Nuremberg Madness

The annual Nuremberg Toy Fair has started a bit earlier this year, so we already know what LEGO has in store for us for the second half of the year – to some extent at least. I’m not going to include any photos here, but you sure should be able to find some pictures and videos from whatever is your favorite officially LEGO-endorsed blog, news site or YouTube channel. I’m just going to offer some thoughts and opinions.

First, the literal big elephant in the room – the Liebherr R 9800 (42100) giant excavator coming out as a Technic model (and by extension also the 4 x 4 Extreme Offroad Vehicle [42099]) . It’s causing quite some irritation not just on my end and seems to rub many people the wrong way. The madness factor can be quickly summarized as a combination of three factors: The large piece count, the inclusion of a massive number of components for the new Control + system and ultimately as a result of those both things the outrageously insane price. Taken each on their own, none of the factors should be that critical, but the combination makes you go “WTF?!“.

The parts count is something you should be able to perfectly live with. After all, in the Technic universe half the parts are pins and connectors, so the effective number of larger structural parts, covers, wheels etc. for the Liebherr will be somewhere around 1700 at most, most likely. It’s also good to see that there will be some new parts like a large 11 x 7 or so liftarm frame, longer actuators, new wheel hubs and so on. However, some concern already creeps in here, as despite having two waves of releases inbetween we haven’t even seen some parts from last year’s Bugatti Chiron find their way into other models. If LEGO apply that same policy towards the new parts, we can all wait until we all live in retirement homes for them to appear in lower tier sets.

The other thing of course is Control+, basically a once more rebranded PoweredUp/ Boost based thing after those two never seem to have gone anywhere and were only ever used in a handful of sets. I’m under no illusion that including this stuff is a considerable cost factor, especially if you start out with seven motors (!) and two large hubs with four connections each, but if I may make a point: Did they have to? To me it feels like the exact wrong strategy to get this new stuff out among people, which ultimately gets us to the final point: Cost and attainability of these sets for average shmoes and in turn longterm support and viability of these technologies.

Due to my budgetary constraints I can exclude myself from most of these considerations right away (unless I get these sets for free somehow), but basically the way I see it, there’s a limited ways this can pan out:

  • Collectors and “people with money” will simply buy the sets regardless and won’t care much what makes them tick. That’s all just fine and good on the business side, but these are not the typical folks that advance a specific theme by experimenting, building MOCs, custom programming and so on. To them it wouldn’t matter if this stuff still ran on legacy Power Functions, so the new stuff is kinda wasted on them, because they never fully use its features nor exhaust its full potential.
  • Based on the previous point of course there is a good chance that a large chunk of this demographic will just buy this one model and then never again any Technic model or for that matter any LEGO set. It may not help the brand in the long run, even if no doubt sales will be surging for a while just driven by the collectible/ playable side of things.
  • Another crowd are people who have long waited to step up from Power Functions to something more modern and they will swarm to these sets. Many of them will do so with grinding teeth, though, as coughing up the cash will still be a pain. Also, similar to the previous point, they may not necessarily buy follow-up sets once they’ve decked out their parts repository and got everything they need. Saturation effects will kick in and subsequent sales of sets containing the same components may drop off again.
  • Finally there’s of course going to be a huge group of frustrated users that won’t be able to make the switch in a foreseeable time or simply may not want to. Someone who has a full supply of legacy Power Functions sure isn’t going to throw them all in the bin right away and will make do with them for as long as they still function. The rest – like me – will have to dream about this stuff for a long time until they have scraped together enough pennies.

What am I trying to say here? To me LEGO chose the wrong strategy. In my opinion it would have been smarter to start out with smaller sets and step by step build on that. Redundancy could still have been minimized by including different motors in each set and ultimately I would even argue that the smaller hub with only two ports would still have had value and also could have been integrated in larger builds as well.

Point in case: In my view the new sets with Control+ are simply a step too far for all the wrong reasons. Instead of making the expensive excavator kind of an overpriced must-have starter set so people get access to the new components, it should be more optional and not leave you with the feeling of watching a potential revolution taking place without being part of it. And the points about LEGO potentially shooting themselves in the foot with prospective sales also are a concern.

On a more objective note there’s little to say, as even people attending the show and LEGO‘s press conferences were not allowed to take photos and there are no official ones, either, so we have to rely on screenshots of the video streaming and hearsay. Personally I’m most thrilled about what I hear about the new wheel hub with integrated planetary gears in the 4 x 4 vehicle. This could open up so many possibilities for elegant vehicles with out large main gear boxes and more experimental stuff. Could be cool. Ironically, despite my ranting on about it, the Liebherr is of lesser interest to me. With my limited living space in my flat I likely couldn’t keep this “rolling shoe box” around assembled forever, but I still would love to have the components, of course.

Other sets remain a total mystery and only some of their names and set numbers are known. We’ll simply have to see about them. Personally I’m of course looking forward to the Friends fairground attractions/ theme park rides them, though I have a hunch that out of those twenty sets only five or so will be reasonably okay, if at all. Call me a jaded old man, but I feel there’s another series due to be turned on its head with a major overhaul. It’s simply losing its appeal due to the many repetitions and constant rehashes. In the Architecture series the Empire State Building (21046) sounds like it could be interesting. Under the assumption that it will make good use of considerable quantities of newer bricks like the 1 x 1 mini roof slopes this should look the part and of course potentially be even useful as a bulk parts donor for your own projects. again, we’ll have to see when some images drop.

Somewhat unrelated to the toy fair itself, but coincidentally dropping at the same time are some first photos of the 20th anniversary LEGO Star Wars sets and it’s probably safe to say that everyone feels underwhelmed. The selection of models follows a “been there & done that” pattern of consisting of vehicles that have been done a dozen times already, being based on existing designs with some minor changes and updates. Aside from the Slave 1 I can’t warm up to any of them, being that as usual I don’t care much for the minifigures and don’t consider them as a defining factor for the value of any set. I would predict that this isn’t going to be much of a hit, not even with figure collectors who will be put off by the large back print on the replica legacy minifigures, if info floating around on the web is to be believed…