Thursday, 22 February 2018

Still on Track

One of the cool things about working for the LEGO company is that it gives presents to its employees in the form of LEGO sets. These aren't just any LEGO sets either - they're exclusive employee sets. These sets are typically given out at Christmas, and they're almost invariably well worth having. Highlights from the past few years have included 4002014 LEGO HUB Birds (below) which was given to employees as a Christmas gift back in 2014, and 4002017 Nutcracker which employees received at Christmas 2017.

While these employee sets aren't available at retail, it's nevertheless fairly easy for non-employees to get hold of them as some LEGO employees view them as an opportunity to make a quick buck and consequently sell them on eBay, Bricklink or elsewhere. They're not cheap, though - with the increase in popularity of LEGO and the rise of LEGO collecting as a hobby there's a ready market for such exclusive items, meaning that employees can get good money for them.

Of all the sets gifted to employees over the past few years, perhaps the most desirable of all from my perspective is 4002016 50 Years on Track from 2016 which is a celebration of 50 years of LEGO trains. The set contains predominantly 4-wide miniature versions of six different trains released by LEGO over the years, most of which can be considered noteworthy or iconic. As a fan and collector of LEGO trains I was predictably drawn to this set, and eventually took the plunge on a sealed copy from Bricklink which I bought for myself as a belated Christmas present!

The box leaves little to the imagination, showcasing all six miniature builds on the front (above). These images are accompanied by a black and white picture of Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, former president and CEO of The LEGO Group, playing trains with a young girl. The same image appears on the back of the box (below), next to a picture of Kjeld's father Godtfred Kirk Christiansen playing trains with a young boy. I did wonder whether the youngsters might be family members, but the identities of the children are not stated. Given how much I paid for the set, I had to smile ruefully at a 'Not for sale' message printed in eight languages on the right side of the box....

The box opens in a similar fashion to a typical LEGO Architecture set. Cutting a couple of tape seals allows the front of the box to be lifted up, revealing Christmas greetings printed in a variety of languages on the front edge of the box. Nestled inside the box are six sealed bags of LEGO elements and six booklets containing building instructions. There's no sticker sheet.

Each individual build has its own numbered bag of elements and booklet. You can see the cover of the first booklet above; this 36-page booklet provides instructions for building a miniature version of the locomotive from 113 Motorized Train Set which was the first train that LEGO ever released back in 1966. All six booklets contain a brief introduction to the set which inspired their particular miniature build. The first booklet also contains a short introduction to the entire 50 Years On Track collection, while the sixth booklet contains an inventory of all the elements appearing in the set. All six booklets have the same back cover (below).

Construction of the miniature Motorized Train commences with the assembly of a display base. This incorporates a pair of light bley rails which have only previously appeared in four sets in this colour. The rails are mounted on dark bley 6 x 6 plates and are accompanied by an arrangement of reddish brown tiles which serve as sleepers. A display plaque consisting of a modified 4 x 4 tile with studs on one edge printed with the words 'Motorized Train Set 1966' is mounted on the edge of the display base by way of a reddish brown A-shape wedge plate with 2 rows of 4 studs and an uncommon reddish brown 2 x 2 top hinge plate.

The miniature locomotive itself is a fairly straightforward build which doesn't employ any particularly rare elements apart from small red train wheels which are exclusive to this set. Even so, it's a pretty good representation of the crudely-styled original locomotive, thanks in part to the use of a variety of modern elements such as single and double cheese slopes and jumper plates. You can see the original 1966 locomotive running in this video clip.

We jump forward 10 years for the subject of our second miniature train which is the locomotive from   726 Western Train released in 1976. According to the corresponding booklet (below) it's believed that set 726 was the inspiration for the Western locomotives that appeared in LEGOLAND shortly afterwards.

Once again the build commences with construction of a display base which is identical to that employed for the miniature Motorized Train apart from the printing on the display plaque. Similar to the previous build the train's headlights are fashioned from a pair of modified 1 x 1 headlight bricks which are laid on their backs thus making them 2- rather than 3-plates high, and again there's liberal use of jumper plates and cheese slopes which help to neatly mimic the original design at a smaller scale. The windows are formed from stacks of yellow modified 1 x 1 plates with vertical clip. This element exists in a number of different variants, and irritatingly those supplied with my copy of the set are a mixture of two different types and this is evident in the build as the clips don't line up as neatly as they should.

The sides of the boiler are fashioned from blue and black 45 degree 2 x 1 slopes with 2/3 cutout.
An uncommon yellow 1 x 2 x 2 panel with side supports makes an appearance at the front of the cab, while the back of the locomotive is made up of a red 1 x 4 x 2 panel with side supports; this element is only appearing in a set for the sixth time ever in this colour. The attention to detail is laudable - even the buffers and magnetic couplings of the original locomotive are modeled via the use of black Technic ball joints and red & blue 1 x 1 round tiles respectively. The coupling rods are also reproduced via the use of yellow 6L bars with stop ring which have only previously appeared in five sets in this colour. Overall, it's an excellent representation of 726 Western Train and a nice little display model in its own right.

AFOLs have been clamouring for the return of monorail for more than a decade now, and LEGO has steadfastly refused to bring it back, so it's perhaps ironic that the next set chosen to be immortalised in miniature form is the classic 6990 Monorail Transport System from 1987....

Consistent with the other builds the display base is first to be assembled, although uniquely in this case the base incorporates a section of elevated monorail track. The stanchions which support the single light bluish grey 16L track section upon which the monorail rests are represented by modified 1 x 2 plates with long towball.

The designers have done a cracking job of reproducing the full size monorail in miniature form, managing to nicely capture the overall shape and include most of the pertinent exterior details. Construction of the 3-wide chassis is facilitated by the use of an uncommon black 3 x 3 plate which is only appearing in a set for the tenth time in this colour and which forms a part of the floor of the monorail. Bionicle Barraki eyes are used to represent the characteristic trans-dark blue and trans-red lights on either side of the monorail. The full-sized monorail's 9V motor and connecting cable are particularly impressively reproduced, utilising a white robot body and a black flexible whip, while a pair of white hockey sticks, which were only previously available in eight sets in this colour, cleverly mimic the flexible hose which forms a loop at the front of the original model. There's also ingenious use of pairs of flat silver ice skates which attach to the underside of the body and are perfectly spaced to ensure that the monorail fits snugly on the single rail beneath and can smoothly slide backwards and forwards.

The classics just keep on coming with the much-loved 4558 Metroliner from 1991 next up for miniaturisation. Such was its popularity that the Metroliner was re-released in 2001 with a new set number (10001).

For the miniature Metroliner build we're back to using the same style of ground-level display base that was previously used for the Motorized Train Set and Western Train.

This is another great-looking miniature build which is once again pleasingly faithful to the original design. The distinctive red, white and blue stripes along the sides of the locomotive appropriately survive the miniaturisation process, as do various other prominent external landmarks. The front of the locomotive is fashioned from a variety of 45 degree slopes including black 2 x 1 45 degree slopes with 2/3 cutout and a trans-black 3 x 4 x 1 1/3 windscreen with 2 studs on top; all that's missing is a slope printed with the LEGO train logo from the 1990's. The attention to detail extends to the construction of twin bogies, each of which attaches to the underside of the train via a modified 2 x 2 tile with pin. This allows the bogies to rotate, which is impressive but ultimately unnecessary given that the train will never have to navigate a section of curved track. Black minifig handlebars representing a pantograph attach to the roof and complete the build.

We now come to the build that I was most looking forward to, the miniature version of 10194 Emerald Night which is one of my all-time favourite sets. Released in 2009, Emerald Night set a new standard for LEGO trains, and the high aftermarket prices are testament to its enduring popularity - it's an absolutely beauty!

Once again the same ground-level display base is utilized, and as a consequence there's only space to reproduce and display the locomotive itself - a miniature version of the tender is unfortunately not included in the build. That having been said, I don't think it would be particularly difficult to increase the length of the display base and design your own tender should you feel so inclined.

I'm pleased to report that the miniature Emerald Night doesn't disappoint - it's an excellent little build. Pretty much all of the key exterior detailing is reproduced apart from the connecting and coupling rods over the drive wheels. The front of the locomotive is cleverly sculpted by way of a black 4 x 3 wedge open with cutout and 4 studs, while the sides of the boiler are shaped via the use of 3 x 1 and 2 x 2 dark green curved slopes. Stickers featuring the set number in gold print are attached to the sides of the driver's cab in the original set; this detail is crudely reproduced here via the use of pearl gold 1 x 1 plates. The miniature build utilises six spoked train wheels with Technic axle hole and rubber friction band; fitting these is tricky as they need to be squeezed beneath tight overhangs, and in addition the 4L axles that attach them to the chassis are a very tight fit. The original Emerald Night features a total of six smaller front and trailing wheels in addition to its six large driving wheels, and these are also faithfully reproduced in the miniature version via more of the black small train wheels seen previously in the Metroliner miniature build.

The final build is a miniature version of 10254 Winter Holiday Train which was released in late 2016. This is in some ways a slightly surprising choice for inclusion in this collection given that it's such a recent offering and arguably not in the 'classic' bracket. Even so, it certainly brings the collection bang up to date.

After building the now-familiar ground-level display base for the fifth and final time, attention quickly shifts to the locomotive. Two sand green modified 1 x 1 bricks with studs on opposite sides, which are only appearing in a set for the second time, form part of the internal structure of the boiler, while the exterior of the boiler is shaped via the use of green 1 x 2 and 2 x 2 curved slopes with no studs. The roof of the driver's cab is made up of more green curved slopes, and a pearl gold modified 1 x 2 with handle on side - closed ends provides some decoration at the front of the cab.

The main drive wheels consist of a pair of red spoked train wheels with Technic axle hole and rubber friction band which are only appearing in a set for the second time in this colour, while four of the exclusive red small train wheels mimic the original's front wheels. The original Winter Holiday Train build featured a cow catcher at the front, and a black modified 1 x 2 plate with angled handles on the side does a good job of representing this in the miniature build.

With the miniature Winter Village Train build finished the full 50 Years on Track collection is complete and can be seen laid out below.

As a longstanding fan of LEGO trains I found this set to be an absolute joy to build. All six miniature models are superb representations of the full-size originals, and the attention to detail lavished on each of the builds is commendable. The set isn't quite perfect - given the choice I would probably have dropped the miniature Western Train and Winter Village Train and replaced them with miniature versions of any two of 396 Thatcher Perkins Locomotive7740 Inter-City Passenger Train Set6399 Airport Shuttle, or even 10233 Horizon Express. Minor gripes aside, however, the selection is undoubtedly varied and interesting, and I suspect that any longstanding fan of LEGO trains is pretty much guaranteed to find at least one of their favourites among them.

Similar to 41498 Boba Fett and Han Solo in Carbonite which I reviewed a few weeks back, it's a real shame that 4002016 50 years on Track was never available at retail and is thus destined to remain out of reach for many LEGO fans. If you want to acquire a copy of the set you'll need to venture on to the likes of Bricklink, which is what I did, or eBay; at time of writing, Bricklink prices start at around £125/$175 plus shipping for a new, sealed copy of the set. Not cheap, but I have no regrets - outstanding!

Monday, 29 January 2018

Don't mess with the Fett....

Another Comic Con, another desirable exclusive.... This time the location was New York City and the event was the 2017 New York Comic Con (NYCC) where a few hundred lucky attendees were able to purchase a copy of 41498 Boba Fett and Han Solo in Carbonite, an exclusive Brickheadz set. I'm generally able to resist the lure of LEGO Star Wars exclusives, contenting myself with the Star Wars retail sets as discussed here; occasionally, however, a Star Wars exclusive comes along that I can't ignore and this set is one of those. And so it was that I dived into eBay and took the plunge on a copy of the set which arrived from the U.S. a couple of weeks later.

The sturdy packaging features an outer box (above) that's considerably thicker and more robust than that of the retail Brickheadz. Cutting the twin paper seals at the base allows the outer box to slide up and off, revealing a similarly robust black inner box (below). The front of the outer box features a shot of Boba Fett and Han in Carbonite without their display stands, beneath which are decorative rows of black bricks running along the bottom edge of the box which also appear on the retail set boxes.

The back of the box (below) features an alternative view of Boba Fett and Han. There's also stylised text identifying the set as a New York Comic Con exclusive, beneath which is a picture which illustrates the use of Boba Fett's display stand. I was pleased that I managed to acquire a copy of the set which had been signed by set designer Marcos Bessa. Marcos is rapidly becoming one of LEGO's most well-known set designers, having been responsible for a number of high profile sets including 71040 Disney Castle and 75827 Firehouse Headquarters as well as this Comic Con exclusive and a number of other Brickheadz.

The inner box contains two sealed bags of elements, one for the Boba Fett build and the other for Han. There are also two instruction booklets, one for each build. There's no sticker sheet.

Each booklet measures approximately 15cm x 10cm and is bound by way of a pair of staples down the left side. The booklet containing the building instructions for Boba Fett (cover above) is the shorter of the two at only 40 pages, while Han's booklet (cover below) weighs in at 52 pages in length. Both booklets incorporate a 2-page inventory of elements at the back specific to the individual build. The page backgrounds in both booklets are black, lending a stylish appearance to the building instructions which are clear and easy to follow.

The set includes a number of printed elements (below), all of which I assume are unique to the set. I built Boba Fett first. Construction follows the standard Brickheadz blueprint which is nicely summarised here. As is the case with other Brickheadz a handful of light bluish grey modified 1 x 2 x 1 2/3 bricks with studs on 1 side feature prominently in the construction of a central core. These are accompanied by a variety of other SNOT bricks including a reddish brown modified 1 x 1 x 1 2/3 brick with studs on one side which at the time the set was released was only appearing for the second time in this colour. The core of SNOT bricks provides abundant attachment points for the external detailing which brings the Brickheadz to life.

Fett's shoulders are made up of a pair of bright light orange double cheese slopes, one of which is printed with a mythosaur skull. This Mandalorian symbol has become synonymous with Boba Fett. The upper body utilises a number of dark green 1 x 1 tiles, and immediately above the waist is a printed reddish brown curved 4 x 1 double slope with no studs which represents a tool belt with 4 pockets. A dark green modified 3 x 2 plate with hole, appearing in a set for only the eighth time in this colour, attaches below the waist and presumably represents Fett's armoured codpiece, while his tiny legs are made up of a stack of small plates including bright light orange 1 x 1 plates to represent his knee pads.

Much of the build is concerned with crafting Fett's iconic helmet. The visor consists of a black 1 x 4 tile with a dark red print, while a pair of sand green modified 1 x 2 plates with door rail form part of the top of the helmet; these are only appearing in a set for the fifth time in this colour. In the movies, Boba Fett's helmet has a number of distinguishing features including a dent at the front and some yellow kill stripes on the left side. These have been reproduced by way of printed elements; the curved front of his helmet is formed from a couple of sand green 2 x 2 curved slopes, one of which is printed with the dent pattern, while the yellow kill stripes are printed on a sand green 2 x 4 tile. Unprinted sand green 2 x 4 tiles form the right side and back of the helmet, while the top of the helmet is crafted from more sand green 2 x 2 curved slopes. The triangular plates at the front of the helmet are made up of dark green left and right 2 x 2 wedge plates which haven't previously been available in this colour.

At the rear, a dark tan 3 x 3 wedge plate and an uncommon dark tan 1 x 3 plate make up the bottom of Fett's brick-built cloak; the cloak is decorated with a couple of medium dark flesh 2 x 1 curved slopes which have only previously graced a single set. A light bluish grey modified 1 x 2 x 2/3 brick with studs on the sides forms the core of Fett's sizeable jetpack; this is surrounded by various sand green elements including more modified 1 x 2 plates with door rail. The two jet nozzles, which are represented by sand green 1 x 1 cones, are attached to the body of the jetpack by black 1 x 1 round plates with 1L bar that have only previously appeared in three sets. A flat silver harpoon passing through a pair of sand green 1 x 1 cones forms the missile attached to the top of the jetpack.
With the jetpack completed and attached to Boba Fett's back, all that's left to do is assemble his blaster which is crafted from six elements, and build the display base featuring the printed black 2 x 4 souvenir tile.

With Boba Fett now built it's time to assemble Han Solo in carbonite. This build incorporates more printed elements than is immediately evident. As was the case for Boba Fett, I suspect that all of the printed elements are currently unique to the set. In true Brickheadz style the core is predominantly populated by SNOT elements, although in this case the elements concerned are a variety of brackets as opposed to the usual SNOT bricks. A couple of 2017 sets including 70620 NINJAGO City included a black modified 1 x 3 plate with 2 studs a.k.a. double jumper which hadn't previously been available. This element now makes an appearance here in a new colour, light bluish grey.  Further recolours follow soon afterwards in the build, specifically light bluish grey 45 degree 1 x 2 slopes with cutout and without stud and light bluish grey left and right curved 2 x 1 slopes with no studs and stud notch, none of which to my knowledge had previously appeared in a set in his colour. The latter are combined with some light bluish grey 1 x 1 round quarter tiles to make up Han's petrified hair. Han's closed eyes, represented by exclusive printed light bluish grey 1 x 1 round tiles, are then put into place, after which all that's left to do is finish up the background carbonite block.

The sides of the carbonite block feature a number of printed 1 x 2 tiles which represent digital readouts, buttons and switches; there are two different designs of printed tile utilised, both of which are presumably exclusive to the set. Four trans-clear 1 x 2 x 1 panels attach to the back of the block (below), and when the build is laid horizontally they help to create the illusion that it's floating above the ground. Once upright the block doesn't attach to the display base via studs; instead it sits within a tiled slot bounded by black 1 x 4 x 1 and 1 x 2 x 1 panels. The base incorporates a second NYCC-printed 2 x 4 souvenir tile identical to that found on the base of the Boba Fett Brickheadz.

You can see the pair of completed builds below. The set is a delight for anyone who loves Star Wars and is a fan of the Brickheadz aesthetic. Given how cool the set is, it's a huge pity that LEGO chose to release it as a NYCC exclusive rather than as a retail set, and it's unfortunately far from being the first time that LEGO have severely restricted supply of a desirable item like this - longstanding readers of Gimme LEGO may recall my past rants on the subject, for instance this one. It's clear however that the practice of restricting desirable collectables to a lucky few on the basis of geography or just dumb luck is clearly not going away anytime soon. I guess there's always a chance that LEGO will take pity on fans and decide to release the set, or at least a variation of it, at retail at some point. Past history doesn't provide much cause for optimism in this respect, however, and in all likelihood it'll therefore be a case of having to stump up the cash on the secondary market or just going without. It's not even as if these Brickheadz can be accurately Bricklinked, given the number of exclusive printed elements that they incorporate.

Determined collectors can at least aquire a copy of the set from the likes of eBay and Bricklink if they're feeling sufficiently flush. Most copies of the set currently listed for sale are located in the U.S., meaning that unless you're based there you can expect the overall cost of acquisition to be considerably bumped up by the addition of shipping fees and import duty. At time of writing there are a number of boxed, sealed examples of the set available on Bricklink starting at £125 plus shipping, although you may be able to find one for less on eBay. Happy hunting!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

"And the Gimme LEGO Readers' Choice Award for Best Set of 2017 goes to...."

....21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V.

For me, 2017 was a high water mark in terms of truly outstanding sets - I reckon that there were as many as six 2017 sets which would potentially have strolled to victory in the Gimme LEGO Readers' Choice Award any other year. I was therefore fascinated to see which set Gimme LEGO readers would choose as their favourite, and in the end Saturn V won surprisingly comfortably.

While the ease of the victory might have been unexpected it's certainly no surprise that the set has attracted so much adoration. Measuring a whopping 100cm in height, it almost goes without saying that the completed build is huge and imposing, but there's also a wonderful attention to detail evident throughout. The overall shaping and texturing of the exterior is commendably faithful to the subject matter right down to the inclusion of unique printed elements, and the set also includes appropriately scaled lunar, service and command modules and even a pair of suitably decorated astronaut microfigures (above). Furthermore, the build is surprisingly stable and can be handled without fear of distintegration which is no mean feat given its cylindrical shape. The icing on the cake is the price - a very reasonable £109.99 / $119.99 / 119.99€ for a one metre tall model made up of almost 2,000 elements.

It's quite clear that this superb set has caught the imagination of the LEGO fan community - the set's almost perpetual 'sold out' status on up until recently is testament to that - and it's a worthy winner of the 2017 Gimme LEGO Readers' Choice Award. Congratulations to Felix Stiessen and ValĂ©rie Roche who submitted the original Saturn V proposal to LEGO Ideas, and also to the team of LEGO designers who turned the proposal into a truly memorable retail set - we salute you!

The overall Readers' Choice Award rankings are shown below together with the number of votes polled by each of the sets. Saturn V ended up polling around a third of the votes, a relatively low winning total which reflects the intense competition faced by the set. My personal favourite, 70620 NINJAGO City, initially looked like it would run Saturn V close but ended up falling short by around 20 votes, finishing as runner up with a little over a quarter of the votes. Further back the Old Fishing Store, Destiny's Bounty and the new UCS Millennium Falcon were locked together in the rankings and ended up polling less than 10% of the vote each. I did wonder whether 17101 Creative Toolbox might turn out to be a dark horse - it's received some strong reviews and has been the subject of an active discussion thread over at the Brickset Forum for some months now - but in the end it brought up the rear with just a single vote.

Many thanks to all of you who voted, and thanks as ever to Brickset for publicising the poll.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Gimme LEGO Awards 2017

Welcome to my annual round up of the best and worst of the year from an AFOL perspective. This is the seventh consecutive year that I've published these awards, and I have to confess to approaching the 2017 awards with a mixture of excitement and trepidation as I'm struggling to recall a year which has featured quite so many standout sets in some categories. As ever this is obviously a personal take on the highlights and lowlights, so if you disagree with any of my selections then please feel free to make your case in the comments below....

1. Best Theme

Last year's winner: Ninjago

2017 winner: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

After bagging my 2016 theme of the year award I didn't think that Ninjago managed to maintain the same lofty standards this time round. That however opened the door for a new theme to steal in and grab the crown, and truth be told the LEGO Ninjago Movie theme actually takes the 2017 award by quite a distance. Consisting of a total of 29 retail, magazine and promotional sets, the theme takes full advantage of the varied and vibrant subject matter provided by the movie, serving up a high quality selection of sets for kids and AFOLs alike.

When it comes to any theme the flagship sets will inevitably attract most of the attention, and in the case of the LEGO Ninjago Movie theme the superb 70620 NINJAGO City (above) has certainly taken its share of the plaudits. What's at least as impressive however is the way that the theme manages to serve up a number of excellent sets at a variety of different price points; at the lower end, for instance, 70608 Master Falls (below) features an attractive and detailed structure plus four minifigures for just £24.99/$29.99, and pretty much whatever your budget you'll find a worthy offering.

One aspect of the theme which greatly appealed to me is the focus on mechs, some of which are excellent. 70612 Green Ninja Mech Dragon (below) is both great to look at and packs a ton of playability, while of the more orthodox mechs on offer, 70615 Fire Mech (reviewed by me here) is imposing, stable and eminently posable. As one might expect in an action theme there's a predictable focus on vehicles, but a number of sets feature location-based subject matter so there really is something for everybody.

Aside from the widely-available retail sets the theme also features a mixture of other offerings including some desirable polybags and other assorted promo items to keep collectors on their toes. Overall, when you consider the variety of offerings and consistent quality across the theme, plus the presence of two genuine set of the year contenders in 70620 NINJAGO City and 70618 Destiny's Bounty (below), it made the choice of the LEGO Ninjago Movie as theme of the year pretty straightforward.

Honourable mention: LEGO Ideas. Another theme to serve up a couple of set of the year contenders, namely 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V and 21310 Old Fishing Store, was LEGO Ideas. That's particularly impressive, given that there were only four releases under the LEGO Ideas banner in 2017. It's probably fair to say that this was a breakout year for Ideas - we've had some excellent releases in previous years, but this was the year that LEGO decided to loosen the shackles and push the boundaries in terms of part counts as well as excellent design.

If I'm honest, I think it's unlikely that Ideas will ever win the Gimme LEGO 'Best Theme' award outright - too many of the projects that get the thumbs up for release are basically licensed fan service in search of a set and they leave me completely cold. If however we continue to get a couple of real gems every year like we have for the past few years then I'll be delighted.

Honourable mention #2: Star Wars. Despite LEGO Star Wars being the catalyst for my return to the LEGO fold a decade ago I've been pretty critical of the LEGO Star Wars theme for some time now. High prices, a profusion of lazy remakes and some dubious design decisions have blighted the LEGO Star Wars theme for as long as I can remember, and despite being a big Star Wars fan I've struggled to retain much enthusiasm for the theme.

I'd be lying if I claimed that all in the LEGO Star Wars garden was suddenly rosy in 2017, but I've certainly found more to like in the selection of sets on offer this year. Part of this is undoubtedly down to the availability of new and interesting subject matter upon which to base sets, but the theme has also featured some genuinely desirable and well-designed sets this year at a variety of price points.

Examples of outrageous pricing unfortunately remain, and the theme continues to be over-dependent on remakes and bloated by too many sets, but I'm finally able to muster some enthusiasm for LEGO Star Wars again, and that's definitely a good sign.

2. Most Disappointing Theme

Last year's 'winner': LEGO Classic

2017 'winner': No outright winner

No one theme stood out in this category, although a few themes perhaps fell slightly below expectations this year. Technic, for instance, was absolutely outstanding in 2016, and with this year being the 40th anniversary of the evergreen theme I would have expected LEGO to pull out all the stops to celebrate; as it turned out, the flagship sets in particular were perhaps not up to the lofty standards set in 2016, and the daddy of them all, 42070 6x6 All Terrain Tow Truck (below), was horribly overpriced to boot.

Also disappointing was the way that Dimensions fizzled out in 2017. I've enjoyed playing the game on XBOX One and collecting the multitude of expansion packs, and having invested so much in the Dimensions experience it felt like a real kick in the teeth when Warner Bros pulled the plug on it just two years into its planned three year run. I've lost count of how many unlikely properties have been immortalised in LEGO as a result of Dimensions - Beetlejuice, Portal and the A-Team to name just three - and the theme will be missed, by me at least.

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

Last year's winner : 10251 Brick Bank

2017 winner: 21310 Old Fishing Store

As mentioned above, 2017 was the year that LEGO Ideas started to push the boundaries in terms of set size. My pick for best non-licensed set was a major beneficiary of this, the sublime Old Fishing Store. I can remember being very impressed with the original concept posted on the Ideas website, but thinking that it unfortunately had no chance of being green-lit by LEGO. My surprise at subsequently learning that the project had in fact been approved after all was matched by my delight at how faithful to the highly detailed original concept the retail set turned out to be.

Most of the past winners of the Gimme LEGO Best Non-Licensed Set award have been Modular buildings, so it's fitting that the Old Fishing Store features incredible levels of detail both inside and out that stand comparison with any of the modulars. While building the set I couldn't believe quite how much time was spent assembling the interior and exterior fixtures and fittings; indeed, such is the level of detail that decorating the interior can get quite fiddly at times and is occasionally frustrating, but it's worth it in the end.

In addition to looking amazing the Old Fishing Store includes a whole host of rare, and in some cases unique, elements. Those builders planning to cannibalise the set for parts can also expect a generous helping of sand green tiles and SNOT bricks to use in their own creations. Even the included minifigures (below) are worthy of mention since they're all unique to the set and a couple of them incorporate new dual-moulded legs and exclusive torso prints.

The Old Fishing Store is one of those rare sets that has remained proudly and prominently on display in my house ever since I finished building it. It was fun to build and looks amazing; if it's a taste of the kind of sets that we can expect from the LEGO Ideas theme in years to come then I for one will be absolutely delighted.

Honourable Mention: 10255 Assembly Square.  If you're going to make a fuss about an anniversary then you need to make sure you don't drop the ball in the process. While the Technic 40th anniversary selection felt a bit underwhelming, no such criticism can be levelled at 10255 Assembly Square which turned out to be a fitting 10th anniversary tribute to LEGO's much-loved Modular building line.

I think it looks wonderful - three attractive, distinct buildings which dovetail beautifully and form the centrepiece of a bustling scene. All the expected Modular tropes such as the appearance of rare colours, ingenious parts usage and extravagant detail both inside and out are present and correct in abundance; my favourite example of clever parts usage is the incorporation of black excavator buckets in the roof of the sand green flower shop. As an added bonus, the standard 32 x 32 Modular footprint has been expanded to 32 x 48 for this set, and even then it's hard to see how anything else could have been crammed in.

Other contenders: 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V, 17101 Creative Toolbox, 10257 Carousel.

4. Best Licensed Set

Last year's winner: 75827 Firehouse Headquarters

2017 winner: 70620 NINJAGO City

Following in a tradition of unexpected left-field releases established by the likes of MetalBeard's Sea Cow and the Temple of Airjitzu in previous years, 70620 NINJAGO City was announced in June of this year and it frankly blew me away.

I literally shook my head in wonderment at the retina-searing riot of colours and different building styles when I first saw the set 'in the flesh'. Such is the eclectic nature of the design that you'd think it shouldn't work, but it somehow manages to hang together as a cohesive whole and looks amazing. Furthermore, as a consequence of the multitude of different zones shoehorned into the set it must surely be one of the most varied and entertaining builds of recent times; it's at times reminiscent of constructing 10188 Death Star and the experience of building a number of stylistically diverse areas such as the garbage compactor, the prison block and the Emperor's throne room.

As you'd expect from a LEGO Ninjago Movie set 70620 NINJAGO City scores highly from the perspective of playability thanks to the incorporation of countless little vignettes, not to mention a number of interactive mechanisms such as an elevator, a cash machine, a sushi conveyer belt and a crab grill. The set is also replete with rare elements, some of them appearing for the first time, and similar to the Modular buildings there's an impressive array of advanced building techniques in evidence, plus some unexpected and ingenious parts usage.

It always feels a bit odd talking about value for money when discussing a toy costing hundreds of pounds, but at 4,867 elements and retailing for £259.99 / US$299.99 / 299.99€ I have to say that NINJAGO City feels pretty reasonably priced to me. Overall, it's hard to imagine any LEGO fan failing to enjoy building this set, and it's my licensed set of the year by some distance.

Honourable Mention: 75098 BB-8. This set was one of the main reasons that I started to rediscover some love for the LEGO Star Wars theme in 2017. That LEGO found a way to release a decent-looking version of BB-8 and not charge the earth for it was impressive enough, but the fact that the designer also somehow managed to incorporate a number of play features into the build without compromising the appearance means that it's up there as one of my very favourite sets of the year - excellent!

Other contenders: 70618 Destiny's Bounty, 75192 Millennium Falcon

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

Last year's winner: 75098 Assault on Hoth

2017 winner: 10256 Taj Mahal

OK, so a potentially controversial pick here. I know that many will disagree with this award, particularly those who missed out on this set the first time it was released, in which case feel free to have your say in the 'comments' section below if you feel so inclined....

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past few months you'll probably be aware that this set is a re-release of 10189 Taj Mahal which appeared on shelves back in 2008. At 5,922 elements the original Taj Mahal set was at that time the largest set that LEGO had ever released, a crown it proudly held on to until the release of 75192 Millennium Falcon some nine years later. Following its retirement in 2010, the aftermarket price of the original Taj Mahal set rose steadily, with sealed examples eventually selling for thousands of pounds. The set came to be viewed as one of a select group of all-time classics alongside the likes of 10182 Cafe Corner and 10179 Millennium Falcon, and it was one of the sets that helped to fuel the LEGO investment boom.

Given the degree of price speculation you might think that the unexpected re-release of the original Taj Mahal set in a new box would have been roundly welcomed by AFOLs, but picking through the comments of LEGO fans within the various online communities it appears that reaction is definitely split. Many AFOLs who missed out on 10189 Taj Mahal are predictably supportive of the re-release, but others fear that the value of their LEGO collections will decrease as a result of such re-releases, arguing that it's the healthy LEGO resale values which have given them the confidence to build their collections. Others are resentful that, having saved their pennies and eventually accumulated enough to pay the inflated aftermarket prices for the Taj Mahal, they're now seeing others buy an identical re-release for a fraction of what they paid for theirs. I can see some logic in the argument that re-releases such as this would impact the LEGO aftermarket, potentially making AFOLs more cautious about spending the amounts of money that they currently do on big, adult-oriented sets at retail; this would have a knock-on effect on the sale volume of such items, which in turn might make LEGO less likely to release such sets in the future.

For all the arguments above, however, there's a more compelling reason why 10256 Taj Mahal is the most disappointing set of the year and that's the fact that it's first and foremost a massive wasted opportunity. To be frank, the LEGO Taj Mahal, while undeniably huge and imposing, nevertheless falls some way short by recent design standards. The availability of a myriad of new elements since 2008, plus the tendency for set designers to increasingly embrace more advanced building techniques in official releases, presented the opportunity for LEGO to produce a significantly superior version of the set, similar to what they did with 75192 Millennium Falcon earlier this year. Instead LEGO took the easy option and just re-released the old set in a new box, throwing in a brick separator to sweeten the deal. That's just lazy, and I expect better from them. What a shame.

6. Best Minifigure

Last year's winner: Gizmo and Stripe

2017 winner: Rocket Boy

As noted in previous years, the quality of LEGO minifigures is now so high that trying to make an objective judgement of which is best has become next to impossible. The task is further complicated by the sheer number of minifigures released by LEGO in 2017 - a total of 830 according to Brickset, which is the most that LEGO have ever released in a single year. Even though that's a serious motherlode of minifigures to look through, there was one clear standout for me and that was Rocket Boy (below) which was released in May of 2017 as part of the seventeenth series of Collectible Minifigures (CMFs).

I suspect that when it comes to the novelty CMFs such as Rocket Boy, Corn Cob Guy and other guys wearing novelty suits you either love 'em or hate 'em, and I'm firmly in the former camp. I continue to be amazed that despite churning out well over 20 series of CMFs including theme-specific offerings LEGO are still able to come up with fresh, original ideas for further CMFs. Certainly Rocket Boy is a gem, perfectly timed to ride the wave of Classic Space nostalgia that continues to wash over parts of the LEGO fan community. The icing on the cake with this minifigure is something you can't even see in the picture above, namely a Classic Space torso in light bluish grey (image below from Rebrickable) which is unique to the minifigure; with so many LEGO fans building Classic Space MOCs these days this torso is a welcome gift to the community and will I suspect be in high demand.

Honourable Mention: 4-LOMCommander RaggmunkGeneral GargPrincess Leia, Corn Cob Guy 

7. The "Better than Expected" Award

Last year's winner: Elves

2017 winner: LEGO Star Wars.

As previously mentioned, 2017 was the year that I finally started to feel more love for the LEGO Star Wars theme again after way too many years spent turning my nose up at the product line-up and scowling at all the remakes.

Pleasingly, I thought that most of the 2017 System Scale Star Wars sets had something to commend them, although there were admittedly a few dogs rubbing shoulders with them including the baffling 75177 First Order Heavy Scout Walker. I've already waxed lyrical about 75187 BB-8 which was for me the best Star Wars set of the year, and while the two 2017 UCS sets were remakes they both improved on the previous versions enough to make them worthwhile purchases for LEGO Star Wars fans. Furthermore, while I admittedly found it hard to get too excited about the clutch of 2017 Microfighters sets I did think that some of the Buildable Figures were great and was delighted that this particular subtheme took its first step into vehicles with the impressive 75532 Scout Trooper & Speeder Bike set (below).

A decent year for Star Wars sets, then. Here's hoping that the 2018 sets are at least as good....

Honourable mention: The LEGO NINJAGO Movie theme. I didn't have particularly high hopes for the LEGO Ninjago Movie sets. I figured that they'd sell well regardless of their quality thanks to all the free advertising that the movie would provide, and might therefore be a bit "by the numbers". I also wasn't especially enthused by the LEGO Batman movie sets and thought we might get a similarly lukewarm Ninjago Movie selection. As you'll have gathered from my comments above, however, it's fair to say that my doubts were answered in emphatic fashion....

8. Most Welcome LEGO-Related Announcement

Last year's winner: London Leicester Square LEGO Brand Retail Store and pre-opening event

2017 Winner: 60 Years of the LEGO Brick 

OK, so not an announcement as such, although I've been able to sneak the 60th anniversary celebrations into this category by virtue of the recently-announced 40290 60 Years of the LEGO Brick set (below) which will be given away free during 2018 with qualifying purchases at brand stores and

LEGO previously celebrated 50 years of the LEGO brick with the release of two 50 year anniversary retail sets in the form of 5522 Golden Anniversary Set and 10184 Town Plan (below). The latter was a wonderful re-imagining of a classic set, and I'm keeping my fingers tightly crossed that LEGO freshens up a couple more classics to celebrate 60 years of the LEGO brick. Indeed, there's some speculation that there will be a whole series of 60 year anniversary sets, although if true it still remains to be seen whether these sets turn out to be basic brick boxes, remakes of classic sets or something else.

9. Gimme LEGO Reader's Choice Award

Last year's winner: 71040 Disney Castle

2017 winner: You choose!

Think you can do better? OK, you've seen my choices so now it's your turn. At the top of the page on the right of the screen you'll see a selection of LEGO sets which I consider to be some of the best that 2017 had to offer. Please carefully peruse the list and vote for your favourite set of 2017; if your favourite isn't on the list then select 'None of the above' and leave a comment below or send me an e-mail via the contact button letting me know which set you think is the best of 2017. At midnight on 14th January 2018 the poll will close and we'll have our winner.... If you're reading this on a device which isn't displaying the poll as described then click "view web version" at the bottom of the page in order to see the nominations and cast your vote. Thanks for participating!

*Voting has now closed - results coming soon!*

Previous Gimme LEGO Awards: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011