Explorer-ing… Spiders – LEGO Explorer Magazine, November 2022

The weird logic of magazine publishers eludes me. The latest issue of the LEGO Explorer magazine is clearly very Halloween-centric, yet at the same time it came out a week to late here in Germany. See the problem? I honestly don’t get why they don’t give themselves more of a safety margin. Even if this may work for the UK version, which comes one week earlier, it just doesn’t make much sense here. The only consolation is that Halloween is nowhere near as important a holiday around these parts, so not too many will be disappointed. Still, it’s an unnecessary oversight/ lapse of foresight.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Cover

In keeping with the scary theme this one is all about spiders (mostly). This will really creep out a lot of people and while I have grown to appreciate these eight-legged freaks and even find some of them quite beautiful, I’m also as arachnophobic as the next guy. I can handle “cute” jumping spiders or small ghost spiders, but I’m really put off by most bigger species. I’m actually pretty glad that in our part of the world we don’t have to put up with Tarantulas, Banana Spiders or Black Widows (usually).

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Info Page

The comic takes a spin on the “mad scientist creating monsters” trope and things of course go terribly wrong. Unfortunately the potential is not fully exploited and overall the comic is a bit tame.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Comic

The poster features more creatures that give some people the heebie-jeebies such as snakes, crocodiles and several underwater creatures like a Spider Crab or the angler fish from the Deep Sea Creatures (31088) set.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Poster

The back cover has a neat little extra in the form of a door hanger, but as noted in my intro it comes a bit too late for really counting as a Halloween gimmick.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Door Hanger

The extra is a really quite disgusting spider with big fangs, long legs and a sizeable “butt”. This is nice and to make it even more realistic they even went out of their way to include all eight legs despite the small scale. The legs are Black, the underbelly is Reddish Brown and the back Dark Brown. My cheap camera and the inadequate kitchen table lighting on an overcast day just make everything look dark.

The narrow focus of the magazine makes this a good one for me. There isn’t too much sidetracking and everything is consistently based around monsters and Halloween. Regrettably the issue does not contain a preview for the next one, so I’m not sure if this is the last one we got. I’d hate this to be a case of “Another one bites the dust.”. Recognizably the mag is struggling to attract buyers, but I’d hate to see it go just because not enough people purchase it. On the other hand they’re still offering subscriptions, so I’m a bit confused on the matter. Perhaps it will relaunch in a different form next year? We’ll have to see, I guess!

Foxy Mushroom – LEGO Minecraft, The Fox Lodge (21178) and The Mushroom House (21179)

LEGO made a boatload of money last year, which speaks for the popularity of their products, yet the downside to that is that they still appear to struggle with keeping up with demand. Thus availability of some products is lagging behind and the company churning out new sets every month doesn’t make things better. Supplies are low and prices are high. As a customer that severely limits your options on what to buy (well, at least in my budget range), so I ended up buying these two sets much sooner than I might have otherwise, considering them optional purchases when prices might be lower in the future. I really didn’t mean to turn this into a streak of Minecraft reviews, but alas, it just so happened.

Pricing and Contents

Though some people might say otherwise, Minecraft sets are relatively expensive for what little content they offer. Both The Fox Lodge (21178) and The Mushroom House (21179) retail for 20 Euro at 193 and 272 pieces, respectively. On the face of it that doesn’t sound too dramatic and yes, you get some decent volume and sizable parts, but no matter what, most of it is just basic bricks and plates, not fancy custom molded elements. Even the Mushroom House only makes it look like a good value proposition with a seemingly higher parts count owing to a ton of 1 x 2 plates and associated 2 x 2 corner plates. Point in case: LEGO could and should have shaven off 5 Euro right out of the gate and one shouldn’t have to rely on discounts so much.

The Fox Lodge (21178)

This set admittedly triggered my “Oh, that’s cute!” sensors. The curled up sleeping fox turned into a building is just adorable! I also like the small foxes and the guy in the fox costume. If that doesn’t count as “clear messaging”, then I don’t know.

LEGO Minecraft, The Fox Lodge (21178), Box

As you can see, the set is relatively compact and mostly built on a single 16 x 16 plate with the real news here being that this plate is the first time it has been available in Sand Green. surprisingly, LEGO only started manufacturing larger plates like some 8 x 8 in this color last year in the Harry Potter series to represent the roofs. For someone like me who uses the 16 x 16 a lot for MOCs in favor over base plates having more color options can only be a good thing.

LEGO Minecraft, The Fox Lodge (21178), Overview

The small foxes are built from a custom head mold and regular pieces for the body. Some reviewers like Jangbricks have criticized the proportions as being inaccurate to the games’ internal logic of how thick and wide elements have to be, but I tend to see it just the opposite. Adapting sizes to get stuff looking nice and integration in the overall system strictly in the context of brick building is absolutely fair game. Even if they may not have immediate plans, LEGO may one day decide to creatively use these heads as decorative elements elsewhere and they wouldn’t want to preclude that by making the design “true” to the game, but incompatible with their underlying grid measurements for their bricks.

LEGO Minecraft, The Fox Lodge (21178), Minifigures The minifigures are limited to the guy in the costume I already mentioned and a swamp zombie. The prints are nice, though once again the White parts noticeably lack opacity, making them appear pink-ish on the orange guy. Sadly this looks to be the new normal we have to get accustomed to and LEGO just don’t seem to care.

 

 

The building itself is rather simple, after all, despite the original idea. It almost entirely consists of 2 x 2, 2 x 4 and 2 x 6 bricks and a handful of plates with the differentiation of details being expressed via colors. That to me is one of the biggest regrets I have about this series. If LEGO were to interpret this more loosely instead of slavishly adhering to the game’s logic and added some finer details, this could be a whole other level. For instance the eyes and ears could have insets with jumper plates and no doubt some irregularities in the “fur” could have been added with differently colored 1 x 1 and 1 x 2 plates and leaving small indentations and bumps in some places to represent ruffles.

The interior is appropriate for a single occupant of a lodge, I guess, with a bed, a chest and a hearth. Not much else to see, but thanks to the roof being removable perfectly accessible.

A little surprise is hidden behind the map on the wall. It may not look like much, but yes, at long last we’re getting a proper SNOT “jumper” brick and this set is genuinely the first to feature it. Other manufacturers probably have beaten LEGO to the punch and have had it for a while, but it really feels like this should have existed already. Of course you always could use this Technic brick with a matching stud pin, but since the pin is frictionless, everything attached to it will of course swivel around easily. The new brick solves this dilemma.

LEGO Minecraft, The Fox Lodge (21178), New Brick

The Mushroom House (21179)

I only picked this one up as some sort of filler for the box when I was ordering the Fox Lodge and because it has a few usable parts. However, had I known how bad this is I would have abstained.

LEGO Minecraft, The Mushroom House (21179), Box

Calling the content lackluster would almost be an understatement. It’s really quite underwhelming. Aside from the mushroom cow’s head piece there is very little new to be found here and the rest is just re-using techniques and ideas from other sets in the series.

LEGO Minecraft, The Mushroom House (21179), Overview

LEGO Minecraft, The Mushroom House (21179), AnimalsSaid cow is otherwise built from various small plates and the two bricks for the legs. The same goes for the spider, only that it uses hinges to spread the legs out. It has a bracket on top to which the skeleton’s feet can be attached so it can ride around and be a nuisance.

 

LEGO Minecraft, The Mushroom House (21179), Minifigures

For the minifigures we’re getting yet another Alex and the skeleton already mentioned. The quality issues with the White also pervade this set and make this frustrating.

 

 

The building is basically just a big square block perched on a few supports and has very little semblance with an actual mushroom. There are a few white 1 x 1 plates sprinkled in to create the appearance of an amanita mushroom, but I found that this in combination with the 25 (!) 2 x 2 corner plates in Red to fill in the rest only prolongs the build and not in a good way at that. It felt really tedious and unsatisfying. The funny thing is that I probably wouldn’t have minded if it actually resulted in a more varied and detailed structure. That’s why I can only reinforce my point from the Fox Lodge: A more liberal interpretation of these things would really be beneficial to making this more interesting.

Another big problem in this model is how the bottom plates are held together. All connections are based on the 2 x 4 jumper plate introduced a while ago with no extra bricks or plates to strengthen them. This simply cannot work and as you would guessed everything just falls apart when you try to lift it as a whole. The only consolation here is that the plates for the water and tree can perfectly exist as separate sections.

The interior is even more spartan than the Fox Lodge, but at least you can access it easily be not only removing the roof and wall on the entry side, but also the other walls. That’s nice, but has very little extra value for play and such.


Concluding Thoughts

Unless you are a Minecraft die-hard, I’d consider neither of the sets essential. The Fox Lodge is cute, for sure, but ultimately that may not be enough to justify a purchase. The Mushroom House at the end of the day is pretty terrible and I would not recommend it at all, even more so since it does not include any of those little gimmicks that might tilt the balance in its favor. Also the execution of the build is very poor, further subtracting from its value. I’m baffled how this even passed QC. For the right price both can be nice parts sources, though.

Explorer-ing Insects – LEGO Explorer Magazine, January 2021

So far the LEGO Explorer magazine always delivered the goods and overall has enriched the world of magazines and the January 2021 edition seems to continue this trend. Not exactly seasonally fitting for us here in Germany this time it’s about insects, something which you would more expect during the summer months or in spring.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Cover

The immediate positive takeaway of this issue is that it prioritizes actual info on the real thing rather than just plastering the pages with references to LEGO builds. At the same time perhaps not much of a surprise, though. They never really had a genuine insect-centric series and aside from a bunch of mini-builds and a few spider-like creatures in Creator 3in1 sets there’s not that much to draw on. I also remember a bunch of minifigures with different types of wings like the one with the bee costume in DC Super Heroes. Perhaps they could have had a page on that at least?

Otherwise there are several pages such as the one below dedicated to different insect species, including one on roaches even. Of course they could do entire books on this, given that there a millions of different types of insects on this little planet of ours. It’s by no means even coming close to being comprehensive, but a sufficient primer nonetheless.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Info Page

The poster is designed in a similar vein, though admittedly it shows that this was cobbled together from different sources. No budget to make it to a natural museum’s butterfly collection or a botanical garden, eh?! Seems unnecessarily cheap to me. That would also have opened up the possibility of using the back cover better. Instead of the photo background (a flower meadow) they could have used it to print some cut-out butterflies for a mobile or something like that on the slightly stronger paper stock. A missed opportunity somehow.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Poster

The buildable extra this month is a pretty large fire ant that makes use of differently sized round elements to represent the individual segments of the body. It looks a bit all over the place color wise, as of course LEGO do not go out of their way to produce extra parts for these little bags on the magazines, but at least there’s some nice Dark Red pieces. The Black and Trans Red dishes should be all too familiar to any Star Wars or Ninjago fan. The legs are made up from minifigure droid arms and are of the right kind with the hand not turned, so they are extremely useful for building extended hinges or railings. You also get seven of them (six plus one spare), so it would be a notable contribution to your parts stock.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Extra  LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Extra

This is a pretty nice issue more in line with what I imagine LEGO Explorer should be, meaning a focus on really teaching the kids something instead of being an advertorial for LEGO sets. I only wish they’d have the ambition to really make it polished and not rely on pre-existing stock content so much. It simply shows.