Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Gimme LEGO Awards 2015

Welcome to the 2015 Gimme LEGO Awards and my annual end-of-year trawl through the good, the bad and the ugly of the year viewed through LEGO spectacles. This is the five year anniversary of the awards and as ever my selections are entirely subjective so please feel free to leave a comment if you think I've got it badly wrong....

1. Best Theme

Last year's winner: The LEGO Movie

2015 winner: LEGO City

Surprised? Yes - me too. It's all too easy to dismiss the perennial City theme on the basis of the tiresome and interminable Police and Fire rehashes - God knows I often fall into the same trap myself - but dig a little deeper and you'll realise that in 2015 the City theme has actually offered a wealth of superb and varied sets.


Let's get the negatives out of the way first. Fire did make an obligatory appearance in 2015, but it was in the form of just a single small starter set, and we were furthermore spared any standard Police rehashes this year. Also, POOP tends to be more prevalent in the City theme than it is in other themes, and this year was no exception. In mitigation, however, it's used sparingly and judiciously; indeed, one of the better City sets of 2015, Set 60095 Deep Sea Exploration Vessel (below), likely wouldn't have seen the light of day without it.



Having quickly dealt with the minor gripes it's time to start highlighting the positives. Firstly, Swamp Police. Yes, I know it sounds stupid and probably shouldn't work, but the sets are almost universally excellent, featuring some interesting structures, unusual vehicles such as airboats, hovercraft and tracked vehicles, an interesting parts selection, and even occasionally worthwhile scenery. I vowed to cut down on my spending this year, and City sets were top of my "must resist" list, but despite that I just couldn't stop myself picking up a couple of the Swamp Police sets as they're so neat.


Next up for praise is the Deep Sea Explorers subtheme. Consisting of six sets, I first got my hands on the full line-up while doing a review for Bricks Magazine and was really impressed with the set designs, with Set 60092 Deep Sea Submarine (below) particularly standing out for its realism and play value. Another highlight is the previously-mentioned Set 60095 Deep Sea Exploration Vessel which looks great and is literally dripping with play features.


LEGO City also gave us a handful of welcome Space releases in 2015, with the highlight being Set 60080 Spaceport (below) featuring a good-looking Space Shuttle complete with external fuel tank, solid rocket boosters and a mobile launch pad. Other notable City offerings in 2015 include an attractive new cargo train in the form of Set 60098 Heavy-Haul Train, and Set 60097 City Square.


Overall, a very impressive showing for LEGO City in 2015, and a richly-deserved Gimme LEGO Best Theme award, the first time that LEGO City has achieved that feat - well done to the design team!

Honourable mention: LEGO Ideas. Having merited an honourable mention last year, LEGO Ideas once again delivered. Of the four Ideas releases, all seem to have been well-received; only Set 21302 The Big Bang Theory fell short as a LEGO set in my opinion, and even that one was a hit with the TV show's legions of fans. Ideas is far from perfect, with its reliance on I.P. rather than genuinely innovative original creations its main achilles heel, but even so if it keeps delivering sweet hits like Birds, WALL-E (below) and Doctor Who then I won't be complaining; let's just hope that the ridiculous controversy over the Ghostbusters Firehouse HQ doesn't convince the LEGO Company that Ideas is more trouble than it's worth....




Honourable mention #2 : Ninjago. Back from the dead. Literally. Only LEGO knows the truth, but the story goes that LEGO killed Ninjago to make way for Chima, the next big thing. Except that despite a hugely stripped-down output in 2013 and 2014, Ninjago refused to die, and to their credit LEGO listened to their fans and breathed new life into the theme with an impressive set line up in 2015. You could admittedly accuse LEGO of a somewhat scattergun approach to the Ninjago releases this year - they've pumped out a staggering 46 Ninjago sets in 2015 including magazine promos - but within those 46 sets are a surprising number of gems. Set 70751 Temple of Airjitzu is obviously the stand-out, but Ninjago 2015 is far from being a one-trick pony, with the likes of Set 70737 Titan Mech Battle, Set 70734 Master Wu Dragon and Set 70738 Final Flight of Destiny's Bounty also catching the eye, amongst others. Surprisingly strong.


2. Most Disappointing Theme

Last year's 'winner': Not awarded

2015 'winner': Not awarded

Not awarded again? Indeed. Sorry to be so non-controversial, but once again there isn't really a theme bad enough to merit the wooden spoon this year. OK, so I do have continuing reservations about the DC and Marvel Super Heroes themes and their minifigure-centric design choices which come at the cost of some rubbish builds, but even those mediocre themes are saved by a sprinkling of decent sets (Set 76035 Jokerland anybody?) which would make a 'worst theme' gong seem unreasonably harsh. So no standout candidate this year, then, and therefore no award.


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

Last year's winner : Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant

2015 winner: Set 70751 Temple of Airjitzu

Wow - where did that come from?! It seems like every year one of my 'Best Set' awards, be it licensed or non-licensed, goes to an offering which has emerged from left-field with a minimum of fuss or fanfare - the likes of Set 70810 Metalbeard's Sea Cow and Set 10228 Haunted House immediately come to mind. That trend continues this year with the sumptuous Temple of Airjitzu.




Given the enduring popularity of the Ninjago theme, its rehabilitation in 2015 wasn't perhaps entirely unexpected, but what was a surprise was the appearance of a big AFOL-oriented Ninjago set, particularly one of this undoubted quality.  With its mix of interesting colours together with a nicely-integrated selection of buildings - the temple itself plus a blacksmith's workshop and a smuggler's market - it has a definite hint of Japanese-themed Medieval Market Village about it, and that impression is further reinforced by the inclusion of a host of attractive little details and clever building techniques. Look at some of the neat curved roof sections above, for starters, not to mention that wonderful bridge....




The attention to detail extends to the interior of the buildings which are furnished and incorporate a number of play features, most notably an illuminated spinning shadow theatre at the base of the temple (above) which uses a light brick and a crank to create the effect, while the inclusion of a dozen minifigures, some of them exclusive to the set, help to bring the beautifully crafted oriental scene to life.



This is a beautiful, grown-up set, and you can buy with confidence regardless of whether you're a Ninjago fan or not. Wonderful!

Honourable Mention: Set 10246 Detective's Office. LEGO has been cranking out superbly-designed Modular Buildings for so long now that I'm starting to get the feeling that some AFOLs are beginning to take them for granted. There's no sense of complacency so far as the design of the Detective's Office is concerned, however. Levels of external detail remain extremely high, and the use of clever building techniques continues to amaze and educate - check out the design of the balustrades in the picture below, for example. Interior detail, meanwhile, is typically impressive with a host of neat interior features and furnishings shoehorned into the set.



Overall, the Detective Office is superbly realised, with its clever design on this occasion being driven by an amusing back-story. It's blessed with a ton of wonderful interior and exterior detail, and if I'm honest it probably loses out to the Temple as much by virtue of being "just another excellent Modular" as anything else. Unreservedly recommended.

Other notable candidates: Set 31031 Rainforest Animals, Set 31039 Blue Power Jet, Set 60095 Deep Sea Exploration Vessel, Set 10247 Ferris Wheel, Set 70173 Ultra Agents Ocean HQ


4. Best Licensed Set

Last year's winner : Set 70810 Metalbeard's Sea Cow

2015 winner: Set 75060 Slave I

Given that fans of LEGO's long-running Star Wars theme had been waiting patiently for fully 15 years for a UCS version of Boba Fett's iconic Slave 1 craft, there was always going to be the potential for disappointment and anticlimax when LEGO finally got around to releasing one. Thankfully, any trepidation was quickly dispelled when the set hit the shelves.




We need not have worried - it's stunning. At almost half a metre long and comprising almost 2,000 elements it's also huge, not to mention richly detailed and accurate - everything LEGO Star Wars fans could have wanted, basically, right down to its display stand and UCS plaque. It's tough as well - unlike some of the older UCS offerings which would fall apart in a soft breeze, Slave 1 is made of stronger stuff. You can even grab it and swoosh it and it'll survive to tell the tale.




Like its UCS brethren before it, this version of Slave 1 is first and foremost a display model. Even so, it still manages to incorporate a slew of features such as hidden weapon compartments, a rotating cockpit and wings, an opening cargo bay door, and rotating twin blaster cannons. All things considered, it's pretty much the perfect UCS set, and one of the very best Star Wars offerings for literally years in my opinion - magnificent.

Honourable Mention: Set 71016 Kwik-E-Mart. I'm no particular fan of the Simpsons, but even then I couldn't fail to be impressed by the Kwik-E-Mart. Although this model could comfortably pass for a typical U.S. convenience store in anybody's City layout, it's far from being the most eye-catching or imposing set from the outside; really this 2,179-piece monster is all about the interior and the incredible attention to detail. While stickers are predictably prominent in recreating a realistic interior, there are thankfully lots of printed elements used, a number of which are unique to the set. The build is packed to the brim with references to the show and as such the set provides superb fan service, but there's also more than enough to engage those without a passion for The Simpsons but who are looking for a big, interesting and detailed build.




Other notable candidates: Set 10248 Ferrari F40, Set 75902 The Mystery Machine, Set 21303 WALL•E, Set 21304 Doctor Who


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

Last year's winner: Set 76014 Spider-Trike vs. Electro

2015 winner: Set 10249 Toy Shop

Let's cut to the chase: this set is a stinker - a lazy and massively disappointing re-release. I know that I wasn't the only person to cringe in embarrassment as I watched the official LEGO Designer Video and witnessed poor Morten try to suggest that Set 10249 wasn't in fact basically the same as Set 10199 Winter Village Toy Shop; just to be clear, a few inconsequential part substitutions do not a new set make. For every LEGO fan pleased to be able to get what is effectively a copy of a retired set at less than the inflated aftermarket price, there's another LEGO fan (myself included) who was eagerly anticipating the latest instalment of what has become a popular Christmas tradition and who is now bitterly disappointed.



It seems bizarre for LEGO to consciously take a decision which was always guaranteed to unnecessarily alienate a part of its fanbase - they surely can't have failed to foresee the negative reaction. Word on the street is that we didn't get a 'new' Winter Village set this year because all the designers were busy on other projects; I'm not sure how credible this is, but if true then it's a really short-sighted decision considering the popularity of the Winter Village line and the way that so many fans have taken it to their hearts. Whatever the reason, the release of Set 10249 was a big misstep in my eyes, and let's hope that it's not a taste of things to come.


6. Best Minifigure

Last year's winner: Itchy and Scratchy

2015 winner: The Eleventh Doctor

All my awards are inherently subjective to some degree, but with the explosion in quality of LEGO minifigures over the past few years I think that's doubly the case so far as the 'Best Minifigure' award is concerned. The fantastic, intricate minifigure designs that we're seeing, in tandem with the stellar print quality, make it pretty much pointless to try and pick a winner on the basis of technical merit. Which is kind of liberating, in a way, as it means I'm free to choose on more esoteric grounds....


As a nerdy Brit of a certain vintage, I've loved Doctor Who for almost as long as I've loved LEGO; given the prodigious speed that the LEGO Ideas Doctor Who submissions accumulated 10,000 fan votes I'm evidently in good company, and many rejoiced when LEGO did the right thing and greenlit a Doctor Who Ideas set for production. This in turn made it inevitable that my toughest job in choosing Best Minifigure this year was merely to decide which of the two versions of the esteemed Doctor included in the set I should give the award to.... In the end The Eleventh Doctor edges it, mainly because at this point Matt Smith has seeped into my consciousness slightly more than Peter Capaldi has. The figure itself is nicely realised, and I like the way that the jacket print continues downwards from the torso to the legs, but it truth there's nothing especially technically outstanding about this minifigure - it's all about the Doctor!

Honourable Mention: Scooby-Doo



I'm actually dubious whether Scooby-Doo even counts as a minifigure, but that's the great thing about hosting your own awards - you can make up the rules as you go along.... Scooby-Doo was another chunk of my childhood that LEGO chose to immortalise in ABS in 2015, and LEGO Scooby himself was everything I hoped he'd be - goofy-looking, grin-inducing and delectable. And just to seal the deal, bloody Scrappy was nowhere to be seen - Scooby-Dooby-Doo!

Other contenders : Collectable Minifigures Series 13 Hot Dog Man, Collectable Minifigures Series 14 Plant Monster


7. The "Better than Expected" Award

Last year's winner: The LEGO Movie

2015 winner: LEGO Dimensions

Although the allure has admittedly started to wane, I've been a huge fan of TT Games' LEGO offerings for years now and have played my way through many of them. Having staunchly resisted the lure of the "toys-to-life" craze until now, however, I wasn't convinced that I needed LEGO Dimensions in my life. The developers were very clever, though, gradually adding an ever more appealing collection of third party I.P.'s to the Dimensions roster to tempt me in, to the point where it was hard to resist. I think Portal 2 was the clincher; once I knew that Chell and co. (below) were on the way, and that I'd effectively be able to play Portal within a recognisable LEGO world, I decided to take the plunge.


I went in with my eyes very much open, however; my scepticism of the toys-to-life craze has largely been founded on the belief that the USP is a shallow gimmick which, when all is said and done, doesn't really add anything meaningful or profound to the actual gameplay. Sure, there's something cool about watching a real object warped into a virtual world, but once you've seen it a few times.... Still, if ever I was going to throw myself into the fray and give it a chance, the time was now.



The fact you're even reading this would suggest that Dimensions has won me over, and to an extent it has. Firstly, I think the involvement of LEGO has enhanced the genre, insofar as it's not just a case of dropping pre-fabricated junk onto a pad before losing it under the sofa - there's actually a LEGO Vortex to build, plus characters, objects and vehicles to assemble, prior to warping them into the game. OK, so the construction isn't strictly necessary - the LEGO Toy Pad and character bases function perfectly well without it - but for the LEGO fan it undoubtedly enhances the experience. Also, the game requires some degree of subsequent interaction with the characters and Toy Pad, for instance moving them from one sector of the pad to another at certain points during the proceedings. Again it's far from perfect, and it even feels contrived and a bit irritating at times, but at least there's the possibility of moving the mechanic beyond pure gimmickry to something potentially worthwhile.


Thankfully the game itself is pretty good, for the most part - vintage TT Games fare - and overall I'd have to say that the involvement of the Toy Pad and other accessories has enhanced the overall experience. Better than expected then, although I can't give Dimensions an unreserved thumbs-up by any means - the high cost of the character packs, plus the fact that you now need to pay extra to access game areas that would previously have been unlockable for free, make it hard to love Dimensions like I loved TT Games' previous output.


8. Most Welcome LEGO-Related Announcement

Last year's winner: UCS Slave 1 incoming

2015 Winner: Set 75827 Firehouse Headquarters

I have to admit that I was highly sceptical when I heard the whispers about a Ghostbusters Firehouse release - a set of the size and scale quoted seemed just too niche, even for LEGO. I should have known better, though - any company capable of putting the likes of Set 70810 MetalBeard's Sea Cow into production isn't averse to confounding expectations with a few bonkers releases.... Even so, I think LEGO have outdone themselves this time - at 4,634 pieces, Set 75827 Firehouse Headquarters is absolutely massive, with the third largest parts count of any LEGO retail release ever and 2,000 more elements than the Sea Cow.


Regular readers of Gimme LEGO will know that I have a long love affair with Ghostbusters, having previously chronicled the design and construction of my own ECTO-1 and Ghostbusters Firehouse HQ MOCs here on the site. Having already got my hands on the official Firehouse set, however, I can confirm that it's of a different order of magnitude to my own efforts; its use of predominantly double-walled construction techniques means that it's solid and weighs a ton, while the incredible attention to detail lavished on most of the interior spaces will delight LEGO fans, not to mention taking them many hours to complete the build.... It'll be available at retail in just a couple of days, so start saving....


9. Gimme LEGO Reader's Choice Award

Last year's winner: Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant.

2015 winner: that's up to you!

Now it's your turn.... At the top of the page on the right of the screen you'll see a selection of LEGO sets which I consider to be some of the best that 2015 had to offer. Please vote for your favourite set! If your favourite isn't on the list then select 'None of the above' and leave a comment below or send me an e-mail via the contact button letting me know which set you think is the best of 2015. Cast your vote - one person, one vote - and at midnight on 14th January the poll will close and we'll have our winner.... If you're reading this on a device which isn't displaying the poll as described then click "view web version" at the bottom of the page in order to see the nominations and cast your vote. Thanks!

*Voting has now closed - click here for the results!*


Previous Gimme LEGO Awards: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

15 comments:

  1. While there are a few sets I got that I still have yet to build (eg The Temple of Airjitzu and some of the Force Awakens and Minecraft sets), my favorite would be 10247 - Ferris Wheel. I love how it's absolutely enourmous footprint, bright colors, and full functionality welcome you and make it stunning on display and hours off spinning fun for play. What's also great is that they didn't even need to make it-it was a genuine and pleasant treat that I'm sure will be remembered long down the line.

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    1. Cheers, Charlotte. I have to admit that the Ferris Wheel left me strangely cold; maybe it was the peculiar muted pastel colour palette, but it just didn't inspire me. I know that many others loved it, though, and hence its selection for the readers poll.

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  2. I know a lot of people didn't like it, but I absolutely loved building 76042 The SHIELD Helicarrier. The selection of nanofigures is fantastic and the finished product is impressive on display.

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    1. I agree, I voted None of the Above and would select 76042 SHIELD Helicarrier. While the Temple of Airjitzu is certainly impressive, it loses a few points for uniqueness given the existence of both Battle for Ninjago City and City of Stiix.

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    2. The Helicarrier is an interesting one; I think it suffered in comparison with the successful Ideas submission which looked better, and the retail set didn't seem to get as much love as I expected it to.

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  3. NomadiCrafter30/12/15

    This is a great list! I agree with everything it had to say. Just wanted to put that out there.

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  4. The Helicarrier would have been a lot higher on the list if it included more exclusive mini figs and not on 2/5 new ones. Would have loved an Agent Coulson minifig and another new one. Maybe even a play feature to drop the Hulk trap from the Avengers movie as well.

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    1. Coulson was definitely a miss - I've lost count of the number of people who complained that he wasn't included.

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  5. Argh - I have a duplicate Palace Cinema I will be returning to the Lego shop (long story) and had narrowed my exchange options down to Ferris Wheel, Temple of Airjitzu, or the upcoming Brick Bank. Having just mentally decided on the last, now your glowing review of the temple has thrown me back into confusion! This might now require a full blown Pros and Cons list....

    Otherwise, a great article! ;-)

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  6. Very well written and presented. Kudos for the excellent analysis. While it's hard to criticize recent Lego offerings, I think Pirates 2015 may qualify as the most disappointing theme. This release was pretty bland. It's hard to screw up a Lego masted sailing ship, yet the Bounty was about as boring as such sets can be. The accompanying smaller sets were equally boring. Limited play value here, with the shipwreck and old fort bits. It appears Lego agreed, and pulled this set early; its was out less than a year. Otherwise, agree with most of your rating, though I would have placed Ferris Wheel in for an honorable mention equal to Detective's office among your ratings.

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    1. You make a great point about Pirates - if I had an award for "Most boring theme" then it would have been in pole position.....

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  7. Anonymous31/12/15

    Thanks for your great job Drdavewatford, that's very interesting and pleasant to read. For me too, it will be the Temple of Airjitzu in number one and on the podium there will in second place : the Detective Agency and the Ferry Wheel, and third Wall.e with the Kwik-e-market.

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    1. Anonymous31/12/15

      My name is Julien... :-) And to all have a good evening !

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