Monday, 10 October 2016


Back in June of this year I posted a review of Set 10224 Town Hall (below). One of the reasons for building the Town Hall when I did, and indeed building Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant a few months earlier, is that I was planning to use these and other Modular Buildings to populate my work-in-progress LEGO city layout, at least until such time as I got around to designing and building a few suitable MOCs of my own to take their place.

Having finished building the Town Hall and placed it alongside a couple of other Modular Buildings, however, I started having second thoughts about dropping it into my layout. It dwarfed the surrounding buildings and just didn't look right positioned alongside them. So what to do with it, then - should I just omit it from my layout? Thankfully an alternative solution occurred to me. On account of the Town Hall's clock tower, its dark orange colour and its arched windows I've always thought that it was vaguely reminiscent of London's historic and spectacular St. Pancras railway station (image below from Architecture Week); given that I was planning to include a railway station in my layout, why not try to repurpose the Town Hall into a railway station?

The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea, although it was immediately evident that there would be a fair bit of work to do. For starters, the Town Hall would have to be expanded substantially to do the job. You can see the intended location of the station marked in blue on the picture of my layout below. The plan is for the station to occupy a total area of 96 studs by 48 studs, which would mean expanding the Town Hall to three times its original width and also constructing a 16-stud wide canopy at the rear to overhang the station platform and railway track.  

So how to proceed? Well, I'm a big fan of sketching things out virtually before diving into the bricks, and my sketchpad of choice is LEGO's own virtual building tool LDD which you can download for free from here if you don't already have it. The first thing I needed to do was to find an LDD file for the Town Hall, and in this regard I was indebted to Eurobricks which has a comprehensive library of LDD files of official sets which have been virtually assembled by Eurobricks members. Having located and downloaded the Town Hall LDD file I then spent a couple of hours on LDD virtually sketching out an idea for an expanded version which might conceivably fit into my layout. You can see a screen grab of my sketch below - I basically extended out the ground, first and second floors of the Town Hall, leaving an opening at ground floor level to provide access to a staircase down to the pre-existing subway platform below. A mirror image of the extension would attach to the right side of the Town Hall, creating a building which would occupy the best part of three baseplates in width.

Having arrived at a concept that I was basically happy with I was too impatient to develop the sketch any further and instead turned my attention to the job of sourcing the bricks I'd need to translate the concept into a full-blown LEGO model. Ideally I'd have taken the easy route and just shelled out for two additional Town Hall sets to part out for the elements that I'd need, but the price of the set has skyrocketed since its retirement, to the point where I'd likely have had to stump up between £350 and £400 for just a single unboxed copy. I therefore resigned myself to ordering the elements that I didn't already have from Bricklink and set about putting together a wanted list. This would of course have been a lot easier if I'd completed my LDD design rather than lazily skipping most of it, but as it was I ended up having to make a lot of educated guesses regarding of how many of each element I'd need. With my distinctly flaky wanted list drawn up, I placed a couple of pricy Bricklink orders and waited for the elements to arrive which they duly did over the next couple of weeks.

You can see the ground floor modifications above (click to enlarge). First of all I swapped out the Town Hall's tan baseplate for a dark bluish grey one; I anticipate that a small section of the side edge of the baseplate will be visible in the final build and I knew that I'd get irritated by the sight of a thin sliver of tan where there shouldn't be any. I then demolished the front left corner of the ground floor so I could attach the arch, after which it was basically a case of following my LDD sketch. My intention was as much as possible to incorporate architectural features and visual cues from the original Town Hall in the hope that my modifications didn't jar too much and the building ended up looking like a coherent whole rather than a Town Hall with a bunch of random stuff tacked on to it. Consistent with the original Town Hall design each floor of the building is topped off with tiles so that it can be readily detached from the floors above and below; this obviously provides access to the interior as well as making the model a bit more portable which will be welcome in the event that I ever manage to finish the layout and need to transport it. With the front of the ground floor extension complete I moved on to the first floor extension (below).

The first floor extension incorporates three additional windows which are pretty much identical to those found in the Town Hall's first floor, right down to the window boxes and the use of white car mudguards for the cornicing. I also constructed a variation on the Town Hall's central first floor doorway and balcony on the front left corner of the extension which required a bit of modification to get it to fit neatly on top of the corresponding section of the ground floor. As mentioned in my review of the Town Hall some of the elements found in the set such as the dark orange 1 x 8 x 2 arch, which you can see above the balcony, are fairly uncommon although thankfully they aren't very expensive on Bricklink; the dark orange modified 1 x 2 log bricks that you can see between the windows are also fairly uncommon, appearing in just 13 sets in total, but again they're thankfully inexpensive and also surprisingly adundant on Bricklink which is a relief given how quickly I burned through them while building this floor.

My strategy for the second floor extension (above) was basically the same as that for the first floor - build some additional windows similar in design to those in the Town Hall and then reproduce the central second floor feature, in this case a larger window with ornate cornicing and a windowbox, and modify it slightly to fit on top of the corresponding section below. I also continued out the characteristic cornicing pattern, consisting predominantly of white modified 1 x 2 bricks with groove, and the light bluish grey detailing beneath the windows, into the extension. The dark orange 1 x 4 arches, which you can see above the smaller windows, were probably the hardest elements to source for this part of the build; they've only appeared in two sets to date including the Town Hall and aren't stocked by many Bricklink sellers.

And so finally on to the roof (above). I did initially consider including a smaller version of the central clock tower on the front left corner of the roof, and I even had a play with a few designs, but the idea was eventually abandoned as everything I tried looked too fussy and it became evident that it wasn't really necessary. I did however retain the design of the balustrade running along the front of the roof, and I also decided to mark the construction of my Town Hall extension with the date that I started work on it; creating the '2016' numbering in the same style as the Town Hall's original '1891' provided an interesting challenge and I was glad that I had my Town Hall instruction booklets to hand.

With the extension on the left side of the Town Hall completed to my satisfaction the process of mirroring the design on the other side of the building should be considerably more straightforward, although I strongly suspect that I've underestimated how many bricks I'll need so another Bricklink order will likely be required. I also have to substantially modify the rear of the Town Hall to incorporate a station platform and a canopy to overhang it. I'll post an update when I've made further progress.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Every Cloud....

Around this time last year Bricks Culture editor Tim Johnson and I were discussing which collectible set I should write about for a Bricks Culture "Sets to Search For" article, and for a number of reasons we settled on Star Wars Set 10123 Cloud City. The article duly appeared in Bricks Culture Issue 3, as reported by me here in a Gimme LEGO posting. That was back in October 2015, and given that almost a year has now passed I asked Tim if he'd mind me reproducing the article here on Gimme LEGO and he generously agreed. So here it is below, together with a few extra pictures that I shot prior to disassembling the set - enjoy!

If you conducted a survey among LEGO Star Wars fans and asked them which set they would most like LEGO to remake, there’s every chance that Set 10123 Cloud City would be high on the list. In a theme notorious for regular rehashes of the most important Star Wars vehicles and locations, the tibanna mining colony of Cloud City, which floats above the gas giant Bespin, is unusual in having been immortalised in LEGO on only one occasion to date, and that was back in 2003.

At the time of its release, Set 10123 Cloud City was the biggest location-focused Star Wars play set that LEGO had ever produced; prior to that the largest LEGO Star Wars sets consisted of detailed versions of Star Wars vehicles, with key scenes from the movies generally consigned to small vignettes in modest, inexpensive sets. The Cloud City set is effectively a collection of vignettes representing some of the key scenes from Star Wars Episode V that were played out in Cloud City locations. These include Han Solo in the carbon freezing chamber, Lando Calrissian selling out Han and Leia to Vader in the conference room, and Luke’s lightsaber confrontation with Vader prior to the celebrated paternity revelations. It was the first time that LEGO had collected together a number of vignettes and tried to fashion them into a cohesive set.

Truth be told, LEGO’s efforts weren’t entirely successful. Unlike the later 2008 Set 10188 Death Star which skillfully fused multiple vignettes into a cohesive and instantly recognisable model in its own right, Cloud City has the feel of a collection of disparate modules which, while connected physically, seem stylistically disconnected with little in the way of shared DNA between them. Furthermore, the overall layout of the model, with its linear arrangement of modules augmented by a right-angled spur halfway along which gives rise to a walkway and a huge landing platform, feels more like an awkward sprawl rather than a cohesive whole. And about that landing platform…. It really is huge, occupying fully half of the set’s footprint, and it’s also empty and literally crying out for an appropriately scaled Millennium Falcon or Slave 1 model to occupy it. Problem is neither are included - a critical omission. It could reasonably be argued that the inclusion of one of these iconic craft would have significantly increased the projected cost, and since LEGO sets are designed to a target price this would have meant significant sacrifices elsewhere in the model. You suspect however that some prospective purchasers might have baulked at parting with US$100 or the UK equivalent seeing how so much of the footprint was given over to a barren landing platform.

On the plus side, the build is enjoyable, not least because of the variety afforded by the different modules, and there are some fun play-features included. The carbon freezing module, for instance, incorporates a winch mechanism for lowering Han into the carbon freezing chamber, followed by another mechanism for switching him with a black printed 1 x 2 x 5 ‘Han Solo in Carbonite’ brick which then emerges when the winch is reversed. Also, a number of quasi-destructible features are included in another of the modules with a view to being triggered while Luke and Vader fight it out with their lightsabers. I’d furthermore defy any LEGO Star Wars fan not to enjoy posing the Luke and Vader minifigures at the far end of the catwalk while playing out the denouement to Episode V.

Prospective purchasers looking to buy the set now might be surprised by the cost of the set on the secondary market, particularly given the criticisms above. For a pre-owned, complete and boxed example you’re looking at paying upwards of £500, while a new, sealed copy will cost twice that. Poor sales of the set back in the day may go some way to explaining this, but there’s another more important factor at play here and that’s the minifigures. Collecting LEGO minifigures has become a hugely popular pastime in its own right, with Star Wars minifigures at the vanguard. Set 10123 Cloud City includes seven minifigures, of which four just so happen to be unique to the Cloud City set, and it’s this that’s driving the aftermarket value. The jewel in the minifigure crown is the Boba Fett minifigure. While he appears in a multitude of Star Wars sets, Cloud City Boba Fett is the only version to feature printing on his arms, shoulders and legs; expect to pay upwards of £100 for this minifigure in used condition, or £150+ for a new copy. The other exclusive minifigures are Cloud City versions of Lando Calrissian, Luke Skywalker and Leia, and while these don’t command quite such extravagant prices you’re still looking at upwards of £100 for the three of them. Given this, it’s no wonder that prices of the set as a whole have gone through the roof.

If you’re a LEGO Star Wars completist then I’m afraid you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and stump up the cash; at least you’ll enjoy the build once you’ve recovered from the shock, not to mention resting a bit easier in the knowledge that you’ve managed to bag one of the more collectable pieces of the LEGO Star Wars jigsaw. Current aftermarket prices mean that that the set is harder to recommend to anyone else, though – while it certainly has its merits there are better sets out there for less, and the clever money is on LEGO releasing another Cloud City set one day. Maybe….

Thursday, 18 August 2016


With the dust having now settled somewhat, I wanted to take a look back at an event that I attended for the first time a few weeks back. Bricktastic debuted last year, and having been overseas on holiday when it came around in 2015 I was determined not to miss it when the 2016 dates were announced.

For the uninitiated, Bricktastic is the brainchild of Kevin Gascoigne, head honcho of charity Fairy Bricks. The charity, which arose in the aftermath of a spectacularly successful fundraising drive on the Brickset Forum a few years back, organises donations of LEGO sets to children's wards in hospitals and hospices, and many of us in the AFOL community have taken Fairy Bricks to our hearts and actively support the charity.

Bricktastic 2016 was held at the Manchester Central Exhibition Complex over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd of July. Most of the action was centred on Exchange Hall, which with a floor area of almost two square kilometres was more than large enough to accommodate an impressive line up of MOCs, a number of traders and their wares, a large interactive NEXO Knights-inspired mosaic build made up of 129,528 elements, and a variety of  areas set aside for kids to free-build and display their creations. In addition, Ed Diment from professional UK LEGO building company Bright Bricks happens to be a trustee of Fairy Bricks, so it was no surprise that the company brought a number of spectacular builds to the event, notably Smaug (above) and a unicorn (below). Robotics fans could also participate in interactive LEGO Mindstorms workshops which ran on both days of the show in a separate breakout room.

Members of the UK AFOL community turned out in force to support the event, many of them by exhibiting their own LEGO creations. Exhibitors included a trio of successful LEGO Ideas contributors in the shape of Tom Poulsom, Carl Greatrix and Pete Reid, plus many other well-known and respected builders. There were a huge number of superb builds on show and I've included pictures of a few of them that particularly caught my eye below; if you want to see more then a number of attendees have uploaded comprehensive online galleries of images shot at Bricktastic 2016, for instance here and here.

While I'm talking MOCs I do have to give a brief mention to Pete Reid's Turtle Factory. This Neo-Classic Space masterpiece has been around for a while now, but rather than just cart it from show to show and rest on his laurels Pete has continued to work on it over time and has added new features on an ongoing basis. Since the last time I saw it he's incorporated a couple of screens into the model which display an 'informational video' on a loop, and he's also added a soundtrack. You can see and hear a brief clip below of the Turtle Factory in action at Bricktastic; in the event that you can't view the embedded video on your device you can also access the clip here. Fellow Portal fans will I suspect immediately recognise the GLaDOS-esque tones of the video narrator which for me adds another dimension to what was already a superb model.

Bricktastic 2016 - Turtle Factory

I've previously exhibited at a number of shows, but Kevin had something else in mind for me at Bricktastic 2016. Regular readers may recall that back in 2014 I was asked to do a live build on behalf of Fairy Bricks at a Bricks UK event at Sandown Park. On that occasion my goal was to complete the 2989-piece Sydney Opera House set over the course of a weekend, and as I just about managed that feat Kevin decided to ramp up the difficulty this time round and set me the challenge of building LEGO's newly-released 4163-piece Big Ben set during the event.

It was a bit of a daunting prospect, if I'm honest - I'm a notoriously slow builder, and I only just managed to complete the Sydney Opera House build in the allotted time, so it felt like Big Ben might turn out to be a bit of a stretch. Mark Guest, editor of Bricks magazine, reassured me that he'd managed to build the model in just five hours while reviewing it for Bricks, and although I was a bit sceptical about his timekeeping I figured I was just going to have to suck it up and get on with it..... I was lucky enough to be allocated a couple of tables for my build next to first-time exhibitor Bob Turner who was showing off his Red Dwarf LEGO Ideas proposal (below). Bob provided me with frequent encouragement and also kindly offered to record my Big Ben build in a series of photographs, a couple of which I've included in this post with the remainder available here. Thanks, Bob, and good luck with your ideas proposal which is already almost two-thirds of the way to the magic 10K mark at time of writing!

There are a number of excellent reviews of 10253 Big Ben available, for instance here, so I'll refrain from posting a detailed account of the build. In summary, you start with some large bright green plates plus a single blue plate to represent the Thames and go from there. While the clock tower, known as Elizabeth Tower, is the most immediately recognisable part of the model, it's actually the horizontal section representing the North end of the Palace of Westminster (below) which is the most time-consuming and fiddly part of the build. Although construction of this section is undoubtedly repetitive, and I really can't recommend attempting it without factoring in a number of rest breaks, the level of detail and use of elements is outstanding; for example, the use of rare tan microfigs and tan modified 1 x 1 plates with vertical tooth for detailing is inspired, while the way that stacks of 1 x 1 bricks are rotated by 45 degrees to mimic the look of the actual building is unexpected and clever. Overall, while it was undoubtedly a relief to finally complete this section of the build, the final appearance is spectacular and it fully justifies the effort required to construct it.

Assembly of Elizabeth Tower can also predictably get a little repetitive, but it thankfully proceeded sufficiently rapidly that I didn't really find myself getting too bogged down. The bulk of the structure is made up of identical square panels which can be constructed in multiples in assembly line fashion to save time; these panels utilise the majority of the set's 200 tan 1 x 2 plates with door rail oriented vertically to convincingly reproduce the tower's pin-striped appearance. Elizabeth Tower includes a famous four-faced clock, which according to Wikipedia is the second largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. In order to accurately represent each clock face LEGO has produced a superb new printed element, and each clock also features a pair of hands. These are functionally linked via a Technic mechanism such that turning a knob at the back of the model rotates all four pairs of clock hands simultaneously - very cool. Knowing the ingenuity of the AFOL community it's probably only a matter of time before some bright spark figures out a way of integrating a real working clock into the structure.... A LEGO representation of the great bell, whose nickname of Big Ben lends its name to the set, sits just above the clock mechanism as you can just about see in Bob's picture below (click to enlarge).

Yet more intricate detailing adorns the upper reaches of the model, much of it utilising elements which are appearing for the first time in this set in their respective colours; examples include tan palm tops and 1 x 1 taps plus pearl gold 3L ski poles and a large number of round 1 x 1 plates with 4 tabs. I found myself building ever quicker as I neared the finishing line, increasingly eager to see the completed model which was finally revealed mid-afternoon on the second day of the show. I don't mind admitting that I felt a genuine sense of triumph as I stood back and admired the fruits of my labours - the model is an absolute beauty, and the reaction of Bricktastic attendees to the finished build was similarly enthusiastic. I'd certainly unreservedly recommend the set to anyone looking for a challenging, satisfying build with a beautiful end product, although I'd definitely advise purchasers to take their time and savour the building experience rather than rush through it like I did.

I spent a fair bit of time chatting to attendees during the build, and once Big Ben was complete I was able to wander around the show floor for a couple of hours, check out the exhibits and gossip with some of the exhibitors. I've attended numerous events over the years, and I have to say that Bricktastic was definitely one of the most enjoyable ever. I've pondered on the reasons for this, and I think it's a combination of different factors. Certainly the focus, namely to raise as much money as possible for a worthy charitable cause that we all believe in, resulted in a real shared purpose and camaraderie among the exhibitors, volunteers and traders which was evident throughout the show and at the Saturday night social gathering. In addition, I thought that the event attendees were some of the friendliest that I've encountered at a show, eager to interact with the exhibitors and respectful of the displays; I think that this may have a lot to do with the laid-back feel of the event, the spacious venue and the ease of access to the exhibits without the need to queue five deep for the privilege, although it may of course just be down to the fact that Manchester folk are naturally friendly! There were also more opportunities for attendees to get their hands on bricks and build for themselves than I've seen at most shows. Such opportunities included a variety of brick pits and themed building areas such a Minecraft zone where attendee builds were put on display; these seemed to be in constant use for the entire duration of the event, and provided a reminder than in order to engage youngsters in particular you need to provide opportunities to interact rather than just impressive things for them to look at. Whatever the reasons, many of those present remarked upon the great atmosphere, and I have a feeling that Bricktastic will go from strength to strength over the years to come.

I'm told by Kevin that as a result of funds raised via Bricktastic 2016 at least twenty more hospitals and hospices will be in line to receive a Fairy Bricks donation which is fantastic news. Huge congratulations are due to Kevin and his team of volunteers for staging such a successful and enjoyable event, and I'll definitely aim to be back next year if they'll have me....

Monday, 25 July 2016

Micro Machines

I've previously reviewed and enjoyed a couple of books that Mattia Zamboni has been involved with, notably Amazing Vehicles and its sequel More Amazing Vehicles both of which he co-wrote with Nathanael Kuipers. When publisher No Starch Press got in touch to let me know that Mattia had a new book on the way, therefore, I was keen to take a look....

Mattia, a LEGO-loving graphic designer from Switzerland, has collaborated with contributors from around the globe to produce Tiny LEGO Wonders, a book which celebrates microscale models. The book's release is well-timed, with microscale seemingly firmly in fashion right now if the number of related magazine articles, books, official LEGO releases and MOCs is anything to go by. Each of the eleven contributors has submitted a number of microscale designs, making a total of forty designs in all which are showcased in the book.

The book is organised around ten themed chapters, each of which provides a suitable setting for a number of featured microscale builds. Each chapter kicks off with a two-page spread showing a brick-built microscale diorama, for example the scene above which illustrates the "Fire!" chapter, and the featured builds are suitably positioned within this diorama. These brick-built backdrops are generally superbly realised, and for me they're a real highlight of the book - a perfect reminder of the surprising level of detail that can be captured at this scale.

Each chapter showcases up to six themed microscale builds. First up we have "The Train Station" which includes three trains and a touring coach, followed by "The Airport", "Fire!" and so on. It's immediately evident that the featured builds, which include the Intercity Express above, are really quite impressive and of a consistently high quality. As you'll have noticed from the picture above, being showcased in the book doesn't just mean the inclusion of a couple of pretty photographs - each featured design is accompanied by an inventory of the elements needed to build it, and also a set of building instructions, thus allowing the reader to relatively easily reproduce the designs themselves.

The TGV Bullet Train above, which many LEGO fans will immediately recognise as a microscale version of an official LEGO set - 10233 Horizon Express - is one of my favourite builds featured in the book, although it's only one of many genuinely eye-catching designs on offer including a superb bulk carrier, a collection of excellent Formula 1 cars, a cracking little F-15 Eagle, a space shuttle plus crawler transporter, and many more. While the majority of builds are representations of real vehicles, the book does eventually deviate into fantasy territory with a number of sc-fi military vehicles featured in the final chapter, "The Moon Army". Overall, there's a nice varied selection of vehicles included in the book, although it's a crying shame that the scope doesn't extend to other types of models as well, for instance buildings, or perhaps even some of the environmental features which appear in the superb brick-built dioramas.

Before you can build anything you'll obviously have to accumulate the necessary elements and that's when things become tricky. Mattia's previous books featured designs which could all be built in their entirety using the elements contained in just one inexpensive Creator set, which I thought was an absolutely genius idea. In contrast, however, the elements needed to construct the 40 microscale builds in this book, or even just a couple of them, aren't to my knowledge readily available in a single set. Furthermore, my impression is that for many of the builds, some of the constituent elements probably aren't the kind that you're likely to have lying around in any quantity either, necessitating a visit to the likes of Bricklink. For the average AFOL that's probably not going to be a big deal, but for the more casual LEGO fan, sourcing the parts needed to build even the simplest of the models as designed could potentially be quite a challenge.

Looking beyond the actual content for a moment, I'm pleased to report that the book's presentation is up to the usual high standards that we've come to expect from No Starch Press. It sports a hard cover, and the quality of printing, photography and digital renders is excellent throughout the book's 200 pages. While I'm yet to attempt any of the builds myself, the instructions look to be clear and fairly easy to follow; although they lack the part callouts that LEGO routinely includes in building instructions these days, the builds are small and simple enough that this shouldn't be a problem for most builders.

In summary, Tiny LEGO Wonders is a beautifully presented book which is a pleasure to browse. It contains 40 microscale vehicle designs of consistently high quality, and the accompanying parts inventories and building instructions mean that readers can in theory attempt the builds for themselves. Furthermore, the book includes a number of delicious microscale backdrops within which the featured models are displayed, and to be honest if these fail to inspire then perhaps microscale building just isn't for you.  On the downside, in contrast to the author's previous books which showcased models which could be built with the elements contained in just one inexpensive set, elements needed to construct the featured microscale builds here aren't to my knowledge available in a single set and would therefore likely have to be sourced from the likes of Bricklink which might put off less experienced builders. Also, it's disappointing that only vehicle designs are included in the book; the dioramas provide a tantalising glimpse of the kind of impressive structures and scenery that can be built at this scale, and it would have been great if parts inventories and instructions for a few non-vehicle builds had been included as well. All things considered, however, it's easy to recommend Tiny LEGO Wonders, and I'm looking forward to attempting a few of the builds myself....

Tiny LEGO Wonders will be available from the end of this month. At the time of writing, Amazon's UK site is quoting an RRP of £13.50 for the book which to me seems pretty good value for a 200-page hardback, especially as Amazon are slightly discounting the book; please use the Gimme LEGO affiliate link here to purchase if you're thinking of buying from Amazon in the UK. Amazon are also selling the book at a discount in the U.S., and you can find the link here.

Many thanks to Siobhan at No Starch Press for sending me a copy of the book to review on Gimme LEGO.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016


Regular readers of Gimme LEGO will know that I'm rather partial to a LEGO dinosaur, so when the chance recently arose for me to fill a gap in my LEGO dinosaur collection I quickly pounced. Set 4998 Stegosaurus was released back in 2008 just as I was emerging from my LEGO Dark Ages, and it disappeared from shelves the following year just as I was getting ready to buy it. Thanks to the wonders of eBay, however, it's now in my possession, albeit a few years later than originally planned....

One reason that I always intended to track this set down is that it's a Creator 3-in-1 offering and thus includes the parts and instructions to construct not just one but three different brick-built dinosaurs, although not all at the same time unfortunately. A large image of the headline Stegosaurus model takes pride of place on the front of the box (above), with the secondary pterodactyl and Tyrannosaurus rex builds relegated to small panels beneath. We're provided with large images of all three builds on the back of the box (below) together with a small panel top right which illustrates how the light brick included in the set is incorporated into the three models.

Despite my copy of the set being pre-owned the box has survived relatively unscathed, not least because the previous owner thankfully avoided opening the set using the thumb tabs provided. The set includes three substantial instruction booklets, with each dinosaur getting its own booklet; you can see the cover of the booklet containing the Tyrannosaurus rex instructions below. At 84 pages from cover to cover the booklet for the Stegosaurus is comfortably the longest. A variety of adverts are spread across the three booklets, and an inventory of parts contained within the set can be found in the pterodactyl instruction booklet.

Given that it's the headline build I decided to start with Stegosaurus. Construction begins with the head, and specifically the lower jaw which articulates with the rest of the head via a couple of hinge plates thus enabling the mouth to be opened. The light brick referred to on the front and back of the box is a 2 x 3 x 1 1/3 light brick containing a red LED and it's mounted in the middle of the head. It's a sobering thought that the real Stegosaurus, which could grow up to 9m in length and weigh over five tonnes, had a disproportionally small brain estimated to be not much bigger than the size of a walnut. So barely larger than a light brick then....  A small hinge mechanism covered with a couple of black 2 x 2 tiles is constructed towards the back of the head; when the rear-most tile is pressed the light brick illuminates, and if you're lucky the hinge mechanism sticks in the "on" position so that the light brick remains illuminated when you take your finger away; I'm not sure whether this is intentional or not, but it's welcome nonetheless. Despite the age of the set, and my copy being pre-owned, the light brick still works fine so the battery is obviously still viable - impressive. The eyes of the Stegosaurus consist of a pair of glow-in-the-dark Bionicle 1 x 3 teeth which can only be found in five sets in this colour; the eyes glow red when the light brick is illuminated. The top of the head is nicely contoured with dark green left and right 6 x 2 wedges which can be found in fewer than 10 sets in total.

The body of the Stegosaurus consists of two sections, with the smaller front body section next to be built. A dark green modified Technic 2 x 2 brick with rotation joint socket, which can only be found in six sets in this colour, is embedded on either side of this section and provides an attachment point for the front legs which will be built later, while the head attaches to another dark green modified Technic 2 x 2 brick with rotation joint socket embedded at the front, Once attached, the head can be angled left and right to around 45 degrees, and it can also rotate around its midline, but no up or down movement is possible. The foremost of Stegosaurus' characteristic bony dermal plates, which are represented by a variety of yellow wedge plates, are attached to the top of this section and are angled forward by way of a tilted modified 2 x 2 plate with pin holes. The larger, rear body section connects to the front section via 2 x 4 hinge plates with articulated joints which you can see here and here; while the two halves of the joint require an unexpectedly hard push to click together there's relatively little friction between the elements once connected so the joint moves very freely. Similar to the front body section, modified Technic 2 x 2 bricks with rotation joint socket are embedded on either side of the rear body section to provide an attachment point for the the hind legs, while three pairs of large dermal plates are mounted on the top of the rear section of the body and angled appropriately as you can see in the picture below.

With the body completed it's time to build the legs. While the hind legs are substantially larger than the front legs, all four feet are the same and all four legs articulate in a similar fashion, allowing a degree of flexion and extension at the shoulders and hips, and also some adduction and abduction in the case of the front legs in particular. Furthermore, each ankle incorporates a rare dark green Technic 2 x 2 brick with rotation joint half ball which has only ever appeared in three sets and which allows the feet to be rotated, flexed and extended at the ankles. More rare dark green elements make an appearance in the form of dark green 6 x 2 and 4 x 2 wedges which make up the thighs of the hind legs. Last to be built is a tail consisting of three distinct segments, two of which feature dermal plates on their upper surface. The tail segments are connected to each other and the rear body section using the same lax hinge joints that are used to connect the body sections together. Four tail spikes, represented by white dinosaur tail end sections, are mounted on the rearmost tail segment; this distinctive defensive arrangement has come to be known as a thagomizer which on a real Stegosaurus apparently included anything from four to ten spikes. The completed model is larger than I expected - more than 40 cm from nose to tail - and it looks quite impressive. That having been said, it should probably be acknowledged that LEGO has employed considerable artistic license from a design perspective - in reality, Stegosaurus was a herbivore and had small, peg-shaped teeth, so the modified 1 x 1 plates with tooth elements used to represent the teeth aren't a good representation of the real thing. Furthermore, the whole head is altogether too large and aggressive for this likely placid herbivore, and the arrangement of the bony plates is wrong as well - these were characteristically arranged in an alternating pattern down the dinosaur's back. Even so, it's a Creator 3-in-1 set we're talking about here rather than a UCS display set, and regardless of the inaccuracies the model is still immediately recognisable as a Stegosaurus and looks pretty good. Furthermore, the model can also be posed to some extent thanks to multiple articulation points, so not a bad effort overall.

And so to the first of the alternate builds, a pterodactyl. Once again the build commences with the head, which is huge in relation to the body, not to mention utterly terrifying.... The long, tooth-filled lower jaw is hinged at the back which allows the mouth to be opened. The light brick is once again incorporated into the head; it's activated by pressing down on the beast's cranial crest which projects upwards and backwards from the head. Once again a pair of glow-in-the-dark Bionicle 1 x 3 teeth represent the pterodactyl's eyes and glow red when the light brick is activated. The pterodactyl's body is tiny, and as was the case for the Stegosaurus the head is attached to the body by way of a rotation joint which allows the head to be angled left and right and also rotated around its midline.

The wings are comprised of three sections, the largest of which attach on either side of the body via a pair of rotation joints which allow the wings to be tilted upwards or downwards. The hind limbs are incorporated into the large wing sections, although in reality they would actually have emerged from the body; they project backwards and terminate in a pair of modified 1 x 1 plates with tooth. The mid-section of each wing attaches to the inner section via hinges comprising modified 1 x 2 plates which allow it to be angled upwards or downwards. The outermost wing section attaches to the rest of the wing by just one stud which allows it to be rotated forwards and backwards, and with the wings completed we're done. While the finished build is just about recognisable as a pterodactyl, it's not a great representation of the subject matter and it isn't going to win any design awards. Still, at least the head is suitably fearsome, and the model is certainly robust enough to swoosh if you're that way inclined, so it's not all bad I suppose.

The last of the three builds is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Many aspects of the build predictably mirror what we've seen with the previous two models, including the hinged lower jaw and copious sharp teeth, the illuminating eyes, and the use of a rotation joint to attach the head to the body which enables the head to be angled left and right and also rotated around its midline.

At first glance the body looks a little undersized compared with the large head, but on the basis of artists impressions of Tyrannosaurus rex I think it's actually pretty much spot on. The tail is made up of four distinct sections joined together by the same 2 x 4 hinge plates with articulated joints that were used to create the Stegosaurus tail; such is the size and weight of the head relative to the body that only by attaching the tail can you stop the legless beast from toppling forward. The powerful legs are made up of a nunber of sections which are joined together in something approximating a zig-zag pattern via the use of rotation joints; although the arrangement looks a bit haphazard the legs actually do a pretty good job of supporting the weight of the rest of the model and also allow the beast to be posed to some extent. The puny arms are last to be built; they look rather blocky and untidy, but can at least be raised and lowered. Overall I really quite like the finished Tyrannosaurus rex - it's well proportioned, the head looks great, the multiple points of articulation offer some flexibility when displaying the model, and it even comes complete with a yellow go-faster stripe.....

This is just one of a number of brick-built tyrannosaurids that LEGO have produced over the years, with other examples to be found in Set 4507 Prehistoric Creatures and Set 6914 Prehistoric Hunters. As luck would have it I just so happen to have the latter built and on display at home, and you can see it alongside the completed Tyrannosaurus rex, which completely dwarfs it, in the picture below.

Over time I seem to be increasingly ambivalent about many of LEGO's licenced themes and their focus on minifigures at the expense of the actual builds. On the flipside, however, I'm increasingly relishing the generally simpler pleasures of the Creator theme, and I thoroughly enjoyed building this Creator 3-in-1 set. Sure, the models are relatively crude, but in addition to the enjoyable building experience I think that the Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex actually look pretty good, and I'll be keeping the latter assembled and on display for the time being I think.

Set 4998 Stegosaurus was released back in 2008 at a recommended retail price of £36.19 / US$49.99. Despite being retired from sale in 2009 the set can still be aquired relatively cheaply; my pre-owned, boxed, complete example of the set was recently purchased from eBay for less than £30, although if you're looking for a new, sealed copy then you'll pay upwards of £80 on Bricklink at time of writing.