Explorer-ing Space – LEGO Explorer Magazine, December 2020

As I’ve written a bunch of times on this blog, I’m very much a Sci-Fi and space nerd of sorts. That’s why the December issue of the LEGO Explorer magazine should be right up my alley, right? Let’s see!

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, December 2020, Cover

The magazine title is more or less a complete misnomer. It’s pretty much all about the Apollo 11 mission, so more appropriately it should be titled something along the lines of the first moon landing instead of “Adventures in Space”. That’s quite misleading as not even other LEGO sets such as the International Space Station ISS (21321) or for that matter the various City sets get mentioned much. It’s all about the Saturn V (21309) rocket that just got a second lease of life due to popular demand (new set number 92176) and the Apollo Lunar Lander (10266) plus a few bits and bobs to do with NASA.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, December 2020, Poster

The central poster is okay stylistically, but like the rest of the magazine light on actual info. The over-reliance on photos of LEGO models and images from the archives you have seen a million times doesn’t necessarily make this more interesting. I’m also missing a bit of geek stuff like statistics about the moon or some comparisons of the lift forces required. Maybe I’m misjudging the target demographic, but I feel this would have spiced up things quite a bit. At least the quiz is pretty decent, though.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, December 2020, Quiz

The miniature model of the lunar lander looks somewhat weird, mostly due to that radar dish on the bar on the top looking like a trumpet. They probably should have used a hinge or something like that instead. Otherwise the model is reasonable, if not very realistic. The highlight of course are the golden dishes. I have a few of them already from some Friends sets, but if you don’t, then here’s your chance to grab four of them. On a side note, the Flame Yellowish Orange 3 x 3 plate is also rather unique, as apparently so far it has only been used in a Brickheadz set. Who knows? One of those days it might come in handy. On the back cover there’s even a bit of printed landscape that actually looks more like Mars than the Moon for you to place your model in for that scenic feel.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, December 2020, Extra LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, December 2020, Extra

All things considered, this is a bit of a weak issue, especially after last month’s awesome frog edition. The topic would have lent itself for so much more, but has been limited in scope way too much for my taste. The parts are good and useful, but otherwise there’s not much here to keep me distracted even for five minutes, unfortunately.

Easter Double – Brickheadz Sheep (40380) and Bear (40379)

Despite the hard times out there, Easter is of course not far away and like every year since the inception of Brickheadz there’s a seasonal one to go with this event. Last years Chick (40350) was kind of so-so as was the Bunny (40271) in 2018, but this year the Sheep (40380) is really taking the cake.

LEGO Brickheadz, Sheep (40380), Box

Incidentally this special event themed set is also the 100th in the whole series, so this better be good, should it not? I have a soft spot for everything that is cutesy, anyway, and this one sure delivers.

LEGO Brickheadz, Sheep (40380), Front Left View

Of particular note is of course the face which gives a nice impression of the typical sheep/ lamb snout with the nostrils. initially I wasn’t sure whether the grey was actually a good idea, but the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that making it Bright Light Pink would have been even more odd. So I guess it works out, after all.

LEGO Brickheadz, Sheep (40380), Front Right View

The sheepskin is given texture by alternating 1×1 tiles with matching plates. Actually attaching them is of course its own story. It can become a bit tedious and you have to pay attention. Thank goodness this isn’t a large model where you’d have to do it thousands of times instead of just hundred or so! There’s also a few of the relatively new 1×1 bricks with the curved top thrown in for good measure and of course there had to be a rockabilly curl giving the little guy some character.

LEGO Brickheadz, Sheep (40380), Back Side View

While the sheep itself is nice, the surroundings are a bit lackluster and only rehash the same accessories known from the previous sets – a tulip-like flower and the “eggs” build from 2×2 round elements. That’s where the set really missed its opportunity for total awesomeness and a chance to outshine other Brickheadz for a while.

Point in case: As the 100th set in the series and with the narrative being that the sheep dirtied itself while painting eggs (as hinted at by the orange “paint splats” here and there) this would have the perfect occasion to give us a printed egg of in some form to support that storyline. Even partially printing one of the dome pieces with just a few dots to indicate that something went wrong and the coloring had to stop would have been nice.

While there, this could even have been expanded by creating a “puddle” of paint using those 1×1 quarter/ pizza corner tiles and to go fully crazy this could have been done in two or three nice-looking colors and gone along with 1×1 round bricks in matching colors for the paint cans. so much potential there!

LEGO Brickheadz, Bear (40379), Box

When I bought the sheep I saw that they still had the Valentine‘s Bear (40379) at our local LEGO store in Leipzig, so after a week of pondering whether to buy it or not and a lucky coincidence of being on the road again with a doctor’s visit and thus getting an opportunity to stop by, I took the plunge and ultimately bought the set, again for its pure cuteness.

LEGO Brickheadz, Bear (40379), Front Left View

The first interesting thing to note is that the designer chose to represent the bear in the sitting position as seen on a lot of teddy bears/ care bears, making it even more adorable. The build on the other hand is pretty basic and this set doesn’t feature any specific printed elements, either. One could say that it is as pure Brickheadz as it may get on some level.

LEGO Brickheadz, Bear (40379), Front Right View

The one thing that this has going for it are the many pieces in Medium Nougat. If you need this type of stuff for a project, this would be a good parts source, mainly for the fact that neither the 4×2 curved double slope nor the 4×2 plates are used in such large numbers in any other set currently. depending on the situation, a single set could have you covered.

LEGO Brickheadz, Bear (40379), Back Right View

the details are nothing earth shattering, but I like those little inventive builds from 1×1 elements like the bee. Here’s another nice idea not quite unlike that other one in the polybag set from last year. The honey pot uses a Dark Brown inverted dome piece, so it’s useful for generic “neutral” flower pots as well, should you decide to remove the side extensions for space reasons like I did and use the parts elsewhere.

My only small criticism would be the Dark Pink 1×1 heart tiles. It feels like LEGO are still sitting on large stockpiles of this element that they produced for Friends and The LEGO Movie 2 sets and throws them in wherever they can to deplete the surplus. Actual red hearts like the larger one on the stick would have been preferable or at least something in Bright Light Pink.

LEGO Brickheadz, Bear (40379), Back Left View

Overall I’m pretty satisfied with both sets. Of course one could always do more in terms of adding more details, but for 10 Euro a pop I’m not expecting something overly complex. Yes, the sheep could have been a bit more round-ish and fluffy and the bear looks a bit too smooth, but on the whole both models capture the essence of what they are supposed to represent and that is what counts.

Double Death – Brickheadz and the new VIP System

The new LEGO VIP points system went life with zero warning and little info (I’m still waiting to receive the official e-mail announcement even *lol*) and to call it a debacle would be doing favors. How could anything go so wrong?

Individual people (temporarily) losing their accumulated VIP points is to be expected and a common issue in systems when going from one metric to another. It’s regrettable, but seems unavoidable. Lucky enough it’s something that support by phone appears to be able to fix. Personally I perhaps should count my blessings and not complain since it did go without a hitch on my few measly points, but then again the count being so low I wouldn’t have missed out on much. what’s more  critical however is how you are supposed to use those points and that’s where it gets interesting.

I don’t know what kind of people work at LEGO, but calling the new method an utter brain fart would again be a kindness just for the sake of using even stringer language. It really sucks – you’re supposed to trade in your points for some abstract voucher code and only then you can apply it to your purchase, a process which for the time is limited to applying exactly one code for each order only. As a result, there’s a lot of stories where people did tens of separate orders just to be able to apply their codes.

Worse still, the same method applies for physical purchases in a LEGO store as well. no longer spontaneously trading in points on the fly from your account. Instead you are supposed to generate a code and take it to the store. Who does that? When I was at the official LEGO store in Leipzig yesterday as part of making the rounds with my endless medical appointments, I overheard a conversation with another customer and an employee explaining the situation and the guy was seriously gutted.

Whoever concocted this convoluted procedure needs to be fired – seriously. It’s definitely not what I wanted when filling out those VIP surveys and I’m pretty sure even the most hardened long-time fans didn’t want it this way, either. It’s just ridiculous. I never was much of a a VIP user due to my financial restrictions making it difficult to buy LEGO stuff at full price in their stores, let alone expensive exclusive sets, but as it is, now there is even less incentive to do so. The exact opposite of what they intended. It’s simply not worth putting up with this crap.

On that note: In the same conversation, and directly feeding into my argument about stuff to buy at the brand stores was another very disappointing bit of news: Brickheadz are no longer sold directly in those stores. Here in Germany this basically means that this series is dead as a) a lot of those sets were LEGO-exclusive to begin with and b) many of the non-exclusive sets were never widely available at other retailers, making it nigh on impossible to get even some of the more trivial stuff like seasonal sets.

LEGO‘s new strategy seems to be to selectively distribute them as thematic tie-ins with specific partners for very short periods only and keep them rare. This ultimately makes it utterly pointless to even go chasing them as prices will explode quickly to collector levels even for the most mundane of sets. It’s really laughable insofar as they have gone from one extreme to another – first flooding the market with too many sets and now making them extremely scarce. Neither to me seem a viable strategy to keep this sub-brand alive. You know, that old gag of pissing off fans no matter what you do.

I also don’t get the financial logic behind it. Some Brickheadz may not have sold like sliced bread and some only ever were relevant and interesting with discounts, but others were real burners selling out quickly even at full price at the brand stores. Why would you lose that, given that it was a simple to maintain series with very likely a not so bad profit margin – almost prototypical, mostly identical construction every time with a predictable use of a limited set of parts and a nearly unlimited choice of subjects? You even could have done some Hidden Side figures with bright green hair. It’s really hard to comprehend.

So as you see this perhaps hasn’t been the best of weeks for LEGO in terms of how it affects the users and parts of their fan base. It’s not even that this is “they’ll fix it in the long run” stuff, more to the point they need to revert and revise their decisions right away…

Stubby Flyer – Race Plane (31094)

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

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Box

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

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

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Overview

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

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Left View

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

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Right View

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

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

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Top View

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

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Folded Wings

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

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

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

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Front View

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

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

Coral, Corals, Amusement, Space

The rumour mill had of course already been busy and some thumbnail resolution leaked images had popped up here and there already, but this week we finally got some official, full size images for us to inspect and dissect every pixel of the new Architecture, City, Creator 3in1, Friends, Harry Potter and even Duplo sets from LEGO.

But first things first: For many people the most important news is that LEGO finally came to their senses and will no longer limit specific seasonal or exclusive sets to regional markets. The negative backlash about the Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner (80101) and the Dragon Dance (80102) sets, the The LEGO Movie 2 Brickheadz and most recently the Darth Vader Bust (75227) really seems to have gotten under their skin. Since those sets were already in short supply in their intended markets and outsiders leaching some of them exacerbated the situation further and  left many people frustrated there. Perfectly understandable, as even I would have wanted a Dragon Dance set. It just looks cool. Anyway, expanding production of such releases globally should avoid some of that craziness and guarantee better access to the products in question.

Moving on to the new releases, first let’s quickly get the for me least relevant series out of the way. I never was much of a Harry Potter fan and in fact nowadays I think there’s so much wrong with those books and movies, it would warrant its own article to explain it all, but regardless of my personal dislike for the subject matter you have to admit that for those who love this stuff the sets will be amazing. Lots of minifigures, a consistent design philosophy and they even thought of making the Hogwarts Clock Tower (75948) match up with last year’s Hogwarts Great Hall (75954) and Whomping Willow (75953) building segments. Perhaps some people’s dream of one day having the complete castle made from modular components in this style and scale might still come true, after all?

In the Architecture series we will get the Trafalgar Square (21045) and the Empire State Building (21046). They look okay if you are into this stuff, but neither model is a must-have for me. The Empire State Building in fact turned out as I had feared and is a mass of Tan grille tiles plugged onto a solid core, so this will be extremely daunting to assemble and a test of patience. I suppose the achievement will be having assembled it without having an angry outburst from the repetitive build more than actually having it on your table as a show piece.

I have no kids of my own and I’m past the age of playing with certain toys (despite trying to keep my inner child alive), but I have to say when I’m strolling through the aisles of a toy shop I’m always tempted to pick up random bits and pieces because they are just so adorable and cute and have to restrain myself very hard. Duplo sets with animals always have been part of that crowd and the feeling of wanting to own some of them already is coming back just looking at the new sets. now if only they would bring back that crazy shark from a few years ago I might actually be compelled to buy a submarine set… 😉

Speaking of cute, colorful things, of course Friends is my go-to series. As hinted in my article on the new Coral color, the ocean animal rescue themed sets for the second half of the year are full of elements in this color, so you should easily get to a point where you have a healthy base supply of pieces to work with. As if that weren’t enough, we also get a ton of new pieces like baby sea animals, the coral plant element and the complimentary mini sea creatures. The latter are likely a separate standardized bag similar to the garage tools or cutlery that are included easily in many sets and hopefully soon will also be available also in colors than Coral. You know, Yellow Butterfly Fish, White or Tan clam shells and Dark Orange octopi make totally sense to me. We’ll see.

The amusement park sets on the other hand are mostly not my thing, though they, too, are based around oceanic themes. My problem here is that they too much feel like the similar sets we had three years ago, the Heartlake Swimming Pool (41313) or even the current Heartlake City Resort (41347). Not necessarily in the sense that they are redundant or identical, but that it would not be impossible to build large parts of the new stuff from sets you may already own, give or take a few specific parts. This becomes even more of a pickle as the Creator 3in1 series also caters for this with the Carousel (31095). Too many options! This can really burn a hole in your purse. Perhaps they should have coordinated this better or consolidated it into a overaching crossover them in both series.

More commonalities in Friends and 3in1 come by ways of two buildings – the Heartlake City Restaurant (41379) and the Townhouse with Pet Shop and Café (31097). Both are highly welcome, as you can never really have enough houses in your little city and in recent time we haven’t seen that many halfway fully formed buildings in most series. You’re likely going to need at least two sets of each to make them halfway compatible with the Modular Buildings, regardless, but something is better than nothing. That’s even more the case for the Friends restaurant, as it is chocka full with interesting new parts and its Southern European architecture style has been rarely seen. It’s really unusual and quite unique to the point of not looking like a Friends set at all if it weren’t for some parts in Lavender that give it away.

Finally let’s talk about City. By now you might have guessed it already, but yes there’s a bit of an amusement park theme going on here as well. Nothing major with just a figure pack and some little doo-dads, but should you indeed decide to go full batty and want to build a giant park with all the sets mentioned already, this will be useful. The rest is pretty mundane with the continuation of the fire patrol theme and more generic sets, but I couldn’t help but notice the huge donut and think it’s awesome. Really too bad it’s included in a more expensive set that otherwise doesn’t have anything that would interest me.

On the matter of things that interest me – I’m of course a science fiction and astral science nerd on some level, yet the City Space Port sets leave me completely emotionless. Except perhaps for the large rocket set it all looks completely boring to me. It seems that their cooperation with NASA resulted in trying to be too factually exact and of course everything had to be white and gold for thermal insulation and reflecting radiation. Also it looks like they just ticked subjects off some list and kept the designs to a bare minimum. I mean by all accounts at least that space station could have been a lot larger and more complex and those shuttles a lot more detailed. It’s disappointing.

In any case, no matter what there are some interesting sets lined up and even buying the ones I consider essential or even mandatory will be quite a chase, so there is little to complain. This wave of new sets overall is pretty good and in addition there are already some sets on the market I haven’t caught up with yet, making for plenty of entries on my ever-growing wishlist…

A Week of Disappointments (and some Hope)

Big corporations are an odd thing. One always tries to be understanding for the many inherent structural issues, quirks and limitations that commonly occur with such large entities, yet, depending on how involved one is with the company or their products, they can get you riled up very quickly with incomprehensible policies and bad decision-making processes. This is no different for LEGO, so here I’m sitting, shaking my head at why so many things feel so terribly wrong this week.

The whole thing started off with the Brickheadz for The LEGO Movie 2. Only announced about two weeks ago, very quickly a disastrous picture began to form with the sets already being available immediately thereafter, but only in limited quantities exclusive to Walmart and Target in the US. Even worse, those limited numbers were 5000 units for each set, so it isn’t hard to imagine that they sold out almost instantaneously. It’s literally just a few drops in the ocean even just on the North American markets alone. Forget about the many people elsewhere who didn’t even get a chance.

Now you may not care much for Brickheadz, but the point here is that LEGO keep citing bad sales as a reason for possibly cancelling the series as a whole, but then they mess up the one time a lot of people would actually have wanted the sets. It’s really unfathomable, considering it should have been an easy enough thing to roll out enough sets and have them benefit from the already existing marketing for the movie. Fail No. 1!

While we’re already on the subject of The LEGO Movie 2, that one seems to turn out as its own failure. The box office figures aren’t that great, both in the US and internationally in the markets where it already launched. Attendance from cinema audiences seems rather low and so far it hasn’t even made its production cost, which no doubt is at least 130 million USD by my estimate plus of course on top of it at least double that money for marketing etc.. It has yet to launch in several markets and I’m pretty sure this movie “has legs”, meaning it will be profitable in the long run, but I’m just as certain it is by no means the big hit LEGO would have hoped for.

A third failure (sort of) are the first images for the latest LEGO Ideas set The Flintstones (21316). You can find some of that for instance here. One isn’t supposed to judge a book by its cover and a LEGO set by its box, respectively, but to be honest, this just looks bland and disappointing. It appears the internal pre-production optimization process has made the set “kaput” and bereft it of the charme the original project had. No dinos, no other animals, no large rib/ meat piece, no additional characters as minifigures, not even a printed plaque.

I’ve always been a bit skeptic about this and considered it at best an optional buy, not being the biggest fan of those old series, but this is indeed a major letdown. Speaking of which: The same could be said about the Duel on Starkiller Base (75263). I genuinely had a “WTF?” moment when I saw the pictures. To say it looks amateurish would be doing favors. It’s just awful and of course at least three years to late. Who at LEGO (and by extension Disney) even comes up with such harebrained stuff and clears it for mass production?

In more positive news, but perhaps also in some way a bit of a panic reaction to the bad reception of the film, the next wave of The LEGO Movie 2 sets have been announced this week, too. Maybe to calm potential buyers’ nerves? In any case, I kinda love the Shimmer & Shine Sparkle Spa (70837) and Queen Watevera’s ‚So-Not-Evil‘ Space Palace (70838). It’s exactly the kind of unconventional (for LEGO) building style and creative use and repurposing of parts that attracts me.

Emmet’s Triple-Decker Couch Mech (70842) on the other hand leaves me relatively cold. It’s stuffed to the brim with Medium Blue tiles and other elements, though, so if the price comes down a bit, it might be a good source for this stuff. Similarly I’m torn with The Rexcelsior (70839). It looks cool and I so want those small dinos, but now that some more pictures are available I can’t help that the faux Nerf gun functionality comes at the cost of sparse interior detailing despite a hefty price tag. Makes me think even harder if I would consider buying it, not just because of my limited finances…