Monday, 25 July 2016

Micro Machines

I've previously reviewed and enjoyed a couple of books that Mattia Zamboni has been involved with, notably Amazing Vehicles and its sequel More Amazing Vehicles both of which he co-wrote with Nathanael Kuipers. When publisher No Starch Press got in touch to let me know that Mattia had a new book on the way, therefore, I was keen to take a look....

Mattia, a LEGO-loving graphic designer from Switzerland, has collaborated with contributors from around the globe to produce Tiny LEGO Wonders, a book which celebrates microscale models. The book's release is well-timed, with microscale seemingly firmly in fashion right now if the number of related magazine articles, books, official LEGO releases and MOCs is anything to go by. Each of the eleven contributors has submitted a number of microscale designs, making a total of forty designs in all which are showcased in the book.

The book is organised around ten themed chapters, each of which provides a suitable setting for a number of featured microscale builds. Each chapter kicks off with a two-page spread showing a brick-built microscale diorama, for example the scene above which illustrates the "Fire!" chapter, and the featured builds are suitably positioned within this diorama. These brick-built backdrops are generally superbly realised, and for me they're a real highlight of the book - a perfect reminder of the surprising level of detail that can be captured at this scale.

Each chapter showcases up to six themed microscale builds. First up we have "The Train Station" which includes three trains and a touring coach, followed by "The Airport", "Fire!" and so on. It's immediately evident that the featured builds, which include the Intercity Express above, are really quite impressive and of a consistently high quality. As you'll have noticed from the picture above, being showcased in the book doesn't just mean the inclusion of a couple of pretty photographs - each featured design is accompanied by an inventory of the elements needed to build it, and also a set of building instructions, thus allowing the reader to relatively easily reproduce the designs themselves.

The TGV Bullet Train above, which many LEGO fans will immediately recognise as a microscale version of an official LEGO set - 10233 Horizon Express - is one of my favourite builds featured in the book, although it's only one of many genuinely eye-catching designs on offer including a superb bulk carrier, a collection of excellent Formula 1 cars, a cracking little F-15 Eagle, a space shuttle plus crawler transporter, and many more. While the majority of builds are representations of real vehicles, the book does eventually deviate into fantasy territory with a number of sc-fi military vehicles featured in the final chapter, "The Moon Army". Overall, there's a nice varied selection of vehicles included in the book, although it's a crying shame that the scope doesn't extend to other types of models as well, for instance buildings, or perhaps even some of the environmental features which appear in the superb brick-built dioramas.

Before you can build anything you'll obviously have to accumulate the necessary elements and that's when things become tricky. Mattia's previous books featured designs which could all be built in their entirety using the elements contained in just one inexpensive Creator set, which I thought was an absolutely genius idea. In contrast, however, the elements needed to construct the 40 microscale builds in this book, or even just a couple of them, aren't to my knowledge readily available in a single set. Furthermore, my impression is that for many of the builds, some of the constituent elements probably aren't the kind that you're likely to have lying around in any quantity either, necessitating a visit to the likes of Bricklink. For the average AFOL that's probably not going to be a big deal, but for the more casual LEGO fan, sourcing the parts needed to build even the simplest of the models as designed could potentially be quite a challenge.

Looking beyond the actual content for a moment, I'm pleased to report that the book's presentation is up to the usual high standards that we've come to expect from No Starch Press. It sports a hard cover, and the quality of printing, photography and digital renders is excellent throughout the book's 200 pages. While I'm yet to attempt any of the builds myself, the instructions look to be clear and fairly easy to follow; although they lack the part callouts that LEGO routinely includes in building instructions these days, the builds are small and simple enough that this shouldn't be a problem for most builders.

In summary, Tiny LEGO Wonders is a beautifully presented book which is a pleasure to browse. It contains 40 microscale vehicle designs of consistently high quality, and the accompanying parts inventories and building instructions mean that readers can in theory attempt the builds for themselves. Furthermore, the book includes a number of delicious microscale backdrops within which the featured models are displayed, and to be honest if these fail to inspire then perhaps microscale building just isn't for you.  On the downside, in contrast to the author's previous books which showcased models which could be built with the elements contained in just one inexpensive set, elements needed to construct the featured microscale builds here aren't to my knowledge available in a single set and would therefore likely have to be sourced from the likes of Bricklink which might put off less experienced builders. Also, it's disappointing that only vehicle designs are included in the book; the dioramas provide a tantalising glimpse of the kind of impressive structures and scenery that can be built at this scale, and it would have been great if parts inventories and instructions for a few non-vehicle builds had been included as well. All things considered, however, it's easy to recommend Tiny LEGO Wonders, and I'm looking forward to attempting a few of the builds myself....

Tiny LEGO Wonders will be available from the end of this month. At the time of writing, Amazon's UK site is quoting an RRP of £13.50 for the book which to me seems pretty good value for a 200-page hardback, especially as Amazon are slightly discounting the book; please use the Gimme LEGO affiliate link here to purchase if you're thinking of buying from Amazon in the UK. Amazon are also selling the book at a discount in the U.S., and you can find the link here.

Many thanks to Siobhan at No Starch Press for sending me a copy of the book to review on Gimme LEGO.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016


Regular readers of Gimme LEGO will know that I'm rather partial to a LEGO dinosaur, so when the chance recently arose for me to fill a gap in my LEGO dinosaur collection I quickly pounced. Set 4998 Stegosaurus was released back in 2008 just as I was emerging from my LEGO Dark Ages, and it disappeared from shelves the following year just as I was getting ready to buy it. Thanks to the wonders of eBay, however, it's now in my possession, albeit a few years later than originally planned....

One reason that I always intended to track this set down is that it's a Creator 3-in-1 offering and thus includes the parts and instructions to construct not just one but three different brick-built dinosaurs, although not all at the same time unfortunately. A large image of the headline Stegosaurus model takes pride of place on the front of the box (above), with the secondary pterodactyl and Tyrannosaurus rex builds relegated to small panels beneath. We're provided with large images of all three builds on the back of the box (below) together with a small panel top right which illustrates how the light brick included in the set is incorporated into the three models.

Despite my copy of the set being pre-owned the box has survived relatively unscathed, not least because the previous owner thankfully avoided opening the set using the thumb tabs provided. The set includes three substantial instruction booklets, with each dinosaur getting its own booklet; you can see the cover of the booklet containing the Tyrannosaurus rex instructions below. At 84 pages from cover to cover the booklet for the Stegosaurus is comfortably the longest. A variety of adverts are spread across the three booklets, and an inventory of parts contained within the set can be found in the pterodactyl instruction booklet.

Given that it's the headline build I decided to start with Stegosaurus. Construction begins with the head, and specifically the lower jaw which articulates with the rest of the head via a couple of hinge plates thus enabling the mouth to be opened. The light brick referred to on the front and back of the box is a 2 x 3 x 1 1/3 light brick containing a red LED and it's mounted in the middle of the head. It's a sobering thought that the real Stegosaurus, which could grow up to 9m in length and weigh over five tonnes, had a disproportionally small brain estimated to be not much bigger than the size of a walnut. So barely larger than a light brick then....  A small hinge mechanism covered with a couple of black 2 x 2 tiles is constructed towards the back of the head; when the rear-most tile is pressed the light brick illuminates, and if you're lucky the hinge mechanism sticks in the "on" position so that the light brick remains illuminated when you take your finger away; I'm not sure whether this is intentional or not, but it's welcome nonetheless. Despite the age of the set, and my copy being pre-owned, the light brick still works fine so the battery is obviously still viable - impressive. The eyes of the Stegosaurus consist of a pair of glow-in-the-dark Bionicle 1 x 3 teeth which can only be found in five sets in this colour; the eyes glow red when the light brick is illuminated. The top of the head is nicely contoured with dark green left and right 6 x 2 wedges which can be found in fewer than 10 sets in total.

The body of the Stegosaurus consists of two sections, with the smaller front body section next to be built. A dark green modified Technic 2 x 2 brick with rotation joint socket, which can only be found in six sets in this colour, is embedded on either side of this section and provides an attachment point for the front legs which will be built later, while the head attaches to another dark green modified Technic 2 x 2 brick with rotation joint socket embedded at the front, Once attached, the head can be angled left and right to around 45 degrees, and it can also rotate around its midline, but no up or down movement is possible. The foremost of Stegosaurus' characteristic bony dermal plates, which are represented by a variety of yellow wedge plates, are attached to the top of this section and are angled forward by way of a tilted modified 2 x 2 plate with pin holes. The larger, rear body section connects to the front section via 2 x 4 hinge plates with articulated joints which you can see here and here; while the two halves of the joint require an unexpectedly hard push to click together there's relatively little friction between the elements once connected so the joint moves very freely. Similar to the front body section, modified Technic 2 x 2 bricks with rotation joint socket are embedded on either side of the rear body section to provide an attachment point for the the hind legs, while three pairs of large dermal plates are mounted on the top of the rear section of the body and angled appropriately as you can see in the picture below.

With the body completed it's time to build the legs. While the hind legs are substantially larger than the front legs, all four feet are the same and all four legs articulate in a similar fashion, allowing a degree of flexion and extension at the shoulders and hips, and also some adduction and abduction in the case of the front legs in particular. Furthermore, each ankle incorporates a rare dark green Technic 2 x 2 brick with rotation joint half ball which has only ever appeared in three sets and which allows the feet to be rotated, flexed and extended at the ankles. More rare dark green elements make an appearance in the form of dark green 6 x 2 and 4 x 2 wedges which make up the thighs of the hind legs. Last to be built is a tail consisting of three distinct segments, two of which feature dermal plates on their upper surface. The tail segments are connected to each other and the rear body section using the same lax hinge joints that are used to connect the body sections together. Four tail spikes, represented by white dinosaur tail end sections, are mounted on the rearmost tail segment; this distinctive defensive arrangement has come to be known as a thagomizer which on a real Stegosaurus apparently included anything from four to ten spikes. The completed model is larger than I expected - more than 40 cm from nose to tail - and it looks quite impressive. That having been said, it should probably be acknowledged that LEGO has employed considerable artistic license from a design perspective - in reality, Stegosaurus was a herbivore and had small, peg-shaped teeth, so the modified 1 x 1 plates with tooth elements used to represent the teeth aren't a good representation of the real thing. Furthermore, the whole head is altogether too large and aggressive for this likely placid herbivore, and the arrangement of the bony plates is wrong as well - these were characteristically arranged in an alternating pattern down the dinosaur's back. Even so, it's a Creator 3-in-1 set we're talking about here rather than a UCS display set, and regardless of the inaccuracies the model is still immediately recognisable as a Stegosaurus and looks pretty good. Furthermore, the model can also be posed to some extent thanks to multiple articulation points, so not a bad effort overall.

And so to the first of the alternate builds, a pterodactyl. Once again the build commences with the head, which is huge in relation to the body, not to mention utterly terrifying.... The long, tooth-filled lower jaw is hinged at the back which allows the mouth to be opened. The light brick is once again incorporated into the head; it's activated by pressing down on the beast's cranial crest which projects upwards and backwards from the head. Once again a pair of glow-in-the-dark Bionicle 1 x 3 teeth represent the pterodactyl's eyes and glow red when the light brick is activated. The pterodactyl's body is tiny, and as was the case for the Stegosaurus the head is attached to the body by way of a rotation joint which allows the head to be angled left and right and also rotated around its midline.

The wings are comprised of three sections, the largest of which attach on either side of the body via a pair of rotation joints which allow the wings to be tilted upwards or downwards. The hind limbs are incorporated into the large wing sections, although in reality they would actually have emerged from the body; they project backwards and terminate in a pair of modified 1 x 1 plates with tooth. The mid-section of each wing attaches to the inner section via hinges comprising modified 1 x 2 plates which allow it to be angled upwards or downwards. The outermost wing section attaches to the rest of the wing by just one stud which allows it to be rotated forwards and backwards, and with the wings completed we're done. While the finished build is just about recognisable as a pterodactyl, it's not a great representation of the subject matter and it isn't going to win any design awards. Still, at least the head is suitably fearsome, and the model is certainly robust enough to swoosh if you're that way inclined, so it's not all bad I suppose.

The last of the three builds is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Many aspects of the build predictably mirror what we've seen with the previous two models, including the hinged lower jaw and copious sharp teeth, the illuminating eyes, and the use of a rotation joint to attach the head to the body which enables the head to be angled left and right and also rotated around its midline.

At first glance the body looks a little undersized compared with the large head, but on the basis of artists impressions of Tyrannosaurus rex I think it's actually pretty much spot on. The tail is made up of four distinct sections joined together by the same 2 x 4 hinge plates with articulated joints that were used to create the Stegosaurus tail; such is the size and weight of the head relative to the body that only by attaching the tail can you stop the legless beast from toppling forward. The powerful legs are made up of a nunber of sections which are joined together in something approximating a zig-zag pattern via the use of rotation joints; although the arrangement looks a bit haphazard the legs actually do a pretty good job of supporting the weight of the rest of the model and also allow the beast to be posed to some extent. The puny arms are last to be built; they look rather blocky and untidy, but can at least be raised and lowered. Overall I really quite like the finished Tyrannosaurus rex - it's well proportioned, the head looks great, the multiple points of articulation offer some flexibility when displaying the model, and it even comes complete with a yellow go-faster stripe.....

This is just one of a number of brick-built tyrannosaurids that LEGO have produced over the years, with other examples to be found in Set 4507 Prehistoric Creatures and Set 6914 Prehistoric Hunters. As luck would have it I just so happen to have the latter built and on display at home, and you can see it alongside the completed Tyrannosaurus rex, which completely dwarfs it, in the picture below.

Over time I seem to be increasingly ambivalent about many of LEGO's licenced themes and their focus on minifigures at the expense of the actual builds. On the flipside, however, I'm increasingly relishing the generally simpler pleasures of the Creator theme, and I thoroughly enjoyed building this Creator 3-in-1 set. Sure, the models are relatively crude, but in addition to the enjoyable building experience I think that the Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex actually look pretty good, and I'll be keeping the latter assembled and on display for the time being I think.

Set 4998 Stegosaurus was released back in 2008 at a recommended retail price of £36.19 / US$49.99. Despite being retired from sale in 2009 the set can still be aquired relatively cheaply; my pre-owned, boxed, complete example of the set was recently purchased from eBay for less than £30, although if you're looking for a new, sealed copy then you'll pay upwards of £80 on Bricklink at time of writing.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Hall or Nothing

Having built and reviewed the wonderful Set 10243 Parisian Restaurant a few weeks back (you can check out the review here if you missed it) my quest to get caught up on the Modular Buildings was off to a good start and I was keen to take on another one. Set 10224 Town Hall, released in 2012, was next on my list.

The front of the box (above) lacks the Creator Expert branding carried by the more recent Modular Buildings. Unusually, the box needs to be stood on end in order to view the box art in the correct orientation, and I think this is the only Modular for which that's the case. An image of the completed build occupies the full height of the box, and in addition to the main image the front of the box also features a trio of inset panels showing an exploded view of the Town Hall's four distinct sections, the dimensions of the completed model, and a rear view of the build. The back of the box (below) features a number of wedding-related vignettes set in and around the building as well as once again highlighting the model's four sections and showcasing a few of the set's play features. There's also a picture of the Town Hall displayed alongside a couple of older Modular Buildings, specifically 10211 Grand Emporium and 10218 Pet Shop.

The contents of the box are accessed by cutting a couple of tape seals. Inside the box are three instruction booklets which are sealed inside a cardboard-backed transparent bag. There are also 30 sealed bags of LEGO elements in total, all but one of which is printed with a '1', a '2' or a '3' corresponding to the stage of the build that the elements within are needed for. Finally, there's a tan 32 x 32 baseplate loose within the box; this has appeared in a total of 8 sets including this one. The set doesn't include a sticker sheet.

The three instruction booklets have identical covers (above) apart from the booklet number printed in the bottom left corner. The first booklet has 76 pages and consists exclusively of building instructions apart from the back cover which, like the back of the box, advertises the three Modular Buildings available at the time of the Town Hall's release; only the Pet Shop is still available at retail as I write this, and I suspect it won't be around for much longer. The second instruction booklet is much slimmer than the others at only 40 pages; in addition to building instructions it contains advertising for Set 10222 Winter Village Post Office, Set 10220 Volkswagen T1 Camper Van and a couple of the 2011 Creator offerings. At 84 pages, the third booklet is the lengthiest of the three and in addition to buiding instructions it contains a 4-page inventory of elements (sample page below - click to enlarge) and advertising for the LEGO Club, the VIP Programme and an obligatory product survey.

The set contains a total of eight minifigures. All of them are surprisingly unique to the set, although most of their constituent elements have appeared as a part of other minifigures. All eight minifigures have a classic yellow smiley head print and standard, unprinted legs. The Bride (below) has an attractive wedding dress torso print which extends to the back of her torso and is exclusive to this minifigure, although her long dark brown braided hair can be readily found elsewhere as can her 'legs' which consist of an unprinted white 65 degree 2 x 2 x 2 slope representing her long skirt. The Groom has a torso print featuring a waistcoat and tie. This torso has thus far appeared as a part of 19 different minifigures and in no less than five Modular Buildings to date, most recently 10243 Parisian Restaurant. The imaginatively-named Girl has fetching long dark orange hair which has only previously been available in this colour as a part of four minifigures including a couple of Ginny Weasley variants from the Harry Potter theme. Her orange torso, with its cute back-printed halter top pattern, has appeared as a part of 11 minifigures to date. Despite being exclusive to the set the Boy is made up of commonly-available parts, with the exception of his white torso printed with a Classic Space floating minifigure design; I was surprised to discover that this torso has only appeared in 13 minifigures to date as I seem to have seen it a number of times recently.

You can see the Bride, Groom, Girl and Boy from behind in the picture below with their hair and hats removed. Only the Bride and the Girl have back-printed torsos, and none of the minifigures have alternate expressions.

The other four minifigures in the set can be seen in the picture below. The Secretary has a nice torso print featuring a dark bluish grey suit jacket, pink shirt and magenta scarf; her unprinted dark purple legs nicely complement the pink and magenta of her torso. Her black hair, which is styled with a top knot bun and a forelock, has only made an appearance in five minifigures including this one. The Mayor is dressed in dark blue. His torso, which is printed with a pinstriped jacket and gold tie pattern, has only been included in a total of eight minifigures to date. He's otherwise made up of elements which have appeared on many other occasions, which is also the case for the Janitor, whose face is all but obscured by his bushy white beard and blue baseball cap. His torso print features blue overalls with a couple of tools peeking out of the central pocket. Finally we have the Photographer. For some reason the normally-reliable Bricklink doesn't appear to acknowledge her existence within the set, but thankfully Brick Owl isn't so cavalier. Her torso print, which consists of a red low-cut pin-striped jacket and a press pass, has been restricted to just a handful of minifigures, most recently making an appearance in promotional set 40221 Fountain.

As you can see from the picture below, only the Mayor and the Photograher have backprinted torsos. Once again none of the minifigures have an alternate expression.

A total of 14 of the sealed bags of elements are required for Stage 1 of the build, instructions for which are found in the first instruction booklet. In time-honoured Modular fashion, the build commences with some tiling, in this case construction of a narrow, tiled pavement/sidewalk area along one edge of the baseplate. The pavement incorporates an obligatory pair of metallic silver modified 1 x 2 tiles with grille representing drains which have been a part of every Modular build that I've ever attempted. Next the floor plan of the Town Hall is mapped out, predominantly with dark bley and black bricks, and a staircase leading up from the pavement to the front entrance is constructed and topped off with tan tiles. As usual, four 1 x 2 Technic bricks are strategically positioned at ground level at the sides of the baseplate to enable the Town Hall to be attached to other Modular Buidings via a couple of Technic pins, and dark bluish grey 1 x 3 arches, which provide some detailing at the base of the front of the building, are dropped into place; these have only ever appeared in 7 sets including this one. A false floor is constructed at the level of the top of the staircase, although a couple of areas towards the rear of the ground floor remain at baseplate level; a podium complete with a lectern is placed in the larger of these two areas, which will become an auditorium. The lectern is embellished with a printed shield which is unique to the set. The smaller of the two areas is the bottom of a lift/elevator shaft. This will later accommodate a simple manually operated lift.

Just inside the front entrance there's a plinth formed from a couple of round 2 x 2 bricks with grille. On top of this is a white, unprinted minifigure head on a jumper plate; it's not entirely clear what this is, but I'm guessing it's supposed to be a marble bust. A tan table is placed against the wall nearby, while a smaller table bearing a lamp with a dark red fez lampshade, a hundred dollar bill and a desktop computer with printed tiles representing the screen and keyboard is assembled and positioned in what will become a small office on the other side of the ground floor. Meanwhile, the outer walls are built up with layers of dark bluish grey, white and light bluish grey bricks, and a few dark green bricks make an appearance in some of the internal walls. Round the back a door is installed, while green foliage creeps up the back wall of the building and a lamp which incorporates a trans-clear 1 x 1 brick is hung next to the back door.

Windows are then installed front and back, with white mud guards providing detailing over the windows at the front, after which a substantial, brick-built front door is constructed. The front door incorporates a number of dark green 1 x 2 x 2 windows which have only ever appeared in three sets in this colour. The doors attach to a brick-built door frame by way of dark green modified 1 x 1 bricks with clip which are similarly uncommon in this colour. The four columns at the front of the building are next to be assembled. Each one has a core of SNOT bricks including reddish brown modified 1 x 1 bricks with studs on two sides which have appeared in seven sets including this one; modified 1 x 8 plates with door rail cover the central core, and white 1 x 8 tiles provide a tidy, studless appearance. The top, or capital, of each column incorporates a modified 1 x 1 plate with clip light which confers a scroll-like appearance not dissiminar to the volutes found at the head of Ionic columns. The columns form part of a portico; the roof, or pediment, of the portico, has a triangular area below it called a tympanum which is typically carved and decorated in real life. In the case of the Town Hall it has a central feature consisting of the same shield which we were introduced to earlier flanked by a couple of dark orange croissants, with a pair of white skeleton legs on either side of it; it sounds faintly ridiculous, but it actually looks pretty good!

The outer walls continue to be built up, predominantly with layers of light and dark bluish grey bricks. This culminates in the placement of a layer of dark orange bricks which is topped off with light bluish grey tiles. A lamp post and a couple of flower pots are then installed on the pavement outside the front of the building, at which point the ground floor is finished. All that's left to do is to build a camera complete with long lens and flash for the press photographer, at which point Stage 1 of the build is complete.

Only five sealed bags of elements are needed for Stage 2 of the build which comprises the second floor of the Town Hall. Some of the plates contained in the unmarked bag are also required, including a couple of white 6 x 24 plates which make up a large part of the floor area and which have only ever appeared in six sets including this one. After building the floor it's time to start on the walls. Some of the dark orange bricks used in the construction of the walls have featured in relatively few sets to date, for instance just eight sets in the case of dark orange 1 x 3 and 1 x 8 bricks. An area of the floor centrally is covered with a small mosaic featuring tan, dark blue and dark green tiles, and a reddish brown ballustrade is constructed to fence off an open section towards the rear; when the second floor is eventually stacked on top of the ground floor this open section will be positioned directly above the auditorium on the ground floor so that proceedings can be observed from the higher floors of the building. Next some rudimentary furniture - a few chairs, plus a desk and a table compete with ornaments including a dark bluish grey frog - are built and put into place.

Four window boxes are then constructed at the front of the building on either side of a rather hazardous balcony with a glaring gap between the curved railings and the balcony floor, and stacks of dark orange modified 1 x 2 log bricks are used to fill the gaps between windows; while log bricks in this colour have appeared in a number of other sets, there are a total of 48 of them in this set which is significantly more than in all the other sets put together. The internal walls incorporate a dark orange 1 x 8 x 2 arch; this can be found in a total of just four sets. The elevator shaft continues upwards into the second floor where it's guarded by a black door, while a green door closes off a small office to the right; the walls of the office are furnished with some token decoration in the form of a printed 2 x 2 dark tan tile. A trans-clear door at the front provides balcony access. Similar to the ground floor, white vehicle mud guards provide some detailing over the four front windows, while a dark orange 1 x 8 x 2 arch frames the balcony door. Finally, the walls are topped off with light bluish grey tiles and the second floor is done.

The last stage of the build, which involves construction of the top floor of the Town Hall plus the roof and clock tower, requires the ten remaining sealed bags of elements plus the outstanding contents of the unmarked bag. The build commences with construction of an identical floor to that of the level below, featuring the same open area towards the rear to provide a view down to the auditorium. The top floor accommodates a conference room which is dominated by a large table with a dark green, tan and dark tan-tiled tabletop and six tan chairs. A reddish brown ballustrade forms the rear boundary of the conference room overlooking the auditorium, and there's an entrance to the lift which is closed off by a black door as was the case for the floors below. The interior of the second floor is sparsely furnished, with a 2-piece dark tan printed globe only previously available in 70810 Metalbeard's Sea Cow and 4191 The Captain's Cabin, providing the only decoration apart from the conference table and chairs. Some simple light bluish grey cornicing is added at the front of the second floor where it meets the floor below.

The rear wall is constructed in exactly the same way as was the case for the floor below, including the installation of three 1 x 4 x 3 windows with opening panes. The windows at the front are different from those installed in the floor below, however, featuring 1 x 2 x 2 windows arranged in a 2 x 2 pattern which are overlapped at their outer margins by the external walls and partially obscured at the top by 1 x 4 brick arches; it's an interesting idea, but in practice too much of the window area ends up being filled by the window frames in my opinion so I don't think it's entirely successful. The area above the central window is decorated by detailing which once again features white vehicle mud guards, albeit of a different variety to those used in the lower floors, and light bluish grey tiles once again sit atop the walls in preparation for the placement of the section above, namely the roof.

The roof section is dominated by a clock tower and an excellently-realised curved skylight made up of trans-clear garage roller door sections. In fact, clever building tricks abound during this stage of the build, not least the ingenious technique used in constructing the elegant cornicing at the front of the roof. Basically, modified 1 x 2 x 1 1/3 bricks with curved top are attached upside down to modified 3 x 2 plates with hole and then threaded through 1 x 2 x 2 castle windows - very neat. Another clever building trick on show is the use of a myriad of SNOT techniques to spell out the year '1891' at the base of the clock tower, a feature borrowed from 10197 Fire Brigade which uses similar techniques to incorporate '1932' into its roof section. The Town Hall clock tower includes a clock face printed on a black 4 x 4 inverted dish; this printed element has only ever appeared in one set apart from this one, namely 10245 Santa's Workshop. A bell sits within the roof space of the tower above the clock, although it's unfortunately dark bluish grey rather than pearl gold like the bell in the Fire Brigade set.

With the roof now complete it's time to stack the sections and check out the finished Town Hall. The completed build is pretty imposing, and at fully half a metre in height I suspect it's the tallest of all the Modular Buildings to date, and quite possibly the heaviest as well.

Having recently raved about the Parisian Restaurant, I'm afraid that I can't be as effusive about the Town Hall. I certainly enjoyed the build overall, and it incorporates some nice features such as the portico, the skylight and a lift which can be manually raised and lowered via a handle which protrudes through the rear wall of the building. There's also a good selection of minifigures, and as previously mentioned there are some really neat build techniques utilised in the model, particularly in the roof section. It's also worth mentioning that if it wasn't for this set it'd be almost impossible to lay your hands on dark orange bricks in any quantity in the aftermarket, which would have meant that my Ghostbusters HQ MOC amongst other things would never have seen the light of day. All that having been said, however, I can't get away from the feeling that the finished build looks a bit boxy and crude; it's hard to explain, but it just seems to lack the elegance and subtlety of its peers such as the Parisian Restaurant, or even older Modulars such as 10185 Green Grocer. Other criticisms include the sparsely furnished and uninspiring interior, plus the unattractive appearance of the back of the building at ground floor level. All of these complaints are relative, however - while the Town Hall does admittedly fall short in comparison to the other Modular buildings, it's still a good set. It's just not a great one.

Set 10224 Town Hall contains 2,766 elements, which makes it by some margin the biggest Modular Building to date on the basis of the parts count. The set was available from March 2012 until October 2014 and retailed for £149.99 / US$199.99. For reasons that will soon become clear I've been trying to pick up a couple more copies of the set for parts, but predictably enough the aftermarket price has steadily increased since retirement, so much so that I'm going to need a Plan B.... You'll struggle to find a used, boxed example of the set for much less than £300 / US$400 these days, and a mint, sealed copy will now set you back upwards of £350 / US$500. Despite that, even at £350 I think it's worth seeking out if you're a fan of the Modular Buildings, with the added bonus that you'll probably get back what you pay (at the very least) if you decide to sell it later.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Strange Cargo

Having built and reviewed the Burlington Northern Santa Fe locomotive (below) in my previous post I was keen to see it in action on my work-in-progress city layout, but there were a couple of things I had to attend to first.

Firstly, the set isn't motorised out of the box, so I needed to incorporate a motor in order to get it running. Thankfully, LEGO has helpfully devoted a few pages of the BNSF instruction booklet to the incorporation of a 9V motor into the locomotive, and since I'd recently laid 9V track on my layout this was exactly what I was looking to do. As an added bonus, I discovered that the instruction booklet also includes instructions (sample page below) for incorporating a working light at the front of the locomotive; LEGO even previously produced a service pack, 3748 Light Unit for Train, which includes all the required elements to do this. Unfortunately, at the time of writing there were only 5 Bricklink sellers anywhere in the world with copies of this service pack for sale; given that the lowest asking price was around £13 + shipping for a service pack containing just 4 elements I figured I could probably pick up the elements I needed individually on Bricklink for a lot less, and that was indeed the case.

Fitting a 9V motor to the BNSF locomotive turned out to be very straightforward, basically just a case of detaching the rear wheel assembly and clicking the 5mm pin at the top of the motor into the now-vacant hole in the underside of the train base. Anticipating the desire of purchasers to motorise the locomotive, LEGO included a pair of decorative sides in the BNSF set which attach to the sides of motor and give it the appearance of a standard brick-built wheel assembly. Installing a light at the front of the locomotive required a little more effort, however, necessitating the removal of the driver's cab and part of the bodywork. One end of a 36 stud-long wire is attached to the 9V motor, while the other end is threaded through the train base into the body of the locomotive (below) and attached to a 1 x 2 light brick which is installed immediately behind the orange 1 x 2 Technic brick at the front of the loco. The cab is then replaced and the body reconstructed.

With the locomotive now motorised and a light brick installed, the other question I had to address was what rolling stock it should haul. My assumption has always been that the BNSF locomotive is supposed to be paired with Set 10170 TTX Intermodal Double-Stack Car (below) on the basis of the similar set branding plus the fact that both sets were released at around the same time; further evidence is provided by the BNSF Railway Company itself which claims on its website to transport more intermodal units each year than any other railroad in the U.S.. The problem is that I only have a single copy of Set 10170, and a train consisting of the BNSF locomotive plus just a single intermodal double-stack car would look a bit rubbish I reckon. Of course there's always eBay or Bricklink, but with complete examples of Set 10170 regularly changing hands for anything up to £100 or more plus shipping I wasn't overjoyed at the prospect of paying out £300+ to lay my hands on a few more of them....

An alternative was therefore needed, and I immediate thought of Set 10016 Tanker Truck which was released in 2001. I've long had a soft spot for this set, perhaps as a result of its nostalgia-inducing Octan branding, and in fact you may already have seen one of these trucks in some of the more recent pictures of my layout such as this one. Anyway, as well as having a couple of 'official' copies of the set I also bought up the necessary elements from Bricklink and elsewhere a few years back to build a few more of them, so I certainly have enough to provide my BNSF locomotive with a worthwhile cargo to haul.

The front of the 10016 box (above) features an image of the assembled tanker truck and carries the My Own Train branding which graced more than forty 9V train-related sets between 2001 and 2004. A number of other 2001 My Own Train releases such as 10013 Open Freight Wagon and 10017 Hopper Wagon are showcased on the back of the box (below).

The set's 128 elements are supplied in three sealed bags, and the set box also contains a 16-page instruction booklet, the cover of which you can see below. Similar to the instruction booklet for the BNSF locomotive (reviewed by me here), there's no advertising or other filler included in the booklet at all - every page apart from the front cover is occupied by building instructions.

The set doesn't include any minifigures, and the build is quick and straightforward. The foundation of the tanker truck is a black 6 x 24 train base. Modified 1 x 6 plates with train wagon end are installed at either end of the train base, and brackets are placed along the sides to which a variety of printed tiles are attached (picture below). The 1 x 6 tile printed with 'distressed' Octan branding is rare, having only ever appeared in two sets including this one, while the white 1 x 4 tile with black stripes has featured in just 8 sets in total. The central structure which supports the tank is then constructed and a number of black 1 x 2 modified plates with ladder are attached on either side of it.

The tank is constructed in two identical halves which predominantly consist of white 4 x 4 x 6 quarter cylinders. These elements are quite rare in white, having only ever appeared in a total of 8 sets. The quarter cylinders are held together by red and green 4 x 4 round corner plates together with a central core of stacked 2 x 2 bricks. White 8 x 8 inverted dishes are attached at either end; similar to the cylinders these are surprisingly uncommon in this colour, having only ever appeared in five sets including this one. The two halves of the tank are then attached to the rest of the truck by way of a number of 1 x 4 modified bricks with 4 studs on one side which are incorporated into the central supporting structure. With the tank installed it's then just a case of constructing a couple of identical wheel assembies topped off with train bogie plates and clicking the wheel assemblies into the underside of the train base, at which point we're done.

I ended up with a total of six tanker trucks including the one I'd previously assembled. With my BNSF locomotive motorised and packing a working headlight, and some rolling stock now built, it was finally time to power up the upper loop of my work-in-progress city layout and do a test run (video clip embedded below, or here if the embedded clip won't play on your device). I did wonder whether the 9V motor might struggle when faced with the weight of the locomotive plus six tanker trucks, but as you can see from the video I needn't have worried - the motor shifts the trucks with surprisingly little difficulty, and indeed I suspect it could have managed to pull a few more as well.

Testing 10133 Burlington Northern Santa Fe

The train is travelling at half speed in the video, and at this speed the illumination of the headlight is barely perceptible unless the ambient lighting is low. Unlike modern LEGO lighting which is powered by a Power Functions battery box and remote, the brightness of the light can't to my knowledge be controlled independent of the speed of the motor. There's nothing stopping you from combining both 9V and Power Functions systems in one model, however, which is exactly what I've done in the train that runs on the subterranean loop of my layout and which includes a 9V motor and also a Power Functions battery box, lights and a remote receiver (more information here).

I've really enjoyed playing with trains over the past few weeks, but it's turned out to be a really bad move financially. While I already owned the BNSF locomotive and tanker trucks featured in the last couple of Gimme LEGO posts, I got so engrossed in it all that I made the mistake of checking out the train-related LEGO offerings on eBay. This was of course very dangerous as I predictably ended up splashing out on a whole bunch of additional 9V trains and rolling stock. Beware - LEGO trains are addictive, and expensive....