One of the best things about the Christmas season is all of the clearance sales immediately following the holiday. Long live Capitalist Materialism! Chief among hunting through the clearance aisles is Lego product. It has a tendency to warm shelves despite quality due to high prices so some good scores can generally be found. Thus, below we have an all Lego smorgasbord featuring clearanced items and some freshly released sets too cool to wait on.
Lego: Alien Conquest - UFO Abduction
I do love a good Flying Saucer and this is certainly right in that vein. I finally picked this up on mark down and am just as ambivalent as I was pre-purchase. Like the rest of the Alien Conquest line, this set is is cool but in a way that isn't exciting. I dig the overall shape of the thing, the two antennae are fun and the red light-brick is neat. The proliferation of neon green is garish and it just feels like the ship should do more based on it's size (i.e. abduct more than one person or something). A third translucent neon green antennae is included which works great as a laser-beam from the Alien's blaster. Ultimately, this set is what it looks like and will most likely live up exactly to your reaction to it's photos.
Lego: Books - Harry Potter
If you're like me you spend a decent amount of your free time online looking at pictures of toys. That's what great about these books - they let you do that, but free to do so anywhere in the house, or even world, you should choose. This one celebrates the Tenth Anniversary of Harry Potter Legos and begins with a timeline showing what sets were released each year from 2001 to 2011 (there were releases every year except for '06, '08 and '09 with the theme seemingly retired now). From there on things get a little muddled in that the bulk of the book is grouped by theme rather than set meaning you'll find a section showing all the Harry mini-figures or Hagrid's Huts rather than showing the components of each set. The final pages are dedicated to the not building sets they've done with the license (like videogames, keychains, etc). On top of that you get an exclusive Harry mini-figure: Yule Ball Harry. He's got white arms indicating this is an even less necessary, unrobed Harry which clearly leaves the window open to do a proper Ball Harry should the need arise. It's a figure with no place in the collection and thus adds little real value. Overall this is a fun reference piece and works best as high quality photos of old sets you'll never have and as visual guide to non-Lego buying HP fans you're trying to convince to buy in. While not what I was hoping for this is certainly the stronger of the two "catalog" books. The 2011 sets just get a two-page spread rather than any real write-up too, but at least they're included.
Lego: Books - Star Wars
Published in 2009 to celebrate a decade of Star Wars Legos this is another fun reference book for your library though it does suffer the same shortfalls as the Harry Potter book. It begins with a timeline showing every sets released each year from 1999 through 2010. From there it's broken into four sections: sets from the movies, sets from The Clone Wars show, "Specialist Sets" (technic and the like), and then not-building-sets like magnets, videogames, and so on. In each of the sections they show stuff by theme rather than by set. This means you'll be able to see all of the versions of the Snowspeeder on one page but not everything that came in those sets (i.e. what mini-figures and/or additional builds were there). Sadly though 95% of text in the book is just broad descriptions of the film, like "Luke flew his X-Wing to Dagobah" rather than interesting facts like "this set was the first to use a new brick." As such the timeline is the most useful element though the packaging images for it are fairly small. The photos in the book are quite nice and for the most part show of the sets well, though the groupings can be pretty annoying. Regardless the Star Wars brand has had a huge impact on Lego in every regard and this is a great overview of what's come before. And of course, a key selling point is the exclusive Ceremony Luke mini-figure. My favorite costume in all of Star Wars is also a fairly iconic variation to Luke and though there is no Yavin set (yet) this is still a very welcome addition to the collection, despite his silly girl hair. These books run for $22 which is actually a fair price, especially considering the very specific audience for this kind of book.
Lego: Friends - Emma's Splash Pool
The pointlessly controversial Friends theme has, at last, landed and it's pretty good for what it is. I dipped my toe in (pun intended) with the two $6 sets and am pleased with what there is. This is a very odd set in that it's an empty kiddie pool for stylish teens. Emma can relax in it or on the pretty cool lounge chair and sip her fauxjito. We also get a little potted plant. As most have noted this line is best for those who collect the City theme or who do MOCs ("My Own Creation" - aka customs, not "mint on card" like any sane person would think) and I will back that up entirely. The lounge chair is the highlight of the set but I'll never turn down translucent blue bricks. Plus, for only $6 this is a pretty solid set.
Lego: Friends - Stephanie's Outdoor Bakery
An outdoor bakery? That seems wholly implausible for many reasons. But who cares, it's Lego, this stuff will all go indoor with little effort. This is easily the best value of the $6 sets. We get Stephanie, a sink, a stove/oven, a table and chair. There's also a cake, a pastry, a carton of milk, a chair and more. I have to admit the main reason I got this was for the cake - I love the use of the column brick! Sadly, the dish for it has too small a base and thus the cake can't sit evenly on it - lame! I'm not terribly crazy about the pastel colors and on bricks that I can't easily absorb into other collections but it's still a strong entry for Wave 1. Plus - supporting Friends at retail can only significantly improve our chances of a Disney Princess line and who wouldn't want Beast's Castle, Ariel's Grotto, Maleficent's Stronghold and/or as a dragon, Snow White's Cottage, etc!?
Lego: Harry Potter - Freeing Dobby
Though it was one of the "cheap sets" I just couldn't get behind this one until significant discounting occurred. The Harry minifig is nothing new, this Lucius is available in at least one other, better set and the hallway section is just... useless and boring. The only reason to get this is for Dobby (or the book, if you're a friend of mine) which makes the $13 price tag painfully steep. The hallway/window thing is a better build (plenty of pieces and decent amount of time) than I expected but it is totally pointless. There's no perceivable way or place for it to expand out the Hogwarts set nor is it interesting on its own. And then of course there is the peculiar nature of this choice as a set - why not something more interesting like a re-do of Buckbeak or the duel between Sirius & Lucius, etc. I picked it up for half-off at a Walmart and I'm pleased with it for that price but that's about it.
Lego: Harry Potter - Quidditch Match
I picked up two of these as I'm enough of a nerd that I want to have a proper Quidditch Pitch. It normally runs $20 but without a significant build in it it's hard to get excited about, but considering there are 5 mini-figures that's a pretty good price. The Referee Tower is pretty cool and the Hoops are fine but painfully short. I could have very easily given up the Bludger launchers for many more pieces for building up the height of the Goals/Loops. The Cup is also a nice inclusion but overall I think the money would have far better been spent on a bleacher section than these lesser, not-in-the-movie elements. I do dig the treasure chest which can hold the balls representing the Bludgers, Quaffle and Golden Snitch though. I also appreciate the inclusion of two Beater Sticks and Keeper helmets so that you can assign all the roles as necessary. There are 7 members on a team so you would need 8 of the sets but for my purposes 4 person teams is just fine. Being Lego you can easily mix-up all the heads and hairpieces as necessary to give variation - the only problem is that Harry will always be Harry so a replacement head will need to be sourced. On the upside is Draco comes with two expressions, smug and scared, for further variation. The best of the set though is Madame Hooch who looks just great and comes with two faces, one with goggles on. There are also 5 brooms (2 black, 3 brown) for your flying needs. Now, if only there was some easy way to build flight stands...
Lego: Kingdoms - Outpost Attack
It's been my play to build a large castle to go with all my Medieval Village stuff, but I kept putting off buying the "King's Castle" and now, with LotR and The Hobbit imminent the Kingdoms line is going on hiatus so I am screwed. Fortunately a local Target had a couple of these sets left so they may end up constituting the entirety of my castle. It's a fine set but not an especially good one. The catapult is a great construct but there's little fun or alternate options to it beyond what you see here. The outpost is a nice, three-level affair and is a far more elaborate build than it looks like. There are a lot more small bricks in play than appears. The recessed window section on the second level is a "free floating" element so that it can be knocked out by the catapult... fun. We also get a Royal Archer, Royal Guard and Dragon Guard for our troubles. For a $25 set there is sadly little fun to this but it is a decent "battle builder" for both the Castle and the armies.
Lego: Pharaoh's Quest - Cursed Cobra Statue
This is by far my least favorite of the Pharaoh's Quest line and thus the only set I did not have. It plays on the living statue/Sphinx set but doesn't look anywhere as cool nor is as conceptually sound. There are three build pieces, a cool maroon truck for the "good guys," a sort of obelisk-ish base thing, and the snake. The truck actually works out as one of the better vehicles in the theme, to my tastes, though the girl's hairpiece prevents her from fitting in the passenger seat. The Mummy's base is neat and comes with an exclusive golden scarab shield. The snake itself isn't too bad, built from nine body segments each connected via balljoint. The downsides are the poor transition from the body to the tiny, thin tail at the end and the plastic hood which connects to the first (head) and second sections so the beast can't really lay flat. The Snake connects to the a "holster" on the back of the Tower to prove it's a statue or something, but it basically just causes everything to hover oddly as the Snake can't articulate well enough to fit into place. This set is really only worth getting for the truck and the bricks for your own creations.
Lego: Polybag - Valentine's Day Box
The first polybag of 2012 runs for $5 at Lego Stores. It's surprisingly cool and does a great job of looking like a wrapped present, and indeed it opens up to hold a special little something inside for your sweetheart. Lego doesn't leave you high and dry though so included are two small, simple hearts made from two 4x4 pieces with a curved end. I dig this set quite a bit and will probably pick up a second one. I'd really like to see them release the same thing around Christmas time in different colors with a new construct on the lid.
Lego: Spongebob Squarepants - Bikini Bottom Undersea Party
This is the third version of Spongebob's house that they've done and the smallest (it's only "one story" tall). It still looks good though, and indeed is arguably better looking in this smaller proportion. It's constructed in a straight line on five sections that then fold in to create the curve. The roof is similar and I really like and appreciate that in both instance the angle of the plate bricks serve as a guide to the curvature eliminating any guess work. I know practically nothing about Spongebob Squarepants so I was sold on this set for three reasons: bright colors, a fun "party theme" and a Lego Easter Island Head. I take it the Head is Squidward's house and it ends up being a two story residence with an attic. Neither abode is the most home-y of places but I'm certainly not buying these to play house with. The party pieces are really cool with the highlight of the entire set being the DJ set up. The records (stickers on flat, black discs) go on spinners so they actually turn and the speakers are built off of the bottom of treasure chests - too cool! There are a fair share of stickers involved in this set but I avoided most just cause they're none too necessary, but rest assured you can further decorate the houses as you see fit. I highly recommend this set, it's just a lot of fun.
Lego: Spongebob Squarepants - The Flying Dutchman
When I saw the first photo of this set a couple months back my head nearly exploded. The awesome new genie tailpiece from the imminent Mini-Figures Series 6 set used for a ghost!? Brilliant! And on top of that there's a cool pirate ship in beautiful rich greens and an awesome island base! Buy this set, just do it. The island is a really fun, pretty intricate build that will work great for the Pirates-proper theme whence ever it returns, and the rock mountain hides a treasure chest right well. The ship is small, sure, but looks very cool in every possible way. I do wish it was just a bit longer, but I love the hard sail (with deco printed on, no stickers here!) and tilted windows. Spongebob and Patrick are pretty fun piratey variants but the real star here is the Flying Dutchman ghost! As I mentioned above it's a fantastic use of the new tail piece and a great re-use of Blackbeard's (PotC) hat. A quick search shows they probably should have also used Blackbeard's beard to be more accurate but that may have been a little "too close for comfort" so instead the beard is printed on the face and the torso. Also of note is that this guy has a nose (printed on)! I just can't say enough about this set, it's really cool and is the whole reason I decided to buy into the Spongebob range at all.
Lego: Star Wars - 2011 Advent Calendar
I never was really that into Legos until a year or two ago save but for the Star Wars Mini Ship line that ran from '02-'04. I just love the bejesus out of the mini/micro versions of the ships so this set immediately grabbed my attention when I saw it. However, the $50 price tag told me I definitely would not be getting it. That seemed to be everyone's reaction and the set ended up selling for $40 but that was still far more than the perceived value to me. But, when I found this for $20 at Walmart I couldn't say "No." The set is composed of 24 mini-builds than can generally be split into three categories: Mini-Figures, Accessories, and Micro Ships. You get a Pilot (blue) Battle Droid, Nute Gunray, Clone Pilot, X-Wing Pilot, TIE Pilot, a black Astromech, Chewbacca, and the set-exclusive Santa Yoda. For them is two weapon caches, a mouse droid, a Christmas tree and Nute Gunray's walking seat. Then you get micro versions of a Republic Gunship, Republic Transport, Spider Droid, TIE Fighter, X-Wing, Y-Wing, A-Wing, Snowspeeder, Slave-1 (Boba Fett colors), Millennium Falcon, and Imperial Shuttle. It's definitely a very cool cross section of pieces and a fun to see all of the inventive techniques used to makes these things as small as possible. I also really dig the Nute Gunray figure but there is a better one coming in the new "Anakin's Jedi Inceptor" set. The Yoda thankfully uses a Clone Wars head so it's not as offensive as I had expected but I know a lot of people will still love the crap out of the silliness of this guy. There are no instructions as we've come to expect though the inside flap of the box shows the build and if necessary one "instruction" so there is a lot of "look and understand" building on this one, but it's all pretty straight forward. It's a good, fun set and ultimately does a great job as an Advent Calendar (though I don't know how many kids would be into the tiny ships).
Lego: Star Wars - Hoth Wampa Cave
Oh ho ho have I been coveting this set for a long time. It's a $40 set and I just couldn't see that value in it despite liking the Snowspeeder and loving the Wampa. Well, now it's mine and it doesn't quite live up to expectations. I thought the Snowspeeder would be smaller and thus a cleverer build but it's a fairly accurate size (and pretty much the same as the previous ones, thank you Star Wars book reference images!). The canopy is articulated at the middle and far back making it easy to get figures and in and out, though they have you cover up the studs with flat pieces so they don't really stay in place too well. The wings can be a bit confusing in terms of where exactly they click on (tilt the 2x4 on the body down and then move the wing as close to the body line as possible then click down - the wings should not be positionable). The cave is also bigger than it looks in the pictures, which is pretty cool, though it is still not as "full" as I would prefer. I do especially dig the tauntaun ribcage. The wampa is a letdown, only the arms are articulated (and connect via a standard clyinder peg) so the guy is in a permanent, odd, bent forward pose sadly. On the upside, though he can hold a mini-figure in his left hand. The set includes a skeleton, Zev Senesca (the pilot who finds Han and Luke), and Hoth-gear Luke, who sadly does not have an Wampa-scratched face. I'm bummed too that Zev has no co pilot, but I guess that what I can do with the spare guy from the Advent Calendar. So, while most things end up being less impressive than I hoped this set it is about 50% larger than it looks in photos to me, so once opened and constructed I would say this is well worth the $40 pricetag.