Monday, 9 November 2015

The Countdown Begins....

Regular readers may recall that I posted a piece on Gimme LEGO a couple of weeks back about my preparations for this year's Great Western Brick Show, a.k.a. STEAM, and my experience of exhibiting at the show - you can read it here if you missed it. As luck would have it, I was allocated display space next to Brickset's Huw Millington who was exhibiting his excellent Brickton train layout (picture below) at the show. Because our displays were adjacent to each other, I ended up babysitting Brickton on a few occasions when Huw took a break, and I therefore got to have a play with the trains (which mysteriously derailed a couple of times on my watch, but we'll not dwell on those unfortunate incidents....).

Brickton by Huw Millington, Photograph by Jamie Douglas
I have to say that it was great fun to spend some time presiding over Brickton during the STEAM weekend, so much so that it's inspired me to crack on with my own work-in-progress City Layout. Not only that, but I've somewhat rashly decided that I'm going to try to get my layout sufficiently display-worthy to exhibit at next year's Great Western Brick Show. Yes, really.... I accept that those of you who've been patiently following my painfully slow progress are probably shaking your heads in bemusement at this news - I have after all been working on my layout since November 2010 and I don't exactly have much to show for it - but I'm going to give it a go. As an added incentive, Huw has confirmed that he's going to continue to develop Brickton and plans to show a new and improved version of it at STEAM next year; if I can get my layout ready in time, and if STEAM organiser Martin Long will let me display it there, then Huw's agreed that we can link our displays together at the show so that trains can run from one layout to the other. So I'd better crack on, then....

Last time I posted an update on my City Layout I'd just completed putting a roof over the subterranean track loop as you can see in the picture above. Since then I've started to think about how the next level of my city will fit together. The first thing I did was lay down a few track sections at what will be ground level. Dark bley track on a dark bley base looked predictably monotonous, so to address that I used some reddish brown tiles as sleepers and filled the space between and around the sleepers with ballast consisting of dark tan 1 x 1 plates as you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge). The sleepers are obviously too wide to be true to life, but I still think that the effect is quite pleasing. The ballast also looks okay I reckon, and the addition of a few plant stalks and the odd flower here and there helps to give the track a slightly more realistic feel, not to mention perfectly complementing the colour scheme of the tanker truck (Set 10016) that I've posed on the track.... Running some dark reddish brown fencing down the outside of the track helps to stop the ballast from falling off the sides of the layout, as well making things look nice and tidy.

Having made a start on the ground level track loop, the next thing I wanted to do was to attach a section of road alongside the track. It's interesting that having recently experimented with a variety of techniques for constructing and integrating brick-built roads I've ended up going back to something not too dissimilar to what I worked out back in August 2011 when I first played around with with brick-built roads here. One of the things I needed to figure out was how best to neatly transition from track to road; I ended up building a three stud-wide pavement to separate them (picture below - click to enlarge) with more reddish brown fencing employed trackside to protect pedestrians. The road is supported underneath by a modular brick-built scaffold, and I envision that the whole ground level of the city inside the outer track loop will eventually be supported by similar scaffolds. The road itself is predominantly built from one stud-wide black bricks which are laid on their sides; by building the roads in this way I figure that I'll be able to create a studless road surface relatively inexpensively, and it also enables me to fashion suitably thin road markings out of yellow and white plates and tiles sandwiched between the black bricks. I spent a while debating what colour the roads should be before eventually deciding to build them in black rather than dark bley; while black is probably less realistic I do think that it'll provide a better contrast with the surrounding structures - my city already features more than enough bley and dark bley I reckon. The outer edges of the road section incorporate a number of modified 1 x 4 bricks with four studs on one side; the studs on the side of these bricks attach to the underside of the pavement, thus holding the road firmly in position.

With a section of brick-built road in place the next task was to neatly transition from the road to a building, and for this I called upon my trusty Cafe Corner (below - click to enlarge). Modified 1 x 4 bricks with four studs on one side attached to the edge of the road section are again used to anchor the road to the underside of the pavement next to the building and hold everything nicely in position.

I'm planning on populating my city with a mixture of modular buildings, for example Cafe Corner and Green Grocer, and a selection of MOCs. Over time my intention is to gradually phase out the official sets and replace them with more of my own creations, but until that time comes LEGO's beautiful and iconic modulars will more than suffice I think.

And that's as far as I've got for now. Having started to figure out how the various components making up my city will fit together, the next step will be to get to work in earnest on the modular scaffold which will underpin all the ground level structures, although given that I've used up most of my supply of loose red bricks on the frame of my Manic Miner mosaic, it looks like I'm going to need to raid Bricklink once again to stock up. So raid Bricklink I shall - there's no time to waste as the countdown to STEAM 2016 has well and truly begun.....

Friday, 30 October 2015

Culture Club

Having recently posted here that a couple of my articles had been published in Issue 4 of Bricks Magazine (those of you keeping an eye on the Gimme LEGO Facebook page will have seen that I also have a piece in Bricks Issue 5 as well) I can now report that I've also had a feature published in Issue 3 of Bricks Culture Magazine as well.

I have to confess to having some initial doubts about Bricks Culture Magazine. Specifically, I wondered whether there'd be enough suitable content to sustain the world's first "LEGO pop-culture magazine for adults", and indeed whether the Bricks Culture target market was big enough for the magazine to be a success. Some of my fears were allayed once I'd actually held a copy of Issue 1 in my hands and read it from cover to cover, though - I had to admit to editor Tim Johnson, a.k.a. Caperberry of New Elementary fame that I'd thoroughly enjoyed most of the content, not to mention being impressed with the overall quality and polish. It also appears that my scepticism about the target market was seriously wide of the mark - sales of Bricks Culture had apparently already substantially exceeded expectations even before the magazine was featured in the UK Channel 4 television documentary "The Secret World of LEGO", at which point the Bricks Culture website briefly crashed under the weight of enquiries....

Given how impressed I'd been with the mag, I was pleased when Tim approached me to ask whether I'd be interested in writing something to fill Brick Culture's "Sets to Search For" slot in Issue 3 (cover pic above), and I was happy to oblige. "Sets to Search For" is a regular Bricks Culture feature which focuses on sets which are, for various reasons, coveted and/or collectible; previous occupants of this slot have included Set 4000016 Billund Airport and Set 3723 LEGO Minifigure. After much deliberation I decided to write about a Star Wars offering, Set 10123 Cloud City. This set, which is primarily famed for its inclusion of a number of exclusive and valuable minifigures, is interesting on a number of levels, and I share a few thoughts about the set and its perceived value in my article (excerpt below).

In terms of the magazine as a whole, my contributor copy of Issue 3 arrived a couple of weeks ago and I've been gradually working my way through its 140 pages. My impression is that the high quality of content continues to be maintained, with a couple of highlights including a lengthy interview with the Surma brothers (excerpt below) whose work I've followed ever since I became aware of them last year, and a feature on Daniel August Krentz, designer of the iconic Set 375 better known as the Yellow Castle.

Bricks Culture, which is published quarterly, certainly isn't cheap at £9.99 per issue. It is however absolutely packed with thoughtful LEGO-related content the like of which you generally won't find elsewhere, and it's beautifully presented. You can order it here.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Fun and Games

So, another year, and another thoroughly enjoyable weekend spent at the Great Western Brick Show, a.k.a. STEAM. This event, which is held at the Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon, features builds by members of the Brickish Association, the UK's largest LEGO User Group. The show is now in its 13th year, and as in previous years it offered up a dizzying array of superb LEGO creations. Having first visited STEAM in 2010, I ended up going back in 2011 as an exhibitor and I've exhibited there every year since then, displaying the likes of the UCS AT-AT in 2013 and my Ghostbusters HQ and ECTO 1 last year. Having reached September without anything new to show this year,  however, I 'd pretty much resigned myself to attending STEAM 2015 as a tourist rather than an exhibitor. Thankfully, with the show rapidly approaching I unexpectedly had a flash of inspiration and managed to design, source the parts for and build a brand new MOC for STEAM in double-quick time - most out of character....

Photo courtesy of Andrew Tipping/Bricks Magazine
My STEAM display (above - click to enlarge) was an homage to Manic Miner, one of my favourite ever video games. Written in just six weeks by eccentric eighties gaming enigma Matthew Smith and first released on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum home computer in 1983, it's no exaggeration to say that Manic Miner was something of a phenomenon back in the day. The game was basically a fiendishly sadistic platformer which required pixel-perfect jumps and meticulously precise timing; I shudder to think how many hundreds of hours I spent trying to safely negotiate the game's twenty increasingly bastard-hard levels. Certainly it felt like an eternity before I finally defeated the game and emerged dischevelled and squinting into the sunlight. Leap forward more than 30 years to a couple of months ago and I randomly stumbled across a couple of Flash versions of Manic Miner online; the memories immediately came flooding back, and amid the waves of nostalgia it occurred to me that the first level of the game (below) might translate rather nicely into a LEGO mosaic....

Image from Girny Gamer
My initial idea was to reproduce the whole screen in LEGO, with one LEGO stud representing one ZX Spectrum pixel. I quickly realised, however, that building a 256 x 192 stud LEGO mosaic (equivalent to 8 x 6 standard 32 x 32 baseplates), not to mention a frame that would be sufficiently robust to safely and securely support the mosaic at a public event, wouldn't be feasible in the time available. I therefore opted to compromise by only reproducing a 120 x 88 pixel section of the screen, and while even this ended up being a bit of a stretch time-wise I thankfully managed to complete it a few days before the show.

Although I was pleased with the finished build, I do have to admit that I was far from sure how visitors to STEAM would react to it. While I was confident that there would be at least some visitors of a certain age who'd immediately recognise what I'd built, I was also concerned that there would be a whole lot of people who would have absolutely no idea what it was.... Just 48 hours prior to the show, however, I stumbled upon a possible solution to the problem - a video clip (embedded below, or click here to view it on YouTube) posted by kingqueen3065 featuring the Manic Miner ZX Spectrum loading sequence followed by a five-level play-though.

I figured that if took my iPad along to the show and used it to display the video clip on a loop it'd provide a useful reference point for visitors who hadn't previously come across the game. Decision made, I quickly constructed a suitable LEGO frame to slot my iPad into and I was ready to go. Transporting the mosaic and its 108 cm x 81 cm frame to the show was a bit of a pain thanks to my impractical choice of car, although my long-suffering wife was thankfully on hand to fashion a huge protective sleeve out of deconstructed cardboard boxes and polythene sheets to protect the mosaic in transit, and I was able to break the brick-built frame into manageable sections and box them up without too much difficulty. Having eventually managed to shoehorn everything into the car, I drove to Swindon at the crack of dawn on the first day of the show. Setting up was pretty straightforward, and at 10 a.m. the doors opened and STEAM was underway. As things turned out, using the iPad alongside my build proved to be a masterstroke. While a steady flow of grown ups recognised the mosaic and happily reminisced about the game, there were at least as many kids who were transfixed by the gameplay video running on the iPad and quickly made the connection with my display, so everybody was happy.

So that's STEAM done and dusted for another year, and there's just one final loose end to tie up - what to do with my mosaic now it's back home. I wonder if my wife wants some new artwork for the sitting room....?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Build your own Tauntaun!

A few weeks ago I built and reviewed Set LLCA53 Han Solo On Tauntaun (below). Given the rarity of the set, I promised to share the instructions so that Gimme LEGO readers could have a crack at building it themselves.

I'm pleased to report that the instructions have now been scanned and uploaded to the Gimme LEGO Flickr stream and you can access them here. Apologies for the delay - I got tied up with a bunch of other stuff, not least preparations for the Great Western LEGO Show which I'll post about soon. LLCA53 is a promo item rather than a regular retail set, and as such the print quality of the instructions predictably isn't up to retail standards; even so, you should hopefully be able to follow them OK.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on! Don't forget to check my original LLCA53 posting for information about the build and a heads-up regarding some of the more uncommon elements that you'll need to track down.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Offsite round-up: Space Shuttles and more....

Having promised a few weeks back that I'd be more proactive about posting a notification here on Gimme LEGO when set reviews and other new articles that I'd written were published elsewhere, I figured that I should let you know about some articles that I've written for Issue 4 of Bricks magazine which came out earlier this week.

As you've no doubt already guessed from the front cover above, the latest issue of Bricks is mostly concerned with various facets of LEGO space. The content spans almost four decades, with Jeremy Williams' Classic Space retrospective rubbing shoulders with an overview of the newly-released Star Wars: The Force Awakens sets and a look back at the Space Police III theme. There's also an interview with LEGO designer Mark Stafford who has worked on a multitude of space and sci-fi themes including Space Police III, Mars Mission, Exo-Force and Alien Conquest, while Exo-Suit designer Peter Reid gives us a tour of his favourite LEGO mechs.

Given the space focus I was predictably keen to be involved, and when Bricks editor Mark Guest approached me about writing a potted history of the LEGO Space Shuttle I was happy to oblige. As a longstanding fan of the Space Shuttle I've previously reviewed a number of LEGO's Space Shuttle sets including Set 6544 Shuttle Transcon 2 (below) and Set 3367 Space Shuttle. I'd also been meaning to do a round up of LEGO's Space Shuttle back catalogue for absolutely ages but had never gotten around to doing it; Mark's request was therefore just the push I needed. Anyway, it's finally done now, and at over 1,000 words it's a fairly comprehensive overview of the subject which covers pretty much every Space Shuttle that LEGO have released over the years, including some pretty obscure stuff.

In addition to my Space Shuttle feature, Bricks Issue 4 also includes my review of the recently-released City Space Set 60080 Spaceport (below) as well as a brief overview of the other three 2015 City Space sets.

Bricks is only available online at the present time, and you can order it here.

Friday, 21 August 2015

"And I thought they smelled bad....on the outside!"

Being a LEGO Star Wars collector can be a pretty thankless task at times, particularly if you have completist tendencies. If it isn't the countless remakes, many of which seem little changed from the previous versions, it's all the blasted event exclusives and limited edition promos. These tantalising chase items, which are generally only available in small numbers, have been the subject of numerous Gimme LEGO rants over the years (for instance here and here), and I've long given up trying to collect them all. That having been said, I'm always delighted to pick up these curios when the opportunity arises, and I got lucky recently, managing to score the item below from a fellow member of the Brickset Forum.

The set in question is designated LLCA53 Han Solo On Tauntaun in the Brickset database, and it's apparently owned by just 14 of Brickset's 117,000+ registered members. The previous owner was given the set by LEGOLAND California as a thank-you for contributing Lego Star Wars photographs to their Fan Gallery, although it appears that the sets were originally designed for Ambassador Pass holders attending the 2011 Master Model Builder Class. The set wasn't supplied boxed - the elements are divided between three numbered grip-seal bags which are themselves packed into an opaque LEGO Factory bag along with six folded and loosely stapled sheets containing the building instructions. The instruction sheets are colour printed on both sides; the artwork above can be found at the top of the first page while the inventory of parts below (click to enlarge) is printed on the back of the last page. The quality of the printing isn't up to retail standards from the perspective of either sharpness or colour representation, which isn't altogether surprising in a promo set such as this.

Bag 1 contains the parts needed to build the display stand, which is of course designed to look like snowy terrain, and the tauntaun's feet. This stage of the build utilises common elements - only the six tan modified 1 x 1 plates with tooth which form the claws on the tauntaun's feet could be described as remotely uncommon, and even these have appeared in 20 sets to date.

Bag 2 contains the parts needed to build most of the tauntaun plus its harness. Once again, the parts used appear to be unremarkable - predominantly light bley slopes of various types with a few common plates, small bricks and clips thrown in for good measure. Certainly I don't think sourcing them would be too much of an issue for would-be builders. A number of SNOT bricks, specifically 1 x 1 bricks with a stud on one side, are utilised to hold the harness in the correct alignment and provide an attachment point for the tauntaun's puny T-Rex-like upper limbs. The tail is suspended from beneath the body and doesn't actually touch the ground, with the consequence that it's relatively fragile and liable to fall off if not handled carefully.

So far so good, but the magic really happens when the contents of Bag 3 come into play. First a brick-built reddish brown saddle with a couple of saddle bags is constructed (below) and it's here that sourcing the parts you'd need to exactly replicate the build starts to get a bit more challenging. The saddle incorporates a pair of reddish brown modified 1 x 2 plates with handle on side and free ends which have only ever appeared in eight retail sets. Worse still is the use of two reddish brown modified 1 x 1 plates with horizontal clip. These are used to attach the saddle bags to the saddle, and according to Bricklink they've never actually appeared in a retail set, so you might need to substitute these with equivalent elements in a different colour unless you have access to a LEGOLAND model shop.... I'm afraid that it's a similar story with the pair of reddish brown modified 1 x 1 plates with vertical clip used to attach Han's pack to the back of the saddle - these have also apparently never appeared in a retail set, although thankfully a close variant is available in reddish brown.

With the saddle complete it's time to build the tauntaun's head and carefully mount it on top of the neck. It's quite a job to wedge the pair of light bley 1 x 1 tiles into the clips on the top of the head to form the ears, and it places considerable stress on the clips which is why LEGO defines this as an 'illegal' building technique and doesn't normally permit its use in official sets. With the tauntaun now complete, all that's left to do is build the intrepid rider who is of course Han Solo. Han's dark tan legs are attached to his torso by way of a pair of 2 x 2 turntables; these allow the legs to be rotated outwards so as to adopt a more natural riding position. Once completed, Han can be carefully lowered into the saddle and handed the tauntaun's reins, at which point we're done!

You can see the completed build in the pictures above and below. Although the tauntaun is attached to the base, there is some scope for posing the model, albeit limited - the position of the tauntaun's upper limbs can be adjusted, and Han's head can be rotated and his arms bent. It wouldn't take much modification to enable the tauntaun to turn its head as well if desired

For all their rarity value and collectability, I've often felt that many of the LEGO Star Wars promo items aren't especially interesting in their own right, but that's certainly not the case for this model which is superb. I've always had huge admiration for builders who can transcend the crudeness which is inevitable at this scale and craft models which are elegant and immediately recognisable, and I'd say that this is a perfect example of that art. On the downside the build got a bit fiddly towards the end, and the completed model isn't as robust as a typical retail offering, but really these are trifling details; it's a lovely display piece and it'll take pride of place alongside some of my other LEGO Star Wars favourites.

I'd like to offer my thanks to fellow Bricksetter Mark a.k.a. smokebelch for selling the set to me for an amount which, while admittedly not exactly cheap, was still a long, long way short of the ridiculous sums being asked by sellers on Bricklink; in case you're wondering, at the time of writing there were only two of these sets listed for sale on Bricklink, and at $1,995 and $3,500 respectively they might remain unsold for a while yet.... Unless you're a lottery winner, your best best would be to just source the 336 parts needed to build the model yourself - the vast majority are fairly common and inexpensive, and those that aren't can be readily substituted by alternative parts; I'll aim to scan the instructions and upload them to the Gimme LEGO Flickr stream here over the next week or so which will make it easier for you to build your own copy if you wish.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Desert Delight?

Unless you've been living under a stone for the past few years you can't fail to be aware of the phenomenon that is Minecraft. I have to confess that I came to the party quite late, stubbornly refusing to get caught up in it all until I was eventually dragged into the fray by my Minecraft-mad youngster (nickname Super B, or just B for short). Although I've since dabbled a little with single player, most of my Minecraft game time has been spent playing co-op with B on an XBOX 360, building somewhere for us to live, exploring different biomes and digging down to the bedrock layer looking for diamonds while trying to avoid being blown up by creepers or falling into lava.

As well as enjoying Minecraft the game, B has built some of the Minecraft LEGO sets including a couple of the original Microscale offerings as well as a selection of the more recent minifigure sets such as The Mine and The First Night. I therefore thought it'd be interesting to involve him in a review of one of the new summer wave of Minecraft sets. His job would be to build the set and simultaneously provide me with a stream-of-consciousness commentary, while I would be relegated to the role of parts monkey as well as adding my own thoughts about the set into the mix and trying to pull everything together into a coherent Gimme LEGO posting. Read on to discover if I succeeded....

We reviewed Set 21121 The Desert Outpost, kindly provided to us ahead of its general release by LEGO's Community Events and Engagement (CEE) Team. First off I sat junior down, put the box in front of him and asked him for his thoughts. It was interesting that he immediately zeroed in on the minifigures, particularly Alex, who I have to admit I'd never heard of, and the wolf. He didn't think that either of these characters had previously appeared in any of the Minecraft sets, and he couldn't wait to get his hands on them. He was also excited to discover that the set contained two skeletons, both of which had bows, and one of which was wearing armour. It was only after he'd closely examined the minifigures that his attention eventually switched to the Desert Outpost building itself, which he said looked like it was made out of cobblestone and dirt and reminded him of First Night with an extension.

Both the front and back of the box carry the "Build your own creations" mantra which is I assume a reference to the fact that you can substantially reconfigure the Desert Outpost building by design as we'll see later. Consistent with this, the back of the box shows a reconfigured version of the Desert Outpost as well as showcasing a number of notable play features. It was the latter that caught B's eye, particularly "the launcher that fires TNT" and "the exploding area where the TNT lands". Oh, and for some reason the fact that Minecraft hero Steve is holding a cookie in one of the pictures was also a cause of much amusement.

The box contains three numbered bags of elements, an un-numbered bag containing large tan plates and a single instruction booklet (front cover above). There's no sticker sheet. B's trawl through the 108-page instruction booklet stopped abruptly when he got to an advertisement for LEGO's Minecraft microsite as it featured a Snow Golem, and he was also drawn to a two-page spread showing all the Minecraft minifigure sets.

In addition to the obligatory building guide for the Desert Outpost model the instruction booklet contains some interesting additional content. Notably, there are 16 pages of supplementary instructions, of which more later. The booklet also contains a number of other adverts and a two-page inventory of parts. My eye was caught by a somewhat bizarre two-page Mojang advert, one half of which (below) features what looks like a 1970s photograph of a bearded man watching on while a little girl plays with a Commodore PET or similarly ancient personal computer; a Minecraft scene is superimposed on the computer screen to make it seem like the kid is playing Minecraft. It's all a bit surreal....

As previously mentioned, B couldn't wait to get hold of the minifigures, with Alex (below) taking star billing. He was right that Alex hasn't previously featured in a LEGO Minecraft set. An alternative version of Alex featuring what looks like the same orange head and sand green torso but sporting a diamond helmet and a diamond sword appears in another of the 2015 summer Minecraft releases, Set 21122 The Nether Fortress. Neither the head nor the torso are back-printed. Alex comes complete with an iron pickaxe.

Next up is Minecraft stalwart Steve. With his minimally printed dark azure torso and dark purple legs, this seems to be the same version of the Steve minifigure that appears in the first wave of Minecraft minifigure sets, although I don't recall him being provided with a cookie before; B didn't think that the cookie had any special significance, concluding that Steve must just be hungry.... In this set Steve gets an iron sword and an iron helmet in addition to his cookie but he isn't provided with armour to protect his torso. Like Alex, neither his head nor torso are back-printed.

The skeletons appear to be the same as those which appeared in the first wave of Minecraft minifigure sets. Each of them is provided with a wooden bow.

One of the skeletons sports an iron helmet and iron body armour. B wanted me to point out that in Minecraft skeletons are destroyed by sunlight, but wearing a helmet protects them and hence its significance. So now you know....

Last but definitely not least we come to the wolf, which is my own favourite minifigure in this set, if you can even call it a minifigure. The printed head appears to be a new element, while the legs are represented by a couple of light bley modified 1 x 2 bricks with groove which have previously only appeared in 5 sets. B reminded me that the red 1 x 2 plate immediately above the front legs is supposed to represent a collar and shows that the wolf has been tamed.

The first bag of elements contains all the parts needed to construct the minifigures plus a real mixed bag of accessories which you can see laid out in the picture below. First up are the crafting table and furnace, both structures that any self-respecting Minecraft fan will immediately recognise; if that's not you however then they're the cube-like structures on the left of the picture. These structures utilise a number of printed elements which were expressly produced for this purpose, specifically a medium dark flesh 1 x 2 brick with reddish brown and dark brown lines and 2 x 2 tile with dark brown Minecraft grid pattern, and a dark bley 2 x 2 brick with light bley and black Minecraft geometric pattern printed on the side. Each of these elements has previously appeared in a couple of the 2014 Minecraft sets. With the crafting table and furnace constructed, some torches of both the standard and Redstone variety, a small square wooden boat for Steve, some sugar cane fashioned from lime green 1 x 1 round bricks, some crops consisting of bright green round 1 x 1 plates with flower edges and bright light orange Carrot Tops, and a bed were next to be built. These were quickly followed by a cactus which makes effective use of green 1 x 2 - 2 x 2 brackets, a TNT launcher, a medium dark flesh and reddish brown door, and finally a small outside section featuring a simple mechanism for flipping sand blocks into the air. I could see B's attention beginning to wander as he reached the end of this laundry list of accessories and it was no surprise when he said he wanted to take a break. When I asked him what the problem was he said that it was a bit boring to build all the accessories at once and that he'd have rather built the Desert Outpost first and made the accessories as he went along.

After a break Mini Me was ready to get stuck into the front section of the Desert Outpost; this requires the contents of Bag 2 plus a 16 x 16 tan plate from the unmarked bag. Bag 2 contains predominantly basic bricks and plates, which is not a surprise given the nature of the Minecraft sets but still relatively unusual in a licensed set. The 16 x 16 plate is the starting point, and a few basic bricks are attached to the underside to raise it up off the ground.  Soon the walls of the outpost start to take shape. These utilise lots of light bley jumper plates which are used to offset sections of dark bley masonry bricks as you can see in the picture below. With the beginnings of the walls in place the previously-assembled crafting table and furnace are put in place and the door is attached. A rudimentary upper floor is then constructed, after which the section featuring the mechanism for flipping sand blocks into the air is attached adjacent to the door. Finally the cactus is put in place and and TNT launcher is placed on top of the upper level. When the launcher is activated the TNT block falls to the ground, at which point you can simulate an explosion by pressing down on the flipping mechanism and shooting the sand blocks into the air. It was no surprise that B was highly amused by this play feature, recruiting the set's minifigures to participate in a minigame which consisted of them taking turns launching the TNT block from the upper level of the Desert Outpost and sending sand blocks cascading into the air.

Once B had finally tired of his sand block flipping minigame he got back to the job in hand and started on the rear section of the Desert Outpost. Once again the floor, which is constructed from the remainder of the tan plates in the un-numbered bag, is raised up off the ground via the attachment of a few strategically-placed basic bricks underneath; the floor of the rear section actually consists of two distinct sections joined by hinges for reasons that will soon become clear. The walls of the rear section are made up of a number of detachable brick-built wall panels. These panels sit on light bley modified 2 x 2 tiles with one stud at the centre which hold the wall panels in position while still making it easy for them to be detached and swapped around if desired. At various points some of the accessories constructed during the first stage of the build, namely the bed, sugar cane and other crops, are put into place. Once the rear section of the Desert Outpost is completed, it's attached to the front section using hinges. Three reddish brown roof sections are then attached, torches are placed in strategic locations, and the build is complete.

Access to the upper level is provided by a ladder which you can see in the rear view below.

The completed build populated by its complement of minifigures can be seen below. Note Steve in his wooden boat on the right of the picture, and the mechanism for flipping sand blocks on the left. While B was pleased with the finished build, I have to say that my immediate reaction was that the outpost seems insubstantial, with the walls reaching no higher than two blocks in some areas. Even so, it does undoubtedly capture the Minecraft vibe in terms of the construction style, some instantly recognisable accessories, and of the course the minifigures.

Some of the floor sections are connected to each other via the use of hinges, meaning that the build can be unfolded (picture below) in order to provide access to the interior. In order for the model to be fully opened out the reddish brown roof sections need to be detached from the rear section of the outpost.

As previously mentioned, there are 16 pages of supplementary building instructions at the back of the instruction booklet. Entitled "Rebuild Inspiration" and bearing the words "Build your own creations" these pages walk the builder through a partial disassembly of the primary model and a reworking into an alternative build (picture below). This basically involves removing the detachable wall panels from the rear section of the outpost, completely dissassembling them and then using almost all of the newly-liberated pieces to build a tower. In truth the alternative build looks unfinished and pretty uninspiring, although I guess that the intent is merely to get the creative juices flowing and hopefully encourage the builder to finish the job with additional pieces from elsewhere.

Although the set carries an age recommendation of 8+ it's not a particularly challenging build - B is younger than the recommended age, but having had some previous experience building LEGO sets he managed to complete it without too much difficulty. The highlight of the set from his perspective was the minifigures, with Alex and the wolf being his two favourites. The play features, particularly the TNT launcher and the mechanism for flipping sand blocks, also got a big thumbs up. He concluded proceedings by providing me with an overall set rating of 9.3 out of 10 "because the set has lots of cool features" after which he made it clear that he was done talking and wanted to be left in peace to play with Alex and the other minifigs. So clearly a satisfied customer, then.... From an AFOL perspective, however, I have to say that even though I've grown to appreciate the joys of Minecraft to some extent the set didn't particularly grab me. I agree with B that the minifigures are neat, particularly the wolf, but the build itself feels insubstantial, and it's hard to believe that the set contains 519 elements. That having been said, I had the same lukewarm reaction to most of the other Minecraft minifigure sets as well so if you liked them then you'll probably like this one too. You might not like the price, though - while I've not seen an official RRP yet, the set is already listed for pre-order on a couple of UK sites at a price of £59.99 which seems a bit pricey.

Thanks again to Kim from LEGO's CEE team for providing Gimme LEGO with a copy of the set to review ahead of its general release.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Offsite set reviews - an apology....

Although my intention has always been to update the Gimme LEGO Offsite Set Reviews section when I post a set review elsewhere, a quick glance suggests that I'm doing a terrible job of this, with none of the recent (or indeed not-so-recent) set reviews that I've posted on Brickset or elsewhere having been added to the list.

Given that many of my offsite set reviews and articles are written in a similar style to the stuff that I publish on Gimme LEGO, it actually got me wondering why I don't make a bigger deal of publicising them here. After all, one of the most frequent complaints I get from you guys is that I don't post often enough, so such offsite content might help to address that somewhat.

I've therefore decided that in future I'll aim to post brief notifications of my new offsite set reviews and articles here so that Gimme LEGO readers can get a heads-up and go and check them out if they're interested. First up is my review of Set 70173 Ultra Agents Ocean HQ which I posted over at Brickset yesterday (12th July 2015) - click here to read.

Rumour has it that none of the three Summer 2015 Ultra Agents offerings, including the Ocean HQ set, will be coming to Europe. I'll try and seek confirmation of this from LEGO, but if true it'd be a real shame. Let's therefore hope that the rumours are wide of the mark, or if they're true that fan pressure might change their minds - we can always hope!

While I'm on the subject of offsite set reviews, I guess it might be worth providing a brief recap of some of the other offsite set reviews which I've posted since around the turn of the year but which haven't as yet appeared in the Offsite Set Reviews section - read on to get up to date.

City Set 60080 Spaceport. Review posted on Brickset on 9th June 2015. Click here to read the review.

Jurassic World Set 75919 Indominus Rex Breakout. Review posted on Brickset on 18th May 2015. Click here to read the review.

Star Wars Ultimate Collectors Series Set 75095 TIE Fighter. Review posted on Brickset on 1st May 2015. Click here to read the review.

Speed Champions Set 75913 F14 T & Scuderia Ferrari Truck. Review posted on Brickset on 11th March 2015. Click here to read the review.

Star Wars Ultimate Collectors Series Set 75060 Slave 1. Review posted on Brickset on 9th December 2014. Click here to read the review.

In addition to the Brickset reviews above, I've also written a number of set reviews and articles for Bricks Magazine, and prior to that for Blocks Magazine. Given that these are paper publications I obviously can't link to the content directly, although if I can get permission to republish articles on Gimme LEGO (as I did for my review of Set 5975 T-Rex Transport which appeared in Blocks Issue 1) then I'll certainly do so. For the sake of completeness, you can see a list of articles below which I wrote for those publications and which may be of interest.

I hope this recap has been helpful, and has maybe flagged something of interest that you weren't aware of, in which case happy reading!