When it comes to my love for nature, I’m full of contradictions. I enjoy long walks by the lake or in the forest, yet not to the extend where I would derive pleasure from crawling through the underbrush. All the same, I have this weird thing where I would enjoy the solitude of the wilderness in a lonely log hut, but only if I had all the comforts like electricity, satellite TV and Internet. Weird? For sure. That’s probably why I have this odd fascination with caravaning as well, despite very limited actual experience with it and maybe my love for similarly themed LEGO sets is just part of this dichotomy and a way to live out my dream as long as I’m not actually able to afford one of those luxurious RVs. Who knows? Anyway, let’s have a look at the Camper Van (31108) and see what its qualities are and how it fits as a surrogate for my pipe dream.
That Money Thing again
I’m beginning to hate it myself, but first we again need to talk about the monetary value of the set vs. its actual content. The proposed street price for this set is 80 Euro, which, to put it directly, is just completely and utterly bonkers for a set of this type in the Creator 3in1 series with around 750 pieces. I’m not much of an advocate for that inaccurate price per piece metric, but anything above 10 Cent a piece is clearly not a good value, even more so if, as is typical for this theme, those pieces are 99 percent common standard elements, not expensive specialized parts.
This is ridiculous and outrageous at the same time and clearly feels like someone at LEGO went completely off the rails when setting the final price. The proof for this is in the pudding – I patiently waited for several months until retailers were desperate enough to reduce the price down to the 50 Euro mark just to get rid of their stock after initially this set recognizably didn’t sell very well. Even the typical news outlets that do their reviews right after release and get their samples free from LEGO were not shy to point out that they thought the set was massively overpriced if you had to buy it.
Now it may sound like I’m in permanent complaint mode, but if you look at the above image you can easily ask yourself: Would the contents be worth 80 Euro to you? I’m pretty confident that most people would say “No!”. I’m not saying that you don’t get plenty of stuff, but the volume/ bulk just isn’t there. You know, it’s that old thing where ultimately something like a Star Wars TIE Fighter feels more valuable simply due to its impressive size, even if it may have a lot fewer pieces and cost less.
Minifigures and Creatures
The perceived lack of value for this set can no doubt also be attributed to the lackluster minifigures. There are just three of them and they are very, very mundane with their legs and torsos having been used a million times in other sets. There isn’t a single new or original print and even the faces and hair pieces feel very run-off-the-mill. It just lacks that tiny bit of originality we all love to see, let alone the numbers. Point in case: Given that there are a number of side builds, there could easily have been double the number of figures ore more to populate those extras. Another group of wanderers passing by and sitting down at the table is really not that far-fetched, you know.
There are also a bunch of critters built from bricks, in this case a skunk and a beaver, but on that one I stand by my old criticism: It really wouldn’t hurt if LEGO included custom-molded animals in this series just like they do elsewhere. Yes, extra molds cost money, but it should not be much of an issue in the day and age of computer-based manufacturing processes. And even if they didn’t produce new molds – dragging out an old bear mold or similar would have totally worked for this set as well.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the set comes with a couple of small buildable extras, contributing notably to this feeling that something is missing or incomplete in the minifigure department because ultimately they end up being lifeless scene decoration.
The first such bit is a picknick table like you can often find it in national parks and wilderness reserves, either completely built from logs and raw wood, or as in this case, from pre-fabricated concrete elements with a bunch of wooden plates bolted on. in this case it’s apparently supposed to be near the edge of a lake with the fishing rod and all, but this idea is conveyed pretty poorly simply because there isn’t enough of a discernible shore line. The blue parts would have needed to be extended quite a bit along with some more grass or sand beach around the table. That might also have allowed space for adding a trash can and fire cage, which would have made the scene more interesting.
Undeniably the most superfluous bit of scenery is the pine tree. At this point I really think this has been done to death and there have been uncounted variations on this in every Christmas or nature themed set, including in the various LEGO magazines. On a general level there’s nothing wrong with that, but they really need to shake up the formula. In this case the tree could at least have been part of a group of many such younger trees on a clearing or in the opposite direction, they should have opted for a huge tree. The way it is in its current form feels neither here nor there.
The canoe isn’t that great, either. I get what they were going for, but to me this is similar to the point I made about the animals: Why not simply throw in one or two of the molded version from City, in new colors if need be to make things more worthwhile and interesting?
One of the possible reasons for the limited success of this set, and many, many people have already pointed this out, is perhaps that it doesn’t fit the minifigure scale. In this particular case this means that the car/ trailer combo itself is about one third too large at least. This can be seen in the overview image further up. However, once you take the minifigs out of the equation everything looks nice and proportionate in relation to one another.
Still, you mustn’t underestimate how big the model actually is, especially when both vehicular components are combined. Those approximately 40 cm in length also make it a bit unwieldy when handling things freely, so you may always want to separate the two sections. That’s going to happen a lot, anyway, simply due to the weight and the small tow bar not being able to handle much resistance. Other than rolling around the combination on a smooth surface, the risk of it self-decoupling is quite high as soon as something gets stuck.
The car in my opinion is the more interesting part of the whole set and I think if they had sold it standalone as a set would have made for a reasonably popular item. Of course with its white stripes it is on some level reminiscent of the Ford Anglia from the respective Harry Potter sets, but its overall shape is more in line with a Mini Cooper or older Fiat 500 models, I think.
The main attraction, if you want to call it that, are the many Dark Azure parts, some of which premiere on this model like the 1 x 2 x 1 curved slope. This is of course subject to point of view, as it’s a divisive color. Some hate it for not being blue enough, some dislike it for already being too blue. Personally I’m okay with it, but it’s true: LEGO have yet to come up with a set where they use this color and make you go “Yes, they couldn’t have gone with anything else!”. If you will, it’s kind of too replaceable and unremarkable, both in the good and bad meaning of the word.
The car has a decent play value, as both the doors and trunk can be opened and offer sufficient space inside to place your minifigure and load up some equipment. Sadly, though, the set doesn’t provide any of that. not a single piece of baggage or even a spare tire, so you have to source them from your own stock.
The front hood/ bonnet on the other hand cannot be opened nor is there even a hint of a motor imitation. One thing you will also notice is that all transparent parts kind of drown in the blue surroundings and disappear or turn into ugly dark colors. Here the designers should really learn their lesson and always underpin these spots with White or Pearl Silver elements pretty much like real car lights’ reflectors.
The trailer, while recognizably modeled after a larger real world example that may in fact even exist somewhere, is still a lot less interesting than the car, all things considered. i don’t know what it is, but somehow this didn’t click with me at all.
From the exterior the most noticeable thing is of course the stripe pattern. It’s done decently enough and flows around the whole perimeter. other than that there is very little to say about the external design, the combined window/ air conditioning unit on the roof perhaps being the most noteworthy. The two integrated stowage boxes above the tow axle are also nice, though ultimately not that useful for actually keeping stuff in there.
On the right hand-side there’s a sun roof. Unfortunately the designers opted, of all things, for the regular green color, which to me makes the whole thing look very unpleasant. they also didn’t bother to at least create an even stripe pattern, further reducing the aesthetic appeal in my view. that aside, what bugs me the most about the roof is that it cannot be stowed away elegantly. Neither does it properly butt flat against the side wall nor is there a compartment to slide it in. You have to genuinely remove it if you don’t want it to get in the way, but have no storage option other than dumping it inside the trailer. This hasn’t really been thought through that well.
The interior can be accessed in multiple ways. Naturally, within the play world’s logic there is a door to get inside. This is nice in that it’s the version with the horizontal bars in black which oddly enough is a pretty rare commodity. One would think that since this element has existed for a while it would have been used in a ton of sets, but no, so far only three…
The second way of gaining access is to simply remove the roof. That is also pretty much the only sensible option if you actually want to change something of the internal layout and reach certain areas. The basic arrangement is already “realistic” in a sense, nicely reflecting the crammed space in these types of vehicles. Funny enough, despite the model being oversized for minifig scale, it feels just as constricted.
Finally, you can open the left hand side wall’s rear two-thirds. This is not that different from the Surfer Van (31079), but it has been executed a bit better here. Instead of a very long plate element that cause the whole section to bend multiple shorter plates and bricks are used, allowing for the small gaps from the manufacturing tolerances to balance things out and compensate the tension. Opening up this segment is also the only way to access the bathroom/ toilet. It’s in its own way a cute touch, but somehow always gets in the way and feels a bit unnecessary. If I were to use the model for serious play, I’d probably simply rip it out to free up the space.
I’ve had worse sets in my short LEGO career, but at the same time my enthusiasm for this set is limited. Personally I don’t even care for the minifig scale issue and on the face of it, all components are designed well enough, yet the spark won’t jump over. I suppose it’s a combination of this being ultimately still rather mundane and a bit boring plus the off-putting price. You know, I understand that they need to have this subject covered in every other product cycle, yet after a while it gets a bit stale because you’ve seen it before.
That and the fact that I can’t fathom who they are targeting with an 80 Euro “play set”. If I had kids, I would think very long and hard to get them a set that you also could buy an even nicer collectible car for like the Fiat 500 (10271), which kind of is the point. A collector’s item this set is not, it just has an outrageously insane price. To me it still comes down to that selling the car separately at half the cost would very likely have made for a much more satisfying experience. So if you are considering this one, make sure you get it as cheap as possible. Otherwise take your money elsewhere.