Tag Archives: Review

Not sure which LEGO sets to pick up for yourself? Need ideas for that LEGO fan who already has more LEGO than he or she can possibly build with in a lifetime? Nervous about the quality of the custom accessories that tempted you at your last LEGO convention? Read our reviews of LEGO sets, books, accessories, and more right here on The Brothers Brick.

LEGO Disney Princess: Merida’s Highland Games 41051 [Review]

LEGO is expanding their Friend’s scale lines with the addition of the Disney Princesses we reported earlier this year. They’ve started popping up in stores, so keep an eye out. We’ll be sure to let you know when they are available online, too.

First up is Merida’s Highland Games. The set retails for $19.99, and comes with 145 pieces. The set features Merida’s home (I think) along with a tree, a little water fall, and a catapult of all things.

Merida and target

The Build
Overall, I can’t say I’m terribly impressed with this set. There were two numbered bags and two small instruction booklets. I am awfully confused as to the purpose of the catapult or why we’re flinging the enchanted cookies about.

...catapult? With Cookies?

The waterfall and tree aren’t terribly impressive, but they at least make sense.

As far as the castle is concerned, I just can’t get behind lavender and tan as a color combination and it detracts for me. The build itself is fairly simplistic.
Castle Castle

Also, the only printed things are the cookies, the bears, and Merida herself. Everything else is stickers.

The Parts
I think overall this set has a few good things going for it. Merida herself is pretty fantastic. The bears are simply adorable, and everyone needs little printed cookie tiles.
Whole crew

The extra pieces aren’t terribly exciting save for an extra cookie.

Ultimately, I’d recommend the set if you have someone in your life who is a huge Merida fan, as this is currently the only set she comes in. She and the bears are the only real stand-out parts to this particular set. If you can live without her and the bears, then I’d say you’re safe passing this set.

Lego Friends Heartlake Juice Bar 41035 [Review]

41035 Heartlake Juice Bar is one of the 2014 Lego Friends sets. The set contains 277 pieces and retails for $29.99, which you can buy from Amazon.

Here is my summary of the highlights of the set, which are elaborated in the review video below.


Pros:


Cons:

  • Model seems small for the price you’re paying for

The main appeal of this set to me are the colors. As explained in the video, they are useful for the creation I’m working on. The two main reasons I can think of for buying this set would be for parts or for your kids to play with. In terms of parts, the ones I listed above are interesting and potentially useful, but Bricklink is the better source to get the specific ones you need without buying the entire set. The current price of $29.99 seems a bit high, but Amazon sometimes discount newly released sets by around 20% within the first few months.

The Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug: 79011 Dol Guldur Ambush [Review]

A few week ago we reviewed two of the four new sets for The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. With the movie opening this evening and all of the sets now available in stores and on LEGO.com, we’ll dive into the third set, 79011 Dol Guldur Ambush, which is the smallest of the lot.

79011 Dol Guldur Ambush

79011 Dol Guldur Ambush comes with a $19.99 USD price tag, but has an admirable 217 pieces and three minifigs packed in. Taking place in the second film, the set portrays a scene not pictured in the book, in which Beorn ventures to Dol Guldur, the stronghold of the rising dark force we will later know as Sauron. Inside the box are two unnumbered bags and a very crumpled instruction manual. This is a terrific set for parts, particularly for castle builders, as nearly the entire set consists of black, greys, and browns. The instructions first call for the construction of a small double-catapult, which is really a plate with two wheels and two of the mini-catapults. It’s effective, but hardly inspired. The main portion of the set consists of the ruins of Dol Guldur, an ancient fortress. Here we get a bit of broken rocky wall surrounding a large entryway. Of course, as the set name implies, there’s an ambush. On each side of the door there are lever-controlled booby-traps: on the left are two axes, and on the right a giant hammer contraption. Neither are actually triggered by a pressure plate or anything — you simply swing them into place independently with your fingers via a knob on top. To the right of the main doorway is a segment of rock connected by a hinge brick. This swings aside to reveal — you guessed it: a flick-fire missile. A spare missile is included if you really want to go nuts. That’s about it as far as play-features in this set are concerned. The real noteworthy part here, though, is the wall itself. Much like the Mirkwood Elf Army wall, it is constructed almost completely from very small pieces. The designer went a little crazy with the Brick, Modified 1 x 1 with Stud on 1 Side, using 20, when fewer than half that number actually utilize the extra side stud. However, I see this as a bonus rather than otherwise, since the modified brick tends to be more useful. There are also two of the “dougnut tiles,” or Tile, Round 2 x 2 with Hole in dark grey. This is the only set that is actually released yet which contains this highly useful piece, though other sets with it are in the lineup for the new year.

79011 Dol Guldur Ambush

There are three minifigs in the playset: two Gundabad orcs and Beorn. The two orcs are the twins of the two included in the Mirkwood Elf Army, except that the two here haven’t gone prematurely bald. Mighty woodsman Beorn is the unique figure to this set, and he is a profound disappointment. The great furry mane is not a new hairpiece, but is actually part of the head. There is no excuse for LEGO to have taken this route, since the part of the head that is visible is clearly shaped like a normal LEGO head. Nevertheless, the hair and head is all molded as one, reducing the usefulness of it considerably. I won’t bother to enumerate here all the times LEGO has managed to produce similar head/hair combinations without resorting to this sort of shoddy work.

Ultimately, however, this is a really excellent set. The minifigs are not worth bothering with, but the bricks make the set more than worth-while. The wall, while not particularly exciting, is very nicely done, and it even connects up to the bigger 79014 Dol Guldur Battle set to make a bigger playset.

Be sure to also read our reviews of 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army and 79013 Lake-town Chase!

Ninjago: 70723 Thunder Raider [Review]

Consistent with previous years, the first wave of 2014 Ninjago sets have arrived in stores just in time for this year’s holiday sales rush, and are also now available on Amazon. The roles have been swapped up a bit this time, with the venerable Sensai Wu now evil and Lord Garmadon now the new ninja master. The seven sets of the new wave cover a good spectrum, and we’re beginning our reviews with a mid-size set, the Thunder Raider.

70723 Thunder Raider

70723 Thunder Raider comes with a USD $30 price-tag for its 334 pieces, making it a pretty good bargain straight off the top, with an average price-per-piece of 8.9¢. For LEGO to still be maintaining a sub-10¢ per piece price in 2013 – an average for which it has aimed for over 30 years – is nothing short of remarkable, especially on one of its mega-hit themes.

Digging into the set we find three numbered bags, a pair of loose tires, a sticker sheet, and two instruction manuals: one each for the mech and the tank. Bag #1 contains all the pieces to build the small mech, which actually isn’t all that small. It stands about 8 inches tall upon completion. It’s built using a constraction frame (that is, the large ball joints), and even the leg armor pieces are straight out of Hero Factory. If you’ve built any of LEGO’s mech’s in the last four or five years, there are no surprises here, but nevertheless the finished product is fairly nice. The feet contain several of the new Slope, Curved 2 x 1 No Studs in black, which is a new color for that part. Between the mech and the tank, there are eight of those slopes in black. I was also delighted to see that each of the feet contains two Vehicle, Spoiler 2 x 4 with Handle in black, a piece that had thus far been relegated to licensed Cars theme sets only. This bag also contains all three figures. Most of the set’s stickers are applied to the mech armor panels. While nice-enough stickers, I decided not to apply them.

The mech houses one pilot, Cole, who disappointingly has nothing to grab onto while strapped in. I always like mech pilots to have joysticks or at least a computer panel, but Cole is buckled into a harness like he’s on a rollercoaster. I guess the mech is controlled via a mindlink. Each arm of the mech has two giant blades and a cannon, so it’s well defended. With the oversized feet, poseability is high. The back of the mech is pretty sparse, with lots of exposed anti-studs. I feel like the new 2×2 inverted tiles should have been put to good use here. There are two Technic axle pegs stickingout from the shoulder blades, which are used to connect the mech to the rear of the tank.

This is a really weird feature. With the mech attached, it looks half-way between the mech hitching an impromptu ride on the back of a hill-billy tank while dragging its legs in the dust, and the tank serving a tow-truck for an out-of-commission mech. I think the effect would be greatly improved if both the tank and the mech shared a color-scheme, but with the mech being black and green, and the tank predominately blue, they don’t create a unified whole at all.

The second bag begins with the small weapons turret, which features the only unique printed piece in the set (there’s also a standard computer tile in the tank). It’s a 2×2 dark grey round tile with a saw-blade pattern on it. There’s not much to the turret: what you see is what you get. The trans-yellow axe it holds is pretty cool; I can definitely see it looking good in some neo-Blacktron bounty hunter’s hands. There is a depression in the center of the circular part that is almost rod-sized. I have never understood why part designers tantalize us with bits that seem like they should be in system, but aren’t. This would have been a perfect opportunity to place a full rod hole through the middle, greatly increasing the usability of the part.

The rest of the bag starts the tank, getting the basic frame constructed. Bag #3 finishes up the set. The tank follows the same style as several other Ninjago vehicles with treads in the front and wheels in the rear. The setup works well, though, and the tank is pretty fun to drive around. I do wish there were springs on the rear wheels to give it a bit of flexibility, but that’s a minor critique. The top of the tank body has a very cool samurai-esque pattern on it. This is accomplished via a brand new element: two 1×4 plates fused at 45° to each other. This piece appears in several of the new Ninjago sets, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. Putting two of these plates next to each other creates a perfect 90° angle, with a plate sticking off in the middle. But I was a bit disappointed to discover that the plates which are at right angles to each other are misaligned by a 1/2 stud in each direction. The piece will still find plenty of uses, and I understand why the piece is designed the way it is (it’s basically a 1×4 hinge plate permanently fused at 45°), but I think it would have ultimately been more useful if the 90° plates aligned when using two. The main play feature of the tank is the sliding cockpit, which moves back, causing the the blue pattern to reveal itself into several rockets. In a shocking twist, there are no flick-fire missiles (oh happy day), and instead the rockets are held in with traditional Technic 1/2 pins, though given their placement I can’t help but wonder if that is an error.

70723 Thunder Raider

The minifigs here are nothing terribly remarkable. Only the robot (a Nindroid, the instructions inform me) has printed legs. All of the minifigs have front and rear printings which are nice, but not noteworthy. Neither of the humans have double-sided heads, but the Nindroid’s metal pattern does extend to the rear. Each of the ninjas comes with a new bandana piece, which appears to be the go-to style this year instead of the full head-wrap. I’m a bit surprised this bandana didn’t make its debut in the Lone Ranger line, as it seems perfectly fitted to old-timey bank robbers. Nicely enough, an extra of each color is included, for a total of two each in blue and black.

70723 Thunder Raider

To sum up, this is a good set. There are plenty of good pieces at a good price, including some that only appear in a few other equally-new sets. Both vehicles are sturdy and look nice, and while not revolutionary, are fun. If you’re a fan of Ninjago, this is definitely a good buy, but most other LEGO fans will find something to enjoy here, even if they’re just buying for parts.

The Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug: 79013 Lake-town Chase [Review]

79013 Lake-town Chase is the medium-sized set from the new year-end lineup of Hobbit kits, set to release in conjunction with the second movie on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug. Some of the new sets are available through Amazon with a ship date of Dec. 1, though sadly Lake-town Chase isn’t available at the time of writing.

79013 Lake-town Chase

79013 Lake-town Chase depicts a scene presumably from late in the second film, when our heroes arrive in Lake-town, the village built upon Long Lake under the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. It’s a town built upon a pier, with the entire town raised above the waters of the lake to act as a natural moat and to aid in defense against the fiery breath of the great dragon Smaug. The set is priced at $49.99 USD, weighing in with 470 pieces. Included are two of Lake-town’s structures and a longship.

The box contents contain no surprises: 4 numbered bags, 2 instruction manuals (2 bags per), a very small sticker sheet, and the loose boat mast. Bag No. 1 builds the ship, Bilbo Baggins, and Thorin Oakenshield. The ship is a great build, cleverly placing 2 rowboats stern to stern to create the hull. The boat is the twin of 7016 Viking Boat against the Wyvern Dragon from 2005′s Viking theme. I’m OK with that, though, since the Viking theme was one of LEGO’s coolest non-licensed themes in the last decade, and the 7016 was one of the better sets from that line. The few minor differences are simply swapping out a few  details, such as utilizing the newer smooth round shields instead of the old stickered Technic disks, plus the addition of a nifty brick-built furled sail. The shields here are printed with a Viking-esque double fish pattern which looks fantastic. There’s a large barrel in the fore of the longship to finish up the Barrel Escape scene from the last wave of sets (but still from the second film). Also included is a mini catapult in the aft. Bilbo is naturally equipped with Sting and the One Ring, and Thorin is armed with the gladius. As per usual, two extras of the One Ring are included, along with an extra oar and some typical spares.

Bag No. 2 builds the smaller of the 2 buildings. I’m not entirely sure what sort of building it’s intended to be. Part of it seems to be some sort of armory, containing a removable rack with extra weapons. The opposite half of the building has a small enclosed space, with a flip-up door/barrel of fish. The action is controlled via a knob on the side. There’s a ladder on the side that can function as a gangway between the two buildings. For both of the buildings, the pier is depicted by placing large plates atop 1-brick high pillars over blue plates, a visual language LEGO has been using since 1991′s 6267 Lagoon Lock-up. This bag also contains the only generic figure of the set, the Lake-town Guard, who is armed with a fancy pike.

Bags No. 3 and 4 together make up the larger structure, which is a jail. True to form with all LEGO prisons, there’s a lever-activated break-away wall segment for easy escapes. The neighboring house has an upper floor containing a simple table and lamp, though no ladder, and there’s a balcony above the cell which contains another mini-catapult. The entire building is open in the rear. All 3 of the stickers are used in this section. While I’m not typically a fan of stickers, the ones included here are pretty innocuous. There are wood plank stickers which are applied to 1×4 and 1×6 brown tiles, and the jailhouse sign hanging out front is stickered with a padlock image. I went ahead and applied all 3, since I can see them being useful in their stickered forms in other creations. There are also 2 more of the of the reddish-brown “Gothic” arches which I noted in 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army. Both this building and the previous are frosted with patches of snow, which looks quite nice and increases the visual interest of the buildings considerably. This segment includes the final 2 minifigures: heroic Bard and the Master of Lake-town, carrying a bow and a pearl gold key, respectively.

79013 Lake-town Chase

I understand that LEGO feels it necessary to include protagonist characters in every set in the theme, but I really wish this set had included more guards or townsfolk instead of Bilbo and Thorin. Thorin, at least, has a torso print that is unique to this set. Bilbo is identical to versions that have appeared in multiple previous sets. The generic Lake-town guard looks snappy in an ornate purple frock over armor. The helmet is a very detailed accessory, with a silver top, dark tan fur brim, and brown leather side flaps. The crest on the helmet is quite generic, so it won’t look out of place in other settings. The guard’s pike now has a hole in the bottom that is almost, but not quite, the size of a plume. You can fit a plume in, but it’s extremely tight and doesn’t seat all the way. It’s an odd change, but of no real consequence. The Master of Lake-town has a detailed suit of fine clothes and an ornate hat that incorporates his flowing hair. The hat has a plume hole in the top. The Master also wears a double-sided cape of dark tan and dark red, which looks fantastic. And finally, there’s Bard. In every trailer I’ve seen for The Desolation of Smaug, I can’t help but see Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner character from Pirates of the Caribbean. The semblance is perpetuated in the minifig version of Bard, who looks more like Will Turner than the official Will Turner minifig. Bard is sporting Qui-Gon Jinn’s hairpiece in black, which is a new color for that piece. The LEGO kid is still featured on the back of the instruction manuals, looking like an adolescent R. Lee Ermey as he screams at you to take the survey.

Lake-town Chase doesn’t seem to contain a lot of chase, though it does contain a nice bit of Lake-town. It’s a solid set; the buildings are well-built and looking nice, and the ship is great. There’s not much in the way of unique or new elements, aside from the arches, but the vast majority of the pieces are brown or dark brown, with plenty of log bricks, so if you want to stock up on brown, this is a good way to do it. Fans of the line will be interested in it for the 4 unique figures. Fans can create much more interesting wooden structures than the ones found in this set, but any equivalently sized fan-created set would cost at a minimum twice as much, so we can’t be too harsh on LEGO.

Be sure to also read our previous review of The Hobbit’s 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army.

The Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug: 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army [Review]

The first wave of kits are rolling out to accompany part 2 of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, which appears in theatres next month. This wave consists of 4 sets, priced at $20, $30, $50, and $70, respectively, and are available for preorder from Amazon with a release date of Dec. 1. We’re starting our reviews in the middle of the lineup, with 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army, the $30 set.

79012 Mirkwood Elf Army

79012 Mirkwood Elf Army is a small forest battlement manned (elfed?) by a squadron of 4 wood elves. It’s under siege by a duo of orcs, one of whom rides a warg. With 276 pieces for its $30 price-point, it fares well for a licensed set, and only gets sweeter when you consider that it includes 6 minifigures. It’s the Hobbit equivalent to the Lord of the Rings’ 9471 Uruk-Hai Army.

The box contains 2 numbered bags, a 10×10 octagonal plate with hole, an individually bagged warg (which is new here in dark brown), and one annoyingly crumpled instruction booklet that wouldn’t stay open without weights on the corners. The first numbered bag contains the warg rider, Elf-King Thranduil, and the generic Mirkwood elf, as well as the pieces for the tree-fort — ahem, I mean forest battlement. The forest battlement is a large, brick-built, hollow tree stump, concealing a cubbyhole for a barrel full of green gems — well, one trans-green gem and one trans-green 1×1 round plate. The most interesting part of the trunk is the use of the new 1x3x3 arch, aka the gothic arch, in brown, which is the first time that piece has appeared in brown, and is only the third color currently available. You get 4 of them in brown with this set.

Atop the stump, which is about 8 bricks tall, sits the 10×10 octagonal plate on a turntable. The allows the entire top portion to rotate around the clickyturntable. The top is covered in a mixture of crenellations and foliage, which disguise a giant catapult. The catapult is actually a fig-flinger, which seems far less useful in a siege than the traditional methods of throwing rocks and fiery bombs. When activated, a tree branch is thrown back, revealing the catapult. Oddly, the tree branch that’s thrown aside contains a bar 3L inside the brown 1×1 round bricks that make up the limb. Presumably this is for strength, but I tested the segment with and without the bar, and didn’t note any significant difference in strength. So it’s unnecessary, but extra parts are always a good thing.

 

Bag number 2 finishes out the set with the rest of the battlement’s wall, the two elf archers, and the remaining orc. The wall is small, with three articulated 6-stud segments for a total of 18 studs in length, and connects to the tree-fort via a pair of Technic pins. This allows it to be placed on either side of the tree-fort. Despite its small size, it’s entirely brick-built, with no “wall” type pieces, and in fact mostly consists of 1×2 sized bricks. The set consists entirely of earth-toned pieces (tan, dark tan, brown, dark brown, light bluish grey, olive, and dark green), which is terrific for those looking to flesh out their landscaping collections. The front of the wall utilizes the second unique arch element for this set, which is the 1x3x2 arch, aka the Prince of Persia arch, in light bluish grey. There are 3 of these in this set. It’s just not a proper action set these days without including a flick-fire missile, and the middle wall segment does not disappoint.

The wall has small segments on the back side for the elf archers to stand on while raining down arrows on the hapless orcs approaching, and the top has the same small crenellations as the tree-fort. There are also two awesomely-printed oval shields that serve as decoration on the wall’s exterior. A separate little rock piece contains clips for weapons, including a spare longbow. Finally, the charging orc is provided with a ladder to scale the wall.

79012 Mirkwood Elf Army

With 6 figures in the box, and the word “army” in the name, you know that the minifigures are the real point of this set. They are all up to LEGO’s usual high standard for minifig detail, with all 6 containing front, rear, and leg printings. The two elf archers and the generic elf have the same printing for the torso, legs, and head. The two archers, are, of course, armed with longbows, and each carries a quiver on his back. The generic elf gets a giant Prince of Persia dagger — there’s an extra in the box, so he can dual wield if you’re so inclined. Thranduil holds a standard long-sword, and gets a terrific olive green torso overlaid with an ornate champagne gold print. His hair/crown mold is the softer rubbery plastic so that it can fit over the cape in back, and is tan with the crown painted gold and the ears painted flesh. Elf-King Thranduil is unique to this set. The two Gundabad orcs are identical, except that the warg rider wears a spiky pauldrons piece and carries a spear instead of a notched scimitar. It’s unfortunate that among the 6 minifigs included here, there are only 3 different torsos/legs/heads. LEGO ought to have made at least one of the elves different from the other two in something besides accessories. Even a different head would have helped, if LEGO didn’t want to create an entirely new print for a torso.

All told, though, this set is a marvelous deal. 6 minifigures in any set is a pretty good bargain, and in a $30 set it’s all the better. The part selection is great, with no single-use pieces, and two highly-useful unique elements in great colors. This set is a must-have for fans of the line, or for anyone looking for a great parts pack.

Chima Roundup: Action Figures 70203, 70204; Speedorz 70107 [Review]

This week we’re doing things a little differently. I’ve gathered up three Chima sets that piqued my interest, mostly because they don’t often get much attention. We’ve got 70203 CHI Cragger, 70204 CHI Worriz, and 70107 Skinnet.

We’ll jump right in with 70203 CHI Cragger. With its 65 pieces priced at $14.99 USD, the price per piece is higher than the average System set, but this isn’t a System set. This line comprises action figures, ala Bionicle or Hero Factory. The 6 sets in this line each come in plastic bags with a zip-top. LEGO has moved to using bags instead of canisters for all of their action figures since dumping the Bionicle line, and it’s a real shame. The bags never look good on store shelves or pegs, and they’re hard to re-use, even with the zip-top.

As part of the Chima world where fierce animal factions battle each other, Cragger is a humanoid crocodile. I don’t follow the Chima lore, but I believe both Cragger and Worriz are “bad guys.” There’s not a lot of meat here sink your teeth into as far as building techniques, since these models are targeted to kids who don’t enjoy construction toys, or as an add-on to the more traditional Chima sets. The build is extraordinarily straightforward, consisting of a basic frame with armor pieces attached. The most interesting bit is the odd neck brace that cants the head forward to give Cragger a looming stance. There’s also the bit of chain dangling from the double-ended polearm. As the larger chain made of removable links, it seems highly useful if you could get enough of them; sadly you only receive four links here. The blades on the weapon were bent pretty sharply coming out of the bag, though they are made of quite malleable plastic. The armor pieces connect either with a clip that attaches to a ball joint, or with the double rod connection familiarized in the Hero Factory line. There were only a few pieces I didn’t recognize here. The head and jaw pieces, of course, are unique to this set, and in all likelihood will remain that way, though I think the castle line could get good use out of it as a dragon head. The weapon blades come only in this and the Worriz set I got, and in one Hero Factory set. They are pretty uninteresting pieces, though. Finally, there’s a new type of Technic connector; it already appears in a handful of sets from a variety of lines, but it’s still worth noting. I did also enjoy getting some ball joint pieces in olive green.

70204 CHI Worriz clocks in at only 55 pieces, for the same price as Cragger at $14.99 USD. The basic frame is pretty similar to Cragger, with the armor pieces slipping over the rudimentary structure. The wolf head seems eerily reminiscent of The Witcher’s emblem from the RPG series. The hands are ludicrously oversized, but the fingers are articulated, which is a nice departure for this sort of figure. The inside of the hands disguise a more traditional and sturdy Technic axle connection for the weapons. The weapon blade here was also bent upon opening the package, but it seems flexible enough to not cause issues. The saw blade on Worriz’s left hand I believe is intended as a shield, not a weapon, though it does spin, so perhaps it is both.

 

The back of each bag of the CHI maxi-figures pairs two kits together to create an even larger figure. Worriz and Cragger pair together to make either a giant Worriz or a giant Cragger. I was going to build them to see how interesting the giant figures were, but after finishing the two regular models, I ran out of excitement for building more simplistic action figures. The instructions have to be accessed on the LEGO website–I was hoping to find instructions in the back pages of the booklets, like Creator or Technic sets. I took a close look at the giant figures, though, and there was no innovation of design; essentially each figure just cannibalizes the other to add extra leg and arm joints to make a larger gangly figurine. It would have been far more interesting for each pair of sets to combine to create a completely new figure.

DSC_1066 copy

And finally that brings us to the System set in this roundup: 70107 Skinnet, one of the many Speedorz sets, and has 97 pieces for $14.99 USD. Speedorz, for the uninitiated, are tiny ripcord-powered vehicles that shoot unpredictably at various targets and ramps in some sort of game. The back page of the instruction manual attempted to explain the game using only pictures and a thumbs-up symbol, but I’m not sure I understood beyond pointing the Speedorz (is the singular Speedor, or is it still Speedorz?) at the included ramp to hit the wolf target. There’s something about picking up the little ball that falls out of the wolf target’s mouth, too, along with some cards that are included. Nevertheless, the ripcord-powered Speedorz work remarkably well, and provide great amusement to my cat as they shoot across the floor.

Anyway, the instructions start with building the Speedorz, which consists of a weighted wheel base, and a minifigure locked in via a top facade held on with Technic pins. At this point the instructions paused to let my little attention-deficit self go play with my Speedorz before even finishing the set–or in fact the Speedorz, which gets more decorations in the next step after the break. The ramp is well made but uninteresting. The wolf-head target is a nice bit of sculpting, and the mouth flies open when you hit the target. The real gem here, though, is the minifig, which is an anthropomorphic skunk. I’ll be honest, it was my interest in the minifig that led me to purchase this set in the first place. The figure is not only unique to this set, but there are no other skunks in Chima at all (or elsewhere in the LEGO oeuvre). This is, quite possibly, the cutest official minifig I’ve ever seen. Like other Chima figs, the head consists of a helmet over a traditional minifig head, both of which are printed all around. The tail is a neck bracket, and is made of a dual-injection swirl of white and black for a rather nice-looking finish. There is also a Fox made of the same pieces (but differently colored) in another Speedorz set, but I haven’t been able to find that set in a store yet, though it is available online.

Unless you are particularly invested in the Chima line, the CHI maxi-figs are probably not a good investment. Bionicle-style builders are, of course, a major exception, since many of the pieces are excellent for that, and the addition of joint pieces in olive is surely a welcome addition. The Speedorz set is also a likely pass, unless, like me, you can’t resist getting a minifig skunk. However, I’ve spotted frequent sales on both the Speedorz line and the maxi-figs line, so it may be possible to pick them up for a good discount.

Lego Star Wars 75024: HH-87 Starhopper [Review]

75024 HH-87 Starhopper is one of the sets from the summer wave of Lego Star Wars. The set contains 362 pieces and retails for $39.99, which you can buy from the LEGO Shop.

Here is my summary of the highlights of the set, which are elaborated in the review video below.


Pros:

  • Unusual color for a Star Wars ship
  • 3 unique minifigs


Cons:

  • Average play features
  • Hardly any new elements
  • Messy design on the wing pattern and the nose

This is an average Star Wars ship at an unremarkable price. I was originally drawn to its unusual color scheme. Unfortunately, the dark tan parts are not uncommon and the lime green tiles are very cheap to obtain. I do not recommend this set for its parts. Even for a display set, the design is messy at places such as in the pattern on the wings and the nose. For kids, it’s a sturdy model and will stand up to lots of play, and they will likely not be as picky as an adult builder when it comes to parts selection and design. Thus, this set is best suited for the young ones, as it is meant to be.

Assassination! by Brendan Powell Smith [Book Review]

Brendan Powell Smith takes a break from biblical action with a new tome released just in time for the holiday season that features great building and a heaping helping of the darker side of American presidential history. The book is entitled Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents and it is now available through the link or from the usual suspects who still cater to those of us who enjoy a hard copy. Brendan is an old crony of mine who sent me a free personalized copy of the new book knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to keep my big mouth shut about it. The first thing I noticed upon grabbing it from the mailbox was its satisfying heft and a larger format than the Brick Testament editions riding the bookshelf in my Legoratory. The book clocks in at 272 pages, features over 400 photos and retails for about $15 here in the States (depending on how you order it) and you can get a signed copy for about $20.

Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents

Brendan’s building has come a long way since the first edition of The Brick Testament some ten years ago and I think it’s fair to say he’s on top of his game in this book. Creating 400 scenes without getting burned out or taking short cuts seems like an amazing accomplishment to me so I found that the actual quality of the building exceeded my expectations. What I enjoyed most however, was the writing and the depth of information that Brendan provides on each assassination attempt while maintaining a smooth narrative flow. Being a history buff, I thought I was pretty well versed on the topic going in but in each of the 15 accounts (Lincoln, Kennedy and Ford get 2 chapters each) I definitely walked away with more knowledge on the events than I had going in. My favorite chapter of the book was actually the first one which detailed the 1835 attempt on Andrew Jackson’s life. Brendan has always had a knack for selecting just the right minfig for the right character, but never more so than with Old Hickory.

Assassination! sample page

There are a couple of nit-picky issues with the book both of which are cosmetic in nature and more an issue of printing than authorship. Over the course of 400 photos, there is an occasional difference in brightness between photos that can be a little distracting and there were 2-3 instances where the white printing on the black background was faded to the point of being difficult to read. Neither issue effected my enjoyment of the book, which I rank as my current favorite among the current crop of volumes produced by Lego nerds recently. Coffee table books with pretty photos are nice but I actually feel better informed after reading Assassination! and I’m certainly better armed for any future engagements in American presidential trivia.

Brendan Powell Smith

With a great price-point, solid building and great writing I can’t endorse this informative volume enough, constant reader and I encourage you to purchase the tome at your earliest convenience for yourself or as a gift. Perhaps the best testimonial I can give is that everyone I have shown it to has been unable to put it down without laughing and remarking about one of the factoids. If you have friends who are anything like mine, you’ll soon be refusing to loan it out. Let’s face it, people never return books.

Technic: 42005 Monster Truck [Review]

42005 Monster Truck is one of LEGO’s new assortment of Technic sets, and has an MSRP of $50 USD and 329 pieces. This year, LEGO entered an exclusive partnership with Toys R Us in the United States granting TRU exclusive retail rights to the Technic line. They’re still available online from sites like Amazon, and of course in the LEGO Brand Retail stores, but sadly, you will no longer find Technic sets at other retail establishments. That aside, LEGO’s new Technic line-up looks pretty cool.

42005 Monster Truck [Review]

I’m not really a Technic guy, so this is the first Technic set I’ve bought in quite a while. I’ve enjoyed Technic sets for as long as I’ve been a LEGO fan, but I gravitate toward building System, so naturally my purchasing skews that way as well. Like the Technic sets of old, most modern Technic sets follow the 2-in-1 box method, meaning that they have instructions for two complete models to be built with the same selection of pieces. The Monster Truck is, of course, the primary model here, but the set also builds a dune-buggy/hot rod type car. Thus far I’ve only had time to build the primary model.

With only 329 pieces, the price seems a bit high if you’re used to System sets, but many Technic pieces are more expensive to produce than traditional bricks, and at $0.15 per part, the price is actually typical of Technic sets. Many of the largest Technic sets have lower price-per-part ratios, but that’s largely because the piece count is buoyed by insane numbers of Technic pins, which are very inexpensive.

Opening the box frees three bags of pieces, a sticker sheet, an instruction book for each of the two models, and four loose tires and hubs. If I had been building a set any larger than this, sorting the pieces would have been useful, since scrabbling for Technic pins amongst all the pieces can be tiresome, but it wasn’t an issue with this size of set. As with many Technic sets, it’s initially difficult to even tell what aspect of the vehicle the instructions have you build first. Unless you peek ahead in the instructions (or are far more familiar with Technic than I am) you just start building some complicated mechanism. In this case, the first part is the central steering gearbox. This Monster Truck contains a cool feat of engineering; it not only has dual-axle suspension, but it also has four-wheel steering. This is accomplished via a special hinge piece that I can only assume is crafted just for this purpose. This piece is essentially a hollow ball-and-cup joint that allows an axle to be threaded through the center from each side, connected by a universal joint. It only appears in five sets, and this is by far the smallest of those, so the set may be of interest to some people based solely on that. There are two included here, one facing the rear and one facing the front, and each houses the axle that controls the steering mechanism. Both the front and rear steering assemblies are identical; in fact, it’s not until the body is built as a finishing touch that front and rear have any meaning.

The instructions then had me do something I have never before done (it’s probably not unique to this set, but I’ve never encountered it before). The instructions called for subassembly that served only as a temporary frame to hold the joints in place while other pieces were attached. Once attached, the subassembly was disassembled and the parts recycled into other areas later on.

The finished model is quite cool. The truck has an indistinct pick-up truck body, which, as I mentioned previously, serves only for aesthetics. The mechanical aspects of the model are completely functional without it, and as such, this kit is ripe for easy customization, turning the body into any sort of vehicle you wish. The suspension is supported by four springs, giving each axle a good deal of travel. The four-wheel steering is controlled via a small gear protruding from the roof. The ridiculously large tires make the truck exceptionally easy to roll around on the carpet or over almost any obstacles. I was left wishing that the truck had some additional play-feature though, like a bumper mounted winch.

42005 Monster Truck [Review]

All told, this is an excellent model. There’s not as much lasting play-value inherent in the instruction-built model as with the largest, motorized Technic sets, but there’s also not that hefty price-tag motorized kits have. With the exception of the new joints, the parts won’t be particularly exciting (but likely useful) to anyone with a good collection of Technic already, but this model would make an excellent foray into Technic kits for someone who has thus far stuck to System. I imagine it would also make a good gift to a young teenager who imagines they have outgrown LEGO.