Sunday 31 October 2010

Paper Chase

All hail the UK Daily Mirror. I have to confess that it's not my choice of daily newspaper, but every now and then they run a promotion whereby they give away free LEGO with the newspaper, which really can't be bad. We're in the midst of one of these promotions right now - 10 free sets on 10 consecutive days, rounded off with a collector's box and a playmat. There are some really neat little sets in the line up this time round, with my personal favourites being a Christmas Tree and a Snowman (just in time for Christmas), and a splendid parrot. Just buy the paper, take the voucher within to WHSmiths or TRU, and they'll give you a free set (assuming they have any left). And if you can't get to one of these stores, collect 8 different vouchers from the newspaper, send them off with a cheque for £8.99, and they'll send you the goodies instead.

Set 30008 Snowman - just in time for Christmas

I think it's fair to say that the Mirror caused a mini riot last year when they had a similar promotion focused on LEGO Star Wars - 6 different sets on 6 consecutive days that time round, including a few sets which had never previously been available anywhere (Set 30005 Imperial Speeder Bike and Set 30006 Clone Walker, both shown below, and set 30004 Battle Droid on STAP). Honestly, the feeding frenzy that accompanied that promotion was truly something to behold, with outpourings of angst when eager collectors pitched up to collect their sets only to discover that there were none left.

30005 Imperial Speeder Bike

30006 Clone Walker

So bravo to the Mirror for running such splendid promotions, which are a great chance to get some nice little sets at a bargain price (i.e. the cost of a newspaper). But that's not really what I wanted to focus on in this posting. No, the real reason for this posting is to talk about the kind of behaviour that these promotions seem to foster. I'm talking about the compulsion to hoard these little sets. Loads of them.

Before going any further, it should be acknowledged that the hoarders have a team of willing accomplices - there's no doubt that sympathetic staff in WHSmiths and TRU facilitate this hoarding behaviour. Not once did a member of staff actually remove the voucher from my newspaper when handing me my set, thus leaving me theoretically free to visit any number of other WHSmiths or TRU stores and obtain further sets if desired (which I admittedly didn't do, although I could have done). Actually, I'd go as far as saying that some stores seemed positively desperate to get rid of the sets, occasionally handing out multiples without even being asked. I remember one shop assistant who, on being asked whether he had any unclaimed sets left over from previous days, disappeared into the back of the store and returned with a shopping bag full of sets which he thrust into my arms. He commented that they were cluttering up his store, and seemed genuinely delighted to be rid of them. Hell, I left feeling like I'd done him a favour ! No better reinforcement of hoarding behaviour than that.....

Hoarding during these promotions is rife. I remember checking out one of the online LEGO forums on the day that the Mirror gave away the parrot set. One guy on the forums was boasting that he'd managed to secure 40 parrots that day. FORTY of them. When I'd finished shaking my head and wondering quite how he'd managed to do this, I started to consider what could possibly have motivated him to spend his time trying to hoard 40 parrots. And just to be clear, this guy is far from alone in behaving like this - people the length and breadth of the country do seem to be relishing the opportunity to pick up ridiculous numbers of these sets.

Set 30021 Parrot - you can seemingly never have too many of these....

So hoarding these promo sets is clearly endemic, then, but why ? Well, you only need to look on right now to see where at least some of these promo sets are ending up - on sale. Some for a pittance, others for a laughably high price, eBay is currently flooded with these sets, so simple opportunism, and the ability to make a bit of money, is as usual one of the major motivators. Other individuals sell off the parts that these sets contain via Bricklink or elsewhere.

But what of those individuals who get hold of multiple sets and don't sell any of them ? What's their motivation ? Well, some of them raid the sets for the parts they contain, to use in their own LEGO creations (MOCs).

Set 7808 Yellow Airplane - another 2010 Daily Mirror giveaway

This however leaves the final group - those people who get loads of sets, don't sell them, and don't even open them for parts. These are the true hoarders, those tortured individuals who, if given the opportunity, will continue to accumulate sets until they eventually drown under the weight. I've written about these hoarding tendencies in a previous blog posting and would be willing to bet that a fair proportion of people fall into this category.

Set 30012 Microlight - part of the October 2010 promotion

So thanks again to the Daily Mirror for feeding our lust for LEGO, and also for filling the eBay LEGO listings.....

Wednesday 27 October 2010

"It's an old code, but it checks out...."

It's been hard to find much building time recently but I finally finished putting together Set 10212 UCS Imperial Shuttle and she's a beaut !

You start out by building the body of the ship (including the mechanism for raising the wings into the landing position and lowering them into the flight position) and then construct the floor of the cockpit. This part of the build is great and proceeds almost too quickly - admittedly some Technic elements, but mainly proper bricks and plates. Then you build the enormous tail using a combination of technic beams and regular LEGO (which is a bit tedious, to be honest) after which you finish up the cockpit, and then build and attach the wings. Finally it's a case of adding a few details such as the laser and blaster cannons at the front before finishing off by constructing the huge stand which allows the ship to be displayed with the wings either up or down.

The mechanism for raising and lowering the wings works pretty well and is reasonably robust - 2 LEGO cranks fit into a couple of holes beneath the engines, and by rotating the cranks the wings slowly rise or fall. Then, once the wings are in the desired position, you can remove the cranks so as not to spoil the aesthetics.

I do love the beautiful, sleek cockpit with the huge windscreen (last seen used as a skylight in Set 10211 Grand Emporium). The cockpit drops open to reveal sufficient seating for 4 minifigs - Vader, Luke, an Imperial Guard and an Imperial Pilot. There's even somewhere for Vader and Luke to store their lightsabers. The set also includes a 5th minifig - a stormtrooper - but there's unfortunately nowhere for him to sit in the shuttle. So presumably his job is to guard the shuttle after it's landed, but he doesn't actually get to ride in it.....

The model looks pretty sleek and spectacular perched on its stand I reckon. A number of non-AFOLs have inspected it and all seem pretty impressed. The set comes with an alternative stand only a few studs high upon which the ship can squat when the wings are raised in the landing position; one of the downsides of this smaller stand is however that there's nowhere to attach the plaque (below), which does fit nicely on the taller stand.

The verdict ? It's sleek, elegant and it looks like it's supposed to. It's certainly a big step up from the 4 other versions of the Imperial Shuttle that I've got (Set 7166 is shown built below; the others are still sealed in their boxes & polybags) although it's admittedly significantly more expensive at £239.99 for 2503 pieces.

Set 7166 Imperial Shuttle (2001)

Set 4494 Imperial Shuttle (2004)
Set 20016 Imperial Shuttle (2010)

Set 7264 Imperial Inspection (2005)

Overall, it's not cheap but I think it's worth the money if you enjoy building and displaying big models, especially if like me you also happen to love the design of the ship itself. It was a no brainer for me from the moment it was announced, and I've had no regrets !

Sunday 24 October 2010

Favourite Sets #4 : 1926 Renault

Next up in my list of favourites is set 391 which is the 1926 Renault released in 1975.

This is another set which I had as a kid, and at the time it seemed almost impossibly elegant and detailed when compared with other LEGO vehicles in my possession which were generally small, simple affairs made up of around 20 pieces. This set contains 237 pieces, including some amazing large white spoked wheels which have only ever appeared in one other set - the 1909 Rolls Royce set, in case you're interested. All in all, the LEGO company released 3 vintage cars in 1975 and 1976 under the 'Hobby Sets' moniker, namely the Renault, the Rolls Royce and Set 390 1913 Cadillac, all of which shared many design cues and were in my opinion streets ahead of the kind of vehicles previously released in terms of detail and authenticity - clearly the shape of things to come.


I couldn't resist building the Renault again recently, and you can see pictures I took of the completed set below (click to enlarge). It was lovingly constructed from the original pieces and building instructions, although the box has unfortunately disappeared into the mists of time. That's what eBay is for, however, and this set has such sentimental value for me that I later ended up buying another one complete with box....

I also subsequently managed to pick up a boxed Rolls Royce and Cadillac from eBay - if you're patient and don't overbid, they can be had for surprisingly little money given their rarity. You can see pics below.

Set 395 1905 Rolls Royce
Set 390 1913 Cadillac
Three lovely sets, but the Renault was the one I owned when I was a boy and it therefore beats the Rolls and Cadillac by a nose to make it into my favourites list.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Over the Rainbow

Once upon a time when I was a boy, LEGO was a pretty simple affair. Nobody ever talked about dark tan pieces, or nougat pieces, or flesh coloured minifig heads, or even Maersk Blue. We had a fairly rudimentary palette of black, blue, red, yellow and white pieces, plus a few clear transparent bricks and the odd green baseplate and tree, and we were grateful for that. Really, people today don't know they're born, with their chrome lightsaber hilts and tan cheese slopes.

Anyway, one day my parents bought me a big space ship (Set 928 Galaxy Explorer) and my world changed. OK, so the ship was mainly blue, but to my astonishment the wings were grey, the windscreen was transparent yellow and there were transparent red and green pieces stuck all over it. Honestly, it was just the sexiest thing ever.

Set 928 Galaxy Explorer - my ticket to a more colourful world
As the years passed, the LEGO colour palette continued to expand. I'm sure there were purists who probably complained bitterly, said that LEGO had sold out etc. etc., but most enthusiasts surely would have appreciated the flexibility that all these new colours brought.

And then in 2002 a dark cloud passed over the world of LEGO; for reasons explained in detail at the time and since, but which really don't make a great deal of sense to me (something to do with "creating a sustainable colour palette for the future", although others have cited a tendency for some of the original colours to fade badly in direct sunlight), the LEGO company changed some of its existing colours. The original brown colour was changed to a more red-brown shade, and the greys also changed. The dark grey became a more bluey shade of dark grey, and the light grey became a more bluey shade of light grey, nicknamed 'bley'. So just imagine - there you are, accumulating a massive collection of light grey pieces for your 500,000-piece model of Mount Rushmore or some massive castle somewhere, and then along comes someone and subtly changes the grey to a different shade, and all of a sudden the new pieces you aquire no longer match the old pieces in your collection. It's probably fair to say that all hell broke loose in some quarters as a result.

It's also a total pain for the collector trying to replacing missing pieces from older sets. The newer shade of (red-) brown is reasonably distinct from the old shade, and the newer shade of dark grey is again fairly noticeably different from the old shade, but the difference between the new and old light grey pieces can be very hard to spot unless (a) you're somewhere well lit, or (b) you mix the old and new pieces in a model and stand back, in which case you'll inevitably see the difference in colour sticking out like a sore thumb..... Man, it is such a total pain trying to tell the difference between the older and newer light grey at night when you only have a 60W light bulb for company !

New brown and greys (far right column) and the original colours (one column to the left)
These aren't the only colour issues faced by LEGO builders; there have also been concerns about variations in colour within sets. I've had personal experience of this - a distinctly greenish tinge in some of the yellow pieces in set 7997 Train Station was the first time I encountered this issue, and since then I've seen other examples, for instance some significant variations in the colour of dark red pieces in Set 10197 Fire Brigade and red-brown pieces in Set 40005 Easter Bunny which stuck out like a sore thumb after building. I have to admit I'm not unduly concerned by this, but some people do feel very strongly about it and have been extremely vocal in their criticism.

Set 40005 Easter Bunny - love the set, don't love the colour inconsistency....
I suppose one could argue that the explosion of new colours might conceivably have been responsible for these issues of colour consistency - it stands to reason that it'd be harder to keep tabs on the consistency of 100+ colours rather than just 5 or 6. Others have suggested that it's maybe because the LEGO company has expanded manufacturing to new countries such as China and quality isn't yet up to scratch. Whatever the explanation, I'm seeing some evidence from online forums that this issue is becoming less common, so fingers crossed.....

Perhaps if the LEGO company had just stuck with the traditional core colours of black, blue, red, yellow and white with the occasional splash of green and a few clear transparent pieces, this issue may never have reared its ugly head. But then the Galaxy Explorer would never have been the set it was, and I might therefore never have become an AFOL, sitting here and typing this. Which may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your point of view.....

Monday 18 October 2010

To boldly go....

I'm ashamed to admit that I laughed when my wife told me that we were going on a family visit to the UK National Space Centre. I wasn't aware that my fellow countrymen had made a particularly substantial contribution to space exploration thus far, and I therefore wasn't sure that there'd be much to see. As it happens I was entirely wrong - there was loads to see, including rockets and bits of rockets, a host of interactive exhibits, and an excellent film show in the 360 degree space theatre on site. Definitely worth a visit, and I'll certainly return at some point.

We had an ulterior motive for our trip that day, however - my wife discovered that the UK Brickish Association would be exhibiting there that day, and knowing my love of LEGO, thought that it would therefore be a particularly good day to visit. What a top wife ! Having attended the Great Western LEGO Show at STEAM a couple of weeks ago, which is the Brickish Association's largest annual display, I was expecting something on a much smaller scale, so was pleasantly surprised by how many models there were to see.

Entitled "Hay Carts to the High Frontier" and covering transportation from prehistoric times to the distant future, the exhibition featured a pleasing mixture of 'official' LEGO sets and great MOCs, and I figured that today's posting would be a great way to give some of my favourites a bit more exposure. Click on the pics to enlarge, and please excuse my amateurish photography.


Having raved about Ed Diment's magnificent USS Intrepid MOC on this blog a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to discover that a number of his other creations were on show. "Concorde" (above) and the "Red Bull Air Racer" (below) were just 2 of his models on view.

Ed and long-time collaborator Ralph Savelsberg were responsible for the huge and awesome "Carl Sagan" space station, and also the "Duesenberg" and "Pink Cadillac" (all shown below)

Peter Reid, meanwhile, was showing off some of his amazing Neo Classic Space creations, inspired by the Space sets of the late 1970s and early 1980s (Set 928 Galaxy Explorer in fact remains one of my favourite ever sets). Shown below is his "Marauder" ship, which I'm afraid my photograph doesn't really do justice to at all - the level of detail and greebling on the surface is truly extraordinary. I really will have to devote some time on this blog to the original classic space sets at some point as they are truly iconic and provide me with some of my fondest childhood LEGO building memories, so watch this space.

Meanwhile, Stuart Crawshaw's colossal "Rocket Base" (below left) didn't look too out of place in the company of some of the actual National Space Centre exhibits (below right)...... Interesting that the (LEGO) rocket was called LL483, another reference to the Classic Space era where the ships also had an "LL" designation (or maybe I'm just over-interpreting) 

The combination of some excellent LEGO creations and the interesting National Space Centre exhibits made for a really good day out. Apologies to all those builders whose superb creations I didn't feature - other MOCs such as Andrew Danieli's magnificent "Ave Caesar" arena and a glorious paddle steamer were also on display, as well as a number of smaller, quirky MOCs such as E.T. and Danger Mouse's flying car. Thanks to all the friendly builders for their hard work, and also for being good sports and tolerating my embarrassing boyish enthusiasm and stupid questions with good grace....

Friday 15 October 2010

Technic Torture

I'm typing this with something of a heavy heart as I'm fully aware that I'm about to antagonise a lot of people. I mean no offence, but I have something I want to get off my chest.

And here it is : where's the fun in LEGO Technic ? There, I've said it. I know for a fact that there are millions of people around the world who derive enormous enjoyment from it, it's just that I'm not one of them.

Set 8880 Super Car - revered by many, baffling to me

Sure, I can fully appreciate how clever it all is, and I can see how some of the sets have real educational value. I'm also occasionally amazed by some of the finished models, be they official sets or some of the magnificent MOCs out there. But it's just such a total pain to actually make things with LEGO technic elements - threading axles through gears and making sure everything's perfectly aligned in order for it to work properly, putting rubber bands around little pulleys, slipping bushes onto axles, fiddling around with hundreds of Technic pins and those tiny little 1/2 bushes. Honestly, it's just not LEGO building in my eyes.

And that's just for starters. Taking models apart is even worse. During my quest to complete my LEGO Star Wars collection, I bought a number of used LEGO Star Wars Technic sets. These invariably arrived half-built, so I had to first fully disassemble them to ensure that all the pieces were there. Oh my, the miserable hours I spent trying desperately to pull all the pieces apart without breaking them, or indeed without ripping my fingernails out. Brick Separators are just no use in this situation. It felt like an all-new form of torture, and my fingers have never been more sore than after a session trying to take a LEGO Star Wars Technic set apart. I still have nightmares about it now. I just thank God that I now have all the LEGO Star Wars Technic sets and will never again have to disassemble one, unless I choose for some incomprehensible reason to punish myself at some point.

Technic C-3PO - nice and shiny, but murder to take apart....

Except I will have to disassemble LEGO Technic again..... Because pretty much regardless of what your favourite LEGO theme is, Technic is among us - hidden and silent, like a secret agent behind enemy lines. OK, so perhaps less so in the City sets, but it's all pervasive across the Star Wars theme, particularly the big sets. While recently building Set 10212 UCS Imperial Shuttle, for example, I seem to have spent half the time joining large Technic beams together with various types of Technic pins to construct the wings and tail of the ship. OK, I have to concede that without the use of Technic elements the model would probably just fall apart like crumbly bread, but even so, that aspect of the build wasn't much fun at all, just a bit tedious.

Another downside of Technic is that many of the Technic elements are just useless if you want to build anything, well, non-Technic. You can use standard, system LEGO pieces if you're in to Technic, but what on earth am I suppose to do with all the Technic pins, bushes and studless beams when I'm done with a Technic model and want to build something else ?

OK, OK - I have to admit that I'm playing Devil's Advocate somewhat here. While my moans above are entirely genuine, Technic is really not all bad.... For instance, one of my favourite older sets is Set 851 Tractor from 1977, which is in fact a Technic set (and indeed the first Technic set I ever owned).

The acceptable face of Technic ?

This set skilfully melded Technic elements with an outer shell of 'proper' LEGO pieces so that the model actually looked like a tractor while also having some neat moving parts, such as a working steering rack. I also picked up and built Set 8480 Technic Space Shuttle quite recently and it looks awesome, although I have to confess that I've so far been unable to get any of the powered functions to work, likely due to an issue with one of the connecting wires. Either that or I'm just too dumb to be let loose on LEGO Technic....

Set 8480 Technic Space Shuttle – Stunning!

Also, as I stated earlier, Technic elements play a critical role in ensuring the structural rigidity of many of the huge sets that I love. Put simply, no Technic = no UCS Millenium Falcon, no UCS Imperial Star Destroyer etc. etc., and that would be (very very) bad.

So, I guess you could summarise it as follows : LEGO Technic - loved by some, and a necessary evil for the rest of us.


Tuesday 12 October 2010

Love letter

And so, behold probably my favourite LEGO set of all time.....

Set 10188 Death Star - a work of utter genius

Put simply, Set 10188 Death Star is like a love letter from the LEGO company to Star Wars fans around the world. It's miraculous to me the way that the designers of this set have managed to squeeze so much detail, and so many references to Star Wars, into just one set. Basically, the model is split into multiple compartments, each of which references a particular Death Star-related scene or location from the original Star Wars movie (plus one scene from Return of the Jedi, for good measure). I must warn you that I could eulogise about this set for hours, but for the sake of anybody reading this I'll force myself to just try and call out some of the highlights so that the length of this posting remains manageable.

First, cast your mind back to the scene in Star Wars where Luke and Han dress as stormtroopers and escort Chewie to the prison block restrained in 'binders' to rescue Leia, who was scheduled for 'termination'. The shoot out in the prison block is neatly recreated within this set, both in terms of the imposing design of the prison block itself, and also the inclusion of the key characters from the scene in minifig form (click the pics to enlarge). Han and Luke are even wearing stormtrooper uniforms, and Chewie's wearing binders !

Prison Block
Leia herself is hidden behind the black walls of her cell above but can be released from the clutches of the IT-O interrogator droid (included in the set) by popping the bars of her cell; the cell block also features a moveable CCTV camera (the blue object in the picture above) and a cog which you rotate in order to open a secret trapdoor to the Garbage Compactor beneath.

Garbage Compactor
Pinned down in the cell block, Luke, Leia, Chewie and Han leap through the blasted drainage grating and fall headlong down the garbage chute into fetid depths of the Garbage Compactor below - Han to Chewie : "I don't care what you smell". As in the movie, the LEGO walls close in on our heroes (just push the red lever, shown at the top of the picture above), while a monster (the dianoga) lurks amongst the debris ready to pull Luke under.....

Meanwhile, Ben Kenobi is on a mission to disable the tractor beam which is preventing the Millenium Falcon from escaping. Having distracted a guard with a Jedi Mind Trick, he creeps up to the controls and deactivates the beam while a black R2 unit goes about its business below.

Disabling the Tractor Beam
Elsewhere, having now escaped from the Garbage Compactor, Leia and Luke get separated from Han and Chewie, and they arrive at a dead end, more specifically the edge of a deep chasm. With stormtroopers behind them, they have no option but to swing across....

Swinging Across the Chasm
Honestly, I could just go on. And on. And on. As well as recreating the iconic Star Wars scenes above, the set also features a number of other compartments including a TIE hanger containing Vader's TIE Advanced, Grand Moff Tarkin's conference room, a cargo loading bay, a couple of turbo lasers modelled on those which were supposed to protect the Death Star trench, the Emperor's Throne Room, a control room for the Death Star's primary weapon, and of course the primary weapon itself, caught in the moment of firing (at Alderaan, presumably). Half a movie, then, lovingly crammed into one magnificent LEGO set.

Death Star Primary Weapon - bye bye, Alderaan
And there are also a host of 'play features' as the LEGO company might call them - a working central lift, blast doors which slide open and shut, a launch cradle for Vader's TIE Advanced, a working cargo lift and crane, controls to aim the Death Star primary weapon - the list goes on and on. I doubt that any LEGO set in history has managed to cram in as many features as this one.

Vader's TIE Advanced ready for launch
And if that wasn't enough, the set also contains 24 minifigs - more than almost any other set ever. These include some rarities such as a black protocol droid and R2-Q5, as well as Luke and Han in stormtrooper outfits, Grand Moff Tarkin, Vader and the Emperor himself - a minifig collector's dream.
If you're a fan of LEGO and a fan of Star Wars then this is the nearest you'll get to a no-brainer for as long as you live. Just buy it. Trust me - you will not regret it. It's even still available direct from LEGO despite having been around for a few years now so there's really no excuse not to.

All these minifigs in just one set...

Seriously - it's utterly, utterly brilliant.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Balancing act

I was reminded of the sometimes fine balancing act between being a LEGO builder and a LEGO collector this past week. The launch of Set 10214 Tower Bridge, together with double VIP points from LEGO stores during October, prompted me to put in an order for the Tower Bridge set plus a number of other sets I'd been meaning to get for a while. It was the biggest order I'd put in for a long time, and I was obviously eager for my bounty to arrive. My excitement turned to dismay, however, when the doorbell rang a few days later and I saw the state of one of the large packing boxes that had arrived - dented and battered, with a large tear down the side. The good news was that Tower Bridge had survived the pummelling pretty much intact, but some of the other sets were just too bashed for me to accept them and they'll have to go back to the mothership in Billund.
Winter Village Bakery - wish mine had arrived looking this good....

These things happen, and if you're going to shop online you just have to accept that your items, whatever they are, may not always arrive in tip-top condition. It also has to be said that ordering direct from LEGO is generally low-risk as they send the sets out in quite robust boxes, and also usually throw in a few of those air-filled bags which look like individual monster bubble wrap for good measure. Nothing can protect sets against the most determined of destructive courier companies, however, and it got me thinking about why it matters so much to me when the boxes of my LEGO sets aren't pristine.

While I'd certainly describe myself as a LEGO collector, I only actively collect Star Wars sets and a couple of other themes; generally, I just buy sets I like the look of. And none of the damaged sets that I'll be requesting replacements of are Star Wars sets or other themes that I'm collecting. Furthermore, looking over my collection with an objective eye, even a number of my Star Wars sets are far from 'mint', so it's not as if I have the kind of collection that I'd be able to sell to the most discerning of buyers for a huge amount of cash anyway. And that's assuming I'd even sell my LEGO. In fact, I can't really envision a situation other than utter destitution where this would happen; almost certainly I'll cherish my LEGO until I snuff it and then hopefully my boy will take up the baton.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that it really doesn't do any good to analyse any of this too closely because it's fraught with illogical behaviour and inconsistencies. For instance, given that I'll realistically never own all the Star Wars sets in MISB condition, why am I so reluctant to crack open some of my sets which ARE sealed and build them ? The obvious answer is that the value will  diminish, but as I've already stated, I have no intention of selling anyway. Ever. It just doesn't make sense. Similarly, I go through phases of picking up sealed duplicates of used Star Wars sets that I already have, and also used copies of sealed sets that I already have, which all points to me trying to amass 2 complete collections - one sealed for the MISB collection, and one used for building. And that's even though I'm fully aware that I'm not willing to commit the kind of funds necessary to complete a sealed collection. Honestly, Freud would have a field day. It does however suggest that I'm at times uncomfortably straddling the fence between being primarily a collector and primarily a builder, and that life would be easier (and perhaps cheaper) if I could just make my mind up which I really am.....

The UCS X-Wing - worth a fortune sealed, but great to build....

It's a strange beast, LEGO. There can't be many other toys which can consistently be sold for as much, if not more, than they were bought for, and if left unopened can not infrequently fetch 2 times, 3 times, 4 times or even more times their purchase price within just a few years of buying them - just look at how much MISB LEGO Batman sets are selling for on eBay if you are in any doubt. Perhaps it's this which can at times result in an uncomfortable tension between the impulse to collect and hoard, and the need to open the sets and build. For me, the compulsion to build generally wins out in the end, regardless of how much a set is worth, but it can be a close-run thing sometimes.....

Thursday 7 October 2010

Flavour of the Month

And the flavour of the month is.....cheese. Honestly, they say you can't get enough of a good thing, but I'm beginning to wonder whether that's actually true.

I can remember how excited I was when I first caught sight of them, and I wasn't the only one. Part number 50746, with the catchy name of "Slope 30 1 x 1 x 2/3" but thankfully nicknamed the "Cheese Slope" on account of it's wedge-like profile, first appeared in a couple of sets as early as 2004, but has really exploded onto the LEGO scene big-time over the past few years.

Cheese Slopes - coming to a set near you.....
I mean, what's not to like ? Thanks to the Cheese Slope, jagged edges are a thing of the past. The skilled builder can seemingly use them to smooth off literally any irregularity, and they have been an absolute God-send for those builders who crave realism and aesthetic beauty in their LEGO creations. Seldom can a piece have been taken to builders' hearts so quickly. It's gone from being available in just 3 colours (Orange, Dark Green and Trans-Orange, according to Bricklink) in 2004 to at least 27 colours including the mythical "Glow In Dark Trans" in just 6 years. I've never actually seen "Glow In Dark Trans", but just typing it has made me want a Cheese Slope in that colour so badly I can almost taste it.

Spot the Cheese Slope - one of the first sets to include them...

But in the midst of all this adulation, I'm wondering whether the first signs of a backlash have begun. These things seem to be turning up everywhere right now - I don't remember the last time I bought a set at retail which didn't have a whole bunch of them in different colours cheerfully rattling about within. And I was frankly shocked to learn that the much anticipated Set 10214 Tower Bridge contains 585 of them. Yep, you read that right - there are five hundred and eighty five Cheese Slopes in the Tower Bridge set, including a mind-boggling 556 Tan Cheese Slopes. This is not only remarkable due to the sheer number, but also because prior to the launch of this set, Tan Cheese Slopes had never appeared in any set at all. Talk about going from one extreme to another. At this rate, the world will soon be taken over by Cheese Slopes - we'll be picking them out of our breakfast cereal and from between our toes, finding them blocking up the plughole when we've taken a shower, and tossing and turning awkwardly in our beds as we inadvertently lie on top of them - if left unchecked it's potentially a recipe for global misery and disaster.

I also suspect that the LEGO purist, that dying breed for whom use of pretty much anything other than 2 x 4 bricks is blasphemy, might also have something to say about the overuse of the Cheese Slope in modern day models, be they official sets or MOCs. There's certainly an argument that the combination of SNOT building techniques (which hide the studs), together with liberal use of Cheese Slopes to smooth off all the rough edges, means that LEGO models look increasingly sanitised and un-LEGO-like in appearance. I'm actually not sure that this particularly bothers me, but I guess there is some truth to it.

So, Cheese Slopes - a blessing or a curse ? Well, right now I'm a fan, but I might have a change of heart if they start appearing in my beer.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Buyer beware....

If like me you like to collect LEGO sets, you'll no doubt have spent time watching items on eBay to see how much they sell for, not to mention buying the occasional item now and then.....

There are a few things that never cease to amaze me when I watch LEGO-related buying and selling activity on eBay. One of them is how some people just openly lie on their listings, for instance by describing an item as "Rare !" when it's actually available in pretty much every single toy store in the civilised world, and when there are hundreds listed at that moment on eBay alone. Worse is when an item is listed at well above the RRP (Recommended Retail Price) but when the listing nonetheless states "Less than RRP !". Naughty, naughty. I sometimes wonder if there's an eBay "cheat line" where we can report listings like this, and whether or not it's my civic duty to point out such "inaccuracies". I'm well aware I shouldn't get all exercised about stuff like this, but it's just so blatant that I find it hard to control myself - nurse, my medication please.

Then there's the description of used sets as "100% complete". Yeah, right - 100% complete apart from the 20 pieces which were the wrong piece altogether, the wrong colour, or just completely missing..... I once bought a set that was "100% complete" and I swear almost a third of the pieces were missing or just plain wrong. As I argued in a previous blog entry, I suspect that most of the time this isn't actually a deliberate attempt to con the buyer, it's just what happens when people who don't know anything about LEGO ask their kid if the LEGO set they want to sell is complete and the kid says yes they think it is. So not really dishonest, then, but still pretty rubbish. I just thank goodness for Bricklink, through which I've sourced an untold number of replacement pieces. Here's a quick tip - in my experience, used Harry Potter sets seem to be the worst offenders when it comes to missing or substituted parts. You have been warned.....

Used Harry Potter sets - 100% complete?

Obviously not strictly dishonest but still an affront to decency are those sellers who list new, currently available sets at well over the RRP, particularly if they have the temerity to describe their overpriced items as a "Bargain !". Clearly this is a use of the word "bargain" that I've not previously encountered. I do often wonder if anyone actually falls for it and buys from these people; presumably someone must, otherwise the sellers wouldn't waste their time with such listings. Dear oh dear. I just took a quick look on eBay and within moments found someone selling Set 4842 Hogwarts Castle for £145 + postage. That's close to a 50% mark-up on the RRP - shame on you ! Still, at least it wasn't described as a "bargain" I suppose....... Or perhaps you'd prefer Set 10199 Winter Toy Shop for £62.99 + postage, which is a whopping 40% over the the RRP. And this set is apparently "Sold Out and Unavailable" which is news to me since it was very much in stock through LEGO shop@home about 5 minutes ago..... The moral of the story ? Do your research ! I have to add that there are at least a couple of extremely well known high street retailers who also put extortionate mark-ups on some sets, so always check the RRP before you buy.

Related to this is why some people are willing to pay close to, or even above, the RRP for used sets that they could actually buy brand new direct from LEGO or elsewhere at a lower price. I know people do this - I've sometimes followed auctions and shaken my head in bemusement as the price goes up and over the RRP. I just don't get it. All I can think of is that perhaps there are lots of people shopping on who live outside the U.K. and who don't have access to a reasonably-priced source of new LEGO. How awful must that be ? So for them perhaps it still looks like a bargain. This of course doesn't explain why they don't just wait for someone to list a brand new set as a "Buy It Now" at the RRP or below, which will invariably happen sooner or later. Whatever, there must be a credible reason why people are willing to pay £180 or more plus postage for a used Grand Carousel set at auction when they could get one direct from LEGO shop@home for £179.99 plus about 3-4 quid shipping instead. Don't get me wrong - it's a lovely set, just not quite so lovely when bought used for more than the RRP. Especially if it's described as a "Bargain !". And even worse if it's "100% complete"......