Saturday, February 10, 2018

My Custom LEGO City: A Complete Overhaul of the Layout!

I had a snow day last week where I was pretty much stuck inside the house.  While I suppose there were some things I could have done, I figured I'd take the time to rip apart my old LEGO city and put it all back together again.  The main reason for the redo was that my first choice of boards (to elevate the back part of my city) ended up warping horribly within a few months.  So much warping, in fact, that I was afraid the buildings themselves would soon slide off the table! 

After tearing everything off the table, I went back to the drawing board and came up with brand new design for my LEGO train track as well.  This is a much better system in that I can now run three different trains simultaneously without any sort of fear or worry that the trains will collide.

Of course, the beauty of LEGO is that it's much better to see it than it is to read about let's take a look at my new video of my city!

That's all for now.  I certainly have hundreds (maybe even thousands) of ideas, both big and small, to improve my city.  That said, as long as make progress that I'm happy with every now and then, I'll call it a success!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

REVIEW: LEGO 60171: Mountain Fugitives

The LEGO 60171:  Mountain Fugitives set is basically a starter set for the mountain police subtheme introduced in 2018.  The set comes with 88 pieces which is on the low end for a $10 set - but it also includes four minifigures which is definitely on the high end.  So, given that, the question is:  is the set worth $10 or should you pass on this one?

For starters (pun intended), the idea of this set is to simply introduce kids (and adults) to the mountain police subtheme.  Believe it or not, there is actually one set in the theme smaller than this one, but unless you want even more police vehicles, I found the Mountain Fugitives set to be the most appealing set after the largest police station set in the subtheme (and obviously this set is much, much cheaper to acquire)!

Let's take a look at the set and see if you agree with my assessment.

As stated already, you get four minifigures.  Two of them are the "good guys" and two are the "bad guys."  In this set, I think the bad guys are more fun...but the best minifigure is actually the one police woman.

That hair/hat combo piece looks amazing - and there's no doubt I'd like to acquire a bunch more of those (preferably in different color hat/hair combinations).  I'm not sure if that was a new mold for 2018 or not, but it was the first time I saw it!  A pleasant surprise from the little set for sure.

The other policeman (who is a man) gets to drive the 4-wheeler.  As builds go, the 4-wheeler isn't anything special but I do think it looks better than most of the other similar police 4-wheelers that LEGO has done lately - that newish grill piece really helps!

Moving on to the criminals, we also get a 50/50 gender split between male and female crooks (which is great).  The lady crook gets a backpack to store a couple of gold bars while the male crook doesn't even get a shirt to cover up his jail clothing.  I do wish LEGO would "cool it down" a bit with having to make every crook in LEGO City wear a black-and-white striped jail top, but otherwise these are nice enough figures.

I should point out that the wooden "end" piece is actually a printed piece.  That was a very pleasant surprise when I built the set (I had assumed it was a sticker used there like most LEGO City sets seem to employ).

The star of the show, however, is the new beehive piece.  I basically bought this set strictly so that I could be sure I owned one of the beehive pieces and it didn't disappoint.  It's bright - so it sticks out nicely...and in a fun touch, you can even fit the entire beehive over top of a minifigures head!

The only other play feature in the set is that you can swing the small plant piece at the base of the tree out of the way.  Behind it lies a small little storage cubby, big enough for a those gold bars but not much else (which is fine since the set doesn't come with any other "treasure" for the robbers to have looted).  I'll never turn down getting more LEGO plant pieces so I'm happy with the inclusion.

The Bottom Line (out of 10):
Fun:  10
Play Value:  10
Kid Value:  10
Adult Value:  4
Overall:  8

For $10, you get four minifigures, a small vehicle, a bit of scenery, and a beehive.  That's a lot of play value for a kid for a  low price point (by LEGO standards).  Kudos to LEGO for that.  Unfortunately, for adult collectors this set doesn't really offer anything new or overly desirable except for the beehive (and maybe the printed 2x2 round "wood" tile).  The two criminal minifigures are hampered in their use by the striped shirts and I'm guessing any adult LEGO collector already has more police officers than they could possibly need in a LEGO City.  Still, at $10 you can't go wrong if you want to simply "scratch the itch to build."

Monday, January 15, 2018

REVIEW: LEGO 60160: Jungle Mobile Lab - REVIEW

The LEGO 60160:  Jungle Mobile Lab contains 426 pieces including four minifigures, a small waterfall, a venus fly trap, and a large mobile lab vehicle.  The question is, is the set worth the money or should you spend your hard earned dollars elsewhere?  Lucky for you, I'm here to help answer that question - so let's take a closer look at the set.

The set itself was priced at $60 though as of this moment you can find it for quite a bit less on Amazon (link provided to the left).  However, for the purposes of the review, I'll assume you spent the original asking price of $60 (which is what I did since I happened to buy this set in the summer).

So what does the $60 get you?  For starters, you get 4 minifigures and 426 pieces which on the surface doesn't seem like a great deal.  However, it's always possible that the set delivers in unexpected ways, so let's take a look beginning with the first build you do.

Here, we see the four minifigures that come with the set.  It should be noted (happily) that two of the figures are females (the other two are males which makes for a great gender balance).  I particularly am happy to see that the "Indiana Jones" figure of the set is actually a woman - and better yet, a woman without a scared face (the scientist woman does have a scared "second face" which is perfect for the role she plays).

The other star of the first part of the build (and the set for that matter) is this Venus Fly Trap with the spider.  The fly trap has a rubber band that truly "snaps" its jaws shut with a fair bit of force.  It's a simple mechanism, but it works well and is quite satisfying.  As a kid, I would have loved this piece for sure!

The set comes with two large components, the mobile lab which we'll get to in a bit and a waterfall/temple build.

Looking at the build, you can see a large waterfall (complete with a plastic "curtain" that acts as the falling water) and the remains of a small, ruined temple.  I particularly like the little footpath through the waterfall, but there's a hidden action feature there that makes it more dangerous...there's an alligator waiting from behind the waterfall to strike at an unsuspecting person! 

The other action features of the set include the branch at the top of the temple which can be "cut away" with the machete to reveal the gem and the green whip piece which is supposed to be a vine you can use to swing across the river.  For such a small build, it's quite well done and I like it a lot.

That's what the back looks like.  You can see the simple push mechanism for the alligator.

Next, the mobile jungle lab - the set's namesake.  First, it should be noted that this is a large, heavy duty vehicle.  Perfect for the jungle (or for rolling around in a child's sandbox).  The vehicle actually seats two people in the front while the other two minifigures can be put in the back research area.  That's awesome because it means all four included figures can ride in the one vehicle.  I like self-containing sets like that.

The main play feature of the vehicle has two components.  On the outside (of the backside) of the vehicle, you get a pair of collection bins with opening doors.  These are perfect for sliding in 1x1 or 1x2 tile pieces (though you don't get any tiles included for the exact purpose).  Still, you can use the two boxes as storage compartments as well which is always fun.

The main play feature though is the mobile lab itself.  To get access to the inside, the front panel swings away and the top roof swings up which allows plenty of space for both minifigures and human hands to get inside!  Speaking of the inside, you get a radar, a contour map, and a scale (all stickers) plus a couple of green bottles meant to represent vials holding specimens to be studied.  Pretty cool set-up and definitely worthy of being called a lab. 

As a whole, despite the 10 stickers and only 426 pieces, I think this set is actually worth the original asking price of $60.  There is a TON of play value packed into the set - and with enough new pieces (and interesting uses of some older pieces), the build itself was fun as well. 

The Bottom Line (out of 10):
Fun:  10
Play Value:  10
Kid Value:  10
Adult Value:  8
Overall:  9
Be careful crossing that path!

Looking at value, you get four minifigs with great printing, an awesome vehicle, the new kayak piece, plus a Venus Fly Trap, alligator, and decent sized waterfall/temple build.  That's quite a bit for the money - and none of it feels tacked on or incomplete.  For those that are wondering how this set compares to the similarly priced LEGO 60159:  Jungle Halftrack Mission (which I reviewed here), I'd say this set is worth the extra $20.  In this set, you get twice as many minifigs plus a much larger structure build and a larger, more detailed truck build.  While you don't get the black panther in this set, you do get the Venus Fly Trap which is equally cool (along with the alligator). 

For another comparison, here are the two land structures from the two sets side-by-side.  As you can see, the structure from this set pretty much dwarfs the other sets "temple."  Also, it should be noted that with all the extra greenery provided in this set, it feels more like a jungle than the other set as well. 

The Jungle Mobile Lab is an easy one for me to recommend...and if you act quickly, you might even be able to nab this at a fairly substantial discount!

Monday, January 8, 2018

REVIEW: LEGO 60159: Jungle Halftrack Mission

One of the LEGO City subthemes that interested me the most over the past few years is the jungle exploration theme.  For whatever reason, I've always loved LEGO greenery - so having a bunch of City sets based in the jungle seemed like a surefire way to acquire some new foliage...and get some pretty cool sets in the process.  Of course, things didn't turn out quite that way - most of the jungle sets don't actually include all that much foliage, but they do have some...and many of the jungle sets still look interesting to me which means if I can find them on sale there's a decent chance I'll pick them up.  That's exactly what I was able to do with LEGO 60159:  Jungle Halftrack Mission.  I get this for about 25% off after Christmas - and at that price, I pretty much had to buy it!  Now, I need to review it...

The set comes with 378 pieces including two minifigures, the new spider (in red), and a black panther.  You also get two vehicles and a bit of a jungle temple / ruins.  Not bad for a suggested retail price of about $40.  The price to part ratio is a bit higher than the generally accepted $0.10 per part, but with the large panther mold and two nice minifigures, I think that can be overlooked without any issue.

Opening up the box, you get four numbered bags, three instruction booklets, and a sticker sheet containing ten stickers.  The first bag has you build the undeniable star of the set:  the black panther (ok, you don't actually build anything, it's all one piece) but it's awesome.  You also get to build the smaller of the two vehicles and a small campfire build.

It would appear that the panther really wants that chicken leg...and I'm not sure that the frying pan will do much to stop the creature from getting what it wants!

The second and third bags are both used for the main vehicle in the set, the halftrack jungle truck.  I love the treads on the back end of the vehicle - and there's are two "cheater wheels" hidden underneath the model to ensure the treads move whether you are driving the car on soft carpet or slick tile/hardwood.  That's a nice touch in the design - and it definitely adds to the playability factor in a positive way.

The halftrack looks good from pretty much every angle and I like the inclusion of the two clips on the side for minifigure accessories (such as the machete and the walkie-talkie).  The back of the truck contains a fairly long chain piece as well, perfect for ripping apart old temples!

The fourth and final bag builds the bit of the jungle temple, complete with a spider trap for those foolish enough to try and grab the red ruby. 

All told, this is a fine little set at $30 (the sale price that I was able to get it at).  It's too expensive, in my mind, for the regular retail price of $40 even though you do get two vehicles.  Actually, I think that's the problem.  The first vehicle is fine enough in its own right, but when you compare it to the second vehicle that comes in the set, the first seems pretty pointless.  After all, what kid would want to play with the little mini-Jeep like car when they could use the halftrack?!  No kid, that's who. 

I think LEGO wanted to make a set in the $40 range...and probably that's why the black panther is in this set (to serve as a sales driver).  LEGO's plan obviously worked because I wouldn't have bought this if the panther weren't included...but even with the panther, I waited until I could get the set on sale.

The Bottom Line (out of 10):
Fun:  9
Play Value:  10
Kid Value:  10
Adult Value:  4
Overall:  8

For kids, this set is a pure winner.  Two minifigs (one male, one female which is nice), the black panther, two vehicles, some random accessories, and a bit of temple makes for a great self-contained playset.  For a child, this set is definitely worth the $40 original price tag.  However, for adult collectors I don't think the value is quite there.  The smaller of the two vehicles doesn't offer up anything new or unique and could have been easily omitted for adult collectors.  The halftrack has a nice design and while small, the jungle temple bit is nice enough as well (though what are the two blue pins on the side of the model for anyhow)?  At the current $30 sale price, I feel justified recommending this set to anyone.  If you can only find it at $40, I'd probably holdout a bit and hope for another sale at a future date unless you are buying this for a kid who will use all the various vehicles in some sort of jungle play scene.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Looking Back on 2017 and Forward to 2018!

For me, the year 2017 was full of ups and downs.  The biggest high was definitely learning that my wife and I are expecting our first child (due in May 2018).  The biggest low came about a week ago when I learned that my cholesterol was out-of-the-park high and that I'd have to do some serious diet/exercise changes.  As someone who loves good food, that news was especially painful!

In terms of my LEGO hobby, 2017 was definitely basically all good news.  I finally made some serious progress on putting together my custom city.  I also started updating my YouTube channel with some more LEGO content including this look at my custom city from October.

Even better, I did some serious custom LEGO work this year which I was quite pleased with.  I don't fancy myself a particularly creative person, but darn it if I don't try once in a while!  This year, I combined a pair of official LEGO Spiderman sets to build a large, suspension bridge (complete with crooks' hideout).  I also built a custom LEGO grocery store / apartment in the same size and scale as the official LEGO Modular buildings. 

Looking forward to 2018, I have a few projects in mind.  First, I need to figure out how to raise up those modular buildings that you see in the video above.  Right now, I have them sitting on pieces of plywood but since that video was created the plywood has warped terribly!  I'm not exactly sure why, maybe the humidity in the man cave (i.e. basement)?  Anyhow, I need to figure something out there.  Once I get that under control, I'll probably have to revisit my suspension bridge again and raise the pillars up a few bricks higher so that the upper train can run "level" throughout the entire layout. 

Sticking with the custom city layout, I'd like to add another custom building or two to the mix.  Probably at least one residential building and another shop (I'm thinking a pizza place, maybe a pizza place / ice cream shop)?  Finally, I started building another wooden shelf for my minifigure collection and I'd like to finish that once the weather warms up a bit (my shop is in my unheated garage so working in the winter is basically out of the question).

As 2018 unfolds, I do hope to continue with updates here at Playing With Bricks.  I definitely get more traffic via my LEGO videos on YouTube as compared to my written work here, but that's ok.  I enjoy the blog just as much (if not more) so I don't see myself abandoning ship quite yet.  I hope all of my readers and visitors have a happy, healthy 2018 - and please keep checking back here for more goodies as the year progresses!

Happy 2018 everyone!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Custom LEGO Winter Village: 2017 Edition

One of my favorite new traditions at Christmas time is to assemble my LEGO Winter Village scene.  Each year LEGO releases a large Winter Village set - and sometimes some smaller sets as well - and I like to take those, along with some of my own custom builds - and combine them into a large Winter Village scene.

This year's attempt at a Winter Village features a working train, plenty of shops, and an entire large town square complete with ice skating rink, Christmas tree stand, and a singing band of firefighters.  For a complete look at my set up, check out the video that I've embedded below.

I have a couple of other smaller winter sets that I have already tucked away for next year's Winter Village.  I also need to track down the official Train Station set from this year's Winter Village theme.  Of course, if I do so then I'll have to either 1) find a new place in the house to put my Winter Village or 2) remove a large building from the set-up to make room for the station.  Either way, it's a dilemma for next year.  This year's set-up is done and is plenty festive for me!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Birthday Presents: Blind Packs!

My birthday was last week and I must say, I hit the LEGO jackpot this year.  My biggest gift was the brand new Carousal set (which is amazing).  However, I also got a few smaller items including a pair of minifigure packs from the LEGO Ninjago Movie series.

I don't actually have any interest in the Ninjago line in general (I didn't see the movie) but I have bought a couple of the Ninjago Movie sets.  I also bought the Sushi chef minifigure already (from Bricklink) because I wanted that figure for my custom grocery store.  Thus, as long as neither of my two birthday packs held the Sushi Guy, this would be a win for me.

Looking at the checklist, I have to say there are a lot of really weird figures to find.  In fact, I would wager that I wouldn't have much use for well over half of the figures (though some of them have some nice accessories which I could use).  Still, I won't ever complain about getting free LEGO figures...and there are a few figures which I'd definitely like to acquire some day even if I don't go for the entire set.  For example, #s 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 18 could all be worked into my custom LEGO City.  I'm also interested in the head piece for #12, 13, 20, and also 14 I think.  So yeah, there are plenty of good figures available.

So what'd I get?

Pack 1:

I believe the main bad guy is Garmadon (or something like that) and I think this is his most evil version (I'm only guessing based on the fact that he's pretty much all black here).  I'll be honest in that this figure was probably one of, if not the, least wanted figures by me in the entire set.  I don't see much use for him in my custom city - though that spear point piece is certainly unique to my collection (and I could probably do something neat with it at some point).

How about the second pack?

Pack 2:

That's more like it.  This guy is definitely going to be worked into my custom City.  Probably he'll be somewhere taking a selfie where he really shouldn't be...maybe an alligator or something will be sneaking up on him.  No matter, this figure is quite nice - and that scarf piece is a great new addition for my collection as well.

The second blind pack saved the day here - but since both packs were gifts I truly can't complain at all.  In fact, I had a blast ripping the two packs (and assembling the minifigs).