It's fair to say that for much of the past decade my purchasing of sets has grown in a similar fashion. It was modest at first, but rapidly accelerated as my passion for the hobby increased. I reckon that I probably hit my purchasing peak back in 2013 or 2014, but since then I've increasingly tried to put the brakes on due to limited storage space. A few specific themes have borne the brunt of this restraint, notably City and Friends. From a City perspective I've admittedly continued to cherry-pick some specific sets, and I've been unable to resist some of the excellent summer City subthemes such as Deep Sea Explorers and Volcano Explorers, but in truth it hasn't been much of a hardship to forego the annual slew of City Police and Fire sets. Likewise for Friends, while I've felt some regret at passing on a few sets, for instance 41122 Adventure Camp Tree House (below) and 41134 Heartlake Performance School, in the main it's been fairly easy to abstain given the similarity of many sets to previous Friends releases.
All that having been said, regardless of the rules you set yourself, sometimes something comes along that forces you to make an exception, and 41129 Amusement Park Hot Dog Van definitely falls into that category; when Brickset threw up an alert back in October informing me that the set was 32% off RRP on Amazon I immediately pounced and pushed it to the top of my build queue.
It's been a while since I last built a Friends set, but as far as I can ascertain the box features the same scalloped edges and pretty much the same colour scheme that the Friends theme has been using since it debuted back in 2012. The branding has been subtly tweaked, though, and one obvious evolution concerns the five Friends themselves - while they continue to look out from the top right of the front of the box (above) like they've always done, their hairstyles and outfits are distinctly more glamorous and less "girl next door" than I remember. Looking beyond the branding, the front of the box showcases the completed build, with silhouettes of the Friends amusement park space ride and ferris wheel just about visible in the background, while the back of the box (below) is dominated by a number of vignettes highlighting various aspects of the set.
The box opens via a couple of thumb tabs and contains two numbered bags of elements, a single instruction booklet and a small sticker sheet which is loose in the box. You can see a scan of the sticker sheet below; note that all the areas which appear black are actually silver mirrored, but unfortunately this finish can't be reproduced by my scanner.
The cover of the instruction booklet can be seen below. The booklet comprises 64 pages from cover to cover, and in addition to the building instructions the contents include a one-page inventory of elements, three pages of advertising for the Friends theme, and a single page of advertising for the rather impressive 2016 Elves line up.
The set contains two minidolls, Stephanie and Nate. While this version of Stephanie (below) is unique to the set, her bright yellow hair complete with dark pink sun visor, her dark purple skirt with dark purple and magenta shoes, and her light flesh head with bright light blue eyes, have previously appeared as a part of other minidolls. Her torso featuring a medium azure top printed with a palm tree pattern is however currently exclusive to this minidoll and has yet to appear elsewhere.
As you can see from the picture below, Stephanie's torso is embossed with an incongruous "© 2009 LEGO" copyright notice which would have been better placed out of sight in my opinion. The head isn't back-printed, so there's unfortunately no alternate facial expression hidden beneath Stephanie's ponytail.
Nate has to my knowledge only previously appeared in a single set, 41101 Heartlake Grand Hotel from last year, and the version of Nate you get in this set (below) is exclusive to the set. All of the elements making up this minidoll have appeared elsewhere, although the dark red cropped trousers with dark red and white sneakers, and the hooped torso print, have each only featured once before.
Like Stephanie, Nate's lower back carries an embossed copyright notice (below) although in this case it's dated 2011 rather than 2009. Once again there's no alternate head print. A pair of small dark red pockets are moulded into the back of Nate's shorts, and the shorts also feature larger moulded side pockets.
Nate isn't just included in the set to keep Stephanie company - he actually has a job to do advertising her hot dog business. To help with this he's provided with the wonderful hot dog suit that you can see below. This element has only previously appeared on one occasion, as part of Hot Dog Man who was one of the Series 13 Collectable Minifigures released in 2015. In order to fit the suit you remove Nate's hair and just slide the element down over his head and body. It's interesting that the suit fits both minidolls and standard minifigures. I think it looks great - definitely a highlight of the set for me!
Before I move on to the build, a quick comment about minidolls in general. When I first wrote about them back in November of 2011 (you can read my post here) I was pretty dismissive, questioning why LEGO was abandoning the much-loved minifigure for its then-upcoming Friends theme, before rashly stating that I wouldn't be buying any of the Friends sets as a result. Barely two months later however I had broken that pledge, and in my review of 3931 Emma's Splash Pool I went so far as to write "I can't deny that Emma is cute and appealing, with an almost anime-like quality" - quite an about-turn, that.... In addition to their continued use in the Friends sets, and their presence in the well-received Elves theme, minidolls will also feature in the new DC Super Hero Girls theme which will debut in 2017; my enthusiasm for upcoming Super Hero minidolls such as Poison Ivy (below) suggests that I've now been well and truly won over....
And so to the build. Bag number one kicks off with assembly of the set's two minidolls as previously described, and then it's on to a number of small accessory builds (below) including a distorted funfair mirror, which consists of a mirror sticker applied to a white 6 x 2 curved slope, a couple of bar stools, and what LEGO describe as "a camera with instant photo function" complete with a stickered 2 x 2 tile to represent the photo. There's also a carnival cut-out board consisting of a stickered 1 x 6 x 5 trans-clear panel; this is topped off with a pair of medium azure 3 x 1 curved slopes only previously seen in nine sets, and a stickered dark purple 2 x 2 round tile which is only appearing in a set for the fourth time ever. The carnival cut-out board is mounted on a lime 4 x 8 semi-circular plate which has only previously appeared in a total of four sets.
With the accessory builds completed it's time to make a start on the hot dog van itself. This is built on a dark pink 2 x 14 plate only previously available in two sets. There's otherwise little in the way of rare or unusual parts until we get to the bulbous SNOT front and rear of the vehicle which feature pairs of tan 3 x 3 x 2 round corner bricks with dome top which are only appearing in a set for the third time ever in this colour. These elements are mounted on top of a tan 3 x 6 half round plate with 1 x 2 cutout which was previously only available in seven sets in this colour. The trans-orange and trans-neon orange elements that you can see towards the rear of the interior form part of the grill where the hot dogs are cooked.
Construction of the hot dog van continues with completion of the grill which is, appropriately enough, topped off with a number of modified 1 x 2 tiles with grille. A cash register consisting of a 2 x 2 45 degree slope brick printed with a pink, purple and yellow cash register pattern is then installed; this element has only featured in five sets including this one. Trans-clear 1 x 6 x 3 windscreen elements are then dropped into place at the front and back of the van, and stacks of dark purple 1 x 1 round bricks, which are only appearing in a set for the sixth time ever, are installed so as to provide the roof with additional support. Mustard and tomato ketchup dispensers are then placed on the medium azure counter top, as are a couple of hot dogs in buns, thus providing me with my first ever up-close and personal encounter with the wonderful tan hot dog bun element which is only appearing in a set for the sixth time. Talking of hot dog buns, the roof, which can be removed in order to provide access to the interior of the van, resembles a giant hot dog bun thanks to the use of various tan curved slope elements including modified 1 x 4 x 1 1/3 bricks with curved top which are only appearing in a set for the eighth time ever. The roof features a canopy made from alternating red and dark pink modified 1 x 2 x 1 1/3 bricks with curved top which have only previously appeared in a total of seven sets in dark pink. Also located on the roof is a dining area featuring four seats and a medium azure round table; there's a cushion on each seat consisting of a stickered dark purple 2 x 2 round tile. With the roof completed the wheels are attached and we're done.
Access to the rooftop dining area is via a ladder which can be seen in the rear-view picture below, and when the ladder is folded down Stephanie can gain entry to the van's interior. The back of the van is pretty much indistinguishable from the front, with only the absence of a steering wheel giving it away.
You can see the finished build below complete with all the accessories and both minidolls.
OK, so you don't need me to tell you what a bizarre-looking vehicle the hot dog van is, but it was precisely that which attracted me to the set in the first place and I wasn't disappointed - it's a genuinely fun set which put a big smile on my face. The build is pretty quick and straightforward, with accurate placement of the stickers probably providing the greatest challenge, and it's never dull thanks to all the humorous details plus a decent selection of unusual and/or interesting elements. There's also a good amount of play value for the younger builder thanks to all the accessories, not to mention the inclusion of the hot dog suit which is absolute genius in my humble opinion....
Set 41129 Amusement Park Hot Dog Van contains 243 elements and retails for £24.99 / US$29.99, although like me you may be able to get it at a decent discount from Amazon (UK/US) or other retailers.