Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Gimme LEGO Awards 2012

Contrary to what some seem to think, I don't generally plan my blog postings far in advance - we're not on some carefully crafted journey here, it's more a case of me writing about whatever I fancy from week to week. Hopefully this helps to explain why I've been so lax in providing updates on my City layout, and why the AT-AT is taking so long to finish; while I start out with the best of intentions, it's easy to get distracted....

One posting which was always going to happen was this one, though - the Gimme LEGO Awards 2012. I enjoyed last year's trawl through the 2011 sets far too much not to repeat it with the 2012 sets, particularly as it"s been another vintage year to be a LEGO fan. OK, so maybe the line-up has arguably not been quite as stellar in 2012 as it was in 2011, but we've still been spoiled with a huge number of outstanding sets, and here's my own personal pick of the best of them.

1 . Best Theme

Last years winner : Alien Conquest 

2012 winner : Monster Fighters
If you'd told me when the first Monster Fighters publicity shots emerged that I'd be picking this theme as my favourite of 2012 then I'd have thought you had taken leave of your senses, to be honest. Right up until the moment that I first saw Set 9468 Vampyre Castle (below) in a display case at the London Westfield LEGO Brand Store I had absolutely no intention of buying even one of the sets. And then I saw them, and they immediately captured my imagination, got under my skin, and won me over. 

Set 9466 Crazy Scientist and his Monster (picture below, and reviewed by me here) is a typical example of the theme and illustrates nicely why Monster Fighters is so good - it has goofy B-movie charm, it's an interesting build, it has tons of play features and it features  loads of interesting and varied parts. And just to top it all, LEGO then went and brought out what was effectively a spectacular Monster Fighters modular building - Set 10228 Haunted House - thus assuring the theme's place in my annual affections right there and then.

I have to say I love pretty much all of the Monster Fighters sets, with the possible exception of the truly bizarre Set 9467 Ghost Train which is too peculiar even for me. We won't be seeing any more Monster Fighters sets in 2013 - like last year's Theme of the Year it's a 'one and done' - so farewell, thanks and and long may you be fondly remembered.....

Honourable mention : Lord of the Rings - LEGO could easily have got away with a "by the numbers" LotR cash-in, but the sets came out great - much better than I expected.

Honourable mention #2 : Dino - seemingly unloved by everybody except me, this theme was a solid and entertaining reboot of the dinosaur genre which LEGO seems to revisit every so often. The magnificant dinosaurs themselves were the stars of the show, and why nobody but me was seemingly drooling over these chunks of plastic perfection God only knows - what's wrong with you all ?!

2. Most Disappointing Theme

Last year's winner : Star Wars

2012 winner : Cars
Lordy, talk about a fall from grace. Having grabbed my "Better Than Expected" award last year, the Cars theme completely fizzled out in 2012. They might as well not have bothered at all, frankly. Mostly small, unimaginative sets with barely a half-decent one amongst them (I'll at least give Set 9486 Oil Rig Escape some credit for rising above the mediocrity) the words "half hearted" have seldom been more appropriate. In fact, given the lack of Cars-related activity this year on TV and at the cinema it was a mystery why they persisted with Cars sets in 2012 at all. Completely pointless.

(Dis)honourable mention : Racers. So where are they, these Racers sets ? In years gone by we've been blessed with such splendid offerings as Set 8461 Williams F1 Team Racer and Set 8653 Enzo Ferrari 1 : 10. And then in 2012 we get four decidedly mediocre monster trucks and a few poly bags which thus far haven't been available outside of the Phillippines and Italy. Rubbish. Did people stop liking fast cars, or did LEGO just drop the ball on this one ? You decide....

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

Last year's winner : Set 7066 Earth Defense HQ

2012 winner : Set 10228 Haunted House

Despite there being a fair few worthy candidates this year, this was for me one of the easiest winners to pick. What a bolt from the blue, though - who could have guessed that LEGO would chance their arm on such a big, expensive showpiece set for a brand new non-licensed theme ? I certainly couldn't see that coming. What a great set, though - over 2,000 pieces, and a design highly reminiscent of the revered range of Modular buildings. 

The level of detail is just spectacular. Outside there are boarded up windows, distressed brickwork and shutters hanging off their hinges, all complemented by a perfect sand green and light bley colour scheme, while inside the rooms are decorated to modern Modular standards, full of lovely little touches. Someone has clearly expended love and attention on the details to give us fans something to truly savour, and it's certainly hit the spot as far as I'm concerned.

From a business perspective it's hard to see LEGO shifting huge numbers of these, so if you're wavering then I'd urge you to take the plunge - the more they sell, the more likely we'll be to get more bold products like this from LEGO in the future. It's an absolute cracker and wins the gong at a canter.

Honourable mention : Set 10223 Kingdoms Joust (below). We've had a few jousting sets in the past, but really nothing on the scale of this beauty (pictured below). First revealed at STEAM 2011 prior to going on sale right at the beginning of 2012, I thought that this set sadly missed a trick by appearing at retail just as the rest of the Kindgoms theme, notably Set 7946 Kings Castle, was disappearing from the shelves. An attractive design borrowing from both the Kingdoms Castle and revered Medieval Market Village, loads of lovely little details and a ton of minifigures and horses make this one a winner and definitely worth picking up.

4. Best Licensed Set

Last year's winner : Set 10217 Diagon Alley

2012 winner : Set 79003 An Unexpected Gathering

Last year this award literally chose itself. The winning set was IMHO so far ahead of all the other contenders that there was really only one winner. This year was a different story, however - nothing stood out anything like as much. Also, I had a couple of issues to contend with. Firstly, I wasn't even sure if I should consider the Hobbit sets at all - they only appeared in December, and I initially assumed that they were actually 2013 sets which naughty retailers were releasing early. Their appearance in LEGO brand stores and on LEGO S@H finally convinced me that I should include them, however. I also had to contend with my almost irrational love of Set 6862 Superman and Power Armor Lex (see below). In the end, however, I just couldn't ignore the charms of Set 79003 An Unexpected Gathering, the standout Hobbit release, and a genuinely worthy winner. It grabbed me from the first publicity shots, and it really is beautifully conceived and designed, utilising a host of interesting building techniques. And of course it looks lovely when completed, nailing the tricky "organic" look and  managing to capture the essence of the subject matter. If that wasn't enough, it also comes with a generous sprinkling of six key minifigures, and to top it all it's very reasonably priced for a licensed set. Bravo !

(Very) Honourable mention : Set 6862 Superman vs. Power Armor Lex (below). I love, love, love this set - a truly underrated gem IMHO. I bought this one almost as soon as it was released, and indeed at RRP despite my intention not to pay full price for anything in 2012 if at all possible. It, I guess. I absolutely love Lex's mech - the overall look, the neat ways you can pose it, the colour scheme, and the fantastic primary weapon which even contains a lump of Kryptonite. And then there's the thrill of finally owning a Superman minifigure after all these years of wishing that one existed, not to mention the presence of Wonder Woman which made my wife extremely happy. A superb set at a very nice price, then. I was a whisker away from awarding this set my "Best Licensed Set" gong, and while I suspect there might have been howls of protest from many, I really wouldn't have cared.

Honourable mention 2 : Set 10225 R2-D2 (below). Agonisingly close, but not quite there... I was thrilled when this set was announced, and it was another one which I ran out and bought as soon as I could. It's an interesting set to build, looks great when it's finished, and, well, it's Artoo, isn't it, so what more is there to say ?! I guess this set suffered from unrealistic expectations however. While it's undoubtedly a loving homage, the completed model was perhaps just a little small and skinny to be perfect, and it's crying out for some Power Functions to make Artoo move, rotate his head and beep-a-beep-beep. I fully accept that this would have doubled the price, but for subject material as revered and iconic as this I just wish that LEGO had properly pushed the boat out. If LEGO had addressed my wish list above then this set would have been my set of the year, bar none. As it is, it's a worthy effort and well worth owning, but I do continue to wonder what could have been....

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

Last year's winner : Set 7877 Naboo Starfighter

2012 winner : Set 21012 Sydney Opera House

The Architecture theme has been something of a mixed bag since its appearance in 2008. Nobody doubts the aesthetic merits of the glossy black boxes or plush information brochures, but the models themselves have been decidedly inconsistent, ranging from excellent to frankly shocking. And as frankly shocking goes, I think you really have to go some to out-do Set 21012 Sydney Opera House. Honestly, just look at it - ghastly. It's a miserable dog's dinner of a design, and all the glossy black boxes and plush information brochures on earth won't save this one from my derision. Just awful.

(Dis)honourable mention : Set 40026 Statue of Liberty - reviewed by me here, this mercifully small poly bag set was utterly dire. The only saving grace was that it was only available from a couple of retail outlets in New York City, so relatively few people were exposed to it's awfulness. Unlucky them, I say.

6. Best Minifigure

Last year's winner : Jack Sparrow with Tricorne

2012 winner : Queen Amidala

Like last year this was a real bastard to judge due to the high standards of LEGO minifigure design that we continue to be blessed with. Licensed themes such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Super Heroes have pumped out literally scores of excellent minifigures, and there have also been some outstanding minifigures emerging from within the ranks of the Collectible Minifigures and non-licensed themes such as Ninjago and Monster Fighters.

In the end, despite the stiff competition, the gong just had to go to the stunning Star Wars Queen Amidala figure which is unique to Set 9499 Gungan Sub. Fanboys have been crying out for a new Amidala minifigure for a decade now, and finally LEGO delivered, and how ! The figure is exquisitely detailed and beautiful, so much so that you can almost forgive LEGO for it's inclusion in a random set in which it has no business appearing....

Honourable mention : Lady Liberty, Swamp Creature, Friends. Lady Liberty, from the sixth series of Collectable Minifigures, is beautifully realised and I think my favourite of all the Collectable Minifigures to date, while the intricately detailed Swamp Creature, from the Monster Fighters set of the same name, is maybe the best of all the Monster Fighters figures. And as for the Friends Minidolls, well, let's just say that they won me over, which is quite a feat given how sceptical I was at first.


Honourable mention #2 : Dino. OK, so they're not exactly minifigures as such, but the beauty of hosting your own awards is that you can make up the rules as you go along.... If I was a millionaire then I'd buy up hundreds of Dino sets so I could assemble huge herds of these wonderful dinosaurs and have them roam around my house. Bloody awesome, they are. All that's missing is a stegosaurus and a diplodocus and I'd be in heaven.

7. The "Better than Expected" Award

Last year's winner : Cars

2012 winner : Lord of the Rings

OK, so once the excitement of last year's Lord of the Rings (LotR) announcement had died down, hands up if you were secretly a bit worried that the sets might actually turn out to be, you know, a bit crap....dumbed down for a younger audience, too simplistic, lazy, whatever.

Wrong, wrong, wrong - what a pleasant surprise ! All the first wave of sets have something to commend them, and a couple of them including Set 9474 The Battle of Helm's Deep (above) are actually pretty impressive. Even the smallest of them, Set 9469 Gandalf Arrives (below), is a cracker - perfectly formed and utterly charming. The minifigures are great, the new horses are great, and overall I think LEGO have done the theme justice. 

Also of note, the second wave of LotR sets, which consists of sets inspired by The Hobbit, has recently appeared on the shelves, and gratifyingly, they seem to be maintaining the level of quality established by the first wave of sets, with Set 79003 An Unexpected Gathering (below) the highlight as previously discussed.

Honourable mention : Friends. Having stuck the boot in here somewhat when I first saw images of the sets, particularly the minidolls, I had to eat some serious humble pie here when I laid my hands on a few sets and realised that the minidolls were actually delicate and quite beautiful, and the sets (or at least some of them) were quite neat....

Honourable mention #2 : Ninjago. More cohesive, interesting designs this year and a big improvement on the 2011 sets I reckon. I'm almost disappointed that the theme will be bowing out after its last hurrah in 2013, although on balance I'm glad LEGO are wrapping up the theme while it's at the top of its game rather than flogging it to death and then some - Star Wars, I'm looking at you....

8. Most Welcome LEGO-Related Announcement

Last year's winner : LEGO Lord of the Rings sets on the way

2012 Winner : Watford LEGO Brand Store

OK, OK - apologies for being so tediously parochial, but what do you expect me to say when LEGO announces it's going to open a new LEGO Brand Store just a few miles from my house ? I mean, how would YOU feel ?! Living on the outskirts of London, I already considered myself pretty lucky having three of the UK's eight LEGO Brand Stores within a hour's travelling distance and a couple more within two hours drive, but the new Watford store is really the icing on the cake. As I write, the store opened less than 2 weeks ago and I'm preparing for my first visit this coming weekend - can't wait !

9. Gimme LEGO Reader's Choice Award

Last year's winner : Set 10217 Diagon Alley

2012 Winner : You Decide !

Can you believe that a few miserable curmudgeons actually chided me for going all populist and including a vote last year ? Grumpy sods - you know you you are.... Enough people actually voted to encourage me do it again, however, so here it is !

The 2011 Winner - Set 10217 Diagon Alley
You'll have seen a poll on the right side of the page - another 12 sets this year, some licensed and some unlicensed, which I consider to be some of the highlights of 2012. Cast your votes - one person, one vote - and at midnight on 31st December the poll will close and we'll have our winner.... I've also included a "None of the above" option - choose this if you feel strongly about a set that isn't listed, and drop me an e-mail via the contact button on the top right of the screen or leave a comment below to let me know your unlisted choice; if enough people go for a specific, unlisted set then that set will, of course, be the winner.

Before I go, I'd just like to thank you all for reading, and wish you all a wonderful Christmas - have good one !

*EDIT* I can't see the poll on my iPad or smartphone - thanks Blogger - so if you're in the same boat you'll probably need to click "view web version" at the bottom of the page in order to see the nominations and vote. Sorry about that....


  1. Anonymous19/12/12

    You mentioned that Ninjago is on the way out after 2013, but that isn't true. There was an announcement the other day that it's staying on for more than that. See here:

    1. The link states that there will be a Ninjago-related announcement. Which is then followed by 29 pages of Ninjago fans trying to guess what the announcement will be....! I have to admit I don't see anything which says that Ninjago will continue beyond 2013, though. Or did I just miss it ?

    2. If you click the "Jammers" grey box in the original post, the following text is displayed:

      "Ninjago will continue into 2014!"

      Plus, in the same post, just under the "Keighlian" signature there is a link to an image attachment which goes on to read "We will be back".

  2. I'm not sure you're the only one that loves the Dino theme. I do too, actually. And a lot of other people, I think. The theme has already sold out from (the French) LEGO Shop and most of the sets are hard to find at Amazon.

    Last year, Pharaoh's Quest was still available in January and was heavily discounted. I was hoping to get some duplicates of the Dino cars and creatures, but it doesn't seem they will be on sale after Christmas as they have already disappeared.

  3. Anonymous20/12/12

    Love these awards! I think the best theme though, was by far The Lord of the Rings. I've rarely seen sets which seem so large and have so much detail for a reasonable price. I also would have giving best licensed set to The Battle of Helm's Deep thought your choice is a close second.

  4. Great round-up, Dave. Two things I'd add - the Sopwith Camel set was a beauty, especially with its moving ailerons. And as for disappointment, the Cuusoo site. Promised so much, delivered so little.

  5. The monster fighters theme is really good! But did you say that there will be no more monster fighters in 2013? Also, I've never really liked the cars theme. You are so lucky to have a Lego store so close from you! The closest one for me is 6 hours away from home. -_-

    Well merry Christmas and thanks alot for your awesome posts during the year!

  6. Anonymous24/12/12

    The Ninjago set Rattlecopter held the place of favourite set for most of the year, and that's after looking at it every day on the shelf.

  7. Anonymous25/12/12

    I love the Dino theme (my son does, too!) I heard that Lego will be dropping it, which I think is really too bad. Huge wasted opportunity here, IMHO... they could have made it educational by giving some background on the various dinos. Plus it gets points just for NOT being a licensed theme.