Friday, 27 February 2015

Jango Unchained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Box Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 18 January 2015

"And the Gimme LEGO Readers' Choice Award for Best Set of 2014 goes to...."

.....Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant.

If ever you needed proof that the LEGO Modular Buildings have lost none of their allure then this is it - the Parisian Restaurant opened up a healthy lead in the polls early on and never really looked like being overhauled, although Set 70816 Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP! at least put up a good fight and kept the competition respectable. The Parisian Restaurant can therefore claim an auspicious double, having already bagged my award for Best Non-Licensed Set in the 2014 Gimme LEGO Awards; although it was narrowly edged into second place in my own affections by Set 70810 MetalBeard's Sea Cow it's undoubtedly a worthy winner and yet another feather in the cap of uber-designer Jamie Berard whose CV grows ever longer and more impressive. You can see Jamie talking about the set in the designer video below.

The final rankings are shown below together with the number of votes polled by each of the sets. While the Parisian Restaurant and Benny's Spaceship were clearly well ahead of the other contenders, overall the votes were quite a lot more evenly spread compared with the 2013 poll when the top two sets polled more than two-thirds of all the votes. Although it was undoubtedly a cool set, I have to confess to being a little surprised that Benny''s Spaceship did so well; in contrast, I'd expected Set 21109 Exo-Suit and Set 76023 The Tumbler to attract more votes. I obviously did a reasonable job of selecting the best sets of 2014 for people to vote for as only 24 people (2.8%) felt that their favourite lay outside the list that I provided; off-piste selections included the likes of Set 76021 The Milano Spaceship Rescue.

Interestingly, voter numbers were down on the 2013 poll even though more people viewed the 2014 Awards posting on Gimme LEGO compared with the numbers who viewed the 2013 Awards posting - barely 10% of people reading the Awards posting placed a vote, compared with around 14% in 2013. Given this, particular thanks are due to Huw at Brickset for publicising the Gimme LEGO Awards and the readers' vote and thus helping to ensure a healthy sample size for the poll. Thanks also to all of you who voted.

I'd like to end by wishing all Gimme LEGO readers a belated Happy New Year, and here's hoping that LEGO's 2015 offerings can maintain the high standards of 2014!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Gimme LEGO Awards 2014

Yes - it's that time again! Welcome to the 2014 Gimme LEGO Awards and my annual trawl through the good, the bad and the ugly of the year viewed through LEGO spectacles. This is the fourth year I've presented the awards and as ever my selections are entirely subjective so please feel free to leave a comment if you violently disagree (or indeed agree...) with any of my selections. So here we go....

1. Best Theme

Last year's winner : Creator, including Creator Expert

2014 winner : The LEGO Movie

Yeah, I know - surprising, eh? I don't mind admitting that I winced when the LEGO Movie was annnounced - I feared that it'd be a car crash. I was similarly sniffy about the prospect of a raft of lazy tie-in sets which I assumed would target starry-eyed juveniles fresh out of the movie theatre and offer little in the way of originality or creativity. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Not only did the movie turn out to be a whole lot better than I had feared, but so far as the LEGO Movie sets themselves were concerned the lazy tie-ins for the most part failed to materialise and what we got instead was surprisingly good in the main.

The eye-catching flagship of the theme (both literally and metaphorically) was obviously Set 70810 Metalbeard's Sea Cow, but the reason that the LEGO Movie wins Best Theme this year isn't just about a couple of stand-out sets, it's instead a reflection of the number and diversity of quality sets at a variety of different price points. The roster of interesting and creative offerings starts at pocket money prices, and there's something worth having at pretty much every price point thereafter I reckon, including the likes of Set 70803 Cloud Cuckoo Palace, Set 70808 Super Cycle Chase, and of course Set 70816 Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP! which turned out to be one of the most talked-about sets of the year.

Unfortunately, the LEGO Movie set line up for 2015 is looking distinctly thin right now, with only three small sets on the horizon at time of writing; with the LEGO Movie sequel not due until 2017 this isn't altogether surprising. Let's just hope that LEGO is already preparing to impress us with another stellar line-up of tie-in sets in 2017.

Honourable mention : LEGO Ideas. From its humble origins as LEGO Cuusoo and the release of the Japan-only Set 21100 Shinkai 6500 Submarine, LEGO's crowd sourcing platform really exploded into the public consciousness over the past couple of years with the hugely successful Minecraft and Back to the Future DeLorean releases. I reckon that 2014 was the strongest year yet, with highlights including Pete Reid's Exo-Suit and Brent Waller's Ghostbusters Ecto-1, although I thought that all four 2014 LEGO Ideas releases had their merits. With Tom Poulsom's Birds project set to hit the shelves in early January, LEGO Ideas looks set to continue to be a source of diverse and at times quirky products, and long may that continue.

Honourable mention #2 : Mixels. Written off by some as just another cartoon tie-in, the Mixels have turned out to be a bona fide phenomenon. Some excellent creature designs, a nice selection of parts, and very competitive pricing have ensured that they've flown off the shelves from day one, and they seem to have captured the imaginations of younger builders and AFOLs alike. Although you have to wonder how long LEGO can continue to pump out new Mixel tribes with their own unique identities, people have been saying that about the Collectable Minifigures for years now and still they keep coming. Providing LEGO can keep the quality of designs high and the prices low there's no reason why the Mixels can't carry their success on into 2015.

2. Most Disappointing Theme

Last year's 'winner': Super Heroes

2014 'winner': Not awarded

You know what? There actually isn't a standout candidate this year in my opinion, so fair's fair - I'm not awarding the 'prize'. That having been said, there are undoubtedly a few themes whose 2014 report card might conceivably read "Could do better".... Last year's 'winner' was the Super Heroes theme, and if I'm honest there were still too many mediocre DC and Marvel Super Heroes sets released this year; that having been said, the theme was dragged up to a respectable level overall by a few genuinely decent offerings such as the excellent Set 76023 The Tumbler and the better-than-expected Guardians of the Galaxy sets. Elsewhere, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles offerings were a bit of a mash-mash, a situation not helped by the mixture of cartoon and movie sets in the line-up, but again the theme was saved by a few worthy efforts, particularly the Batcave-like Set 79117 Turtle Lair Invasion. Finally, LEGO's saturation of the market with what felt like a million Legends of Chima sets was neither subtle nor it seems particularly successful; even so, some of the Chima sets were pretty good - imaginative, well-designed and fun to build - so credit where credit's due.

3. The "Medieval Market Village" award for Best Non-Licensed Set

Last year's winner : Set 10232 Palace Cinema

2014 winner : Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant

Ho hum - another year, another Modular Building taking the non-licensed plaudits. Honestly, there's a danger that this category will end up having to be renamed 'The "Modular Building" award for Best Non-Licensed Set' at this rate. But what can you do? After all, while LEGO continue to release beautiful sets like the Parisian Restaurant I'm hardly going to just ignore them in order to give other sets a chance, am I? Let's therefore just sit back and rejoice at yet another wonderful addition to the Modular Building range.

What struck me first when I saw the pre-release publicity shots of the set was the colour scheme. The Modulars have frequently championed less common colours and the Parisian Restaurant is no exception with its predominantly olive green and dark blue colour scheme. This choice isn't just a gift for builders looking to bolster their stocks of elements in these colours either - I think the combination looks lovely. The next thing that struck me was just how much is crammed into the model - this isn't just a static display piece, it's a vibrant, detailed scene which captures an astonishing level of detail both inside and out. Honestly, every time I look at it my eyes are drawn to something different.

A characteristic feature of the Modular Buildings is their ingenious use of elements, often in the pursuit of architectural detail. Once again the Parisian Restaurant doesn't disappoint, as evidenced by the the sea shell and croissants on the roof (above) or any number of other lovely little touches worked into the design. To sum up, I think it's a beautiful model that's fun to build, packed with interesting elements and rare colours, overflowing with detail, and a tutorial in advanced and ingenious building techniques to boot. At £132.99 / US$159.99 / €149.99 for 2,469 pieces it's even reasonably priced. Stunning.

Honourable Mention : Set 31021 Furry Creatures. OK, so this Creator 3-in-1 set was never realistically going to win the award, not against the Parisian Restaurant or even other stand-out non-licensed offerings such as Set 10244 Fairground Mixer or Set 21109 Exo-Suit. But few 2014 sets have this much personality or indeed the ability to make me smile like this one does - the startled-looking mouse alone never fails to crack me up. This has been a good year for cartoon-styled sets, with seasonal offerings such as Set 40090 Halloween Bat and Set 40092 Reindeer nicely complementing the Creator 3-in-1 animal sets. Set 31031 Rainforest Animals looks set to continue the trend in 2015, and I for one can't wait for more.

Other contenders: Set 21009 Exo-Suit, Set 10244 Fairground Mixer.

4. Best Licensed Set

Last year's winner : Set 10236 Ewok Village

2014 winner: Set 70810 Metalbeard's Sea Cow

Similar to last year this was a fiercely contested category with a lot of outstanding licensed contenders vying for the prize. Ultimately, however, the decision wasn't too hard, with one set rising above its peers to claim the win. I built and reviewed the Sea Cow back in June and thought then that it was pretty much nailed on for the Best Licensed Set award; while the appearance of the Tumbler in November at least made a contest of it, the Sea Cow still gets my vote.

Prior to sitting down and writing this, I spent a few moments re-examining the Sea Cow model which is still built and on display in my house. I then took a quick look back at the review I wrote 6 months ago. The review is pretty gushing, using words like "spectacular", "remarkable" and "stunning", but I can confirm that those words ring as true now as they did then - the Sea Cow is a special set and deserves all the plaudits that I can throw at it.

The first thing you notice is just how huge it is - more than half a metre tall and around 60 cm long. What's remarkable is that seemingly every bit of space inside and out is crammed with little details - in the review I likened it to the kind of attention to detail that'd you'd generally only find lavished on the modular buildings. It's also incredibly quirky, the Steampunk-inspired fusion of olde worlde galleon with more modern machinery and weapons making for an at-times bizarre spectacle. And yet despite this the finished model just works, unlike some previous left-field experiments that I could mention (Time Cruisers I'm looking at you....).

Another thing worth highlighting is just how much fun it is to build; there's an almost organic feel to some sections and the build is never dull. There's an interesting selection of elements used, including a few which are unique to the set, and a number of interesting building techniques are showcased - construction of the sails using Technic panels is ingenious, as is the use of minifigure whips for ornamental detailing, to provide just a couple of examples.

While summing up my thoughts on Set 10236 Ewok Village which was my Best Licensed Set in the 2013 Gimme LEGO Awards, I made the point that such sets are a reminder that the LEGO company are still willing to take commercial risks in order to give their fans incredible products. This is doubly true for the Sea Cow which doesn't even have the Star Wars juggernaut behind it. For what it's worth, I'd rate the Sea Cow ahead of the Ewok Village - it's that good.

Honourable Mention : Set 76023 The Tumbler 

Rumours of a UCS Tumbler were doing the rounds for a while before the set was finally announced; I have to admit that I didn't give the rumours much credence which shows how much I know.... When The Tumbler did eventually appear in November it didn't disappoint - it's huge, incredibly detailed and immediately recognisable. Interestingly, the set seems to have caught the eye of people who I wouldn't necessarily credit with being LEGO fans - a couple of friends of mine have bought it despite having not built a LEGO model for years, and the set has received extensive media coverage well beyond the usual LEGO-friendly media. Spectacular.

Other contenders : Set 70816 Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!, Set 21108 Ghostbusters Ecto-1, Set 71006 The Simpsons House, Set 75059 Sandcrawler.

5. The "Phantom Menace" Award for Most Disappointing Set

Last year's winner : Set 76008 Iron Man vs. The Mandarin: Ultimate Showdown

2014 winner: Set 76014 Spider-Trike vs. Electro

Oh no - not again.... Having served up the 'winner' and the runner up in this category last year, the Super Heroes theme has somehow managed to achieve an ignominious double by grabbing the worst set award for the second year running - for shame!

You know, I get that minifigures are big business, and that for (presumably) licensing reasons LEGO can't release the minifigures on their own. I also appreciate that the set designers didn't have much budget left to play with after the cost of the minifigures had been accounted for. But a Spider-Trike? Really?! It's not even cool looking - it almost seems as if LEGO have gone for the "designed by a 5-year old" look in order to be consistent with the 5-12 age rating on the front of the box. Lest anyone forget, Spiderman can negotiate whole city blocks in moments by spinning webs and swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper. And yet he gets a Spider-Trike. That's just rubbish, and if you can't see why then I despair.

(Dis)honourable mentions: Set 21107 The End and Set 21117 Ender Dragon. Just to be clear, I don't have an issue with Minecraft - I played it for a couple of weeks in the name of research and quite enjoyed it, and I'm perfectly happy to encourage my youngster's enthusiasm for it. I also liked most of the Minecraft microscale sets, and I've bought a few of the minifigure-scale Minecraft sets as Christmas presents. Be assured, therefore, that my scorn for Set 21107 The End isn't ideological, just a reflection of the fact that I think it looks a bit rubbish. And Set 21117 Ender Dragon looks even worse, a rare misstep in what is otherwise a decent first wave of minifigure scale Minecraft sets.

6. Best Minifigure

Last year's winner : Tonto

2014 winner : Itchy and Scratchy

Perhaps the most subjective judgement of all, the 'Best Minifigure' award is increasingly hard to judge because the quality of LEGO's minifigures has become simply extraordinary over the past few years. Consequently, the choice is increasingly driven by more intangible factors rather than any objective measure. With all that in mind I'm going for a joint award this year, and Itchy and Scratchy get the nod. Although I do think they look great, they didn't win because they're particularly detailed - there are a host of other 2014 minifigures which feature more intricate and beautiful printing - nor indeed because they're an outstanding likeness of the subject matter. They basically win because my heart filled with joy the moment I liberated them from their foil packs, spied their mischievous expressions and set them loose on each other, and I still grin every time I see them.

Honourable Mention : Green Classic Spaceman. For me, one of the best stories of 2014 was the success of Pete Reid's Exo-Suit on LEGO Ideas, Mark Stafford's sympathetically designed retail version of the model, and the enormous buzz that surrounded the launch of the set. While the Exo-Suit itself came out really well, the icing on the cake was the inclusion of a pair of never-previously-seen green Classic Spacemen - fan service simply doesn't come any better than that.

Other contenders : Collectable Minifigures Series 12 Piggy Guy, The LEGO Movie Benny

7. The "Better than Expected" Award

Last year's winner : The Lone Ranger theme

2014 winner : The LEGO Movie

Given all my comments earlier on in this post, I guess that the recipient of this award is no surprise to anybody; while it might have been nice to try and spread the awards around a bit more, any other choice in this category would have been absurd.

    Similar to the Lone Ranger theme last year, my expectations for the LEGO Movie itself, not to mention the sets based on the movie, were pretty low. To say that what we ultimately got was a pleasant surprise is therefore a gross understatement; it speaks volumes that I'm disappointed that as previously stated we're only getting three small LEGO Movie sets among the first wave of 2015 releases.

    Honourable Mention : LEGO Star Wars Microfighters sets. These pocket-money sets featuring chibi-style renditions of iconic Star Wars vehicles complete with a minifigure looked faintly ridiculous in the publicity shots. The minifigures were absurdly oversized for the models, and it felt a bit like another cynical attempt to shoe-horn minifigures into unsuitable sets. Except that when I took the plunge, built and reviewed one of them (you can find the review here) I couldn't help but like it.... Clearly I wasn't alone as a second wave of Microfighters sets are incoming for 2015, and I'll likely be getting them.

    Honourable Mention #2 : Guardians of the Galaxy sets.  Given the extent to which the Marvel and DC Super Heroes sets have blotted their copybook over the past couple of years I was fully expecting the Guardians of the Galaxy sets to follow the tried and trusted formula of rubbish models used as an excuse to release a bunch of minifigures to a ravenous fanbase. What we actually got was nothing of the sort, though - all three retail sets were decent, particularly the largest of them which I reviewed here. A nice reminder that LEGO can still design worthwhile System scale Super Heroes sets as well as just excellent minifigures.

    8. Most Welcome LEGO-Related Announcement

    Last year's winner : Peter Reid's Exo Suit to be the next Cuusoo Set

    2014 Winner : UCS Slave 1 incoming

    LEGO have been drip-feeding us with Star Wars UCS sets since 1999, generally a couple per year. Up until now, however, there's been a massive Slave 1-shaped hole in the UCS line-up; given the iconic nature of the ship, not to mention the perfectly manageable scale and technical feasibility of the design task, the lack of a Slave 1 has been a baffling and frustrating omission. Until now, that is - the wrong will soon be righted with the imminent arrival of a UCS version of Boba Fett's Slave 1. What's more, I've been lucky enough to get my hands on a pre-release copy of the set (review here) and I'm delighted to report that it's superb. So any chance of a UCS A-wing next, or even an AT-AT....? :-)  

    Honourable mention : Birds to be made into a LEGO Ideas set. Granted LEGO Ideas has spawned a number of desirable sets to date, but I know I'm not alone in bemoaning the preponderance of licensed creations on the platform. I'm all for LEGO versions of some classic I.P's, but not to the exclusion of everything else; it's almost as if a generation of builders has lost the ability to come up with their own original ideas. It was therefore gratifying when Tom Poulsom's Birds project hit 10,000 votes on LEGO Ideas and got the greenlight for production. The resulting set, which will be available in early January 2015, consists of three beautifully-designed models of birds, and there isn't a licensed I.P. in sight. More original concepts like Birds and the Exo-Suit please, LEGO.

    Honourable mention #2: Jurassic World sets announced. I love dinosaurs, and I love LEGO dinosaur sets. I can't get enough of them. Imagine my joy, therefore, at the announcement that LEGO have signed up to create sets based upon the upcoming Jurassic World movie. Hopefully LEGO will also go back in time and give us some Jurassic Park sets while they're about it.... LEGO Jurassic World sets will hit the stores in May 2015, with the movie arriving in theatres in June.

    9. Gimme LEGO Reader's Choice Award

    Last year's winner: Set 10236 Ewok Village

    2014 winner: you tell me....

    Now it's your turn. At the top of the page on the right of the screen you'll see a list of what I consider to be eleven of the best sets of 2014. Please vote for your favourite; if your pick isn't on the list then select 'None of the above' and leave a comment or send me a message via the contact button above the list letting me know which set you think should win the prize. Cast your votes - one person, one vote - and at midnight on 15th January the poll will close and we'll have our winner.... If you're on a smartphone or similar and can't see the poll then click "view web version" at the bottom of the page in order to see the nominations and cast your vote.

    *Update* Voting has now closed and you can see the results here.

    Previous Gimme LEGO Awards : 20132012, 2011