Six O’Clock Shadow – LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574)

Birthdays are always nice and being gifted a bunch of Amazon vouchers is even better, so the stars aligned and I was able to afford myself the LEGO Avatar Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574) package despite it being way over my usual budget. As I explained in my previous article on the subject the movie is a bit of a guilty pleasure and as I also already mentioned there I simply like the colorful nature of the whole thing. So I couldn’t resist temptation and committed to it – not just for this review, but because I really wanted to have it.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Box

Pricing and Contents

As the biggest set of the first Avatar wave of course this doesn’t come cheap and as usual LEGO are trying to milk the cow by adding a premium because it’s based on licensed IP. The original asking price for this is 150 Euro, which is way too much for 1212 pieces if you apply the conventional metric of 10 Cent per piece. Luckily you don’t have to let them get away with it as those sets are only mildly popular (people seem to want the unique minifigures and a few other things, but not necessarily the actual sets as a whole) and you can get decent discounts even from smaller retailers. I got mine for 111 Euro and currently with the Black Week/ Black Friday promos I’ve seen it drop below 100 Euro. This is reasonable, but nor perfect.

Realistically I feel this is more around the 80 Euro mark, with the point being that despite getting quite a bit of volume on the individual models, a lot of it has to do with the lofty nature of those builds. Yes, the tree is quite large (and so is the Toruk), but that’s mostly down to using some very large/ long elements enclosing/ circumscribing lots of open space. My “kitchen table photo studio” was almost to small to accommodate everything and I had to touch up a few spaces at the edges where I ran out of grey background, but individually each model feels pretty lightweight and like you’re not holding much in your hand. It’s really more that you have to be careful not to break off some dangle-y thing than the models being weighty.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Overview

Minifigures & Direhorse

As already mentioned, the minifigures for the Avatar series seem to be reasonably popular among collectors, a lot of which no doubt has to do with their unique appearance due to the blue skin and tall legs. With only for of them this package feels a bit understaffed not only because of the bigness of the set but also more generally based on what the set is supposed to represent. It could have done well with another three to five “generic Na’vi warrior” figures to deck out the scene. The characters in this line-up are Jake Sully again in a different warpaint, of course there’s also Neytiri and the two others are Tsu-Tey, the former’s ex-lover and Moat, the female chieftain of the tribe. The prints are distinct from those of the other sets and well-executed, which no doubt contributes why they are so coveted.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Minifigures

The animals of Pandora so far are seriously underrepresented aside from the big flying beasts and the Thanator, so it’s good to see that be expanded upon as well. I’m not saying that I’m a fan of the Direhorses, though. That whole Ant Eater like appearance and behavior with them licking honeydew from flowers just feels odd and of course the six legs just feel awkward and unnecessary. It has also always bugged me that conveniently these creatures have USB cables to connect with the Na’vi‘s minds. All of that is a bit hard to explain away and rationalize no matter how willing you are to suspend disbelief for the movie. The horse as such is just fine, but has zero posing options. It also looks a bit too uniformly colored for my taste and should have some more organic patterns, especially in the “mane” and the rear section as they can be seen in the film.

The Landscape Pieces

The landscapes of Pandora are their own character in the movie so it’s only appropriate that the corresponding LEGO sets also at least make some effort to render at least parts of it in brick-built form. I already mentioned the pros and cons of how well the translation into this miniature format works for me in my other review and this is no different here. While the landscapes are certainly colorful and other-worldly, they have very little to do with how this stuff is depicted in the movie. The building techniques are very restricted without any recognizable effort to actually re-create plants from the film and the color choices are not anywhere close to how most of this looks and feels. It’s all rather arbitrary and gives the impression of “As long as it looks different enough, it’s good enough.”.

This is still tolerable for the smaller pieces, but for me the wheels come of the cart on the big one. This is supposed to be the entry “gate” to the glade where the Tree of Souls resides and even if you’re only superficially familiar with the movie you will immediately recognize that it looks nothing like it does there. Many of the rock formations on Pandora clearly have the appearance of lava frozen along the magnetic field lines (due to the floating mountains and the Unobtanium) , which makes them look like actual arches. None of this is present here and one can’t help but feel that the designers didn’t even try. Yes, it would not have been easy, but there are enough curved/ arched elements in LEGO‘s portfolio to at least hint at this on some form.

On the bright side this large assembly is quite stable and thus easy to handle. You can literally just grab it in the middle and carry it around like a suitcase on its handle. This robustness is of course needed in order to perch the huge Toruk Makto on the short axle on the “floating” mountain piece.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Landscape, Large, With Toruk

Tree of Souls

The Tree of Souls is mostly a simple affair. It’s very obviously based on a Weeping Willow constructed from a bunch of arches, slopes and Technic connectors with the base being pieced together from different rounded and cropped corner plates. It’s really not too advanced or fancy and if you inspect the images closely you can see the simplicity of the build and the overall symmetry. It’s just disguised by the dangling boughs/ twigs and the cyan-green vines on the ground that represent the “magic” moss/ lichen used to transfer souls into a new body or revive someone.

Sadly it could have looked even better if LEGO had placed more emphasis on a consistent coloring. Especially the black parts on the tree trunk draw too much attention and overall there’s just a few too many different colors used with the real irony once more being that of course a lot of them were/ are available in Reddish Brown or could have been manufactured in this color. This is again this weird dichotomy with LEGO where somehow they seemingly cannot be bothered to consider these points even if sets like these would be more relevant to adult collectors that want things to look coherent than children who play with it.

The construction of the tree overall is rather tedious and after I was done with it, I didn’t feel like I wanted to finish the set that evening. It really helps to spread out the build process across multiple sittings on different days or else you get a bit aggravated. In particular the repetitive nature of plugging together the transparent antenna pieces is not very enjoyable and i even forgot some on the inner three petals. If you don’t know it, you won’t see it, though. Unfortunately it is nigh on impossible to make everything hang down perfectly straight. My gut feeling tells me that this would require treating the leave elements and the whip/ leash pieces with a hot air fan to relax them or bend them into place.

Toruk Makto

The Toruk Makto, which translates to The Last Shadow (because it’s the last thing you see before you die) is the evil big bad of the movie in terms of the animals. Unlike his scrawny distant cousins, the Banshees/ Ikrans, he’s a lot harder to catch and does not as easily bow to your will. That’s why anyone managing to do so is highly revered among the Na’vi. That of course is the only reason they are even willing to listen to him (or his remotely piloted Na’vi avatar clone, more precisely) after the big disaster of the Home Tree being destroyed by Quaritch and his goons.

The model of the indomitable creature is quite ginormous, not least of all due to the enormous wingspan. However, also the body has more “flesh” and is much more voluminous compared to the wiry Ikrans. This helps a lot to make it actually threatening and also presentable. It has real legs and the wingtips can be folded backwards. underneath it all is still an awful lot of Technic axles and connectors, though, which isn’t my favorite. It always reminds me that LEGO perhaps should have developed a Ribs & Spars system not just for this, but also for their Ninjago dragons and similar. You know, something that looks more like natural bones or bent swords, not ugly fat tubes.

There’s inevitably a dedicated new head piece and with the ones coming up in the second wave this shows that they invested quite a bit of design effort and money for the molds into this. The feet with the huge claws are quite a bit of building and feel massive. Interestingly enough, while absolutely not accurate to the film, this still feels natural. It only turns the logic of thee creature on its head a bit. Whereas in reality it would mostly use the claws to balance on rocks and trees or hang on walls, here it makes the Toruk look more like it would walk around on the ground as well similar to a dinosaur. Indeed a rare case of where the limitations of brick building still resulted in an accidental positive outcome.

While all this certainly sounds a lot more positive than the Ikrans, I’m still not convinced this is the best way to go about this. Somehow I can’t shake the feeling that if they had gone the full mile and created molds for the body and legs I would have liked it more and even perched the creature on my shelf. Sorry for the language, but this seems a bit half-assed and even more so given the price.

Pieces from another Planet

As you well know one of my considerations for buying a set is the potential harvest of pieces I can add to my own stock, in particular new ones and interesting recolored items, and in this regard the set offers quite a bit. The most visible new elements are inevitably the ones on the Tree of Souls such as the Trans Dark Pink antennas, the Lavender leashes/ vines and the Light Aqua clips and tail/ Bionicle spine pieces. Underneath it also has one of the newer 8 x 8 round plates in Reddish Brown. I also babbled on about the new column piece in my last article and it appears here in Trans Clear, which will be super useful for building nice presentation stands. Of course there’s also the new whip/ connector cable pieces in Black and Bright Light Blue. The Toruk has a few hidden surprises. One of them is the inverted rounded plate for the first time in Red plus there’s a completely new double-curved 4 x 6 slope piece.

Concluding Thoughts

Compared to the two smaller Avatar sets I reviewed earlier this has been a much more satisfying experience overall. You’re actually getting a bit of volume of stuff and everything looks reasonably nice. The only thorn in my side is the price or else I’d give this a full recommendation. At 80 Euro or thereabouts this would be some nice fodder for multiple evenings during the winter, but at double the price this doesn’t really work out. It’s simply too costly for what it offers and in particular people who have no relation to the movies nor a love for weirdly colored parts won’t get much out of it.

That said, I still believe these sets would work better if LEGO had just made them as nice display sets for adults instead pretending they would be play sets for kids, most of which likely never even won’t get to see the movies due to their age rating. The models are a bit too fragile for serious play and the functions too limited to really make it worthwhile. The thought of a five year old running around with the monstrous Toruk is equally odd, though it would probably be funny. so for what it’s worth, LEGO missed the mark on both these fronts. Again, this is for fans of the movie, but won’t hold much appeal for the uninitiated while at the same time being unsuitable for kids.

Expensive Squirrels in the Park – LEGO City, Picnic in the Park (60326)

I don’t buy City sets that often since I don’t want to end up with too many “useless” parts (large panels, wedges and similar stuff or elements in weird colors), but occasionally I take a liking to some of the sets. A lot of that has to do with the animals included or small details that just appeal to me and so I ended up getting the Picnic in the Park (60326), after all.

Pricing and Contents

This particular set is a LEGO store exclusive here in Germany, but it seems it is freely available through regular retail e.g. in the US. The exclusivity in these parts kind of preempts any debate about prices, but there’s always a chance it might become more widely available at some point. At 15 Euro for 147 pieces it follows the crude standard logic of around 10 Cent per element, but is it a good price? Personally I don’t think so, as ultimately this builds into some very small models and the volume of stuff just isn’t there. This definitely feels like 10 or 12 Euro at most. Even when you open the box you already see how little actual content there is and it feels like one of those 10 Euro sets that you pick up for 7 Euro after discounts at the drugstore.

LEGO City, Picnic in the Park (60326), Box

Minifigures and Animals

In relation to the price I’ve seen and heard the argument of the set containing three minifigures, which is one more than the usual two, but no, sir, that’s not really a good point! It’s not like these would be unique or particularly special. Scraping body pieces together from other sets the figures could be recreated with not too much trouble, give or take a few specifics for the prints. This will only get even simpler once LEGO starts re-using the parts in other sets as well, although be it in different combinations.

LEGO City, Picnic in the Park (60326), Minifigures

LEGO City, Picnic in the Park (60326), Squirrels

The main attractions are of course the two squirrels. They are based on a completely new mold for the City line and are much more realistic than the ones originating in Elves and having been revived only some time ago. The Black one is exclusive to this set, but the one in Dark Orange can be found in some others. There’s also a third variant in Light Bluish Grey which itself is exclusive to the School Day (60329) set. For the time being getting all three is not easy, but I’m pretty confident we’ll see the little bastards in many more sets soon enough.


Having a huge chunky oak tree with the squirrels would have been good enough for me, but apparently this is not how things work and there had to be some vehicles for actual play.

LEGO City, Picnic in the Park (60326), Bicycle

The first is a yellow bicycle with a small cart in tow. The latter is the simplest construction imaginable with the crate piece being used. Not much else to say here. It certainly works and while simplistic, it looks elegant enough.

The second is a small (electrical ?) utility vehicle reminiscent of a Tuk Tuk or similar vehicle originally based on a motorcycle frame. Even one of my first reviews for the Heartlake Pizzeria (41311) came with something along those lines. The details and building techniques change over time, but the design always is pretty much similar. Still, those little cars look the part and are always a nice addition.

Tree and Bench

Squirrels live in trees, that’s a given, and so this set of course needed one. Too bad it turned out rather awful! Yes, as you can see in the photo this is just another of those trees built from stacked arch elements at a ninety degrees angle. sure, it’s simple for kids, but is it any good? Not really! It is especially disappointing now that we have much better pieces such as the curved tube elements from the Bonsai Tree (10281) and other recent additions to the LEGO parts catalog.

LEGO City, Picnic in the Park (60326), Tree, Front View

The small table and bench are just fine, being built from six (!) identical 1 x 3 x 1 arches. the pizza box tile on the other hand… I really don’t understand why they haven’t come up with something better after all those years. They could even do new designs every year so you can date the sets easily even after the fact just by looking at the motif.

LEGO City, Picnic in the Park (60326), Tree, Detail Table

Personally I would have hoped for a fuller, more elaborate canopy with perhaps at least six of the large “leaf” elements. Then they could also have thrown in one of the ladybug tiles or a butterfly. Some more of the acorn tiles also would have been nice. You know, during an autumn storm it sometimes literally “rains” acorns from those oak trees in my area which goes to show how many there actually are. At least two per leaf element would sure have not been too much to ask, methinks.

LEGO City, Picnic in the Park (60326), Tree, Top

Concluding Thoughts

In a funny way this is one of those “Made with irony in Billund” sets, both in the good and bad sense. It’s a negative in that the set definitely is overpriced for the ordinary and very average content. There’s just not enough mass of stuff here and the tree is just *meh*. The squirrels would have deserved a better habitat and presentation.

On the positive side, despite the limitations, this set is still the most cost-effective way to get two squirrels, including the exclusive black one, short of buying some 80 Euro/ 100 Euro sets, ordering the animals from LEGO‘s Bricks & Pieces service or Bricklink. The small car/ cart and bicycle are also nice and give me a positive vibe, minor as their contribution may be.

The bummer really is that if this cost just 10 Euro I’d totally say “Go for it!” with no regrets or reservations. However, those 5 Euro on top really bother me and give me an uncomfortable itch. I just can’t see where that extra money went. There aren’t any special prints, no second bike or any of that which would justify it to me. Therefore I would only recommend this set to people who really want the squirrels and enjoy the overall cutesy-ness.

Plant a Tree, Save the Planet? – LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707)

It’s been a minute since I last reviewed a LEGO Friends set and that has a lot to do with the rather atrocious “Magical Funfair” theme that just didn’t appeal to me both in terms of value for money and overall design aesthetic. The new early 2022 releases at least improve upon the latter, but not necessarily the former. It’s probably safe to say that unless it falls out of the sky for free, I won’t be reviewing a 150 Euro set like the Main Street Building (41704) and I’m not too certain about the Canal Houseboat (41702) and Friendship Tree House (41703), either, given that they have a lot of large compound parts like ship hulls and “tree” shells that I have no use for. Anyway, we’ll have top see how that goes, but for now let’s see what the Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707) does offer.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Box

Price and Contents

Sadly, LEGO have become very greedy lately and the pandemic with its supply chain issues and high demand because everyone is at home has been playing into their hands. This is also manifest in this set.

A 30 Euro price tag for 336 pieces may not look that unusual at first, but you can tell just by looking at the official promo images or my overview shot that many of these are just either small 1 x 1 pieces or insignificant standard elements that can be had for cheap on Bricklink. Except for a few more special parts it could be scraped together from other sources relatively easy for almost the same price. Our German LEGO price comparison site Brickmerge states a part-out value of around 45 Euro and that pretty much can only be blamed on some parts exclusive to this set like the Medium Azure slopes and a few items only found in other expensive sets like the 3 x 3 cylinders used here for the flower pots from Bowser’s Airship (71391).

With that said, of course the whole package thankfully can be had much cheaper at your favorite retailer. I got mine for 20 Euro, representing a 30 % discount, but lately it has dropped as far as 17 Euro for a 43 % price cut. As usual I would definitely recommend to get it as cheaply as possible, but I don’t feel bad about what I spent. While it may not offer a large number of pieces, it builds into two reasonably large models

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Overview

The Glasshouse

The first build in the set is a glasshouse/ greenhouse in which the sprouts and saplings are grown until they can be planted in the wilderness. My problem here is that while it captures the feeling of such a building, the model is way, way, way too small to count as a professional operation. In fact this looks more like one of those greenhouses a hobbyist gardener would bash together from used doors and windows of dilapidated houses, something I remember well from my youth growing up in Eastern Germany where building supplies were always in short supply and people had to make do with what they could find.

The whole situation isn’t helped by how the plants are represented – a few vines and lots of large leaf-based builds just don’t give that sense of actual trees, but rather cabbage and flowers being pre-grown. That said, the greenhouse is nice in its own right, but for all intents and purposes this is more a conventional garden house than anything seriously to do with growing trees. On the bright side, this is the first time in a long while where the triple-split large window elements have become available in White again and the angled roof windows come with transparent glassing, not Trans Light Blue, so there’s that. If you need multiples of those, buying this set more than once certainly could be an option with the right discounts.

As they say “The lady comes apart” and the individual sub-assemblies can be placed separately for play such as they are. It doesn’t necessarily make that much sense, but is always a good option for the kids. That being said, the feeling that there should be more definitely lingers, in particular in terms of actual trees. There easily could have been another bit of soil with some tree stalks on it. This becomes even more apparent once you actually start to play with the two potted bushes/ trees to place them on the truck or elsewhere. This goes so far as the underlying plate assembly breaking up since the pots are also used as a structural element to hold the round plate and an extra 2 x 6 plate together. This is genuinely a major design flaw!

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Glasshouse, Separated Parts

The Truck

We’re seeing trucks a plenty across all of LEGO‘s series and this therefore could easily be just another one of them. However, no matter how tired this trope may be, this little truck feels fresh enough to be interesting. I in particular like the compact, short design which makes it look cute. It’s a bit too large in scale to truly count as one of those small utility trucks such companies or public service providers maintaining parks and such often have. This is even more obvious since this is supposed to be an electrical car and the engineering metrics don’t make sense then. Still, not the worst LEGO truck I’ve seen.

Despite its other qualities, the color scheme of the truck slightly bugs me. I get it – with Olivia being the main protagonist they had to have her color scheme somewhere in this set, but clearly there is an over-abundance of Medium Azure in Heartlake City due to this color being used by multiple girls and I feel that they could have changed up the formula here in the interest of presenting something fresh. In keeping with the ecological subject I think this would have been a wonderful opportunity to give us a Yellowish Green vehicle. My reasoning here is that many electrical cars have very fashionable colors to distinguish themselves from conventional fuel cars, anyway, plus the color would help to communicate what it is all about. Alternatively Bright Green would also have been nice, as many such companies and agencies purposely use it.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Truck, Cockpit

One advantage of the oversized car is that both figures fit in it, further adding play value. The roof can easily be removed for full access. Now of course the short car has to have one disadvantage and that is that despite there being provision for two attachment points, not both flower pots can be loaded onto the cargo bed without getting in the way of each other or the small hydraulic crane interfering. The latter is also rather awkward to use and cannot be extended far enough for actual loading, so you may want to consider just leaving it off. Removing the crane would free up the one extra row of studs you’d need to move the jumper plate forward and then finally you could plug on both pots. This may have more play value for your child than clinging to the crane.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Truck, Cargo Bed

Concluding Thoughts

The elephant in the room is of course a simple question: What does this set actually have to do with tree-planting? It seems LEGO intentionally mislabeled this set to cater for the zeitgeist of presenting an eco-friendly image. Only too bad that things aren’t that simple even if the package actually resembled what it promises. We can plant trees all we want, but it won’t save the planet without other measures alongside! This really kind of riles me up…

My personal peeves aside this is certainly a pretty decent set if you take it for what it is – an interesting spin on (professional) gardening and green keeping that just can’t quite decide what it wants to be. A larger greenhouse would have improved this massively and if you have the cash, I would definitely recommend to at least try and buy a second set to bash something together that has a little more space. Otherwise it’s just fine and has enough play value for the intended demographic.

Similarly, the truck is good, but still could have been better with minor changes and a different color scheme might even have attracted people that don’t buy Friends sets otherwise. It really feels like a missed opportunity to bring something new to the Heartlake community. So for better or worse this set is “just fine”, when it could have been really great…

Explorer-ing the Rain Forest – LEGO Explorer Magazine, November 2020

This month seems to be shaping up as a good month, at least where the various LEGO magazines are concerned. Some are still due in the next few weeks, but for the time being I’m quite happy that the LEGO Explorer issue for November already has arrived. I was really excited and looking forward to this.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2020, Cover

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2020, ExtraThe main reason for this is of course the little frog included as a buildable parts extra. It already got me pumped when I saw the preview image in the last edition and now that it’s here, I almost can’t believe how gorgeous it actually is. Not only does it look anatomically reasonably realistic, but is also in its very own way kind of cute. This is really executed extremely well and the parts usage and their number is generous. That is to say that this hasn’t been optimized to the lowest number of pieces possible just to be maximum cost-effective/ cheap. It’s indeed quite elaborate on some level.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2020, Extra, Alternate Color Variants That being the case, one of the only regrets/ complaints would have to be that they could have gone for completely different colors. Funny enough they are hinting at the sometimes really crazy colors those poison dart frogs and similar small jungle frog species often have, but they leave it up to you to build them, which depending on your parts stock and the exact frog type you decide on, could turn out more difficult than one might think. Naturally I would just have loved if they would have gone full crazy and given us e.g. one of the more pink-ish variants of the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog with Dark Pink and Coral pieces and then some… Thinking about it almost makes me want to add this as another project to my ever longer list of projects.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2020, Trees

The rest of the magazine is pretty okay, also. I’m in particular satisfied that the promotional stuff for commercial sets has been dialed back, though admittedly this could merely be a side effect of LEGO currently not having a comprehensive jungle-based theme other than the one in Friends. Besides that there is several coloring pages and some reasonable quizzes/ knowledge pages making for enough distractions to keep your kids busy for at least a while.

Overall this is an excellent issue. The frog model alone is worth every penny, and if nothing else, the other magazine content isn’t as annoyingly LEGO-y as in some of the earlier editions. Seems like they are slowly getting there and finding the right balance…

LEGO does something right with Ideas for a Change?

As I’ve said a couple of times I’m not the biggest fan of LEGO Ideas. It’s simply way too inefficient and the number of sets it produces is laughable, least of all ones that would interest me/ be relevant to me. That’s why I usually approach those official LEGO Ideas Review announcement days with more than just a bit of skepticism. Surprisingly enough, this time it seems this was unwarranted, at least on some level. Equally surprising this time two sets made the cut, so this is even better.

The first is the gianormous Treehouse. There hasn’t been any decent treetop-themed set ever since the Ewok Village (10236) if you don’t count smaller stuff like Mia’s Tree House, so this will be more than welcome. Personally I would just love to spend my weekends relaxing in such an abode, falling asleep with the wind gently rocking the tree and rustling the leaves, watching animals on the ground gather at sundown and all that good stuff, but here in Germany there are apparently not that many big forests to begin with, let alone enough hunky trees that could hold up such a contraption plus there would be all kinds of legal red tape, too. Therefore building such a set is the next best thing. Other interpretations are of course just as valid, as the design is more than just a tiny bit reminiscent of the Elves stuff seen in the Lord of the Rings movies. Lets just hope that the final polish and conversion to a producible set doesn’t kill off that magic by downsizing things too much.

The second set elected are The Flintstones. While the set overall is designed nicely, I’m a lot less enthusiastic here. It just feels like out of its place in time with even the last, rather bad live action movie (Viva Rock Vegas) being so far in the past. I also barely have any recollection of even a single actual episode beyond all those awful 60’s stereotypes and clichés and mostly remember it from the opening sequence. Strictly speaking from the LEGO side of course it comes with a ton of minifigures, which I don’t have much interest in, either, meaning half the set would be kinda wasted on me. Mind you, I like the stylized nature overall and it really has lots of lovely detail, I’m just not sure I can get behind the theme as a whole. If at all this will probably have to be a case of finding yourself “Aww, that’s cute” when seeing the actual built set in a LEGO store or so…

All things considered, however, this is quite a good turnout this time. The sets are significant and appealing enough to a larger crowd which means they should sell well and in turn perhaps not be super expensive. Should be interesting to find out when they hit the shelves!

More Rooms with no View – 41328 and 41329 – Stephanie’s and Olivia’s Room

Buying stuff that is part of a series always triggers this weird “completist” urge in me, so ultimately I became a victim of my own OCD when I snatched up Mia’s and Andrea’s Room in that grocery store promo sale. I just had to get the other ones as well and that opportunity came when I was once again out and about for one of my many regular medical appointments.

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Room (41328), Box

First, there’s Stephanie’s Room. She’s the sporty one, which in the set is visualized by a golden trophy and a mini golf field, the latter of which is complemented by a hockey (!) stick. This ultimately makes absolutely no sense in any way.

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Room (41328), Overview

The failure here is the golf lawn being way too small to count as anything other than one of the carpet golf things that a kid may have in his nursery. Here it doesn’t add anything beyond getting frustrated about the missed opportunities that might have been. Yes, I clearly think there’s a simple idea here that would have made this an awesome play set if only they had implemented it.

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Room (41328), Closed Position

For all intents and purposes, the golf course, which can be swung open, BTW, could and should have been at least a full 8 x 16 plate and should have come with some extra parts to build a ramp or sloped terrain with a hole on top with everything faired over with smooth tiles. Then throw in a little marble or “ball” and you have yourself a nice little 5-minute desktop put-put challenge actually trying to snip the ball in the hole with your fingers or the hockey stick. With a few extra parts thrown in it could even have been a reconfigurable course for more challenges. That would have made a nice distraction on a boring day at the office and might perhaps have led to some interesting competitions with colleagues during lunch break.

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Room (41328), Open Position

Since we never got any of this, the set as it is being sold is as bland as it gets. It’s in fact even worse than Mia’s Room and offers nothing to play with nor any interesting details. most definitely stay away from this set or you’ll have to put up with a cranky kid that’s bored out of its skull – except perhaps for playing with the little doggy, but even this one and the dog house have been done to death in the LEGO Friends magazine, leaving nothing new to explore.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Room (41329), Box

I got Olivia’s Room with a bit of discount, though I was totally unaware of this when I bought it. Only when I came back home and checked on the computer did I notice that I had saved two Euros from its suggested retail price of 15 Euros, so that put a smile on my face. You can get it even cheaper from online stores, though, if you don’t fall for it spontaneously like I did. Compared to the other sets this is much, much better in terms of play value and it really encompasses what I think those sets should be.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Room (41329), Overview

Olivia‘s color scheme has always been borderline ugly and this becomes apparent here once more. The Bright Pink parts would certainly look much better in Lavender and while I don’t consider the pale yellow an issue per se, it really comes down to how much and where you use it and that balance seems off here. Perhaps it might have been a good idea to make the two large panels white, after all.

I’m still not entirely happy with the absence of the right-hand side wall, but the large computer desk does a good job of closing off the diorama on this side. As usual I didn’t apply any stickers since I prefer to keep everything clean and reusable for later projects,  which makes it look a bit barren, but at least the keyboard is a printed tile.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Room (41329), Front

Similarly I omitted the stickers on the two large yellow wall panels, which perhaps is the weakest spot of this set. Having the large double-width slider rail as a shelf in conjunction with the panels is nice, there’s just nothing to put on it. they really should have included some varied color 2 x 1 plates and tiles to mimic a stack of books and some colored transparent 1 x 1 cylinders or something like that. Even another little flower-pot or vase wouldn’t have hurt.

For my liking the rocket theme could have been brought out more prominently. It would have been easy to add one of those missile-shaped lava lamps somewhere or include a bunch of 2 x 2 round bricks and a cone. There’s so much potential in this set that goes unused. I also think the bed could have looked even better had they built the “tip” of the rocket using some more curved slopes.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Room (41329), Coffee Maker

To be fair, though, the set does include some extra stuff by ways of a coffee-making machine and a little Wall●E like robot, which put a smile on my face. The coffee brewer even includes the dairy product printed brick, which funny enough has been used in several friends sets already, but otherwise is a bit elusive. Always nice to have to put something in the fridge in your awesome LEGO kitchen.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Room (41329), Robot

As per my previous article on these sets, they’re by no means essential nor do they have any longterm value if you don’t have any plans on how to use the flamboyantly colored parts on future projects. I just happen to have a weird liking for some of that stuff and some ideas in my head, so it’s okay with me. Everybody else will likely to pass on this and invest his money into other sets. It’s hard to even recommend this to girls of the right age, as there’s always something that they would find worthy of criticizing, be that just being put off by the sometimes really weird colors.

Rooms with no View – 41327 and 41341 – Mia’s and Andrea’s Room

The best kind of LEGO is the affordable (or cheap) one, so I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to get stuff with a discount. This also includes painstakingly browsing through the flyers of our regional grocery and drug stores and checking their web sites plus actually checking out their physical shops whenever the opportunity arises. You never know when that last leftover set that nobody bought yet ends up in the bargain bin.

Anyway, it’s that time of year where school is starting again, so many food discounters have a plethora of writing utensils in their weekly promos plus, since it’s tradition to shower first-graders with gifts as they get inducted to school, all sorts of small-ish toys that can be stuffed into their Zuckertüte as well. Lucky for me that included some LEGO Friends sets and while I wouldn’t say that I urgently had to have them, I still jumped the chance as a way of self-pampering and a small distraction in-between, being that I also seem to always find interesting uses for those crazy colored parts and don’t mind having them.

Mia’s Room (41327) and Andrea’s Room (41341) are part of a series of “rooms” for all of the Friends girls based on the same principle – you basically always build a heart-shaped base plate from a 8 x 8 studs plate with matching half circle plates and then add some details on top. Most of them have an MSRP of 10 Euros, so at a 20% discount I got them for 8 Euros. That’s okay, but clearly, given the limited number of parts there would be room to bring it down to 7 or 6 Euros even for the regular price, though of course you will have to allow some room for packaging, printed instructions and distribution.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Room (41327), Box

Mia’s Room in my view is the simpler, less attractive of the two, though arguably the lime green elements would be more useful for future custom builds. As it is, it pretty much merely repeats the “wild child” (nature-loving, adventurous) theme also found in Mia’s Tree House and doesn’t really add much to it.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Room (41327), Overview

Basically the set repeats every beat from the tree house with only minor variations. Rabbit bunny pen? Check! Skateboard? Check! Walkie-Talkie? Check! “Tree Bed Castle”? Check! Flag on top? Check! It’s really like the designers ran out of ideas. The differences are limited to the bunny this time being the larger version (I put the small one from the tree house next to it, so it looks like mom & kid) and some color variations of the parts, but drawing from the same palette.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Room (41327), Front

The bed post single-foot wide latter is an interesting detail, that would have made a nice idea for a climbing pole on the tree house, but aside from that this is as simple, mundane and obvious as it gets. Even a kid with no experience could have hacked together something similar, given the parts.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Room (41327), Reverse

What bothers me the most, however, is the total lack of that “room” feeling. There’s not a single large element (a panel, a column) or a bunch of stacked bricks that would convey that idea. For all intents and purposes, Mia‘s bed could indeed stand next to the tree house on an open lawn and she could fall asleep staring at the stars. That’s not a bad concept in itself, it just doesn’t fit the subject of what this is allegedly supposed to be.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Room (41341), Box

Andrea’s Room fares considerably better. to begin with, the build is slightly more complex and intricate, which ramps up the enjoyment factor while assembling it. In particular it is more focused on actually building stuff that makes sense and offers some play features rather than just letting it sit there statically, meaning you can actually rearrange the keyboard and the speaker and swivel the tiltable bed to change the scenery.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Room (41341), Overview

Most importantly this feels like an actual room. The colored glass panels used for the window in conjunction with some simple column-like white bricks provides a nice edge on one side, so the scene doesn’t “fall off” into infinity. On the other hand it’s still somewhat odd that they didn’t add the other wall on the right hand side.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Room (41341), Front with closed Bed

Why should that even matter? Well, it does once you raise the bed into its secondary make-up table position where it would have reflective stickers on the underside to represent a mirror. The point here is that in its upright position it looks like it will tip over any second. Backing it with a wall would have avoided this vertigo-inducing sensation. It also would have allowed some extra room e.g. for a small shelf with more cosmetics vessels.

What I also didn’t like was the somewhat too simplistic way the plates are connected primarily with the two 2 x 4 tiles. It seems like a wasted opportunity to not use more tiles and create a whole carpet, which incidentally also could have served as a “stage” for Andrea‘s performances.

As a final small niggle I would have to complain about the colors of the golden lamp-post not matching with the lightsaber handle in particular being oddly transparent and too light compared to the rest. This feels like a “Let’s use our leftover 2nd grade quality items here and reserve the better stuff for Star Wars and Ninjago.” and just doesn’t fit what you expect from LEGO – consistent coloring.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Room (41341), Front with open Bed

As with all LEGO Friends stuff – this certainly isn’t for everyone. For the most part these sets do not represent good value for money and to myself I could only justify the purchase with almost definitely having a use for the parts in the future. If that’s not the case for you, you probably should stay away from them entirely and go for the larger sets right away.

If your little one keeps bugging you for one of those on a casual shopping spree, regardless, I’d pick Andrea’s Room. It simply has more to explore and play with in a kids-friendly manner.

Breaking Falls – 70608 – Master Falls

While I’m long past the age where I would bug my parents about the latest Ninjago set, this particular series of LEGO products still has an odd fascination. It quite successfully manages to combine several tropes like Steampunk-ish vehicles, Asian-inspired culture and design, old myths and traditions, modern technology and so on. Basically everything you can imagine as a wild remix and analogy to our own world. It’s therefore also not much of a stretch to understand why it’s so hugely popular and commercially successful.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Master Falls (70608), Box

Aside from occasionally popping into an episode of the Ninjago TV series while zapping my knowledge of the finer story points boils down to almost being non-existent. The same could be said for The LEGO Ninjago Movie, which to date I haven’t even seen in full. So where that is concerned, my review of the Master Falls set (70608) comes down to how it looks and feels on its own merits, not so much its role and importance in the movie.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Master Falls (70608), Overview

The reason I got the set in the first place is that I somehow like those little vignettes/ dioramas. They are kind of reminiscent of how a painter would possibly paint some moody scenery or you could really imagine them being part of a bigger scene. That’s not the case with most Ninjago sets, them being so over the top at times, but it certainly works for me here. Still, I feel that the model could have been a lot better. More on that later, however.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Master Falls (70608), Minifigures

The minifigures are nothing to tell your mom about, especially if you are a longtime Ninjago connoisseur and collector. I would imagine that many a user’s boxes are overflowing with different versions of Garmadon, Master Wu and Kay already. They’re really not that special beyond incidentally being part of the scene and required to reenact it in its full glory.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Master Falls (70608), Front View

The overall composition of the vignette totally triggers my artist taste buds, especially when viewed from certain angles. It has a nice overall balance and you seemingly can’t place it wrongly in your scene. This could of course be totally incidental, too, and even a byproduct of the set being designed somewhat sparingly, which brings us to the real issue I have with this model.

First, there’s the design of the actual cliff sides/ ridges. It amazes me how the designers seem to have gone out of their way to create the convoluted angled structure in order to use as few parts as possible, when they could just have stacked bricks. Mind you, it’s stable and all, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of the appearance. I’d even bet that it doesn’t do anything for the price, either.

The second thing is the bridge. I get that using Technic track links may be the most stable solution, but would it really have much of a difference to just throw in a supply of hinge plates and cover them up with wood plank printed tiles? Those hinges are always snappy enough for me and I doubt that kids at the targeted age would have been able to destroy those connections all that easily.

You can’t even pull the “small parts” excuse, as the railings are supposed to be outfitted with T-shaped elements for the posts, anyway. I simply left them out because this looked weird to me.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Master Falls (70608), Bridge Detail

At any rate, neither of those two points is what I would call an actual failure, as they are entirely subject to view. What I can’t ignore, however, is the flimsy construction of the “river”. Being plugged together from a bunch of wedge and straight plates with barely any overlap, this construction is extremely easy to crack accidentally, and what makes it even worse to me, you can’t grab the somewhat top-heavy model in this area without at least risking it breaking apart.

What makes this so ridiculous naturally is that the fix is screaming you in the face just by looking at the photos – more “rock” slopes and/ or more “water surface” tiles placed strategically over the seams could have provided a much stronger connection. And even if they had gone down the lazy route and just plugged some additional strips underneath it would definitely have been much better.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Master Falls (70608), Reverse View

As it is, this is a superb idea for a small diorama squandered by sloppy execution. I really like the concept with the temple ruins being hinted at, the jungle-y bits and the hanging cage, but everything literally falls apart due to the inadequate structural work. You have to be way too careful just sliding the model across the floor, much less actually lift it and I have a hard time seeing how that goes together with this being based on a series for children (that will handle it rough during their playtime).

Point in case: If you are looking for a nice deco model and are perhaps willing to refine the construction then that is a good place to start, but as a way of truly re-playing the film’s scenes it’s probably safe to say that it doesn’t deliver on that front and is more a case of keeping it away from children than letting them play with it…

Tree Top Fun – 41335 – Mia’s Tree House

When I was a kid I was way too much of a chicken to go climbing on trees, yet even I can’t deny that there’s a certain fascination about it this could potentially get even better with some roof over your head, so what could be more lovely than a tree house? Admittedly, at my age I’d probably be more interested in the luxurious versions the build in those TV shows, though. Too bad things like that are almost impossible here in Germany due to regulations and the simple fact that we don’t have that many large forests with hunking trees to begin with.

Given the popularity of the subject one would think LEGO have had something like that in their portfolio (not counting things like the Star Wars Ewok Village) for forever, but as it turns out that is utterly not the case. Currently there are only two options available – the Creator line Tree House Treasures (31078) that ties in with the equally themed Pirates Theme Park Rollercoaster (31084) and the Friends Mia’s Tree House (41335) discussed here. Both are new releases for 2018.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Tree House (41335), Box

For the time being I favored the colorful offering from the Friends line since it’s a bit more complex and more in line with what I consider a satisfying experience. For the right price I might still snatch up the other model one day, though. To be brutally honest, however, on some level it still feels like having to make a choice of a lesser evil from very limited options. I think there’s really room for LEGO to come out with a reasonably large set on this topic and people would still happily buy it.

On that note let’s talk price before we move on to other things. I got my set for 20 Euros whereas the MSRP is 30 Euros. One is what I consider reasonable and fair, the other is not. Despite always being financially in the crunch I try to not be too nitpicky about the per-piece price and other obscure math one could employ to rationalize the cost, but 30 Euros simply doesn’t feel right for most Friends sets to begin with and this set in particular. Why? Let’s find out!

LEGO Friends, Mia's Tree House (41335), Overview

The overall layout of the set is pretty much what you would expect and the only real hitch here are of course the typical girlish colors (or what LEGO thinks they should be). This brings up an interesting point, as in fact the overall look of the model is quite okay and even if you have no intention of actually buying it, building it based on the downloadable instructions in “real” colors, i.e. browns and other more natural colors, would still give you a very good-looking tree house.

This set isn’t as bad as some other Friends ones, with the color scheme being quite bearable and consistent, but still, it could have looked so much better without the purple bits. If I were to rebuild the model I’d definitely swap out at least those. The “bird nest” looks particularly weird and out-of-place. The barrel part should definitely have been included in a brown-ish color.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Tree House (41335), Front Left

The other parts are okay, even if the recent surge in using Dark Azure on almost every model is really getting a bit long in the tooth. They definitely need to dial it back. At the very least it shows that LEGO can produce every part in every color if only they want to, but would it have been too much to ask for a black or wood-colored roof? It still eludes me how they arrive at such design decisions.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Tree House (41335), Front Right

The overall construction is pretty simple and straightforward. The base is made up from different panels that are supposed to be held together by the stuff you plug on top. I’m intentionally saying “supposed” because in reality it doesn’t really work that well. The joins are bridged with a bunch of tiles and the elements of the tree trunk, which doesn’t offer that much stability, after all.

This is even more the case since the trunk itself is a three-sided construct from large panels with rock imitations on them. For a long time during the building process those panels don’t interlock with other elements, making it a very fragile affair until you add the two Tan plates that make up the actual house’s floor. I understand the need to keep things simple, but in the interest of better stability and also perhaps a bit more realism I would have preferred the trunk to be built more massively from brown 2 x 1 bricks, slopes and the like.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Tree House (41335), Reverse

The upper level is very much Friends standard fare with some interior decoration supposed to mimic a real room. However it doesn’t offer much beyond that and that is perhaps the biggest issue with the set: Its play value is extremely low to the point of being almost zero mostly for the fact that it doesn’t exploit any of the special opportunities offered by the theme.

That by all means includes the sad excuse that is the net and the weird rope slide that I didn’t even bother to include in the pictures. The latter is pretty much a complete stinker, anyway as you are supposed to connect it to the tree and then to this freely placable gate construct. As a result, the rope (in light purple, BTW) can curl in whatever way it wants and you basically have to manually push your doll along. That is just so wrong! Instead everything should be connected and the rope be taught, so at least you could run some sort of “Let your doll smash into the wall!” contest. That could have been fun for a few minutes.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Tree House (41335), Gate

The set tries to make up for this shortcoming with some extra details like the also separate rabbit pen, a soccer ball, a boomerang and some other small items that you can stuff into the two crates or have floating about, but I feel that this is just another case of the designers running out of ideas and not really understanding what a tree house is about.

The fix would have been easy: Simple stuff like ropes to climb up the tree or molding the structure of the trunk to provide stairsteps should not need any mention just like having a jump mat/ trampoline, a swing on an extended branch or even a separate “crow’s nest” lookout would be common occurrences in this context. Conversely, some big sail/ tarpaulin/ piece of cloth as a “roof” would have been nice and heh, if they can do pre-cut tents from plastic foil in City add-on sets, why not here? The possibilities are endless!

LEGO Friends, Mia's Tree House (41335), Rabbit Pen

At the end of the day I’m pretty torn about this set. As an adult I apparently bought it for the looks and prospective re-use of its elements, but I’d honestly feel a little embarrassed to give this to kids for playing. It looks gorgeous, but simply hasn’t anything to offer that would keep children occupied for very long in my opinion. The set in itself is very static and doesn’t come with a car or whatever else moving/ moveable items one could imagine nor are there any details to explore. Or in other words: At this point it’s been done to death in tons of other Friends sets and this one doesn’t bring anything unique to the table despite its subject suggesting otherwise.