Not quite safe – Turtles Rescue Mission (41376)

As you may well know by now as a follower of this little blog, I do have a soft spot for the life aquatic, i.e. all kinds of sea creatures. That’s why the new summer LEGO Friends sets themed around various subjects of rescuing and exploring marine life push all the right buttons with me. Eventually I plan to get all of them, but for the time being I started out with the Turtles Rescue Mission (41376).

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Box

The set technically isn’t officially released yet in Germany as I’m writing this, but of course you can already find it in a few shops. Against my usual cautiousness and price-consciousness I jumped the gun on this one when I was doing the shopping rounds in the next big city and took the set home at full price. I was just too keen having a hands-on look at the new baby turtles and some of the new parts. I would expect the price to drop to about 15 Euro once it is more widely available from its original 20 Euro, though, and that seems fair enough for a set that ultimately is a bit lightweight.

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Overview

The set comes as three distinct separate builds (or four, if you count the Zobo robot as well) consisting of an amphibious vehicle to move around and recover the actual turtles, a turtle nest and of course the rescue station/ base itself, which more or less is just a simple beach hut.

The tired theme of Zobo and its ever same builds gets at least a little more interesting insofar its goggles/ binoculars are a new mold. It’s a bit crisper and has now a fully formed stud on top as well a hole going through the entire piece to allow inserting bar-based parts. The bottom is also changed to have an actual anti-stud shape instead of just a simple recess. As a result, the piece comes in at full two plates/ two-third brick height which along with the other modifications should and will make it much easier to integrate it into other models, including the previously impossible sandwiching between other pieces.

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Amphibious Vehicle, Left Front View

The vehicle is a nice little build and conveys that “lift body” feel just right by being flat as a flounder, yet having a relatively wide body and thus large surface area to provide buoyancy. The model suffers a bit from its excessive use of color and in particular the Coral seat and Dark Cyan bits feel a bit unnecessary. Sticking with the Light Bluish Grey/ Dark Blue / Yellow color scheme used on the actual hull would have been more than enough, even more so since the neon trans studs on their White support frame and the red megaphone introduce yet more colors.

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Amphibious Vehicle, Right Aft View

The little turtle nest is just a quick one-minute affair and more or less merely serves to showcase the new baby turtle and cracked egg mold. The latter is of course just a White recolor of the golden crown piece introduced in some of the The LEGO Movie 2 sets. Additionally you get three of the old Bionicle spine parts and since they are extremely useful for all sorts of dangly weeds and other greenery stuff you can never have enough of them, so it’s nice to get quite a few of them here. The small turtle is naturally adorable and also comes as triplets in this set, giving you a good number of them to start out with and play.

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Turtle Nest

The rescue station building is unfortunately a bit of a head-scratcher. It looks the part and within the play world of the set is acceptable, but to say it is flimsy would be doing favors. It’s really extremely fragile to the point where in the real world the tiniest beach tornado would shred it to pieces. Too many connections are just attached to a single stud and it’s way too easy to break them off. Even the walls are merely held together by a single strip of plates to cap them off, which is at best questionable. If it wasn’t for the new 6 x 7 window frame (in this case used sans a glass piece merely as a support structure) the walls would likely tilt over all the time or fracture into the 2 x 1 bricks they are (mostly) made of.

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Beach Hut, Front View

The decorative turtle used for signage is strikingly similar to the one in the Creator polybag set 30476 and even uses some of the same parts. I’m almost inclined to think that it would have been a nice touch/ gag to just include all the pieces so the user could decide which type of turtle to build and/ or leave off the sign and get a decently sized separate turtle build.

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Beach Hut, Back Right View

The interior doesn’t have much to offer that would be reminiscent of an actual animal rescue like an examination table, a shower sink to wash off dirt and at least some sort of storage box, heat lamp or incubator to keep the turtle babies and eggs warm and safe if only temporarily. Overall it just feels empty and one isn’t quite sure what to actually even do while playing.

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Beach Hut, Back Left View

The biggest disappointment is undoubtedly the ground/ floor. It’s assembled from separate plates of different sizes and shapes and while this usually works okay, here it doesn’t. There are just not enough robust connections to hold everything together with the blue “water” part being particularly bad. It’s merely hanging on a single 2 x 1 plate and what little indirect connection power the stairs built from tiles can provide.

I get what they were aiming for, it just doesn’t work out. It would have been much better to build it on a single 8 x 16 plate or something like that and simulate the water with transparent blue tiles. As an alternative, another layer (or two) of plates underneath would have improved the situation massively and also could have allowed a bit of shaping to get a gentle slope and slight elevation.

The small sand castle feels a bit of a waste since under normal conditions it isn’t even visible. I don’t mind getting a few 1 x 1 pyramid pieces and a ball, it’s just that it feels kinda useless.

LEGO Friends, Turtles Rescue Mission (41376), Beach Hut, Ground

All things considered, this set is neither here nor there, as they say. As a play set it more or less fails due to its odd absence of actual playable features except for the vehicle, whereas as a display item the incomplete nature of the building might aggravate you once you’ve gotten tired of just looking at the flamboyant colors. It would really take some effort to improve it, which could even go as far as buying one or two more sets to enlarge the hut and fill it up with bits and bobs. For that you should perhaps wait for prices to drop considerably. Until then only the most ardent turtle lovers should consider buying this set…

No real Talent – Andrea’s Talent Show (41368)

Do you know that weird feeling of wanting a LEGO set and at the same time being extremely reluctant and skeptical about it? That was pretty much the case with Andrea’s Talent Show (41368), so let’s see what’s to love and what not and also explain my inner struggles a bit.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Box

In my life as an graphics artist working in a small media production company the subject of the set wasn’t that alien to me. Occasionally I would even help out with pushing buttons behind the scenes on trade shows and open house events for our clients so the screens wouldn’t remain black. That and of course I knew a few people who were in the stage show business, be that riggers, audio engineers, lighting people and so on. Combined with my own interest in elaborate shows from the likes of Cirque du Soleil or our very own Friedrichstadtpalast the subject on some level appealed to me. at the same time, though, I totally despise those awful “talent” shows on TV, so this caused me some trepidation to actually commit to it.

As usual the “right” price would help to convince me, so I took the opportunity when it dropped below 30 Euro. I think I ultimately got it for 28 Euro or something like that. The original price of 50 Euro is just ridiculous, so stay away from this set if you can’t get it cheaply enough. It’s definitely not worth that even if you allow wiggle room for the many large parts that by their nature are already a bit more expensive. Case in point: Due to the unusual colors e.g. even those eight Magenta plates in the set could be had cheaper on Bricklink than what they would cost you when buying the set. I’d definitely not spend more than 40 Euro on it even on a good day.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Overview

The set itself is reasonably large and comes with a number of little side builds, yet you always feel like something is missing. More importantly – to me, anyway – the assembled stage looks very uninviting due to the extensive use of Black. For a Friends set this is pretty uncommon and unfortunately doesn’t really elevate the set. I understand why they did it (more on that further down), but I still don’t particularly like it. Using Light Bluish Grey at least for some of those parts would have been preferable and incidentally also more “realistic”, as e.g. most trussing for portable stage construction is just plain aluminium, zinc coated lightweight steel or stainless steel.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Stage InsertHow unsuitable the Black is can easily be determined by just looking at the images of the little turntable inserts for the stage’s front area. The larger parts simply look like a mush, which is something you would avoid in a real scenario, at least in this way. Of course lots of Black are used on real stages to hide things in the background. Anyway, as the center pieces the inserts do not look particularly convincing. For all intents and purposes they should be flamboyant and stand out with strong colors. The singer pedestal could be Medium Lavender, the magic trick table with the rabbit could have glittery parts and the drum kit could at least have had its supports in Gold or Silver.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Stage Insert LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Stage Insert

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Jury Table

The judges’ table feels equally unimpressive and underdeveloped. Naturally there would be at least three jury members in most shows, so it feels way too small. They should at least have aimed to include two seats. how they undermined their own intention in fact becomes apparent by the elaborate construction of the buttons. They use rubbery Technic connector elements underneath them to give the effect of touch buttons rather than permanent switches as would have been the case with a simpler, more straightforward approach. It’s really odd to “waste” this idea in such a manner.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Dressing Rooms

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Dressing Room Connectors

The “dressing rooms” share a similar fate in that they are way too small and thus just don’t feel “real”. They plug into the back of the stage at the sides if you choose so, but in that case feel somehow quite misplaced. In my view they would have to have some panels then to give the idea of some physical separation even if only with paper-thin walls.LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Front View

The front view of the stage looks okay, but ultimately empty. aside from my usual not using the stickers in the set this can be attributed to the total absence of a background or for that matter the stage having no real depth. this brings us back to one of my previous points – the stage is black because most mobile phones and tablets have black frames and you are supposed to use one of those devices as a large background LED screen/ projection.

That’s all well and good if you have one, but there are at least two flaws in this plan: First, LEGO don’t tell you where to get those show-y backgrounds and how to get them on your device. In the end you might spend hours scouring YouTube trying to find a suitable clip and then struggle to somehow download/ rip it to your phone or tablet. I’m not even going to begin debating the legal implications.

The second flaw in this plan sure is that even if you have a mobile device available you might not want to give it to your kids to play around with. Therefore it seems to me it would have been inevitable to include some printed cardboard as an alternative to put in place. I mean they know how to do it with their Movie Maker sets and some others, so it sure wouldn’t be too much to ask, or would it?

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Top View with Insert

The shallowness of the stage is even more apparent from a slightly angled top-down view. This also shows that the stage is by no means a contiguous surface. It’s a missed opportunity that could easily have been remedied by including some of these new inverted round plates in White. That would have nicely hidden away the underlying gear construction for the turntable, of course.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Top View with exposed Gears

Sadly, this part doesn’t make much sense, either. If you look at the picture of the backside and imagine your phone being slotted into the yellow Technic holders, the driving gear might be very difficult to reach it would have been much smarter to construct a longer drive train using multiple gears and have it be accessible from one of the stage’s sides.

If that wasn’t enough, what also wouldn’t work with a device in place are the score boards. If you do the math in your head, you should come to realize that in their up position where they are supposed to be held in place by the grey axles they would also rest on the edge of your device and never drop down once you pull out the stoppers. This is such a glaring oversight and lapse in functional logic.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Back View

All things considered, this is far from a great set. I got what I wanted from it for the low price I bought it for, but I sure wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. This set is full of unnecessary mistakes and shortcomings and my resounding feeling is that the designer(s) were totally clueless how traditional stage design or design for TV shows actually works. Most annoyingly, though, the almost inescapable requirement for some sort of stage background makes the set feel lifeless without it. The Black color doesn’t help, either, even more so in light of the absence of more bling that it would contrast with. It really feels sort of drab and dreary when it should be exuberant and colorful…

Fiery Strawberry Jam

Due to the changed release cycle, the LEGO Friends and City magazines came out today on the same day, so I’m taking the opportunity to review them all at once.

LEGO Magazine, City, June 2019, Cover

Once again built around this year’s firefighters theme, the City mag comes with a little helicopter thingy and a female minifigure. The model is rudimentary, to say the least and its originality ends at creatively using a carriage drawbar as an aft beam. The rest is kept to the bare minimum and thus not particularly detailed. They could at least have thrown in a wedge piece for the front hood! The current themes being so simplified unfortunately also trickles down to the comics and given the flimsy nature of the model it doesn’t make for interesting visuals. Overall this isn’t really that great.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2019, Cover

The Friends mag only coming out every other month now here in Germany one would think they make a bit more of an effort and at least pick the best parts from the skipped issues and included them in place of less attractive content, but it appears there’s no hope in sight. At least the comic is okay this time around. They still use those awful CG figures for the posters, though, so there’s that.

The model of the waffle stand isn’t anything extraordinary, but as a little surprise contains a printed round 2 x 2 grille tile that can be used fantastically on technical models and seems to not have been used on models in quite some time. This alone could be worth buying this magazine. The colors on the cover are misleading, BTW. The 2 x 1 plates appear to be Medium Azure, but are actually Dark Cyan. Someone must have mistweaked the colors when preparing the photo for print production…

Yellow Strawberry Cake – Olivia’s Cupcake Café (41366)

Occasionally there are ideas that I can get immediately behind without knowing much about the set, so Olivia’s Cupcake Café (41366) was on my list even after I had only seen the first promotional images way back last year.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Cupcake Café (41366), Box

Of course the thing that jumps into your face is the contour of the facade indeed being shaped like a cupcake with its stylized strawberry signage, the fluffy cream topping, what could be interpreted as fruit puree resembled with the Dark Pink and dough made of Light Yellow. The color combination certainly isn’t for everyone, but since it’s Olivia‘s color scheme in the first place, it incidentally truly fits this time.

Regardless, the very specific sort of “acquired taste” coloring is reflected by the prices fluctuating at the lower end of what you can expect, so it’s perhaps not LEGO‘s best-selling Friends set this year. I got mine for around 17 Euro, but now it seems to be at a more stable 20 Euro threshold most of the time. That is acceptable. The original 30 Euro asking price is likely not, as this is really a small model. Sure, it has 335 parts, but a good chunk of them are just small elements that don’t contribute much to the bulk value.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Cupcake Café (41366), Overview

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Cupcake Café (41366), Vending MachineThe assembly of the set  begins with a few small side builds. The first is a little vending machine. It comes with a simple push/ pull mechanism at the bottom that allows the stacked snacks to drop down. They can easily be refilled directly via the hole on the top, obviously. In light of the smallness of the rest of the set this could naturally have been larger and/ or even been a more generic fridge/ cake locker that they also possibly could have integrated in the main section.

 

 

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Cupcake Café (41366), Delivery Vehicle The delivery vehicle is just another variation of the Ape/ Tuk-Tuk type three-wheelers found in so many flavors in other sets across different series from City to Ninjago, so there’s not much to report here. Arguably the open construction doesn’t really make that much sense in terms of realism and they should have used a closed container with a slide-in tray, but for easy and quick access during play it’s okay.

Moving on to the main building, there are quite a few criticisms to be found. Not so much with the overall look because as I said within what you can expect it’s actually a nice idea, but with the construction. First, and that’s really quite annoying, is the rather nonsensical build order. It’s structured in a way where you are basically building “layers” from right to left, a lot of times leaving gaps and jumping all over the place. Inevitably that results in many parts dangling around rather loosely, including the floor plates, making it difficult to handle the model at all for quite some time. It’s really totally backwards, as logic would dictate that you start by building a base layer of plates, tiles and bricks to hold everything together before moving on. Really unfathomable who came up with this highly impractical assembly pattern.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Cupcake Café (41366), Front View

The second issue I have is a smaller one, but funny enough would also solve the first one to a degree – the use of space feels in efficient. in particular the large rotating table takes up a lot of room, including the smaller driver gear. And that’s my point: To me it would have made perfect sense to hide all this stuff underneath some hollow pedestal. That would have allowed for more strategic placement of the little gear on the side or back edge and due to the required construction the floors would automatically already be stabilized. I’m not saying that the way it is is unworkable, it’s just that it could have been done more elegantly.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Cupcake Café (41366), Back View

They could have even expanded the mechanism to also drive a second rotating table inside a much larger location and that is my final point. Somehow looking at the model’s brown “wood” walls reminds me of some makeshift café in the countryside – an old hut, barn or bungalow that’s already there and the cupcake part as some sort of faux facade set before one of the large windows. Extending the wall on the left and perhaps adding a hint of a roof with some slopes would have nicely transported this. Then again of course the same is true if you styled it in all white with a tin roof as a kiosk in a recreational resort. Many possibilities.

While it’s certainly not the greatest Friends set of all time, once you’ve overcome all those little annoyances it looks actually okay. There’s a nice idea here. It only suffers from somehow feeling incomplete. If I were to rebuild it, I’d definitely dig into my stash of bricks and change a few things in the interest of a more regular, consistent design. So for what it’s worth, this is more of an inspirational model that begs to be combined with others, modified and expanded. E.g. it might look nice if you build a little outdoor food court with Emma’s Art Café (41336). The Dark Pink would certainly match and even the combined functionality makes sense…

No checkered Flag – The (failed) Friends Kart Racing Series

Something that has been on my mind for a while is that I always wanted to do an article on what I consider the LEGO Friends failed kart racing series. I know, these are strong and bold words, but before digging into the details, allow me to elaborate on why I think this sub-theme has bombed – strictly limited to what I can determine from my own observations as an adult here in Germany.

To that effect I have packed the reviews of the Service & Care Truck (41348), Drifting Diner (41349) and Creative Tuning Shop (41351) into one article to make it easier to follow my arguments and draw your own comparisons. I will also share my thoughts on the remaining two sets based on studying the digital building instructions, photos and having seen them (and in part played with them) in stores.

The Reasons

As with any such thing you have to consider both the economic side as well as the actual contents and quality of the sets because they are intrinsically linked. Detractors will of course be quick to point out that a lot of that is subjective and I’m not going to deny that, but with a bit of common sense it should not be too hard to follow my arguments. Let me begin with the business stuff.

The sets don’t appear to sell well at all and as far as I can tell never really have ever since they were released last year. There are a few strong indicators for that:

  • Prices for these sets slumped immediately after release.
  • The sets are still sold on permanent relatively heavy discounts.
  • At this point several online stores and retailers already do no longer even list them, despite their being part of the current catalog still.
  • Whenever I’m out and about in stationary stores, sets seem to recognizably sit on the shelves for a long time, i.e. you can find out individual boxes based on damage marks you already saw a few weeks ago.

All of that can be seen as a sign that if it weren’t for the continuously ongoing promotions and low prices those sets, they likely would sell even worse. The counter thesis to prove this even further would be that even something as popular mundane LEGO City sets sell at higher average prices due to stable demand.

Since a basic rule of economic science is that demand drives prices, yet it seems the general public doesn’t really care for this series, the pertinent question naturally has to be what could be wrong with the design and contents of the sets that makes them unappealing. There are a few common themes to that as well.

  • Despite discounts, the sets often feel like you may not get your money’s worth. A lot of the pieces are smaller standard parts that don’t justifiably contribute to that perceived volume for money thing.
  • The designs appear hugely inconsistent. Aside from some shared standardized stuff the whole thing doesn’t feel like a proper series at all. It’s like literally every set was designed by a different person, completely ignoring what their peers did.
  • Construction wise, a lot of the builds feel unsophisticated and flimsy. In addition to posing structural problems while handling the models this also impacts play value. It just doesn’t make sense how some elements have been put together.
  • The sets lack internal logic as in “That’s not how this stuff works/ should work in the real world.”

On top of all that one could add the more general dislike of Friends prevalent in certain crowds, too, naturally. Middle-aged men with no kids around just can’t get get behind the crazy colors and re teed off, even if they may appreciate the underlying overall concept. Which brings us to a point…

The short version of summarizing the kart racing theme would be: It’s a neat idea, but it has been done as part of the wrong product line. That is all the flaws I already pointed out notwithstanding, of course. Unfortunately, a lot of the good stuff is hidden in details whose ingenuity you only realize when actually building. It also stands to note that personally I appreciate how at least they were trying something fresh. It’s just that they were way too often inconsequential to go through with their ideas and also likely were too constrained by budget and marketability considerations. Before I lose myself in even more pondering, let’s delve into the actual contents.

The Karts

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Kart Left View LEGO Friends, Service & Care Truck (41348), Kart Left View
LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Kart A Left View LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Kart B Left View

One of the better parts across all the sets are the actual carts themselves – strictly speaking in design terms. If you were to purchase all the sets, you’d have a full eight of those little vehicles. As should be evident from the images, the basic construction is always similar with variations of colors and elements used thrown in to add individual distinctiveness. The colored elements are plugged onto black chassis plates that already have pins attached and also include the vertical studs onto which the bumpers go. This allows for an extremely flat, yet very sturdy construction. Except for the protruding parts, most of which are attached using clips, this should make the models very safe and prevent them from falling apart too easily even if kids throw them around like crazy.

A major shortcoming are the steering handles in the sense that no matter how you bend your mini dolls they remain out of reach. There is simply no position where they fit perfectly into the hands without the figures looking like they have a broken spine. This may seem like a non-issue, but here’s the thing: The karts have no real driver’s seats, either and in fact it’s just a white curved slope, so without anything to hold on, they just flip-flop around loosely and will of course fall off easily. It’s hard to fathom how nobody seems to have noticed this during testing, even more so since by their nature mini dolls have no stud holes on their legs/ buttocks that would allow them to be affixed this way.

Service & Care Truck (41348)

LEGO Friends, Service & Care Truck (41348), Box

I got this set as a gift from my beloved brother who picked it up spontaneously during his grocery shopping. It’s a well-meant humorous stab at my LEGO obsession that has become sort of an insider gag in my family. The set was – once again – on discount during a weekly promotion and you can get it for as cheap as 13 Euro, which given that the next lower tier of LEGO sets is the 10 Euro range makes this actually a good proposition in terms of what you get for your money. On the other hand I wouldn’t necessarily consider it for its full price of 20 Euro. It’s a bit too scant for that.

LEGO Friends, Service & Care Truck (41348), Overview

The truck on first sight seems simplistic, but well-executed nonetheless. It’s apparently kind of based on a low-rider pick-up truck mixed with design elements found on many cars from the 1960s, in particular the protruding snout/ motor hood. It’s a welcome deviation from the more conventional trucks found e.g. in the City series that are typically based on more modern designs.

LEGO Friends, Service & Care Truck (41348), Truck Left View

While it looks okay, the set is not without issues and little annoyances. due to the large side openings the cockpit at first glance seems quite accessible, but actually getting your mini dolls seated inside is another matter entirely. It’s basically the same issue as with the karts: How do you get a small rounded bum to rest on a smooth surface? The figure tend to topple over and then you spend your time fiddling around.

Removing the roof is also not always a good option. Ironically, by using the grey plate as an intermediate, the clutch power becomes too strong. That’s good for stabilizing the whole thing, but slaps you in the face once you need to remove the piece. It tends to drag either the windshield or the back along due to them being made up of large parts, too, that are not fixated any further on the chassis. It’s certainly not ideal.

LEGO Friends, Service & Care Truck (41348), Truck Right View

The roll-on ramp is a functional feature, yet it doesn’t exactly make sense due to the absence of a winch. At that steep an angle you could neither push a kart onto the platform nor would it be able to get up there under its own power. This is a strange design decision, even more so since likely in reality you would lift the vehicles using a small crane or a forklift onto regular trucks of this class with removable side boards.

LEGO Friends, Service & Care Truck (41348), Truck with lowered Ramp

What totally rubbed me the wrong way with this set is the poor construction of the chassis especially in the aft section and the hinges for the platform. If you’re not careful it’s way too easy to break off the clips when lowering the ramp or causing gaps in the stack of plates forming the beam when you push down the flatbed again. This is certainly not ideal.

LEGO Friends, Service & Care Truck (41348), Truck Bottom View

While it’s by far not the worst of the lot, the little flaws in this set pile up and make me go *grmpf*. It’s one of those cases where the set easily could have been a lot more elaborate and better and not squandered its good premise. Had they targeted the 30 Euro range and included more parts, they could have achieved this and perhaps even succeeded to the point of making it relevant for people who don’t typically buy Friends sets (assuming they also used a little less crazy colors and omitted the pink parts). The image of the kart is for reference, so you know which set it belongs to.

LEGO Friends, Service & Care Truck (41348), Kart Right View

Creative Tuning Shop (41351)

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Box

Where do I even begin with this one? It’s full of lovely little ideas, yet a total mess in terms of execution.

Let me be clear: I got this set strictly for parts. I have a project I’m working on where I’m potentially going to need a bunch of large transparent panels, so I got it into my head to kill two problems with one stone, so to speak. Rather than buying separate parts on Bricklink I wanted to use the opportunity to also get another set for potential reviews on this very blog. The question you may immediately ask is whether the economics add up, and yes, they do.

This set is perhaps the most stand-out example for the almost ridiculous discounts you get with this series. All I had to do is wait for the right moment and then snatched it up for just shy above 20 Euro. Mind you, the MSRP is 40 Euro. This translates to something like 47 percent off, or in simpler terms half the original asking price. That being the case, it’s easy to see that even the large panels will reach a price level that is near equal to what you would have to pay on Bricklink, anyway, with the other parts then becoming kind of a welcome bonus on top.

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Overview

The biggest issue with this set is literally “easy to see through”, i.e. this being a glass palace with the transparent items simply having been plugged together without any additional structures in-between. While this type of construction might certainly be possible using modern types of sandwiched glass, it’s probably not used that widely due to the associated cost (I would imagine). Regardless, even then there would still have to be some extra load-bearing columns or beams somewhere IMO.

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Front Left View

Worse still is the fact that this is just a facade in the most negative sense. I would even argue that if the curved panels wouldn’t require a certain depth, they would have made it just six studs deep instead of eight. The problem here of course is that this is supposed to be some kind of show room/ VIP area/ driver’s recreational zone with a small customization workshop, but completely feels like you wouldn’t actually want to visit it. In other words: It feels cheap and as if the designers couldn’t settle on one subject.

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Right Left View

If you get my drift: A square show room with no roof – fine. A twelve studs deep show room with a celebrity center on the second floor – be my guest. A fully decked out workshop – absolutely. All of the above as a half-assed mishmash – not so much. I really feel there’s at least two separate sets to be had here and splicing them out would have allowed for much better execution of the theme.

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Back View

As far as those interesting details I keep mentioning go, the signage (the wrench and spray can) is pretty cool and the sliding garage door is not half bad, either. If you adapt the concept using more mainstream colors this could possibly even look nice on the latest Corner Garage (10264) Modular Building. The corrugated panels in Light Aqua could be used for a small back alley shed, a garden house or even a large special purpose dumpster. Interestingly enough, this set also includes the 1 x 1 yellow Post it! tile, which oddly enough aside from the Old Fishing Store (21310) always only appears in the weirdest Friends sets. Go, figure!

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Kart A Left View LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Kart B Left View

This particular set comes with two karts – one matching the main color scheme for Emma and an alternative one for the male protagonist, Dean. As a side build there is a repair ramp that actually can be elevated and lowered with the turn of a knob. This boosts the play value notably, though it’s not really the set’s saving grace.

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Kart A on Service Ramp

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Kart A with Service Ramp

Tying into the customization workshop theme there are a bunch of extra parts that you could swap out on your carts. In my personal opinion it’s kind of superfluous because why would you even want to do that? Given the smallness of the bits and bobs it would be hugely disruptive to the flow of whatever play scenario your kids are involved and ultimately parts would get lost in the long run – either the ones you rip off the kart or those on the bar. Somehow it doesn’t make much sense even though I’m happy to have those extra parts.

LEGO Friends, Creative Tuning Shop (41351), Kart Replacement Parts

Overall this set is quite a disappointment on its own merits. However, admittedly it did work for me as a parts source and no matter how shoddy the set is, I still learned a trick or two in building it. If you consider buying the complete kart racing series, perhaps this could and should be your lowest priority item. I’d always consider it the most dispensable as it really brings nothing to the table that couldn’t be had by buying other sets.

Drifting Diner (41349)

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Box

The Drifting Diner is easily the best model in the whole series. It’s not extraordinary or special in any way, but its generic nature plays to its strengths. It could just as well be a burger stand in your little non-Friends city and with a few modifications and color swaps would fit a lot of themes. Of course that applies to many of the restaurants/ diners we have seen over the years. The overall level of innovation to be found here is pretty low, but then again there’s only so many ways to skin a cat.

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Overview

The side builds are well intended, but not really in any way meaningful or essential. The video screen is more or less just a glorified bookend/ stand for a mobile phone, but without such a device at hand is pretty useless. Even if you put the sticker on the large grey slope the appeal is low. Perhaps it would have been better to build this as a billboard advertising the restaurant rather than – again – muddying the waters by mixing the idea of an open air cinema with that of the diner.

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Details LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Video Screen

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Kart with FlipperThe color scheme is based on Andrea, which is my least favorite of all the girls. In particular the extensive use of Magenta somehow always ruins these sets, as it’s a very “heavy” color that tends to overwhelm everything. Especially on a small build like the kart this stands out even more.

 

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Kart Left View LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Kart Aft View

The building follows the pattern of a ninety degree corner built on a 16 x 16 plate with the interior being therefore entirely open and accessible. The burger signage feels a bit too large for a model of this size. The front would have to be wider and taller to really accommodate this monster and ideally it would be offset from the roof by placing it on a protruding platform or some sort of truss at an angle. In fact I think one of the main reasons it feels so heavy is the perfectly perpendicular alignment. Perhaps then even the flags and decorative elements left and right would have made more sense?

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Exterior Left View

Inherently due to the support columns being built from inverted slopes you have to be careful during construction and the model will be rather unstable. Only when you insert the window panels and cover their edges withe plates will this stiffen up. The same could be said for the checkered wall made from 1 x 1 bricks. To say some delicate handling may be required somehow seems redundant.

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Exterior Right View

As usual, the interior is rather sparse and just hits all the stereotypical beat you’ve come to expect – a coffee machine, a grill/ stove and some seating. I really wish they’d make these buildings larger and outfitted them with genuine separate kitchen areas and full height walls. At least the kid’s seat based on a small car piece is something original this time around.

LEGO Friends, Drifting Diner (41349), Interior

One thing that bugged me about this set is its “noisyness”. The intense colors are quite distracting and get annoying after a while. I would have preferred some parts in more soothing colors like the Bright Light Orange roof bits being conventional Blue or Dark Blue. I also think that the White and Light Aqua parts on the columns could have been made more distinguishable by adding a separation line in a similar dark color.

Once more the original price of around 30 Euro seems unjustified, but you typically can get this set for around 20 Euro. I got mine for even less around 17 Euro, again strictly based on the idea that I would be using the parts for something else later. Whether that’s worth it to you is entirely your decision.

The Rest of the Lot

Finally let’s have a few words about The Big Race Day (41352) and the Spinning Brushes Car Wash (41350). When the series was new last year the former was put up in some places as a showcase model together with the service truck. I looked at it and decided that it would not be worth a second thought.

Having looked at the building instructions and marketing photos again for this article has reaffirmed this view. It simply feels too much like an add-on set that isn’t essential. The start tower is tiny and I don’t think anyone needs an arch for the finish line when you can simply draw it on with chalk, pencil or mark it with sticky tape.

The car wash is a set I might consider still buying yet if the price drops just a little more to what I would be willing to pay. This isn’t meant to say it’s particularly good or that I’d endorse it, but for my way of thinking it makes sense due to some parts it contains that are not that widely used elsewhere. Could make sense.

I got a chance to play with the set a bit when it was propped up in the play area of a toy store way back then. Unfortunately actually playing with it doesn’t work that well. As you may already have guessed, trying to get the kart through the washing mechanism without it getting jammed is pretty hit & miss. Even minor misalignment can block the toothed gear mechanism or get the vehicle stuck in the rotation brushes because the mechanism doesn’t move out of the way.

Conclusion

As I wrote in the introductory paragraph already, my biggest issue with this series is that it tries to be more than it can deliver. Many of the ideas behind it are barely fleshed out, others are only executed with a minimum of effort resulting in those huge differences in appearance and quality of the sets. Ironically some of them would be halfway decent if you took them out of the context of kart racing and just sold them as bog standard Friends fare sans the vehicles and extras. It’s this forcing them into this sub-theme that doesn’t work at all…

Lavender Art House – Emma’s Art Studio (41365)

In the Friends world Emma remains my go-to girl and therefore I’m always looking forward to her art-themed releases with every cycle on some level, so Emma’s Art Studio (41365) from the first 2019 wave was quickly added to my list.

Initially I was a bit skeptical and reluctant, so I put of the purchase until the price dropped to something I was ready to swallow. With the MSRP being a mere 25 Euro it was clear to me right from the start that this set would be quite small, given how LEGO price their stuff these days. I wouldn’t say that this is a bad price to begin with, but it never hurts to get your sets as cheaply as possible and so I waited for the powers of the free market to work its magic and the average to settle around the 18 Euro mark.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Studio (41365), Overview

Unlike other sets, this one doesn’t have any larger side build, so the contents of the package are limited to essentially just the building and the stuff that goes inside it. Even the easel shown separately here is supposed to be fixed in the second floor. The piece of cloth it comes with is printed with a special water repellant varnish, so when you wet it with water, a paw print pattern is revealed due to the difference in moisture becoming visible as brightness differences. As a one- or two-time gag for your kids it’s okay, but quickly loses its appeal and of course that cloth piece can easily get lost. They perhaps should have included some additional rags with different patterns to keep the surprise factor fresh and if they had been in different colors the kids could have picked their favorite “canvas” color to boot.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Studio (41365), Front Left View

The building itself is actually done pretty well. Naturally, big panels mean big stickers and I never use those, so it looks a bit barren. It would have been nice if they had included at least some plant elements also for the sides, a fire ladder, some gutter plumbing or something like that. I also tend to think that generally structuring the walls by building them from bricks instead of panels might have been nicer. In fact I think getting the stickers placed nicely on those 6 x 6 panels could be quite a challenge in itself. There are definitely a lot of pros and cons here.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Studio (41365), Front Right View

The benefits of a simpler build thanks to the panels can of course not be denied. the downside to that naturally is that up to the point where they get capped with plates or interlocked with neighboring elements they break off as a whole just as easily. On the ground floor this isn’t helped much by the front being made up of columns and door frames itself. It’s workable, but up to that magic moment of firming it up at the top edge requires to be handled with care.

The second level is more practical to build due to its front being based on bricks. On the other hand the decorative columns mounted on inverted slopes at either side can be just as tricky to handle. The window construction is nice, though in this case it’s not ideal, taking up even more space of the already only 6 units deep room.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Studio (41365), Back Right View

The interior is quite frankly pretty lackluster and underwhelming. It’s my pet peeve with pretty much all of the Emma sets: They have fancy names prominently featuring the word Art in them, yet they almost never look like an actual painting, sculpting or pottery workshop. It’s more like they are crammed utility lockers where the artsiness is merely communicated by some paint pots on the window bench or the artisan branding totally down to applying stickers to serve as depictions of art. Not sure how you feel about it, but as someone who dabbles in various art forms all the time this frustrates me quite a bit.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Studio (41365), Back Left View

While it falls short of its own promise of being an art studio and it’s a total misnomer, the set on a whole is quite okay if you come to view it more as a generic city building. Most of the shortcomings come down to its teeny-tiny size. Everything feels crammed and this is by no means the liberating, open space most true painter’s ateliers really are with large windows, glass roofs, big doors. I really wish LEGO would do some such thing one day that is truly deserving of this name.

If you know what you are getting into and are perhaps willing to buy a second and third identical set to build a larger house then things begin to look better. Due to the panel-based construction it would be easy enough to modify and expand even for less experienced users. If you have no such plans, the house will simply be quite practical due to its format. It can be stowed away ins the smallest corners and regardless of the structural limitations it is very stable. Both things combined plus the absence of too many dangling parts that could go missing would also allow your kids to take it with them quite easily. Arguably that’s still a good thing…

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…