Monday, January 26, 2009

Space Police 3 (part two)

A Canadian toy fair has showed off some of the new Lego Space Police line, as seen at The Brother's Brick. At the end of the post there are links to more images.

All I can really say is, so far so good.

There is a note in the post that some of the sets and minifigs are still in prototype, so some of the sets pictured are subject to change between now and the actual release.

I am not going to fawn all over these sets. Yes, I like them. I am very pleased with the direction that Lego went with this line. The villains are mostly unique (there is an image of a box that highlights two of the same character, could be a prototype place-holder, or the character could be a clone, twin, or duplicate droids...etc.) although the heroes are kind of hidden and difficult to make out. Someone will do a review and drool all over the jail cell system and all of the other stand-outs in the line.

There is a problem though. It won't hurt sales or popularity. It's just something I've pointed out before in online discussions. The problem with Lego's current "conflict-in-a-box" philosophy is that models that could be really outstanding are just so-so because of all of the features that each set must implement.

For instance, there is the Space Police Container Heist. From the pics, I would assume that the pirates stole a container from some commercial long-haul vessel, then the Space Police were called in to retrieve it. The missed opportunity is that of a highly detailed space truck model with some pirates trying to "board" it. Instead we have a pirate vehicle with a container on the back that opens up to display a HUGE cannon. Those pirates certainly do work fast with their stolen goods, eh?

Conflict sells in America, there is no doubt of that. But really, Lego has gone from a policy of NO violence, to ALL violence at the cost of some potentially awesome models. Could we perhaps find a happy medium?

Don't get me wrong, I'm buying as much of this line as I can afford, or stomach. I just wish Lego would stop passing on more awesome possibilities.

Lego as a Collectible?

Nannan did a write-up for The Brother's Brick about how to break even on your Lego purchases by selling minifigs. He pointed out that this can only work if you sell the Lego Star Wars minifigs, because the other Lego minifigs are not really worth anything.

Lego dabbled with the collectibility of their product when they launched the Bionicle line. The first year was all about the Bionicle masks. Young collectors went insane over them. Lego answered the fantiscism by making sure collectors had to jump through some very imposing hoops to get them all. There were even masks molded in metal and masks that came with shoes. At the time the Pokemon meme "Gotta catch 'em all" was alive and well.

Lego slowly decreased the collectible nature of the Bionicle line until all that is left now are generic sets that fit within a theme. Sure, you can still "collect" them, but there is really no challenge in it.

Since then, the most collectible element Lego has introduced into their brand would have to be the gold chrome C3PO. There were other short-lived excercises, such as a train engine in which a specific number of online buyers would receive a unique numbered tile. Otherwise, Lego collectors have to settle for limited edition sets. Somewhat more challenging if you happen to live in the wrong region.

But, what if Lego were to embrace the collector's market?

A part of me has always wanted to see Lego do so. Another part of me remembers my experiences as a Hotwheels collector and shudders at the thought.

Collectors can be ruthless. Some collectors absolutely MUST have as many of an item as they can afford (it's strange, but some Hotwheels collectors have dozens of the same car and graphic with no intention of selling). Other collectors are desperate to complete their collection at all costs. Then there are those who stand to make a financial profit from the collector's market. In the case of Hotwheels collectibles, some of the collectors who meet in the toy aisle actually get into fist fights over the toys. I've never seen it happen, but I remember from time to time other collectors breathing down my neck as they scoured the shelves from behind me, possibly hoping to spot a hot item before I did. It never happend, but what if it had? Would they have pushed me aside? What I grabbed it first? Some collectors are not above yanking items out of other people's carts or hands and literally running to the check-out lane.

Yet, I did manage to build a Hotwheels collection that I am proud of. I have some rare items that could sell for a pretty penny if I was so inclined. Of course, what I consider a pretty penny might not fit your own idea.

One thing that collectors do for a toy product is to keep the product moving off of the shelves. I've recently read about a black chrome Darth Vader that could be randomly inserted into a Lego set. Be prepared to pay high dollar for that set on the secondary market as the collectors and scalpers clear the shelves as quickly as their money will allow.

My idea of a Lego collectible would be rare minifigs, rare minifig accessories, or rare color molds packaged randomly in a side line. Say, for instance, a pack of minifigs that might only be sold for six months (or less) in which the space fig has a special trans-color visor, the town person has a uninque hair mold, the construction worker has a unique tool...

Maybe there could be a points system where you collect UPC codes (or "tokens" with computer generated numbers) and mail them in or log their numbers online for limited promotionals.

How about the action/adventure lines including limited characters. For instance, the Agents line might have a series of minifig packs with assorted villains and heroes but each one has a limited production run and the packs change out characters every 2-3 months. Or Lego could include additional characters in the sets for a limited time then remove the extras later in the production run.

People who just want to build do not need to be affected. The limited items would only appeal to collectors and the secondary market. Do it right, and there is only profit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nnenn's Divine Intervention

So, this is my first "review" of an AFOL MOC. Maybe it should be considered more of a commentary though.

This is Nnenn's first SHIP. The dimensions do not really matter, only that it qualifies, as he put it, for the "Real Man" club.

For a long time Nnenn's fans have urged him to build a SHIP. I have no idea why it took him so long except to think that maybe he just never wanted to build one. I am curious what it was that finally made him decide to do so. The most obvious answer would be "Well, I decided it was just time to do it." I suspect there was a little more to it though. I have the impression he is not the kind of builder to simply fold under pressure, but people have been on him for months to build a SHIP.

So, now that he has done so, everyone is dropping their jaws over the result. I must confess that at first glance I thought it was another typical "small" micro build of his. Even after reading his blurb I still have yet to experience the "Oh my God, look how BIG it is!" virus that the comments seem to be infected with.

The Divine Intervention is a very good build. I do not often comment on Nnenn's work because I know that he is going to see 10-30 positive comments from others. From time to time I have done so, but I feel as though I am only adding to a cluter of noise. But this SHIP, and his blurb are certainly worth some words.

From stem to stern, port to starbard, the entire centerline, are packed with just enough detail to keep all 100+ studs interesting. Nothing is over-bearing, nothing is too loud or too busy. The missle booms are obviously the main function of the Devine Intervention and the over-all build ensures that your eyes are drawn to them. Even the engine cluster has a uniquness to it that demands attention.

As great as this SHIP is, Nnenn is not very pleased. He states that he had a difficult time putting the interior frame together, and when he lifted the finished MOC something inside "broke" and began to roll around the interior. After spending two weeks or more on the Divine Intervention, Nnenn was very quick to disassemble the model. The over-all impression that I have from his blurb is that he simply did not have the usual fun he has come to expect from building with Lego.

Maybe that is why he waited so long to do a SHIP. Maybe he suspected it would be more work than fun. Nnenn has stated more than once that he builds for the fun of it. It is unlikely that he will build another SHIP.

What a shame.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Lego Star Wars Money Sink

I was scanning Ebay today and came across some interesting trends. They are not new trends by any means, I've seen it before, but never really thought about it. Lego has always been costly on Ebay and the smaller the lot the larger the shipping rate.

Example: A pink bucket of Lego that I was thinking about getting for my daughter. We decided to wait until after Christmas, but not the shelves are empty. So I dug around. At my local retail the box goes for $15 and some change. The first one I came across on Ebay...$22 plus shipping. Then I saw one for $13, but I know Ebay. I immediately looked at the shipping...$9.97. I did not bother to look at the details for either auction, the sellars could have been selling empty tubs for all I care. I look at the descriptions AFTER I find what I think could be a good deal.

The above example is normal for any Lego item. High price with medium/small shipping, or low price with high shipping. I saw a lot of TEN pink bricks going for $30...no thanks.

Now, take the above normal pricing activity and use that as your base for Lego Star Wars. Need a brown Ewok minifig? I saw one with a spear, he only cost $15 plus shipping. You can get the actual set he comes in, with more Ewoks, on Bricklink for $30.

How about some light sabers to arm your custom Lego Star Wars Jedi? I saw several lots with 10-12 light sabers each ranging from $15-$25 plus shipping. Even the $5-$10 sets come with a complete minifig and sometimes two or more light sabers.

In spite of the obivous money sink that Lego auctions on Ebay have proven to be, it does not stop these outrageously priced lots to attract several bids before the end of the auction. I also noticed that buy-it-now auctions do not last long either. With Lego Star Wars the bidding wars can become laughable.

I should consider selling a bin or two of parts that I don't use. Within a week or two I should be able to afford the Lego Star Wars UCS Millenium Falcon...

Magna Guard Starfighter Repackaged

Congratulations!

If you were holding out on the Lego Star Wars Magna Guard Starfighter, you have just missed the boat. Unless you were able to stumble upon a location that put it up for clearance or one of those mythical Buy-One-Get-One deals (I don't get to see those deals around here).

No, it has not been pulled from production.

Instead, Lego came up with the clever idea of keeping the Magna Guard Starfighter around a little longer but in the new Star Wars Clone Wars package with the white border. However, they also decided that the packaging swap was worthy of a price hike.

I've seen some complaints about the Clone Wars sets being over priced. People seem confused. Chances are, that on top of the normal cut that Lucas takes from the Lego Star Wars line, the network that is hosting the animated Clone Wars series is also taking a small cut of the profits. If you recall, George Lucas was having difficulties finding a network that would take his animated Clone Wars series. Somehow he cut a deal with someone. A stake in the merchandising seems to have been the deal maker.

This is based on absolutely no research of my own. It just makes sense to me. You are free to correct me.

Currently, if I'm quick about it, I can get the Lego Star Wars Magna Guard Starfighter for less than $40 (plus shipping) from Bricklink, or I can just drop a wad of cash for the new $50 Clone Wars package.

If all I wanted were the minifigs, I could easily get them for approx. $10 apeice...for that price, might as well build the set for a few dollars more.

Short Memories (Part One)

It is easy to forget that approx. every 4-5 years the entire face of Lego's target market changes. The child who received his first Lego set at 6-7 years old is now five years older.

In my case, I became "serious" about Lego almost a decade ago. Those ten years have warped past me far too quickly.

I did not even have a family when I started. Now I have four kids, with one on the way, and a wife. I went from being able to afford virtually nothing, to having enough income to invest in digital camera and entire lines of Lego, to virtually nothing again.

The past ten years feels like nothing more than a snapshot, but it is packed with so many details.

Every time a Lego fan mentions Juniorization in relation to a current or upcoming set, I can't help but chuckle. If they had been around (or could remember) just before the first Lego Star Wars line was released, they would have far less to complain about now. Lego was on the brink absolute disaster when they took on the Star Wars license. They had seen red numbers in their books for three or more years. Juniorization was speculated to be part of the sales problem. Lego had decided to make the entire System line easier on little Johnny and Jane. Apparently, children had somehow lost the ability to read instruction manuals and could no longer manipulate multitudes of small blocks. So, Lego "fixed" this issue by making the blocks larger. They even introduced a new, larger minifig to fit into the larger philosophy. It just so happend, that as the new Lego philosophy was hitting the toy aisle, the Lego profit took a dip.

Now, if you can recall that Lego designs require up to three years to make it to the shelves, you might be able to see another part of the problem. Lego had made a mistake, but it would take at least three years to fix it.

Lego had invested a lot of money into researching how to make their Lego line more kid friendly. They had decided that there was an age bracket missing between Duplo and System. Enter: Town Jr., which escalated to 4 Junior, which became Jack Stone. The mission: fewer bricks, larger parts, easier builds.

Somewhere along the way, Lego realized that the System sets were their bread and butter (at least until they released Bionicle) and went back to more complex builds as quickly as they could. The turning point for Lego was the Designer line. It was a hit and quickly morphed into the Creator line which continues to please.

You really had to have been there to appreciate what we have today. If not for Lego Star Wars and Bionicle, the Lego company might have had to lock their doors ten years ago. They can still make mistakes though. Somehow that atrocious Mars alien (often called "jellies") should never have been produced. But, at least the sets were mostly nice. Can you imagine a Jack Stone Mars Mission?

Something About Leaks

I love Lego leaks. I can't get enough of them. I love trying out creative search criteria to see if I can find something that my normal sources of information has either missed or chose not to share. I enjoy the challenge of deciding if the pics are of final product or just place holders, moc-ups, or prototypes, or even a hoax.

I also enjoy reading through the discussions when the leaks are posted on popular blogs or forums. Generally it is just the same conversation I've read every year for about a decade, but it is interesting to see that almost every year the discussion is held by different people. Some of us can grow tired of such discussion within a year or two and it is easy to forget that every year new people discover the process of leaks for the first time.

The Brother's Brick has announced that they will not share unofficial Lego leaks. Good for them. I think it is a rather silly thing to do on one hand, but on the other hand, one of their members is a Lego Ambassador. I am not trying to pull out a conspiracy or anything, but I don't see how politics would not play a part in the decision. Certainly The Brother's Brick is not a showcase forum for Lego leaks and they have every right to decide that they just don't want to bother with the discussions anymore. I applaud their efforts to make an attempt to maintain focus for their blog. It is far more than I will do here.

Lego leaks are a funny thing though. The discussion of them can bring out the best and worst of the adult Lego community. Over at Eurobricks, a discussion is ongoing that covers the recent images of the new Lego Space line. These images are purportedly of a banner that was mistakenly hung in a fan's local Lego outlet. The discussion has progressed to cover juniorization, recent Lego trends toward violence, similarities to other recent Lego lines, the cookie-cutter story that Lego regurgitates from one line to another (someone or something has something that someone or something wants)...

One of the more interesting topics within the discussion was that of a past line called Dino Attack. I remember when this line was released. It was released in conjunction with another line called Lego Vikings. Vikings was released "exclusively" to Europe while Dino Attack was released to North America. It was an experiment by Lego to see if they could (or should) release entire lines exclusively to regions. America likes violence while Europe, not so much. Both lines proved to have enough interest in both regions that Lego changed thier mind and made them available world wide. However, what I did not know until I read through the Lego Space leaks discussion was that when Dino Attack was released to Europe, the Lego company changed the name to Dino 2010 (or something) and left off the "Attack". They also removed the weapons and included different features.

So, yes, the discussion of Lego leaks can be repetitive, but sometimes intresting topics within the discussions can emerge. There are not very many open discussion forums available to adult Lego fans. It is not uncommon to see a simple, on-topic, discussion erupt into a mess of ideas and opinions that are sometimes completely off-topic. All it takes is the right catalyst. Sometimes all it takes is a Lego leak.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Solar Sails and Light Sabers

The Lego company often tells the adult fan community that its theme/System product is designed for children in the age range of 7-12 years (or so).

However, as every adult fan of Lego knows, the entire Lego Star Wars line is, at least partially, designed with adult collectors in mind. I understand that George Lucas is also somewhat responsible for the quality, as well as the price, of the Lego Star Wars line. Mr. Lucas takes at least some personal time on almost every licensed product based on his franchise, even if it only entails a cursory glance and a nod of the head.

However, when sets with price points up to $500 are available, who in their right mind would believe for an instant that the Lego Star Wars line is only designed with children in mind?

Yes, Lego is also keeping the adult collectors in mind. Why else would they invite adult collectors to the Lego HQ and go so far as to allow them to help design upcoming sets?

So, it boggles the mind when something like the new Count Dooku set comes along with less than 400pcs but with a price point of $60. Sure, it is a Toys R Us exclusive and that store likely had a say in the retail price, but seriously. The set does not even properly represent the ship from the movie. The main function of the ship is a giant, spidery array of solar sails, a feature that seems to be completely missing from the Lego model. There are a few "spines" that fold out, but they only make the ship appear to have a giant claw.

The only redeeming feature of this set is Count Dooku himself. He has only appeared previously in a $10 dollar set a few years ago. That set goes for around $30 or more these days because of the unique parts in the set: printed sand blue curved slopes, Count Dooku, and his curved chrome light saber hilt. The hilt can be found for $5 and up just by itself. This from what once was a $10 set.

So, here is a dillema then. Normally, if a rare part was featured in a new set, the part would drop in price due to the new influx of quantity. However, this rare light saber hilt comes in a set with a drastic price per part ratio. Also, the set is exclusive so there won't be quite as many produced as other sets and many people will not be able to find one on any toy shelf near them.

This light saber hilt will likely only go up in price, in spite of the new quantities produced.

So, who exactly was this set marketed to anyway? Not the kids at that price point. Not the collectors with its shoddy design and price per part ratio. Maybe the completists will give it a go. Completists are a different brand of collector. The MUST have every item that becomes available in their niche. Completists are willing to spend obscene amounts of money on their collection, no matter the quality or purpose of the product.

Lego has done better. They are still doing far better than they were a decade ago, but AFOLs should continue to keep a critical eye open to help prevent as many blunders as possible.

Remember, what we see today is approx. three years old from design concept to shipment. Who knows how many more blunders made it through the process?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Another Lego Blog?

I made this blog because it was suggested that I do so from a member of Classic-Space.com. I already had a blog, but never thought to blog my individual interests. So, after a long debate with myself about whether or not I had enough to say to bother with a Lego blog, I went for it. Then it sat empty for few weeks.

I decided since I am already on a role today with this blog, to say a little about why I've bothered with it. There are, after all, hundreds of other Lego blogs out there. Some are very topical and have earned a dedicated following, and they deserve it.

This blog will be just another online journal for the most part.

I'll give my own reviews from time-to-time. I'll discuss what other people have done or said and try to remember to link back to the source material.

This blog is not an attempt to win friends or gain popularity. I could really care less about status. However, there currently no open Lego forum that allows for general discussion. The only one we had was Lugnet and while it is still operational, it has largely been black-listed by the community at large.

I will not pretend to know everything about what I might discuss but I can become passionate about a point. I am open to correction and debate.

I don't care if I'm right or wrong. But I will sometimes keep a discussion going until I am convinced that myself and some others are on the same page. I do not mind ending a conversation when people agree to disagree.

These are just some of the reasons I finally decided to do this. I hope someone enjoys it.

Power Miners

For Christmas, my boys received Wal-Mart gift cards from someone. This past week we finally got around to making a trip so they could spend their hard-earned cash. My younger son chose a small Power Miners set to along with his other loot.

When we got home the first thing he did was put the Lego set together. At seven years old this was his first solo Lego event. After every page of the instructions he proudly held up the model saying, "Hey, dad! Look at it now!"

The trans-blue rock monster was a hit. "The mouth opens so he can eat the crystal!" Much nom ensued.

The orange "jack hammer" thing on the front can smash through ANYTHING. And the trans-clear light on the side can become a devastating laser cannon at a moment's notice.

I have noticed that not a whole lot of attention has been given to the pre-fab dynamite, but maybe it's been lost somewhere already.

Oh, and the little guy has two faces. That is an important feature to my seven year-old and he makes it known whenever his younger sister has changed the face, then promptly makes things right.

As an AFOL I do not like the Lego Power Miner's line. I especially do not like the lime color. I think the rock monsters are cute and will be sure to get a few for my own collection just to have some. I can understand why Lego produced this line as it is. Kids like the action features and the bright colors. The rock monsters with their chomping heads is a special treat for them.

This line is going to sell very well all year long. I'll be buying some, but not for me.

Distractions

I have a problem with distractions. I can't seem to stay focused on one thing for long. When I am actually building Lego models I quickly set one project aside and start another. I soon find myself with 2-3 models that need a nice rebuild or a serious touch-up and several skeletons of other projects.

Then another interest catches me. For instance, right now I'm giving World of Warcraft more attention than anything else.

My eyes are starting, once again, to stare at my collection. However, instead of considering what to build or finish, I'm considering yet another resort.

Ho-Hum.

Space Police 3 (part one)

So, we finally have a glimpse of what Lego has in store for the Space community in 2009. My first impressions are as follows:

More black and white parts. This will make three years in a row that Lego has run with those colors. And this time it looks as though there will be no orange highlights. Hopefully there will be another highlight other than red or blue stickers.

Everyone is fawning over Squidman's "face". It is a nice part though. It has character but is not gaudy. The over-all fig is obviously just a place holder so the face could get some details added to it or a sticker before release

The coolest feature apparent in the blurry pics is the spacey hot-rod. I've been waiting for Lego to produce every-day-man future vehicles forever. Hopefully the entire line will go this route.

Lego Space 2009 is a nice departure from the Mars Mission line. It looks like it could very well be an improvement. I think we had too much Mars Mission but if this new Space Police line can keep up with these banner pics, then we could certainly use more than one release.