New Year, New Friends – LEGO Friends Magazine, January 2023

The time “between the years” is surprisingly busy this year, with many of the LEGO-related magazines having slipped their publishing dates to this slot, so there’s going to be quite a bit to do for me on this front. For starters let’s have a look at the Friends magazine for January 2023.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Cover

LEGO Friends “celebrated” its tenth anniversary this year with very little fanfare. If the various blogs hadn’t written about it, you wouldn’t know. There was never a specific celebratory set or a special edition of the mag to make you aware on a broader basis and in particular outside the AFOL bubble. However, you might have noticed the different design for the 2023 sets. Apparently the company figured it would be time for a refresher of the series. This is not just affecting the visual design of the packaging and other marketing materials, by extension including the magazine, but also allegedly is supposed to modernize the Heartlake City world with new characters.

Of course half of that is just the usual marketing BS, as I don’t really believe much will change. They’re still going for the same tropes and stereotypes and just having a few more boys, more characters with colored skin and a few special needs people doesn’t really mean much when it’s so diluted that some things are barely noticeable. They still aim for girls of a certain age range and overall it’s too harmless to really advance matters like disabilities and diversity. Anyway, they’re throwing a ton of new names out there and this issue is filled to the brim with short bios and background info on those. Whether or not you can keep them all straight or don’t care much is an open question. I’ll probably not remember most of those names.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Comic

The poster hammers this home as well with a group shot of some of the new gang, but if you prefer there’s also a shot of some kittens in a basket on the back side.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Poster

The extra is a small cat castle/ cat scratching tree. It’s not that special, but overall done well enough. The more interesting aspect of it is the little black kitten. I tried to look it up on Bricklink, but it’s not yet listed there, so it must be a very new version of this creature. Even more surprising is the fact that I could only discover it in the upcoming Cat Hotel (41742). That would mean we’re getting a new animal version before it even appeared in a proper set. Could this be true? It’s certainly interesting to observe. If you don’t plan on buying that package, here’s your chance to get the little guy!

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Extra

With everything being new again I didn’t mind the usual shortcomings of this mag as much, but truth be told of course the comic is still terrible and so are a few other things. I guess once we get used to the new Heartlake City inhabitants it will be back to boring, but at least in this first issue getting acquainted to the new characters adds a bit of excitement and distracts from the less great parts.

Cats & Vets – LEGO Friends Magazine, May 2022

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

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Cover

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

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Comic

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

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Coloring Page

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

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Poster

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

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Extra

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

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

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

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Box

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

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Box

Price and Contents

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

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Overview

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

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Overview

The Café

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Stickers

The Playground

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

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

 

 

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

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

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Gate

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

The New Color

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

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

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

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

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

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


Concluding Thoughts

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

Yellow Warning – A quick Analysis of LEGO’s new 2022 Color

It’s been a minute since I had an excuse to nerd out about LEGO colors, but with them just adding Neon Yellow to their line-up it’s time to talk. It’s not going to be an ultra deep exploration of everything and I’m just going to share a few thoughts, so don’t expect too much.

Getting the good Stuff – Set 60319

In order to even be able to talk about this new color of course I had to procure a set. It’s still early in the year 2022 and the pieces in these colors have not proliferated enough yet to be easily available on Bricklink or from LEGO‘s own Bricks & Pieces service. Therefore I ordered the Fire Rescue & Police Chase (60319) from the City line of products. It was cheap on Amazon and while certainly not the most exciting set out there, it looked okay for what I had in mind plus some potential for re-using its parts later.

LEGO City, Fire Rescue & Police Chase (60319), Box

The set is pretty much your run-off-the-mill variety and you have seen everything in it done a million times in as many combinations. That doesn’t mean that’s bad and for a theme aimed at being played with by younger kids there is certainly only so much you can experiment with, but it sure isn’t the most glorious aspect of LEGO.

The main attraction is the large fire truck, which is solid enough for some intensive play. The drone on its cargo bed feels a bit pointless in the sense that it just stinks of corporate-mandated “We need to have a drone because it’s hip!”. I’m sure even most kids would have preferred a utility rack or water tank in its place. the smaller black car is the escape vehicle used by the crook lady and while serviceable is still kind of terrible. It has large open areas and gaps, in particular around the mudguards and uses the bare minimum of parts to even hold together. I really thought I had forgotten to add some pieces underneath to cover the gaping holes, but no, there’s really nothing supposed to be there.

LEGO City, Fire Rescue & Police Chase (60319), Overview

In addition to the two cars there is of course a police motorbike. Thankfully it’s printed, so despite being otherwise just a standard model it doesn’t look that bland. The small building represents an electrical power conversion station as you would find it in many areas to branch distribution lines and convert high voltage into household electricity. The front shutter can be opened and there is a “fire” element on a swiveling hinge on the roof that you are supposed to “extinguish” by firing water splotches from the drone and tip it over. There#s also very conveniently a water hydrant nearby. the traffic light is mounted on a ratcheted hinge as well and can be “run over” if you so desire while playing out your gangster chase.

LEGO City, Fire Rescue & Police Chase (60319), Notable Elements

The set does not contain too many fancy parts aside from the obvious Neon Yellow recolors, but there are a few interesting highlights. There’s the already mentioned “splat/ splotch” pieces, basically a round 2 x 2 tile with some protrusions and here you get two in Trans Light Blue to simulate water. In a static setup you would use them as puddles most likely. Then there’s also a new cat mold, actually a kitten/ young cat version of the regular one. It’s super cute and actually more appropriate to minifigure scale in terms of size since the normal cats often more feel like lynxes or small mountain lions. Colored hair pieces are also nice to have and then of course inevitably there has to be a new fire helmet in the new color.

For the 20 Euro I paid for this set this feels okay and now two weeks later you can get it even cheaper, but you could definitely find other models that are more attractive. If I wasn’t in such a hurry to satiate my own curiosity I’d definitely have looked into other options, but at least I got a cute kitty out of it…

Analyzing the Color

The set mentioned above contains exactly three (!) 1 x 2 plates in the Neon Yellow color and I used one of them for my little analysis simply because it would be easy to use other such plates for comparisons. It’s pretty much the only LEGO piece that at one point or another was available in any color they ever did and thus lends itself for these types of articles.

The color in question is of course pretty much on everybody’s mind, given that it’s widely used on all manner of rescue and emergency vehicles. Technically it’s RAL 1026 Tageslichtgelb (Daylight Yellow) and its matching counterparts from other color standardization systems. It was unavoidable that one day it would make an appearance in LEGO‘s portfolio, it was just a question of when. Competing toy makers such as Playmobil have had it since forever. Now the real question in a versatile system such as LEGO bricks becomes how useful it would potentially be for other applications outside serving as a primary warning color.

Despite being called Neon Yellow this color has a slightly green-ish tinge which in the real world has something to do with how it is supposed to reflect light in specific ranges of the spectrum. A quick side-by-side comparison with the existing greens and yellows shows that it doesn’t really fit that well with the more regular colors and always sticks out. If at all, it looks the least obtrusive next to the pastel-y Bright Light Yellow and Yellowish Green.The foregone conclusion therefore would have to be that it will be extremely difficult to integrate elements into things like buildings or non-rescue cars unless they are intentionally supposed to be very bright and flamboyant. It’s more likely we’ll see this sprinkled in as the occasional decoration and highlight.

My lousy camera doesn’t do a good job of capturing the colors correctly due to its limited dynamic range, but the intensity of the color is affected massively by the light situation. Under intense light it really pops or even stings the eyes whereas under dusky/ overcast light it exposes a slightly translucent quality where it gets toned down quite a bit. This is also important to keep in mind in context with other colors and can be seen to some degree on the firetruck already. It’s shadowy side makes the color appear slightly duller and the Red seems to bleed into the other bricks. These perceptional phenomena need to be considered carefully similar to when I wrote my article about the Coral back then.

Neon Yellow, Color Comparison

While the Neon Yellow would be a strong contrast color to most others, there are a few where it is “harmonious” in terms of saturation and perceived brightness. Those are of course Coral and then also Bright Green, Dark Azure and Dark Pink. Dark Turquoise might also qualify to some degree, despite its own caveats and how it responds to different light situations. This is a rather abstract theoretical statement, naturally, as the practical integration would still be hugely affected by the ratio in which these colors are actually used. If you get into trouble, though, you should keep these colors in mind as they could be used to soften otherwise very harsh contrasts and can make things look more pleasant.

Availability

It would be an exaggeration to say that LEGO go out of their way to make the new color available, but they are introducing it on a rather broad basis with a good variety of pieces. There is a considerable number of City and Friends sets where bits and pieces are done in Neon Yellow. The problem however is that many of these new parts are not necessarily the most useful with many of them being wedge plates, brackets, lesser used brick types or large compound elements like a helicopter hull. On top of it the more regular elements are often only used very sparingly, with some sets only containing two of e.g. a 1 x 4 plate to barely cover what’s needed to represent pin stripes on a car. This is in particular limiting for MOC builders who at this point may not be able to find that particular piece they may need. This will of course improve rather quickly as more and more sets come out, but in the short term it could be difficult to source what you need.


Concluding Thoughts

New colors are always a good thing, but truth be told, despite it being sort of an inevitability based on the market, LEGO‘s competitors and the color being everywhere Neon Yellow would not have been my top priority. Using Bright Light Yellow as a stand-in substitute worked well enough and seemed to work well enough and kids couldn’t have cared less most likely. Most “serious” fans would simply have preferred other colors to be introduced or revived like the much-coveted Sand Red for architectural models or one of my personal pet peeves, a decent realistic plant green.

In the meantime we’ll most definitely be seeing the new color a lot, even when it’s only used on invisible elements inside the models for visual distinction in the building instructions. That’s all well, but I’m really hoping that we’ll be over that soon and LEGO have plans to give us other colors.

Vet Nursery – LEGO Friends Magazine, May 2021

The passing of time currently feels oddly variable. On some days it drags on like molasses, other days it goes by swiftly despite literally nothing going on due to the pandemic more or less causing a lot of things to be shut down. I really have lost my feeling for time and so I was almost surprised that another two months had passed and the latest edition of the LEGO Friends magazine, this time for May, was due.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2021, Cover

Unsurprisingly, the comic is terrible. I honestly have no clue what they are doing. You already go in with the lowest expectations and then they manage to underbid this even further. It’s just obnoxious stuff filled to the brim with nonsensical story telling and an ugly art style.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2021, Comic

In brighter news, the activities department is well-equipped with some interesting things. There’s an almost fully usable double spread for coloring (and another single page to same effect) and some instructions for creating a simple cat-shaped  felt cushion if you feel so inclined. Interspersed is a simple info page that isn’t really telling you much, but hey, kittens are always cute! 🙂 Also thrown in are the usual simple puzzles, of course.

Most of the time the posters are just as ugly as the comic, but for this edition someone had the genius idea to actually leave room for the photo instead of plastering Friends kitsch all over so the reverse/ backside poster is at least acceptable. Without “ugly Mia” staring at you it could have been almost really good.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2021, Poster

The extra is the kitten nursery/ vet equipment also seen in the comic with a scales for checking the weight, some generic “stuff” box and a small stool/ perch. With the orange-brown-ish kittens featured on so many pages, naturally you also get one of the new baby cats from this year’s line of sets in Dark Orange. I still haven’t caught up with a lot of that, waiting for some better discounts, so for the time being I’m happy to get one of those little critters this way in addition to the Dark Turquoise version from one of the cubes.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2021, Extra

Overall this is not a bad issue, but the same old feeling I bring up with every of those reviews is still true: In my opinion LEGO Friends desperately needs a design overhaul and a version 2.0 restart/ reboot. It has headed in the wrong direction for too long and some things just cannot be fixed with minor tweaks. Especially the atrocious character designs and comic style need a major do-over.

Cube-ism – LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662 through 41666)

Heartlake City is a weird little town as is the LEGO Friends universe at large and so over the years there certainly have been a number of rather odd sets and products been associated with the series. Sometimes one doesn’t mind and they are halfway okay and useful like the heart boxes two years ago, other times one can only wonder what substances they must be inhaling in Billund to even come up with this stuff. One of those anomalies are the LEGO Friends cubes that have been around since last year.

I never had much interest in the first two series from the outset. to me it was always clear that this would be just a cheap way for LEGO to cash in with a minimum of effort. Sure, they had to produce the boxes and manufacture those colored animals, but outside that everything just appeared like recycling surplus parts readily at hand in the factory, and not the most attractive ones at that. Even the girls’ dress prints were the standard versions found in the respective wild life/ sea rescue sets at the time. Other than really wanting a Dark Azure llama or teddy bear there was really no good reason to get one of those cubes. I didn’t even like the odd color combinations with the Trans Blue/ Trans Purple lids, sometimes with glitter even.

All that changed ever so slightly with this year’s edition, that finally seemed to add some genuine value to the series and improved upon several aspects. So I added them to my list of things to check out and got four of them. I did not purchase Emma’s Dalmatian Cube (41663) yet, because it is actually the most bland one (which is a bit ironic, given that Emma is still my favorite girl), but I might do so at some point just for the sake of being complete with this series.

Price and Contents

Of course despite my “getting over it” the price to actual value rating for these sets is still terrible. With the suggested retail price locked at 10 Euro, you can’t really put it another way. That’s a lot of dough for two large box pieces, a minidoll and a handful of regular LEGO pieces. Therefore naturally the advice has to be to get them as cheap as you possibly can. In the past prices would dip down to around 5 Euro for the older series’ cubes, but due to the insane demand in the pandemic you should feel lucky if you get them for 7 Euro. That is unless you’re feeling really adventurous and want to wait for that clearance sale early next year with the potential risk of not being able to get everything you want then.

The packaging is the pretentious “bag” type. also used on the already mentioned heart boxes and also quite common for some Ninjago stuff like the various small Spinjitzu play sets. This means that apart from the actual cube there is a lot of empty space in there. Typically there’s one of the bags with the larger pieces stuffed in the tip, but overall still a lot of room for nothing. My impression is that they really could have packaged more nicely into one of the Brickheadz-sized boxes and retailers would likely have been the happier for them not gobbling up so much unusable shelf space.

A little bit of Decoration

A notable difference compared to the previous editions is the introduction of exterior decorations for the cubes. This was a big contributing factor to my decision to have a look at those sets. Granted, I don’t really care much for the cloth pieces, but if you know me, the new bracket elements used on the cat’s and pug’s ears inevitably caught my attention. This goes even further on the cat with the two 2 x 3 curved slopes in bright Pink, a piece otherwise so far only found on the ill-fated Overwatch D.Va & Reinhardt (75978) set. So yes, my obsession about specific pieces kicked in and drove me further toward a purchase.

LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662-41666)

Soul Mates – The Girls and their Pets

As I wrote earlier, I never had much interest in the surprise animals in the earlier series’ boxes. The concept of taking an existing mold and recoloring it just for the sake of coercing people to buy multiple such sets to collect them all is still extremely foreign to me and, given the cost, really also a bit unfair in my opinion. Okay, people do crazy stuff all the time and you need not look far when you see how some people spend a small fortune on minifigures, but to me it’s just weird. Aside from my financial restrictions maybe I’m just thinking too practically about these matters to be ensnared by any such collectibles stuff.

LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662-41666)

The animals are what the names of the boxes imply, with the only real novelty being that the pug, the cat and also Emma‘s Dalmatian are the new pup/ cub baby versions for 2021. Only the flamingo and bunny represent adult versions. The flamboyant bird is pretty much the only creature where this color stuff makes at least a lick of sense in that it looks credible and can be used rather universally. It’s as a matter of fact one of the few items from the previous series (with the seahorse being the other exception perhaps) that I wouldn’t mind having all versions of. Anyway, I got lucky on the first try and got the conventional version in Dark Pink, which is fine with me. As you can see, the other animals take some getting used to in these odd colors no matter how cute they look otherwise.

The most notable thing however this time around aren’t even the pets, but rather the girls themselves. Someone at LEGO must have realized that in order to compel people to buy this expensive stuff you have to give them something unique to make it worth their while and lo and behold, all of the girls have custom shirt designs reflecting their association with their animal! Of course that doesn’t preclude that those same prints may be reused later in regular sets as well, but for the time being you only can find them here. don’t get me wrong – I have limited use in my life for normal minfigures and even less for minidolls, but for a kid there could be some value here if they e.g. play with their vet clinic or similar. A distraught Mia having her injured pet checked out and arriving on the scene in a matching shirt has its value.

Olivia’s Flamingo Cube (41662)

The individual cubes are pretty much what you would expect – serviceable play scenes with a minimalist approach to the details. However, this series has netted us some unique items that also should be useful in the long term.

The first of those is funny enough the minifigure head with the watermelon print. This will make many people happy who are looking to spice up their grocery stores, organic café or garden. It’s really one of those little items that makes you wonder why it took so long, considering that we had the matching printed quarter tile for forever already. Another nice addition is the yellow leaf element after they were introduced in the Modular Buildings Bookstore (10270). And finally of course the pink frog, but as you may already know you can easily get heaps of them by just buying the Bonsai Tree (10281). A nice touch, but as I wrote in my various frog-related articles such as this review I’m still waiting for that Strawberry Dart Frog. 😉

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flamingo Cube (41662), Interior

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flamingo Cube (41662), Builds

Mia’s Pug Cube (41664)

The pug cube is easily the most mundane of the ones I bought. If it wasn’t for the ears and thus the brackets they are built with I likely would have skipped over them. There’s a bit of a crossover with the pug costume figure from the current Collectible Minifigures Series 21 with the Dark Turquoise bone chewing toy being present. I guess this connection could be incentive for some minifig collectors to buy this set as well.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Pug Cube (41664), Interior

LEGO Friends, Mia's Pug Cube (41664), Builds

Stephanie’s Cat Cube (41665)

The cat cube is again all about the ears and the brackets, but some additional value is easily found in the blue bird. They are still surprisingly scarce, only being included in a handful of sets. Would be good if LEGO really used them more often and also produced them in different colors so one could enliven your models. It’s almost tragic that you can buy expensive Modular Buildings, but for the life of it can’t have a flock of sparrows populating them. The other thing of value, and this is going to sound extremely crazy is – *drumroll* – the small white feather/ quill. You can look it up on Bricklink, but apparently these small minifigure head accessories fetch a high price as apparently they are in demand for restoration of old pirate-ish minifigures or Harry Potter stuff, among other things.

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), Interior

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), Builds

Andrea’s Bunny Cube (41666)

The bunny cube again has one of them yellow leaves along with two orange ones and some nice Dark Brown (!) elements. In addition, there’s also a recolored Red BB-8 droid head/ dome as a mushroom, a new variant for this year. As far as I know this can only be found in the Heartlake City Park (41447) otherwise.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Bunny Cube (41666), Interior

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Bunny Cube (41666), Builds

The Bracket Mystery

I’ve mentioned it a number of times, but indeed LEGO introduced a new bracket type element just for these sets to be able to create the ears on some of the cubes. For now they only come in Bright Pink and Bright Light Orange, which limits their usefulness for more generic projects right out of the gate, but beyond that there is also the lingering question of whether you would ever need them?! I have thought about this quite a bit and while I won’t claim to have considered everything, I can’t quite see where this would fit.

Point in case: In regular models without the challenge of having to build over a curved brick you would just use the regular perpendicular brackets and only use the curved pieces left and right of this. So far there really seems no advantage in using this piece other than using this as an option to create specific patterns or loosely attach stuff as I was pondering elsewhere already. We should find out soon if there are sets that put this to use and then perhaps things will click with me. For the time being it’s just a bit of fun doodling around. At least to those who were interested in this: Yes, it really fits of the arched bricks and not just on the cubes as the image sufficiently illustrates (I hope).

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), New Bracket


Concluding Thoughts

Make no mistake – while this year’s edition of these cubes is considerably better than the brainless efforts of the past, this is still not something I would consider in any way essential. It’s nice that they are investing a bit more into the series, but overall the concept strikes me as too limited to really go anywhere. This is typical fare you may want to bring along as a small gift for birthdays or buy for your child on a holiday when you are in a generous spending mood, but as “serious” LEGO this is simply missing too much.

It’s extremely likely that you can always find a 10 Euro City or Creator set that offers far more building fun and play value, not to speak of competitors’ offerings, which ultimately may be the crux of this product. It doesn’t feel that much like a brick-based toy, yet at the same time it would also be pretty poor choice to take on a trip to a sandy beach for instance. It’s stuck between those two sides and if the collecting aspect for the colored animals doesn’t even matter to you, it has very little going for it.

Lucifer-ific!

It literally took forever – the LEGO Disney Princess issue no. 4 (July/ August) was originally previewed in the last edition for June 6th, but only came out this last Saturday, meaning 1.5 months later. Lucky enough I was on the road for a doctor’s appointment and was able to snatch up a copy without much delay this time.

LEGO Magazine, Disney Princess, August 2020, Cover

I was rather keen on this issue for the buildable parts because of course Lucifer, the deceitful cat from the Cinderella animated movie. It has only been in two or three sets recently and those are ones from the 4+ range, thus most adults won’t buy them, and it’s therefore nice to get the figure this way. The other parts are useful, too, with in particular the white arched window and a matching arch on top standing out. That’s always nice to have for MOCs. Even the 1 x 4 roof brick in Dark Blue falls into that category. The small window corner also goes well together with the Cinderella Mini Castle (30554) polybag set as illustrated in the photo.

LEGO Magazine, Disney Princess, August 2020, Buildable Parts

Lucifer himself makes an appearance in the illustrated readable story in the second half and his devilish cunning is captured so well, the pictures would make for a good poster. At least it put a broad grin on my face. The main comic on the other hand feels weird this time. It reminds me too much of those terrible LEGO Friends comics and on top of it it feels stylistically rather disjointed with different graphical elements. I get that they were trying something new, but the result doesn’t look attractive to me.

LEGO Magazine, Disney Princess, August 2020, Poster A Speaking of which… the same could be said about the posters. The vertical one looks nice, but the second, horizontal one feels overstuffed and lacking in contrast, making it more difficult to recognize what it is even about.

LEGO Magazine, Disney Princess, August 2020, Poster B

 

Derived from the comic is a bit of crafting activity. As you can see there’s a rather colorful owl in there (which would actually be cool to have as a physical LEGO animal figure) and you can build a small deco version of it to pin on your wall or door. Unfortunately, and that’s a serious criticism, it’s once again not printed on thicker, more stable stock. So if you and your kids feel like building the little critter you may want to glue it on cardboard or alternatively scan it and print it on photo carton with your home printer.

LEGO Magazine, Disney Princess, August 2020, Owl Crafting

Overall still a nice issue despite some shortcomings. If you have been paying attention you also already know what’s coming in the next edition. Yes, Belle is featured so prominently in the comic and the poster she will be included as a figure next time. The obvious question is, however, whether we will have to wait just as long as for this one. The current plan according to Blue Ocean‘s web site is to release at the end of September, but whether this date sticks is anyone’s guess…

March Veterinary

Some topics are come back again and again, so it’s little surprise that the new LEGO Friends magazine once more is built around the pet veterinary subject in its March issue.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2020, Cover

Most notably this becomes apparent by the buildable parts included. The examination table has been done a million times. In fact it was in one of the first Friends issues I reviewed on this blog and is also a recurring feature in similarly themed sets like e.g. Emma’s Mobile Veterinary Clinic (41360). The building style is always pretty much the same, with some variations on the decorations and extras thrown in to adapt it to whatever is the latest fashion. This time this means it comes with some prominent Dark Cyan pieces, bringing its color scheme in line with this year’s Heartlake City Hospital (41394) for instance. Overall that’s okay, but I wish they’d at least include some different animals.

One possible way is in fact even presented prominently in the magazine – one of the comics heavily leans onto the new magic cubes with the surprise animals, playing around with the fact that they contain the animals in previously unseen colors and even include “rare” versions in Pearl Gold. The comic features a blue peacock and lama, but for the immediate issue I would have settled on Chico the cat coming perhaps in Medium Azure or Lavender instead of the standard grey version.

The rest of the magazine is surprisingly well done (within the limits of what you can expect). It seems the message is getting through and it’s steering into a new direction with more emphasis on activities. There’s a good amount of puzzles and some large coloring and tracing images, so you might want to dig out the crayons… This could keep your kids busy for quite a while. That makes it overall pretty okay even if you don’t obsess about the little bags with the pieces on the cover like I do.