Dry Matter – LEGO Icons, Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314)

As much as I see LEGO‘s efforts at re-creating real life objects with bricks as a cheap tactic to lure in new customers, I can’t exactly escape the reality that everybody likes flowers. My mom certainly does and I’ll bring her some fresh bouquet whenever the opportunity arises. That almost makes it unavoidable that I have to show her my LEGO activities on that front just as well, even if my motivations are different. Part of that is simply scalping the pieces for my builds, but the other part is my deeply rooted fascination with organic structures which goes back to when I started doing stuff as a 3D animation artist.

So here we are, having a look at one of this year’s offerings in that department, the Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314) from the newly introduced/ re-branded Icons range which acts as an umbrella for sets formerly found under the Creator Expert moniker and/ or in other existing series. The qualifying factor here seems to be that they a) target adults, b) have a certain complexity and c) are often based on licensed intellectual property (IP) and/ or designs. Not all criteria must necessarily be met, but it’s clear that it is supposed to imply a certain level of premium value.

LEGO Icons, Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314), Box

Price and Contents

With this this type of set the question of whether they are worth their money naturally depends more on the utilitarian value and perceived overall “niceness” than a more mathematical formula. Due to how many of the constituting parts are created, a simple price per piece can never do this justice, even if on the face of it this doesn’t seem to bad with 812 pieces for 50 Euro. Still, half of that are 1 x 1 elements and from the rest you could subtract a number of other elements that are so commonly used in other sets, you could get them cheap on Bricklink. That pretty much leaves the unique recolors and the larger items that stand out as a measure for gauging the value.

When you boil it down to that, those 50 Euro feel like a bit of a stretch. At the end of the day the result is a pretty small unit that only pretends to be larger with some of its parts sticking out and creating the illusion of volume with clever stacking. Realistically this is more of an 40 Euro package and then it might even have made sense to get multiples of it for that alternate building style (see near the end of the article). With discounts in mind that would have made for a 30 or 25 Euro offering and that would have been irresistible. Of course you get discounts, anyway, but with the higher starting price you essentially never get below 35 Euro. That’s a more realistic price within what I have laid out, though it’s not exactly a steal.

That said, I’m a bit torn on the matter and have to say that the price is at least “fair” due to the sheer amount of recolored elements and there’s some worth in that. It’s more a matter of “Would have been nice.” rather than a serious bashing of LEGO‘s price policies, if you get my drift.

LEGO Icons, Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314), Overview

General Observations

As I laid out in my review of the Orchid (10311) and Succulents (10309) last year I have rather mixed feelings about using LEGO pieces to build decorative flower arrangements. Not only are there cheaper, more realistic alternatives, but inevitably how tolerable it is depends a lot on the execution. It’s a fine line between utter kitsch and a (under certain conditions) acceptable use of bricks. For me they will always be somewhere in-between and of course I won’t pretend otherwise. Building this stuff can be an interesting experience and a pleasant distraction for a while, but I wouldn’t necessarily plaster my condo with these pieces, not just because I don’t have the space to keep them around forever.

That notwithstanding, these sets make for excellent “parts packs”. I’m always surprised (both in the good and bad sense) how LEGO in particular go out of their way to re-color elements just for these sets when sometimes they couldn’t be bothered to do the same for decades before. On of those simple examples is the crown/ cracked egg piece. Wouldn’t have Dark Tan dinosaur eggs in the Jurassic World series made sense a long time ago already? It’s those silly little things that make you wonder.

One thing you definitely have to be prepared for with these types of sets is the tedious and repetitive build process. Inevitably plugging together lots of small elements for clusters of blossoms and arrays of petals on large flowers is in itself kinda boring, but this particular package ups the ante by throwing a left/ right mirrored base at you where you are building eighty percent identical stuff on top of each half. I already spread the build out across two evenings, but I couldn’t claim I was particularly stimulated or enjoyed it. It simply drags on. The only consolation is that you really see how things fall into place and make sense, which boosts motivation ever so slightly. Still, it’s a bit of a slog.

The Details

A big draw of these sets is the multitude of ways the designers have to come up with creative uses for existing (but recolored) elements and construction techniques. This is not dissimilar to what I experience with Speed Champions sets – I’m not a car aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, but one has to marvel at the clever solutions the designers come up with to replicate details at this small scale with a limited number of standardized elements.

The biggest single sub-assembly/ flower in this package is a Dark Red gerbera. It’s built from paddle pieces that are clipped onto a large steering wheel with those little “wrench” clip bars. It generally works, but for my taste those orange bars could have a lot more grip. The petals will change their angle at the slightest touch, which is not desirable. Imagine having to re-set them into a nice even fashion every time you do the dusting!

LEGO Icons, Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314), Gerbera

The blossoms are attached to some cheat mechanisms, most of which use combinations of clips and (hinge) bars as well as well as a few of them being simply plugged into the Olive Green and Dark Orange classic leave elements. The latter for instance applies to those Orange ones created from three minifigure pauldrons (or epaulettes if you want to be posh about it). The white chamomile blossoms are attached to the new branching “candle” bar element introduced last year with the Farmers Market Van (60345), only this time in Olive Green instead Bright Green. Additional leave pieces in that same color are also present, including the very desirable palm leaf, which has not been done that often in this shade. The small pine tree is also a new color for this long-existing element. Lots of good stuff here.

LEGO Icons, Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314), Achillea

The egg shell/ crown pieces I mentioned in my intro are used to emulate grain husks on stalks and to similar effect stacks of small Tan cogs are used. To me those particular bits look like corn stalks where mice have gnawed off the actual grains. The “rose” could be a variety of flowers from an actual rose to a poppie, an Eustoma or so on. It’s more about the general vibe rather than the exact shape, as of course for most of these plants it would have to have an odd number of petals and not four. In any case, it’s a nice idea and if you have those shoulder pad pieces and small mudguards floating around in other colors than Nougat you could recycle the method for your own purposes, i.e. alternative color versions of this set or a completely separate arrangement/ bouquet.

LEGO Icons, Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314), Rose

The Achilleas in Bright Light Yellow introduce the 1 x 1 flower plate in this color, which once more is one of those “It should have existed in this colors for years already!” things. It’s definitely useful and no doubt will make its way into other regular sets as well. Couched below this cluster you can also see the “papaver capsule”, meaning the pumpkin piece, but in a new Dark Orange color. This could come in handy for quite a few things from simply depicting a field with some withered away pumpkins among the normal Orange ones and of course the inevitable Halloween decorations.

LEGO Icons, Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314), Papaver Capsule

On the technical side there’s no big surprises. The base is just a stack of different black plates and the two halves are connected in the middle via a simple Technic pin construct. The two 1 x 5 plates then merely lock everything in place so the separate segments don’t slide off the pins. See how I used the transparent column elements from the Avatar sets to raise the plate for the photo? I forgot to do a different shot to show the underside, but there also are hangers integrally hidden in the plates of the base. Some may already know them from a few DOTS sets (the message boards for instance). This would allow to hang the contraption on a wall, door, cupboard or whatever you fancy, given there’s some hooks or screws in place.

As an alternative to the flat panel layout there is one with a 90 degree corner. by itself this doesn’t do much, though. It is meant to be used if you purchased multiple(!) sets and then you can clip them together to form some form of wreath/ big flower with a central hole into which you could place some candles, a flower pot or similar. Due to the weight this cannot be hung on the wall then, however, at least not without some extra engineering to reinforce the structure. The image also exposes the connection system with the pins. As you might guess, for the linear panel version it’s simply a Technic brick with longer pins sticking out on both sides.

LEGO Icons, Dried Flower Centrepiece (10314), Angular Connector

Concluding Thoughts

I’m certainly not crazy about this kind of stuff, but one has to admit that this isn’t bad. It shows that the LEGO designers get better every year and apparently these sets sell well enough to afford them quite a few liberties in requesting elements to be produced in new colors or old molds to be dusted off. The latter is still my primary reason why I get these packages, but I’ll try not to be too judgmental about people genuinely decorating their habitat with LEGO. I would still prefer to go out in the field and harvest a bunch of real flowers, but each his own.

The versatile use could certainly make it interesting for even more people, but given the long-winded and tiring assembly I’m not sure I would chew through three or even more sets as suggested in the instructions. That really would be more of a family project with each party involved building its own segment or work being split up by specialized sub-assemblies/ different flower types like someone putting together all those Achilleas and another the corn cobs while yet another person builds the support structure.

Getting multiple packages would also be quite an investment and that 200 Euro line would come closer and closer, at which point many may wonder whether they couldn’t spend their cash on a different set such as a Modular Building for example. Settling on just a single set may be a better strategy. That is, unless you really don’t mind and swim in money. 😉

(Not so) Little Red Tractor – LEGO City, Tractor (60284)

As you may have recognized already, I rarely do buy LEGO City sets for apparent reasons like the age demographic they target vs. complexity and overall usefulness of parts and similar. However, every now and then something comes along that tingles my taste buds or intrigues me and that’s how I ended up with this year’s Tractor (60284) edition.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Box

Some form of tractor is basically always part of each year’s line-up, but this particular small/ mid-size red tractor type hasn’t been done in a while with the most recent references that would be at least somewhat similar and that I could dig up going back to 2009 and 2011, respectively.

Pricing and Contents

Let me get the first thing out of the way: Though I’m very critical of LEGO‘s overblown pricing, this can’t be applied here. As much as I may want to find something to complain or niggle about, I really can’t. True, I’m hedging my bets on the usual discounts, but even at full price this is good value. There are only 143 pieces, but many of them are quite large. The tires and bucket alone contribute notably to the initial cost and then there’s three clear pieces, some large arches and a few other goodies. If you will: It’s one of the few cases where one can see where the money went.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Overview

That said, of course there’s no harm in trying to get this set as cheaply as possible. I got mine for 15 Euro, which is already five Euro off the suggested retail price of 20 Euro. I would predict that during a promotion e.g. for the upcoming Easter holidays it may get closer to 12 Euro, but you shouldn’t expect more and it’s really not necessary to get too miserly about this.

Minifigures and Extras

The set comes with two minifigures which are actually quite nice. The young dad and his daughter (?) both wear dungarees in different colors, which is a common practical attire for farmers and gardeners. The prints are not super fancy, but provide enough detail to sell the story. There are some minor alignment issues with the prints and legs, something which is particularly obvious with the white torso of the girl peeking out under the blue, but overall it is within acceptable tolerances. The faces and hair styles are standard types you probably already have seen several times, but they work well here

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Minifigures

The white rabbit is a bit of an oddity. I’m not complaining that it is included at all, given that it is still a somewhat rare little creature not found in many sets. It’s just that it feels a bit out of place, with my point here being that other than the girl’s play pet it doesn’t exactly make much sense. Assuming the farmer were into rabbit breeding there would have to be more to form at least a small huddle. If it was supposed to be a wild rabbit disturbed by the tractor or lured in by the carrots it would have to be a different color, obviously. The latter would of course have been something also useful on the domesticated variants. Imagine having a Reddish Brown, Tan, Dark Tan or Black rabbit or one with colored patches printed on! Maybe it’s time for LEGO to do such a set? In any case, I’m a bit foggy on the reasoning here.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Extras

In addition to the figures there’s a crate with some fruit and vegetables, those being a red apple, the already mentioned carrots and a pumpkin. Seasonally that puts the set into late fall, which is the only time all these are actually available at the same time. That’s another of those little weird inconsistencies once you start to think about it. The corrugated cardboard (?) boxes are based on a new piece, so without further ado let’s have a look at them.

New Parts

In addition to the overall good value one thing that attracted me to this set were a few new LEGO pieces that only have seen the light of the in the first 2021 sets. It’s not so much that I felt I would miss something as I’m pretty sure we’ll see them used quite a bit in a widespread manner soon enough, but my curiosity got the better of me and I grabbed the opportunity to check them out and add them to my parts stock by buying this set.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), New Parts

To me the most useful addition is the ribbed modified brick. Yes, naturally it’s structured sides will come in handy on buildings and technical stuff to mimic all sorts of cooling rips, chiseled bricks and so on. However, one thing this element might become more popular for is, that it gives you a simple way to substitute two 2 x 2 plates that have to be layered. Depending on how often a model uses such stacks this can greatly help to avoid some tedious building and more importantly also minimize tension in the model, which with many plates on top of each other can be considerable.

The other item of interest is the brick with the pin hole. The conventional 1 x 2 version has of course existed for forever, but now with another row of studs on a vertically centered plate extension it should be easier to integrate this in builds where you don’t want to get things too bulky just because you would need to lock the brick into place. Finally there’s the new upright 2 x 6 bracket introduced last year. There were two of them in White in the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444) and having at least one in Black now might come in handy, too.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), New Parts

The large tires are another novelty from this year and are otherwise only found in the LEGO Technic Jeep Wrangler (42122). The interesting thing about them is of course that in an interesting departure from LEGO‘s “Keep it simple!” approach with the tire treads being symmetrical and usable in all positions and orientations, this one has directional treads and you need to pay attention when mounting them on their rims as well as on the axles. The narrower, smaller tires don’t fall into that category, but for me are also a “first”, since they have only been used in some older sets I never bought. The most recent appears to be a Nexo Knights one from 2017, actually.

The excavator bucket is an improved version of an older model with two notable areas of enhancements: a) there’s a slightly raised ridge in the middle to strengthen the material and prevent breakage from too much stress and b) the ratcheted hinge having brought up to the new standard introduced late last year that changes the snapping behavior and angles to be more reliable, especially when using it as a static connection element.

The Tractor

The main build is of course the tractor. For a City set it ends up a pretty sizable affair at around 20 cm length plus 5 cm more for the bucket in the front. It’s almost just a tad too big to match the scale of other items in the series.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Front Left View

The construction process is pretty simple and straightforward as essentially you are building a two studs wide central block with a bunch of protrusions left and right. That’s why they had to use some of the new pieces to allow it to be so narrow. The build also uses an eclectic selection of other elements to similar effect, though personally I feel that they could have made it a little less messy in terms of colors used. When you have the same 1 x 2 x 2 brick with studs on the side in two different colors it just feels unnecessary, even if the ones in Tan are covered up and thus invisible. I guess it’s one of those things where some LEGO manager is mandating this use to evenly deplete their stockpile of parts.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Aft Left View

I have similar feelings about the mounting arm for the bucket, though I’m fully aware that some Technic parts like the axles only come in certain colors. It’s better to have uniform Light Bluish Grey than an even more messy mix of with Red and Black, I suppose. I don’t have an idea how this could have been improved, but the question of whether this could have been built differently undeniably still lingers in my mind. Might be worth a shot rummaging through my parts and seeing if I can find some exotic piece I haven’t thought of that would be perfect here.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Aft Right View

The rear end has multiple provisions for attaching towable gear, either with a ball joint/ axle hinge, a pin or a clip and any number of combinations of those, but as we all know LEGO do not offer separate kits of plows, sowing rigs, harvesters or even simple trailers, so you have to come up with something yourself. It might have been nice that they at least included a small open trailer as an example for people who aren’t that much into custom building. that may also have taken care of my earlier point with the rabbits. Doesn’t a portable rabbit hutch sound fantastic?

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Right View

From the side you can also see what is perhaps the one slightly more serious issue with the way the model is built – even though there is a sufficient gap between the glass pieces, there’s no realistic way to get a minifigure in there without removing the roof due to the large arches blocking access a bit too much. Not the end of the world, but a bit unfortunate since this all to often means you also inadvertently snap off other pieces. I really prefer proper “doors” where I just can slide in a minifig if I so desire.

LEGO City, Tractor (60284), Front View

The front looks a bit bland for my taste and could have done with some extra spot lights which many tractors have. I think I also would have preferred the front “weight” piece to not be a Technic axle holder. That could still be useful if you want to attach different equipment, but I think most people would prefer a winch for more play value.

Concluding Thoughts

At the end I still found some small things to bemoan, didn’t I? Still, I stand by what I said at the beginning: This is one of those rare LEGO sets that you can be perfectly happy with. The price is just right, it looks “real”, has some nice play value regardless and offers some potential for expanding it with custom equipment without too much of a fuss. There just could have been a bit more, which perhaps is the point: Even I wouldn’t have scoffed at a 25 Euro price point if there had been some extra rabbits, a few more crates and a small thing to attach to the tractor’s rear. Still, no matter what, you could do worse and this set is highly recommended if you even have a remote interest into the agricultural/ farming theme or are just looking for a robust playable vehicle for your little one.

Halloween Double – Brickheadz Scarecrow (40352) and Ghost (40351)

Halloween isn’t that far off, so it seems fitting we should have a look at LEGO‘s seasonal Brickheadz sets on that subject for this year, those being the Scarecrow (40352) and the Ghost (40351), numbered as the 84th and 83rd entries in the series overall, respectively. Let me begin with the scarecrow.

LEGO Brickheadz, Scarecrow (40352), Box

Born from the myth that birds would get scared off by anything that looks remotely like a human inevitably the clichée of them being imbued with human characteristics or even getting re-animated had become a popular trope in books and movies, but rarely ever in my life have I actually genuinely seen such a puppet anywhere. On the assumption that this is probably true for most people, the subject leaves lots of room for interpretation and one of those classics is the Mid-Western US version with its blue jeans overalls and oversized felt hat. This is captured in the LEGO model.

LEGO Brickheadz, Scarecrow (40352), Front Left View

By now the Brickheadz clearly have surpassed their prime, so almost everyone of them follows the same building pattern more or less, with only minor deviations and tweaks done every now and then to accommodate some more specific requirements of a given figure. Here a novelty is presented with the arms actually being spread out from the body in a T-pose instead of being incorporated into the surface contours. This is achieved by some plates going through the body across the upper chest. On its own this would look kinda weird, but to some degree this is mitigated by the golden claws used to represent straw sticking out extending the range further. This is further backed up by some crossbar being hinted at.

LEGO Brickheadz, Scarecrow (40352), Front Right View

Somewhat surprisingly the little dude has a rather elaborate hairdo which in itself accounts for a good chunk of parts. In an odd way it even contradicts the rest of the model because it’s almost too realistic. Most people wouldn’t put up with the effort to make it look that real unless they are set dressers on movies. 😉 I guess, like me, they couldn’t think of a simple and efficient way to approximate a simple straw wig and decided to go the full mile. At least off hand I can’t quite think of a part from LEGO‘s portfolio that could be easily stacked in large arrays to form something with separately recognizable stems/ stalks similar to the claws used for the hands. Figuring into this, and by all means only a small complaint on my part is the absence of shoes then. You know, with something that human-like, I would imagine it could jump of its perch and stomp around in secret when nobody is looking.

LEGO Brickheadz, Scarecrow (40352), Back Right View

The small ancillary tabs sure add parts value and help to contextualize the model, but overall don’t feel essential. They’re okay, but I wouldn’t have missed them. It would have been a cool idea if they had decked this out with those three-fingered leaf elements, but in autumn-ish colors like Dark Orange, Yellow and Dark Red. I also sort of miss a big black bird like a raven, stereotypical as this may sound. In fact even a hoard of sparrows making fun of little scarecrow and sitting all over him would have added a bit of a fun twist to what otherwise amounts to a mostly mundane figure. It’s not bad, but nothing to go particularly crazy over, either. I had a completely different feeling about the next one, the Ghost.

LEGO Brickheadz, Ghost (40351), Box

Chasing for this set was actually a bit of a pain, as it was in short supply even in the LEGO online store. It was in fact released even earlier than the Scarecrow some time in September, but didn’t really show up in stores. that’s why I consider myself pretty lucky having been able to obtain it on that magical Friday when I picked up both these sets, after all. I really wanted this one right after I saw the first photos because they completely triggered my “Aww, how cute!” senses. The reason for that is of course that this is far from a genuinely scary ghost but rather a very stylized version such as you would find it in Pac Man or a spectre ripped from an illustrated children’s book. It’s all too obvious where the inspiration came from. 😉

LEGO Brickheadz, Ghost (40351), Front Left View

In terms of construction this follows a similar novel approach with a long plate going through the body to represent the arms. It wouldn’t have been necessary as the arms could be just as well represented with their drooping “sleeves” simply attached to the main body, but I guess this is just the designer thinking his idea is super cool and re-using it on multiple models. The rest of the model is kind of pretty simple with the emphasis on making it look sort of rotund/ round-ish and the edges of the imaginary cloth draping in a nice regular wave/ fringe pattern. As a result, the model is hugely symmetric both in the Left | Right plane as well as Front | Back. this is helpful when building (but also a bit tedious) since you only need to build the elements twice and then it doesn’t matter where you attach them. Apparently the face would be the exception here, which BTW you could get creative with by placing the eye elements differently or even using black round tiles from your spares box to good effect. There’s several possible facial expressions.

LEGO Brickheadz, Ghost (40351), Front Right View

I also found the extras extremely useful. The Jack-O-Lantern minifigure head element might come in handy for anything Halloween-related, of course, I didn’t have any of the long bones and there’s a bat and a spider. Even the barrel in Dark Bluish Grey will be useful as a jet exhaust one day. Lots to love here. The one thing I didn’t quite like is the somewhat odd coloring choices. On a good day Dark Blue and Sand Green are of course nice colors and one can never have enough pieces, but, and I guess that’s the point here, they don’t mix too well with Olive Green and Dark Green, at least not when it’s meant to be some mossy/ moldy/ swampy thing. I would have preferred a more consistent coloring.

LEGO Brickheadz, Ghost (40351), Back Right View

In summary both sets are okay, but I’d always prioritize the Ghost if I had only the money for one of the Brickheadz. The Scarecrow just doesn’t bring much new to the table and simply feels repetitive. It’s just the same ideas from different other figures combined and flavored a little with some minute new stuff. It sure does the trick if you’re only looking for a decorative item or indeed are a collector that has to own them all, but it doesn’t particularly tingle my nerves as a LEGO builder. The ghost on the other hand is just lots of fun on every level and adorable to look at, so I would recommend it every time…