Wednesday 27 March 2013

Hi Ho Silver Lining

So bang goes another of my resolutions, then. Not buying any of the shortly-to-be-released Lone Ranger sets, that is.

I was never really a fan of the TV series, I don't have much of an interest in the upcoming Lone Ranger movie, and I was consequently quite happy to write off LEGO's Lone Ranger theme as just another movie tie-in and give it a miss, particularly given all the other excellent 2013 releases competing for my cash. And then Huw over at Brickset got sent a bunch of unreleased Lone Ranger sets courtesy of LEGO and asked me to review one of them - Set 79108 Stagecoach Escape - for Brickset and I'm afraid my resolve has started to crumble.

You can read my typically over-inclusive review of the set here, but cutting to the chase, five decent minifigures (of which two are outstanding), three of the new LEGO horses, and a surprisingly good stagecoach all add up to a cracking set. Huw's reviewed most of the other sets, and pretty much all of them have something to commend them as well.

So it's looking like I'll have to do without something else instead. Like food, maybe.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Cowabunga !

I was never a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or TMNT, when it appeared back in the day. The timing was all wrong, and I was into other stuff. It does however speak volumes about the popularity of the franchise that despite my indifference, the imagery and names of the characters still managed to seep into my consciousness and take root. Perhaps because of this, I admit I was intrigued when LEGO announced that they were releasing a number of sets to tie in with a new TMNT TV series, and I subsequently picked up one of them - Set 79100 Kraang Lab Escape - soon after release so I could give the theme the once-over.

The box is festooned with purple on all sides; while it's probably not to everybody's taste, I love the vibrant purple and lime green TMNT branding. As expected, the front of the box (above) features an action shot of everything that's on offer in the set, while the back of the box (below - click to enlarge) highlights some of the set's play features plus a 4-panel comic strip illustrating how pizza can be used in place of a banana skin to initiate a daring lab escape.....

The contents of the box are accessed via a single thumb tab on the back, or else by slipping a knife around the edges of one of the end flaps. The box contains a couple of small, unnumbered bags and a folded instruction booklet; thankfully there's no DSS. The instruction booklet is small and perfectly formed at only 32 pages, with a front cover (below) that's almost identical to the front of the box. In addition to the building instructions themselves the booklet contains a 2-page inventory of parts, a page outlining the play features of the set, a reprise of the comic book panels which appear on the back of the box, and advertising for the other sets in the TMNT theme, the LEGO club, and the LEGO TMNT website which can be found at

Moving on to the minifigures, I suspect that for most purchasers the star of the show is going to be fun-loving Michelangelo. Mikey (below), famed among other things for popularising the exclamation "Cowabunga !", loves videogames, skateboarding, winding up the other turtles, and pizza. In place of the standard minifigure head he sports a modified elongated head complete with a moulded (rather than printed) orange mask. His torso and leg prints are simple but effective, and his shell is an excellent new part which hangs around the peg on the top of the torso where the head attaches and covers the back of the torso and the upper part of the legs. Interestingly, there's also a simple shell print on the back of the torso itself, presumably just in case there's anybody out there who would rather not use the new shell piece. Overall, I think they've done an excellent job with this minifigure - it's instantly recognisable but still unmistakeably LEGO. This version of Michelangelo is unique to the set, although a version with a different facial expression does appear in another of the TMNT sets.

The Kraang are actually a hostile alien species rather than a specific character. They're multi-tentacled brain-creatures who are up to no good, and you can see an image of the source material below.
Image (c) Turtlepedia
All in all, I think the designers have done a decent job creating the LEGO version (below). Angry expression ? Yep. Tentacles ? Yep - six of them. Visible brain sulci ? You bet. The Kraang 'figure' is fashioned from material which is harder than rubber but still somewhat soft and flexible; you can bend the tentacles, but they will (within reason) bounce back to their original shape. The Kraang are usually to be found inside an exo-suit, apparently, and at present the only place you'll find a 'naked' LEGO Kraang is in this set.

The final figure is a Foot Soldier. This fairly plain, simple minifigure, which has a back-printed torso but unprinted legs, appears in 4 of the first wave of TMNT sets. All black apart from some discrete detailing, I can imagine an army of these guys being quite menacing, but to be honest the minifigure itself isn't particularly exciting.

Small set or not, we're still provided with a number of rare and/or interesting parts, some of which you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge). The unprinted dark pink minifigure head, upon which the Kraang sits, is unique to this set. There's also a sprinkling of uncommon dark purple pieces in the set including the 2 x 2 tile with a stud in the centre, which is new for 2013 and only available in one other set at present, and the 1 x 2 plate, which has only previously made an appearance in 4 other sets. The flat silver claw clip was only previously available in one 2012 Hero Factory set, while the flat silver octagonal element is new for 2013 and appears in a total of 7 sets so far. The trans clear half cylinder is unique to this set, and the round 1 x 1 tile with gauge print, the 3 mm reddish brown rigid hose and the trans clear half sphere canopy have only appeared in 4, 4 and 5 sets respectively including this one.

At only 90 pieces the set is a predictably quick build - it took me barely 5 minutes. Minifigures aside, there are two main elements to the set - the Kraang's Mech Walker and the Laser-Shield Prison holding Michelangelo captive. The Mech Walker (below) is actually pretty neat; it's supported on four curved legs, the upper part rotates though 360 degrees and it features an opening canopy and a pair of flick-fire missiles.

The Laser-Shield Prison can be seen below. Conveniently attached to the side of it are Michelangelo's signature nunchuks, and if you look carefully, you can see that our hero is standing on a light bley 2 x 4 tile; press down on the back of it and Mikey literally breaks out of his puny cell.

All elements of the set can be seen below (click to enlarge). I think the idea is that Mikey flings his pizza in the general direction of the Foot Solider who treads on it, slips over and hits the lever, which releases Mikey from the prison. He's then free to grab his nunchuks and give the Kraang a bit of a pasting.....

Normally I'd wrap up with a few general impressions at this point, but today there's more.... I've frequently bemoaned the demise of alternate builds on these pages; readers of more advanced years will no doubt fondly remember LEGO's tendency to festoon set boxes of old with images of alternative models that could be built with the pieces contained within. This practice died out years ago, and while we do obviously have the Creator 3-in-1 sets which provide parts and instructions to build 3 different sets, and also some Technic sets which provide details of an alternate build online, that's pretty much it. Except for some reason, LEGO have bucked the trend with the TMNT sets, producing five sets of instructions for alternate models made from the pieces of five of the first wave of TMNTsets. For this set the alternate build is an air boat (below) and you can download the instructions here.

You can see a picture of the alternate build below. OK, so it's a pretty modest effort, employing only perhaps half of the available pieces, but I still want to commend LEGO for having made the effort - it's appreciated and hopefully this initiative will be extended to other themes.

At £9.99 / $12.99 for 90 pieces and 2 minifigures plus the Kraang, this set is reasonable value for money. It must have been quite a challenge to come up with a viable play set for the kids at this price point with so few pieces to play with, but the designer(s) have done a decent job, rustling up a nifty little walker for the Kraang, a prison for Mikey, and of course the figures themselves. Of course, most AFOLs will probably pick up this set for the minifigures alone, but even on this basis 3 TMNT characters plus a bunch of spare parts is an OK deal.

So not earth-shattering, then, but still a respectable little set which has just about done enough to earn the LEGO TMNT theme another shot at my wallet.... If you're in the UK you can get the set here; at time of writing it's 2p under RRP (!) with free shipping. Folks in the US can get the set here; you'll pay $12.97, with free shipping over $25.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Night at the Museum

I've had something of a love/hate relationship with LEGO's City theme over the past few years. Many of the sets seem distinctly dumbed down for a younger audience, with an over-reliance on POOP, and I also find the annual procession of Police and Fire sets rather tedious. Even so, every year there seem to be a few City sets which break the mould. Last year's Set 4440 Forest Police Station was a cracker, for instance, impressing me so much that I included it in the Reader's Choice poll for Set of the year. True to form, 2013 is following the same pattern. A bunch more Police sets ? Check. A load more Fire sets, including a new Fire Station ? Check. Too much POOP ? Check.

Also true to form is the presence of some more interesting offerings, however. I'm a big fan of the three City Traffic sets released so far this year, including Set 60016 Tanker Truck (above), and I have to confess that even one of the 2013 Police-related sets caught my eye, so much so that when it briefly appeared at 33% off RRP at UK retailer I decided to grab a copy and check it out.

I seem to recall that Set 60008 Museum Break-in caused a few ripples in the fan community when news of its impending release leaked out; my suspicion is that some people saw the word "Museum" and immediately started to fantasise about an ornate, modular-style edifice. Those people should have known better - it is a City set, after all - and as you can see from the front of the unfeasibly wide box above, the reality is rather more mundane, although it's still interesting enough to have caught my attention. The back of the box (below - click to enlarge) is predominantly occupied by a bunch of action shots, mostly featuring various acts of heinous thievery, plus a few of the set's multitude of play features which we'll get to later.

The contents are accessed by cutting a couple of tape seals on one of the end flaps. Inside the box you'll find a cardboard-backed package containing the instruction booklets and sticker sheets, 6 bags of parts, and a dark bley 16 x 16 plate.

There are a total of 4 instruction manuals lurking within the cardboard-backed package. Booklet 1 is forty pages long, but the building guide for the helicopter takes up only 27 of the pages; also present are fully 6 pages of information about the LEGO light brick contained within the set, of which 5 are filled with various warnings in no less than 19 different languages - incredible. There's also a page explaining how to use the new orange Brick Separator and a 4 page inventory of all the parts to be found in the set. Booklets 2 and 3 are more focused on the task in hand, containing little other than the building guides for their respective vehicles.

Booklet 4 (below) has a bigger footprint than the others and unsurprisingly contains more pages given that it covers the construction of the museum. The back cover shows the various elements of the set integrated within a City layout. This layout, commensurate with the make-up of LEGO's City theme, is best described as a Police state, filled as it is with villains being chased by a variety of LEGO Police vehicles, at least one of which is no longer even available at retail.

The set comes with two sticker sheets (below - click to enlarge). None of the vehicles nor indeed the museum are spared the indignity of stickers, but at least they genuinely enhance the appearance of the models to a lesser or greater extent (particularly the museum) and they aren't too challenging to apply reasonably neatly. Unless you're desperately ham-fisted, that is.

You get a total of six minifigures with the set. Four of them are described as LEGO City Undercover Elite Police Officers, and the other two are crooks. The supposed Undercover Police Officers are anything but undercover, being resplendent in Police uniforms; clearly a use of the word "undercover" that I've not previously encountered.... Three of the Police minifigures (below - click to enlarge) have identical torsos front and back and their printed legs are also identical; they differ only in respect of their facial features and headgear. Two of them are wearing aviator caps with trans black visors (the caps presumably approximating for the kind of headgear that riot police wear) while the third sports a baseball-type cap.

The fourth Police Officer is the helicopter pilot. His torso and legs have different prints to those of his three law enforcement colleagues, and he sports a motorcycle-type helmet with a visor. This figure can be found in two other sets, one of which is Set 30222 Police Helicopter which some of you will recently have received for free with a purchase from S@H or a LEGO brand store.

The two crooks have identical torsos and legs. The torso print is excellent both front and back, from the rope wrapped around the torso, to the tool belt on the front and the keys and lock-picking tool (or is it a file ?) on the back. I'm as yet undecided which one of these guys unnerves me the most; is it the crook with the hat, who looks distinctly unsavoury and frankly disagreeable, or is it the guy with the mask who sports the kind of maniacal grin that makes you wonder what he'll get up to next ? The crook with the mask is unique to this set, while his partner has appeared in three sets to date including this one.

Moving on to parts of interest (below), the dark blue 1 x 6 x 5 panel is unique to this set, and there are a number of other dark blue parts of interest here too - the dark blue 1 x 1 x 3 brick with clips is currently only available in this set and one other, the inverted 2 x 2 slope has surprisingly only previously appeared in two sets in this colour, and we also get a few dark blue 2 x 4 tiles. Other interesting inclusions are the dark bley vehicle mudguard, the dark tan 4 x 4 tile modified with studs along one side, and the white 4 x 4 wedge with no top studs, all of which have only appeared in this and one other set to date. The light bley microfig has appeared in a total of 3 sets, as has the trans light blue windscreen with handle and the red brick with 2 studs on one side, while the tan 4 x 4 macaroni, the tan doorframe and the trans black windscreen have only graced 5 sets to date including this one.

Each sub-model is built from its own bag or two of parts "for easy start" as the back of the box puts it, but I chose to just open all the bags at once and dive in. First up is the helicopter (below - click to enlarge). It's pretty basic, truth be told, and from some angles has a distinctly crude, unfinished look to it. The rotors are great example of this - there are only two of them, and because they're mounted on top of a 4-blade propeller, it looks like someone just forgot to add the other two rotors. The rear boom is just a white 2 x 12 plate, which doesn't look great, and helicopter's undercarriage is moulded as one large element rather than being made up of smaller parts, which I'm not a fan of.... On the positive side, there are a number of play features; in addition to the rotating main and tail rotors, LEGO have intergrated a light brick into the design as a searchlight. Also, I think the front canopy works well, elegantly complementing the contours of the underside of the fuselage, and opening to allow the pilot to fit inside.

Next to be built is the Police van (below - click pictures to enlarge). This is I think considerably more aesthetically pleasing than the helicopter, aside from the wheels which look too small for the vehicle. The dark blue colour scheme looks good and works well with the helicopter, and overall it's solid, pleasingly proportioned and nicely designed, even if the back of it does have more lights than a Christmas tree.

Both the roof and rear door can be opened (below) to provide access to the interior of the vehicle. There are unfortunately only two seats for our three Police minifigures, so one of them will have to slum it in the back or just walk home. Assuming the Police can catch the crooks, there's ample space for miscreants in the back, although there's no seating at all. It would have been nice if the van had had at least one pair of opening side doors, but it's a minor criticism of what is overall a decent-looking vehicle.

The final vehicle is the crook's van (below - click pictures to enlarge). The front looks pretty good, and I like the colour scheme and "go faster" decals, but the vehicle is a bit too short and stumpy to be stylish. Similar to the Police van, the back swings open to allow access to the interior, and there's more than enough load space to fit in a goodly anount of swag, if you're that way inclined.

Finally on to the titular museum, which can be seen below (click to enlarge). Despite its disappointingly (although predictably) small size, the designers have nevertheless managed to give it a suitably museum-like appearance, complete with tan columns and bley statuettes on the roof. There are also a number of nice details such as the plantlife growing up one side, the red-carpeted entrance, the banners advertising the exhibition, and the exterior lighting. The roof features a couple of trans blue skylights which open to allow the crooks access to the building.

The interior of the museum is crammed with nice little details as well (below - click to enlarge). The highlight for me is the neat laser security grid protecting the front entrance which is made up of a bunch of trans red light saber blades and can be retracted if desired, plus there are a host of 'treasures' including a cute rendition of Vermeer's "The Girl with the Pearl Earring", a pearl gold crystal and sword, and a blue gem in a protective case.

Look, let's be honest - this set wasn't designed for me, and as such any of my complaints need to be taken with a large pinch of salt. My 5-year old is a far better representation of the target demographic for the City theme, and I have to report that he was absolutely mad for this set, variously declaring that it was "awesome" and "wicked" during the hour that he playtested it for me.

Set 60008 Museum Break-in contains 563 pieces and retails for £49.99 / $69.99 which is I think on the pricey side, although it's undoubtedly a much more attractive proposition at a third off RRP which is what I was fortunate enough to get it for. With three vehicles, six minifigures and a building crammed full of loot and play features this is without doubt an excellent playset, but it's harder to give it such a ringing endorsement from an AFOL perspective on account of the crudeness of a couple of the vehicles and the underwhelming size of the museum.

UK folks can currently pick the set up for £44.99 which is 10% off RRP by clicking here, while our American cousins can get $5 off the RRP by clicking here.

Friday 1 March 2013

A-wing and a Prayer

I've been pretty sniffy in previous posts here and here about LEGO's propensity to remake Star Wars sets over and over again, but the humble A-wing seems to have got off relatively lightly. By my reckoning we've had just 2 standalone A-wing sets prior to this year, plus the rather nice dark green version that came with Set 7754 Home One Mon Calimari Star Cruiser. We haven't even been blessed with A-wing keychains or other tat, although there was a tiny micro-build A-wing in 2011's Star Wars Advent Calendar. Anyway, I think it's for this reason that the news of a(nother) A-wing remake didn't provoke quite the level of derision that LEGO Star Wars remakes are usually greeted with in my household.

A-wing extreme close-up.... (courtesy of IGN)
The A-wing, or more accurately the RZ-1 A-wing Interceptor, is another of those Star Wars craft whose popularity belies the small amount of screen time it actually got in the Star Wars movies; for me, the iconic A-wing moment is during The Return of the Jedi when a wounded A-wing takes down the might of the Super Star Destroyer Executor by crashing into its command deck (above) but other memorable sightings are painful thin on the ground. It's a shame, because the A-wing is a good looking little ship, and it's maybe this that persuaded me to open my LEGO Star Wars 2013 account with Set 75003 A-wing Starfighter, the latest version.

You can see the front of the box below (click to enlarge) adorned with the pleasing 2013 Star Wars branding featuring a determined-looking Yoda against an emerald green background. An action shot of the LEGO A-wing in front of an unnamed blue planet occupies most of the space, and there's also a small window highlighting the set's 3 minifigures.

The back of the box (below - click to enlarge) features a number of panels which highlight play features of the set, show the A-wing superimposed on a couple of non-LEGO scenes, and provide pictures of the A-wing from the side, above and behind. The top right panel seems to show a Mon Calamari Star Cruiser destroying Death Star 2 with the A-wing looking on; clearly some artistic license being employed there....

Thumb tabs are available for the impatient and/or destructive; the rest of us are at liberty to carefully slit open one of the end flaps to access the contents. The box contains 3 bags of parts numbered 1 to 3, an instruction booklet, and a sticker sheet.

The instruction booklet (front cover shot above) consists of 60 pages including the front and back covers. As well as 52 pages of building instructions, the booklet also contains an inventory of parts spread over two pages, a rather nice shot of various minifigures and the rancor which can be found in current Star Wars sets (below - click to enlarge) and the obligatory advertising for the LEGO Club and a product survey. 

You can see the sticker sheet below. There are some pretty large stickers on there, most of which need attaching to body panels, and my heart fell when I realised that I'd need to stick a couple of them to the A-wing's curved windscreen as well - I hate doing that.

The set contains 3 minifigures. Admiral Ackbar has appeared thrice previously, although only once in a retail construction set (Set 7754 Home One Mon Calimari Star Cruiser); his other appearances were in an ultra-rare 2009 San Diego Comic Con exclusive collectible display set which I've never even seen in the flesh let alone own, and a magnet set from 2010.

Ackbar's torso is fairly simple but nevertheless tastefully decorated front and back; it's detailed enough to even suggest a hint of middle aged spread.... His head is the standout feature, however, moulded in solid ABS rather than rubber which seems increasingly common these days for the non-standard minifig heads, and superbly detailed.

I'm a little unsure what Han solo is doing here, to be honest. Sure, he's unique to the set, which should excite the minifigure collectors, but I don't really associate him with the A-wing. OK, so maybe he stood near one in a hangar at some point, but that's pretty much it as far as I can see. Even so, Han Solo is always welcome in my house, so no complaints.

Han is kitted out in classic garb - a simple tan shirt, black tunic and gun belt. The design is understated but surprisingly detailed, featuring a back-printed torso and printed legs, and it's what he wore in The Return of the Jedi so what's not to like ?

Finally there's the Rebel A-wing Pilot; he's also unique to this set, and there's certainly no doubt that he belongs here. He has a superbly detailed flight suit right down to his printed legs, and he sports an intricate new helmet design which is quite excellent. I don't get too excited about minifigs as a rule, but I have to say that this guy looks great.

As you can see below, the A-wing Pilot is the only figure in this set with a reversible head and alternate facial expression It'd be absolutely perfect should you ever decide to recreate the A-wing kamikaze dive into the Executor....

From the perspective of rare or unusual parts (below) this set is (mostly) all about the dark red. The new-style dark red cylinders which form a part of the A-wing's engines are unique to this set, as are the dark red 6 x 8 plate and the 3 x 6 plate with cut corners. The 3 x 4 wedge has only appeared in one other set apart from this one (the Monster Fighters Ghost Train) as has the 10 x 1 curved slope, while the 4 x 1 curved slope has appeared in 3 sets other than this one. Another rare part is the trans black windscreen, which can at present be found in just this set and last year's Batwing Battle over Gotham City.

Once the parts have been liberated from their polybags it's time to put them to good use. The A-wing is a quick build, so much so that it felt like applying the stickers took longer than constructing the actual ship. Getting the stickers nice and neat takes a bit of patience, particularly the two black and silver strips which attach to the curved windscreen. Luckily the stickers seem to be able to tolerate being peeled off and reapplied a couple of times without any obvious negative effects; I do like the fact that the stickers on opposite sides of the ship are asymmetrical.

I like the finished ship a lot (pictures above - click to enlarge). As well as being pleasingly solid in construction, not to mention very satisfying to bolt together, it also looks mighty fine - a seemingly contradictory combination of stocky and sleek depending on which angle you look at it from. Play features include a pair of flick-fire missles on either side, the hinged cockpit cover, partially retractable front landing gear, and the sublight engine and deflector shield generator behind the cockpit which slide out, but in truth, when a ship is this fun to swoosh you don't really need any gimmicks. She's a beaut !

You can see all elements which make up the completed set below. The A-wing pilot needs to adopt a pretty laid-back posture to fit into the craft with the cockpit closed, but I guess he can always take a nap if things get too dull. Ackbar meanwhile is supplied with an accessory which belies his lofty status as Admiral of the fleet....a coffee cup. Oh well - perhaps he needs the caffeine to stay alert. In contrast, true to his movie persona, Han comes complete with a small blaster.

Given that this set is a remake of a remake, I thought I'd finish up by digging out the two older versions and getting a photograph of all three A-wing set boxes lined up together .

Set 7134 A-wing Fighter, the oldest of the trio, was released in 2000. It was surprisingly expensive, with a U.S. retail price of $15 for only 125 pieces and 2 minifigures. Then there was a six year wait until 2006 when Set 6207 A-wing Fighter (below) was released at a cost of £9.99 / $16. At 194 pieces and containing 2 minifigures it's considerably better value than the previous effort, not to mention a whole lot better looking than the older version. Nobody could reasonably argue with this superb remake.....

A further seven years passed before the release of the most recent version and subject of this blog posting, and at £24.99 / $24.99 it's pretty expensive, especially for us folks here in the U.K.; I can't even begin to imagine how much people elsewhere are going to have to pay for it.... From a U.K. perspective that constitutes a 150% increase in price versus the 2006 version, despite having 17 fewer pieces - ouch. There are admittedly a whole bunch of minor cosmetic tweaks to the ship's design, but nothing particularly significant. Both versions look good, and you'd struggle to make a case for the new version being a quantum leap forward from the previous one. On the upside, however, the newest set does have an extra minifigure, and I have to say that the quality of the minifigures overall is great - a big improvement on previous versions.

So should you buy it ? Well, if you're a LEGO Star Wars collector then it's a no-brainer, obviously. And if you don't have the 2006 version and/or you're big on minifigures then it's definitely worth considering despite the poor price per part ratio - it's undoubtedly a handsome rendition of the ship and is accompanied by some excellent minifigures. If however you already have the 2006 version and aren't that fussed about minifigures then you can probably save your cash.

U.K.-based folks can buy the set here, while those in the U.S. can get it here.