Wednesday 21 December 2011

The Gimme LEGO Awards 2011

So, Christmas and the New Year are upon us, and many are already looking forward to the first wave of 2012 sets which are starting to appear on shelves. It's therefore as good a time as any to reflect upon the past 12 months.

Overall, I think we've been blessed with some truly excellent sets in 2011, some interesting new themes, and a largely high standard of set design which puts many previous years to shame.

Here, then, for your delectation and debate, I present my own version of the Oscars - the Gimme LEGO Awards 2011 - which will hopefully give 2011 the send-off it deserves. These awards aren't voted for by a panel of experts, nor are they democratic, transparent, definitive or politically correct. They're just one AFOL's view of the best (and worst....) of 2011, and if you don't agree then tough, although there's always the comments field below if you want to challenge me on any of my selections.....

1 . Best Theme

Winner : Alien Conquest

I've made no secret of my love for this theme in previous blog postings (see here, for example) and it's therefore no surprise that Alien Conquest gets my vote for best LEGO theme of 2011.

No older LEGO fan could have failed to spot the cues linking these new sets to the classic space sets of the late 70's, but the ten sets which make up the 2011 Alien Conquest line-up don't just press the nostalgia buttons - many such as Set 7066 Earth Defense HQ (sic) and Set 7065 Alien Mothership are excellent sets in their own right.

The Alien Conquest sets feature a heady mix of bold colours, interesting designs, gimmicks such as light and sound bricks, tons of play features and even a face-hugging alien, not to mention vivid and deliciously retro box art.

Worryingly, there's no sign as yet of further Alien Conquest sets in the 2012 release schedules; let's just hope that we get a second installment in the Summer of 2012, and that the Alien Defence Unit get to fight another day...

2. Most Disappointing Theme

Winner : Star Wars

Contentious, perhaps, but if even a dyed-in-the-wool LEGO Star Wars fan like myself is shifting uncomfortably in his chair while reviewing the 2011 line-up then perhaps all is not as it should be.

For me, just too many of the 2011 Star Wars offerings are so-so sets based on the Clone Wars TV series or distinctly average remakes of classic ships, some of which are frankly almost identical to previous versions. As acknowledged in a previous posting here, with hordes of youngsters joining the hobby all the time, none of whom own the many previous versions of the iconic Star Wars craft and minifigures, I'm increasingly not the target demographic for these sets, but I still have to call it as I see it....

The 2011 line-up was by no means all bad - we were treated to some crackers such as Set 7962 Anakin Skywalker's and Sebulba's Podracers and Set 10221 Super Star Destroyer - but too many of the sets just didn't do it for me this year, and given the higher price of these sets compared with the average I really think they need to be giving us more of the 'wow' factor.

I can see some promising signs of creativity in 2012 such as the Planet Sets so let's just hope that I feel more enthusiastic when I review next year's offerings....

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

Winner : Set 7066 Earth Defense HQ

This was hellishly tough to judge; despite LEGO's increasing focus on licensed properties, 2011 has been a fantastic year for unlicensed sets. In the end, the Earth Defense HQ set, which aside from the hideously misspelt name is a distillation of all that's great about the Alien Conquest theme and which is essentially 3 sets in one, wins this coveted prize by a nose.

Having chosen my favourite, however, I do need to acknowledge a number of other great sets which ran the winner very close. These include, but are by no means limited to, Set 10220 Volkswagen T1 Camper Van, Set 10219 Maersk Train and Set 8110 Unimog which are also superb. Honourable mention too for Atlantis Set 7985 City of Atlantis - an underrated set which is beautiful to look at, high on play value and packed with interesting parts for the discerning builder.

Set 10220 Volkswagen T1 Camper Van

Set 7985 City of Atlantis

Bravo to LEGO for providing us with such a wealth of magnificent unlicensed sets in 2011, and long may it continue.

4. Best Licensed Set

Winner : Set 10217 Diagon Alley

Much easier to judge this one - Diagon Alley stands out from the licensed competition like a beautiful shining diamond in a coal bunker. It shows that LEGO are still able to step up and well and truly do the business when it comes to the licensed sets. The design of the buildings brings to mind the revered modular building range, and the variety and quality of the minifigures means that there's something for everybody.

There were a few other licensed sets in 2011 that I thought rose above the average - the Star Wars Advent Calendar was unexpectedy good, Set 7962 Anakin Skywalker's and Sebulba's Podracers was excellent, I liked some of the Cars sets, and the Pirates of the Carribbean Queen Anne's Revenge set turned out better than I expected.

Set 7962 Anakin Skywalker's and Sebulba's Podracers

Set 4195 Queen Anne's Revenge

Overall, however, I didn't think that LEGO really hit the heights this year with the licensed sets compared with their unlicensed counterparts, and I'm hoping for better in 2012.

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

Winner : Set 7877 Naboo Starfighter

If you can't, or won't, improve on a set that you've already released on a number of previous occasions then please just don't bother, or at least wait more than a couple of years before re-releasing it.... There's nothing inherently wrong with this set, just that it barely if at all improves upon the previous version. Just a waste of a product slot that could have been better used IMHO.

6. Best Minifigure

Winner : Captain Jack Sparrow with Tricorne

Man, this award was hard to judge; it's been a fantastic year for the LEGO minifigure and there have been a lot of contenders for this award, with some really neat collectable minifigs released in 2011, not to mention a preponderance of high quality figures included in sets this year. All that having been said, I can still remember how impressed I was when I first saw the Jack Sparrow minifigure above. Seldom has a figure better captured the essence of the character it's supposed to represent, and it was a real stand-out for me, so it gets the gong.

Honourable mention must also go to this year's Star Wars minifigures which have been excellent - multiple remakes of old figures which have frankly blown their predecessors out of the water (I just wish I could say the same about the sets they came with....). I've also really liked some of the figures from the Pharaoh's Quest theme such as the Anubis Guard and Flying Mummy, not to mention the likes of the Hazmat Guy and the Punk Rocker collectable minifigures from Series 4, and many others.

And having had an early look at Series 6 of the collectable minifigures, I think 2012 could be even better....

7. The "Better than Expected" Award

Winner : the Cars theme

I initially had no intention whatsoever of getting any of the Cars sets at all - honest ! I figured the sets would be dumbed down for a younger audience and that I wouldn't find them of interest. And then I made the fatal error of buying the smallest sets in the theme - 8200 Radiator Springs Lightning McQueen and 8201 Radiator Springs Classic Mater - just out of curiosity, and realised that they actually weren't half bad at all....

Colourful, fun, lots of printed parts rather than stickers, and a more than passable rendition of the subject material. So I bought another set, and then another, and before I knew it I was collecting them all.

Runner up goes to the 2011 Star Wars Advent Calendar. I wasn't expected much from this either, and was therefore pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the contents.

8. Most Welcome LEGO-Related Announcement

Winner : Lord of the Rings and Hobbit licenses

This late-breaking announcement snatched victory from July's Superheroes reveal, and it's a dream come true for countless AFOLs. Honestly, were it not for the fact that in space no one can hear you scream, I reckon that the collective outpourings of joy from millions of LEGO fans around the globe when this tie-up was announced could probably have been heard on Mars....

Some of us have been pleading for this tie-in for years, and like a benevolent uncle LEGO finally came up with the goods. Clearly we'll have to reserve judgment somewhat until we see what LEGO will actually do with these licenses, but for millions this was still a superb Christmas present.

9. Gimme LEGO Reader's Choice Award

OK, so now it's your turn..... You'll have seen a poll on the right side of the page - 11 sets, some licensed and some unlicensed, which I consider to be some of the highlights of 2011. Cast your votes - one person, one vote - and at midnight on 31st December the poll will close and we'll have our winner.... I've also included a "None of the above" option - choose this if you feel strongly about a set that isn't listed and then please drop me an e-mail via the contact button on the top right of the screen or leave a comment below letting me know your unlisted choice; if enough people go for a specific, unlisted set then that set will, of course, be the winner.

Happy voting, and here's to a 2012 that keeps up the high standard !

Update 1st January 2012 : voting has now closed !


  1. Jabba the Taff21/12/11

    Another great blog, Dr Dave. While I'm pretty much on board with everything you said (except I'd take the City of Atlantis over the Earth Defense HQ), I really really didn't like the Cars theme apart from the two ultimate builds and Flo's Cafe. And I would've been asking for my money back had I paid full price for the Ewok Attack. What a shockingly sparse joke of a set. I bought it at £13.49 and still felt slightly hard done by. How much did was value a consideration? Also aren't the Camper Van, Unimog and Maersk train licensed?! ;)

  2. Thanks for a great blog in 2011! Looking forward to more articles in 2012! I'm sure there are many lurkers like me who look forward to your posts...

  3. I enjoy the idea of this post and based on my own experiences (not having bought and opened all the sets it seems you have) I agree with many of your assessments.

    The Alien Conquest theme is terrific and I'd stick the Tri-pod Invader on the poll! It's just too cool. I hope we'll see a second year of this theme as it's a lot of fun with great minifigures and play features and hopefully some of the sets will come with cows and perhaps some kind of crop circle. That'd be super awesome.

    With the LOTR sets, I think LEGO could have made similar sets without the license as they've more or less done with the dwarves and trolls.

  4. Wow - great end of year post! Like you, I have been getting more and more into Alien Conquest and City of Atlantis. I have been starting to buy up a bunch of each when I find a good sale. I think that Earth Defense HQ and City of Atlantis will be classics. Maybe Alien Mothership too.

    The Star Wars lineup is so huge, and many sets seemed to be focused on exclusive minifigs. Which is fine, I suppose. But sometimes I find myself looking at boxes, hating the set, but wanting 2 of the minifigs. That's not a good sign.

    I agree about the other highlight sets you mentioned. It is a very rich time in the LEGO world!

    For me, I wasn't too excited about Lord of the Rings, I just don't see how these sets will be amazingly unique. I will buy them, I will enjoy them. But it's yet another moody and dark license.

    I think the Super Heroes lineup will be HUGE. I think this will take over for the size of the Star Wars section in the LEGO Store.

    Anyhow - thank you so much for your amazing blog this year!

  5. Thanks for the great comments, folks !

    Great point about the Maersk Train, VW Camper and Unimog, Jabba - I was thinking in terms of licensed themes when I wrote the blog post but you're right that while not being part of a licensed theme these sets must still presumably count as licensed.....

    I LOVE the idea of an Alien Conquest set including a crop circle and cows... I fear however that the theme is on the way out, to be replaced by the new Dino theme. I would love to be proved wrong, however !

    Regarding Super Heroes, I've been a tad disappointed by what I've seen of the sets so far butI I'll no doubt get them anyway...

  6. Good read, I recently became an "AFOL" and bought quite a number of sets in the past year. I really got into the Harry Potter stuff, which combined my love of castle with HP, weird stuff and great characters. I've picked up a couple older HP sets from ebay and I have to say in general, the design is much more sophisticated and interesting on the new stuff. The minifigures are way better too, especially in terms of hairpieces and graphics. Diagon Alley is just beautiful. I bought the Market Village a couple months ago as well, which is one of the sets that brought me back into LEGO. Gorgeous (and the videos at tell me the same guy designed them both, so I have a 'favorite designer' now ha).

    I pretty much will be buying Isla de la Muerte just for the Sparrow, Barbossa and Elizabeth minifigs, otherwise POTC doesn't hold my interest. Which is a shame, I enjoy the franchise and the concept should provide for good sets. I haven't picked up the Atlantis stuff (not really a fan of the overall concept), but the set you've got here is really nice. I might pick it up on sale, I wish more of the theme focused on undersea greek/roman style ruins.

    I'd agree with a lot of the Star Wars... I've definitely bought some, most interested in Hoth and Empire based stuff, but I've gone more in for the smaller sets. No real interest in the prequel material (and even barring that few of the sets just 'look' like fun LEGO sets), got the Slave-1 real cheap (I like it, great minis, but disappointing in ways). I'm hoping to get the Wampa cave for Christmas here, and the LE X-Wing. I think the next year of stuff looks better and am really glad to see them do more smaller sets containing desirable minifigs. LEGO superheroes isn't off to a great start, but the Funhouse Escape set has everything I want! Honestly the Lex/Superman armor set is probably the most interesting looking, even though my wife & I love Batman. I'll get the Catwoman bit, and maybe the Batcave later on sale. Curious to see what other DC stuff we soon get once they're done kind of rehashing older, OOP sets.

    Thanks for the article, good read, I'll add ya into my RSS here.

  7. Enjoyable post, thanks for putting it together.

    The only big point we differ on is that of the Cars theme - I was quite disappointed with it on the whole. I'm an unshamedly big Pixar fanboy so I was eagerly anticipating the theme, but I felt a bit deflated by it. Flo's V8 Cafe could have been incredible, but I think it was let down by utterly superfluous play features (most notably the 'launcher', and the car wash to a lesser extent).

    I share your sentiment regarding Alien Conquest, a fantastic theme and I'll be sad to see it go. I didn't actually manage to pick up Earth Defense HQ, but Tripod Invasion is one of my favourite sets of the year. Notable mentions from other themes are 7189 Mill Village Raid and 7327 Scorpian Pyramid (an underrated set from an underrated theme IMO).

  8. For the record, "defense" with an S is the English spelling of the word and as such one could argue that the American spelling "defence" is the incorrect one. Neither one is an actual misspelling though so you may want to change your wording.

  9. ^ I won't be changing my wording. "Defense" is US-English, which would be fine if I lived in the US and had bought the set over there. Given however that I live in the UK and I bought the set in the UK, I'll be sticking to the UK spelling.

  10. Anonymous25/12/11

    Sad thing is I don't see any more alien conquest coming for 2012 at all on the dealer sheets. Heck even the current stuff is marked for disappearing in the spring.

  11. Anonymous26/12/11

    would of liked to see the lego superheros instead of lord of the rings.

  12. Anonymous26/12/11

    i would like to vote for the 3182 lego set as best set.

  13. ^ 3182 City Airport isn't eligible I'm afraid - it was a 2010 set.