Anyway, in April 2015 LEGO started to roll out changes to the familiar Pick-a-Brick format. A small section of the Pick-a-Brick wall was given over to a new Pick-a-Model station (below) featuring a couple of simple builds and a bunch of blister packs dangling from metal hangers. The blister packs feature three empty compartments plus an additional space above which accommodates a leaflet containing a set of instructions for one of the aforementioned simple models together with a breakdown of the parts needed to build it. Basically, you're supposed to walk around the Pick-a-Brick wall collecting up the necessary elements and put them in the blister pack - a do-it-yourself official LEGO set, if you will.
I think it's fair to say that AFOL reaction to the Pick-a-Model initiative has been, to put it mildly, rather mixed. Some bemoaned the loss of precious Pick-a-Brick slots in the wall, thus reducing the available element selection in stores. Also, reports started to come back of some stores stopping general Pick-a-Brick customers from selecting elements needed for the Pick-a-Model builds, although this wasn't the case for all stores and hasn't been my personal experience. Some have also criticised the cost of the models, which have an RRP of £3.99 in the UK and $4.99 in the U.S.. On the flipside, some of the Pick-a-Model builds have been quite cute, for instance the panda below. The models on offer change periodically, and you can see a selection of the builds that have been available in stores to date here.
Although I've been aware of the availability of Pick-a-Model for well over a year now I've never previously indulged. This is mainly because when I've visited a store and remembered to check what builds were available they haven't particularly interested me. That however changed recently when I saw that one of the current models was a penguin - I can't resist a penguin. So I grabbed the relevant blister pack, dutifully filled it with the necessary elements from the Pick-a-Brick wall, and handed over my £3.99.
You can see the packaging above; by this point I'd already opened up the blister pack and emptied out the contents of the element compartments in preparation for building. It's worth noting that the packaging is resealable, so that when you're done with the build you can take the model apart and safely store the elements and instruction booklet back in the original pack if you want. The front cover of the leaflet can be seen below, complete with an image of the completed build and an inventory of the elements required to build it.
At only 39 elements it's plainly neither a long nor a tricky build, and none of the constituent elements are particularly uncommon apart from the 1 x 1 round tile printed with an eyelash pattern which has only previously appeared in a total of nine sets. You can see the completed build below; the main model, which features hinged flippers, is accompanied by a smaller penguin made up of just eight elements.
Some texture is added to the rear of the main build (below) via the use of black modified 1 x 2 bricks with grille, although to be honest it's barely worth the effort since from behind it's completely unrecognisable as a penguin anyway....
LEGO has produced a few brick-built penguins over the years, but as far as I can tell these Pick-a-Model penguins are the first standalone brick-built penguins that LEGO has released since 2009 when the little fellow below briefly appeared in stores as a Mini Monthly Build. Since then all we've had from a brick-built perspective have been the teeny, TNT-toting remote-controlled penguins included in 76010 Batman: The Penguin Face off from 2014, although we have at least had a couple of cute one-piece moulded penguins to tide us over, specifically this one and this one, not to mention Penguin Boy from the latest series of collectable minifigures and even a Duplo effort for good measure.
While I do think that the Pick-a-Model penguins are quite cute (below) it's hard to dispute the accusation that this 'set', and indeed the other Pick-a-Model builds, offer rather poor value for money. In my case this concern was partially mitigated by the fact that store staff were happy for me to stuff the compartments in the blister pack with as many elements from the Pick-a-Brick wall as I could fit in, meaning that in practice I actually had enough elements to build multiple copies of the set rather than just the one. I'm not however sure if all stores will interpret the rules so liberally, and I'd be interested to hear whether other customers have had the same experience as I have. I also have some sympathy with the concern that this initiative reduces the number of Pick-a-Brick element slots in stores, although to be honest the selection is so limited anyway that the chances of finding exactly what you're looking for were already pretty miniscule.
In summary, Pick-a-Model is an interesting attempt by LEGO to increase visitor engagement with the Pick-a-Brick wall. Providing store staff continue to allow me to completely fill the element compartments in the blister pack, and LEGO's designers can offer up some appealing little builds, then there's a reasonable chance that I'll pick up more of them in future.