Risen or Fallen?

Since it’s kinda relevant to LEGO, even if only tangentially, I figured I’ll sneak in my review of the latest Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker here. I won’t obsess about the sets too much, as the involvement of the various vehicles is rather minor, after all, but more on that later.

Going into the movie I did not have a particularly predetermined opinion. Of course I already had read and watched some written and video reviews and knew how potentially unsatisfying it could be, but suffice it to say the movie is not nearly as bad as those negative reviews make it sound in my opinion. Sure, it’s not without issues and has a lot of lapses in logic even by Star Wars standards with all its canon-vs. non-canon mess created when Disney took over and declared a lot of the old lore no longer valid, but it’s still enjoyable and, which I guess is important, structured well enough so even a casual fan like me can follow the story.

There’s no denying that the film is overstuffed, which contributes a lot to the inconsistencies and jumps. Now it would be unfair to totally bash Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi, as it sure has a few good moments, but the fact of the matter remains that it didn’t do much to progress the overall story arc and was to busy turning everything on its head when it didn’t need to. Had it not squandered so much valuable time with pointless story points, it most definitely would have been easier to tie up everything in episode IX without it feeling rushed.

Personally I was a bit miffed by the many, many unnecessary small cameos and guest appearances, too. It seemed everybody & their mum wanted to get one last moment on screen for bragging rights or was brought in as fan service, yet very few of those moments carried much meaning, either. It didn’t help that they also introduced several new characters that had to get their due as well. Arguably some of them were planted as seeds for spin-off movies to explore their past or send them on their own adventures, but still… It felt unnecessary.

The overall story isn’t anywhere as dramatic as the trailers made everyone think and Disney once more have proven that they are the masters of deceptive trailers, with many of the shots used in the trailers not being what you may have thought or more or less being pretty unimportant in the film itself. That goes for instance for the Knights of Ren who ultimately act as just another hunting party chasing the heroes, the much touted Sith Troopers, who are barely actually seen in the film but just as well applies to the secret fleet. The final battle is not even close as impressive or innovative as e.g. some stuff in Rogue One.

Probably owing to the overall forced nature of the script, the acting is quite terrible at times. Much was made of Palpatine‘s return, but to be honest, his appearances feel like extracts from some cheap B-movie. It’s just so over the top, at least I could never take it seriously. Similarly, a lot of dialog felt like it had been ripped from a textbook on what not to do in writing school. Some of it was extremely cheesy and the less Poe Dameron we get, the better. I’m sure it’s not Oscar Isaac‘s fault, but this is as one-dimensional as it gets. At least the interactions between Kylo Ren and Rey were pretty good. I even liked the idea of them actually physically sharing the world when communicating through the force.

The comedic elements felt a bit out of place. I didn’t mind Babu Frik, but the “hairdryer on a wheel”, D-O, really didn’t have to fill the “yet another cutesy robot” niche. Him having of course important info on where to find Palpatine‘s secret hideout was a bit too convenient. Likewise, the whole plot with C3-PO built around the same premise of deciphering Sith glyphs didn’t make too much sense. It also seemed to me they didn’t quite know what to do with BB-8 as well this time.

Visually the movie is of course pretty impressive, but these days with even Open Source 3D programs like Blender offering an unprecedented level of realism one can take that pretty much for granted, even more so on a 200 million dollar budget.My favorites include the ocean simulation on the planet where the Death Star crashed, which made me almost seasick, as well as some other environmental stuff. The space battles left me pretty underwhelmed and just felt too static. You know, those Star Destroyers lined up like ducks in a shooting gallery was perhaps not that believable, after all.

On that note: Of the vehicles you can buy as LEGO sets only a handful get notable screen time those being Kylo Ren‘s TIE Fighter, Poe Dameron‘s X-Wing and of course the Millennium Falcon. Most others have “blink and you’ll miss it” moments, are disguised and/ or can only be partially seen for the majority of the time or like the new Sith TIE Fighter with the triangular panels only appear as background filler. That makes it at times nearly impossible to judge the validity of LEGO‘s representation of these items and you’ll likely have to wait for one of those tie-in art books to come out.

So what’s the verdict? As much as the movie is riddled with flaws and shortcomings I still enjoyed it. However, there can be no denying that it could have been so much better. My biggest gripe is that JJ Abrams seems to indeed have been focused too much on pleasing a certain type of fans and it shows how things have been bent into place. It’s just too obvious that many characters didn’t need to be there and it’s equally apparent how some of the new characters along with open-ended story threads for existing ones were planted for future movies.

After all, most of the actors are quite young and there’s nothing speaking against another Rey-centered trilogy ten years down the line, as much as Disney may proclaim they have no plans for it currently. Mark my words – they’ll do it because passing up such an opportunity to make more cash would be stupid. Who knows, by that time we probably all have dissected The Rise of Skywalker and watched it a million times and the speculation game will start all over again…

Pony Carriage? – Beauxbatons’ Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958)

As someone not particularly into Harry Potter it surprises even myself how many of the respective LEGO sets I have bought lately, so here we go again with another one that ties right into The Goblet of Fire and the Trimagic Tournament. Specifically it’s themed around those short few moments when the contestants from other schools arrive, so we get Beauxbatons’ Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958) to represent the eponymous French school of magic and sorcery.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Box

As a non-fan I don’t put too much emphasis on all the details and my buying decision is merely driven by whether I like the overall appearance of a model and/ or how I may re-use the parts later. In those regards the set ticks a few points on the list with lots of pieces in useful colors and the overall design of the carriage being a nice generic baroque-ish coach.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Overview

The most noteworthy part about the figures is perhaps Hagrid which is not contained in too many sets. Of course there’s also Madame Maxime and two of her students, though the latter is a bit like that old Stormtrooper problem in Star Wars – you never have enough of them and some versions of them are extremely rare. In order to re-create the actual scene from the movie you’d need a lot more Beauxbatons.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Figures

Before we move on, let me get the most disappointing thing about this set out of the way – the horses. For the life of it I can’t fathom what madness drove LEGO to include thirty years old horses in such an otherwise beautiful and elegant set. This completely ruins the overall impression. Not only are the horses kinda child-ish looking and blocky, but compared to the carriage they look like ponies and not like the mighty steeds you see in the film. It’s really ridiculous.

Creating a dedicated new mold may sound a tall order, but given that LEGO sometimes come out with new animal molds where and when you least expect them, this idea doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it may sound. One can only wonder why they didn’t do it. In fact looking through Bricklink I’m almost inclined to think that this would have been a wonderful opportunity to dust off those old Belville molds, give them a work-over and use those horses.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Horses

The second, but much less bothersome caveat is that the carriage is more a generic one that would fit the European Baroque and Renaissance eras instead of being in any way representative of what’s actually in the movie. Of course a fair argument would have to be that this could be a more than valid interpretation strictly based on the books and that’s just fine. However, where the film is concerned it doesn’t capture the “flying palace” feel that the carriage evokes in the few shots where it can actually be seen. You know, not unlike with the Tardis from Dr. Who – larger on the inside than on the outside.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Aft Left View

The failure to communicate the actual “bigness” can mostly be attributed to the window arrangement. A quite conventional layout was chosen as opposed to the large tiled windows on the film prop that lead you to think this is more built like a tall (factory) hall with huge, multi-storied windows. Doing so would of course also have necessitated a larger chassis as well, so aside from the specific issue with the horses this also seems to me like they were trying to keep it at a specific smaller scale to also not have to worry about things like larger wheels and the pieces count reaching a level that would make it too expensive. All sensible measures, just not in line with what you get to see on screen.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Aft Right View

All that said, the model is still pretty gorgeous once you move on and ignore all those issues. Due to our history of Germany once having been a patchwork of smaller countries and regions and the kings, counts and earls trying to outdo each other, there are a lot of these pomp-laden, mostly decorative and representative carriages still to be found in museums and I’ve seen quite a few of them. It’s all lots of gold on black or white accentuated with gem stones and other colors, including lots of red velvet for the seating to represent royalty.

I’ve not yet seen a specific one in light blue (that would likely have been more of a Prussian mail coach or something like that), but it’s not impossible that something like that may have existed. In that regard if you are into this sort of thing the model would be more than an adequate representation. Conversely it may be more than fitting as a basic design for English, French or Italian carriages of certain historic eras. The details would differ and there would be a lot of specific customization and decoration, but overall this is so good you may just want to download the instructions and give it a try to build from your own parts.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Front Right View

The build process is quite enjoyable. A lot of it is of course building the left and right walls and while there are lots of repeating steps I found it never too tedious or boring. There are some interesting building techniques as well. Not particularly challenging and extraordinary, but well executed and used where it makes the most sense. One of my concerns for instance was that the “horns” might fall of easily, but they snap into place just fine and stay there unless you handle the model too roughly. There’s no denying that some of the parts require some extra care, though. The lamps and some of the other golden elements can easily be whacked out of alignment and need to be placed properly to look “nice” in the first place.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Open, Overview

The interior is nothing to write home about, but sufficient to accommodate the three representatives of the school, i.e. Mme. Maxime and the two student girls. The idea with the entire wall lifting up deserves some accolades and they even went so far to outfit it with a cabinet. It’s crammed, but lively.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Open, Top View

Once you dismiss the Harry Potter context and can do away with those awful horses you get a nice generalized carriage that can fit into many scenarios. However, it’s definitely not worth the 50 Euro LEGO are asking for. I may have been pulled in by the Bright Light Blue parts, many of which are available in this color for the first time in this set and I sure don’t mind getting a few nice golden and wood colored elements on top, but clearly even the 35 Euro you get this for with discounts still feels like a bit of a stretch, given the circumstances. Things would definitely look different if they had included more adequate animals, that’s for sure….

January Wood Chopping

My already somewhat low activity in recent weeks had been further impaired by having caught a pretty nasty cold and pulmonary infection, so I’m pretty late with this month’s updates on the latest magazines.

Funny enough Blue Ocean, who publish these mags in our region also contributed to the mess by delaying the LEGO City magazine by one week. They kept printing December 10th as the announcement date in every of their mags, yet it only arrived this Tuesday the 17th. One can only speculate what went wrong. A botched print run? Those little bags not delivered in time from the LEGO factory? Who knows! I’d sure be interested to find out one of these days.

LEGO Magazine, City, January 2020, Cover

The LEGO City issue focuses on wood chopping which at this point of course could be interpreted as a sign of things to come once people start slicing up their Christmas tree after the festive season. The parts coming with the magazine are very much standard fare and similar to what came with the mini version of the forest tractor last year with some minor variations on the theme in terms of colors used and the prints on the figure. The feet are in Sand Blue, BTW, they were just printed excessively blue-ish so the colors look very different.

The City magazine continues to deliver with a satisfying mix of activities for your kids and a well done comic, so not much to complain about. The posters are okay, though I still wish they would use panels from the comics instead of those CG-generated versions. There’s just a specific charme to classically drawn stuff and the color contrast is better.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, December 2019, Cover

The Hidden Side mag came out earlier and I’m only mentioning it for completeness, but somehow I feel that it just isn’t gaining traction. I played that fun trick last month, so I’m not going to do it again already, but can you spot what might be wrong with the cover? Yepp, it’s yet again Jack front and center for a third time in a row. Calling it repetitive and boring would be stating the obvious. It’s not helped by the extra being Parker of all things. I haven’t even bough all sets yet, but already have amassed a graveyard of the ever same figures. This only goes to show how named characters can quickly back you in a corner…

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…

 

Not quite real – Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242) from Star Wars – Resistance

As this blog shows, I’m certainly not the biggest of Star Wars fans and on the few occasions when I decide to buy such a set, I usually choose the safe option with stuff I know and like within my limited understanding of the series’ lore and canon. That’s why getting the Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242) was a bit of a surprise even for me, probably due to this having been a rather spontaneous buying decision simply because the set was on discount.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Box

That in and of itself is a bit of a statement, as I genuinely don’t think this set merits the full asking price of 50 Euro. Make no mistake – once assembled the model is actually quite large, yet at the same time it feels very light in terms of the sheer volume of pieces you get. The point here is that if it wasn’t for the very elongated wings there would be very little to see. This in my view is one of the more general design flaws with pretty much any TIE fighter variant – endlessly building the large wings/ cooling panels and then attaching them to the tiniest of fuselages consisting mainly of the cockpit – but let’s not get distracted by this too much. Anyway, if you get this set for around 35 Euro that’s a more realistic price.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Overview

I don’t know much about Star Wars – Resistance, the animated series this is based on. Ever since the Clone Wars these animated series have declined in quality and it simply puts me off too much. However, one can’t deny that they have spawned a lot of interesting characters vehicles, locations and so on, so it happens that this set actually contains the one version of Poe Dameron that I do like. That’s how it should be – in his red pilot jumper looking gruff and ready for action. The other figure is of course the ace pilot himself, which seems a rather coveted minifigure due to the unique helmet.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Figures

Let’s address the one big elephant in the room – the hugely incorrect shaping and structure of the actual body/ fuselage. I may not know much about Resistance, but that much is clear: Just from looking at video snippets and still images available on the Internet it’s painfully obvious that they got it completely wrong. It looks like they were working of concept sketches and then tried to figure out how all those pencil strokes translate to struts, wings and exhaust nozzles.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Aft Left View

Essentially the model’s construction is completely backwards from how it is in the series. Instead of the “dagger blades” in the front protruding from a massive body with the shorter aft wing sections being integral, everything is more or less just plugged on. Similarly, the white regulator pistons are just there for looks, but make functionally no sense whatsoever. The point here isn’t even that it wouldn’t have been possible to do it differently, given that the construction already makes quite some use of SNOT building techniques. It just seems to me that the designer wasn’t able to think this through from an engineering standpoint.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Aft Right View

The other area that suffers, but for a different reason, is the windshield/ canopy/ cockpit glass dome. The problem here is that LEGO cheapened out and just re-used the standard TIE-Fighter windshield/ Imperial Throne Room window part for the umpteenth time. I understand that this may be a question of keeping the cost manageable on a set that just may not be that popular, after all, but even then I can’t feel that this is one of the rare cases where I would rather have an actual bulbous dome piece (even without prints or stickers) rather than something that feels like it has been used way too often in the last decade.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Cockpit Area Closed

The cockpit interior is okay for what you can achieve at this scale, but of course feels crammed. It’s another area where choosing different pieces for the actual canopy roof (e.g. the curved hinge panel) combined with a genuine dome piece would have done a lot and allowed to squeeze in yet another part to serve as the steering column for instance.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Cockpit Area Open

The one thing that mitigates and softens all my complaints and niggles is the fact that strictly on its own and without regarding the Star Wars context the model still looks quite imposing. The elongated wing blades with their pointy tips make it look very fierce and aggressive. For me it is also very reminiscent of some engineering diagnostics tools and alien artifacts found in many of the Star Trek TV series and movies. They often used these two-pronged (tuning) fork designs as a basis for devices that detect obscure sub-atomic quantum vibrations or as daggers of other species.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Front Right View

Once you build it you also realize that the model turns out way larger than either the box art (and the somewhat small box itself) or any photos suggest. The plain black/ white/ gray color scheme is misleading and cheating the eye quite a bit and I suppose even my photos can’t convey this convincingly. It’s about 40 centimeters and lucky for us it’s also quite stable and robust once you have finished it. It doesn’t always feel that way during the build while you’re plugging together those thin wings, but once everything is in place and mutually connected it holds together surprisingly well.

Naturally some care is still advised as is some attention when handling it. Those pointy ends sure could be dangerous to a smaller kid who struggles handling such a model with its small hands. You wouldn’t want all the drama when they stick it in the eyes by accident. Also too much flexing around of the long, bendy parts will still make snap them of and drag smaller parts along. That’s even more the case since for once LEGO had the good sense of replicating the majority of the war paint pattern with buildable elements rather than relying on square miles of stickers. You wouldn’t want those tiles to fly around your room like after a catapult launch.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Front Left View

The underside feels a bit barren. The model sits very flat on the table, so for a static display this is not much of an issue, but somehow I still feel that there would have been room to add a few more details. Especially the fuselage pod likely could have used some more inverted slopes to create some gentle transitions for the wings and by doing so also cover up the ratcheted hinges used to attach everything.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Bottom View

In summary this is actually an interesting model. You just have to completely lobotomize yourself and get the thought out of your head that this has anything to do with Star Wars. It more or less hasn’t – that is, beyond the basic concept shared with all TIE-Fighters. Taken as a standalone effort this could be a nice generic competitive racing space vehicle or an equally generic fighter interceptor. If you’re thinking along those lines, it may be a worthwile investment. Otherwise it’s likely only for die-hard Star Wars fans that collect everything or are hooked by the underlying TV series…

Christmas Double Double – Brickheadz Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274) and Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353)

Christmas is only four weeks away at this point and if you’re anything like my mum you’re perhaps also already decorating your home. Around here we like to keep things traditional with wood carved stuff from the Erzgebirge, glass baubles and similar, but who’s to say that putting up some LEGO couldn’t be part of the mix as well. The seasonally themed Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274) and Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353) Brickheadz cater for just that.

LEGO Brickheadz, Christmas Sets Family Shot

A family shot of the sets from two consecutive years shows that there is a bit of underlying deeper logic and the sets mix and match quite well. The only thing that is missing is of course a suitably sized sleigh model stuffed with gifts.

LEGO Brickheadz, Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274), Box

Somehow I missed out on Mr. & Mrs. Claus last year, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that LEGO had re-issued the set this year. That’s always a good indication that the sets are in popular demand and sell well, in turn making good prospects for more sets of the same ilk in the future, whatever those might be.

LEGO Brickheadz, Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274), Overview

In terms of construction there aren’t that many surprises or more or less none at all, with the two figures being essentially based on the v1 Brickheadz standard (I totally made that up, but it’s perhaps helpful for understanding some of the differences). This means that there aren’t any fancy building techniques involved and it follows the pattern of most others of these figures. If you have that drill worked out to a T, you could likely build Mr. Claus from your head and figure things out without even looking at the instructions, give or take a few specifics like the tip of the cap.

LEGO Brickheadz, Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274), Mr. Claus, Front Left View LEGO Brickheadz, Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274), Mr. Claus, Front Right View LEGO Brickheadz, Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274), Mr. Claus, Back Right View

Mrs. Claus is slightly different in that she extensively uses curved slopes to make her look rounded. This naturally adds a bit of complication in that there are extra plates here and there to account for the step/ offset of the slopes. It would be more difficult to re-create without any guidance. It also makes her look adorable and cuddly and that’s why of the figures discussed in this article she’s my favorite. I really can’t fathom why I skipped over this set last year. Perhaps i just wasn’t able to make it to the LEGO store in time…

LEGO Brickheadz, Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274), Mrs. Claus, Front Left View LEGO Brickheadz, Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274), Mrs. Claus, Front Right View LEGO Brickheadz, Mr. & Mrs. Claus (40274), Mrs. Claus, Back Right View

This year’s Christmas set takes a slightly different approach and only contains one full-sized Brickheadz figure, but makes up for it by including two of the smaller elves.

LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Box LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Overview

Out of the three, the the reindeer itself is perhaps the least attractive. Don’t misunderstand me – it hits all the marks and looks okay, yet it doesn’t stand out particularly. In my view this is owed to its simple, mostly symmetrical construction. The model would clearly have benefited from a bit more variation, be that just a hint of its furriness by ways of using some angled slopes for bangs on the forehead.

I also wished they had come up with something a bit more impressive and elaborate for the antlers. The small ancillaries feel a bit out of place, too, in particular since they are not further contextualized by something else to go with them. Admittedly it doesn’t help that I didn’t apply the stickers to the way sign, but then again for all intents and purposes those should always be printed in a Brickheadz set.

LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Deer, Front Left View LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Deer, Front Right View LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Deer, Back Right View

The elves, tentatively called just Elf and Elfie use a new building style with just 3 studs wide/ deep main bodies and reduced height to make them appear smaller compared to the “adults”, of course. That puts them at around three-quarters size, which isn’t that much when you come to think of it, but sufficient to make them look different enough.

LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Elfie, Front Left View LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Elfie, Front Right View LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Elfie, Back Right View

That said, the smaller size comes with a bit of a caveat that you must not underestimate. Since currently there are no dedicated 3 x 1 bricks with studs on the side in the LEGO portfolio, the models have to make do with 1 x 1 and 2 x 1 versions. In some cases that means that where they converge at the edges only one side can have studs and the other has a smooth surface. This in turn affects how the tiles and plates on the exterior can be fixated and here is where it gets a bit dicy.

You have to be extra careful to use the right SNOT bricks in the right places and keep an eye on their orientation or you may end up wondering forever, how the heck you are supposed to attach some parts without a stud looking at you. That is even more crucial insofar some of the tiles really rely on just hanging on to a single stud with their ability to move merely being restrained by the neighboring elements. It’s a bit delicate, but works surprisingly well if you don’t completely mess up this sort of alternating pattern of forces and counter forces.

LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Elf, Front Left View LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Elf, Front Right View LEGO Brickheadz, Reindeer, Elf & Elfie (40353), Elf, Back Right View

On the whole both sets are worth their money, the simple fact notwithstanding that they are only available from LEGO directly, anyway, and thus any discussion about prices would be kinda pointless. If you’re on a budget, regardless, I’d go with Mr. & Mrs. Claus for the time being. not only might you regret not being able to purchase the set in the future, but overall it feels like you’re getting a better value.

The reindeer set on the other hand could have needed that extra little kick by including perhaps a bunch of buildable gift packages, the already mentioned sleigh, a food tray with some carrots and hay or whatever else. Just something to provide a little something that puts a satisfied grin on your face…

Bricklink gets busted, or does it?

After that robbery in the Dresden Green Vault was all the news yesterday (I do live in beautiful Saxony, after all), today another kind of shockwave ripples through LEGO communities all over the world. Yepp, LEGO just officially acquired Bricklink. First reactions are mostly negative, as this could have far-reaching repercussions for the secondary/ second-hand LEGO sets and pieces market. Of course it’s hard to predict how this will pan out, but here are some thoughts on this.

First let’s begin with the positive side – Bricklink could become LEGO‘s new Bricks & Pieces outlet. Anyone who has ever tried to order separate pieces from the online shop will no doubt have mixed feelings about it. My personal experiences are just bad. I basically gave up on it because it never seems to work and is overall just not worth the trouble. The basic drill usually goes something like that:

You spend forever sifting through seemingly random lists of parts since of course, unlike LEGO seem to think, nobody knows the design numbers by heart to be able to use the search function. This gets even worse if you jump across parts from different sets. In such a case the software may just go belly up if you are trying to order unavailable parts, sends you back to the shop’s start page and resets the entire shopping cart, so it’s empty and you have to start over from scratch. Even if you are lucky and none of this happens you could still be thwarted when the hand-over from the separate sub-shop to the big parent shop where your payment is actually handled doesn’t work. See the problem?

So with all that in mind, a new shop would be a godsend even if Bricklink itself is more or less pretty crooked and atrocious not just from a web design standpoint. It could be cool if LEGO officially supplied dealers on there with bulk shipments of parts, leading to better overall availability and perhaps better prices. The pertinent question, though, is “Will they or won’t they?” and that’s where things get dicy.

Just like some large sellers could benefit from such a move, others that have been chugging along with small shops or specialized in specific items might fall between the cracks and just give up. They may not be able to have competitive pricing, they may have to take down not officially endorsed stuff like custom parts that collides with LEGO‘s overarching policies, they may simply run out of supplies when LEGO has too much control over everything and their sometimes a bit shady supply chains collapse. Which is getting me to a point.

The thing that really gives me a tummy ache is the level of control this move give’s LEGO on the whole. While so far it seems they have no concrete plans to change too much on Bricklink right away, they could always do so at a whim and at a moments notice. They could enforce whatever rules they see fit and by sheer power of numbers dictate prices, product availability and a few other things. Again, at this point it’s all speculation and maybe because I got burned by some big corporations in my life I’m all to wary and paranoid about such matters, but it is a point of concern…