Bo-Bo-Bo Katan(a)? – LEGO Star Wars Magazine, February 2023

It seems like Christmas was only yesterday, yet here we are again already one month into the new year with the LEGO Star Wars magazine for February 2023 knocking on the door.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, February 2023, Cover

The main comic is yet again one of those stupid “Vader gets himself into trouble” things that I don’t look particularly favorably at. It just doesn’t do it for me, no matter how well the panels are composed and drawn.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, February 2023, Comic

The second one is more realistic and shows an encounter on one of the barren worlds as they are see in the The Mandalorian series. As you would expect, it also serves as the glue that brings the mag and extra together.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, February 2023, Comic

The posters are okay in that they’re not too ugly and not covered in pointless text and fake effects, but at the same time we definitely had better ones just as well.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, February 2023, PosterLEGO Magazine, Star Wars, February 2023, ExtraThe inevitable extra is Bo-Katan Kryze in minifigure format. Apparently she’s been in some animated Star Wars series as well and was introduced in season 2 of The Mandalorian. Since Disney+ subscriptions don’t fall out of the sky I still haven’t seen any of that beyond what the various trailers and snippets on YouTube reveal, but it’s notable insofar as the character is played by the great Katee Sackhoff who really made a splash in the early 2000s as the cocky Starbuck in the Battlestar Galactica series remake.

The figure is remarkable in that previously it was only available in the Mandalorian Starfighter (75316) set. The set itself clearly wasn’t a hit with audiences, but the figures are in high demand and thus relatively costly on the secondhand markets. The inclusion in the mag should mitigate the situation a bit. The other interesting observation here is that the package comes with the small foil bag for the helmet shields and visor “hammer”. Why am I telling you this? Obviously this little gimmick isn’t included in the latest Microfighter Boba Fett’s Starship (75344). Therefore buying this magazine would be a simple way to fix this omission and also give you two more spares to possibly repair other such appendages on other minifigures.

As so often the extra saves the day on an otherwise just average magazine and if minifigures are your thing, then next month will be another treat with a 212th Clone Trooper. I have a feeling this will be one of those issues that some people will buy in stacks to deck out their dioramas and displays with walkers…

Not just Garbage – LEGO City, Recycling Truck (60386)

LEGO City certainly isn’t my go-to series and I rarely ever buy stuff from that theme, but occasionally there are little gems hidden in it. A lot of times it comes down to desirable animals or “rare” parts, but every now and then it’s also just that the models are done nicely and have an overall appeal. That just happened with one of this year’s new releases, the Recycling Truck (60386), so it’s time to have a look at it.

LEGO City, Recycling Truck (60386), Box

Pricing and Contents

The set officially retails for 35 Euro, which is more than slightly ridiculous, given that it only consists of 261 pieces. This once more illustrates that LEGO have completely lost their marbles and just don’t seem to care. The problem here isn’t even that I mind slightly above average prices when they’re justified, but apparently I think here they aren’t. Even the overview shot already tells you that the actual truck is relatively small and that aside from the garbage collection stand there isn’t much else in the box. The volume of stuff you get isn’t that great. So for the umpteenth time it’s up to the sellers to rectify this and give you a discount. Since I didn’t want to wait another two months for prices to drop I snatched up my package for 25 Euro and that’s okay, but overall this feels more like a 20 Euro offering. If you’re not in a hurry your patience can pay off. You may be able to get it cheap during e.g. a pre-Easter sale.

LEGO City, Recycling Truck (60386), Overview

The Minifigures

The minifigures aren’t much to write home about with two “generic worker figures” and an equally generic other person. The best part therefore is the little white kitten. I already have it in Dark Bluish Grey and Dark Orange and it’s always nice to add one more to the collection.

The Garbage Collector

The set comes with a small garbage collecting/ sorting station as you could find it in your neighborhood. It’s built one one of those 8 x 16 “road” plates that are also regularly used in 4+ sets. Here it comes in Bright Green. To me it feels a bit unnecessary, as a normal plate would have served the same purpose just as well without compromising stability. Inside the stand you’ll find three trash cans. Dark Bluish Grey is always useful and can be used widely and the Green version is the one that predominantly has been used in abundance in the last few years, but the one in Dark Azure is a new color.

You could further enhance your play fantasy with the Coral, Neon Yellow and Lime Green versions used in Friends sets and in fact a simple way to obtain all three of them would be to buy “that other garbage truck”, their version of the Recycling Truck (41712). As you can see there’s even a few bits and bobs to throw into the cans, but I honestly don’t get why LEGO don’t just throw in at least another fifty pieces of that kind. It’s another of those points where they are cheapening out. You may want to find a few more 1 x 1 elements and such to really give your kids a pile of pieces to play with.

The Truck

The truck’s appeal is rooted in that it looks very “neutral” and universally usable. For reasons that nobody understands, LEGO often lock themselves in very American looking designs despite doing good business and having their headquarters here, but this time they managed to evade that trap and give us a vehicle that could drive around pretty much anywhere in the world. Of course the colors would vary. It also overall feels very contemporary and not like some old truck that hasn’t been around in decades.

Now nice as that all is, there’s one huge problem with this: The truck is too small. In a case of “Honey, I shrunk the Kids!” this is a good one third too small to accommodate actual minifigure scale. They cheated it on the package photo, but if you really put a minifigure near to the car it becomes very, very obvious. The funny thing is that the truck could still pass as a garbage collection vehicle even then, but you’d have to shorten the container/ deck to bring the proportions more in line with a small van or utility vehicle.

As the photos show, pretty much all the functions of a real garbage truck are there including lifting the dumpsters into the back chute, opening the intake frame as well as swiveling it up to empty out the container on the garbage dump or the waste incineration plant.

Tilting up the loading deck also reveals another problem, though a lesser one. Unfortunately LEGO decided to make this all too “kids-friendly”, which in their world apparently means omitting extra parts to secure things into place. The two yellow brackets are a prime example of this sort of poor design as it’s way too easy to loosen them by just holding the model on the two large grey “boxes” on the sides, which are just 2 x 8 bricks. Likewise, the hinges holding the container are not fastened with extra slopes or similar, so that part comes off easily just as well just by grabbing the model at the top and not the chassis. Both problems could easily have been avoided with a few extra parts and/ or a different construction.

LEGO City, Recycling Truck (60386), Tilted Deck

At the same time, oddly enough, one has to give the designers credit for a very smart solution. The side panels mimicking the round shape of the stirring drum can easily be pushed out sideways by reaching into the compartment with your fingers via the rear hatch since they’re only fixated on two studs in the front on the yellow SNOT bricks. This will be very useful to avoid tears when your kids unwittingly stuffed their favorite toy in there and can’t get it out because it’s jammed (without disassembling the truck more, that is). as they say, it’s all about the little things.

LEGO City, Recycling Truck (60386), Side Panel

LEGO City, Recycling Truck (60386), CockpitOf course the cockpit can’t be opened as well, but only a single minifigure will fit in there and due to the scale issue it will look rather odd.

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Concluding Thoughts

The set offers good play value, but is ultimately let down by the scale being too small and the lack of robustness in several areas. On its own and with careful handling that may not come into play too much and your kids won’t mind, but still… The sad thing really is that all of that could have been easily avoided with a bunch of additional elements to e.g. raise the height of the cabin and container as well to strengthen some connections and then maybe even the crazy price might have been justifiable.

As it is this is a somewhat mixed bag. It’s definitely leaning on the “good” side, but nowhere near perfect. Too much consideration needs to be given to things like how cautiously children have to handle the model. the “wrong” scale also sort of disqualifies it from being displayed in your LEGO city without it looking odd.

Explorer-ing… Mighty Machines – LEGO Explorer Magazine, February 2023

While it seems that the apocalypse has been cancelled for the LEGO Explorer magazine in the sense that it hasn’t been send to the pasture for good, something is fishy in Denmark in the quite literal sense. Imagine that: The next issue is scheduled for end of March! They are seriously stretching the publication cycle as a cost saving measure. This means we’ll effectively only be getting six issues this year, if at all. It must really be selling poorly or paper has gotten super expensive… Anyway, let’s move on and see what we have here.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2023, Cover

This issue is about “mighty machines”, which in the world of a child of course simply means they are big/ bigger than others. As it is, we therefore only get a rather generic and loose selection of a few specialized vehicles, ships, machines and so on. It’s way too broad to really dig into the specifics of one of them, which is always what massively diminishes the value of these editorial pages. I’m sure that even if you don’t nerd out completely, a detailed view at a tunnel drilling machine or one of those super size mining excavators would be more than enough to fill one magazine.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2023, Info Page

The comic takes a spin on the agricultural theme introduced in City last year and looks oddly familiar, especially after having built the Farmer’s Market Van (60345) with its strip of field.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2023, Comic

The poster depicts a bunch of super cars/ hyper cars. It’s not necessarily my favorite subject, but at least it looks reasonably tasteful and fits the “mighty” topic on some level.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2023, Poster

The extra is the small blue tractor seen in the comic. It’s more of a lawnmower tractor rather than a real one for real field work, but serviceable. I intentionally mounted the main wheels the other way around, as tractors usually have hollow wheel hubs with the nuts visible, not spoked ones. The designer of the model and/ or the comic artist got this wrong.

All things considered, this is a rather hum-ho edition and I’m afraid if things don’t improve, they will never get out of their slump and won’t convince more people to buy the mag. It’s okay for what it is, but they really need to improve. The only consolation this time was that the thing came with two polybags as apparently they have tons of those from unsold previous issues. I got another skull, but yours may contain a different model. It’s not completely “free”, though. They ramped up the price by an extra euro for that.

Another Blue Night – LEGO Jurassic World Magazine, January 2023

Look what I did there! Hot on the heels of my review of Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night (21333) I recycled the title for this month’s LEGO Jurassic World magazine. Let’s see what the January 2023 issue has on offer.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2023, Cover

The relationship between the articles and my cheap word play becomes immediately apparent once you turn your attention to the pages of the first comic. It indeed plays out at nighttime and has a lot of blue in it. It has it’s roots in movie production where using blue filters is actually a very typical technique to do day-for-night shoots. I once a long time ago got in hot water with a gentlemen who mistook what we call American Night here in Germany (for the aforementioned reason of it originating in Hollywood) to be an insult to US people. Go, figure! Anyway, I digress. The comic is about some Velociraptors making an escape with the accidental help of a Ceratosaurus.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2023, Comic

There’s a second, short three-page comic showing a Dilophosaurus stampede. This is a bit like they are adapting the pattern from the Star Wars magazines, only without the second comic being required to advertise the extra, which is covered in the big one. We’ll have to see if this just a one-off or will become a permanent change.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2023, Comic

For the poster I opted to show the back side, since it has a nice graphical design illustrating a few of the main types of LEGO dinosaurs. It’s far from complete and exhaustive, but looks nice enough. The front side is more standard fare with some dinosaurs and a water-based chase scene being depicted.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2023, Poster

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2023, ExtraThe extra is a little dino trap and as mentioned, it can also be seen in the main comic. I intentionally assembled it wrongly for the photo, as otherwise the dino and the chicken leg bait get too close and it doesn’t look nice. I also couldn’t get the mechanism to stay up. It would be one row of studs more in and then it would work by holding the dino down as opposed to strangulating the little guy from below as it looks like in my image.

Regrettably it always seems things never come together fully and while this issue has good comics and acceptable posters, the extra is a bit lackluster. Not bad, just not as exciting as the last few ones. 😉

Only in the Blue Night – LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night (21333)

Though I rarely give them credit for it, LEGO are occasionally on a lucky streak and among a sea of mediocre or terrible Star Wars, Super Heroes and Friends sets there are little gems. The recent The Mighty Bowser (71411) was one of them and now we have Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night (21333). That in itself is extra remarkable as the LEGO Ideas series is also in a bit of a slump with way too many not so great sets like the ones based on TV series, films and games or the recent tabletop kicker game, which really was not well received by anyone.

Now here’s the thing with this one: I’m not a fan of LEGO ART, either, and as you know I also have strong opinions on DOTS and stuff like the Botanical Collection. This has nothing to do with that I dislike doing creative painterly stuff with LEGO, it’s more that I despise the way it’s positioned as decoration and for my taste there’s not necessarily a recognizable effort to do the arts justice. That’s why this one appealed even more to me: You can see that thought has gone into how to represent all the brush strokes and details without merely dissolving them into what equates a low resolution pixel raster.

I wanted this set from the day it was announced, being that I’ve always been a fan of modern impressionism and van Gogh in particular. I have fond memories of visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and it’s simply amazing seeing some of those paintings in reality with their thick layers of paint and sculpted brush strokes. So let’s see what the model holds for us.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333), Box

Pricing and Contents

This is one of the bigger LEGO Ideas sets at 2316 pieces and this inevitably affects the price. Its MSRP is 170 Euro and as so often I don’t agree on that. You do get a lot of pieces and yes, the finished product has a certain weight, but at the end of the day this is once more a case of many, many small elements constituting the bulk of the pieces and those not really falling under the 10 Cent per piece rule. Since we can never really have nice things without LEGO giving us the middle finger, of course things are further complicated by this package only being available from them directly and a handful of select retailers. Luckily, one of them regularly runs special sales and so I got my chance to pick this up a few days before Christmas for 125 Euro. And wouldn’t you know it – that same seller just this week had another “start of the new year” sale where it could be had for 115 Euro. So it’s not impossible to get a good price, but you have to be patient and wait for the opportunity to strike.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333)

Vincent

The only minifigure in the set is the master himself, Vincent. They went a bit crazy with the hair by making it a bright orange when the reality likely is that he was just a normal ginger with a Dark Orange tint. At least it makes the figure stand out. The printed tile feels admittedly a bit lame, not least due to the studs. I would have preferred a nice 6 x 6 tile or even bigger, possibly with a MoMa logo on it.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333), Figure

The presentation is also rather uninspired and just looks ugly. Vincent should be standing on a small hill looking down in the valley and I think they could have somehow come up with a solution to that effect and included a few more pieces.

The Painting

One thing you must be aware of right from the outset that actually building this painting is not much fun most of the time. The actual level of pain vs. happiness will depend on which parts you are currently working on, naturally, but even then you may find yourself only stacking 1 x 1, 1 x 2 and 2 x 2 elements. Things can get really tedious really quickly. Since these days I have trouble concentrating for long durations, anyway, I spread my assembly process across multiple afternoons/ evenings and that’s perhaps a methodology you should employ as well. Thankfully this is helped by many of the sub-sections being just modules that are built individually before being combined.

The process starts out with the part that is going to protrude the most, the tree at the right of the image, or more specifically not the tree itself, but the landscape behind it. This and the background are also pretty much the only area that you build conventionally upright with curved slopes and all that, whereas the other segments massively use sideways building techniques and other trickery. Most of it is just preparation for the later addition of the tree behind which a good part of this section will be hidden, so it isn’t the most complex and most detailed section, anyway.

The second major step is the lower left area of the painting and this is perhaps the most annoying phase of the whole venture. It’s layers upon layers of round plates, 1 x 1 studs and quarter tiles. This takes forever and somehow you always think you’re finished only to discover that the next page of the instructions has yet more for you to do. In the end it’s worth it, but it seriously drags on.

By contrast building the background is a walk in the park as you kind of mindlessly just stack 1 x 4 plates, only interrupted by having to insert a few brackets and smaller plates every now and then. At the same time it’s a bit of a drain on the brain, as you need to pay a lot of attention to not mix up colors while your thoughts are drifting over this repetitive work. The bags are the ones with the number 5 and you have two of them filled to the brim with Blue plates alone and then there’s still the other ones.

I made a little oopsie and somewhere wrongly used a Dark Blue plate too many where it should have been a regular Blue one, but it didn’t stand out negatively and I didn’t want to spend my time backtracking where I went wrong, so I left it in there. If this happens more than in one spot and the irregularities in the flow of the pattern become too noticeable you possibly can’t avoid having to fix at least some of the mistakes.

With the basic painting done you then have to build the frame onto which later to plug the “canvas” similar to how it works with real paintings. Interestingly enough many of van Gogh‘s paintings were never properly framed when they first were created because he didn’t have the money for it or didn’t want them to be framed, so the design of the frames is pretty much arbitrary and more a decision of the curators and owners of the art pieces. The black frame apparently came about as a result of the image being cleaned up and undergoing restoration work after it had been displayed in some ugly golden frames for decades.

This is of course beneficial for re-creating it in LEGO and the designers have done a good job. The frame is very sturdy and easy to build and similar to the background you don’t need to stress your brain too much. It is built mostly from large elements such as a ton of 2 x 8 and 1 x 16 bricks and of course all the slopes. The edges are capped off with the rounded 1 x 4 slopes and matching corner elements as they were introduced last year e.g. in the LEGO Architecture Singapore (21057) set or the DOTS message boards (41951 and 41952). There is  provision to put the picture on the wall with a hanger, but I feel that this is better presented standing on a shelf or in a showcase where you can look at it from slightly above and still see all the details you built.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333), Back

This is also the point where I would have to come up with a serious complaint. The “canvas” is affixed into the frame using these T-style brackets and while there are enough of them and everything is stable once you actually manage to press them on hard enough, doing exactly that is a bit of an exercise, especially if you’re free-handing things and don’t work on a flat table. There’s also no real locking of everything, so it’s easy enough to push out the insert. I almost managed to ruin my day in such a situation and could barely manage to catch the painting so it didn’t drop to the floor. That is to say that once you’re at this stage this becomes a matter of handling the model with two hands like a tablet to prevent disaster.

With the frame in place you’re getting closer to the finish line and the cloud swirls are added. This is where the limitations of working with 90 degree angles really show as everything still looks a bit blocky despite the designer’s best efforts to disguise everything with slopes and stair step approximations. This is one of those things where alternate brick manufacturers that have direction inverters and other elements would have an advantage. Here again I made a minor mistake using a Light Aqua plate somewhere instead of a Bright Light Blue one, so I had to resort to my own stock to account for the wrongly used plate.

The final steps are just plugging on the various discs for the stars and moon an d then finishing up the trees so they can be slid into the place you constructed at the very beginning. The group of cypresses is another minor weak spot owing to the way it’s built. To keep things slender it’s only a bunch of alternating slopes with a few thing plates and as a result some areas only overlap by one or two studs. As you would imagine that makes it easy to accidentally break them off.

LEGO Ideas, Vincent van Gogh - The Starry Night (21333), SparesAfter all your toiling you’re left with a bunch of intentional spares in addition to the usual small extra bits. These are from the background step and you should basically have two 1 x 4 plates of every color used there along with a few 1 x 2. Since I made some errors this doesn’t work out as it should have, apparently. That in fact made me wish they had thrown in two spare elements of each color, including the ones I made a mess with.


Concluding Thoughts

The result is rewarding, but the road is a long and rocky one for this set. That’s why no doubt it also isn’t for everyone. It’s not just that you have to have some interest in the artistic side of things, but also a lot of patience. This doesn’t offer any instant gratification especially due to the complex and long-winded assembly process. After this even I think I will not go near a similar project for a while and focus on stuff that’s more fun. That said this is still a gorgeous set. Too bad the price is a bit off-kilter and will deter some people from buying it. In the 100 Euro range this could have been a real smash hit.

Frosty Luke – LEGO Star Wars Magazine, January 2023

It’s been one of the warmest New Year’s Eves in history, so the title of this article is diametrical to the real conditions, but it is nonetheless appropriate. In the run-up to the end of year celebrations this was supposed to come out a bit earlier, but somehow it only appeared at my newsstand on Friday and I didn’t get around to finishing my review earlier. Now lets see what the LEGO Star Wars magazine has to offer on this exact first day of the new year.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2023, Cover

The first comic takes a page from the original A New Hope movie in that it presents us with a Millenium Falcon chase through an asteroid field, however this time as part of a cosmic race, whose concept somehow immediately reminded me of Star Trek – Voyager‘s “Drive” episode in the seventh season. Someone certainly took some inspiration. It also makes the comic slightly more interesting since we at least get to see some varied spaceships and characters.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2023, Comic

The second comic as usual serves as the means to introduce the extra and features some icy action on Hoth with some Wampas and a certain Luke Skywalker.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2023, Comic

The posters are quite nice this time. One can never have enough Mustafar-themed ones as the fiery, volcanic glows just look mysterious and cool and Vader with his brooding presence adds to that. The composition feels a bit cheap and could have been done better, but it’s really okay. The back side might be even more interesting to some people. It has a close-up of Luke‘s minifigure head with the Red 5 helmet, which would make for an interesting presentation if you put it up next somewhere to the eponymous set of the helmet.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2023, Poster

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2023, ExtraSince for all intents and purposes it’s extremely unlikely LEGO will revive the Wampa mold any time soon, you knew where this was going when I mentioned the second comic and yes, of course we’re getting the Luke minifigure instead. Regrettably, while it’s actually quite nice, it’s also nothing special. It has been available for a long time in a Microfighters set and just was part of the 2022 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar (75340). Chances that you already have it therefore are very high and the minifig as such will drop considerably in value. Therefore its real value is more in using it as a basis for a custom figure with a replaced head.

This edition of the mag on the whole is okay, but unless you really don’t have the minifigure and want it badly, there’s no need to rush to the newsstand. That might be a much more appropriate course of action next month, when we will get a much rarer Bo Katan fig.

Blue January – LEGO Minecraft Magazine, January 2023

Continuing this week’s little LEGO magazine sprint the next on the list is the one for Minecraft.

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, January 2023, Cover

The first thing that jumps to your eye is, quite literally, that this issue is very blue. The cover alone is a nearly indiscernible mush of azure and a few other shades and this continues in the comic, because of course it is ice-themed and to boot the character they chose is Steve with his blue shirt. *yikes* At least the perspectives chosen for the panels are interesting, but the some more color here and there wouldn’t hurt.

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, January 2023, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, January 2023, Comic

For the poster I opted to show you the back side. As you know, I prefer clean graphic designs and this one hits the mark quite well with its heraldry-like approach. The one on the front has a swarm of flying phantoms/ bats in Dark Blue, which contributes further to this issue coming across as a bit too monochromatic.

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, January 2023, Poster

The extra is interesting, in particular the spider. It is nearly identical to the one included in The Mushroom House (21179), give or take the bracket for fixating the minifig. Not much else to report otherwise.

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, January 2023, Extra

This is an okay issue, but I’m beginning to feel that they’re kind of milking it. We never really get something fresh from the current line-up and the ever same Steve and Alex figures are really getting long in the tooth.

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.

Bowser and his Gang – LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411) and Big Bad Island (71412)

I’m old enough to have lived through the video game era in the early 1990s and so I still have fond memories of many of the games we played on our Mega Drive/ Genesis or Super Nintento (or Super Nintendo Entertainment System, SNES, as it was called officially), which of course included the Super Mario World game that came bundled with the console, but also Mario Kart, Yoshi’s Island and a few others. As you can imagine, I was quite excited when LEGO announced sets around that subject, but like so many I was just as disappointed when they only announced a bunch of buildable characters and their weird game with those electronic Mario, Luigi and now Princess Peach characters. that didn’t stop me from buying some of this stuff, but it was never really worth turning it into an article.

Thankfully it seems someone at LEGO came to their senses earlier this year and wanted to give fans what they really wanted: Nice “sculptures” (or at least large enough buildable figures) that could be put in your showcase just to enjoy looking at them all day while getting carried away with memories of the good old times. I can’t tell you how happy I really was when The Mighty Bowser (71411) was announced and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. as usual, of course, it took a moment to actually make it happen, but now I finally can present it here.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411) and Big Bad Island (71412), Overview

Pricing and Contents

The Mighty Bowser (71411) comes in a mighty box containing 2807 pieces. Many of them are apparently relatively large and compact ones, so the package has quite a bit of weight. Is that worth a suggested price of 270 Euro? Despite this being a reasonably good price in the LEGO world considering the volume of stuff you get (He’s  a really big guy, after all!), I still tend to disagree with this. To me this feels more like 200 Euro would have been a better value proposition.

This would have made this set more relevant for kids in particular who may just want a Bowser on their shelf next to their other Super Mario paraphernalia. The other reason is that in the end of invisible structural assemblies made from standard pieces and I always feel that they are seriously overcharging people for those 2 x 4, 2 x 6 and so on plates and a few Technic beams. I know that things don’t work this way, but I certainly don’t believe that a blue pin is worth 10 Cent.

Lucky for everyone this set is broadly available through all regular retail channels, which means you can definitely get some discount somewhere. I bought mine during Black Week in November off Amazon. They were throwing it out for 172 Euro (and currently it sits at this price again because they’re matching another competitor’s price). I threw in a 20 Euro voucher I just had gotten the other day, so it effectively only cost me 152 Euro. That’s more than acceptable and more in line with what I think is acceptable.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Box

The smaller offering with Bowser‘s buddies is a different story. I had bought a few of those expansion sets in the past to get my hands on as many Yoshis, Koopas, Goombas and so on for my collection as well as a few other bits and pieces, so I wasn’t under any illusion how this would turn out. The typical formula for these packages seems to be one third to fifty percent of buildable figures, small houses and a few other things and the rest is just a whole lot of these platform pieces and some elongated plates to connect the individual sections. That is within the intention of actually building playable courses reasonable, but makes for a terribly bad value.

For the majority of sets this can be offset by the discounts because they’re available via regular retail channels, but unfortunately not for this one. The Big Bad Island (71412) is only available at LEGO stores or in their online shop, so there’s zero wiggle room on the price. If you want those 354 pieces, you better pony up those 45 Euro. It’s not that I wouldn’t be willing to pay this much, but the package really has very little content once you remove the platforms from the equation. It could definitely have done with a second large Goomba at least and perhaps an oversize Yoshi might have been nice as well.

Point in case: I got this set so Bowser would not be that alone and have some of his underlings keep him company and in my head this is what this set really should have been – an add-on figure pack that better matches the scale and proportions of the giant turtle and would look nice on the shelf next to him. In a way this therefore feels like a missed opportunity. I’m certain people would have swarmed to it.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Box

The Mighty Bowser

Bowser is rather unique in its own right already and in addition he also represents an equally unique type of model. This type of complex and detailed “sculpture” is something that LEGO hasn’t done in ages. For me personally it was also a new experience, never having built something of that sort previously and of course quite generally I do not build this type of large set that often. That’s why the build also took me a while. I do not build every day, anyway, and those 22 bags in the package represented a lot of steps and sub-assemblies. I ultimately spread this out over several evening across five weeks or so. I’m not a fast builder to begin with, but I really had motivational problems with some of the sub-sections, knowing that I’d often repeat the same set of steps, if with swapped orientation where applicable. I really procrastinated a lot on this one!

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Overview

The “Castle”

The pedestal depicts a piece of Bowser‘s castle, obviously. Funny enough said building has never been rendered consistently anywhere throughout the various games, so there’s no coherent design and layout. Only bits and pieces are ever visible and are re-arranged, shuffled around and adapted as needed. This would have given the designers lots of leeway and licence to let their creativity run wild, but somehow they opted for the smallest common denominator. It’s not necessarily the bare minimum, but not very inspired, either.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Pedestal, Front View

My biggest peeve is the lack of height. The thickness of the whole thing is only two bricks and that is already including the tiles on top. It just looks weird when you position Bowser on it. The proportions just feel whacked-out and you never quite believe that this is how he would present himself to intimidate his opponents. It also does not communicate the fact that his castle is built from large, roughly hewn rocks. Therefore I seriously think this should have been at least five bricks tall with some irregular edges and perhaps a stair step at the front.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Pedestal, Top View

This theme continues with the actual rock pattern. It’s created only from flat tiles with no variations in height or some sort of curvature. If you look closely, you can also see that the left and right halves are merely the same shapes rotated by 180 degrees. A bit too unimaginative for my taste. This is yet again something where an alternative, better design presents itself and you don’t need to think hard about it. Instead of grey mortar the gaps should be made from Trans Orange bricks or similar and in fact it should be taken one step further by having been built with “invisible” channels where one could simply thread through a cheap battery-powered LED light chain or strip to illuminate the whole thing. Imagine how awesome Bowser could look with a fiery shine from below!

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Pedestal, Hidden CompartmentUnderneath the red carpet there’s a small hidden compartment with an action code if you use the electronic play figures for the series. This is of course slightly ridiculous for an expensive display model. You may do it a handful of times just to check how things go, but then not really bother anymore. You could replace the tile with a regular one and use the bar code elsewhere if you so desire.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Pedestal, SpireLeft and right on the platform you have some spires with flames/ torches and those also would benefit from having some LED lighting, naturally. They’re kind of okay, but not really much to write home about. Even the large flame element looks a bit out of place as the for instance this version of the same element would have “popped” more. The spires also contain the only printed element in this set aside from Bowser‘s eyes – his insignia. The small towers are constructed sufficiently stable, there are a few things that annoy me about them. The most important issue, and it really gets a bit on my nerves, is the weak fixation. Again pretending that this was a play set, the LEGO designers opted for a “soft” connection where the whole thing is merely held by two jumper plates and a bit of tension from the plates underneath so as to facilitate easy removal, but of course this has negative consequences. The damn towers come off way too easily, which can be a real pain when transporting the pedestal or moving it around. The slightest inclination or inertia can make them topple over and when they do, the flames come off, which is another of those nuisances.

All things considered, the pedestal/ presentation platform feels like an afterthought, not an integral part of the set. The point here is that technically it is not necessary to support the figure since they’re never actually connected in any form, so there would have been plenty of room to be creative to your hearts content. A wall with a large door, some battlements (even as ruins) or of course a huge throne (either from cushy red velvet or just the opposite plain rock) would have massively enhanced the scenery. Along with making this thicker and all those other things it would have had given this an actual reason to exist.

The way it is now, it feels a bit superfluous. The downside is of course that all my proposed enhancements would definitely have ramped up the parts count quite a bit, but I wouldn’t have minded paying another 50 Euro or so for a big bucket of Light/ Dark Bluish Grey and Trans Orange bricks to make my ideas a reality.

The Boss himself

The meat of the set is of course the turtle-shelled king himself, Bowser the mighty. My personal memory of him is a different one than how he is presented here, though. I’ll always remember him as a relatively small lump of pixels, i.e. a sprite in Super Mario World where he was barely twice the size of Mario. This was of course a technical limitation, but it really seems to me that over the years Nintendo have gone a bit batty on this and he has gotten bigger and bigger to the point of covering an entire planet. In my opinion this hasn’t always been a good idea as it doesn’t make him more threatening and in a way it also kills the clumsy charme and cuteness I remember him for. Since there are so many incarnations of him in different styles it’s also difficult to rate the exactness and realism. It’s probably best to see this model as an amalgam of all his best renditions.

Bowser always has had a very compact and stubby appearance with short legs and also short arms (those have elongated with every new iteration, too) and this certainly has been captured nicely here with his slightly forward leaning posture as if he’s really struggling with his heavy shell. You can really imagine him making short, heavy steps rather than sprinting to move around.

The model is not a rigid block and has been built from several sub-assemblies that can in part even be moved. However, in practice this is rather limited since not all joints can be moved on all axes. It would for instance be difficult to coordinate the arms in such a way that they could hold something believably. If you feel so inclined you could perhaps some coins in one of Bowser‘s hands, but that’s pretty much it. Putting in a scepter or magic staff would be difficult and would require to construct the hands in a different way.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), TriggerSimilar to the hidden compartments on the pedestal the main figure has a “play” feature for shooting a “fireball” (arrow) from its mouth and this is done with a somewhat convoluted mechanism. The external triggers are positioned next to the shoulders so as to fire when the arms are raised into a certain position, but this doesn’t really work that well just like the overall thing. This isn’t a fundamental flaw with the construction, it’s just built at the verge of what’s possible with bricks. I didn’t feel like digging too deep and fixing my setup, but I think it mostly boils down to the head being too heavy and the slightest hitch in the transmission throwing things for a loop. If it’s important to you, you may of course want to spend some time optimizing it for smooth operation.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Foot

The feet are an interesting piece of engineering. I was initially skeptical, since they dangle loosely on some of those extra large Technic ball joint pieces, but it works quite well. Once you put down the big guy the legs bump against the rest of the body which will stiffen them up as if they were fixed. LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), TailThe center of gravity is so well-balanced that nothing else is required and the figure stands firmly planted without any risk of falling over. This also means that the tail is not an actual support/ stopper, even if it may look this way. It’s just designed to be perfectly level with the soles of the feet.

The shell is constructed from the frame consisting of the white tubes and three strips representing the actual segments, which by themselves are are held at the correct angles using a clever mix of hinges, and axle connectors. This is then simply plugged onto the underlying Technic frames you build in an earlier step. The spikes are a new mold specifically created for this set and no doubt will reappear in the future as all manner of rocket tips and similar. The designers even gave this parabolic shape a specific name, but for the life of it I couldn’t find the article where I read it.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Shell

Important people have big brains, so Bowser‘s head is huge compared to the rest of his body. This is an advantage because everything can be built from regular elements instead requiring any dedicated special molds like they might be necessary at smaller scales. It’s also beneficial that of course we’re talking about a fictional character that started out as a simple 2D sprite in a game and they opted to go for this simplified, slightly abstract style. This allows to use relatively large, solid pieces e.g. for the hair where otherwise they would have had to employ tons of smaller parts or cheat things with prints and stickers.

Big Bad Island

As powerful as Bowser himself is, he’s of course nothing without his minions that do his bidding and over the years his army of goons has evolved and changed quite a bit. His closest relatives, the Koopas have always been a stable of this and so have the Goombas. They’ve been there ever since the first games were conceived and over the years this has been complemented with mutated piranhas, killer penguins, spiky fuzzballs, guys on hovering clouds dropping stuff from above, all manner of mutated plants and so on.

As mentioned earlier I already had bought a bunch of these Expansion Sets containing some of the aforementioned characters, but inevitably there’s an issue with scale. While Bowser always has been bigger than his servants, the ratio has never really been twenty times as big. This may happen when he goes into berserk mode and blows himself up with a magic spell, but most of the time he should be about three to five times as large as a Koopa or for that matter Mario. I was already thinking of trying to design a few medium scale characters myself and this set came to the rescue, if at considerable extra cost.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Overview

Unfortunately there’s really only two figures in here that match that criteria – a Goomba and a Koopa – whereas the remaining other two fit the scale of the regular series. The concept of course is in actuality the other way around in the games. It’s not necessarily that the enemies are too large, but rather that Mario is too small because he got shrunk by some spell cast by Iggy or has entered such a zone.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Figures

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), IggyIggy is the wacko wizard cousin of Bowser‘s and this has always worn this on his sleeve with his crazy eyes and the big mouth with the crooked teeth. Aside from these specifics he’s really just another Koopa, though the model uses a slightly different construction than some other ones in the series.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Goomba, small

I have at least five or six of these small Goombas and they all follow the same build pattern. The only difference are the tiles with the face prints and that is the mean part about it. Most of them only appear in one specific set and you will have to collect them all or buy those tiles for a relatively high price on Bricklink and other such sites.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Goomba, bigThe same can be said for the large version, but of course that’s expected. Thankfully someone at LEGO had the wits to use the newer perfectly smooth 6 x 6 tile instead of the older version with the injection point at the center. There’s another unprinted one at the back. The only thing missing is a larger version of the foot/ shoes element, but I guess that would have been too expensive. At the same time the set introduces two new elements in Dark Orange, the 2 x 3 curved slope and the 1 x 2 rounded “filler” brick, so there’s at least that.

The Koopa Trooper is one of only three sets that make use of the large turtle shell base and ironically enough in the other sets this is used as the basis for Bowser‘s armor, which should give you an idea about the scale. there’s not much else to it, as it’s literally just another SNOT block with most elements being plugged on sideways in different places. That’s also why it falls a bit short of making more use of rounded pieces.


Concluding Thoughts

For what it’s worth, The Mighty Bowser (71411) is what I would consider a near perfect set despite its quirks and a few inevitable shortcomings. I for instance could have totally gone without the Technic underpinnings and movable parts for posing, but luckily they don’t get in the way and don’t ruin the overall appearance because they’re well hidden. No blue pins to cause you an upset, if you get my meaning. In the end you have to admire the smart construction techniques, even though at times they also cause frustration and slowed down the build. Combined with other factors like me rarely building such large models and taking days off not doing any LEGO inbetween this caused a bit of drag. I don’t hold that against the designers, it’s just a combination of circumstances on my end. Generally, though, you should be prepared that this isn’t a quick and simple build for a short afternoon.

Another nice thing is that this set is a treasure trove of new and recolored pieces and even better yet, many of those come in considerable quantities. I’ve spared myself the trouble of putting them all in a long and boring list, but if you ever decide to dismantle and disassemble the model, you’ll have heaps of those “pancake” pieces in different colors, a similar pile of tubes, the spikes from the back and so on. This also makes the package a worthwhile subject for Bricklink dealers to rip it apart and sell of pieces individually at reasonable prices.

With that in mind and all that I said earlier I would highly recommend Bowser. It’s just too good a chance to pass up, given that it’s in broad distribution and there’s always a way to get a decent price somewhere. Whether you just enjoy building complex models, want to scalp the parts or really want to put him on display next to your game consoles there’s some fun to be had. You’d have to be living under a rock to never have heard of the Mario games or it’s completely not your genre to ignore this.

The Big Bad Island (71412) on the other hand is not an essential item, with the only reason to get it being the special printed items to build the large versions of Koopa and Goomba. Due to the set’s exclusivity those tiles would be hard to find on the secondary markets and will be expensive for the rest of eternity. Currently there isn’t even a single vendor offering them on Bricklink. Buying the whole package will no doubt cause you grinding teeth, but would be a more reliable method to obtain those parts.

Explorer-ing… Disasters – LEGO Explorer Magazine, January 2023

It seems my fears of the LEGO Explorer magazine meeting its demise were unwarranted and the publication continues, after all. By official count this is the January 2023 issue already, and in a way one can actually see that a few things have been changed and tweaked ever so slightly. It feels notably different.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2023, Cover

This edition is about natural disasters and the rescue efforts around them, so once more the info/ editorial pages cover the subject very generically and super broadly, barely leaving any room for either of them to be fleshed out. That remains my biggest sticking point with this mag. Any of the topics on offer would be enough for its own issue.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2023, Info Page

For the comic they picked a volcano eruption as the centerpiece for the action. Given what the subject would allow it’s rather tame, though, and not very spectacular.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2023, Comic

The poster deals with one of the most notorious man-made catastrophes, the sinking of the Titanic. Isn’t it convenient that LEGO has a big, super expensive set of the ship and they just needed to photograph it? In fairness, though, it is a fascinating subject. I vividly remember an illustration of the stern of the ship rearing up in the front of the iceberg at night with all the lights on from one of those “kids science/ history” books being my favorite and me re-reading the details (as they were known then long before the actual wreck was re-discovered and James Cameron made the movie).

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2023, Poster

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2023, ExtraThe extra is a small fire patrol vehicle and that kind of is the disappointing part. It’s a marked step down from the models we got before and just feels super lame and cheap. Worse yet, unlike it’s brethren from the LEGO City magazines it doesn’t even come with a minifigure, which makes the value proposition even worse. It’s really quite ridiculous and really unbecoming of this mag.

With all that said, this is an issue you can skip without feeling bad about it. There’s so little of note here… In fact I can’t help the impression that this is the result of them not having made up their mind soon enough and then scrambled at the last minute when the publisher decided to continue instead of shutting the mag down. It’s certainly not at the level of quality we’re used to (within reason).