Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Hall or Nothing

Having built and reviewed the wonderful Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant a few weeks back (you can check out the review here if you missed it) my quest to get caught up on the Modular Buildings was off to a good start and I was keen to take on another one. Set 10224 Town Hall, released in 2012, was next on my list.

The front of the box (above) lacks the Creator Expert branding carried by the more recent Modular Buildings. Unusually, the box needs to be stood on end in order to view the box art in the correct orientation, and I think this is the only Modular for which that's the case. An image of the completed build occupies the full height of the box, and in addition to the main image the front of the box also features a trio of inset panels showing an exploded view of the Town Hall's four distinct sections, the dimensions of the completed model, and a rear view of the build. The back of the box (below) features a number of wedding-related vignettes set in and around the building as well as once again highlighting the model's four sections and showcasing a few of the set's play features. There's also a picture of the Town Hall displayed alongside a couple of older Modular Buildings, specifically 10211 Grand Emporium and 10218 Pet Shop.

The contents of the box are accessed by cutting a couple of tape seals. Inside the box are three instruction booklets which are sealed inside a cardboard-backed transparent bag. There are also 30 sealed bags of LEGO elements in total, all but one of which is printed with a '1', a '2' or a '3' corresponding to the stage of the build that the elements within are needed for. Finally, there's a tan 32 x 32 baseplate loose within the box; this has appeared in a total of 8 sets including this one. The set doesn't include a sticker sheet.

The three instruction booklets have identical covers (above) apart from the booklet number printed in the bottom left corner. The first booklet has 76 pages and consists exclusively of building instructions apart from the back cover which, like the back of the box, advertises the three Modular Buildings available at the time of the Town Hall's release; only the Pet Shop is still available at retail as I write this, and I suspect it won't be around for much longer. The second instruction booklet is much slimmer than the others at only 40 pages; in addition to building instructions it contains advertising for Set 10222 Winter Village Post Office, Set 10220 Volkswagen T1 Camper Van and a couple of the 2011 Creator offerings. At 84 pages, the third booklet is the lengthiest of the three and in addition to buiding instructions it contains a 4-page inventory of elements (sample page below - click to enlarge) and advertising for the LEGO Club, the VIP Programme and an obligatory product survey.

The set contains a total of eight minifigures. All of them are surprisingly unique to the set, although most of their constituent elements have appeared as a part of other minifigures. All eight minifigures have a classic yellow smiley head print and standard, unprinted legs. The Bride (below) has an attractive wedding dress torso print which extends to the back of her torso and is exclusive to this minifigure, although her long dark brown braided hair can be readily found elsewhere as can her 'legs' which consist of an unprinted white 65 degree 2 x 2 x 2 slope representing her long skirt. The Groom has a torso print featuring a waistcoat and tie. This torso has thus far appeared as a part of 19 different minifigures and in no less than five Modular Buildings to date, most recently 10243 Parisian Restaurant. The imaginatively-named Girl has fetching long dark orange hair which has only previously been available in this colour as a part of four minifigures including a couple of Ginny Weasley variants from the Harry Potter theme. Her orange torso, with its cute back-printed halter top pattern, has appeared as a part of 11 minifigures to date. Despite being exclusive to the set the Boy is made up of commonly-available parts, with the exception of his white torso printed with a Classic Space floating minifigure design; I was surprised to discover that this torso has only appeared in 13 minifigures to date as I seem to have seen it a number of times recently.

You can see the Bride, Groom, Girl and Boy from behind in the picture below with their hair and hats removed. Only the Bride and the Girl have back-printed torsos, and none of the minifigures have alternate expressions.

The other four minifigures in the set can be seen in the picture below. The Secretary has a nice torso print featuring a dark bluish grey suit jacket, pink shirt and magenta scarf; her unprinted dark purple legs nicely complement the pink and magenta of her torso. Her black hair, which is styled with a top knot bun and a forelock, has only made an appearance in five minifigures including this one. The Mayor is dressed in dark blue. His torso, which is printed with a pinstriped jacket and gold tie pattern, has only been included in a total of eight minifigures to date. He's otherwise made up of elements which have appeared on many other occasions, which is also the case for the Janitor, whose face is all but obscured by his bushy white beard and blue baseball cap. His torso print features blue overalls with a couple of tools peeking out of the central pocket. Finally we have the Photographer. For some reason the normally-reliable Bricklink doesn't appear to acknowledge her existence within the set, but thankfully Brick Owl isn't so cavalier. Her torso print, which consists of a red low-cut pin-striped jacket and a press pass, has been restricted to just a handful of minifigures, most recently making an appearance in promotional set 40221 Fountain.

As you can see from the picture below, only the Mayor and the Photograher have backprinted torsos. Once again none of the minifigures have an alternate expression.

A total of 14 of the sealed bags of elements are required for Stage 1 of the build, instructions for which are found in the first instruction booklet. In time-honoured Modular fashion, the build commences with some tiling, in this case construction of a narrow, tiled pavement/sidewalk area along one edge of the baseplate. The pavement incorporates an obligatory pair of metallic silver modified 1 x 2 tiles with grille representing drains which have been a part of every Modular build that I've ever attempted. Next the floor plan of the Town Hall is mapped out, predominantly with dark bley and black bricks, and a staircase leading up from the pavement to the front entrance is constructed and topped off with tan tiles. As usual, four 1 x 2 Technic bricks are strategically positioned at ground level at the sides of the baseplate to enable the Town Hall to be attached to other Modular Buidings via a couple of Technic pins, and dark bluish grey 1 x 3 arches, which provide some detailing at the base of the front of the building, are dropped into place; these have only ever appeared in 7 sets including this one. A false floor is constructed at the level of the top of the staircase, although a couple of areas towards the rear of the ground floor remain at baseplate level; a podium complete with a lectern is placed in the larger of these two areas, which will become an auditorium. The lectern is embellished with a printed shield which is unique to the set. The smaller of the two areas is the bottom of a lift/elevator shaft. This will later accommodate a simple manually operated lift.

Just inside the front entrance there's a plinth formed from a couple of round 2 x 2 bricks with grille. On top of this is a white, unprinted minifigure head on a jumper plate; it's not entirely clear what this is, but I'm guessing it's supposed to be a marble bust. A tan table is placed against the wall nearby, while a smaller table bearing a lamp with a dark red fez lampshade, a hundred dollar bill and a desktop computer with printed tiles representing the screen and keyboard is assembled and positioned in what will become a small office on the other side of the ground floor. Meanwhile, the outer walls are built up with layers of dark bluish grey, white and light bluish grey bricks, and a few dark green bricks make an appearance in some of the internal walls. Round the back a door is installed, while green foliage creeps up the back wall of the building and a lamp which incorporates a trans-clear 1 x 1 brick is hung next to the back door.

Windows are then installed front and back, with white mud guards providing detailing over the windows at the front, after which a substantial, brick-built front door is constructed. The front door incorporates a number of dark green 1 x 2 x 2 windows which have only ever appeared in three sets in this colour. The doors attach to a brick-built door frame by way of dark green modified 1 x 1 bricks with clip which are similarly uncommon in this colour. The four columns at the front of the building are next to be assembled. Each one has a core of SNOT bricks including reddish brown modified 1 x 1 bricks with studs on two sides which have appeared in seven sets including this one; modified 1 x 8 plates with door rail cover the central core, and white 1 x 8 tiles provide a tidy, studless appearance. The top, or capital, of each column incorporates a modified 1 x 1 plate with clip light which confers a scroll-like appearance not dissiminar to the volutes found at the head of Ionic columns. The columns form part of a portico; the roof, or pediment, of the portico, has a triangular area below it called a tympanum which is typically carved and decorated in real life. In the case of the Town Hall it has a central feature consisting of the same shield which we were introduced to earlier flanked by a couple of dark orange croissants, with a pair of white skeleton legs on either side of it; it sounds faintly ridiculous, but it actually looks pretty good!

The outer walls continue to be built up, predominantly with layers of light and dark bluish grey bricks. This culminates in the placement of a layer of dark orange bricks which is topped off with light bluish grey tiles. A lamp post and a couple of flower pots are then installed on the pavement outside the front of the building, at which point the ground floor is finished. All that's left to do is to build a camera complete with long lens and flash for the press photographer, at which point Stage 1 of the build is complete.

Only five sealed bags of elements are needed for Stage 2 of the build which comprises the second floor of the Town Hall. Some of the plates contained in the unmarked bag are also required, including a couple of white 6 x 24 plates which make up a large part of the floor area and which have only ever appeared in six sets including this one. After building the floor it's time to start on the walls. Some of the dark orange bricks used in the construction of the walls have featured in relatively few sets to date, for instance just eight sets in the case of dark orange 1 x 3 and 1 x 8 bricks. An area of the floor centrally is covered with a small mosaic featuring tan, dark blue and dark green tiles, and a reddish brown ballustrade is constructed to fence off an open section towards the rear; when the second floor is eventually stacked on top of the ground floor this open section will be positioned directly above the auditorium on the ground floor so that proceedings can be observed from the higher floors of the building. Next some rudimentary furniture - a few chairs, plus a desk and a table compete with ornaments including a dark bluish grey frog - are built and put into place.

Four window boxes are then constructed at the front of the building on either side of a rather hazardous balcony with a glaring gap between the curved railings and the balcony floor, and stacks of dark orange modified 1 x 2 log bricks are used to fill the gaps between windows; while log bricks in this colour have appeared in a number of other sets, there are a total of 48 of them in this set which is significantly more than in all the other sets put together. The internal walls incorporate a dark orange 1 x 8 x 2 arch; this can be found in a total of just four sets. The elevator shaft continues upwards into the second floor where it's guarded by a black door, while a green door closes off a small office to the right; the walls of the office are furnished with some token decoration in the form of a printed 2 x 2 dark tan tile. A trans-clear door at the front provides balcony access. Similar to the ground floor, white vehicle mud guards provide some detailing over the four front windows, while a dark orange 1 x 8 x 2 arch frames the balcony door. Finally, the walls are topped off with light bluish grey tiles and the second floor is done.

The last stage of the build, which involves construction of the top floor of the Town Hall plus the roof and clock tower, requires the ten remaining sealed bags of elements plus the outstanding contents of the unmarked bag. The build commences with construction of an identical floor to that of the level below, featuring the same open area towards the rear to provide a view down to the auditorium. The top floor accommodates a conference room which is dominated by a large table with a dark green, tan and dark tan-tiled tabletop and six tan chairs. A reddish brown ballustrade forms the rear boundary of the conference room overlooking the auditorium, and there's an entrance to the lift which is closed off by a black door as was the case for the floors below. The interior of the second floor is sparsely furnished, with a 2-piece dark tan printed globe only previously available in 70810 Metalbeard's Sea Cow and 4191 The Captain's Cabin, providing the only decoration apart from the conference table and chairs. Some simple light bluish grey cornicing is added at the front of the second floor where it meets the floor below.

The rear wall is constructed in exactly the same way as was the case for the floor below, including the installation of three 1 x 4 x 3 windows with opening panes. The windows at the front are different from those installed in the floor below, however, featuring 1 x 2 x 2 windows arranged in a 2 x 2 pattern which are overlapped at their outer margins by the external walls and partially obscured at the top by 1 x 4 brick arches; it's an interesting idea, but in practice too much of the window area ends up being filled by the window frames in my opinion so I don't think it's entirely successful. The area above the central window is decorated by detailing which once again features white vehicle mud guards, albeit of a different variety to those used in the lower floors, and light bluish grey tiles once again sit atop the walls in preparation for the placement of the section above, namely the roof.

The roof section is dominated by a clock tower and an excellently-realised curved skylight made up of trans-clear garage roller door sections. In fact, clever building tricks abound during this stage of the build, not least the ingenious technique used in constructing the elegant cornicing at the front of the roof. Basically, modified 1 x 2 x 1 1/3 bricks with curved top are attached upside down to modified 3 x 2 plates with hole and then threaded through 1 x 2 x 2 castle windows - very neat. Another clever building trick on show is the use of a myriad of SNOT techniques to spell out the year '1891' at the base of the clock tower, a feature borrowed from 10197 Fire Brigade which uses similar techniques to incorporate '1932' into its roof section. The Town Hall clock tower includes a clock face printed on a black 4 x 4 inverted dish; this printed element has only ever appeared in one set apart from this one, namely 10245 Santa's Workshop. A bell sits within the roof space of the tower above the clock, although it's unfortunately dark bluish grey rather than pearl gold like the bell in the Fire Brigade set.

With the roof now complete it's time to stack the sections and check out the finished Town Hall. The completed build is pretty imposing, and at fully half a metre in height I suspect it's the tallest of all the Modular Buildings to date, and quite possibly the heaviest as well.

Having recently raved about the Parisian Restaurant, I'm afraid that I can't be as effusive about the Town Hall. I certainly enjoyed the build overall, and it incorporates some nice features such as the portico, the skylight and a lift which can be manually raised and lowered via a handle which protrudes through the rear wall of the building. There's also a good selection of minifigures, and as previously mentioned there are some really neat build techniques utilised in the model, particularly in the roof section. It's also worth mentioning that if it wasn't for this set it'd be almost impossible to lay your hands on dark orange bricks in any quantity in the aftermarket, which would have meant that my Ghostbusters HQ MOC amongst other things would never have seen the light of day. All that having been said, however, I can't get away from the feeling that the finished build looks a bit boxy and crude; it's hard to explain, but it just seems to lack the elegance and subtlety of its peers such as the Parisian Restaurant, or even older Modulars such as 10185 Green Grocer. Other criticisms include the sparsely furnished and uninspiring interior, plus the unattractive appearance of the back of the building at ground floor level. All of these complaints are relative, however - while the Town Hall does admittedly fall short in comparison to the other Modular buildings, it's still a good set. It's just not a great one.

Set 10224 Town Hall contains 2,766 elements, which makes it by some margin the biggest Modular Building to date on the basis of the parts count. The set was available from March 2012 until October 2014 and retailed for £149.99 / US$199.99. For reasons that will soon become clear I've been trying to pick up a couple more copies of the set for parts, but predictably enough the aftermarket price has steadily increased since retirement, so much so that I'm going to need a Plan B.... You'll struggle to find a used, boxed example of the set for much less than £300 / US$400 these days, and a mint, sealed copy will now set you back upwards of £350 / US$500. Despite that, even at £350 I think it's worth seeking out if you're a fan of the Modular Buildings, with the added bonus that you'll probably get back what you pay (at the very least) if you decide to sell it later.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Strange Cargo

Having built and reviewed the Burlington Northern Santa Fe locomotive (below) in my previous post I was keen to see it in action on my work-in-progress city layout, but there were a couple of things I had to attend to first.

Firstly, the set isn't motorised out of the box, so I needed to incorporate a motor in order to get it running. Thankfully, LEGO has helpfully devoted a few pages of the BNSF instruction booklet to the incorporation of a 9V motor into the locomotive, and since I'd recently laid 9V track on my layout this was exactly what I was looking to do. As an added bonus, I discovered that the instruction booklet also includes instructions (sample page below) for incorporating a working light at the front of the locomotive; LEGO even previously produced a service pack, 3748 Light Unit for Train, which includes all the required elements to do this. Unfortunately, at the time of writing there were only 5 Bricklink sellers anywhere in the world with copies of this service pack for sale; given that the lowest asking price was around £13 + shipping for a service pack containing just 4 elements I figured I could probably pick up the elements I needed individually on Bricklink for a lot less, and that was indeed the case.

Fitting a 9V motor to the BNSF locomotive turned out to be very straightforward, basically just a case of detaching the rear wheel assembly and clicking the 5mm pin at the top of the motor into the now-vacant hole in the underside of the train base. Anticipating the desire of purchasers to motorise the locomotive, LEGO included a pair of decorative sides in the BNSF set which attach to the sides of motor and give it the appearance of a standard brick-built wheel assembly. Installing a light at the front of the locomotive required a little more effort, however, necessitating the removal of the driver's cab and part of the bodywork. One end of a 36 stud-long wire is attached to the 9V motor, while the other end is threaded through the train base into the body of the locomotive (below) and attached to a 1 x 2 light brick which is installed immediately behind the orange 1 x 2 Technic brick at the front of the loco. The cab is then replaced and the body reconstructed.

With the locomotive now motorised and a light brick installed, the other question I had to address was what rolling stock it should haul. My assumption has always been that the BNSF locomotive is supposed to be paired with Set 10170 TTX Intermodal Double-Stack Car (below) on the basis of the similar set branding plus the fact that both sets were released at around the same time; further evidence is provided by the BNSF Railway Company itself which claims on its website to transport more intermodal units each year than any other railroad in the U.S.. The problem is that I only have a single copy of Set 10170, and a train consisting of the BNSF locomotive plus just a single intermodal double-stack car would look a bit rubbish I reckon. Of course there's always eBay or Bricklink, but with complete examples of Set 10170 regularly changing hands for anything up to £100 or more plus shipping I wasn't overjoyed at the prospect of paying out £300+ to lay my hands on a few more of them....

An alternative was therefore needed, and I immediate thought of Set 10016 Tanker Truck which was released in 2001. I've long had a soft spot for this set, perhaps as a result of its nostalgia-inducing Octan branding, and in fact you may already have seen one of these trucks in some of the more recent pictures of my layout such as this one. Anyway, as well as having a couple of 'official' copies of the set I also bought up the necessary elements from Bricklink and elsewhere a few years back to build a few more of them, so I certainly have enough to provide my BNSF locomotive with a worthwhile cargo to haul.

The front of the 10016 box (above) features an image of the assembled tanker truck and carries the My Own Train branding which graced more than forty 9V train-related sets between 2001 and 2004. A number of other 2001 My Own Train releases such as 10013 Open Freight Wagon and 10017 Hopper Wagon are showcased on the back of the box (below).

The set's 128 elements are supplied in three sealed bags, and the set box also contains a 16-page instruction booklet, the cover of which you can see below. Similar to the instruction booklet for the BNSF locomotive (reviewed by me here), there's no advertising or other filler included in the booklet at all - every page apart from the front cover is occupied by building instructions.

The set doesn't include any minifigures, and the build is quick and straightforward. The foundation of the tanker truck is a black 6 x 24 train base. Modified 1 x 6 plates with train wagon end are installed at either end of the train base, and brackets are placed along the sides to which a variety of printed tiles are attached (picture below). The 1 x 6 tile printed with 'distressed' Octan branding is rare, having only ever appeared in two sets including this one, while the white 1 x 4 tile with black stripes has featured in just 8 sets in total. The central structure which supports the tank is then constructed and a number of black 1 x 2 modified plates with ladder are attached on either side of it.

The tank is constructed in two identical halves which predominantly consist of white 4 x 4 x 6 quarter cylinders. These elements are quite rare in white, having only ever appeared in a total of 8 sets. The quarter cylinders are held together by red and green 4 x 4 round corner plates together with a central core of stacked 2 x 2 bricks. White 8 x 8 inverted dishes are attached at either end; similar to the cylinders these are surprisingly uncommon in this colour, having only ever appeared in five sets including this one. The two halves of the tank are then attached to the rest of the truck by way of a number of 1 x 4 modified bricks with 4 studs on one side which are incorporated into the central supporting structure. With the tank installed it's then just a case of constructing a couple of identical wheel assembies topped off with train bogie plates and clicking the wheel assemblies into the underside of the train base, at which point we're done.

I ended up with a total of six tanker trucks including the one I'd previously assembled. With my BNSF locomotive motorised and packing a working headlight, and some rolling stock now built, it was finally time to power up the upper loop of my work-in-progress city layout and do a test run (video clip embedded below, or here if the embedded clip won't play on your device). I did wonder whether the 9V motor might struggle when faced with the weight of the locomotive plus six tanker trucks, but as you can see from the video I needn't have worried - the motor shifts the trucks with surprisingly little difficulty, and indeed I suspect it could have managed to pull a few more as well.

Testing 10133 Burlington Northern Santa Fe

The train is travelling at half speed in the video, and at this speed the illumination of the headlight is barely perceptible unless the ambient lighting is low. Unlike modern LEGO lighting which is powered by a Power Functions battery box and remote, the brightness of the light can't to my knowledge be controlled independent of the speed of the motor. There's nothing stopping you from combining both 9V and Power Functions systems in one model, however, which is exactly what I've done in the train that runs on the subterranean loop of my layout and which includes a 9V motor and also a Power Functions battery box, lights and a remote receiver (more information here).

I've really enjoyed playing with trains over the past few weeks, but it's turned out to be a really bad move financially. While I already owned the BNSF locomotive and tanker trucks featured in the last couple of Gimme LEGO posts, I got so engrossed in it all that I made the mistake of checking out the train-related LEGO offerings on eBay. This was of course very dangerous as I predictably ended up splashing out on a whole bunch of additional 9V trains and rolling stock. Beware - LEGO trains are addictive, and expensive....

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Other Santa Fe

One of the cool things about my ongoing MOC City Layout project is that it features two loops of old-style LEGO 9V track, thus providing me with the perfect excuse to dig out and revisit some of my favourite LEGO 9V trains. After all, I've been accumulating LEGO trains for years - one of the first sets that I ever owned was Set 171 Train Set without Motor - and my love of LEGO trains was one of the main reasons that I embarked upon on my LEGO City project in the first place.

Anyway, having recently finished installing the upper track loop of my city, I decided that I'd mark the milestone by building a classic LEGO 9V train and use it to test the newly-laid 9V track. But which train to choose? Well, if we're talking classic 9V trains then many fans probably wouldn't look beyond the coveted and much-loved Set 10020 Santa Fe Super Chief, which I previously posted about here and here and also wrote about in the first ever issue of Bricks Magazine. Being a master contrarian, however, I thought that the Super Chief would be too obvious, so I've therefore decided instead to tackle the Super Chief's less glamorous sibling, Set 10133 Burlington Northern Santa Fe Locomotive, or BNSF for short.

Set 10133 was released back in 2005, three years on from the Super Chief, but the two set boxes nevertheless carry the same branding and background artwork featuring a map of part of the Santa Fe railroad which runs from New Mexico to Colorado and into Kansas. The front of the box (above) also features a cutaway showing a photograph of barren desert terrain superimposed with an image of the completed BNSF model plus minifigures, while the back of the box (below) is dominated by a number of boxouts which provide some alternate views of the set contents.

The box is designed to be opened via a couple of thumb tabs. My copy of the set was pre-owned so I don't know how many bags of elements it contained when new; I can't provide you with a scan of the set's single sticker sheet either as the stickers had already been applied to the bricks in my copy of the set, but thanks to the wonders of Bricklink you can see an image of the unused sticker sheet here. The set contains a single instruction booklet, the front cover of which (below) carries the same imagery as the front of the box. The booklet is 56 pages long, and unusually there's not a single advertisement or other distraction - the building guide occupies every single page apart from the front cover.

The set contains two minifigures - Conductor Charlie and Engineer Max. Conductor Charlie (below, left) can be found in a total of six sets including this one. His torso print, featuring a dark blue waistcoat complete with a fob watch, is exclusive to this minifigure but his unprinted dark blue legs, head print and dark red hat can be found as a constituent part of many other minifigures. Engineer Max (below, right) appears in just four sets. The combination of his white arms, old dark grey hands and a torso print featuring blue striped overalls is exclusive to the minifigure, although his blue hat, red bandana and head print can all be readily found elsewhere.

You can see a rear view of the two minifigures minus their hats below. Neither Charlie nor Max has a backprinted head or a backprinted torso so there's not much of interest to see here

The BNSF locomotive is constructed on a yellow 6 x 28 train base which is exclusive to the set. The build starts with the placement of a black 1 x 6 train wagon end at both ends of the train base, while railings consisting of 19L rigid hoses are attached on either side. The body of the locomotive is then constructed, initially from a variety of dark green elements including 1 x 3 and 1 x 6 bricks, 1 x 8 plates, modified 1 x 2 bricks with grille, and left and right 1 x 3 x 1 doors, all of which are unique to the set in this colour. Yellow plates and orange bricks and plates are layered on top, after which we're back on to dark green for the roof of the locomotive which features yet more rare dark green elements including modified 2 x 2 bricks with a curved top and 2 top studs, left and right 3 x 2 wedges, and a 4 x 6 plate, none of which had been seen before in dark green prior to the release of this set.

The tapered front and rear of the locomotive are fashioned in dark green, yellow and orange using SNOT techniques; once again we see the appearance of elements such as dark green 45 degree 2 x 4 slopes which were unique to the set at the time of its release. An orange Technic 1 x 2 brick with a hole, which had previously only appeared in two sets, is placed at the front of the locomotive, and a trans-clear 1 x 1 round plate is inserted into the hole as a headlight. A dark bluish grey printed 1 x 4 tile is used to represent the control panel in the driver's cab. Large stickers provide the 'BNSF' lettering which runs along both sides of the body. These stickers are STAMPs, i.e. they traverse multiple elements; this practice leads to difficulties in terms of dissassembling models when you're done with them and also compromises the longevity of the stickers themselves, so we should definitely be thankful that LEGO have largely stopped using stickers in this way over recent years.

With the superstructure now largely complete it's time to get to work on the structures underneath the train base (below) including the wheel assemblies, or bogies if you prefer. These feature the use of unprinted light bluish grey minifigure heads which had only previously appeared in a total of 4 sets. Each completed wheel assembly clicks into a hole on the underside of the train base by way of a 5mm pin on the top of a train bogie plate; this attachment allows limited horizontal rotation sufficient to enable the locomotive to successfully negotiate curved track sections. I believe that the structure sandwiched between the wheel assemblies is supposed to represent a fuel tank; the tiles on either side of it are stickered rather than printed. Both wheel assemblies feature a standard magnetic coupling for attachment to rolling stock, another locomotive or a B unit.

With the bogies and fuel tank assembled and attached, all that's left to do is complete the driver's cab and add a couple of final details. STAMPs once again feature, specifically the unit number on either side of the cab. The orange 30 degree 1 x 1 x 2/3 slopes, a.k.a. cheese slopes, which protrude from the front of the cab are also stickered with the unit number. The cab incorporates a number of rare orange elements; the six 1 x 2 x 2 plane windows remain unique to the set to this day, while other elements including 1 x 3 plates, modified 1 x 1 bricks with headlight, modified 1 x 2 plates with door rail and 45 degree 2 x 4 slopes have to date appeared in just 8 sets or less in this colour.

A couple of uncommon chrome silver car air horns are mounted on the roof of the cab, while further back three stickered black Technic 3 x 3 discs are mounted on top of the body towards the rear; I believe that these are supposed to represent cooling fans. In addition to their appearance in this set, these stickered Technic discs have also been utilised in Set 10020 Santa Fe Super Chief plus the more recent Set 10219 Maersk Train, both of which are, like the BNSF locomotive, also diesels.

You can see the finished build complete with minifigures in the picture below. While not as sleek or elegant as the Super Chief, I can't help but love the eye-catching colour scheme of the BNSF locomotive. It's also worth noting that the model is a pretty respectable representation of the real train - you can see a picture of the actual BNSF unit 2256 here.

In addition to its aesthetic merits, this set is also notable from the perspective of the elements that it includes. Not only was it one of the first sets to include dark green elements in any real quantity, but it was also one of the very first sets to include the now-ubiquitous cheese slope. Furthermore, as previously described, the BNSF locomotive incorporates loads of rare elements, some of which continue to be unique to the set more than ten years after its release.

The BNSF locomotive might not be as celebrated as the Super Chief, but it's still pretty collectable. Retailing for just £24.99 / US$40.00 at the time of its release, you'll now need to stump up well over £200 / US$300 for a sealed copy on Bricklink; I was lucky enough to pick up my used, boxed example back in early 2010 for a little over £50 plus shipping, but it would set me back around three times as much to buy it in the same condition now.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Playing Catch-up

I consider myself very fortunate that the first of LEGO's Modular Buildings, Set 10182 Cafe Corner (below), was still on the shelves when I emerged bleary-eyed from my LEGO Dark Ages in the late 2000s. I've written previously (here) about my love for the Modular Buildings, and have coincidentally just submitted what amounts to a eulogy on the subject of Cafe Corner to Bricks Culture magazine which will appear in Issue 5. Cafe Corner provided me with my first ever experience of building an adult-oriented LEGO set and it was a game-changer for me, opening my eyes to the potential of LEGO like no set before it or since. For the next few years I eagerly snapped up every new Modular Building that LEGO released within days of release, and everything else LEGO-related would immediately grind to a halt while I built it. Set 10185 Green Grocer was next to be acquired, and to this day remains possibly my favourite of all the Modulars. That was followed by Set 10190 Market Street, with Set 10197 Fire Brigade and then Set 10211 Grand Emporium next in line. While I definitely have my favourites, all of those sets share to a greater or lesser extent the same characteristics which drew me to Cafe Corner in the first place, fundamentally a sense that I was building something special, and with a level of polish far beyond any LEGO set I'd encountered previously.

It couldn't last, though. With the growth of my LEGO hobby in various different directions, not to mention work and family commitments, I haven't been able to keep it going. While I've continued to buy the Modulars as they've been released, life no longer grinds to a halt when they arrive, and to my shame I've still not built some of them. To some extent, the availability of quality online reviews and photographs, in tandem with seeing the completed sets on display in my local LEGO brand store, makes it feel like I've already built them all, but it's obviously not the same as building them myself. I'm therefore going to do something about it - basically, the plan is to crack open some of the Modulars that I haven't built yet, with a view to displaying them on my City Layout. First up is Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant, released in January 2014.

The front of the box (above) shows the completed set in all its glory. The Parisian Restaurant was only the second Modular to carry the Creator Expert branding, with the discrete Creator Expert logo visible top right. The set's 2,469 elements make this the second largest Modular to date in terms of the parts count, while the 16+ age recommendation whets the appetite for the advanced building techniques to come. The back of the box (below) highlights various views and features of the completed model, and there's also advertising for the three Modulars that were available at retail at the time of the set's release.

The box is opened by cutting a couple of tape seals, revealing a total of 18 sealed bags of elements, a light bluish grey 32 x 32 baseplate and dark bluish grey 8 x 16 plate loose in the box, and a sealed packet containing some instruction booklets plus a sheet of cardboard to keep them flat. There's thankfully no sticker sheet.

The set includes three instruction booklets and you can see the front cover of the first booklet in the picture above. Between them, the instruction booklets contain 177 pages not including their front covers; apart from three pages of advertisements (sample page below) and a three-page inventory of elements at the back of the third booklet it's building instructions all the way.

The set contains a total of 5 minifigures. All of them are exclusive to the set, although many of their constituent parts are commonly available elsewhere, notably their generic minifigure heads, unprinted legs, hair and chef's hat. That's not the case for some of the torsos, though - the female artist (below, far left) has a torso print which has only ever graced 3 minifigures, while the blonde-haired business man (second left) has a torso which has appeared as a part of just eight minifigures in total. The prints which decorate the torsos of the chef (below centre), the waiter (second right) and the female with ponytail (far right) are less rare, with all of them having appeared in more than ten other minifigures.

You can see a rear view of the minifigures minus their hair and hats below. Only three of the five minifigures have backprinted torsos. The female artist features a torso backprint of a dragon; there are no prizes for guessing that the only other two minifigures which share this torso backprint are both versions of Sensei Wu from the Ninjago theme.

And so to the build, which the instruction booklets break down into four stages. Stage 1 kicks off with the assembly of three of the set's minifigures plus a red scooter. The scooter (below) appears to have been modelled on a classic Vespa and features a one-piece body which was new and exclusive when the set was initially released but which has since appeared in a further five sets.

The build proper starts with a light bluish grey 32 x 32 baseplate; this is the only time that a 32 x 32 baseplate in this colour has ever appeared in a set. Tiles are dropped into place on the baseplate to represent the pavement outside the building, a strip of red carpet at the restaurant entrance, and the patterned floor inside the building. I had a real sense of deja vu as I gradually mapped out the ground floor of the building and filled various areas with tiles as every Modular Building I've ever assembled started out this way. Tan 1 x 1 and 1 x 2 plates are used to spell out the first part of the restaurant's name - "CHEZ" - on what will become the floor of the front outdoor dining area; once this area has been completed, and tables and chairs have been installed, the lettering is all but obscured, but it's a nice little detail all the same.

However much I might enjoy building Modulars, I can't say I was overjoyed to discover that the kitchen floor consists of almost 50 white and dark blue 1 x 1 tiles - I've always hated tiling with 1 x 1 tiles, mainly as it's so fiddly to line them up neatly. With the tiling done it's time to furnish the kitchen. A number of kitchen units are constructed which incorporate a sink, hob, oven, drawers and assorted work surfaces upon which plates, wine glasses and various foodstuffs are placed. There's even a large turkey complete with a couple of detachable drumsticks. Indoor and outdoor seating is then installed, and the boundary between the outdoor seating area and the pavement is decorated with flowers and fenced off with black chain-link fencing. The outdoor floral displays are planted in pots each consisting of a dark red 2 x 2 round brick with dome bottom; these were brand new elements at the time of the Parisian Restaurant's release. Stage 1 concludes with the construction of a number of indoor and outdoor tables for the restaurant's diners; the indoor tables are decorated with lamps which feature the same dark red 2 x 2 round bricks with dome bottom that were previously employed as plant pots, albeit used upside down in this instance.

Stage 2 of the build starts with assembly of the final two minifigures, after which work recommences on the ground floor of the restaurant. Lots of lovely olive green bricks are used to build the walls of the restaurant's ground floor - 1 x 1, 1 x 2, 1 x 3, 1 x 4, 1 x 6 and 1 x 8 bricks all feature, together with olive green 1 x 1 and 1 x 2 plates, so there's a decent selection for those builders looking to build their own olive green MOCs with the contents of the set. None of the olive green bricks used in the set have made an appearance in more than a small handful of other sets, and the olive green 1 x 3 and 1 x 8 bricks are unique to this set as things currently stand. As the walls start to increase in height, a nice brick-built rolling pin plus a selection of kitchen knives are mounted on clips on the kitchen wall, while an attractive sideboard is placed against the back wall of the main dining area and a painting in the form of a dark tan 2 x 2 tile printed with sailing ship and moon pattern is mounted on another of the interior walls. Eight reddish brown 1 x 2 x 3 windows plus transparent window panes are incorporated into the walls at the back of the restaurant; at the time of the set's release these elements had never previously been included in a set in this colour, although they've appeared in a few more sets since. Floor to ceiling windows are then installed along the front of the building together with a large glass door, and decorative lintels are placed over the top of each of them. The spaces between the windows and doors are occupied by ornate white columns featuring some clever detailing, for instance repurposed mechanical arms previously seen in the likes of the Exo-Force theme.

With the windows, doors and columns in place, an eye-catching facade was starting to materialise; this became even more impressive thanks to the addition of some sumptuous-looking brick-built dark blue curtains. The ground floor walls are then raised by another couple of bricks in height before being topped off by a layer of light bluish grey tiles in preparation for the placement of the second floor. Additional outdoor fixtures and fittings are then added at the front of the restaurant, notably some rather lethal-looking vegetation in the form of green flexible 3.5L spikes which have only ever appeared in five sets, a menu on a stand which makes use of a 2 x 2 printed tile that's unique to the set, and a dark red awning upon which a new 2 x 4 tile printed with the name of the restaurant, Chez Albert, is mounted. The awning features some rare dark red elements - a pair of 3 x 3 33 degree slopes and a pair of 3 x 3 33 degree double convex slopes - which have only ever appeared in a total of three and four sets respectively. A cast iron-effect awning is then attached above the outdoor dining area, and three lamps are hung from it; this awning will later be covered with vegetation, but not until the very end of the build for some reason. Hand rails are then installed on the outdoor staircase, after which we move to the rear of the building (below) and make some additions; vegetation in the form of large and small plant leaves decorated with 1 x 1 red flower heads and bright green carrot tops is hung from the rear wall, and a black vertical drainpipe is attached. We also get a small green dustbin and a brick-built blue dumpster complete with some hot dogs, bones and magenta cherries to put in it; we're even provided with a light bluish grey rat to sniff around the dustbin.... The final act of Stage 2 is to return to the front of the building and install a white lamp post on the pavement.

Stage 3 of the build consists of construction of the second floor of the restaurant, including the rear corner terrace (below) which is built first. The rear corner terrace is constructed on a patchwork of dark bluish grey plates and comprises seating and tables similar to those found in the outside dining area at the front of the restaurant, plus handrails and a pair of lamps complete with cute hanging baskets.

You can see how the rear corner terrace attaches to the completed ground floor section in the picture below. The terrace links up nicely with the staircase to the right of the building, and it also provides access to the second floor of the building which is next to be constructed.

The second floor comprises a small bedsit complete with a bed, a kitchen diner, a fireplace and a cosy tan armchair plus a glass-topped coffee table. The kitchen diner includes an oven and a hob complete with a frying pan; kitchen storage is provided by some drawers and a high-level wall-mounted cupboard. A dark tan and medium blue bed folds away neatly into the back wall to create more space in the cramped living quarters, and there's a floor-standing lamp in the corner which once again makes good use of the inverted dark red flower pot element described earlier. Out front there are window boxes and a glass door which leads out on to a small balcony framed with white columns (below); attractive detailing featuring decorative arches fashioned from white car mudguards is dropped into place above the windows, and the second floor is topped off with tiles in preparation for the placement of the roof.

Two doors lead out from the back of the second floor (below). One of these doors provides access to a tiny balcony while the other leads out to the previously constructed rear corner terrace and also to a flight of outdoor stairs which ascend to the as-yet unbuilt top floor of the building. Fences and hand-rails are installed to enclose the outdoor walkways including the stairs, and a section of vertical drainpipe is attached to the back wall.

Attention now shifts to the last of the three instruction booklets and Stage 4 of the build, which entails construction of the roof and the studio within. Some of the most eye-catching aspects of the completed model are constructed at this stage and can be seen at the front of this section (picture below). A highlight is the pair of large, white ornamental structures embedded in the roof. When I saw the first promotional pictures of the Parisian Restaurant it was these that immediately stood out, and they're fashioned at this stage of the build. The centrepiece of each of these structures is a white clam shell which, to my surprise, dates back to 1998 in this colour and has appeared in more than 20 sets to date. The clam shell is framed by a pair of vehicle mudguards which are mounted opposite each other to form an oval. Additional detail is provided by a pair of white croissants which were exclusive to the set at the time of its release, although have subsequently appeared in two more sets. There's also some lovely detailing consisting of repeating, closely-packed dark bluish grey feathers which are arranged in a row where the roof meets the floor below.

The front roof section clips in at an angle to create a sloping roof. It's fashioned from alternating dark blue 3 x 1 and 4 x 1 curved slopes, a technique which creates an interesting textured effect that you'll either think looks really neat, or else a bit messy (I definitely vote for "really neat"). At the rear (below) there's a pair of window boxes which utilise a number of bright green and red round 1 x 1 plates with flower edge. There's also a small yellow and white awning which brings to mind Cafe Corner. The angled rear roof section cleverly incorporates three Velux-type windows, and there's also a back door to the studio.

The rear roof section is hinged and drops open to reveal an art studio within the roof (below). The studio includes a couple of tiled canvasses, a brick-built easel and a paint palette which first appeared as an accessory supplied with the Artist Series 14 Collectible Minifigure. The studio also incorporates a fireplace which is covered by a hinged, iron-effect door.

With Stage 4 of the build done and dusted, all that's left to do is stack the various sections, attach some vegetation to the top of the cast iron awning on the ground floor, and the Parisian Restaurant is complete (below). The row of closely-packed dark bluish grey feathers at the base of the roof section that I mentioned earlier can be seen a little more clearly if you zoom in to the picture below.

From the back (below) you can see how the rear corner terrace, outdoor staircase and rear doorways connect. There's an impressive amount of detail on view at the back of the model given that many builders will likely display the completed model in such a way that the rear won't even be visible; it's just another reminder of the care and attention that's lavished on the Modulars by the set designers.

So what's the verdict? Well, I absolutely love this set. Moreover, I reckon that it's probably my favourite Modular Building since Set 10185 Green Grocer which is really saying something since Green Grocer is my pick of all the Modulars. It's a bit of a relief, actually - having already formed a very positive impression of the set from reading reviews, scrutinising photographs and seeing the completed build at my local LEGO brand store, there was always a risk that it might not live up to my expectations when I finally got around to building it; in fact, I now have a heightened appreciation of all the little details and clever building techniques, and I like the set all the more as a result. I think the olive green and dark blue colour scheme looks great, and the overall design and proportions work beautifully. There's also some truly impressive detailing, and critically I think that these details genuinely enhance the overall appearance rather than feeling gratuitous and out of place which can sometimes be the case.

In the interests of balance I guess I should highlight a couple of possible niggles. Firstly, while I personally think that the model is elegant and nicely proportioned, some might feel that it's a bit small and not great value for money; certainly there's a fair bit of empty space on the baseplate out front and round the back, and the presence of the external staircases and the rear corner terrace further reduces the size of the actual building.  Also, there are a few incongruous patches of tan and black showing through on the outside walls as a consequence of attaching various wall-mounted interior decorations. It would however have been hard to avoid this problem without the use of a double-walled building technique similar to that employed in the recent Ghostbusters Firehouse HQ set, and in all honesty it's not a sufficiently big deal to justify the cost of all the extra bricks that would be needed. It is slightly jarring, though.

In summary, therefore, I can wholeheartedly recommend this set, both to Modular veterans (who will admittedly almost certainly have already bought it long ago....) and also to those who are new to the world of Modular Buildings and may be looking to dip a toe into the water and see what all the fuss is about. As I write, the set is still available from LEGO brand stores and online from where it'll set you back £132.99 / US$159.99 / 149.99€. Best buy it before it's retired from sale, though, or you might find that it shoots up in price on the aftermarket, similar to what's happened with many of the other best-loved Modulars. Don't say you weren't warned....