No Starch Press, known as the purveyors of many LEGO books written by LEGO fans, recently sent me a copy of their latest book exploring our favorite hobby, The LEGO Neighborhood Book. Written by brothers Brian and Jason Lyles, it explores the City Modular standard through pre-built creations, architectural techniques, and model instructions. The 204-page book is 8″x8″ with a high-quality soft cover, and the glossy pages with great color representation we’ve come to expect from books about LEGO.
It should come as no surprise at all to long-time readers that the new LEGO Ideas Research Institute has been on my list since the day it was confirmed as a set, if not before. I’m all for more gender-equality in my minifig world, and love seeing sets with female figs.
I picked up this set as well as the 21109 Exo Suit while I was on vacation, and admittedly I’ve been waiting to get a chance to break in and build it. Great way to spend the first day back from vacation, I wager.
So let’s get on with the review.
As a child, I was a big fan of LEGO’s Model Team sets of highly detailed and realistic-looking vehicles. It will be no surprise then that I also liked the Classic Beetle LEGO released more than six years ago and that I also bought the Volkswagen Camper van. To my delight, LEGO has now introduced another classic car: the MINI Cooper.
The Mini started life as a humble economy car, but with a lasting legacy. To maximise passenger space within its short body, its engine was transversally mounted and drove the front wheels, which is a configuration copied in pretty much every small family hatchback built since. Sporty versions, called the Cooper and Cooper S, became successful rally racers and celebrities such as Steve McQueen, Paul McCartney, Prince Charles and even Enzo Ferrari owned Minis. From its humble origins, the Mini grew into a cult car, with a particularly British kind of cool.
The set represents a late-model Mini Cooper (produced in late 1997/ early 1998, judging from the license plate) in dark green, with white stripes on the bonnet (hood), white wing mirrors and a white roof. The dark green colour is a close match for traditional British racing green and the colour scheme just screams Mini. The front of the car is spot-on, with the shape of the radiator grille, front-mounted fog lights and the silver bumper pieces. The curved elements used below the windows have neatly-printed thin white lines on them, that run the length of the car. Small details such as the fuel filler cap and indicator lights are nicely represented. Remarkably, for a LEGO set, the finished model is almost completely studless, which suggests that LEGO also hopes to cater to fans of the Mini who may not necessarily be into LEGO.
The model is not without faults, however. Especially when seen from behind, it does not look quite round enough. Having built my own models of Minis, I know that both the front and rear windows ought to be curved, but on the model they are built using large flat window panels. I also don’t particularly like the way the pillars supporting the corners of the roof are built, using 75-degree slopes covered with stickers marked with a black triangle. The stickers are intended to make the pillars look narrower, but I don’t think it really works. In fairness, though, alternative solutions would either require completely new part shapes or would add greatly to the complexity, parts count and cost of the set. Despite the compromises, it definitely looks like a Mini.
LEGO sent The Brothers Brick a copy of the new LEGO Ideas 21109 Exo Suit, which we’re going to give away to one of you out there reading this. Read the full review to find out how!
There have been a lot of great LEGO CUUSOO / LEGO Ideas sets that have come out, but before the Exo Suit they all had one thing in common: they were all based on someone else’s design (intellectual property or IP in licensing jargon). So it was a great to see Pete Reid‘s Exo Suit become the first original idea to be turned into a LEGO Ideas set.
The set comes in a typical small form LEGO Ideas box. I thought the designers did a great job on graphics and background art, which is very reminiscent of the classic space box art.
When you open up the set you’re presented with a fantastic instruction manual and 4 small bags of pieces, which include a total of 321 pieces. While it might not seem like a lot of pieces, the final build is surprisingly large.
The instruction booklet starts off with some info on Pete and Senior Set Designer Mark Stafford on how they collaborated on the set. It’s followed by a great background story that sets up the Exo Suit. I also liked how scattered throughout the instructions are little tid-bits of information about the Exo-Suit or the turtle, which just adds a bit of fun to the whole building.
Originally I had planned to go over the actual build process and point out interesting bits and details on the Exo Suit, but as I was actually building it, I decided not to ruin everyone’s fun — I would rather everyone experience it on their own. I will say that there are definitely some uncommon techniques that you would not find in your typical LEGO set. An example of which is placing a 1×1 round stud in the center of a 2×2 round plate (see picture).
The piece selection in this set is also a bit odd for a typical LEGO offering. There are a lot of ball-joint pieces that makes up the bulk of the frame, and a lot of tiny detailing elements that are attached to it, which makes up the rest of the set. But for a lot of builders this gives a great value: it is a small set with an incredible selection of specialized sci-fi “greeble” pieces.
But really, the stars of the set are the two Classic Space minifigures (with extra air tank) available in green for the first time:
The inclusion of these two figures, plus the low price point, and limited run will likely result in a very high demand set. Which is unfortunate as I would love to be able to buy a massive stockpile of these to get an army of Green Classic Space men, with enough left over pieces to build something really cool.
The Arvo Brothers published a book on their masterpiece recreation of Kaneda’s Bike from Akira. This is a unique Lego book dedicated entirely to describing one creation while including a full set of instructions. The book is available for €19.99 + shipping and is sold directly from the Arvo Brothers, whom you can reach by email at arvobrothers[at]hotmail.com. Below is my review of the book.
- Meticulous details documenting building techniques, parts selection, and references to the original model
- Includes commentary on steps in the instruction manual for an in-depth building experience
- Includes a parts list and sticker sheet
- Almost impossible to recreate the model due to lack of availability of the x-pod lids used on the wheels.
This is a well-written book centered on one of the Arvo Brothers’ most iconic and beloved Lego creations. It is obvious that a lot of work went into designing the model and producing the book. It is a good read for fans interested in the minutia of the design process of a top-tier fan model. For those wanting to recreate the model, there is a full set of clear-cut instructions with supporting commentary for an in-depth experience on the build process. However, you will be disappointed to find out that a key element of the model is out of production and nearly impossible to obtain on the aftermarket even if you have money. Because of this detail alone, I hesitate to recommend the book because the majority of its content is dedicated to the instruction set. However, if you are still curious about the design process, this is a publication that will not let down your expectations.
The Art of LEGO Design is a book written by Jordan Schwartz about ways to approach creative building. This book is the first of its kind focused on building tips. It is now available on Amazon. Below is my review of the book.
- Features interviews with builders who have iconic building styles
- Thorough depiction of Jordan’s own building style
- Content includes specific examples as well as general concepts
- Specific topics such as Fabuland and cloth accessories nudge out broader themes like train, military, Technic, Bionicle
Jordan has covered a lot of ground and touched on most major themes in Lego creations. This is a huge task for just one author and Jordan handled it pretty well. This book can be interesting to both novice and experienced builders because it offers the in-depth perspective of the author who is a jack of all trades builder along with that of about a dozen builders known for excelling in particular themes. Outside the builder interviews, the book is entirely focused on Jordan’s own views on Lego design and most models featured are his own. This is relevant if you want to look through the lens of one builder and learn the specifics of that person’s approach. It is not meant to be a reference for how to build in every major theme, but for new fans this book can be a nice springboard into making your own creations.
Generally, I am not particularly interested in sets and LEGO CUUSOO/ LEGO Ideas does not do much for me personally, but I have to admit that I was stoked when I found out that the Ghostbusters Ecto-1 by Brent Waller passed the design review and that LEGO were going to turn it into a set. I’ve been a big fan of the movie ever since I first saw it as a child. It is imminently quotable and still funny, thirty years after it was released and the car is a moviestar in its own right.
I think that the earlier Cuusoo Back to the Future DeLorean looked a bit disappointing compared to the design originally submitted to CUUSOO. Pictures of the Ecto-1 set looked pretty good, however, and I was eager to have a look at the model in real life. Last week, while on a trip, I came across the set in a toy store in Germany (for €49.90 ) and decided to buy it.
The real car used for the movie was a customised 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance conversion. The 59 Cadillac is an icon of excess, known for its enormous aircraft-inspired tailfins and its ornate front, with a lot of chrome and double headlights.
Brent’s original represented this look quite well and, as his own comparison picture shows, not much was lost when his design (on the left) was turned into the set (on the right). The car in the set is a bit less smooth, but it is also a bit smaller. This is a good thing in my book, but more about that later. Ecto-1 is a popular subject and a lot of builders have built their own examples. On most, including Brent’s original, the windscreen is too steep. On the set, however, the angle is just about spot on, but it does look a bit too tall. I built my own larger scale version last year and spent a lot of time poring over photographs of details of all the equipment and lights mounted on the roof. The set’s version is impressively faithful to the original.
The roof of the model can be easily removed, revealing an interior large enough to seat three of the figures (in tandem) and one or two proton packs in the back. The sides of the body are mostly built using SNOT techniques, which keeps the tailfins nicely thin. The side windows are angled slightly, using a clever technique involving clips and bars. The set designers have done an excellent job.
As most regular readers know, I am a big fan of LEGO space. Like most fans of 80s LEGO space, I loved the character Benny in the LEGO movie, and was excited to see that his ship would become a set. Even better, fellow Brother Brick Simon found this set for sale at his local LEGO store, ahead of the launch date for my part of the world. He kindly sent me a copy, so that I could bring you this review. First, let me get the obligatory “spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!!! out of the way.”
I have to admit that it has been a long time since I built an official LEGO set. I tried to build and review the Palace Cinema, but only managed one floor. Sifting through bags of parts to find the right one is something of a chore, compared to my sorted collection. Coupled with that, I’m no great fan of following instructions. The instructions for this set did recall a bit of a peeve, which is that LEGO seems fond of putting multipliers for assembly instructions at the end. The first few pages of the instructions are for the detachable little ships on the wing, and at the end, an exciting “X2″. Fortunately, it wasn’t the nightmare that the same treatment in the original ISD caused. None of this was enough to keep me from building this entire spaceship, though, and I must say that it was worth it.
Space builders are going to want to pick up a few copies of this set, which is sure to kick of a new frenzy of Neo Classic Space creations. First off, we’ve got three new pieces in transparent yellow. All three are great windscreen parts (I never thought I’d see the UCS X-Wing canopy in another color!), or useful to build large enclosures. There are a lot of new elements used throughout the ship, though I don’t think most are exclusive to the set. We also get three slopes with the Classic Space logo printed on them, which look fantastic. Speaking of that logo, we also get it printed on four stickers with clear backing!! Here’s a shot of an original printed logo next to the new incarnations. The sticker sheet is just outstanding, as it also includes sticker versions of classic space computer screens and buttons. It does rain one complaint, and a bit of an idiosyncrasy for the set. That is the placement of stickers on slopes. I never feel like stickers adhere well or long to most LEGO slopes, due to their textured surface. I suspect that LEGO may feel the same way, as they printed the logo on three slopes for this set. Even so, I’m generally happier with clear-backed stickers than I am with printed parts these days, so I’ll take it. In fact, I didn’t apply most of the stickers, because I want to use them on my own creations.
This set doesn’t skimp on the figs. Most of the figs are unique to the set, and they’re all awesome. I’m going to consider astronaut Unkitty a minifig, but we should remember that she’s made of parts, which include a 1×3 arch printed with the CS logo, and gold 1×1 plates. That arch has tons of potential for use in space creations, and I hope they end up being affordable on Bricklink, though I rather doubt it. This set’s Emmet has wrapped his face and the Piece of Resistance in foil, which makes for a pretty bizare looking minifig head, and a pretty awesome silver brick. I don’t remember Wildstyle changing into a different outfit for the spaceship scene, but it’s pretty cool seeing the graffiti style applied to a classic space uniform, and it gets us her hood piece in blue. The bad-guy robot has a pretty cool space suit, with an Octan logo in the center.
Finally, we have Benny, now available outside of the Sea Cow. I don’t have the budget for the Sea Cow, and hadn’t actually seen a Benny fig in person yet. While I love the Character for nostalgia, the fig himself doesn’t wow me. The scratched up logo on his chest is in worse shape than anything from my childhood collection, and I’m not sure I can see myself using it in a creation. I’m also not sure I see much utility for the “broken” helmet, though the cover of Inherit the Stars springs to mind. LEGO went all out with Benny on the nostalgia factor, though, and printed a classic smiley face on one side of his head. Bravo!!
This is another spot where this set really shines. First, it’s very strong, built with technic frames locked in place by plates. This means I can swoosh it with one hand. I feel confidant that I could let my three year old play with it, and while I’m sure some fins and antennas would come off, the main body of the ship would probably be fine. I’ll have to remove all the shooters, so his baby sister keeps her eyes, though (they sure plaster the don’t shoot your eye out emblem everywhere, don’t they?). Second, the set has many of the play features we expect in Classic Space sets. There are little robots to deploy, single-fig fighter/scouts to detach and fly away, rotating radar dish, and an internal lab. Of course, the set also has four spring loaded projectile launchers (two are the new 1×4 brick launchers, which are surprisingly strong), as well as the ubiquitous flick-fire missiles. Finally, you can push one of the engines forward, to open the wings wider, revealing two of the guns. The motion of this feature is quite smooth, and the mechanism is simple and effective.
The set also comes with a little bad-guy fighter, so you can play out your own dramatic battles. It’s small, but has a nice shape to it, and a fairly clever SNOT technique in the nose. Compared to Benny’s ship, it’s rather tiny, but it got enough attention that it’s not merely a throw-away model. It’s swooshable, and has a few lasers, so you can fly both ships around and go “pew pew pew!” Honestly, what more do you need?
My overall impression of this ship is that it was a fun and interesting build, with plenty to hearken back to the Classic Space sets of my youth. The ship has the gray engines, gray wings, blue body, and trans yellow windscreens we all love. It has a little lab inside, a radar dish, and some helper robots, just like old times. The set has tons of play features, some interesting construction techniques, and is SWOOSHABLE. It’s a bit pricey ($100) but the 980 part count helps with this, as do the bevy of unique figs and elements. I intend to buy a few copies, and if I ever catch it on sale, I might go nuts.
Lego Star Wars Coruscant Police Gunship is one of the new Star Wars sets released in March 2014. This set retails for $49.99 and is available on Amazon. Below is a brief video review and my remarks regarding the set.
- High-value minifigs
- Interesting model, different than the typical starfighter with wings.
- No real outstanding features (more of a neutral comment)
This is a well-balanced Star Wars set that’s got a bit of everything including an acceptable price-per-part ratio, interesting parts and colors, unique design, spring-loaded shooters, and high-value minifigs. Because many Star Wars sets these days have repetitive designs, low parts count and basic colors, the lack of criticism I have for the Coruscant Police Gunship makes it an above-average Star Wars set. There are no real drawbacks either. It’s one of the few Star Wars sets I recommend buying at retail price.
Lego Parisian Restaurant is latest modular building released this January. It contains 2,448 pieces and retails for $159.99. Below is a video review of why you should buy this set and possibly hold on to an extra copy of it in the years to come.
- High number and variety of parts for the price
- Several useful building techniques
- Excellent for display
- Has the most reliable investment value for collecting
- No discounts will be available for this set because it is a Lego Exclusive with a set number containing 10xxx.
The modular building series is one of the best lines for adult fans. It appeals to the builder, the collector, and those looking for a gorgeous filler on a shelf. There are already many review of this popular set within a click on Google that shows the technical and aesthetic aspects of the build. Instead I’ll take a moment to point out that the modular buildings are the best sets to invest as a collector or someone who would like some extra cash down the road to buy more Lego with.
Right now, if you want to buy a brand new copy of the first set of the modular building series, Cafe Corner, you won’t find it anywhere for less than $1,000. The second in the series, Green Grocer, is currently selling for prices close to $800. While most Lego exclusives containing 10xxx in their set number are good sets to invest due to their appeal to adult fans, the modular buildings are the most reliable because they are part of an ongoing series. As long as Lego continues to produce modular buildings, there will be increasing demand for earlier releases to expand the city. Even if more people catch on and hold on to these sets for resale later, it’s still a good idea as long as LEGO remains a growing hobby among adults.
The next set to retire among the modulars is Grand Emporium. While there is no fixed discontinuation date on sets, judging by the time that Fire Brigade went out of stock during the holidays last year, it’s a good estimate to say the same may happen for Grand Emporium this year. Within 6 months of Fire Brigade’s retirement, it’s price on Bricklink has already gone up by $100 over MSRP. I will be waiting until the fall of this year to buy Grand Emporium during promotions such as double VIP points.
I hope you found this tip on collecting to be useful or interesting, and once you get the ball rolling, you’ll have a hobby that completely funds itself.