Tuesday, 22 April 2014

You're lucky, he's lucky, I'm lucky, we're all lucky!

The largest set in Friends' winter 2014 range with over 700 pieces, 41039 Sunshine Ranch has some exciting basic new parts, plus some useful new elements (by which I mean existing parts in new colours). I settled down this Easter to build it and play with the new parts.


Unfortunately the instructions and sticker sheet don't come in a bag with cardboard insert, which surprised me for a set of this size. So mine were all bent. Unusually for me, I actually applied most of the stickers - wherever the parts were common enough in my collection.

Nougat

So. ANIMALLLLLS. This ranch is loaded with them, and they all appear on the first step of the instructions; two horses, a foal, two bunnies, a chicken and a cat. None of the animals are new parts, but there are a couple of new colours. One horse is Medium Dark Flesh [BL]/Medium Nougat [TLG] (Element ID 6091702 | Design ID 93085) but if you're not excited by Friends horses, there are of course the matching parts that fill the hole in its back: a 2X2 semicircular brick (Element ID 6056384 | Design ID 30165) which is new to Medium Nougat, and a 2X2 plate (Element ID 6056383 | Design ID 3022) which also appears in TMNT 79121 Turtle Sub Undersea Chase. The foal is Tan [BL]/Brick Yellow [TLG] (Element ID 6056393 | Design ID 15942) which we've only had in White previously - in 41003 Olivia Newborn Foal .

Bag #1 deals with the small builds to accompany the main building, including a simple but adorable bunny pen. Better yet is the chicken coop; despite being only 4X4 in dimensions, it has a split level arrangement with a hole in the top floor for eggs to drop into a basket waiting below. The eggs in this case are 1X1 round tiles in the highly unusual colour of Light Flesh [BL]/Light Nougat [TLG] (Element ID 6056616 | Design ID 98138), which hitherto has only been used for the skin of people and animals. I recently wrote about the presence of darker shades of Nougat appearing in 2014 bricks and plates; similarly these Light Nougat tiles are a very interesting break from tradition. It was a great decision - it's the perfect colour for an egg. At this point it struck me how appropriate my choice of set for Easter was!

Gothic half-arches

Next we move onto a small stout tree. Trees never seem to very interesting affairs in Friends sets, partially thanks to the challenges of keeping the half-arches that make the branches suitably stable in a build. But a couple of additions this time made this a very interesting tree as far as I was concerned.

Firstly, rather than the usual 1X4X5 half-arch, it uses the 1X3X3 Gothic half-arch in Reddish Brown (Element ID 6055086 | Design ID 13965). This isn't new, having been used last year in the tree in The Hobbit 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army. But it was news to me, and is a terribly useful tree-making part. One of the irritations of the traditional 1X4X5 half-arch is that it is so large, you very quickly end up with a huge tree. The new Gothic half-arch is of course smaller and adds much-needed variety if you use it in conjunction with the 1X4X5, as is the case in 41026 Sunshine Harvest.

Cross plate

Secondly, there's a very interesting new part used; the 3X3 'cross' plate. It really appeals to me visually, and has many decorative uses, but of course it's primarily a functional piece.



Like when corner bricks and plates were introduced, it may feel the cross plate is just simplifying things you could just do with multiple parts, but it does allow some new possibilities. What use these ideas might be is up to you...


It is also good to use as a decorative and stable base for these parts.


In fact there are several parts with which it fits underneath in an interesting and potentially useful way - I'm especially pleased about the 3X3 dish.


The way it is used in Sunshine Ranch's tree is a simple solution to a particular problem. Us grown up fans are adept at handling the strange shape of half-arches and are happy for our finished trees to be relatively weak structures, but in official sets they need to be robust and simple to build with. The cross plate allows for four half-arches projecting in different directions to all get securely locked together with just a single height of plate. This keeps the central part of the tree lower than the branches, which is critical for a realistic look. Plus it avoids the often complex criss-crossing of bricks or plates needed to properly secure the stepped sides of half-arches, which can make for a fiddly build and becomes particularly bulky when half-arches have been placed at different heights to achieve an organic look. Here I show a (very unorganic) symmetrical tree to illustrate the point, and on the right is the Sunshine Ranch tree (with leaves removed for clarity).


The most puzzling thing to me about this cross plate is that it comes in Dark Orange (Element ID 6062215 | Design ID 15397) in this set, as well as in the tree of Sunshine Harvest. Why not Reddish Brown to match the trunk? Perhaps it's something to do with colour differentiation for ease of building?

Trivia: a similar part was made in 1979, apparently as a fundraising badge for the Swiss Red Cross, but it had a protrusion with a hole for thread or a pin. All I know of this part is the BrickLink entry... does anyone know any more about it, or own one?

One final point regarding the cross plate: avoid sticking two together! They're a right pain to get apart... a brick separator cannot get enough hold.

Magenta

On to bag #2, which constructs a corner of a stable on the ground floor of the ranch. We start stacking quite a few 1X1 bricks here, which is very pleasant because these are Magenta [BL]/Bright Reddish-Violet [TLG] 1X1 bricks, new for 2014! As I discussed recently, these appear in four sets already, but Sunshine Ranch trumps those by having 40 of them. Given it is the primary colour of the model, we may as well cover the other Magenta bricks in the set. 1X2s are common now in Magenta, but it's great to get 20 of them here. The 1X2X5 is new in this colour; there are four in this set and two in 41029 Stephanie's New Born Lamb. The 1X4 brick isn't new, but may as well be... it only ever appeared in one set, Belville 7577 Winter Wonder Palace in 2006, in a quantity of one! Sunshine Ranch has eight and you'll also find two in 40114 LEGO® Friends Buildable Jewelry Box. The 1X6 also makes a welcome return, although that was a little more common having appeared in three sets from 2004-6. There are twelve in this set, two in Stephanie's New Born Lamb and ten in the Buildable Jewelry Box. The final Magenta brick in Sunshine Ranch is the 1X2 45° slope, of which there are six. It appears in seven other sets.

Corner tile

Our second exciting new part appears towards the end of this bag; the corner tile, which also appears in 71006 The Simpsons" House. Like the cross plate, it's a part that may feel like an unnecessary luxury at first, but once again there are things you can only achieve with the corner tile. I couldn't think of many though, and they're not terribly useful!


I think it will prove useful as a decorative piece... perhaps as the arrowhead on a large sign? It made me think of parquet flooring, even though in reality that effect is achieved with straight pieces.



Like the cross plate, the greatest benefit of the corner tile is strength, and this is why it is used in Sunshine Ranch. Just as with corner bricks and plates, using a corner tile on the corner of a 1x wall is more stable than using two straight tiles.


Trivia: this isn't the first 2X2 corner tile The LEGO Group have produced. One which had a rounded inner corner was created in 1980 for the original Scala line of buildable jewelry. A beautiful part with some lovely prints, but I've ever been prepared to pay those secondhand market prices for one!

Unexpectedly, bag #3 abandons the incomplete corner wall we've just made and sets about constructing the mirror image of it on a new plate. By the end of the bag, the two plates are joined and bag #4 carries on by creating smaller interior items. There's a rather odd chair with a lot of gaps in it that you feel should be weak, but it isn't. It contains 1X2 log bricks in Lavender (Element ID 6056283 | Design ID 30136), which so far have only appeared in 41042 Tiger's Beautiful Temple. Also, I learnt something about the spray bottle accessory which I never noticed; it can be inserted in between two studs.

Decorations complete, we resume construction of the building by adding some nice big arches and neat lanterns made using the 1X1 brick with vertical bar. Bag #4/book #1 finishes with a trail of ivy climbing up the front, which is fastened at the base by another wonderfully useful element: the 1X1 brick with a stud on the side, in Dark Green [BL]/Earth Green [TLG] for the very first time (Element ID 6055222 | Design ID 87087).

Top floor

Book #2 moves upstairs, with bags #5 and #6 each making a room occupying half of the floor - a bedroom and a kitchen. These rooms are lovely constructions with walls varying in width between two and one studs, and lots of slope action creating a room shape that's close to a quadrant. One section of the sloped roof flips up for access, and there are some slightly odd doors at the front. These lead nowhere... "it's a Health and Safety nightmare"... and are largely blocked off by furniture inside. They're also placed a brick higher than the interior floor level. However they have stickers on the outside to make them look like barn doors... so they're more like large shutters... perhaps the idea is that this is a loft conversion and the doors originally had a practical purpose such as bringing goods in that had been winched up.


The bed has a sweet chequered pattern and there's also an ensuite - as what large Friends set would be complete without a toilet? This one uses the new 2X2 inverted dome for the toilet bowl. Like 41015 Dolphin Cruiser, there's a distinct lack of privacy - even the column separating the ensuite is transparent - but given this ensuite is in a private room, it's less curious than Dolphin Cruiser. Remarkably, they've fitted a shower in there as well - I must hire these designers when I renovate my bathroom. The kitchen is standard fare, although it's nice to get another red apple and more of those new cookie 1X1 round tiles. The shape of the roof even allows for a tiny amount of attic space in the design which is cute.


Conclusion

Like all Friends sets, especially the large ones, Sunshine Ranch packs in loads of detail and engaging play scenarios - horse-related, farm-related and luxury-barn-conversion-related. It's yet another excellent build from the Friends range that once again combats the misconception that construction has been dumbed-down for girls.

My only structural complaint is that the upper rooms detach too easily, with only three studs holding each in place. The modular nature of the rooms is put to less use in this set than in the wonderful 41005 Heartlake High, where you could completely rearrange the shape of the building. With Sunshine Ranch, the two rooms of the upper floor are detachable purely so that the stables on the ground floor can be easily accessed. Whilst it is possible to swap the positions of the two upper rooms, that just looks ridiculous.

Which brings me to my favourite aspect to the set - the impressive shape of the building. Modularity has been nobly sacrificed in the name of beauty: the curved rooves and use of arches is stunning, and quite unusual for an official set. I'm guessing it's no coincidence that the overall shape resembles a giant horseshoe - albeit an unlucky one, as it's pointing downwards!

But don't let that put you off. It's a great set for anyone into horse/farm scenes, or lovers of Magenta. And the new parts and elements will definitely find use in your other builds.



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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

CUUSOO Exo Suit: the logo

Exciting news today; the LEGO® CUUSOO team have given New Elementary readers this exclusive first look at the official logo to be used on their forthcoming set, the Exo Suit! The set will be released in August 2014. Knowing how special the Exo Suit is to the fan community, the CUUSOO team took the unusual step of deciding to work hand-in-hand with AFOLs to decide how the set should be packaged and marketed. So the designer of the original Exo Suit, British AFOL Peter Reid, assembled a team and I was fortunate enough to be included.
There was great excitement in October 2013 when Peter's model passed the CUUSOO review. Even those of us who aren’t into Space and mecha were glad to finally see a model get approved that wasn't based on an existing object or licensed property.


Seemingly, things have been quiet on the Exo-front since then and the Ghostbusters project has been in the limelight - despite being approved later, the official set has been revealed first and it will be released in June, before the Exo Suit comes out sometime in August. Ghostbusters’ move forwards was unrelated to the Exo Suit, which has been happily moving along on its original production schedule.

Having fans direct your marketing is a fairly radical approach, given that TLG have plenty of expert employees who actually do this shizzle for a living. But TLG’s relationship with their fans has been experimental and interesting ever since they realised in the late ‘90s that Mindstorms hackers could teach them a thing or two, and brought them on board to help develop the next version of the product. Admittedly, we fans would like it if TLG did even more experimental and interesting things with us, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re a pretty forward-thinking company in this regard. Indeed, they’ve never involved fans in the marketing of a set quite as much as they are with the Exo Suit.

The AFOL team.
Back row: Andrew Hamilton, Jeremy Williams, Peter Reid, Tim Goddard, Drew Maughan.
Front row: Tim Johnson, Julie Greig, Yvonne Doyle, Ian Greig.
Absent: Chris Salt.
Photo © J. Broberg
As you may expect, there’s a lot that we're not permitted to tell you at the moment – undoubtedly, all the things you actually want to know! But the CUUSOO team have kindly agreed to me writing this post to give some insight into the process so far. So what has this actually entailed to date? Essentially, two all-day workshops which were held in Stansted, UK, in January and March with LEGO employees and us AFOLs. The first meeting mostly dealt with how the set should be presented and packaged, and the second discussed how the marketing campaign should pan out.

In case you're wondering what these meetings looked like, Andrew Hamilton (Wami Delthorn) has created this extremely accurate and realistic model. :O)



January’s meeting was highly creative. We didn’t have the finalised CUUSOO Exo Suit model to play with (nor at the March meeting), but we were shown an image that made us all squeee. The big fear that many FOLs have about the CUUSOO Exo Suit is that it won’t be as cool as Peter’s original, which enjoyed the luxury of being full of illegal and weak connections that would never stand up to a moment of a child’s attention. I should know… I’ve broken Peter’s Exo Suit more than once, including at one of these meetings! A teeny knock (honest) seemed to cause every limb to ping itself off in a crazed domino effect. (Self-ejecting feet are both a cool and irritating play feature.)

I can’t yet comment on the redesign, suffice to say it was undertaken by Mark Stafford who has designed many of LEGO’s greatest mecha such as Ninjago 9448 Samurai Mech; he’s also an AFOL and good friend of Peter. In late 2013 Peter flew to Billund to finalise the design with Mark, so whilst it is (by necessity) altered, it’s been in safe hands all along.

We were split into two groups to start brainstorming ideas around the possible story behind the Exo Suit. As you probably know, because I always go on about it, Peter co-authored an unofficial book with Tim Goddard (who naturally was also part of this team) called LEGO Space: Building the Future. It re-imagined the various LEGO ‘Classic Space’ themes in a new cohesive narrative - and featured the original Exo Suit. So the CUUSOO Exo Suit ideally needed to work within that universe, and the CUUSOO team were cool with that. But what was the backstory - where did the Exo Suit come from, what makes it exciting? And what is the scenario of the set itself, what is the minifig’s role? (Yes, don’t worry, I can confirm there’s still a minifig in the set!)

Concept sketch by Jeremy Williams.

Pages of ideas and sketches were scribbled and when we re-combined the two teams, it was interesting how many concepts were similar. As for the packaging, CUUSOO boxes don’t follow a template (aside from a few essential regular inclusions) so the brief was open. Unanimously, we wanted a modern riff on the original Classic Space look and feel from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, and as you saw from the logo this is indeed the direction it’s been taken.


A marketing idea from the first meeting, but will it be used? (And before you guys ask; the little Exo Suit image in the bottom right is Peter’s original model, not the CUUSOO version!)
Photo © I. Greig.

We also brainstormed a range of marketing ideas to help promote the set, and everything was taken back to Billund where things progressed rapidly. TLG and Peter did a lot of work in between the two meetings and we were thrilled to commence March’s workshop by being shown the all-but-final artwork for the box and booklet. Once again I’m sorry I can’t share details yet, but hey at least we’ve been allowed to show you that Classic Spacey logo!

Everyone, including Peter, loved what they saw and the agenda moved on to the marketing campaign. Of course TLG will be reaching a mass market with this set, but as far as they are concerned the pre-release marketing is all about exciting the “alpha fans” - the TFOL and AFOL fan community. So they were extremely open to hearing how we felt the set should be promoted, and when. Our ideas from January had been written up into potential concepts by TLG’s internal Consumer Marketing Agency (CMA) who seemed quite pleased to have received a brief already brimming with campaign ideas! The next few hours were spent reviewing and finessing these, deciding which were strongest and when was the ideal time to run them.

I have to admit, the cynic in me did at first think we’d give TLG all our ideas and they’d just go away and change them beyond recognition. But I’m glad to say that wasn’t the case and that the whole release of the Exo Suit will be a true co-creation by fans and TLG, just like the model itself. Sadly there are still months to wait, but I hope this little peek has whetted your appetites!





Monday, 14 April 2014

Competition: LEGO House

I’m excited to announce New Elementary’s first ever competition! The fantastic team at LEGO®’s Community and Events Engagement Team have provided these wonderful prizes:

First prize: LEGO House
This exclusive set is only for sale in LEGO’s home town of Billund, Denmark. It’s a model of the new tourist destination currently being built there; an interactive museum showcasing The LEGO Group’s history, products and ethos.

Second prize: UN Headquarters
This recent Architecture set is an excellent build, and contains 155 Trans-Light Blue 1X2 plates! Sweet. You can read my review of it here.

How to enter


To enter, you need to build your own design for LEGO House. If it were up to you, what would this exciting museum look like? You are allowed to use up to 250 pieces in your model – which is the same piece count as the official set. You have until Thursday 15 May to enter, so there's plenty of time for multiple entries!

Sorry, but only those aged 18 or over are able to enter.

Rules for building:

  • Only parts that have been produced by The LEGO Group are permitted.
  • Customised parts are not permitted, with the exception of tubing which may be cut.
  • Custom stickers/printing are not permitted. Official stickers or printed parts are fine.
  • Digital entries are not permitted; it must be a physical model.
  • No more than 250 pieces may be used.

To make your entry as good as it can be, take good pics of your model (in focus! Plenty of light! Plain background!). To submit, upload them to the LEGO House Competition Flickr Group I've created.

Rules for images:

  • A maximum of 3 angles per entry may be uploaded.
  • Some image editing is permitted, but most is not:

    Permitted:
    • removing background
    • colour/brightness/contrast adjustment that has been applied to the entire image
    • a watermark of the entrant’s name/screen name if desired (but this is not a requirement). Please place unobtrusively in a corner.
    Not permitted: Any other image editing. This includes but is not limited to:
    • changing the colour of parts
    • mimicking custom printing or stickers
    • adding titles or explanatory text – please do so on the Flickr page instead
    • Compositing several pictures into a single image – instead, please upload up to 3 images per entry.

If you want to get inspired, here's the official video about the building - but remember, you're coming up with your own design. You don't have to follow anything they've done in the actual building or set, and it doesn't need to fit on the same area of land. There is no need to design any interiors, nor do you need to specify what the function of each part of your building is, like they do in the video.



Judging


Judges will be asked to consider the following criteria when deciding winners, so entrants are encouraged to keep these in mind when designing.
  • Creative approach. Judges will decide which designs are inspiring, innovative and of architectural merit. This is the primary criteria.
  • Building technique. Judges will consider how the designs have used LEGO parts in a way that they consider to be appropriate, effective or innovative.
  • Fitness for purpose. It is not necessary to define the specific functions of your design, but judges will consider overall whether the design is suitable as an exciting museum for The LEGO Group.

Once the competition has ended I will ask judges to create a shortlist of their favourites. I will collate which entries are popular to create a second shortlist. Judges will then score this list and collated scores will define the winners.

I will announce the judging panel soon!

    Terms and conditions

    • Entrants must be 18 years or older.
    • First prize is 1 sealed copy of set 4000010 LEGO House. Second prize is 1 sealed copy of 21018 United Nations Headquarters.
    • To be considered, entries must be photographed and uploaded to the Flickr Group set up for this competition. This is found at www.flickr.com/groups/2616190@N20. Therefore entrants will need a Flickr (Yahoo) account to enter.
    • Entrants may enter as many times as they like, but only 3 uploads per entry are permitted.
    • The competition opened on Monday 14 April 2014 and will close at the end of Thursday 15 May 2014. Entries received after this date will not be considered.
    • Judging will commence on Friday 16 May 2014 and will end on Thursday 22 May 2014.
    • Winners will be announced on newelementary.com on Friday 23 May 2014.
    • The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
    • Winners will be contacted via Flickr on Friday 23 May 2014 to arrange delivery of the prizes. Alternatively, winners can contact New Elementary using the contact form on the right-hand side of every page of newelementary.com. If no response is received from a winner within 90 days, the prize may be forfeited and used as a future competition prize.

    Good luck!