Revisiting Löwenstein Castle from BrickLink’s AFOL Designer Program [Review]

There are only a few days left to purchase a set from BrickLink’s AFOL Designer Program (ADP), and having just taken a second look at the Wild West Saloon a few days ago, we wanted to give the same treatment to one of the program’s most successful models, Löwenstein Castle by builder Raziel Regulus. We’ll also take look back at the overall program.

In our early review of Löwenstein Castle, the finished packaging of the set was not yet ready from BrickLink. With the final product now available, let’s revisit the set and packaging, and take a look at the expansion of the base model that has been developed by the original fan designer.

The box

This first section will serve as an addendum to our initial review since we did not have the final product on-hand. Starting with the shipping box, I was pleasantly surprised with the outside packaging. The box is larger than I expected and emblazoned with the BrickLink logo. LEGO does not print their logo on the sides of their outer shipping boxes to prevent theft, but in contrast, I was already excited to open the box looking at the logo like it was a package from Amazon. Each APD set will ship in its own custom-sized cardboard box, which the company hopes is likely to lead to less damage during transit as well as adding to a more luxury feel overall.

Inside the cardboard exterior, we find a clean, modern box presentation featuring the set on a white background. I quite enjoyed the fact that the back of the box had a picture of the back of the set, almost a perfect opposite of the front while still being informative. The set is numbered as BL19001. There is no confusion that this is a set made by BrickLink and not LEGO (excepting the official LEGO 60th-anniversary logo on the upper right), but it is clear from the font choice to the holographic printed seal that this is a premium product developed with a whole lot of attention to detail.

Removing the outer sleeve (don’t worry, we will come back to that later), we find another high-quality black box similar to those used by the LEGO Architecture theme. The sleek box comes with even more subtle raised printing using BrickLink’s visual style as well as additional program information on the back and another gold holographic sticker sealing the set. Slicing open the seal felt like an event rather than just popping open what could have been just clear tape.

The contents

The lid of the box opens to reveal a set filled to the brim with 20 bags of parts as well as a thank you card, instruction book, several large plates and the exclusive LEGO element heavily promoted by BrickLink. The sealed bags are labeled using the same groupings of numbers and letters we encountered in the pre-production set, and again proved quite easy to organize before the build. I can only imagine the amount of work that went into distributing the parts into sealed bags. LEGO has automated machines that perform that task, but BrickLink is doing it the old-fashioned way. Hand sorting elements into bags is a laborious task that seems to have been perfectly executed by BrickLink–no small feat.

The special element included in each ADP set is a simple red 2×4 brick at first glance, but a closer inspection reveals it is indeed unique with three axle holes through the center and exclusive printing of LEGO’s 60th-anniversary logo. The underlying element has since been announced as part of LEGO Education’s new Spike Prime kit, but this is the first time it has been available in a set and likely the only time it will be printed by LEGO.

The instruction book is massive, laid out in landscape orientation with spiral binding on the side. It is clear that Löwenstein Castle pushed the boundaries of size and scale for the ADP, since this is a ring-bound book, not a perfect bound manual like some of the smaller models available from BrickLink. Inside contains more information about the set and program and the back has a sticker with a unique code to help validate any customer service needs.

The instructions also include a printed BrickLink color guide (handy for any AFOLs’ reference needs) to help distinguish how colors have been printed, though the instructions also give on-page guidance when things get particularly tricky during the build.

The build

To read about the actual build process and our thoughts, head over to our initial review of Löwenstein Castle. There we discuss the build techniques, how the set feels, and compare the building experience to that of a traditional LEGO set. Spoiler alert: we thought it was fantastic and almost close enough to feel like a real LEGO castle set except in a more authentic and organic style.

The outer sleeve

Remember that white outer sleeve of the packaging? Well, not one square inch has been overlooked to providing what feels like a luxury product with no extra space wasted. The sleeve unfolds to show a broad forest vista and treeline, the perfect setting for a medieval castle. The large size of the box is nearly doubled to provide an almost panoramic view, and the effect is well done.

Zooming in at the right angle, we got a shot with the backdrop that could almost be believable in real life, save for the seams on the outer sleeve and the bricks and mortar made out of plastic.

Overall, Löwenstein Castle is a prime example of what BrickLink’s AFOL Designer Program initially set out to achieve. The APD is a celebration of the incredible fan-created LEGO models that we at TBB highlight everyday, with BrickLink going to great effort to help share those designs with the broader fan community. The program would not have been possible without the support of LEGO as well, who supplied brand new bricks to create each kit.

If you haven’t purchased an ADP model yet, you still have a few days to do so, but I really hope that this whole project is repeated again. The attention to detail, the dedication to fan designs with little modification, and the high production quality have all proven that if BrickLink were to go through this effort a second time, the models would only get even more stunning. We are crossing our fingers.

The official expansion

I bet you thought that was the end of the review, right? Well, the folks at BrickLink also sent us the pieces to build Raziel Regulus’ official expansion to his original Löwenstein Castle. The expansion requires roughly 1,600 more pieces and serves as a way to really fill out the original model. The inventory list and instructions are currently available for purchase at Rebrickable for €13.00.  You will have to collect the pieces from either your own collection or buy them on BrickLink, but thankfully nothing is to too uncommon or rare. Using BrickLink’s automated cart-filling, our total was estimated to be around $240 USD to purchase all the pieces, but with some fine-tuning or the addition of some parts you already own, you may be able to get that lower.

The expansion is divided into three areas focusing on the base, an additional building and several façades that close off sections in the original model. The base features some incredibly clever techniques to create an organic shape while still leaving the back side perfectly straight to connect to the main model. The backside of the castle comes with a small armory, crenelated walls, and a wooden fishing dock. This side of the castle seems to be a bit lusher than the front, with more plants and even some cattails growing by the water between the buttressed grey walls.

A red and brown half-timbered house comes next utilizing similar techniques to the building in the main model. Though the castle is not quite minifig scale, a small living space is fashioned with sleeping quarters and a bunk bed. The roof is loose and rests on top of the house, also similar to how those connect in the main build.

Last up are a watch tower and two façades that close up the main tower and building from the main model. I felt a little like I was building puzzle pieces, and each piece perfectly matches its other half. The exterior window was quite fun to build and is remarkably sturdy, not taking any shortcuts to provide the conical shaping. The expansion also gives instructions on how to build new hinges to help replace a few bricks in the original model to better connect the two halves.

All together the official expansion looks good on its own and certainly feels like part of a whole. The architectural styling matches the main model provides even more realism of what a complete, authentic castle would look like.

You can really start to see the clever detail on the back of the expansion (minus the central tower façade for viewing ease). The tall building on the right features an alcove with a book and candles on top of a pantry on top of a hidden cave. The interior of the watchtower is also visible from this direction, as is the center of the courtyard with steps up to the residence.

Connecting the original Löwenstein Castle to the expansion is fairly easy once all modifications have been made. The two halves connect and complete the castle almost seamlessly. There are a few steps in the original model we had to reverse engineer to add a couple of Technic pin holes and façade hinges to make it work, but there are steps in the expansion instructions outlining exactly where they need to go and what you need to do. If you are going to build both, the set’s designer recommends building the expansion first and then building the main model incorporating the substitutions needed to connect the two, and we definitely agree.

Rotating the expanded castle to the front actually shows a strength of the original model–you can hardly tell the expansion is there. The design of the original Löwenstein Castle is dynamic enough that it doesn’t need the expansion to look good.

However, when the castle is rotated, the expansion starts to shine. The additional base and walls round off the original model with new detail and an expanded footprint which feels like this is what Löwenstein Castle was intended to be from the beginning. I personally can’t quite figure out if this is how the model initially was created, then sliced in half to fit BrickLink’s 2,000 piece count limit, or if the expansion is so strategically designed that it perfectly matches the main model. Either scenario is impressive.

To see how seamlessly the original model and the expansion fit together, take a look at the birds-eye view. The footprint of the expanded model looks more organic and compact than any official LEGO castle ever has, and reflects more realistically what a medieval castle would actually look like. It is hard to believe that this model is literally sliced in half from top to bottom in this shot, the seam is so well disguised.

Löwenstein Castle and the official expansion together total more than 3,600 pieces, and again, epitomizes the goal of the ADP to bring creative, fan-made LEGO creations to market. While the Löwenstein Castle model is sold out, the other sets from BrickLink’s AFOL Designer Program will be available for only a few more days through June 30th.

BrickLink sent The Brothers Brick this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

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