Kiosk x 2? – LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426) and Olivia’s Flower Garden (41425)

In today’s review we’re going to have a look at two relatively small Friends sets. I’ve rolled them into a single article to make it worthwhile in terms of volume and because there’s a potential little twist to this.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Box

The first set is the Heartlake City Park Café (41426). The name sounds grandiose, but in fact it’s really just a tiny waffle stand – of sorts.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Overview

The point why I’m using “of sorts” is that while the whole thing is modeled after those little shallow sheds you can indeed find in parks or on the sidewalks of cities like Paris for instance, which really aren’t more than boxes, it doesn’t quite qualify as a waffle stand or even “café”. A newspaper stand? A flower stand? Just fine, but not anything to do with food. There would be some serious hygiene and safety concerns.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Front closed

This becomes clear once you open the doors. On the real thing those wouldn’t even be glass doors, but rather just solid doors with all sorts of little utilities, hooks, compartments and so on on their inside, so once opened those could be filled with goods for presentation, i.e. newspapers, flowers or souvenirs.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Front open

The actual working space would make any safety engineer’s hair stand on end (and a hygiene inspector’s as well). Things would topple over and fall down all the time, the workers would constantly bump into their kitchen appliances and furniture or burn their fingers. All those very adult concerns aside, the thing that bothers me most is that the model just doesn’t breathe that sense of a busy food-related kiosk.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Rear, Left View

You know, if this were real they couldn’t keep up with demand with only one waffle iron, There’s no mixing machine for the batter, there’s no coffee brewer, no fridge and the selection of fillings and condiments is at best sparse. Point in case: It would have been easy for LEGO to throw in at least an apple, banana or cherry and extend the model further in the back to add some more stuff. There’s no reason it only needs to be eight studs deep.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Rear, Right View

Getting to the good parts, there’s of course the new 1 x 1 heart tiles with the waffle grid print along with the older square tile version of similar ilk. Having had some Magenta window frames ever since the Heartlake Pizzeria (41311) from way back then I figured having matching door frames might come in handy one of those days – whenever that may be.

The yellow flowers are indeed actual Yellow, not the usual Bright Light Orange. That’s a pretty funky thing and one of those “I thought they had been around for years already.” moments, when in fact the color has never been used for this element. It seems trivial, but such is the world of LEGO and their inconsistent usage of colors.

Speaking of which, and this will come as an even bigger shock and you may not believe it, this set is also the first time in over forty (!) years the 1 x 1 round brick is available in Medium nougat. Given how suitable it would be for building plants and some other things and that e.g. the complementary palisade 1 x 2 and 1 x 4 bricks with their wood stem imitations have existed in this color since forever, one can really only wonder about the company’s logic in these things.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), Printed Tiles

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Park Café (41426), TableTo cap things off, there’s a small table where potential passers-by could perch and chit-chat while eating. You know, those annoyances that the kiosk owners always put smack in the middle of where you walk and you have to navigate around. Nothing special to see here, but it’s good that after quite a while at least the squirrel is available again and with a new eye print to boot.

 

 

Now for that “special twist” I hinted at earlier. There may actually be a way to turn the waffle stand into that little flower kiosk with a relatively cheap investment. That’s where Olivia’s Flower Garden (41425) comes in. But first let’s look at it on its own merits.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flower Garden (41425), Box

Did I say merits? Well, sadly it doesn’t have any. This set literally feels like someone at LEGO took a tour in their storage facilities, discovered a few leftover pieces from other production runs and then told the designer to make something of it. Each of the separate items could just as well be one of those models you get in the various LEGO magazines’ foil packs. They have been reduced to the bare minimum.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flower Garden (41425), Overview

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flower Garden (41425), CartThe little cart is reminiscent of those electrically powered baggage carts you see at airports or wholesale markets. It wouldn’t really make much sense outside those scenarios, but who knows? Maybe Olivia is running a big greenhouse like the ones in The Netherlands covering acres of ground that you can see from the airplane when approaching Amsterdam?

 

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flower Garden (41425), Flowerbed

Unfortunately this isn’t the case. All you get is a tiny, tiny piece of elevated flower bed/ gardening table under an angled glass window. What makes this even worse for me is that there is not a single new piece in this set (at least they use the new binoculars piece on Zobo, though). By that I especially mean some newly colored plant piece, naturally. You know, had those leaves been Dark Green or Sand Green and we finally got those daisy blossoms in Medium Blue or another new color I’d be much happier.

Now back to my original argument: Combined with the leaf elements of the waffle stand the contents of this set could be used to re-dress it as a flower stand and if you have some extra parts from other sets to throw in, this may be even more feasible. At least in my world this would make much more sense.

As a conclusion I have to say that neither of the two are extraordinary sets by any stretch of the imagination. While the waffle stand at least tries to be a bit original and when remodeled and repurposed could actually look quite nice, the supposed “flower garden” is just a bad joke at the cost of the customer. The irony is that I get what they were aiming for, but again LEGO‘s laziness and forced cost-cutting rear their heads, preventing the sets from being much better.

Especially the “flower garden” is in no way the 10 Euro they are asking when the actual value feels like 5 Euro. Naturally, lower prices on the open market mitigate this somewhat, but even then it still feels unwarranted. This could just as well have been a 4 Euro polybag. The waffle stand fares a bit better as it boasts at least some new and unique parts. For a 15 Euro street price at a MSRP of 20 Euro that’s okay. Not great, but okay.

Racing Frog – Rocket Rally Car (31074)

Odd as it may sound, but sometimes there’s this lull where I just can’t seem to find something LEGO that would make for a nice diversion after having exhausted other options. That is of course something within my budget, given that many more expensive sets are out of reach for me, anyway. Therefore the Rocket Rally Car (31074) was kind of a filler in an order of three smaller sets.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Box

Even though in this case it wasn’t on top of my list, this doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have bought it in the long run eventually. I have this odd thing going where I basically still want as many different parts in as many different colors as possible just in case I might ever need them for a custom build. This model has a few of them and the rest of the pieces also appeared useful, so I knew regardless of the sets own merits I’d get some value out of it.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Left Side View

Let me cut to the most important point right away: the color choices. Say what you will, but this is perhaps not the most attractive color scheme they could have come up with. In my view it’s some sort of bastardized Mia-themed vehicle as you would find it in the Friends series (minus the orange bits). That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing when viewed from the other side, as currently there isn’t such a vehicle in that series and this presents an easy option to expand the play value, but for a Creator 3in1 model it’s perhaps not ideal.

This can be spun in a million ways, of course, but something is off. Just like replacing the Lime Green with another color like Red would have worked, using indeed Orange in place of the Dark Azure pieces would have been an option. Personally this reminds me of photo editing work where you have accidentally inverted a single color channel and therefore the complementary colors appear.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Front View

The build turned out more elaborate than the marketing photos and other materials suggested and for me that’s always a good thing, be it just to extend the enjoyment of building by another five minutes. It’s nothing too complex or challenging, but you have to pay attention and keep track of things to not maneuver yourself into a snag. Keeping those brain cells stimulated is always a good thing in my opinion.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Front View with open Doors and extended Engine

The set builds into a reasonably robust model and offers a good selection of movable/ playable features. The doors are built from multiple plates and hinges and are actually quite large, so access to the interior through them is easy and unlike with other models there is no need to remove the roof. In fact the set offers no specific contingencies for this, so removing the top would drag along other items and damage the model. Using the doors is way to go.

The air scoop on the front can be pushed out using a simple mechanism hidden underneath the front bumper or pulled out manually. Unfortunately it never is fully flush with the rest of the hood, so it always looks kinda odd and not aerodynamically optimized as it likely would be on the real thing. I think if I were to build this again I’d simply forego the insert and cover the hole with some parts from the spares box.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Aft View

The rear comes with a fully openable trunk and in its basic form this offers a ton of stowage space. Should you decide to get this set as an ancillary model for some Friends fun, you could stuff a lot of things in there. One of the alternate uses is to tilt down the jet engine at the top and “hide” it inside, which again opens up some play scenarios like a transforming super hero/ secret agent vehicle or in more ordinary terms the engine just being tucked away for safety during transport.

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Aft View with open Trunk

Interestingly, while I’m still critical of the selection of color, the Dark Azure parts such as the spoiler wings and the spoked wheel caps are rather unique and more or less exclusive for this set. I have no idea yet what I’m going to do with them, but I’m sure they’ll be handy one day. You could likely even just hang them as decorations on a wall in a Mia-themed house indeed. 🙂

LEGO Creator, Rocket Rally Car (31074), Aft View with Jet Engine inside

In its entirety this turned out a better experience than I had anticipated. The model comes together nicely and due to its play features would be an adequate choice for kids. It’s not worth the 20 Euro MSRP, but in most places you can get it for 15 Euro or lower and that checks out, given the size of the assembled model and perceived volume of stuff. I haven’t built the secondary models, but if I were to guess the Jeep would be quite similar structurally, just with a different outward appearance. the little quad doesn’t seem worth it at all, though, and sure wouldn’t be a reason to get this set.

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…

Heart of Hearts – Friends Heart Boxes (41354 to 41359)

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Emmet's Piece Offering (30340), Front2019 appears to be the “Year of the Heart” for LEGO with those little buggers popping up everywhere in different styles, shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiny new 1×1 heart-shaped tile elements in sets like the Chinese Dragon Dance (80102) and of course several ones for The LEGO Movie 2 as well. The latter takes this even further with the buildable kind of heart in Emmet’s Piece Offering (30340) depicted here and of course the cutesy little heart character also appearing in the movie.

Of course the Friends sets are not left out and my, have they gone out of their way. For now there’s seven different types of hearts to choose from. Two different ones are contained in the Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359) and then there’s the Mia’s/ Andrea’s/ Olivia’s/ Stephanie’s/ Emma’s Heart Box (41354 to 41358) sets. In the interest of efficiency and due to the similarity I have consolidated all the products into one article, but let’s begin with the “big” stuff presented by the Friendship Pack.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Box

This set is meant to be a play set in the sense that it contains a plethora of little gimmicks and doodads to dress up the two included mini dolls in a variety of outfits ranging from astronaut to firefighter and police officer to magician/ witch and pirate as well as any combination and derivation inbetween. Who’s to say there couldn’t be pirates with bullet-proof golden helmets? To that end it contains a number of minifigure hats plus a bunch of very minor minifigure accessories and buildable elements. None of this stuff is new nor is any of it made specifically made just for this set. It has all been gleaned from LEGO‘s back catalog of existing pieces and some of it may even be surplus stock from producing other sets.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Gimmicks

Therefore outside of actually using these items in the context of the set for playing with it, the individual value of these extras will hugely depend on how useful they may be to customize your other minifigures. For me it was okay, as I neither have a pirate hat nor a golden helmet in my collection and as a recent custom build proved, there could always be a need for some fancying up a model with some minifigures even if like me you don’t collect them proactively, so I’m sure going to keep this stuff around, be it just as a prop for setting the mood in a pirate tavern or whatever should I ever decide to create something along those lines.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Overview

In contrast to what you may think, the actual highlight of this set is the smaller heart for the simple reason that it’s based on a new custom-shaped plate. at the same time, though, only one of those little hearts being included to me looks like a severe laps in logic. If the intention was to provide a small pocket box to pack up your doll and some accessories when going on the road, wouldn’t it have made perfect sense to actually include two – one for every figure? Imagine the fuss when two little girls battle over who gets to take the small container along…!

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Overview

 

To me it just doesn’t make sense and allowing for a second such thing in a different color to be built should not have been that much of a stretch. It would only have increased the price a tiny bit and, which is my point, could have helped to roll out the new plates in larger quantities. You may think it’s not that important and I’m just obsessing, but in my head I already have a pretty clear picture how useful this new part could be as a creative corner piece and such when used in combination with other plates. For now it seems we’re limited to just buying more copies of this set and wait until this shape has made its way in other sets and sufficient quantities become available on Bricklink and elsewhere.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Overview

The large version is pieced together from existing elements based on eight units width, meaning a square plate, some half round plates and a two studs wide strip to extend the “ears” a bit. If you’re into that sort of thing, you could come up with it yourself. It’s really pretty obvious and doesn’t require any major engineering skills, experience or magic. That is, of course, up to the point where you need those damned tiles, round bricks (Macaroni) and also the straight bricks for the side walls. It would have been possible to build something like this, but not necessarily easily and in a consistent color scheme. Some parts were just not out there in larger numbers, others downright didn’t exist in a given color yet. At the very least the set solves this conundrum and makes things easy on you by providing all the pieces.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Lids Undersides

Simple and obvious as the whole thing may be, there is always major drawback to using round pieces: You simply stack them and they don’t share any interlocking with neighboring bricks. LEGO have yet to come up with some form of plate or special adapter brick to get a firm connection that takes care of these concerns. These heart sets would have provided a perfect test case for creating plates with extended tabs or adding a stud and anti-stud system to the butt ends of the Macaronis. Maybe we will see it one day. In this particular case it’s not a major issue du to the boxes only being two bricks high, but regardless it’s still within the realm of possibility that inadvertently the curved parts may break off. Your little girl could find a bunch of separate pieces in her pocket with all the contents having spilled out as well, so beware!

LEGO Friends, Heart Boxes (41354 to 41358 ), Packages

Moving on to the smaller sets, the heart boxes named after the girls are marketed as a separate line of sets. To me this feels like they are trying a bit too hard to milk the theme for maximum revenue, though. The reasons for this should become clear a bit further down, but first let’s have a look at a size comparison.

LEGO Friends, Heart Boxes (41354 to 41359), Size Comparison

As you can see, the size is pretty much halfway there between the large box from the Friendship Pack and the small one from the same set. This already reveals one potential limitation: The amount of content you can cram into such a box and indeed this is a concern. I haven’t bothered to take shots of them, but each set comes with the umpteenth iteration of the girl who lends its name to any given set. This then would already occupy half the space in the box. The remaining space would – in theory at least – be filled up with the simple pedestal/ stand made from two clear sloped brick and a white 2 x 4 plate, barely leaving any room for something else. And there you have it: The inclusion of the useless mini dolls defeats the whole idea of using those little hearts as storage or gift boxes. Therefore I think disposing of the figures in whatever is your favorite cruel and funny method would be perfectly acceptable. Just make sure your kids don’t see it…

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Heart Box (41357), Package Front LEGO Friends, Olivia's Heart Box (41357), Package Back

Make no mistake: Despite their inflated packages, these sets are basically just poly bags with a slightly larger number of parts. Arguably the cardboard carry bag or whatever you wanna call it could have been done away with, but of course it looks better on store shelves. Ultimately it’s okay, though, even if you are environmentally conscious, as multiple packs can be stacked quite efficiently in an alternating pattern. Not as much unused space only filled with air is being transported around as first impressions may suggest. In fact it looks bulkier on the photos than in real life.

LEGO Friends, Heart Boxes (41354 to 41358), Colors LEGO Friends, Heart Boxes (41354 to 41358), Stacked

There are five distinct sets of which I got only four. For the time being I passed on the Lime Green version for Mia since it did not include any other new colors for the plates and I wanted to avoid having a pile of redundant Dark Purple already found in the Emma set as well as Dark Azure tiles for the upper edge as they exist in the Olivia version. I’m reasonably certain that I will get it one of these days just for the fun of it, though. Incidentally, LEGO could have made this decision easier by offering a five pack/ bundle deal with a bit of discount from the outset.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Heart Box (41357), Lid Topside LEGO Friends, Olivia's Heart Box (41357), Lid Underside

Again the building techniques used in the sets are as plain on your nose as you can think and you could have worked them out yourself if you had the pieces. The same limitations as on the big heart box apply – due to some elements not overlapping and merely being stacked, the risk of breakage is not to be underestimated, especially with the lid off, which stabilizes things considerably. Overall those sets won’t win any prizes for outstanding engineering, anyway. With only two rows of bricks in all of them, it’s simply impossible to get enough robustness in there, try as you might. You would have to redesign this from the ground up. Regardless of these issues, the least they could have done is make the big heart in the Friendship Pack three or four rows of bricks high to increase storage volume.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Heart Box (41354), Flowers

The one thing that makes those sets at least a bit valuable for me is of course the fact that they are an excellent source for colored parts. As I mentioned earlier in my article, many pieces are for the first time even available in these flamboyant and crazy colors and trivial as it may seem, a Bright Pink 1 x 1 quarter round tile can sometimes be exactly what you need, not to speak of the many 1 x 2, 1x 4, 1 x 6 and 2 x 4 tiles. We even get the 1 x 1 round flower tile in Light Aqua in the Andrea set! In addition, every bit of writing you see on the boxes are specially printed tiles, so that’s fine, too. It just renders those tiles slightly less useful later on in your custom builds. Still, you could always pop them onto other sets like e.g. Olivia’s Cupcake Café (41366) as signage, so it’s not all a waste.

Within the very narrow corridor of what you can expect, those sets work okay-ish, but are not worth writing home about, either. Unfortunately it really seems LEGO are always falling for the same old mistakes and screw up a simple idea that could work otherwise. A girl just wanting a nice box for her trinkets isn’t going to care much about those ugly mini dolls and as an adult you feel it’s only an excuse to inflate the price. A more straightforward approach with selling the plain buildable items for what they are might have been better.

That being the case, if at all, you should see to it to get these sets as cheap as you can, since you basically always will be buying unnecessary useless fluff along with the buildable elements while the actual assembly is so simplistic, it will leave the true LEGO aficionado unsatisfied. Strangely, those sets are caught between a rock and a hard place and won’t satisfy either side fully. The are not LEGO sets in the traditional sense, but by that same token will also struggle to attract audiences that are used to simpler ways of getting plastic containers for their toys, the latter of which also being more stable when made in a single piece straight out of the injection molding machine. Too bad…