Closes May 31st:

Competition: make a LEGO font

1 October 2015

Trick or Treat?

Sadly, LEGO® sets do sometimes languish on the shelves of New Elementary's busy, glamorous high-tech offices. It's not that I don't want to review them... quite the opposite. They sit there glaring at me, waiting for the moments when they catch my eye and accuse me of neglect. One such gaggle of sets was the 2014 'Bricktober' sets, kindly sent to me by the CEE team last December, which I was really looking forward to reviewing despite their lack of new elements. It never happened, which I readily blame on my new roles working on Bricks Culture and Bricks magazines. As October 2015 and its fresh range of 'Bricktober' sets inevitably neared I figured it was "now or never", and looked for a suitable victim to hand the poisoned chalice of a New E review about a bunch of old elements. The lovely, talented Ian Greig (bluemoose) fell happily into my trap, mwahahaa, and came up trumps by making you all some LDD files of the sets

While he was working on the Bricks Culture magazine article about the LEGO Space: Building the Future book, which I did a lot of the photography for, our good host here at New Elementary, Tim, arranged a photography session in London on a quiet Sunday morning. As with any ‘modelling’ assignment, there’s a lot standing around & waiting while lights are moved, people positioned, camera angles investigated, lights moved, people repositioned, and so on… which, delightfully, meant there was lots of time for catching up with friends, talking about future plans & generally chatting about stuff.

I can’t remember how we got on to the topic, but we were talking about recent LEGO sets we’d missed buying that we’d really like to get hold of. I mentioned that I quite fancied getting hold of last year’s Toys’R’Us ‘Bricktober’ micro-modular sets; I’d seen them a few weeks earlier at a BBQ at Huw ‘Brickset’ Millington’s house, and, yes, they were fairly small & simple, but I did really quite like them. Tim turned to me and said “OK, I’ll send you the Bricktober sets & you can write a blog post for New Elementary about them”. “Sure,” I said, “no worries”.

For those that aren’t familiar with TRU’s annual ‘Bricktober’ promotion, it’s something that began in 2010; for each week in October, TRU have a promotional set that is available for free if you spend over a certain limit. For 2010 & 2011, the items were poly-bagged individual classic minifigures, each on a custom ‘Bricktober’ stand; for 2012 & 2013, the sets were larger, each weekly set being a collection of 5 classic minifigures in a collector’s box. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention for these first 4 years – I didn’t really have any interest in the sets, which was “a very good thing” as the offer wasn’t available in the UK, where I live, and so they were going to be hard to get hold of.

However, in 2014, TRU changed course and released four new sets, again one per week throughout October, but this time based on micro-scale versions of buildings that were similar to those that you might see in the minifigure-scale ‘Modular’ range – not based on existing Modular buildings, but similar in concept, and much, much smaller. These did, unfortunately, ‘call’ to me…


A short while after Tim made the offer, a package of LEGO sets arrived. I assume it was from Tim, I never checked, but I assume there isn’t anyone out there that just sends me random LEGO sets. Shame really. Opening the shipping box, it contained a full complement of the 2014 ‘Bricktober’ sets, still pristine & sealed. I immediately and gleefully tore them open carefully opened them & built the sets, in order. I’m a bit of a sucker for mini/micro/nano-scale models (mostly space-related, but anything works), and I did thoroughly enjoyed building them. Yay!

When I’d finished building, it struck me, nice as they are, writing a blog post about them for New E was going to be tricky; they are lovely sets but there aren’t any new or rare pieces in them, nor do any of the sets use any particularly interesting building techniques. Finding an ‘angle’ for the blog post was going to be tricky. Of course, Tim had already worked this out, and had been quite happy to sucker me in!


A quick bit about the sets – they are, in order, a cinema, a pizza restaurant, a fire station and a town hall. Each is built on a black 6x8 plate, with the front 2 or 3 studs reserved for the pavement/sidewalk. Each set includes 2 micro-scale vehicles; the full set is shown below:


They average 166 parts per set (164, 139, 175, 186 respectively), with the Pizza Restaurant being the smallest and the Town Hall the largest (both in terms of number of parts & height).


Subjectively, these two sets are also my two faves out of the four – they feel like the most refined of the four models. The fire station is, IMHO, the weakest of the four, with the comedically over-sized fire hydrant out the front, and the helicopter landing pad on the roof. It only just fits the tiny helicopter supplied with the set and there wouldn’t actually be enough room for it to take off or land safely.


All four of the models have a similar, simple studs-up construction technique with basic use of side-studs for the central tower on the theatre, the pizza sign and clock on the restaurant and Town Hall respectively. They are designed to be joined to each other using a pair of black Technic friction pins, in order to form one side of a street of sorts.


In terms of parts, there isn’t anything particularly notable; the rarest element is the Dark Stone Grey Frog (Element ID 4272368 | Design ID 33320) used for the ‘guardians’ on either side of the entrance to the Town Hall (used in ~10 other sets; most notably 5 were used in 10182 Café Corner as architectural details).

When news of these sets was first announced, there was a lot of speculation over whether they were in the same scale as 10230 Mini Modulars which the LEGO Group released back in 2012; unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly given the low cost & parts count for the TRU-exclusive sets, this turned out not to be the case. These ‘Micro Modulars’ are around half the size and part count of each of the buildings in the Mini Modulars set; they aren’t compatible and look a bit daft next to each other. Having said that, all of the ‘Micro Modulars’ are nice buildings, and I would be happy to see any of them make the transition to minifig-scale Modulars in future; but, we’ve already had a cinema, a fire station and a town hall, so the only one that would have any chance of making that transition is the Pizza Restaurant.

Of course, the LEGO Group have dabbled with other modular ‘Mini/Micro World’ sets before; the most notable ones being the four original Minecraft sets, and the 2005 Factory sets – 5526 Skyline, 5525 Amusement Park and 5524 Airport – all of which were great parts packs, if you could get them at less than the recommended retail price.


Since it’s my favourite of the four, I thought I’d concentrate on the Town Hall for the rest of this post. Once you open the set and discard the “Exclusive only at Toys’R’Us” branded box, it’s the same as any other regular LEGO set. The parts come in clear plastic bags, grouped more-or-less by size, and the printed instructions are up to the usual high standards. As you can see from the picture of the bags, there’s a nice selection of smaller parts in the set; this is typical of all four sets.


As part of an on-going exercise in improving my digital LEGO skills, I tried building the Town Hall set as quickly as possible in LEGO Digital Designer (LDD); it took me about 15 minutes, using the set inventory on Brickset to check part numbers for some of the pieces in LDD that can be hard to find. It was so easy I made them all!

Download my LDD files here:
Cinema
Pizza restaurant
Fire station
Town hall

The ‘BlueRender’ render below is of the disassembled Town Hall, with all the parts laid out neatly (excluding the parts for the two vehicles).


I have to admit to being very pleased with these sets; they were a fun build and they look quite cute, especially when displayed together. It would be great if they were part of a larger range of “pocket money” micro-modular sets, enabling people to build their own “micro table towns”. I had a quick hunt through Flickr; while there are lots of MOCs at a similar scale to the Mini Modulars set, ‘Micro Modular’ MOCs seem to be much rarer, which is a shame, but probably understandable given the challenge of creating a recognisable building at this scale.

Good news though, if you are a fan of the ‘Micro Modular’ concept, as TRU are releasing a new range of buildings this month for ‘Bricktober 2015’ – a Hotel, a Train Station, a Bakery, and a Toys’R’Us store – all at the same scale as the 2014 sets, and again with two micro vehicles per set. As with the 2014 sets, the models look to be quite nice, but again use existing elements and conventional building techniques. The most notable difference is the use of stickers for the Toys’R’Us store and truck logos in the final set. I will be trying to get a set of these too, to add to my new ‘micro table town’ … Tim?




(Thanks to Brickset for the box images of the 2015 sets)

3 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Man, when did you get to be so cheeky? It's like someone has spent 4 days corrupting you. ;)

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  2. "while there are lots of MOCs at a similar scale to the Mini Modulars set, ‘Micro Modular’ MOCs seem to be much rarer, which is a shame, but probably understandable given the challenge of creating a recognisable building at this scale." --> Have you seen the Micropolis Flickr group? Tons of builds at a similar (and probably better proportioned) scale: https://www.flickr.com/groups/micropolis/

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