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!

The No-Quarium – LEGO Creator 3in1, Fish Tank (31122)

From my many articles here on this blog it’s easy enough to gather that I love underwater life of all types and one of those dreams I have would be to own a huge, custom-build tropical aquarium like they do on those TV shows. Since these things are expensive to make and due to the fish’s very specific requirements also a costly hobby to maintain even at smaller sizes (replacing a fish that died is quite an investment when you’re in the middle of continental Europe) for the time being I have to settle on alternatives until I become a millionaire. 🙂

The funny coincidence here is that I’ve long been pondering on whether to get my lazy ass up and build my own coral reef. I always admire those detailed builds bustling with life that some people create and while I do not always agree with the interpretation, you have to give props to them for creatively using parts and most importantly scrounging together 500 green Ninjago swords as sea grass blades and similar. I’ve gotten into that a bit myself and it’s really quite a feat. Anyway, I guess for the time being the LEGO Creator 3in1 Fish Tank (31122) is as good as it gets for me on that front and a not unwelcome excuse to delay my own ventures, so let’s see how it turns out.

LEGO Creator, Fish Tank (31122), Box

Contents and Pricing

Unfortunately for being a mundane Creator 3in1 set, this one is rather elusive, at least here on the German market. Only very few retailers actually have it in limited numbers and when they do, the set is usually sold out quickly. Me being able to buy it at all is merely a lucky coincidence during a random visit at one of our drugstore chains’ outlets. As you may figure, this scarcity bears influence on the price and even getting a minimum discount is rare. This may of course change if and when it becomes available more widely, but that isn’t on the horizon yet.

The original retail price is 30 Euro, which for 352 pieces is actually normal and not that terrible. However, and you will see this as a recurring theme running through this article, the whole set simply does not feel like you actually get that much stuff. This is of course due to almost half the parts already being used in the construction of the frame which contributes very little to the perceived overall value. Basically my feeling is that it doesn’t even count. That being the case, I would really love if this set did not exceed 20 Euro. Maybe this becomes feasible once noticeable discounts are possible due to better supply, but for the time being I guess there is little one can do about it.

LEGO Creator, Fish Tank (31122), Front View

The Model

Let’s cut to the chase and address the elephant in the room right away: The tank itself or specifically the way it is represented here as a black frame. This to me feels wrong on so many levels.

For one I never actually needed to have a visual representation of an aquariums boundary to imagine it’s volume and extent. This to me is a case of “Either you see it (in your mind) or you don’t!”. It can help to put things in context, yes, but at the same time, and that’s the case in this set, it can also be extremely disturbing and distracting. The straight front-on shot is a good example for why: The thick and way too tight frame makes the fish tank look tiny and uncomfortable for its inhabitants.

The second and for me actually worse issue is how many pieces go in the construction of the frame alone. If I didn’t miscount too much, that accounts for around 140 elements already and what makes this so frustrating is that their majority is actually larger than the many 1 x 1 parts that go into the fish themselves. Point in case: The frame is way to elaborate and bulky and massively skews the perception of the value of this set, and not in a good way.

LEGO Creator, Fish Tank (31122), Front View

The dilemma here is of course that they had to include some constructionally relevant extra parts for the alternate B and C models, but to be blunt about it I couldn’t be bothered. This too literally feels like they had to come up with something to justify releasing it in this series when the outcome isn’t really that great. Neither the treasure chest nor the painting on the easel look that good and this forced diversification is to the detriment of the primary model in my opinion.

LEGO Creator, Fish Tank (31122), Top View

The thing is that there would easily have been a way to insinuate the “box” with a bunch of 12 units long black Technic axles for the vertical edges and then perhaps they could have included the newer 32 long axles in Black as well or plugged together suitable shorter versions for the horizontal top edges. This would have required what? Twenty parts perhaps? It would have been much more efficient and done the trick for most people plus it would have freed up a ton of parts that could have been used for additional fish, plants or detailing the sea floor.

LEGO Creator, Fish Tank (31122), Back Left View

Speaking of which: The “sand” is 100 percent just flat Tan plates. that’s the first thing anyone would avoid who is trying to build his own version of this. I wouldn’t expect them to go out of there way here, but a bunch of semi-circular and round plates of all sizes would have gone a long way to shape a small mound in the middle and perhaps there would even have been a way to accommodate a small rock formation in a different color. as a major fan of octopuses I also could have totally gone for a shattered amphora, stereotypical as that may sound.

LEGO Creator, Fish Tank (31122), Back Right View

I think it’s not much of a surprise and literally everybody would have expected it that the selection of fish species is a direct riff on the Finding NemoFinding Dory movies with the three largest examples being a Blue Tang/ Surgeon Fish, a Clown Fish and a Yellow Butterfly Fish. There’s some pink and black fringe-tailed fish thrown in for good measure, though I’m not clear about the exact species. Additionally there’s a small submarine or remotely controlled underwater drone as a bit of a gag item.

The fish are mostly represented by their contours and color scheme, but have very little in the way of actual three-dimensional shaping. That is okay for what this set represents and tries to achieve, but of course more details would have been preferable. Many of these reef-dwellers aren’t that flat and a lot larger than it often appears in documentaries on TV. Bulking up their cross sections and refining their silhouettes is certainly something I would strife for if I were to do my own version of this.

On the bright side, due to this limitation they couldn’t avoid recoloring some parts because they would be visible and thus we are getting the 1 x 1 brick with opposing studs on side in Dark Pink and its bigger 1 x 2 brother in Orange at last.

Concluding Thoughts

This set stirs up a whole lot of conflicting emotions because I really want to like it, but ultimately I’m also too disappointed and miffed by its shortcomings. Not to sound like a disappointed kid that didn’t get the right present on its birthday, but this is once more a case of where the potential has not been used at all. This could have been totally awesome, however it only turned out as a rather average affair. Too many things feel not thought through or are not fleshed out, so this comes across as rather half-baked.

Assuming the prices drop into that sensible 20 Euro range in foreseeable time the set may be worth your time, regardless, but to really turn it into something outstanding you will have to invest some extra effort, buy a second set perhaps or resort to your own parts supply to fancy things up. At full price this seems a bit of a stretch, as I really feel that you’re not getting enough in return, but as usual this is up to personal interpretation.

Explorer-ing the Deep

It’s currently so hot outside, I sure wish I would live somewhere by the sea or underwater even, so it’s not at all that bad the latest LEGO Explorer magazine deals with the creatures of the deep and the exploration of same.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2020, Cover

The overall structure of the mag still feels a bit too random for my taste with an “everything and the kitchen sink” vibe being prevalent. It feels like they are simply trying to stuff in too much and in this particular case couldn’t make up their mind whether to focus on the actual real creatures, their brick-modeled counter parts or the exploration vehicles. Dialing things down a bit sure would help and might actually be beneficial to the overall learning effect for the kids.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2020, Sample Pages

Again several commercial LEGO sets make an appearance, including my beloved Deep Sea Creatures (31088). this makes things a bit more palatable to me, but overall I’m still not friends with this sort of over-commercialization, especially since it’s not bolstered by extra content like comics or a genuinely nice dedicated custom poster. If you will, it feels a bit too cheap and obvious.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2020, Poster

The included model is an octopus – of sorts. If you know my Octopus MOC you know that I’m a bit obsessive about those creatures and thus very critical of any rendition. On the positive side, this one truly has eight tentacles at least. on the other hand it at best looks like a baby calamari or sepia to me. The pointed tube just doesn’t look right for an actual octopus. I also wish they had gone with a different color than Black. Keeping everything Red would have been a good start, but Dark Tan for everything would probably have been the best option. I also gladly would have traded the 32 White single studs for the suction rings for longer tentacles.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2020, Squid Model LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2020, Squid Model

Again this issue shows that they still need to work quite a bit on formulating the actual value of the mag and having a consistent style. Most disappointing is the fact that there is just not enough exclusive content. Everything feels like it was chopped together from the LEGO archives and the usual stock content libraries. One can only hope that this improves over time…

July Dive

It’s some of the hottest days of the year with a heatwave ravaging Europe and everyone is looking for ways to cool their heads. Naturally amongst those could be taking a dive in a lake or climbing up mountain glaciers, so it seems fitting that the LEGO City magazine this month caters for this in a way.

LEGO Magazine, City, July 2019, Cover

The icy cold is taken care of by a promotional comic marketing the Snow Groomer (60222) set and the watery parts are brought home with equally matching comics and of course the included minifigure and buildable pieces.

The latter are a bit lackluster with the figure featuring only the simplest of prints and the parts consisting of small pieces. I’m not saying that a Dark Tan cropped corner plate and a Reddish Brown 1 x 1 hollow round stud (as found e.g. in current Harry Potter sets) can’t be useful, but once again the limited selection furthers the impression that LEGO and Blue Ocean are trying to cut corners to keep the cost as low as possible. At that rate, one day you’ll be glad if you get a single 4 x 1 brick… They could at least have done the crab in a different color to provide a better incentive.

The rest of the mag is the usual mix, though incomprehensibly to me they have reverted to those awful CG-based posters instead of the more attractive hand-drawn ones. I like that they include more puzzles and more challenging ones at that lately, though. Keeps the kids busy for longer and provides at least a bit of a challenge for the grown-ups as well…