About Andrew

Andrew Becraft has been building with LEGO for over 30 years, and blogging about LEGO since 2005. He's an active member of the online LEGO community, as well as his local LEGO users group, SEALUG. Andrew is also a regular attendee of BrickCon, where he organizes a collaborative display for readers of The Brothes Brick nearly every year. You can check out Andrew's own LEGO creations on Flickr. Read Andrew's non-LEGO writing on his personal blog, Andrew-Becraft.com. Andrew lives in Seattle with his wife and two dogs, and when he's not writing for The Brothers Brick, he works as, well, a writer.

Posts by Andrew

Winter is Coming – Citizen Brick launches “Dragon Sword Fighter Force” minifigs

One of the things I’ve loved about Citizen Brick from the first time I encountered their custom minifigs is their sense of humor. Joe and his crew at Citizen Brick make things you’ll never be able to buy in a LEGO set. Yes, you can buy usefully realistic military accessories, too, but they won me over back in 2011 with minifigs like “Botany Enthusiast.” Their latest batch of custom minifigs is titled “Dragon Sword Fighter Force,” which itself is hilarious, much like the over-the-top book series and premium cable TV show that clearly inspired these minifigs (obviously Game of Thrones).

Custom Citizen Brick Dragon Sword Fighter Force minifigs

I don’t generally quote ad copy, but the product blurb on the back of the three-minifig blister packs proves my point:

Dragons! Knights! Totally inappropriate family relations! Join the adventure as these brave fighters cross swords with some of the most fearsome foes in the realm. Whether defending their kingdom or clamoring for the crown, these minifigs are ready for a battle royale to the death. Horde the complete series of stunning figs before every character you like is killed off. Your honor is at stake!

It’s not just their sense of humor that attracts me to Citizen Brick, it’s the subversiveness of choosing to depict fairly adult subject matter in repurposed LEGO minifigures — “totally inappropriate” pretty much captures most of the Citizen Brick catalog, and “totally inappropriate” has a special place in my heart. (There’s also a strong disclaimer on each Citizen Brick product indicating zero affiliation with, endorsement by, or approval from LEGO.)

Citizen Brick sent me a batch of the “Dragon Sword Fighter Force” minifigs recently, and I wasn’t disappointed. They arrived in three-minifig blister packs with the aforementioned description on the back, plus a 13th bonus minifig of some guy who looks like a fishing boat captain titled “Sir Typesalot” (which you get when you buy all 12 custom minifigs at once).

As amused as I am by Citizen Brick’s subject matter, what keeps me coming back is the quality of their design work. Each custom minifig includes unique printing on nearly every available surface — face/head, torso (both front and back), arms, and legs. Many of the “Dragon Sword Fighter Force” minifigs also come with custom cloth accessories and weapons. The printing is indistinguishable from the printing on official LEGO minifigs, and the designs themselves don’t feel out of place from the world of LEGO (thus the big disclaimer, I suppose).

At $55 for a three-minifig pack or $220 for the full set of 12 (which also includes the George R.R. Martin-esque author minifig), these aren’t inexpensive, and I suspect they’re not the sort of minifigs you’d just fold into your Castle/medieval collection for use in a crowded display at a convention. No, these are serious collectibles for the dedicated A Song of Ice and Fire fan. That said, they are certainly wonderful Castle/medieval minifigs, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing some of the cool parts from these figs on “hero” minifigs quite a lot (I just wouldn’t bury them in an army). Citizen Brick minifigs range from $15 to $25 (these are $16-18 depending on whether you get the three-packs separately or buy the whole set at once), so prices are well within the range of what other vendors are charging for custom minifigs.

Now that so many vendors are producing custom-printed minifig elements at reasonably high quality, the distinguishing factors boil down to subject matter, design, and price rather than just availability and quality. Since price and quality are now somewhat less of a comparative factor, what continues to distinguish Citizen Brick minifigs is their often-humurous subject matter and consistently great design.

Although a bit on the pricey side as a complete set, I can definitely recommend Citizen Brick’s “Dragon Sword Fighter Force” minifigs to every Game of Thrones fan out there, because we certainly won’t be seeing an official LEGO Game of Thrones Collectible Minifigures series anytime soon.

“Dragon Sword Fighter Force” minifigures are available on CitizenBrick.com.

Happy 40th birthday to the first LEGO figures!

Before 1974, LEGO sets were a fairly unpopulated landscape of vacant houses and empty cars. Preceding the iconic minifigure by several years, LEGO released a new kind of figure the year I was born, and some of my first LEGO sets included these figures. Paul Hetherington (Brickbaron) celebrates the 40th birthday of this lesser-known LEGO fig with a lovely double-decker bus.

Lego Figure 40th Anniversary Bus

Paul writes:

I wanted to create a new model that had a distinctly vintage look. My design cues came from some 1970′s Lego trade adverts. I purposely chose a model that used the colors that are incorporated in the Lego logo. In the 1970′s the Lego color palate was limited to yellow, red, blue, white, black, with small amounts of gray and green. On a personal note, I chose the British 1910 B-Type double decker bus because I was born in England and that was were I first came across these figures as a child. As well, if you look at the poster from a distance, red and white are the predominant colors which represents my Canadian upbringing.

Check out more photos on Flickr!

Build your won Ghostbusters HQ firehouse with instructions from Ecto-1 designer Brent Waller

Even though Brent Waller‘s LEGO Ghostbusters Ecto-1 set was recently approved as the latest official CUUSOO set, you might be among those disappointed that the beautifully rendered Firehouse in Brent’s original CUUSOO project wasn’t also approved.

But fear not! Brent has just released the step-by-step instructions for the Ghostbusters HQ in LEGO Digital Designer (LDD) format.

Ghostbusters HQ LDD File

You can download Brent’s instructions from his Eurobricks post.

LEGO CUUSOO Ghostbusters Ecto-1 set revealed [News]

Another new set unveiled at ToyFair in New York City this morning is 21108 LEGO Ghostbusters, featuring the iconic Ecto-1 car and the four main characters from the first movie. The final design in the official set retains the level of detail that Brent Waller built into his proposed design.

LEGO CUUSOO Ghostbusters Ecto-1

The set includes four unique minifigs with all their gear:

Official LEGO Ghostbusters minifigs

21108 LEGO Ghostbusters will be released in June 2014 for USD $49.99.

Read the official announcement on the LEGO CUUSOO Blog for complete details.

Volleying doom for doom

During World War II, the Allies fielded approximately 50,000 M4 Sherman medium tanks. But ignoring the hard lessons that the Soviet Red Army learned about German armor on the Eastern Front, the United States and its Western allies delayed production of better-armored tanks with bigger guns until very late in the war. That bigger, better tank — one that could go head to head against German tanks — was the M26 Pershing. However, only 20 Pershings saw combat, between February and May 1945.

M26 Pershing heavy tank (1)

American 3rd Armored Division veteran Belton Cooper argues in his 1998 book Death Traps that this delay in fielding the M26 Pershing in favor of the existing M4 Sherman cost thousands of lives on both sides by delaying the end of the war in Europe for six months. As much as I love the Sherman for its iconic “tankiness,” I was inspired while reading Death Traps to try my hand at a Pershing as well. (I was also running out of Technic chain link for narrower tank treads until my first batch of Brickmania Track Links arrived, so I was forced to use the wide LEGO tread pieces if I wanted to build anything.)

After more than a decade on the web and a dozen LEGO events, one of my failures as a builder is that I tend to build first for static display and photography rather than functionality, and it takes a couple of iterations before I go back and give my models a bit more of an interior life. I’ve tried to improve this over the last year by adding internal details to my vehicles like a removable engine in my Shermans. But I still struggle with tank guns that elevate and depress properly. I’ve now addressed this shortcoming with my latest tanks, including this Pershing, my Soviet KV-1, and a couple of my newer Stuarts. Given differences in turret design, the challenge has been that each tank has required a different solution to achieve an elevating gun, ranging from guns that pivot on Technic pins to ones that go up and down on simple hinge bricks. It probably shouldn’t be this hard…

Strangely perhaps, my favorite detail on my Pershing is the set of stowage boxes on the sides, which are half-stud-offset in two directions to leave half-stud gaps between the boxes and a half-stud lip at the edge of the tank. You can see this best in this comparison shot, which shows just how much lower and wider the Pershing is compared to the older Sherman — a difference that made the Pershing simultaneously harder to hit and more agile on rough terrain.

M26 Pershing vs. M4 Sherman

Finally, here’s a quick little build I tossed together to showcase some of the rarer BrickArms elements that I’d picked up around BrickCon last year — an original American version of the M3A1 Scout Car that I posted last summer in Lend Lease program Soviet livery.

M3A1 Scout Car - US Army - Early War (1)

I managed to pack all of the following custom elements into this tiny little armored car:

  • BrickArms M2HB .50 caliber machine gun (prototype)
  • BrickArms M1917 .30 caliber Browning machine guns (x2 prototypes)
  • Citizen Brick US Army Ranger torsos
  • BrickArms brodie helmets
  • BrickArms M1 Garand rifles (x2 overmolded “Reloaded” version)
  • BrickArms M1917 printed crate
  • Citizen Brick diamond plate tiles

For those of you curious what “overmolded” means, it’s an injection molding process in which a second color of plastic gets injected on top of another, bonding the two together. Will Chapman of BrickArms has been experimenting with the technique for a year or two, with absolutely beautiful results. But don’t expect to see this in large quantities anytime soon — Will hand-injects each batch in his secret laboratory. Josh and I had the privilege of visiting the BrickArms workshop last year, and learned first-hand just how labor-intensive the overmolding process is. Nevertheless, some of the overmolded items are available for sale from BrickArms resellers.

SD Command Gundam by Moko

Growing up in Japan in the 80′s, one of my favorite toys (other than LEGO, of course) was little plastic models of the SD Gundam characters. Moko (Flickr) might be a bit younger than I am, but we do share a love of these adorable little mecha.

Don’t be deceived by the diminutive source material — this is a substantial model with an amazing amount of detail. Just look at the subtle grooves around Gundam’s mouth!

COMMAND GUNDAM

The full load-out is also impressive:

COMMAND GUNDAM

See more pictures on Flickr, along with break-down shots on Moko’s blog.

Brickmania Track Links roll into production [Review]

Last May, Dan Siskind of Brickmania launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a new kind of track elements designed to work with LEGO. Early this year, my backer reward package arrived, and I’ve been building (and rebuilding) furiously ever since.

M4 Sherman medium tanks

My new M4A1 Sherman with a dozer attachment is typical of the engineering vehicles used during the invasion of Normandy, with deep wading snorkels that enabled the tank to be dropped off farther from shore and drive mostly underwater on the sea floor. (I think Dan’s design for his early-production M4 Sherman turret can’t be improved, so I replicated his turret design while adding my own gun barrel for consistency with the rest of my tanks.) Both the M4A3 on the left and the dozer tank use two-wide Track Links, while the M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” on the right uses official three-wide LEGO tracks.

In order to switch the M4A3 with the short 75mm gun barrel from its existing three-wide LEGO track to Track Links, I had to rebuild the suspension. As a result, I don’t think this version — possibly my last — shares more than a few bricks with my original attempt at a Sherman that I first posted nearly four years ago.

LEGO currently produces three types of elements that builders use as tank treads, and all of them are hard to get in any significant quantity (and thus fairly expensive). For those of us who build historical or real-world LEGO models, each of these also has unique problems:

  • One-wide Technic chain link: The open chain links don’t look a whole lot like actual tank treads.
  • Three-wide Technic tread: The best official LEGO option for many tanks, but three studs wide is one stud too many for most American tanks of World War II.
  • Five-wide tread with Technic pin holes: Far too huge for anything most minifig-scale applications.

The most significant gap in available parts is the lack of any official two-wide track. Using two parallel sets of Technic chain link (as I did on my M7 Priest) is cost-prohibitive at best, and doesn’t look all that great. From a historical standpoint, German and Russian tank designers realized that relatively narrow track would just sink in mud, miring and thus disabling the tank. As WWII veteran Belton Cooper described in Death Traps, American tank designers didn’t get that memo. To build historically accurate American tanks, LEGO military modelers need something other than the official LEGO options.

The two-wide Track Links tracks work beautifully on American medium tanks like the M3 Lee/Grant, M4 Sherman, and all the tracked vehicles based on their chassis (such as the M7 Priest and most WWII tank destroyers). Dan himself has been replacing the existing track on many of his vehicles with Track Links, including this beautifully camouflage-patterned M3 Grant and M10 tank destroyer.

M10 Tank Destroyer

Just like regular LEGO track, Track Links clip together with small pins on each side, and they work well with a variety of LEGO gears. Both the single-wide and double-wide Track Links wrap around the gears better than LEGO tracks or chain links, and they roll just as well. Here’s my M3A1 Stuart light tank sporting the single-wide Track Links.

M3A1 Stuart tank (1)

On a related note, you’ll notice that many military builders have begun using the new BrickArms M2HB .50 caliber machine gun. I still like my own brick-built .50 cal, but it’s also nice to have an absolutely accurate option that’s consistent with the BrickArms .30 caliber M1919 Browning machine gun.

M8 Scott howitzer motor carriage (1)

In addition to Track Links and a .50 cal, my M8 Scott 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage (with a gun that elevates/depresses and an ammunition trailer) includes several other custom elements:

  • Brickmania armored division minifig
  • BrickArms shells
  • Citizen Brick diamond plate tiles

Will Chapman gave away several prototype M2HBs at BrickCon, and now the production version is available from resellers like Brickmania and G.I. Brick. One difference between the initial prototype and the final production version is that the ammunition canister is a bit looser. It won’t fall out, but it does have a tendency to flop around a bit. Based on the high quality we’ve come to expect from BrickArms over the years, I’m confident that a bit of retooling will address this minor issue soon.

Brickmania Track Links are available in three colors — black, steel, and reddish brown (great for mud/rust) — on Brickmania.com, along with the new BrickArms M2HB.

I’ll also be posting reviews of several Brickmania kits that include Track Links over the next week or two, so check back here for more.

This LEGO oliphaunt still only counts as one

We’ve featured a few oliphaunts from The Lord of the Rings over the years, but I think this one by Elliot Feldman (Simply Complex Simplicity) just might be the biggest. But Elliot’s oliphaunt isn’t just big and static — he’s placed it into an action-packed scene during the battle between Faramir’s men and the Haradrim when Sam and Frodo are trying to reach Mordor.

LEGO oliphaunt