Thursday, February 27, 2014

LEGO Mania Magazine: A Look Back to Twenty Years Ago! (Part IV)

It's time to turn the page of the LEGO Mania Magazine (from back in Winter 1994)!  I already discussed the first few pages here - now it's time to get to the "feature story."  The cover of the magazine advertised the new (at that time) Islander's theme...and so the main story of the magazine discussed the "real life" Islanders!

The feature story contains a brief blurb about a few different islands beginning with Papua New Guinea.  There is also a nice paragraph about Roberton's treasure which is supposedly hidden on Agrilon Island.  A quick Google search didn't yield much information (besides this somewhat shady-looking website).  However, if the website is correct, the actual story of Roberton was much more gruesome than the LEGO magazine alludes to!

The final page of the main story contains information about one more island (Pitcairn) as well as a building challenge contest that Lego sponsored.

In terms of the Islanders theme, I only ever owned one set (it was a small prison set).  My brother had the catamaran set (featured on the second page of today's post) as well as an Islander fort of sorts.  I was much more of a fan of the castle and space lines (and in fact, I owned the flying saucer that is pictured on the final scan of today's post)!

Join me next time when we turn our attention to some user created models that LEGO decided to publish.  How will they stack up against today's model builders?  You'll have to wait to find out...

Monday, February 17, 2014

LEGO Mania Magazine: A Look Back to Twenty Years Ago! (Part III)

Last Christmas, I was visiting my parents when I discovered an cache of my LEGO Mania Magazines from when I was a kid.  Last week, I decided they would make for some fun blog fodder and I posted the cover of the magazine and then the first page.  For today's post, I figured it was time to move into the heart of the magazine!

First up, the "Maniac Mail Bag" page plus a short blurb about the new magazine.  

I don't recall whether I had actually requested the magazine or if LEGO simply sent it to me.  Either way, you can see that this issue is Winter 1994 and then the next issue was to be mailed to me in January of the next year.  

There is also a short story that Andrew Mounce from Charleston, IL wrote about his Dragon Master.  When I was a kid, I always thought it would have been cool to be featured in the magazine - later you'll see they also publish photos of kids' LEGO creations.  As an adult, I have to say that Mounce's short story reads an awful lot like an advertisement...did a kid really fit in the exact name of seven different LEGO sets?  I doubt it...  

Finally, up in the top right corner you'll notice a "flip 'n build" section.  Basically, every right-hand page has another step to a model which will culminate on the final page of the magazine.  I won't spoil the surprise for you - see if you can guess what they are making!

Flipping over to page four, we get the first (complete) model instructions in the magazine.  

This is a World War I Bi-Plane supposedly designed by an 11 year old from Florida.  The thing that I immediately noticed about the instructions (looking at the page now) is just how unclear they are.  No pieces used reference, no alternate angles of drawings, and very, very little in the way of clarification.  This is even more surprising since you have to hunt for the proper pieces within your own collection (rather than from a small pile from a single boxed set)!  I can tell you that I never attempted to build the Bi-Plane since I never had the proper wheels or propeller, nor the tail piece.  It's also a bit too blocky for my tastes (then and now) so I don't think I ever missed out on much.

The LEGO Mania Magazine isn't all that long - but as a kid every page was pure gold!  I must have spent hours and hours pouring over the various magazines, reading the articles, and mostly staring at sets that I someday hoped to obtain.  

The next portion of the magazine delves into the Islanders theme that LEGO produced around this time - a theme that I own exactly one set'll have to stay tuned for that (and maybe even a set review if I can find my lone Islanders set)!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

LEGO Mania Magazine: A Look Back to Twenty Years Ago! (Part II)

On Monday, I mentioned that I found my original stash of LEGO Mania Magazines from back when I was a kid while staying at my parent's house for Christmas.  I also showed off the cover of the first issue - from back in Winter 1994.

I thought it'd be fun to go through the magazine on the blog, one page at a time.  In this way, we can all relive some of the "glory years" of LEGO (at least for those who around my age).  We can also use the magazine to see where LEGO has (and hasn't) made improvements over the past twenty years!

Although the cover of the magazine highlights the Islanders theme, the first actual page of the magazine contains a full page ad for the Monorail Transport Base (set #6991).

As a kid, I always wanted this set - I remember staring at the image for many hours thinking how cool everything looked.  I've mentioned before on the blog that my two favorite themes were Castle and Space - so it's probably no surprise that this page caught my eye!

The Monorail Transport Base was impressive back then because it had a variety of baseplates (including one of the printed "hilly road" plates that I always found interesting) and it had what appeared to be a decent amount of track for the monorail.  Looking at the set through adult eyes, I can see that had I ever managed to acquire the set, I would have wished I had a lot more in the way of straight monorail pieces.  I'm guessing I also would have found the upper circle "loop" to be pretty darn pointless - though I don't think the included pieces would allow you to make any other more interesting design.

At the bottom of the page, you can see that there is a crocodile counting contest within the magazine.  Since I plan to eventually scan and write about all of the pages, you can play along (though I'm guessing LEGO won't award you any prizes since the magazine is now twenty years old)!

Monday, February 10, 2014

LEGO Mania Magazine: A Look Back to Twenty Years Ago! (Part I)

Twenty years ago (!), LEGO decided to start publishing a magazine aptly named "LEGO Mania Magazine".  Over Christmas, I happened to be at my parent's house - and poking around some of the boxes holding my old LEGO sets I found my own copy of the inaugural issue!  The issue is marked Winter 1994 which means Winter 2014 is the 20th anniversary of this issue!  That makes me feel super old.

Over the next few posts, I plan to slowly make my way through the magazine - both in terms of reliving some of my childhood and using the magazine as a way to compare and contrast the LEGO of my childhood to the LEGO of today.

I hope that you will join me throughout the week as we make our way through the magazine - after all, there's exciting Islanders inside as well as a Pirate comic and some playful activities.

Monday, February 3, 2014

LEGO 10197: Fire Brigade - REVIEW

The LEGO Fire Brigade is the second adult oriented Creator line model that I've built (the first being the wonderful Pet Shop).  Could the Fire Brigade possibly live up to the high bar that the Pet Shop set?  Let's find out!

Like the Pet Shop, the Fire Brigade is a big set - 2231 pieces to be exact.  That's actually about 200 more pieces than the Pet Shop!  The Fire Brigade set is essentially two things:  First, you get a small fire truck and then the meat of the set is the fire department building.  However, unlike the Pet Shop, the Fire Brigade is only two stories tall (though the finished model actually is a bit higher than the Pet Shop buildings).

At the time I purchased the set, it was going for about $150 on Amazon (which is still the price at the time of the posting of this review).  I can spare you a lot of words by saying that this set is definitely worth the money...but that's not an exciting review so let's look at the set in greater detail!

We begin with a look at the beautiful packaging.  I've never actually seen a store carry the modular buildings - but if I ever do it'll be almost impossible for me to pass up the chance to buy another one!

Another nice touch by LEGO is that they include a visual checklist of sorts on the outside of the box which shows all of the parts included in the set.  It's a bit hard to see from the picture (and actually, even in person), but it's still a nice touch by LEGO.

The back of the box is also quite nice - I especially like the showcasing of some of the fun smaller builds within the set (the obvious build being the fire truck but also the various kitchen appliances and the ping pong table).

Once you actually crack open the box, you are greeted with a ton of bags full of LEGOs!  If you think I'm somehow kidding, behold:

Yeah, that's a lot of little plastic bricks!

The bags are all numbered either 1 or 2 - bags 1 combine to form the bottom floor of the fire station plus the truck.  Bags 2 combine to build the second story of the station and the roof (where the water tower resides).  As usual, you begin the build by putting together the minifigures.  This set only includes four figures (which seemed a bit stingy to me) but you do also get a fire dog (not a Dalmatian though).

I never had the chef hat piece as a kid so I was happy to get one of those in this set.  That particular figure must be the one who does all the cooking in the fully equipped kitchen in the set (more on that in a bit).

After putting together the minifigures, you move on to build the fire truck.

This is basically nothing more than a simple warm-up model as there isn't much here that hasn't been done by LEGO in other City sets (though I do like the more retro look to the truck as compared to the more modern offerings in the various City fire sets).

You can see the dog isn't anything special in terms of printing - this was one area where LEGO didn't quite do all that they probably could have to make the set a perfect 10 in score (the other big thing was the relatively small number of minifigures included).

Once you've completed the fire truck, it's time to move on to the fire station itself.  As with the Pet Shop, you get a fully formed sidewalk (complete with a tree and a street light though those aren't pictured quite yet).

I also like the numbering of the station in the sidewalk - very cool little touch to add a bit of variety to the street view (especially if you have three or four of the modular buildings side-by-side)!

The first floor of the fire station isn't overly exciting on the inside.  There's enough room for the truck (and you do get a pole for the firemen to slide down from the second floor).  I like the included garage door and the golden helmets which are used for building ornaments.  As you can see from the photo below, you get three firemen plus one woman pedestrian (complete with a side handbag).  The tree is nice in that you get two different shades of green for the leaves - another small but appreciated touch!

A side view of the front of the building so that you can see the brick built American flag.

Here's an overhead view of the first floor so that you can get a nice bird's eye view.

As you might be able to see, the top (via the orientation of the photo) of the station has a rack for the firemen's tools and equipment while the bottom is mostly filled up with a staircase.  You can also see that the truck fits in the building nicely - there's a big door on the back of the building as well (not pictured here).

At this point, it's time to start in on the second group of bags.  As you can see from the above picture, you do get a few extra parts from the #1 bags.

In my opinion, the second floor is what makes the Fire Brigade set worthwhile.  For starters, there are a bunch of fun micro builds including a ping pong table, a refrigerator, a stove, couch, and a sink.

Here's an alternate angle for the kitchen - it's quite the sight to behold in LEGO scale!

Once you've finished the brick work for the walls (which can be a bit tedious quite honestly), you have two floors complete.  Here's a look at the set so far (you can see the pet shop in the background):

Now, all that is needed is to complete the roof!

The bell tower is particularly nice - you even get a LEGO bat to hang in there!  I also like the water tower, it fits in with the theme of the set nicely.

Finally, here's a view from the back of the building (with a cameo from my puppy too) - not the most exciting but not totally devoid of interesting bits either.  For instance, the "dirt tracks" in the back which represent where the truck drives into the building are a nice touch.

At this point, the set is ready for display!

If my tone hasn't made it clear so far, I really like this set.  In fact, I would have to say that the Fire Brigade set is better from start to finish than the Pet Shop.  This is mostly because the Fire Brigade is more consistent - the Pet Shop has one building which is virtually empty on two floors - and that is a problem that even a spectacular first floor of the actual pet shop can't fix!  The Fire Brigade, on the other hand, isn't quite as cool as that first level of the pet shop - but when you factor in the more interesting front of the building, the retro fire truck, and the fact that you get a fully equipped second floor of the fire's hard not to say the Fire Brigade is the stronger set out of the two.

However, you truly can't go wrong with either of the two Creator sets.  Will the other Creator sets maintain the high standards set by these two sets?  I have one more modular set already built which I need to review (the Palace Cinema) and I just got the Grand Emporium (which I haven't even opened up yet).  We'll have to see how those two sets stack up against the first two modulars that I built - it'll be a tough task to beat either the Pet Shop or the Fire Brigade set!

The Bottom Line (out of 10):
Fun:  8
Play Value:  9
Kid Value:  8
Adult Value:  9.5
Overall:  9

I ended up giving this the same overall score as the Pet Shop but between the two sets I think this one is ever-so-slightly better.  That said, you can't go wrong with either!