of pieces, their size or the overall volume of stuff.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Overview

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way right away with the café is the shortage of animals. If this is an adoption opportunity, a measly three creatures just doesn’t cut it. This would then be a “take it or leave it” scenario and people would be disappointed. That’s like going to the animal shelter and only being shown the “problem dogs” nobody wants. There should definitely be at least double the number of pets in this set and this really shouldn’t be a problem, given that there are enough molds and color variants available. Incidentally, the playground fares much better in this regard and getting two baby kittens and a dog almost feels luxurious for such an affordable set.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Overview

The Café

Right away I have to admit that the LEGO version of the adoption café is nothing like I would have envisioned it. I never had any pets myself for a million reasons that are too boring to go into, but I’m friendly with most cats and dogs and have been playing around with the idea on and off in my head. That being the case, I also had a pretty clear picture of what I would the adoption process to be and what the potential venues for this should look and feel like. This certainly does not meet those criteria I envisioned!

Most importantly it just doesn’t have that positive, cosy vibe I’d expect. I basically would want to sit quietly in a corner and watch the little buggers from afar, waiting for a few of them to come up to me and then see how we respond to one another. None of this feeling is present here. It feels like a normal walk-in shop where you’d just pick an animal and then take it home. It all looks rather sterile and there’s neither enough room for the humans to actually sit down nor the pets to perch themselves or get engaged in activities. this could easily have been avoided had they designed it similar to Emma’s Art Café (41336) from a few years ago. Extending at least on side with an additional 6 x 8 plate or something like that to get an L-shaped design would have worked wonders!

This is another gripe I have here – everything looks terribly symmetric/ mirrored, in particular from the exterior. An asymmetrical design in line with the Golden Ratio rule would have looked much better. Conversely, if at least they had decked out one side of the front with, say, three windows, things would look quite different. That also goes for the color scheme. Even if it’s not the most pleasing combination, using Lavender and Magenta stripes could have worked when limited to one side. The other side could then have had a different stripe pattern or a wall in a simple single color. On that note, I also think that the Green floor does not work that well. This should be in Dark Tan or even Light Bluish Grey to not be as distracting, as the model already is way too colorful for its own good.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), New Door

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), FiguresA small, but noteworthy detail is the new door type with the cat/ dog flap. It apparently appeared first in White in the Home Alone (21330) set and debuts in Dark Purple here. On the subject of colors, there’s a new skin color in the LEGO portfolio, used here for Priyanka (right figure), clearly a girl of Indian/ Bangladeshi descent as the name implies, clichéed as it may be. I have some more thoughts on the color itself and the reasoning behind it in a separate paragraph at the end 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Schnauzer Dog I still try to collect as many LEGO animals as possible, so I’m always pleased to see new molds appear, even if lately I prefer the crisper, sharp-edged City versions over the more softly rounded Friends variants. The little Schnauzer/ (Scottish) Terrier is a nice addition to the catalog and should prove popular.

 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), BicycleThe bicycle should look familiar to regular readers of my blog, as it was included in White in the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444). For the time being this Bright Light Orange version is only available in two sets, certainly someone with a permanent LEGO city might appreciate having it to add interest to its bustling streets.

 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Outdoor Table The small table for the outside is an okay build, but really only your boring standard stuff. You’ve seen it a million times and this merely varies the them by using transparent round bricks, not solid color ones.

 

 

 

 

I’ll never make friends with stickers on brick-built models, but at least I can appreciate some of the effort that goes into designing the artwork, so this is a situation where once more really wish at least some of these motives came as prints on the elements. The thing that baffles me the most is that in a set called Pet Adoption Café they couldn’t manage to print the “Adopt me!” poster at least. If nothing else (considering that it’s on a separate standee, anyway), it would have been a nice gag. Of course it would have been equally nice if the round tiles were printed. I still have a hard time imagining kids in the target demographic putting on those stickers perfectly centered.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Stickers

The Playground

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), FiguresSince there is so little actual play content in the café, either digging out extra pieces and animals from your own stock or buying more sets will be required. For the purpose of this review (and my own ambitions for absorbing the pieces in my collection later) I opted for the latter, which might be LEGO‘s devious plan here, anyway. Doing so will give you another two minidolls and three more pets and that alone is a major improvement. The figures are just your standard Andrea and her sister Liz, but they have at least new prints.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), TrashcanThe smallest side build in this set is a little trash bin for collecting the dog poop. While it may not look like much it is already notable in that a) the Lime Green trash can is a new color for this piece and b) the dish element in the same color also hasn’t been around since 2017 according to Bricklink.

 

 

The seesaw and carousel are extremely basic, but do what they are supposed to. They’re built onto the new 8 x 8 round plates in Tan, an element previously only seen in White in the DOTS Creative Party Kit (41926) where they serve as the lids to the “cupcake” containers. The interesting observation here is that likely we’re only getting them in this set, because they’ll also be used in the upcoming Orchid (10311) plant set (inside the pot) and LEGO already have produced large batches of them.

The counter-thesis to that is the gate with the turnstile where they cheapened out and have you assemble the base from two of the Lime Green half-plates that have been around forever. In this case it works okay, because ultimately there is not that much here that would necessitate a more robust construction, but it would have been nice. Maybe the situation changes once the stock of the half-plates has depleted and they switch production. On the positive side, they actually managed to include the only textured element, the signage on the entry gate, as a print. I guess there’s a threshold where printing a single tile is cheaper than producing a sticker sheet, after all.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Gate

The main attraction is the play castle, of course and this is full of little surprises in terms of what pieces are used, even if the build itself is just as simple. I was really taken aback, when I realized the 1 x 1 x 3 brick in Medium Nougat was a new color. They’re used in droves in every Friends set and I could have sworn I’ve seen them before! Other such recolors are the corner panels used for the sandbox and water pool, respectively. The rest is standard stuff and this builds in a breeze. I don’t know much about dog training, obviously, but personally I’m missing a bridge/ balance board on the whole thing where you would condition your dog not to be afraid of heights.

The New Color

LEGO are pretty bad when it comes to “representation” in the broadest sense with many product series propagating outdated tropes and stereotypes, parts of the populace being underrepresented or ignored, their weird pretentious “family friendly” policies just sweeping things under the rug and occasional cultural appropriation having some funny side effects. Now of course the Friends theme is guilty as charged and a prime example for many of those things such as adhering to outdated role models for girls and women.

Portraying different ethnicities and people of color has also been a particularly weak point not just in Heartlake City, with a sweeping majority of minifigures and minidolls being girls of the Caucasian type, i.e. having white/ pale skin. The irony here is that this is a problem they created for themselves a long time ago when they started moving away from just using yellow minifigure heads for licensed themes such as Star Wars and they had to find a way to accommodate all those skin tones. Heck, before it was deemed inappropriate and they gave them the Nougat moniker (though here too it could endlessly be argued what Nougat actually is, given that the same word means different things in different countries), they were even called Flesh.

They’ve certainly made some progress on that in the last two years with more more figures having darker skin tones and more diverse hairstyles and facial expressions, but it is still a far cry from encompassing some demographics. One very obvious omission from the color book was the very specific skin tone prevalent in the South Asian regions, meaning India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar and a few other countries. It’s not quite the dark browns and blacks of African Americans, but also not the lighter orange-ish/ light brown color that Hispanics and people of mixed heritage often have.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), New Skin ColorThis little problem has now been rectified by introducing a new color. LEGO calls it Medium Brown and it’s placed somewhere between Reddish Brown and Medium Nougat. I tried, but my camera definitely is quite limited, so the specifics of the color don’t come out as clearly in a photo, but you’d definitely see it when you have it in front of you. The color itself actually feels more like a Dark Brown (rightmost brick in the top row) that has been lightened with White since it does not share the reddish tinge of the neighboring colors. It’s more of a “cool” or “neutral” color like the aforementioned Dark Brown or for that matter also Dark Tan.

Now of course as always when LEGO introduce a new color there is a grander plan behind it and while using it for figures only for a while would be just fine, they’ve already expanded its use. The LEGO ART set Elvis Presley “The King” (31204) already features 1 x 1 round tiles in this color as well. That gives me hope that not too far in the future we may also see other elements like plates and bricks appear in this color in other packages, as not too long ago someone seems to have had some sort of epiphany and realized that “skin colors” look nice for other things as well when used with care. The Boutique Hotel (10297) is proof of that. With that in mind one would hope that Medium Brown will be used to similar effect as yet one more option for wood elements, facades, trees and so on or as a substitute e.g. in the Architecture series when Dark Brown might look too much like Black due to the scale effect. If LEGO are smart about it and commit to this, I can see a multitude of uses here.

Disclaimer: None of this is meant to be in any way racially or ethnically insensitive, so please let me know if I used poor wording or wrote something offensive while trying to explain my train of thought.


Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately this is one more case where LEGO just didn’t get it right. You could argue about the subject and how they have infantilised something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but that’s not the point since the children won’t make much of it, anyway. However, you can question their design and business decisions and this is where for me things don’t really work. The smaller playground set is okay and could be used in conjunction with other sets as well, but the adoption café? That’s why I feel it would have been a much better decision to merge these two packages into one, refine and change a few things and sell it for 40 Euro as a more wholesome set. Given how things are currently, you would have to spend that money, anyway, and that’s basically what you should plan for: If you want to get the café, you can’t possibly avoid buying a complimentary set. The playground would be one of the more affordable options, though not necessarily the only one.

Rabbit Invasion – LEGO Friends Magazine, March 2022

The date when Mr. Easter Bunny will be visiting is still a ways off, but his next of kin are already here thanks to the March 2022 edition of the LEGO Friends magazine.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Cover

Rabbits are of course pretty cute – most smaller breeds, anyway. Even I can’t escape their quirky charm whenever I’m at a small petting zoo or visiting relatives. On the other hand, they are pesky little buggers and notoriously prone to falling ill with all sorts of weird infections, so keeping them is not as easy as it sounds and as this magazine makes it look. You might need to be prepared for that if your kid falls in love with the idea and keeps pestering you about it. 😉

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Comic

As always the comic is so-so, with the best moments/ best panels being the ones where the girls don’t annoy the heck out of everyone by being in view like someone tried to zoom in on their teenage girl pimples, a.k.a. puberty acne. Otherwise it’s just the usual combination of cheap soap opera level writing, the girls seemingly wearing the same clothes everyday and some harebrained stuff going on in Heartlake City. Funny enough the car shown in the comic bears quite a bit of similarity to the recent Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), though in reality it would be even smaller than that.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Comic

Thankfully there’s loads of other pages such as this info page on a few rabbit varieties, several coloring bits and a few quizzes/ puzzles, of course. This makes the whole thing tolerable, as clearly the comic alone doesn’t hold a candle to provide enough interest.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Info

The poster with the two baby rabbits snuggling up to each other is also quite okay, while the back side has just yet another umpteenth group shot of the girl gang.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Poster

The extra is a small enclosure for the rabbit such as you would likely have at home if you were to have such a small critter. It even has a small drinking spout. The colors are interesting, since the flap element used for the slide is in Bright Light Blue, a rare variant. There’s also a single 1 x 2 plate in that same color. I guess we’re just lucky that LEGO came out with a few sets using those pieces last year and we can profit off surplus stock here. Something similar could be said for the rabbit droppings, which are Dark Brown, not the more common Reddish Brown. Again we have to thank the ART sets for them being available at all in this color. The yellow corrugated bricks mimicking the hay/ straw are also nice. I only have a few from other sets and every bit helps to expand my parts stock, obviously.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Extra

The general shortcomings of this publication notwithstanding, this issue is one of the better ones. It isn’t as atrociously “teenage fantasy” as some others and there’s enough content aside from the comic to warrant a purchase. There are even a few unique pieces, which make me a happy camper.

Plant a Tree, Save the Planet? – LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707)

It’s been a minute since I last reviewed a LEGO Friends set and that has a lot to do with the rather atrocious “Magical Funfair” theme that just didn’t appeal to me both in terms of value for money and overall design aesthetic. The new early 2022 releases at least improve upon the latter, but not necessarily the former. It’s probably safe to say that unless it falls out of the sky for free, I won’t be reviewing a 150 Euro set like the Main Street Building (41704) and I’m not too certain about the Canal Houseboat (41702) and Friendship Tree House (41703), either, given that they have a lot of large compound parts like ship hulls and “tree” shells that I have no use for. Anyway, we’ll have top see how that goes, but for now let’s see what the Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707) does offer.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Box

Price and Contents

Sadly, LEGO have become very greedy lately and the pandemic with its supply chain issues and high demand because everyone is at home has been playing into their hands. This is also manifest in this set.

A 30 Euro price tag for 336 pieces may not look that unusual at first, but you can tell just by looking at the official promo images or my overview shot that many of these are just either small 1 x 1 pieces or insignificant standard elements that can be had for cheap on Bricklink. Except for a few more special parts it could be scraped together from other sources relatively easy for almost the same price. Our German LEGO price comparison site Brickmerge states a part-out value of around 45 Euro and that pretty much can only be blamed on some parts exclusive to this set like the Medium Azure slopes and a few items only found in other expensive sets like the 3 x 3 cylinders used here for the flower pots from Bowser’s Airship (71391).

With that said, of course the whole package thankfully can be had much cheaper at your favorite retailer. I got mine for 20 Euro, representing a 30 % discount, but lately it has dropped as far as 17 Euro for a 43 % price cut. As usual I would definitely recommend to get it as cheaply as possible, but I don’t feel bad about what I spent. While it may not offer a large number of pieces, it builds into two reasonably large models

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Overview

The Glasshouse

The first build in the set is a glasshouse/ greenhouse in which the sprouts and saplings are grown until they can be planted in the wilderness. My problem here is that while it captures the feeling of such a building, the model is way, way, way too small to count as a professional operation. In fact this looks more like one of those greenhouses a hobbyist gardener would bash together from used doors and windows of dilapidated houses, something I remember well from my youth growing up in Eastern Germany where building supplies were always in short supply and people had to make do with what they could find.

The whole situation isn’t helped by how the plants are represented – a few vines and lots of large leaf-based builds just don’t give that sense of actual trees, but rather cabbage and flowers being pre-grown. That said, the greenhouse is nice in its own right, but for all intents and purposes this is more a conventional garden house than anything seriously to do with growing trees. On the bright side, this is the first time in a long while where the triple-split large window elements have become available in White again and the angled roof windows come with transparent glassing, not Trans Light Blue, so there’s that. If you need multiples of those, buying this set more than once certainly could be an option with the right discounts.

As they say “The lady comes apart” and the individual sub-assemblies can be placed separately for play such as they are. It doesn’t necessarily make that much sense, but is always a good option for the kids. That being said, the feeling that there should be more definitely lingers, in particular in terms of actual trees. There easily could have been another bit of soil with some tree stalks on it. This becomes even more apparent once you actually start to play with the two potted bushes/ trees to place them on the truck or elsewhere. This goes so far as the underlying plate assembly breaking up since the pots are also used as a structural element to hold the round plate and an extra 2 x 6 plate together. This is genuinely a major design flaw!

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Glasshouse, Separated Parts

The Truck

We’re seeing trucks a plenty across all of LEGO‘s series and this therefore could easily be just another one of them. However, no matter how tired this trope may be, this little truck feels fresh enough to be interesting. I in particular like the compact, short design which makes it look cute. It’s a bit too large in scale to truly count as one of those small utility trucks such companies or public service providers maintaining parks and such often have. This is even more obvious since this is supposed to be an electrical car and the engineering metrics don’t make sense then. Still, not the worst LEGO truck I’ve seen.

Despite its other qualities, the color scheme of the truck slightly bugs me. I get it – with Olivia being the main protagonist they had to have her color scheme somewhere in this set, but clearly there is an over-abundance of Medium Azure in Heartlake City due to this color being used by multiple girls and I feel that they could have changed up the formula here in the interest of presenting something fresh. In keeping with the ecological subject I think this would have been a wonderful opportunity to give us a Yellowish Green vehicle. My reasoning here is that many electrical cars have very fashionable colors to distinguish themselves from conventional fuel cars, anyway, plus the color would help to communicate what it is all about. Alternatively Bright Green would also have been nice, as many such companies and agencies purposely use it.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Truck, Cockpit

One advantage of the oversized car is that both figures fit in it, further adding play value. The roof can easily be removed for full access. Now of course the short car has to have one disadvantage and that is that despite there being provision for two attachment points, not both flower pots can be loaded onto the cargo bed without getting in the way of each other or the small hydraulic crane interfering. The latter is also rather awkward to use and cannot be extended far enough for actual loading, so you may want to consider just leaving it off. Removing the crane would free up the one extra row of studs you’d need to move the jumper plate forward and then finally you could plug on both pots. This may have more play value for your child than clinging to the crane.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Truck, Cargo Bed


Concluding Thoughts

The elephant in the room is of course a simple question: What does this set actually have to do with tree-planting? It seems LEGO intentionally mislabeled this set to cater for the zeitgeist of presenting an eco-friendly image. Only too bad that things aren’t that simple even if the package actually resembled what it promises. We can plant trees all we want, but it won’t save the planet without other measures alongside! This really kind of riles me up…

My personal peeves aside this is certainly a pretty decent set if you take it for what it is – an interesting spin on (professional) gardening and green keeping that just can’t quite decide what it wants to be. A larger greenhouse would have improved this massively and if you have the cash, I would definitely recommend to at least try and buy a second set to bash something together that has a little more space. Otherwise it’s just fine and has enough play value for the intended demographic.

Similarly, the truck is good, but still could have been better with minor changes and a different color scheme might even have attracted people that don’t buy Friends sets otherwise. It really feels like a missed opportunity to bring something new to the Heartlake community. So for better or worse this set is “just fine”, when it could have been really great…

Bad Hair Day – LEGO Friends Magazine, January 2022

Have been a bit lazy around the end-of-year holidays, so apologies for the rather belated review of the latest LEGO Friends magazine issue, technically representing the first 2022 edition, of course.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2022, Cover

The beauty of the Friends magazines is that there’s not much to write and I’m done quickly because they usually re rather *meh*, anyway, and this one makes it even easier by literally being the laziest of lazy efforts. The hair styling theme ties into the comic as part of the preparations for a party, but that’s pretty much it. Otherwise the comic and the ugly characters remain an acquired taste at best. Interestingly, though, there are bits in there that show that the artists could draw better stuff if only someone let them.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2022, Comic

There’s a few puzzles, inevitably, and a bunch of activity pages such as this coloring spread, some “connect the dots” stuff and one where you are supposed to scribble in hair styles on top of Emma‘s and Andrea‘s heads.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2022, Coloring Page

The poster’s are okay-ish with the front one being a montage of sorts of existing character one-shots and the back showing a hairdressers threesome. In fact I probably should have picked that one for display here.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2022, Poster

The extra is just the umpteenth collection of the well-known make-up and hair styling utensils we’ve seen so many times, but on the bright side there’s at least golden pistol/ nozzle/ bar elements for the arm rests on the chair. The Magenta hair piece is also nice, as it otherwise can only be found in the Magical Funfair Roller Coaster (41685) set. If you’re into customizing minifigures/ minidolls, respectively, this could be the one decisive factor to get this magazine.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2022, Extra

To say this issue is disappointing would be an understatement even by the low standards we’ve come to expect from the Friends magazines, so I definitely would not urge you to buy it except for the reasons I mentioned regarding the buildable parts. In the tenth year of the Friends series existing, at least the mag could use a major overhaul…