Thursday, 16 April 2015

Leaps and Bounds

Having posted an update on my MOC City layout last time out (you can read it here if you missed it) I'm willing to bet that there are a few sceptics out there who predicted another 2 year wait for the next installment.... I can't really blame you, to be honest - my track record on this project has been pretty abysmal - but on this occasion I'm delighted to prove you wrong. Truth be told, I actually couldn't wait to start working on it again, and despite a busy last few weeks since I last wrote I still managed to carve out a few evenings to dive back in and make some progress. OK, so perhaps not exactly leaps and bounds, but tangible progress nonetheless.


The obvious place for me to focus my renewed construction efforts was the front left corner of the layout which was looking decidedly bare, consisting as it did of just a bunch of dark bley baseplates held together by a few lengths of 9V track and a sprinkling of 1 x 2 and 2 x 2 dark bley tiles. As you can see in the pictures above and below (click to enlarge) I started out by finally completing the job of boxing in the track loop with light bley bricks to a height of 3 bricks. While this might not seem like a significant milestone, given my pitifully slow rate of progress to date - almost four and a half years to get to this point - it's still probably worth celebrating....


That minor milestone having been achieved, I continued to lay down successive layers of light bley brick, increasing the height of the inner and outer walls on the left side and front left corner of the layout to 7 bricks. It was a repetitive task but therapeutic nonetheless; people talk about being 'in the zone', and so far as building with LEGO is concerned I reckon that simple building tasks like this are about as 'in the zone' as it gets - you rapidly slip into autopilot and it feels almost hypnotic at times. Certainly the time seemed to pass very quickly.


The volume of brick needed to build on such a scale is considerable and easily underestimated, but having initially sketched out the design on LDD I already knew what would be required and had long since sourced the necessary elements - you can see some of them bagged up and ready to be pressed into use in the pictures above and below (click to enlarge).


Encouraged by my progress I pressed on and eventually got as far as raising the whole left side of the subterranean level of the layout up to full height (below - click to enlarge) before calling it a day. All that's left to do now is finish up the right side and then cover the lower track loop with a roof and the visible sections of the subterranean level will be complete. That'll be another milestone worth celebrating as at that point I'll finally be able to start work on the upper level where most of the action will be.


I've also now finished up the left side of the underground platform, thus completing the platform section adjacent to the tracks. I'm clearly not going to be able to fit many minifigures on it, but that having been said, there's probably about as much space on there as on some London Underground platforms so maybe it's more realistic than I'd anticipated....


One thing I've tried to remain mindful of is the question of portability. Sure, a 288 x 160 stud LEGO layout built on two levels is never really going to be truly portable, but I'm nevertheless taking the view that there's no point in just building something which will forever reside in my study unseen by anybody but me and readers of Gimme LEGO.... It's always been my intention to build with a view to eventually displaying the finished layout at events, and so to this end I'm trying to address potential portability issues as they arise rather than trying to figure it all out at the end.


A good example of this is provided by the underground station platform above. I figured that this would need to detach from neighbouring sections in order that it could be safely transported. It soon became evident however that the way I'd designed it in LDD would necessitate me literally breaking it apart for transportation and then having to rebuild it at my destination. I therefore needed to devise a different way of joining the sections together which would enable the platform to detach in a non-destructive fashion and I arrived at the solution below (click to enlarge).


As you can see from the picture above, the main platform section is attached by way of Technic pins and detaches with a minimum of fuss. The arch overhanging the front of the platform is part of the inner wall enclosing the track and will eventually help to support the roof and the structures above. When the platform section is attached, the lower aspect of this arch rests on a 1 x 1 tile which is part of the outer wall of the detachable platform section; this will help to support the weight pressing down on the arch while still allowing the detachable platform section to be easily removed.


So now there's finally somewhere for the minifig residents of my City layout to catch the train; my minifig alter ego seems to have missed this one, but there'll be another along in a minute....

Friday, 20 March 2015

Back on Track!

Long-time readers of this blog might recall that ages back I posted a number of entries about the design and construction of my own LEGO City Layout. The first time I posted about it (here) was way back in November 2010 when, while suffering from LEGO withdrawal after a few days away from home, I'd fired up my laptop, loaded up LDD and started to play around with a possible design. As described in that initial post, what I had in mind was a city layout on two levels, with a subway train running below ground and a cityscape on the upper level featuring an outer oval of railway track enclosing a central area. The central area would be filled with roads lined with modular buildings and hopefully some structures that I'd designed myself, plus some railway sidings and a small railway tunnel running through a LEGO rock formation. The upper level would be landscaped so that it didn't just look like a bunch of baseplates chucked together with a few buildings on top, and the icing on the cake would be to make the whole layout modular so that it was feasible to deconstruct, transport and reassemble it for the purpose of displaying it at events.


Over the subsequent weeks and months the basics of the design gradually came together in LDD as you can see from the June 2011 LDD screengrab above (click to enlarge); many of the original concepts, such as a train layout on two levels and a tunnel on the upper level running through a rock formation, were included in the LDD design. I also started to think about how I might integrate my modular buildings into the layout as you can see below (click to enlarge).


As the design continued to take shape it was time to turn my attention to the question of where in my house I could build my layout. I wanted it to be a permanent fixture that I could work on over time and enjoy, and ideally it needed to be in a location where it would remain undisturbed and unmolested when I wasn't working on it. I eventually identified an area of around 1.25 metres x 2.5 metres in my study; suitable tables were then identified, purchased, constructed and installed in the designated space (picture below), at which point the process of sourcing the necessary LEGO elements to build the layout really began in earnest.


LEGO elements for the layout soon started to arrive from Bricklink sellers and elsewhere, at which point building could begin. There were predictably a few changes of plan along the way; I toyed, for instance, with the idea of linking the upper and lower loops of track (more details and video here) but quickly discounted that notion when it became clear how much space that would require; I also decided to ditch road plates for brick-built roads to save on space and because I thought brick-build roads looked a lot better (details here); finally, I decided to electrify the subterranean track loop using LEGO's 9V train system when it became evident that I wouldn't be able to control trains remotely on the enclosed lower loop using a Power Functions remote control due to an absence of 'line of sight' (details and video here). Slowly and painstakingly, my layout started to materialise as you can see in the picture below.


There was a problem, though. If you compare the earlier photograph of the empty tables taken in June 2011 with the picture immediately above which was taken in April 2012 you can see that the area around the layout was gradually filling up with LEGO sets as all my available LEGO storage space had become exhausted. And as you can probably imagine, as my collection expanded further, the problem worsened, with more and more floor space taken up by LEGO sets. It consequently became harder and harder to physically get to the layout to work on it, and eventually all available space around the layout, and indeed on the tables themselves, became filled with sets piled one on top of another. It was obviously impossible to continue, and thus all building ground to a halt until a storage solution could be found. This really wasn't as straightforward as it might sound, and I soon realised that for the adult LEGO collector who's in it for the long haul, storage might just be the biggest, and potentially most expensive, challenge that they'll face in respect of their hobby. Suffice to say that the complete lack of progress on the project since the last update I posted in April of 2012 is entirely down to me grappling with the storage issue.


Challenging though the problem was, I had no choice but to get to grips with it, partly because I wanted to continue building my layout, but more importantly because my wife wasn't willing to tolerate my LEGO collection taking over the whole house, which it eventually would have done. So I had to bite the bullet - I identified an external storage solution, came to terms with the associated costs, and commenced the task of sorting through all my sets. Those sets which I considered to be the core of my collection - Star Wars and a few other licensed themes such as Indiana Jones and Harry Potter, modular buildings and other Exclusives, space-related sets (vintage and more recent), plus a variety of other favourites - remained at home while everything else was carefully catalogued, packed into numbered, double-walled boxes and placed into secure storage over a 6 month period. What I'll do with all the stored items is another important question, of course - if our much-discussed house extension ever materialises then it'll all come back home, but otherwise..... Even so, one step at a time - the task of identifying non-core items and duplicate sets, cataloguing, packing and storing is now nearly done, and it feels good. For the sake of posterity I'm a little frustrated that I didn't take pictures when things were at their worst and the layout was completely inaccessible, but I at least remembered to take the "work in progress" picture above - better late than never; admittedly much of the work had already been done by that point and I was on the home straight, but at least it gives you a flavour of how things were. A few weeks on from then and I'm finally organised and ready to crack on, as you can see from the picture below.


So, the wheel has gone full circle and I'm basically back where I was a couple of years ago, albeit better equipped to accommodate any further expansion of my LEGO collection but also definitely more restrained on the aquisitions front.... And to all those patient and intrepid souls who've continued to e-mail me since my last update in April 2012 and ask when I was going to post a progress report, I salute you - those reminders definitely helped to push me along, and I hope that this post provides an explanation of sorts.


So now we're all caught up and it's high time to get building again. Next time I post there'll hopefully be some real progress to report on this project, so stay tuned!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Jango Unchained

As some of you may have seen, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pre-release copy of Set 75060 Slave 1 at the tail end of last year which I built and reviewed over at Brickset. This Ultimate Collectors Series version of the ship is the latest and greatest in a long line of Slave 1 iterations released by LEGO over the years. The vast majority are versions of Boba Fett's Slave 1; these are most readily identified by their green and dark red or brown colour scheme, and by my reckoning LEGO have released at least seven versions of Boba Fett's Slave 1 not including advent calendar builds since they kicked off the Star Wars theme in 1999 (make that eight if you include the bag charm released back in 2008). In marked contrast, Jango Fett's Slave 1, which sports a predominantly white and dark blue colour scheme, has received far less attention from LEGO. Not including advent calendar builds, I'm aware of only two LEGO versions of Jango Fett's Slave 1 - the System scale Set 7153 Jango Fett's Slave 1 from 2002, and Set 4487 Jedi Starfighter & Slave I which is a 53-piece mini building set from 2003. I therefore thought I'd shine a light on the larger of these two sets and dig out my copy of Set 7153 Jango Fett's Slave 1.


The rather cramped box art (above) features the LEGO Slave 1 model emerging from what looks like an asteroid field; I assume that this is a nod to the dogfight between Jango's Slave 1 and Obi Wan's Jedi Starfighter over Geonosis which featured in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The front of the box bears the LEGO Star Wars logo in use at the time plus an 8-12 age recommendation, the set number and the set name in a stylistically-consistent font. The back of the box (below - click to enlarge) features multiple panels. Some of these panels highlight play features of the set, while others showcase a couple of rather eccentric alternate builds, advertising for a number of 2002 LEGO Star Wars offerings, and movie stills of Jango Fett and a youthful Boba Fett.


Opening one of the end flaps reveals a sturdy brown cardboard inner box which encloses the contents of the set and slides out. My copy of the set came with an approximately A4-sized double-sided advertising leaflet, a single instruction booklet and six bags containing LEGO elements. Five of the bags are opaque and numbered from 1 to 5, while the remaining bag is smaller, transparent and not numbered. You can see the business side of the advertising leaflet below, featuring a silhouette of Obi Wan Kenobi wielding his light saber while a LEGO version of his Jedi Starfighter streaks across the corner of the page. I've also found this flyer in a couple of other larger 2002 Star Wars sets, although it wasn't in the smaller 2002 sets that I checked while writing this review.


The flip-side of the advertising leaflet (below - click to enlarge) is rather less impressive, featuring a decidedly lacklustre selection of 2002 products from other themes such as Racers, Sports and Bionicle as well as panels advertising a couple of Playstation 2 LEGO tie-ins and LEGOLAND. If that's really the best that the company could offer in 2002 in terms of other themes and products then it's really no wonder that the business was in the doldrums around that time.


Moving swiftly on, you can see the front cover of the single instruction booklet below. Like the advertising flyer it's approximately A4 size, and contains a total of 52 pages including the front and back covers. The cover art is identical to that found on the front of the box, although the landscape orientation of the instruction booklet suits the image better, making it look much less cramped


A total of 46 pages are occupied by building instructions. Advertising for a selection of 2002 LEGO Star Wars sets occupies a further four pages of the booklet and you can see one of the ads below (click to enlarge). I always get a nostalgia kick out of looking at advertising materials for long-retired sets, and if you do too then you can find the rest of the ads from the booklet here.


There are a quite a few hard-to-find elements in this set and you can see a selection of them in the picture below (click to enlarge). A total of ten elements are exclusive to the set, including the dark blue 8 x 2 x 2 curved slope and printed left and right 8 x 3 x 2 open wedges; it's interesting that we get printed elements in this 2002 System set but have to make do with stickered body panels in the UCS Slave 1 set. Other exclusive elements include the dark grey round 1 x 1 brick with fins and modified 4 x 6 tile with studs on the edges, the sand green 6 x 1 curved slopes and left and right 6 x 2 wedges, the white 6 x 1 curved slope with control panel print, and the yellow printed 1 x 2 tile with chevron print. Marginally less rare are the 2 x 3 x 2 dark grey cupboard door, the left and right 8 x 3 x 2 sand green open wedges and the ribbed tan hose which have only ever appeared in this set and one other, while the dark grey 4 x 4 x 4 container, webbed 6 x 6 dish, modified 2 x 2 plate with pin and Technic driving ring extension in the top right of the picture plus the tan Bionicle foot wedge have only ever appeared in 3 sets. All elements in the picture, including the big trans-black curved windscreen, have appeared in 5 sets or less.


The set contains just two minifigures. Jango Fett is exclusive to this set, which is reflected in his high aftermarket value. The somewhat crude torso print is highly reminiscent of that sported by various versions of Boba Fett up until around 2009, albeit it's silver printed on a dark grey torso rather than green printed on light grey. It's the same story with his helmet, which appears to be a recoloured version of that worn by pre-2010 versions of Boba Fett. Although his legs are entirely generic in design, they're nevertheless exclusive to this minifigure by virtue of their unusual brown and violet colour combination.


You can see Jango from behind in the picture below. His torso doesn't feature any back-printing, but that's not of any consequence here since his pearl light grey rocket pack dominates the view and completely obscures the back of the torso. The rocket pack is moulded in one piece along with the helmet and again looks identical to that sported by pre-2010 versions of Boba Fett apart from the colour.


You can get a better look at the one-piece helmet and rocket pack via the side view below, plus an alternative view of the helmet print. I was somewhat surprised to discover that this is the only LEGO minifigure which has violet arms. Unlike the celebrated Cloud City version of Boba Fett there's unfortunately no printing on the arms, or indeed on the legs.


Jango's helmet can be removed to reveal his face (picture below) which is created by way of a yellow face print on a black minifigure head. This printed head is unique to the Jango Fett minifigure. I've always felt that the face print gives him a slightly creepy, ghostly appearance, and I seldom remove his helmet. The hair is provided as part of the set.


The other minifigure is a youthful Boba Fett. Once again this minifigure is unique to the set. While his hair and unprinted short medium blue legs have appeared in other minifigures, the printed medium blue torso and perhaps more surprisingly the head with "Straight Small Smile and Black Curved Eyebrows Pattern" are both exclusive to this minifigure.


As you can see from the picture below, there's no back-printing on the torso. While the back of Boba's head is obscured by his bob hairstyle, I can confirm that there's no alternate expression printed on there.


And so on to the Slave 1 build. Maybe I'm going soft in my old age but for the first time that I could remember I was caught out by the lack of part call-outs in the instructions - on a couple of occasions I moved on to the next step of the build having failed to finish the previous step. Anyway, my recent daliance with the UCS Slave 1 meant that I had a distinct sense of deja vu as I embarked upon this build. First to be constructed is the base of the ship and the cargo loading area. Despite the 13 year difference in release dates between Jango Fett's Slave 1 and the recent UCS version the older ship employs a number of the same building techniques as its UCS cousin, notably extensive use of wedges and curve bricks of various types to recreate the distinctive shape of the base. The cargo loading ramp hides a secret compartment containing 3 unprinted trans-neon orange minifig heads which I assume are supposed to be seismic charges or bombs of some description. These can be ejected from the underside of the ship as we'll see later.























With the base of the ship completed the next job is to assemble the simple gravity-driven mechanism which keeps the cockpit area and wings horizontal regardless of whether the ship is docked on its base or upright in flight. The white Technic axles you can see emerging from either side of the ship in the pictures below (click to enlarge) are part of this mechanism and provide the attachment point for the wings. The dark grey hinged plates flush with the hull on either side of the ship open to reveal a pair of compartments each of which contains a retractable missile launcher that you'll see in a later picture. The sides of the hull are gradually built up during this stage of the build, and a rudimentary cockpit is constructed featuring a number of printed elements.
























The next step is to construct the wings and attach them to the protruding Technic axles as illustrated in the pictures below (click to enlarge). On each side of the ship the point where the wing attaches is enclosed by a large black cowl bolted on to the hull. The wings make ingenious use of the tan Bionicle foot wedges that I mentioned earlier on in my round up of parts of interest.
























Things are also going on underneath the ship during this stage of the build. Most notably, what appears to be an escape pod is quickly assembled and slides into a slot in the underside of the ship where it's held in place by a magnet. The underside of the escape pod looks similar to a dark grey 4 x 4 plate and can be seen in the picture below surrounded by seven trans-neon orange boat studs. The magnet is strong enough to hold the escape pod securely in position, but not so strong as to make removal difficult. Earlier on I mentioned a secret compartment beneath the cargo loading ramp containing what are presumably supposed to be seismic charges or similar; you can see towards the bottom left of the picture how the underside of the ship opens up to allow these to be dropped.


You can see a close-up of the escape pod below. A few of the elements highlighted earlier in my description of parts of interest are used in its construction, notably the dark grey 4 x 4 x 4 container and a couple of 1 x 4 x 3 2/3 trans-black hinge panels. There's a magnet in a holder attached to the top of the escape pod; this as previously described holds the pod inside the body of the ship, and also allows it to be easily removed if desired.


We're on the home straight now. The canopy is attached at this stage, after which the rear section of the body is assembled and bolted on, and then we're done (pictures below - click to enlarge). All told it's a pretty quick and straightforward build, and I reckon the finished result is a pretty good likeness at this scale; OK, so the canopy seems a bit too large and some of the angles and curves aren't quite right, but all things considered it's a decent effort.  While I think it's fair to say that many of the older LEGO Star Wars sets really haven't aged that well, this one has definitely stood the test of time better than most in my opinion.



The ship incorporates an impressive number of play features, many of which you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge). The canopy can be removed and replaced fairly easily to provide access to the cockpit; it's actually held in place by clutch alone but the ship can be happily swooshed without it falling off. Then there's the previously described feature whereby the wings and cockpit automatically rotate so as to remain horizontal regardless of what angle the ship is at; notably, the all-singing, all-dancing UCS Slave 1 set can't accomplish this feat.... There are a whole host of hatches and compartments which can be opened to provide storage space or reveal weaponry, principally a pair of retractable missile launchers, and further firepower is provided by a pair of twin blaster cannons which can rotate through 360 degrees. Finally there's the aforementioned escape pod which can be effortlessly jettisoned and subsequently reattached.


I figured that some readers might be curious to see how Jango Fett's Slave 1 compares with the recently released Ultimate Collectors Series version of Slave 1 so I photographed them together as you can see below (click to enlarge). There's no doubt that we've been spoiled by the spectacular UCS version which I think improves upon the older System scale versions in many ways. The canopy's the right size, for a start, and I think it nails the various curves and angles far better as you'd probably expect at this scale. That having been said, Jango Fett's Slave 1 scores points for having printed parts rather than stickers, not to mention the ability to automatically keep its cockpit and wings horizontal. Size-wise the UCS version is about 50% bigger and it contains around three times the number of pieces.


Set 7153 Jango Fett's Slave 1 contains 360 pieces and two exclusive minifigures and was released in 2002 at a retail price of £44.99/US$50. A complete, boxed example will cost you nearly twice that now on Bricklink, although you may find one cheaper on eBay if you keep your eyes peeled. It's still worth picking up in my opinion, if you can stomach the cost.


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Box Office

One of the better-received retired set reviews that I've featured on Gimme LEGO over the years was my review of Set 4720 Knockturn Alley, a 2003 Harry Potter offering, which I published back in February 2012. I've been meaning to revisit the Harry Potter theme ever since, and having recently stumbled upon my copy of Set 4729 Dumbledore's Office while I was having a sort out I thought I'd dust it off and take a fresh look at it here.


My copy of the set is unfortunately a little the worse for wear, as you might be able to see in the pictures above and below. I've previously commented that of the multitude of used sets that I've purchased over the years the Harry Potter sets almost invariably seem to be the shabbiest, and this one is no exception. The front of the box features the set contents superimposed on a remote-looking landscape; an almost unfeasibly young-looking Daniel Radcfliffe a.k.a. Harry Potter gazes out from the bottom right corner, and the box also features a scroll carrying the 8-12 age recommendation and Harry Potter theme branding including the distinctive movie font. The back of the box (below - click to enlarge)  is notable for a couple of panels containing alternate builds, something you'll generally only see gracing the packaging of Creator 3-in-1 and some Technic sets these days.


The cover of the instruction booklet (below - click to enlarge) is similar to the front of the box, although the picture of the set contents is more neatly framed and the age recommendation and picture of the youthful Harry Potter are absent.


The back cover (below) contains advertising for a selection of first wave Harry Potter sets from 2001 and 2002. When you see the sets laid out this way it's a reminder that they're supposed to come together to make a mega-Hogwarts campus; I particularly like the way that different sets are designed to be combined to create larger and more impressive buildings, for instance elements of Set 4730 The Chamber of Secrets forming a subterranean level beneath Set 4709 Hogwarts Castle and also providing Set 4733 The Dueling Club with a roof - very neat. Having managed to aquire most of the first wave sets, I've been promising myself for years now that I'll build and suitably arrange them, but so far I've not got round to it. One day....


In addition to 54 pages of building instructions and a couple of pages of advertising, the single instruction booklet also contains three pages which illustrate some of the set's play features, and five pages of alternate builds such as the serpent, or maybe it's a Basilisk, below (click to enlarge). With respect to the building guide itself, it takes a few moments to figure out the blacks from the dark greys from the light greys but once you've worked that out the instructions are easy to follow despite the lack of part call-outs.


The set was released in 2002, back in the days before LEGO switched light grey, dark grey and brown elements to their modern light bluish grey, dark bluish grey and reddish brown equivalents. You can see a selection of the rarer elements contained within the set in the photograph below (click to enlarge). A few of them - the dark grey dragon wing, horse battle helmet and scorpion, and the trans-purple printed 4 x 4 dish - are unique to this set. Others such as the brown torch and printed brown 1 x 4 x 3 panel, the dark grey 1 x 12 x 3 arch, the light gray modified 4 x 10 brick with cut corners and 4 x 4 x 6 quarter cylinder with stone wall pattern, and the printed sand green 2 x 2 x 2 box door, have only ever appeared in this set and one other. Other notable elements include the sand green 6 x 8 x 9 tower roof which has only appeared in 5 sets, most recently the fourth version of Hogwarts Castle released in 2011, and the sand green 1 x 2 tile with grille which has surprisingly only ever appeared in 3 sets including this one.


The set contains 3 minifigures, the first of which is Harry Potter (below - click to enlarge). This version of the Harry Potter minifigure, in which he wears his school uniform, has appeared in a total of 8 sets released in 2001 and 2002. The torso, which isn't back-printed, features a prominent Gryffindor shield print; it's fairly simple by today's standards and it's shared with a number of other minifigures including versions of Ron Weasley and Hermione Grainger. Harry's black cloak with star pattern is exclusive to the first wave Harry Potter sets where it's worn by a variety of different characters. His light grey legs are generic and unprinted and his hair is similarly ubiquitous.  Harry's single-sided face print, featuring his round spectacles plus the trademark red Lightning Bolt scar on his forehead, has graced a total of 14 different versions of the Harry Potter minifigure.

The version of Albus Dumbledore in this set (below) has appeared in a total of four sets released between 2001 and 2002. The single-sided torso print and printed legs are unique to this minifigure in purple, although the same prints have also appeared on a light purple torso and legs in a different version of the Dumbledore minifigure. His beard and hair are commonly available elsewhere, but his single-sided head print has only graced three minifigures, all of them versions of Dumbledore, and it only appears printed on a yellow head in this one set. His purple fabric cape has seen better days and it's exclusive to this minifigure.

The third minifigure is Professor McGonagall (below), and it's one of only two minifigure versions of Minerva McGonagall ever produced. This version of the minifigure has only appeared in this set plus a rare promotional set apparently distributed exclusively in Hong Kong. Minerva's printed skirt, made up of a 65 degree 2 x 2 x 2 slope, and her printed torso, are predictably unique to this figure, as is her single-sided head print. Her green wizard hat is rarer than I expected, having only appeared as a part of this minifigure and one other, while her green cape has graced a total of six minifigures to date.

Once the minifigures have been assembled it's time to get to work on Dumbledore's Office itself. First to be constructed is the lower part of the structure. A defining feature is that the different sections are connected by hinges meaning that the building can be opened up to allow access to the interior. You can see the lower part of the structure opened up below (click to enlarge). This reveals some of the interior features such as the prominent spiral staircase and a rotating bookcase and safe. Looking at the picture below, I'm immediately struck by the similarity to the Star Wars Jabba's Palace set that I reviewed back in April of 2013 in terms of the overall configuration and colour scheme.


You can see the lower part of Dumbledore's Office closed up below (click to enlarge). When the structure is closed a visitor is faced with an imposing facade which features a pair of dragon wings and horse head armour. The two halves are held in the closed position by a 'key' consisting of a scorpion attached to a couple of Technic axles - a nice touch! I'm a fan of the sand green detailing which brings to mind the recent Lord of the Rings and Hobbit sets.


The rear of the lower part of the structure is shown below (click to enlarge). The central section of wall featuring the trans-purple bricks is hinged at the top and can be raised to reveal a secret passage at the base of the spiral staircase.


With the lower section completed we now move on to construction of the upper section. Once again this section opens up via the use of hinges to reveal the interior which can be seen in the picture below (click to enlarge). The interior features a number of play features, most notably a brown panel in the back wall which is printed to look like a cabinet containing potions and which rotates about its axis to reveal a shiny gold key. There's also a chair which rotates and a small brown table, the top of which lifts up to reveal a secret compartment.


The interior is still visible when the structure is closed (picture below - click to enlarge). The printed trans-purple dish at the base of the roof is attached to a simple mechanism whereby turning a knob at the back of the structure makes the dish and the trans-red, blue and yellow elements above it rotate.


You can see a rear view of the upper section below (click to enlarge). If you look closely at the area beneath the small arched window you can see a sand green cone poking out; it's this that you turn in order to rotate the trans-purple dish inside. You can also see the back of the revolving potions cabinet mentioned earlier which has the gold key attached to it.


The completed upper and lower sections stack as you can see below, reaching a total height of almost 40 cm. The top section is set back a little from the lower section, and the spiral staircase winds upwards towards the floor of Dumbledore's inner sanctum; the steps stop short, however, and there's an untidy-looking gap between the upper and lower sections.


The completed structure also looks rather untidy from the back (below), with an ugly gap again visible between the upper and lower sections. The unfinished feel is accentuated by the fact that the light grey curved panels at the rear are unprinted.


You can see the finished model below complete with minifigures (click to enlarge); for all my complaints about the lack of polish I think that Dumbledore's Office really comes into its own when viewed from the front with both levels opened up and the various play features revealed.


I think it's fair to say that this set is aimed squarely at the younger builder with play in mind rather than AFOLs looking to display the finished model. On the one hand the build undoubtedly has a crude, unfinished feel to it, with jarring gaps between the upper and lower levels and beneath curved panels and fence sections. There's also a preponderance of large elements and a few dubious colour choices. The flipside of the coin is that as a play set there's a lot to like thanks to a generous selection of play-features including the ability to open up the model and a number of mechanisms, secret compartments and passages to explore.


Set 4729 Dumbledore's Office contains 446 pieces and was released in 2002 with a recommended retail price of £44.99 / US$50. I picked up my used, boxed copy of the set from eBay back in 2009 for a little over £10 plus shipping; a quick look at eBay now suggests that you'll be looking at nearer £50 / US$70 for a boxed example these days, with similar prices to be found on Bricklink, although you'll be able to get it cheaper if you're willing to forego the box. Definitely one for collectors rather than builders, I'd say.