“Weep for the future, Na’Toth!”

I’m always one to sneak in a quote from my favorite sci-fi series of all time, Babylon 5, but sadly the melancholic undertones and the literal meaning of that particular one ring all too true for LEGO‘s first half year line-up for 2020, it seems.

I shared a few thoughts on Hidden Side and Speed Champions already a few days ago and now that images of the sets for City, Creator 3in1, Friends, Ninjago, Star Wars and Technic have been released, I feel like I’m stuck in a “WTF?” loop. The blunt and short version would be that about 70% of the sets are garbage, 20% are kinda okay and there’s only about 10% of sets that I would consider reasonably good. As if that weren’t enough, the ratings aren’t even consistent with what you would likely think, knowing my preferences and tastes.

Personally I’m most disappointed by the Friends sets. Why? To me they feel like a definite step back. This year was quite good with the water rescue theme and an equally sea life inspired fun fair theme, including the occasional interesting crossover of both worlds. Most notably everything was a bit toned down to the point of being almost realistic in terms of colors used. There were sets like the Heartlake City Restaurant (41379) that took this so far they would almost qualify as Creator 3in1 or Expert Modular Buildings with only hints of the typical Friends-related colors giving them away.

Unfortunately it seems this will be no longer the case and it’s back to wacky color combinations, overall flamboyancy and gaudiness plus non-realistic construction of e.g. vehicles. Aside from a few new pieces and recolors there is little to find there that would attract me. I even almost broke into loud laughter at the ridiculousness of the new hair salon looking way too familiar for comfort. To say it would be a rip-off of the one from three years ago would be stretching the truth a bit too hard, but the similarities are to apparent to dismiss.

Ninjago this time around doesn’t do much for me. The new cyber space theme with all the neon transparent colors and overall sharp-edged, aggressive design looks a tad too much like Nexo Knights reloaded. That doesn’t mean I might not buy one or two of the smaller sets just to check them out and get a few extra parts, but I think I’ll mostly pass. The last two years I bought a few sets and I guess that will have to do for now until another Shuricopter or similar comes along to tingle my taste buds.

The same is no doubt going to happen to City – I will try to get the animals in some form, but overall it’s probably fair to say that I don’t care much for the umpteenth re-tread of the police and fire patrol topics. They may be unavoidable standards for every new generation of four-year-olds every year, but on the whole it’s getting a bit stale. I’m also flabbergasted by the insane pricing. I would have loved to have children in my life, but seeing this I’m almost glad I don’t have to put up with my little tykes pestering me over those expensive toys.

Star Wars in a weird and wonderful way this time around isn’t the worst of the lot. Okay, it’s still all very much “been there, done that” and “more of the same”, but I find it oddly palatable. The new Poe Dameron X-Wing in its orange/ white livery with the huge rounded intakes looks pretty imposing and attractive to my eyes. If you already have the current one and the black one before it than this will make a nice third one to add to your line-up.

The smaller, figure-centric sets look okay, too, and, which I find pretty important, are not priced outrageously like e.g. the notorious Snoke’s Throne Room (75216). My favorite set of them all, though, has to be the Microfighter one with the Bantha. Similar to this year’s one with the Dewback it ticks all the boxes with me and I can’t help it. I just have to have it. In fact chances are this is one of the few sets I might buy more than once. It’s just too cute!

In the Creator 3in1 series of course the new building stands out. It’s nice to see LEGO having revived this tradition and the new toy store looks tasteful enough. It just looks awfully small even compared to the pet shop from earlier this year, so I’m not sure if it’s actually worth 50 Euro. This may be a case for waiting for the right discount to come along. Other than that I have set my sights on the set with the Dark Red dragon, though in actuality somehow the alternate scorpion build is what fascinates me most. Beyond that what I said earlier applies – I may pick up some of the other packages if I feel like it, but have no immediate urgent plans.

finally let’s talk about the debacle that is Technic. Yupp, you heard me right. Once again I think they are totally ruining the series. Once you subtract the “big” models like the Liebherr excavator or the Land Rover, you are pretty much left with what can only qualify weak shadows of great sets like the Claas Xerion and similar from only three years ago. In this short time the series has really been run into the ground and now only exists down in the dumps. Even their lame attempt at being funny by creating a super mini version of the aforementioned Xerion somehow misfires. At least I didn’t get that satisfied grin when you hit the punch line in a joke…

Here’s the thing: If you are a complete newbie to the series you are going to love the smaller models. The beach buggy isn’t half bad and neither are the pull-back drag racer and racing truck. Even the stunt show combo thing will go down well with kids. I also like the idea of actually floating boat parts. Sure, they’re too large for your bathtub swim, but will be fun during the summer in the pool. However, after all those sets clearly aimed at the younger audiences there is this terrible, terrible gap of nothing.

Some would call it “Models that define what Technic is supposed to represent.”, but that is perhaps a bit too grandiose. Still, one can’t deny that something is missing and this feeling will not be alleviated by the yellow crane, which itself might leave some unsatisfied due to it’s somewhat simple construction. On the bright side at least it brings back the yellow no. 5/ 6 panels (among other parts) and I’m sure people will buy this set in masses just to repair/ rebuild/ rebrick older sets where this was used.

Still, none of that can cover up the fact that the set itself is not the most attractive. Given the circumstances, this sure wouldn’t lure me into LEGO these days. In fact most of these Technic sets represent what has deterred me from even picking up the hobby for ages – crude, unsophisticated and toy-ish looking models. I know I sound like an old grandpa harping on about the better days, but that’s just how I feel.

So where does all of that leave us? If I were to make it sound positive in a very sarcastic way I would say that I can save lots of money, at least in the price ranges that are attainable for me. That’s good because of course I’m always on a tight budget, but at the same time also just sad. You know, at the end of the day I sometimes don’t know what’s more frustrating about being into LEGO: Not having enough money to buy the sets you actually want or standing in the aisles and wondering what to buy because the available choices are bad. With this cycle I’m definitely going to experience the latter a lot once I have exhausted the “good” options…

 

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…