Set 6552 Rocky River Retreat was released in 1993 and contains 241 pieces. You can see the front of the box below; my copy isn't exactly pristine, but it's reasonably well preserved given that it's 20 years old. The front of the box features the completed set superimposed on a suitably wild and mountainous backdrop. Some rudimentary efforts have even been made to match the pattern on the baseplate, specifically the river, with the backdrop. Unlike today's sets there's no suggested age range printed on the front of the box.
The back of the box (below; click to enlarge) showcases some possible alternate builds. None of the suggestions are exactly earth-shattering, but thinking back to my childhood and remembering how I used to endlessly scrutinise every detail of the alternate builds, it's a great way of getting the creative juices flowing and something I miss from most modern sets.
When new, the box was evidently secured with tape seals; cutting the seals enabled the end flaps to be neatly lifted without damaging the box, and providing access to the contents which were packaged within a white, cardboard tray. My copy of the set thankfully still has the original cardboard tray, without which I think the box would probably deteriorate pretty quickly as it's not very robust.
The front cover of the instruction booklet can be seen above; it's pretty much identical to the front of the box. The back cover (below) features a larger view of a couple of the alternate build ideas shown on the back of the box.
The instruction booklet is close to A4-sized, and at only 16 pages from cover to cover it's refreshingly concise when compared with some of the bloated efforts we have to contend with these days. One reason for the brevity is an almost total absence of any advertising, be it of other sets, the LEGO club, surveys or whatever. Just about the only nod to promotional activity is the triangular panel which occupies the top left hand corner of the back cover of the instruction booklet above, although what those 200 points would have counted towards I have absolutely no idea - answers on a postcard.... The building guide occupies all but the front and back covers of the booklet, and you can see the final step of the building guide below (click to enlarge).
It's at this point during a set review that I'd generally start to highlight a few of the rare or interesting parts which can be found in the set. There are certainly a few elements worth mentioning - the light grey 6 x 8 slopes with slate roof pattern and the brown rope bridge for starters - but truth be told they all pale into insignificance in the face of the quite wonderful baseplate (below) which is unique to this set. LEGO seem to be increasingly moving away from including baseplates in sets at all, let alone patterned beauties like this one; while in many respects set design has come on leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades, I do mourn the demise of the likes of Green Baseplate 32 x 32 Island with River Pattern and its ilk.
The set contains two minifigures and an old-style horse which comes complete with a red saddle. The unnamed female minifigure is descriptively but not exactly snappily titled Jogging Suit, Light Gray Legs, Light Gray Cowboy Hat, Backpack by the folks over at Bricklink, or par046 for short. Although none of her constituent parts (head, torso etc.) are unique to this minifigure, the specific combination of elements comes together to create a minifigure which doesn't appear in any other sets. If you're thinking that she has an unusually long neck then you'd be right - her backpack hangs around the peg on the top of her torso, and this prevents her head from sliding down on to the peg to the full extent. I do have to briefly mention her torso; when I bought this set from eBay and checked through it to make sure that all the parts were present and correct, I was dismayed to discover that I'd been sent the wrong torso for this minifigure. More in hope that expectation I checked my (modest) collection of loose LEGO and to my astonishment discovered that the only loose blue torso I owned just so happened to be the correct torso for this minifigure.... Strange but true.
The unnamed male, Jacket Green with 2 Large Pockets - Blue Legs, Red Cap, or just pck001 for short, can be seen below. While he's made up of some pretty commonplace parts, similar to his female counterpart above this specific combination of head, torso, legs and cap comes together to make a minifigure that isn't very common at all, only appearing in one set in addition to this one. I do love his stubbly face, complete with blue-tinted sunglasses. Although he wisely leaves most of the heavy lifting to his companion in the form of her sizeable backpack, he does at least come equipped with a small brown suitcase......
Once the minifigures have been assembled it's time to do some real building. First up are the trunks of the trees which are made up of brown modified 1 x 1 x 2 bricks with shutter holders; the shutter holders themselves lend a pleasing, knobbly appearance to the tree trunks, a simple but surprisingly effective technique that I've not seen used before. While these modified 1 x 1 x 2 bricks aren't exactly common, either in brown (a colour which has now been retired) or in reddish-brown (the modern equivalent of brown), they aren't really uber-expensive to buy on Bricklink either. Don't therefore be too surprised to see a few trees 'borrowing' this technique in my City Layout, assuming I ever get around to completing and landscaping it. I probably won't be copying the foliage, though, which merely consists of small prefab pine trees plonked on top of the tree trucks and looks distinctly odd....
The yellow 4x4 (below - click pics to enlarge) is classic 4-stud wide fare, in contrast to the 6-stud wide vehicles we're generally served up nowadays. The wheels look a little oversized, but it's otherwise a nice looking, fully loaded little vehicle featuring opening driver-side and passenger-side doors, a sunroof and an opening tailgate. There are even clips to side-mount a fishing rod and a pickaxe. The 4x4 comes with a trailer and speedboat, the latter featuring a rather neat little retractable outboard motor. In some ways it brings to mind Set 4433 Dirt Bike Transporter and actually stands up reasonably well to the comparison despite the difference in scale and an almost 20-year difference in release dates.
Last to be built, but definitely not least, were the cabin and scenery (picture below; click to enlarge). I got a huge buzz out of building on that wonderful baseplate, but the building pleasure was almost criminally shortlived, lasting as it did for a paltry 10 building steps. The end result might seem slightly blocky to readers of less advanced years but it's also utterly charming, and the baseplate works beautifully. Interestingly, the positioning of certain features - a couple of the trees, the bush and the campfire - differs between the building guide and the box art as you'll see in later pictures.
You can see the finished set below (click to enlarge) complete with all minifigures, horse and vehicles laid out consistent with the box art. While I'm definitely not a fan of large, prefabricated LEGO elements like the rock faces (known in AFOL parlance as BURPs and LURPs) and the rope bridge, even those can't spoil the view and (say it quietly) they actually work rather well in the context of the set. It's quite hard to believe that the set only contains 241 pieces as there's so much going on - definitely a case of "less is more".
A rear view of the set (below; click to enlarge) reveals the interior of the cabin. There are some rudimentary furnishings to be found within, and the cabin is connected to a secret cave which extends beneath the rock formation - delicious !
As you may have gathered, I think this set is epic. From the brilliant baseplate to the vehicles and scenery, everything just works a treat, and thanks to some excellent and thoughtful design the set is so much more than just the sum of its parts. It looks lovely, and there's also lots to like in terms of play opportunities for the younger builder; certainly my youngster was drawn to the set like a moth to a flame.
I got a good deal on the set from eBay, but they don't come up that often, so if patience isn't your thing and you're looking to get hold of a copy quickly then Bricklink is your best bet - at the time of writing there are 17 copies of the set listed for sale there in varying states of completeness. You can pick up a complete, boxed example for less than £25 plus shipping; you'll need to shell out around £100 plus shipping for a mint, sealed example, however. Although for a bona fide classic like this, it might just be worth it....