Only in the Blue Night – LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night (21333)

Though I rarely give them credit for it, LEGO are occasionally on a lucky streak and among a sea of mediocre or terrible Star Wars, Super Heroes and Friends sets there are little gems. The recent The Mighty Bowser (71411) was one of them and now we have Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night (21333). That in itself is extra remarkable as the LEGO Ideas series is also in a bit of a slump with way too many not so great sets like the ones based on TV series, films and games or the recent tabletop kicker game, which really was not well received by anyone.

Now here’s the thing with this one: I’m not a fan of LEGO ART, either, and as you know I also have strong opinions on DOTS and stuff like the Botanical Collection. This has nothing to do with that I dislike doing creative painterly stuff with LEGO, it’s more that I despise the way it’s positioned as decoration and for my taste there’s not necessarily a recognizable effort to do the arts justice. That’s why this one appealed even more to me: You can see that thought has gone into how to represent all the brush strokes and details without merely dissolving them into what equates a low resolution pixel raster.

I wanted this set from the day it was announced, being that I’ve always been a fan of modern impressionism and van Gogh in particular. I have fond memories of visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and it’s simply amazing seeing some of those paintings in reality with their thick layers of paint and sculpted brush strokes. So let’s see what the model holds for us.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333), Box

Pricing and Contents

This is one of the bigger LEGO Ideas sets at 2316 pieces and this inevitably affects the price. Its MSRP is 170 Euro and as so often I don’t agree on that. You do get a lot of pieces and yes, the finished product has a certain weight, but at the end of the day this is once more a case of many, many small elements constituting the bulk of the pieces and those not really falling under the 10 Cent per piece rule. Since we can never really have nice things without LEGO giving us the middle finger, of course things are further complicated by this package only being available from them directly and a handful of select retailers. Luckily, one of them regularly runs special sales and so I got my chance to pick this up a few days before Christmas for 125 Euro. And wouldn’t you know it – that same seller just this week had another “start of the new year” sale where it could be had for 115 Euro. So it’s not impossible to get a good price, but you have to be patient and wait for the opportunity to strike.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333)


The only minifigure in the set is the master himself, Vincent. They went a bit crazy with the hair by making it a bright orange when the reality likely is that he was just a normal ginger with a Dark Orange tint. At least it makes the figure stand out. The printed tile feels admittedly a bit lame, not least due to the studs. I would have preferred a nice 6 x 6 tile or even bigger, possibly with a MoMa logo on it.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333), Figure

The presentation is also rather uninspired and just looks ugly. Vincent should be standing on a small hill looking down in the valley and I think they could have somehow come up with a solution to that effect and included a few more pieces.

The Painting

One thing you must be aware of right from the outset that actually building this painting is not much fun most of the time. The actual level of pain vs. happiness will depend on which parts you are currently working on, naturally, but even then you may find yourself only stacking 1 x 1, 1 x 2 and 2 x 2 elements. Things can get really tedious really quickly. Since these days I have trouble concentrating for long durations, anyway, I spread my assembly process across multiple afternoons/ evenings and that’s perhaps a methodology you should employ as well. Thankfully this is helped by many of the sub-sections being just modules that are built individually before being combined.

The process starts out with the part that is going to protrude the most, the tree at the right of the image, or more specifically not the tree itself, but the landscape behind it. This and the background are also pretty much the only area that you build conventionally upright with curved slopes and all that, whereas the other segments massively use sideways building techniques and other trickery. Most of it is just preparation for the later addition of the tree behind which a good part of this section will be hidden, so it isn’t the most complex and most detailed section, anyway.

The second major step is the lower left area of the painting and this is perhaps the most annoying phase of the whole venture. It’s layers upon layers of round plates, 1 x 1 studs and quarter tiles. This takes forever and somehow you always think you’re finished only to discover that the next page of the instructions has yet more for you to do. In the end it’s worth it, but it seriously drags on.

By contrast building the background is a walk in the park as you kind of mindlessly just stack 1 x 4 plates, only interrupted by having to insert a few brackets and smaller plates every now and then. At the same time it’s a bit of a drain on the brain, as you need to pay a lot of attention to not mix up colors while your thoughts are drifting over this repetitive work. The bags are the ones with the number 5 and you have two of them filled to the brim with Blue plates alone and then there’s still the other ones.

I made a little oopsie and somewhere wrongly used a Dark Blue plate too many where it should have been a regular Blue one, but it didn’t stand out negatively and I didn’t want to spend my time backtracking where I went wrong, so I left it in there. If this happens more than in one spot and the irregularities in the flow of the pattern become too noticeable you possibly can’t avoid having to fix at least some of the mistakes.

With the basic painting done you then have to build the frame onto which later to plug the “canvas” similar to how it works with real paintings. Interestingly enough many of van Gogh‘s paintings were never properly framed when they first were created because he didn’t have the money for it or didn’t want them to be framed, so the design of the frames is pretty much arbitrary and more a decision of the curators and owners of the art pieces. The black frame apparently came about as a result of the image being cleaned up and undergoing restoration work after it had been displayed in some ugly golden frames for decades.

This is of course beneficial for re-creating it in LEGO and the designers have done a good job. The frame is very sturdy and easy to build and similar to the background you don’t need to stress your brain too much. It is built mostly from large elements such as a ton of 2 x 8 and 1 x 16 bricks and of course all the slopes. The edges are capped off with the rounded 1 x 4 slopes and matching corner elements as they were introduced last year e.g. in the LEGO Architecture Singapore (21057) set or the DOTS message boards (41951 and 41952). There is  provision to put the picture on the wall with a hanger, but I feel that this is better presented standing on a shelf or in a showcase where you can look at it from slightly above and still see all the details you built.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333), Back

This is also the point where I would have to come up with a serious complaint. The “canvas” is affixed into the frame using these T-style brackets and while there are enough of them and everything is stable once you actually manage to press them on hard enough, doing exactly that is a bit of an exercise, especially if you’re free-handing things and don’t work on a flat table. There’s also no real locking of everything, so it’s easy enough to push out the insert. I almost managed to ruin my day in such a situation and could barely manage to catch the painting so it didn’t drop to the floor. That is to say that once you’re at this stage this becomes a matter of handling the model with two hands like a tablet to prevent disaster.

With the frame in place you’re getting closer to the finish line and the cloud swirls are added. This is where the limitations of working with 90 degree angles really show as everything still looks a bit blocky despite the designer’s best efforts to disguise everything with slopes and stair step approximations. This is one of those things where alternate brick manufacturers that have direction inverters and other elements would have an advantage. Here again I made a minor mistake using a Light Aqua plate somewhere instead of a Bright Light Blue one, so I had to resort to my own stock to account for the wrongly used plate.

The final steps are just plugging on the various discs for the stars and moon an d then finishing up the trees so they can be slid into the place you constructed at the very beginning. The group of cypresses is another minor weak spot owing to the way it’s built. To keep things slender it’s only a bunch of alternating slopes with a few thing plates and as a result some areas only overlap by one or two studs. As you would imagine that makes it easy to accidentally break them off.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333), SparesAfter all your toiling you’re left with a bunch of intentional spares in addition to the usual small extra bits. These are from the background step and you should basically have two 1 x 4 plates of every color used there along with a few 1 x 2. Since I made some errors this doesn’t work out as it should have, apparently. That in fact made me wish they had thrown in two spare elements of each color, including the ones I made a mess with.

Concluding Thoughts

The result is rewarding, but the road is a long and rocky one for this set. That’s why no doubt it also isn’t for everyone. It’s not just that you have to have some interest in the artistic side of things, but also a lot of patience. This doesn’t offer any instant gratification especially due to the complex and long-winded assembly process. After this even I think I will not go near a similar project for a while and focus on stuff that’s more fun. That said this is still a gorgeous set. Too bad the price is a bit off-kilter and will deter some people from buying it. In the 100 Euro range this could have been a real smash hit.

Got some Hunny? – LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326)

My brother and I are and have been super fans of Disney‘s Winnie the Pooh. As to how and why it happened is in itself strange, given that we grew up in a former Eastern block country and only both got to watch this stuff when we were teenagers, but I guess somehow we took a liking to this quirky, peaceful and naive world. Even today we buy all kinds of paraphernalia such as calendars or the occasional toy figure, we regularly watch the Halloween and Christmas specials on DVD and poke fun at each other with quotes and cues from the animated series on our birthday greeting cards. All that considered, it seemed inevitable that one day the LEGO Ideas Winnie the Pooh (21326) would find its way into our homes and thanks to our shared obsession it was also a sharing of costs, making this much more attainable for me, despite breaking my usual 50 Euro ceiling for any given set.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Box

Artsy Instructions

As a LEGO Ideas project this is of course based on the design of someone who may just be as crazy about the little yellow bear as I am and to transport that feeling the instruction booklet has received some extra love by including some custom graphical artwork. The style is more in line with the original A. A. Milne versions, though depicting the Disney characters. On the initial release for LEGO VIP members you could also get some limited edition art prints in the same style, but with the protagonists being minifigure-ized. They go now for insane prices and I almost regret not having ordered this on the first day, but of course it’s easy to say this in hindsight.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Artwork

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Artwork

Pricing and Contents

The set comes in a nice easy to open lid box as they are common for Ideas and Architecture sets, so you can keep it around for later without destroying anything. To my surprise the box was quite a bit smaller than I had anticipated, but at least it meant that carrying it home with public transport after picking it up at the LEGO store was easier. 😉 Of course on some level the smallness of the packaging is logical with many elements in the set being 1 x 1, 1 x 2 and 2 x 2 despite the overall model building into a reasonable size.

At the heart of such a specially-themed license set based on a popular property of course there are the minifigures of which there are five. That is more or less okay as an average value, but I personally feel that there could have been at least two more. Let’s face it, half of the ideological and real monetary value are the figures. It wouldn’t even be that hard to come up with candidates, as outside the original canonical characters there have been a few notable extras over time.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Overview

This set is available from LEGO directly and a few select partners, but in the latter case apparently in somewhat limited numbers. So far this seems to have prevented anyone from granting notable discounts and it costs 100 euro very much everywhere. Hence currently there can be no real discussion over discounts since there simply aren’t any and the only real question is whether those 1265 pieces are worth the price to you.

As a fan I’m biased on the matter and even without my brother chipping in and sharing the financial burden I might have bought it eventually. More realistically, though, this definitely feels like a 85 Euro set or even just 80 Euro. I simply struggle to rationalize the higher price with so many small standard parts being used.

The Minifigures

As already written, the minifigures represent the original cast of characters with Pooh himself, Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit and Eyeore. Out of necessity they all have at least completely new molds for the heads with Eyeore having gotten a whole mold for his body. While I think it’s the best way to represent the eternally depressed monkey it has the disadvantage of only allowing a static pose. The head is also molded integrally, so there would not be an opportunity to substitute it for one on the rare occasions he actually has a happy smile.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Minifigures

Of the other figures, Tigger and Rabbit are the better ones. regrettably something is off with Piglet and Pooh, even though I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think Pooh‘s eyebrows are simply a bit misplaced and the top edge too sharp while for Piglet the head is just a tad too round. It should be more elongated and skinny. The fearful little pink guy is of course also the one who suffers most from being represented with a minifigure, even one with the shortest leg.

Point in case: Piglet is many times smaller than the others and also overall more like a slinky rag doll rather than a “fat” plushy. It would have been nice had they included a second version more to scale based on the child minidolls introduced last year in Friends and Disney sets. This might have been a fun experiment, but again, it should have been a redundant figure in addition to the minifigure, not to replace it.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Minifigures

As renditions of characters from an an animated series or comic book there aren’t hat many extra details, molded or printed, but the ones that are there are perfectly fine. The prints are crisp and have sufficient opacity (at least in my set) and a few elements like Eyeore‘s mane are even dual-molded. The complementary add-ons like Piglet‘s scarf or that notorious red balloon are created from standard elements otherwise readily available in LEGO‘s portfolio

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Minifigures

The House

Winnie the Pooh and all of his friends more or less live in houses the represent hollowed out caverns inside and under trees or underground. However, neither of these abodes are ever fully fleshed out in the animated series or any of the accompanying materials that I know. It’s all made up on the go according to the specific needs of an episode or story. That leaves lots of room for interpretation and the way LEGO and by extension the original fan designer chose to design this set is only one of many possibilities.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Front Right View

The layout they went for is based on a Disney interpretation of the original Milne version, where the doorway is formed by two trees that have grown together and behind them a bit of a rough, wood-shingled roof can be seen. That is pretty much as far as it gets “canonical” in this context. Everything else was added or introduced later. on top of it of course to even make it viable to turn this into a LEGO model the tree had to be trimmed down massively or else it would easily have taken another 1000 pieces just to recreate its appearance.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Front Left View

For the tree itself the designers went to some lengths to make it look asymmetrical and organic, but ultimately this is really just limited to the front facade and the disguise quickly falls apart once you move on to the back where owing to the actual house everything is perfectly mirrored. this is no doubt a concession to stability requirements and again not wanting to add yet another ton of parts for building an extra foundation so the building could possibly have been made to look more embedded in the ground and placed at an angle.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Aft Left View

The symmetry is broken up ever so slightly by using different color patterns and arranging a few exterior details differently. Contrary to what you may think the roof is also not the most tedious section of this build, despite the many small slopes used for the shingles. In fact this goes together pretty easily after you have struggled to get the underlying construction right, which in my opinion is much more of a pain because your build it integrally with the tree section to which it is attached directly with hinges. This complicates aligning things and snapping them into place.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Aft Right View

Aside from the main tree house there’s only one small side build, which is a sign post directing you toward Pooh‘s house. As usual I didn’t use any of the stickers, but at least you can place one of the four custom printed honeypots on it.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Way Sign

Speaking of prints, the only other special element exclusive to this set is the Mr. Sanderz name tile, Pooh‘s in-story secret name (which nobody ever calls him, anyway). The front area before his door also alludes to his “Thoughtful Spot” with the tree log he’s sitting on and the small fire used to grill marshmallows. As you can see, on the model this also has been used to add enough studs and jumper plates so you could place all of the minifigures here to pose for a group photo, as I probably should have done for the sake of this article. 😉

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Front View, Door

The green mounds on either side use some interesting sideways building and feature a considerable number of those 2 x 2 x 1 corner slopes to create the illusion. Quite generally this set uses a lot of interesting building methods and to that effect also some exclusive parts like the two Medium Nougat curved 2 x 2 tubes, some Reddish Brown curved slopes or the grey variant of the 1 x 1 flower stud in invisible places. The roof also features the largest number of Dark Orange 1 x 2 slopes found in any set so far.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Rear View

As mentioned earlier, the roof is not the most annoying part of this set, but rather the lower section of the tree and the transition to the house. To some extent this can be seen from the outside already, especially on the right side where you might get an idea of how tricky it can be to build arches upon arches.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Right View

the tree itself uses a ton of them in Medium Nougat, complemented by Dark Tan elements for shaping and covering up the rather involved SNOT construction underneath. It’s pretty ingenious in that it manages to construct the angled side faces in a very crammed space. I found this step rather challenging, as due to the lack of room there are many 1 x1 elements and the slightest misalignments will come back later to haunt you when you need to plug the individual chunks onto the studs. You should definitely take your time for this.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Tree, Rear View

The leaf canopy is built up from multiple identical sub-assemblies that use freshly recolored Reddish Brown clips and matching 1 x 1 round hinge plates/ studs. To add volume and density, leaves are mounted onto the coral element introduced two years ago in LEGO Friends, this time in an also exclusive to this set recolor in Bright Green.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Tree, Top

Hidden among the leaves are two bee hives, with the little stingers having been represented as printed tiles. For my taste there could have been a lot more with different designs (including facing in the opposite direction), as Pooh being chased by bees while hunting for his beloved Hunny is of course a running gag throughout the series.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Tree, Bee Hive

The interior is easily the weakest part of the set. It’s terribly crammed and most disappointing for me it does not have the oversized arm chair seen in many pictures and episodes when pooh is slumped in it and dozes off. I guess given the limited space it’s okay, but I really would have loved to see this iconic piece of furniture be represented better. Similarly, the bed should also be much more oversize, though admittedly they at least an interesting building technique using the minifigure candle element in Dark Blue.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Interior

Looking at the details, you can see that the roof indeed is just clipped on to some hinge elements after you finished it, making it indeed less of a chore than you may have thought. On the other hand these interior shots also reveal many more of those pesky arches, many of which stand free for a long time and make your life that more difficult.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Interior, Left SideLEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Interior, Right Side

Finally, the door is a custom build, which is nice not only because it looks more proper from the exterior but also opens up. Without opening the rear, though, it has almost no practical value as there’s not enough light coming through and you still see squat of the insides. You realyl have to make up your mind how you want to present the model.

LEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Interior, Door closedLEGO Ideas, Winnie the Pooh (21326), Interior, Door open

Concluding Thoughts

As a fan of the little yellow bear and his friends of course I’m a happy camper, but even I have to concede that this is perhaps not the most fun set to build. Some things just drag on forever, not least of all because you repeat a few steps over and over again e.g. for the leaf canopy or while building the tree trunk. In addition, the model is difficult to handle – both during the build and after finishing it. I would have much preferred if things were a little more modular and there was some way to plug the individual sections together based on pin connections.

In a similar vein, though on the opposite end, the tree is also problematic. Those leave clusters are built on the limits of what single-stud or single-clip connections, respectively, can hold and will come off easily and frequently when handling the model. This will become an issue latest when you need to dust it off after a while of having it on your shelf. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that this model is rather delicate in many ways and can be annoying to handle.

Based on my experiences I would not recommend this if you are just looking to pass time. There are better LEGO sets that are more pleasing to build and  also offer playable features, which this one is simply not meant for. It’s by all means a collectible model with some quirks that can cause aggravation and frustration. You may overlook and forgive them with a happy smile as a fan, but for an average customer there are better ways to enjoy their LEGO addiction.

Ambassador of Nothing anymore?

I rarely post any specific news from the dark LEGO underbelly, be that Ideas or the LEGO Ambassador Network (LAN), but this one kind of amused me, so I have to jot down some thoughts on the matter.

Since you no doubt most of you are much more social media savvy than myself this may be old news, but Ryan McCullough of M&R Productions on YouTube got indeed removed from the LAN “for reasons”. He’s talking about it in this video. To me that’s not much of a surprise as this has been brewing for quite a while and at the risk of sounding utterly pompous, the writing has been on the wall for this. It would have happened one way or the other. If you do a bit of research and look at my older blogs and stuff you know that I was reasonably well-known throughout certain spheres of the Internet and the long and short of it is that I know how the dance goes. Been there, done that.

First there’s of course this “Wanna play with the big boys? Gotta follow the big boys’r rules!” thing. Now we likely will never find out what exactly transpired, Ryan has always navigated on the edge of what may be possible within those rules. Personally I’ve never followed his videos that closely, so I’ll be careful, but apparently he’s at least slipped out a few things he better might have kept to himself. I’ve also often wondered how he got away with showing sets days or weeks before official release, even if he bought them himself in a store that unwittingly (or actively ignoring LEGO‘s “Don’t put on shelves before…” stipulations) already put them up for sale. I would well imagine that this caused quite some consternation. After all, you can say what you will, when you apply to become as an Ambassador, you pledge to adhere to specific rules.

Was it that bad, though? Somehow LEGO‘s stance in the matter is just as dubious. What seems to be going wrong here is that the LAN appears indeed more of a LEGO Advertising Network” rather than actually fostering a community. I’ve always already been extremely skeptical about those blogs and YouTubers telling me that a 400 Euro set they got for free is the hot shit, but now I’m going to be even more wary. If those minor disagreements and transgressions can’t be talked over and smoothed out, then what’s the point? It’s just weird that you would use such a system as an extension of your own corporate policies and only look to include people who agree with you, anyway, or have something to gain. Sometimes constructive dissent can be an asset, not a threat to your bottom line.

Either way, the positive news here is that M&R productions appear to stand on stable ground and their world won’t come to an end without those free packages dropping on their door. The interesting thing will be how it affects their view on LEGO as a whole. Maybe they’ve even held back in fact already and now we’re going to see even more “leaks” and ponderings on unreleased sets? Mmh…

The Fender Conundrum – MegaConstrux vs. LEGO?

A bit of weird news has made the rounds on ze Interwebs in the last two days that has a few people going “What?”. That specific news is Mega Construx announcing a brick-built model of a Fender guitar. Wait, what? Didn’t LEGO pick exactly this last year for one of their LEGO Ideas models? Exactly. And now you see the problem. Or is it?

The whole affair has LEGO fans in a tizzy, mostly wondering how this could even happen. The pertinent point here that this is mostly driven by those LEGOites often knowing virtually nothing about other market competitors (well, in a serious way outside bashing and condemning them, that is) plus a lot of assumptions about how licensing works (or doesn’t). As someone who has dabbled with Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx and certainly would love to get my hands on more of there models, if only the supply situation wasn’t so shitty here in Europe, I have my thoughts on the matter, which hereby I’m going to throw at you, dear readers.

First, there’s the timing. Theories run wild that Mega have done this to spite LEGO. I certainly don’t think that at all. To me it’s more a case of “First come, first served!”. In my view, Mega long had a licensing agreement before LEGO even chose to do a guitar on ideas. The reasoning here is that Mega are part of Mattel now and this could be part of a bigger licensing deal not specifically limited to brick models. Barbie with an official  Fender guitar seems an absolute possibility at this point. In addition you have to keep in mind how Mega Construx actually design and plan their products. It’s a much smaller company with fewer in-house designers and a different product portfolio. That means that they have far fewer products to work on and those take longer to create and put into production. So whatever you may think, this was very likely already decided some two years ago.

The other thing people like to rag on is Mega trying to “steal” something from LEGO, be that just diverting attention from whatever marketing they will have for their own product. This theory doesn’t hold up, either. at this point, unfortunate as it is, Mega Construx products can only be bought officially in the US and Canada in notable quantities. bar the occasional grey market import, this river is running dry here in Europe with no official distribution in place. With that in mind, why should they even care? The alleged big showdown with LEGO isn’t going to happen, as likewise, the Danes probably couldn’t care less. It won’t affect their own sales and even in the North American markets it will simply boil down to people who are interested in these guitar models simply buying both versions.

Of course these are just my random ponderings, but this will be an interesting little thing to watch. A comparative test would of course be awesome, but given the circumstances it will likely never pan out. Getting both sets and financing them would be quite a stretch, it seems…

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…

Not so hyper-active, but still…

As the year quickly nears its end, I figured I better start summing up my activities that so far have slipped under the radar and not been mentioned here for reasons such as obeying deadlines, working out details behind the scenes and not prematurely publishing stuff. All of that is now out of the way and I can share what little activities I have done.

Of course my output pales in comparison to others. I have no issues admitting that. Too many other things going on like making myself unpopular with posting way too much on blogs and forums (not just LEGO-related), dealing with my health issues and way too many other hobbies/ interests. However, occasionally I find myself particularly enticed and highly motivated to get my lazy ass up when there is stuff to win, not least because when there is sets to be had that under regular circumstances would be hard for me to buy due to limited finances. My Ornithoraptor entry for the respective LEGO Ideas contest didn’t go anywhere, but I don’t give up that quickly, so let’s see how I fared elsewhere.

2019 Contest Entry "Beyond the Brick Merchandise Graphic Design"

Early in the summer I participated in the Beyond the Brick merchandise design contest. Since they didn’t stipulate any specific rules of course this could be interpreted in a million ways and as someone who built plastic model planes in his youth and always admired the box art I thought I’d try to do something that might evoke a similar vibe with a “plane” zooming by a brick “mountain” peeking out of the clouds. I spent a few afternoons on this in Adobe Illustrator, but of course it’s merely a first draft. Looking at it now even I realize what’s wrong with it and definitely would approach it differently for a final design.

2019 Contest Entry "Star Wars"

Oddly enough somehow people seem to think that everybody has time during summer and so quickly after that design challenge the publishers of the LEGO Star Wars magazine, Blue Ocean, which of course you are familiar with when reading this blog regularly, launched a celebratory competition to honor their 50th issue. The only requirement was to build your favorite Star Wars scene with the grand prize being an UCS Millenium Falcon (75192). That sounds cool on paper, but the result was a major kick in the balls, to be honest.

To say that the contest was an utter debacle would be putting it mildly. After pre-selecting ten entries user were supposed to rate the ultimate winner on Facebook and that caused an uproar of outrage. The reason why is pretty straightforward: The people in charge seemed too busy to keep up the pretense that their magazine would only be read by kids of a certain age and so they picked a bunch of builds that matched that demographic. I have no problem with that, but this was an open contest and by all means the best model should have won, regardless of age. Worse still, many users commenting reported from their own kids, nices, grand children etc. that they had seen way better builds from them.

The end of the story? After all the negative backlash nobody ever since  heard again of the contest. I’m sure they were planning on drumming this up big in the magazine itself as well as other channels, but it really turned into a PR disaster that I’m sure everyone just wants to forget this embarrassment. I’m not even sure if any of the group of ten actually ever were picked as a winner and received their prize. I can only hope they learned their lesson and next time come up with clearer rules or multiple tiers/ categories to avoid such a mess.

2019 Contest Entry "(E)Island Holiday"

Finally, and to end this on a positive note, I did succeed in a contest and even made it to the number one spot with my “(E)Island Holiday”. That’s of course a bit of German/ English word play and would translate to “Ice- (Is-)land Holiday” in a very crude fashion. Again this was once more in the midst of the summer and there were no restrictions, so for me at least it was quite a challenge to even get it finished while struggling with the heat wave and sweating like an ox.

I didn’t particularly expect to win, but the idea of a toppled-over ice cone had been in my head for a while and this was the perfect opportunity to turn it into a model. Only after the first reactions began to praise it for it’s originality, I got a little nervous and began to hope for more. In the end it’s of course just another summer-y beach scene like so many other submissions, but I suppose that little twist makes all the difference. In any case, I’m glad it worked out…


Green Book Sexism

LEGO, we need to talk! Yes, I’m talking about that male-oriented marketing campaign on Facebook and Instagram that is causing quite a fracas here in Germany. Apparently it was a botched attempt at promoting a specific landing page on the website that already has existed for a while.

Now here’s the thing: I’m apparently a male and I like myself a bit of subtle, subversive, intellectual humor just as I like the occasional lewd, offensive, sexually infused joke when the situation just feels like it. However, referencing the Rough Terrain Crane (42082) and using phrases like “As complicated as women, just with instructions” and “4057 parts – that’s what we call well-endowed” is perhaps not really appropriate.

As a gay man I don’t even need to defend women by proxy even though this is apparently as misogynistic as it gets, but to a degree I’m taking it personal. A certain line has been overstepped here. I could accept those stereotypes (though they’d still be offensive) if LEGO was a home improvement store chain or sell shaving stuff, but clearly they are neither. Just the opposite – they usually go out of their way to present themselves as gender neutral toy company (though we could of course debate if that’s truly the case with series like Friends).

Aside from trivial things like kids possible getting to see the campaign and its distasteful bad jokes, it’s a marketing disaster for another reason: In times of financial struggle and dropping sales LEGO can’t possibly afford bad publicity. Now the old trope of “any publicity is good publicity” may apply, as without the uproar some people might not even have been aware of these things, but regardless, the damage is done.

Speaking of publicity – the LEGO world is abuzz with excitement about the latest Ideas set, the Pop-Up Book (21315), but I don’t quite feel like joining the chorus. Don’t get me wrong, I like the overall concept, but its execution in my view leaves a lot to be desired. Back then when the first news of this came out I made a remark on a forum or blog that it would all depend on how much “story” stuff comes with it for people to create their own little scenes and as far as that’s concerned, I think LEGO just got it wrong.

There’s only two tales – Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood – and while the scenes and minifigures look nice, I simply don’t consider it enough. It reminds me of the many overpriced Elves sets that mostly consist of simplistic, small medieval-looking tree houses that are just facades and then the rest of the set’s “value” is generated by the umpteenth big dragon in yet a different color and a ton of useless minifig accessories.

I feel it’s quite similar here – two-thirds of the parts go into the book/ box, and the rest seems like cheap dressing or an afterthought. If I had my way instead it would be the other way around. I might have settled for a simpler way to build the book and instead would have thrown in a huge “build your own story” bag with tons of parts. In fact I made a similar point already with the Creative Storybook (40291). They could just have re-used that idea. I could perfectly live without the pop-up mechanism.

Instead we now have two quite similar sets that both feel somehow incomplete and unfinished. In the end this could be an expensive proposition if you really plan on pimping this stuff as you might need to buy extra sets or do quite a bit of shopping for parts on Bricklink. I’m decidedly undecided whether I should even consider getting it eventually…

LEGO does something right with Ideas for a Change?

As I’ve said a couple of times I’m not the biggest fan of LEGO Ideas. It’s simply way too inefficient and the number of sets it produces is laughable, least of all ones that would interest me/ be relevant to me. That’s why I usually approach those official LEGO Ideas Review announcement days with more than just a bit of skepticism. Surprisingly enough, this time it seems this was unwarranted, at least on some level. Equally surprising this time two sets made the cut, so this is even better.

The first is the gianormous Treehouse. There hasn’t been any decent treetop-themed set ever since the Ewok Village (10236) if you don’t count smaller stuff like Mia’s Tree House, so this will be more than welcome. Personally I would just love to spend my weekends relaxing in such an abode, falling asleep with the wind gently rocking the tree and rustling the leaves, watching animals on the ground gather at sundown and all that good stuff, but here in Germany there are apparently not that many big forests to begin with, let alone enough hunky trees that could hold up such a contraption plus there would be all kinds of legal red tape, too. Therefore building such a set is the next best thing. Other interpretations are of course just as valid, as the design is more than just a tiny bit reminiscent of the Elves stuff seen in the Lord of the Rings movies. Lets just hope that the final polish and conversion to a producible set doesn’t kill off that magic by downsizing things too much.

The second set elected are The Flintstones. While the set overall is designed nicely, I’m a lot less enthusiastic here. It just feels like out of its place in time with even the last, rather bad live action movie (Viva Rock Vegas) being so far in the past. I also barely have any recollection of even a single actual episode beyond all those awful 60’s stereotypes and clichés and mostly remember it from the opening sequence. Strictly speaking from the LEGO side of course it comes with a ton of minifigures, which I don’t have much interest in, either, meaning half the set would be kinda wasted on me. Mind you, I like the stylized nature overall and it really has lots of lovely detail, I’m just not sure I can get behind the theme as a whole. If at all this will probably have to be a case of finding yourself “Aww, that’s cute” when seeing the actual built set in a LEGO store or so…

All things considered, however, this is quite a good turnout this time. The sets are significant and appealing enough to a larger crowd which means they should sell well and in turn perhaps not be super expensive. Should be interesting to find out when they hit the shelves!