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.

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.

Full of sly humor, The LEGO Movie is a must-watch for all LEGO fans – especially adults [Review]

I’ll admit it: I had very low expectations for The LEGO Movie. The first trailers were annoying more than anything else, and — out of context from the movie — I wasn’t especially impressed with the corresponding sets (which LEGO sent us to review a while ago — they’re actually pretty great parts packs). But this evening I joined scores of local LEGO fans, press, and others at an early screening, and the movie won me over from the first moments on screen.

The LEGO Movie

Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (whose previous writing/directing collaboration is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), The LEGO Movie begins when Emmet (Chris Pratt) wakes up one morning and heads to his construction job, following instructions every step of the way. You can infer most of the lessons that the movie will convey from that premise alone — yes, there are plenty of nods to creativity, teamwork, and other wonderful sentiments. But there’s a lot more to this movie than bang-you-over-the-head morals in the vein of Toy Story 3.

The LEGO Movie: BatmanFirst and foremost, the movie is full of subtle references to LEGO arcana from the past 35 years. I won’t spoil any of the surprises, but the inclusion of a blue Classic Space minifig with a cracked visor should be evidence enough that this isn’t just a movie for boys aged 6-12 whose idea of LEGO is Ninjago and Legends of Chima.

Similarly, and less obscurely, well-timed cameos from completely unexpected parts of the LEGO universe (no, not that LEGO Universe) had the audience roaring with approval. The voice acting is impressive, but don’t go looking up the credits yet or you’ll spoil many of the surprises. And forget Ben Affleck, I want Will Arnett as the next Batman.

The animation style is rather striking. Unlike the flat, uniform style we’ve all gotten used to in LEGO video games, the move essentially looks like it was animated with real bricks. More interestingly, the pieces — especially the minifigs — show lots of play wear. The minifigs also move with the limitations inherent to their form; you’ll never see a minifig bending at the knee or flexing a claw hand.

The LEGO Movie: Blue Spaceman

There’s a final plot twist that comes as a complete but totally natural surprise. With plenty of foreshadowing, this final twist fits perfectly with what you’ve seen throughout the rest of the movie — an indication of good writing by Lord and Miller. Even better, it’s clear that they’re very aware of patterns of thinking among adult fans.

Overall, I can unreservedly recommend The LEGO Movie. This isn’t a movie about LEGO the beloved brand or corporation. Nor is it really a movie about bricks or even creativity. Fundamentally, The LEGO Movie is a movie for LEGO fans and about LEGO fans. It’s also just plain entertaining. Set aside your preconceptions and go see it.

The LEGO Movie opens this Friday, February 7th.

As a final note, I’m interested to learn how LEGO builders we know were involved in making the movie — Facebook lately has been full of subtle references to recent projects with a forthcoming reveal and early cast & crew screenings. Watching the credits, it was great to see designer Matthew Ashton get an Executive Producer credit.

I’d love to hear what you think, too. Feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments, but please keep the discussion spoiler-free through opening weekend.

Lego Simpsons House 71006 [Review]

The Lego Simpsons House was only revealed less than than two weeks ago and it’s already available for sale. The set includes 2523 pieces and retails for $199.99. You can order it right now from the LEGO Shop.

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


Pros:

  • Minifigure heads are made of hard plastic (as opposed to the rubbery kind) and the printing is precise.
  • Colorful and detailed interior, each room is a vignette
  • Features some useful building techniques
  • Furnitures are removable and all rooms are tiled
  • Good price per piece ratio


Cons:

  • It’s the only Simpsons set and it’s not cheap

This is an unusual set in that it doesn’t fit in line with the other sets by Lego. It is a licensed stand-alone exclusive that suits the tastes of serious builders. At the same time, the numerous details make this a great playset as well for the kids. The interior is the true highlight of the set, featuring numerous well-designed details and detachable furniture. The colorful pieces and tiles are great additions to one’s collection. I cannot think of flaws pertaining to this set except that it is pricey; even so, it contains enough pieces to justify the cost. Since this is a Lego exclusive, you will not be able to buy it for cheaper than the retail price, all the more reasons to get the set now.

Lego Star Wars 75018 JEK-14’s Stealth Starfighter [Review]

75018 JEK-14’s Stealth Starfighter is one of the sets from the 2013 summer release of Lego Star Wars sets. It contains 550 pieces and retails for $69.99, which you can buy from the Amazon.

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


Pros:

  • Wing-folding mechanism with simulated hydraulics
  • 4 unique minifigs


Cons:

  • High price per piece ratio
  • Average overall selection of parts

This is a decently-designed Star Wars ship that suits well for display or swooshing. The wing folding mechanism is a highlight, but the rest of the play features are typical of a starfighter. I do not recommend this set for its parts due to the high price per piece ratio. Amazon currently has the set for 20% off, which is how much I would like to see this set priced at to begin with.

LEGO Mars Curiosity Rover reviewed with Set Designer Stephen Pakbaz

On January 1, LEGO released the newest in the CUUSOO line, the Mars Curiosity Rover. Set designer Stephen Pakbaz submitted his design to CUUSOO, and in due time the project reached it’s 10k votes. The set was revealed at BrickWorld 2013.

We’ve previously interviewed Stephan about his work on the LEGO model–and the real Mars Curiosity Rover, currently broadening our horizons on Mars.

This fantastic video, from Your Creative Friends reviews the new set with Stephen’s walk through, explaining the instruments and their purpose while comparing the final set design to his original design. I highly encourage you to check it out!

LEGO CUUSOO 21104 Mars Curiosity Rover
icon is currently back-ordered, but only available from the LEGO Shop online. Click through the link to order it for yourself!

LEGO Disney Princess: Cinderella’s Dream Carriage 41053 [Review]

Next up in the Disney Princess line is Cinderella’s Dream Carriage, coming in at $29.99 and 274 pieces. I admit. I was really, really looking forward to this one. I was not disappointed.
Set

The Build
This build took three bags, but only one instruction book. The first bag was the fountain and bench, while bags two and three built the carriage itself.
Bag One

The fountain and bench are pretty straightforward. The fountain uses four of the new heart jewel pieces.

The carriage was quite fun to build. While not particularly challenging, it does use the parts to shape itself into the round pumpkin-ish shape you’d expect from Cinderella.
Bags Two, Three: The Carriage

The Parts
There are definitely some good things in this: the gold decorative bit, the heart jewels, and the new carriage wheels.
New Wheel

I am happy to report the silver filigree is printed onto the blue slopes.
Detail

Overall, I definitely recommend this one. It’s a fun little build, and the majority of the parts are useful bricks and plates, with some nice printed slopes. I am slightly less enthusiastic about the Cinderella mini-doll, as I prefer the Merida mini-doll, but I think overall it doesn’t detract from the set.

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.