Explorer-ing… Treasures – LEGO Explorer Magazine, August 2022

Unlike most people I never had much interest in adventure-centric themes such as pirates when I was a kid, so I’m always skeptical or even adverse when someone is trying to play on that nostalgia. That doesn’t mean I don’t get the appeal, but it just isn’t for me (mostly) bar the occasional review of a LEGO set like the Pirate Ship (31109). Many others of course love this stuff, so the latest issue of the LEGO Explorer magazine should please them.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2022, Cover

The topic of the day is treasure hunting in the broadest sense and that encompasses everything from pirates chasing gold dublones to archaeologists searching for artifacts. This is covered briefly on some info pages, if only in a somewhat superficial way. With the target demographic in mind it’s probably okay, though.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2022, Info Page

The comic is based around a chase inside an Egyptian pyramid and since in this magazine the comics aren’t drawn out across too many pages and thus a quick enjoyable read.  Less is sometimes better!

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2022, Comic

The poster is unfortunately just another advertisement in disguise and I really wish they would stop doing this, especially when the sets are no longer on the market and cannot be obtained easily and cost-efficiently through regular channels.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2022, Poster

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2022, ExtraAll of this is of course leading up to the extra, which unsurprisingly is a little (pirate) ship. I’m not the biggest fan of micro/ nano scale stuff, but for what you can expect from a magazine freebie this is adequate enough. Interestingly it is still one of the few models to feature this inverted curved slope in Reddish Brown as it was introduced back then when I did my review of Moana’s Bot (43170). In addition, I got another extra this time. Clearly Ehapa are trying to get rid of surplus stock and stick a second poly bag on to their magazines just like Blue Ocean do occasionally. Mine was the penguin from early last year, but you may get a different one.

Overall this has been some decent value even if I’m not into the subject matter that much. Getting a second extra alone is worth it.

Sunken Ship – LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114)

With the fate of VIDIYO hanging in the balance and the future of the theme being rather uncertain I was reluctant on whether I should continue posting my reviews on the sets, but since they are still widely available regardless of what is going to happen next i decided there might still be some value to lay out my views and opinions, be it just to nudge undecided buyers one way or the other. So let’s see what the Punk Pirate Ship (43114) offers.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Box

Pricing and Contents

I’ve laid out the many failures of LEGO VIDIYO in my first article when I was still a lot more hopeful for the series, but you can spin it how you will, the outrages prices stuck out like a sore thumb no matter how generous you wanted to be about the other shortcomings. This is the same here: The suggested retail price is 70 Euro and to that I say „No! Not in this life unless hell freezes over!“. It’s just ridiculous!

Lucky for me the mighty gods of Amazon once more came to the rescue and wanted to free up space in their warehouses after they noticed sales being slow, so they threw out this set for 36 Euro one day. That was impossible to resist, so I jumped the chance. Ever since similar prices have popped up multiple times not just on Amazon but also with other vendors, so you should definitely invest some time researching prices before committing. You may not always be able to get it as cheaply as I did, but generally anything around the 45 Euro mark is probably acceptable. Just be aware that over this kerfuffle with the long term prospects of the series some scalpers may try and take advantage.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Overview.

Minifigures and BeatBits

Of course a major part of that whole VIDIYO thing are the inventive and slightly bonkers minifigures. This set in particular got me with the second version of the shark and a squid-headed drummer. The mermaid isn’t bad, either. I knew I would want to get them one day, but not necessarily buying the set. Would the figures even suffice making a purchase of the whole set worthwhile? Pretty much not, given that there are only three. The math just doesn’t add up and similar to the K-Pawp Concert (43113) I generally feel there should have been at least five characters in this set as well. The ones that are there are great, there are just not enough.

Another highly desirable and exclusive bit of content are the BeatBits that come with these sets and I have to say for me the ones here are probably the best ones of them all, especially the harmonica-playing octopus and the shark-surfing pirate. That’s real graphical art squeezed onto a 2 x 2 tile and the print quality is excellent as well!

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Minifigure Stand

The Ship

I’m not the biggest fan of that whole pirate thing, but I enjoy a well done ship as much as anyone. However, well done this is not! The basic proportions and shape are recognizable enough, but of course the devil is in the details.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Front Left View, Default State

The biggest failure is easily that the stage design is oriented along the main axis of the ship, not to the sides. This would be a pretty terrible idea for any fans standing directly in front of the bow. They’d simply see nothing because the walls would obscure the view unless they stand several feet away. This is just not how you would do it. I’m not saying that such stage designs could not and have not existed, but in such a case you would have the sections be separable and the bow at least movable. A traditional walkway with rails sounds about right and would then cover the gap while the pieces are apart.

Another, and ultimately the better alternative would be a side view design similar to the rollercoaster facade in the Heartlake City Amusement Pier (41375), but this cannot be accommodated with this set. The silhouette would be way to flat, which I guess is the point, after all: The bow is way to shallow to really impress and in fact this flatness makes it appear as if the ship were sinking and tipping over forward. The low walls on the side would also easily be washed over by the tiniest of waves, which makes this even less credible.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Front Left View, Alternate State

As you can see in the images, this set also features the pivotable elements also found in other VIDIYO sets but they don’t really do much for me. the skull and shark head are nice, but the overall appearance of the ship doesn’t really change in a way that it would perceivably make much of a difference. For a more significant and dramatic change they would have to have included elements in alternate colors or do something like swap out the drum kit for a different set of instruments, ideally based on a modular system where this can be swapped out easily.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Aft Left View

The rear end of the ship with the backstage area is designed like a traditional captain’s cabin and is in my opinion almost the best part of the whole affair. It’s not very plausible in its function with no doorways to the front stage and overall being rather crammed, but at least it looks the part. This would perfectly fit a “real” pirate ship as well.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Rear View Open

The sideways outriggers are a strange affair and just like with the Robo HipHop Car (43112) feel flung on for the mere sake of the turnable loudspeakers.Of course they could be interpreted as extended planks or those little balconies some ships had to provide access to the mast rigging and such, but it really does not contribute much here. Even the fake “lantern” build from two 1 x 2 half cylinders and clearly providing some color interaction in the VIDIYO augmented reality app looks out of place.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Aft Right View

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Front Right View

A lower angle shot once more affirms my point about the shallowness of the boat hull and the “sinking” overall look. Arguably it is also somewhat reminiscent of an equally flattened, worn out basketball shoe or similar. In any case, something feels definitely off. This isn’t helped by LEGO having opted for the faceted, modern ship version of the bow pieces.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Front Right Lower View

Finally, and this loops back to my point about the minifigures, the five turntables cannot all be occupied with what’s in the box. Technically there is also no extra pirate-ish character in the first Collectible Minifigure series, with another mermaid and pirate lady only coming out in the second iteration (if we ever actually get it). I’m also extremely bothered by all of the rings being in Coral. I didn’t expect the Olympic Rings, but clearly they could have used a different color on the one on the crow’s nest and perhaps golden ones on the bow. On that note I also think the various 1 x 1 pyramids (and by extension the hook graphic on the central “screen”) would have looked a lot more impressive in some version of gold or Metallic Silver.

LEGO VIDIYO, Punk Pirate Ship (43114), Top View

Concluding Thoughts

As you may have gathered from my write-up, this is not a good model at all in my opinion. there are a few interesting details, I grant you that, but on the whole it is way too generic and poorly designed. It just doesn’t transport any of the wackiness I would expect from a VIDIYO set and due to it’s “We sawed off the waterline way too high!” look it also fails as a generic pirate ship.

Add to that the delusional original pricing and you can see why it might be extremely hard to even find an excuse to buy it. It was okay for me at the price I got it for and if it were even cheaper it might have been worth buying two packages to fix the mess with a major overhaul and redesign of the model, but overall I cannot recommend this. You can have a lot more fun with the Creator 3in1 Pirate Ship (31109) and I would dare to speculate even the new Bowser’s Airship (71391) from the Super Mario line of products…

Best of the Year? – LEGO Creator 3in1, Pirate Ship (31109)

Good things come to those that wait, they say, and indeed the LEGO Creator 3in1 Pirate Ship (31109) could be considered a nice reward for those who appreciate its qualities and can muster the patience.

A Clarification: Barracuda Bay vs. Pirate Ship

Full disclosure: I’m anything but an “old salt” and don’t particularly care for anything that has to do with pirates or that old-timey exploration of the oceans with sail ships. I enjoy some films, but that’s about it. Still, I simply like nice and interesting LEGO sets, so even I got jazzed when last year the Pirates of Barracuda Bay proposal was chosen as a winner on LEGO Ideas. I was really looking forward to the set – that is the way it was originally designed. Unfortunately all that hope was in vain.

LEGO completely screwed things up and instead of taking this as an opportunity to revive the theme with well-designed contemporary sets, all they could think of is pandering to people who wanted to relive their nostalgia for the 1990s when allegedly everything was better in the LEGO universe (which of course is utter nonsense). As a result we got what we got: Something that is almost a full remake of the 1989 Black Seas Barracuda (6285). Yes, it’s been modernized in some areas and yes, it has some extra stuff thrown in, but ultimately I was completely turned off by how it turned out from the ugly retro packaging and color scheme to the many, many large specific molds being used instead of building things up from separate smaller elements.

On the other hand only a few weeks after the announcement the regular sets for the first half of 2020 were announced and lo and behold, they had another sail ship in the Creator 3in1 series with a pirate-y twist and that appealed much more to my tastes. It only would take some time to actually get my hands on it.

The Price was right (at last)

I got my box thanks to Amazon‘s Prime Day after having had my eyes on it for a while. In my little world I have to be very cost-conscious and therefore always patiently bide my time until the price is right, but when it only cost around 55 Euro it became a no-brainer. Pardon the language, but that’s really ridiculously cheap for a set of this size and complexity and makes around 4 Cent per part at overall 1260 parts. In fairness however, even the original MSRP of 99 Euro isn’t that outrageous and makes for an 8 Cent average per piece, which in this day and age is a good value in the LEGO world, especially once you consider that while there are many small elements, there’s also quite a few large ones, making for a healthy mix that gives you the impression that the price of the set is fair and justified.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Box

Now things would be fine and dandy, but lately I seem to have a bit of bad luck with Amazon using inadequate and poor packaging, so my box arrived quite mangled despite being packed inside another box, which was also damaged. This went as far as the seals being broken and one of the sides being torn open and I was almost ready to open a customer support case and request an immediate replacement. I was seriously frustrated, but decided to give this a try after all, as I knew that all the hoopla with the substitution not only was extra work on my end, but simply didn’t sit well with my environmental consciousness, even more so knowing that Amazon would most likely simply trash the damaged product and it would end up in a blast furnace instead of repackaging it and selling as B grade. Still, I was on the verge and in my world that means a lot.

Contents Overview

The package is filled to the brim as you would expect from a set with this parts count. The bulk of the pieces thankfully indeed goes towards building the ship, with only a handful of extras being included, all of which have some thematic relation to the ship itself. Others may prefer it differently, but I quite like that I didn’t have to chew endless side builds like it’s common with many Friends and Star Wars sets or as it was even the case with the Camper Van (31108). It makes the whole experience a lot more satisfying and doesn’t give you that ugly feeling that a set may have intentionally padded out/ fluffed up with pointless extras just to justify an increase in price.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Overview

Minifigures and Extras

A pirate ship needs its crew and as you would expect, we get a bunch of them, but a very tiny bunch at that. Only a captain, an “officer” and one sailor plus a skeleton really isn’t that much and all things considered perhaps really not enough. This set could have easily done with five, seven or nine minifigures, as effectively you can’t even man the two cannons let alone actually have sailors climbing the masts and going about their daily business.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Minifigures

The figures themselves are done well enough and I’m sure many people who actually bought the Pirates of Barracuda Bay (21322) will buy this set just to get them in addition or take them off your hands for a good price, if you feel so inclined. The regular blue torsos aren’t necessarily my favorite color as it always kinda looks like worker stuff and historically it would probably be more correct if they were Dark Blue or Black. I’m also slightly bothered by the prints being a bit transparent and the colors not popping enough therefore. This becomes very apparent with the sailor’s tank top next to the officer’s stripe undershirt.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Extras

One point of criticism that has to be spelled out is the inclusion of only two cannons when even in its default configuration the model already has provision for four positions (two on either side) and a “real” version of such a ship would have even more. It’s not the end of the world, but once again makes you feel that some higher-up in the chain at LEGO was cutting corners when approving this.

On a small side note, the barrel in Reddish Brown is the first in my collection (I have several ones in Dark Brown and other colors), which surprised me somewhat, but when I sifted through the respective Bricklink page it dawned on me that LEGO actually hadn’t done this item in this color for almost eight years, so it was not much of a surprise, given that I only even got into the hobby much later and never had one of those older sets.

Shark Time!

As you know from my blathering on about it and one of my MOCs I have an innate, yet strangely inexplicable love for creatures of the deep, even though the real experience would scare the heck out of me most likely. That’s why I just like the inclusion of yet another shark and I have to say this little build is excellent despite only consistent of a handful of pieces! It hits all the right beats with the creature being cute, yet having believable proportions and I even kept it around. It’s smiling at me from the shelf next to my computer as I’m writing this article.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Shark, Left View LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Shark, Right View

The Ship at large

While for a LEGO set the ship is pretty large and with its style pretends it would be an imperial war ship, large exploration cruiser or some such thing, I think it’s actually more of a small barge or galley cruising near the coast lines only a few days at a time. Of course there are simply limitations how large you can build stuff with bricks to begin with plus the rise cost associated with adding more pieces, so naturally this is more of a compromise in the sense of capturing the overall feeling and spirit instead of portraying any exact original. That doesn’t exclude that some such ship existed, but I wouldn’t know about that.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Ship, Front Left View

Regardless of it’s “smallness” the model is quite a chunky affair if you’re not used to building such relatively large sets. It will of course be small fires to the more wealthy that buy and build those UCS level sets for 300 Euro and more regularly. You can guess in which camp I fall, both financially as well as how much space I have in my flat to actually keep such large models around. 😉 With this model (or any sail ship for that matter) in particular the height quickly becomes an issue with almost 40 cm. The length mustn’t be underestimated, either, as it’s also more than 45 cm.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Ship, Aft Left View

As you can see, the sails are built from pieces and not made from vinyl foil or cloth, which if you look around on the Internet is one of the most divisive aspects of this model. It makes sense when you consider that some of those parts would be used for the alternate builds, but understandably it looks rather heavy and inelegant. As an side effect this also affects the masts, which tend to feel very “bendy” under the extra weight.

This is one of those situations where I understand that they wanted to keep the logic and integrity of the 3in1 series with everything actually being built from bricks, but similar to my regrets/ complaints about the lack of actual molded animals in the series, I feel that they could have thrown in real cloth pieces here, even if they were just optional. it would have elevated the model and I think most people wouldn’t have minded those extra three Euro it might have cost.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Ship, Right View

A similar point could be made about the “wire” elements, where especially the ones along the middle of the ship don’t look quite convincing. Perhaps including some threaded yarn would have been better. I’m at least glad, though, that they didn’t do a Friends on this one where those items always seem to come only in Lavender. On that note – one of the positive things about this set is that it actually gives you a wealth of elements in “sensible” colors such as Reddish Brown and Red.

While most of them are not new or exclusive, you will be hard-pressed to find some of them in such large quantities elsewhere like the large arc/ bow pieces, which are now complemented by their smaller brothers that actually are available in this color for the first time. Combined with a good number of Black pieces and even some more rare Pearl Gold ones like the 1 x 1 plates that could offer incentive enough to get the set just as a parts source.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Ship, Front View

The Captain’s Cabin

Pretty much the only significant build outside the ship’s hull itself is the captain’s cabin, also representing the aft deck. This is a clever little piece of engineering as quite some effort was made to capture the angled faces while still making sure that everything closes up properly. It uses different hinge types, tiles for a smooth surface and several small elements of stoppers. The genius here is that it feels all organic and not too obviously aimed at making the mechanics work. Still, of course I can’t deny that some of those things would be even easier and incidentally also more robust if LEGO actually got over themselves and introduced slopes with studs on the angled faces like e.g. Mega Construx uses them.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Captain's Cabin Exterior, Left View

 LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Captain's Cabin Exterior, Right View  LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Captain's Cabin Exterior, Top View

The interior does the trick if you hang on to that story of this being only for short journeys (but it still lacks a bunk bed at least then), but otherwise feels pretty barren. Granted, there isn’t too much space inside, but i feel that there still would have been room enough to add a few extras here and there, be that a small shelf with some bottles, more map tiles, perhaps even a small sextant, compass and telescope. It definitely doesn’t feel like the captain was ready to take to the seas on short notice and everything was left unprepared.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Captain's Cabin Interior, Top View

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Captain's Cabin Interior, Left View  LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Captain's Cabin Interior, Right View

Not “Deck”-ed out

I already mentioned my grievances about the cannons, so here we are having a look at the actual mid-ship section. Externally it captures all the typical trappings such as the blinds on the gun ports, the layered structure of the hull’s planks as well as the various transition to the rear and front “houses” using slopes and a few decorative elements.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Ship Center, Left View

The insides on the other hand are just an empty hole, which looks even worse if you don’t install any of the cannons. This typically is the busiest part of the ship with ammunition depots, storage compartments and accommodations for the crew, but nothing of the sort is present, making this rather lame. My point here specifically is that they could have included some extra barrels and bottles, possibly some hammocks, but at the very least they could have included a central table with some stools and food elements so a feasting scene could be set up.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Interior Bay, Left View  LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Interior Bay, Right View

In my view this would also have added a bit of extra play value, more than the cannons even, perhaps. Not to stretch this out ad nauseam, but in light of this also the shortness of firing power becomes even more visible. There would have been plenty of room to have smaller guns on poles on the upper deck, some rifle stands or something like that that would be readily at hand for close-up fights.

LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Bow Deck, Left View  LEGO Creator, Pirate Ship (31109), Bow Deck, Right View

This also extends to the front bow deck, where yet another small cannon could have been set up for self defense or a harpoon for occasional hunting of larger fish. the bow also gives away the game, as it looks a bit too stubby and rounded for an actual ship. Don’t get me wrong – it’s more than adequate, but it should have been possible to make this a bit more pointed using curved slopes and not arcs. I also wouldn’t have minded the figurehead being entirely gold.

Building is Fun (or is it)?

One thing you should prepare yourself for is that the building process can stretch out quite a bit and is not always fun. After starting out quickly with some large plates and inverted slopes on the first layer of the central section you soon move on to some finicky procedures involving lots of small elements or building individual small modules using cool, but somewhat tedious and confusing SNOT techniques.

For instance many of the underpinnings of the arc sections used on the front and aft contours do not consist of large bricks but rather staggered arrays of plates to make things look angled. This can get at times pretty long in the tooth and feel like you are not making any progress. The same is true for the many 1 x 1 elements used everywhere to add decorations. That is to say you need to take your time and if you tend to lose concentration quickly may want to build this in multiple sessions. Even I totally underestimated this factor and spent almost five hours on what i expected would be finished in three (I’m a slow builder, so that was already generous with safety margin).

Structurally you can’t do much wrong, as due to the modular nature and those segments being held together with pins and overlapping plates/ tiles interlocking with brackets and regular studs, the main hull is extremely stable. This also forces you to obey a certain build order, as you need to complete some of the models first before being able to move on. If you have someone to help you these steps can even and split up among different people, but only up to a certain point.

Spatial orientation is also facilitated by the internals using a color coding system with Yellow and Blue designating the front and aft connection points and Red and Green signalling that port vs. starboard thing almost like on real ships. Thankfully none of that peeks through when viewed from the outside, so the overall beauty of the model isn’t spoiled.

Concluding Thoughts

I very much enjoyed this set within the few criticisms I have laid out despite totally not being the naval type. To me it’s easily the best LEGO set of the year: It’s reasonably large and complex, but not excessively crazy like those expensive 3000 and more pieces sets, has some interesting building techniques, nice and useful parts and just looks good when finished. Getting there is not always the most pleasurable ride, but perfectly manageable even if you’re not super experienced. You just need to take a calm and meditative approach and not be in a rush.

In addition, though I haven’t actually built them yet, the B and C alternate models also seem nice and tie in with the pirate/ treasure hunt theme with a skull island and a port tavern, so you could find yourself buying three sets eventually and still getting something new and useful out of it. That doesn’t happen every day and with special sales happening left and right at this time of the year you have a real chance of making this work even if you have a limited budget. I definitely recommend trying to buy at least one set and giving it a whirl. In this crazy time it will make a nice distraction from the bad things happening around us.