Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Perfecting the Queen Anne's Revenge

If you have purchased 4195 Queen Anne's Revenge, first off major kudos to you, and secondly you may have noticed that while the outside is breathtaking the inside is... a little spartan.  There are a few key features that, in order to meet their price point, Lego omitted from this ship.  I recently set about to see if I could remedy those deficiencies and was very pleased with the result.  So pleased in fact that I can honestly say, with these modifications, the Queen Anne's Revenge is my favorite of all my ships (surpassing even 10210 Imperial Flagship).  To do this I cannibalized 4191 Captain’s Cabin for a few specialized parts and added some extra pieces from my own collection. Here is what I did.

While the Revenge did improve upon 2009's Brickbeard's Bounty in that it did have a front deck the 2 small pieces Lego included are just not satisfactory considering the ship's  size.  I modeled my improvements off the first Lego pirate ship: 1989's Black Seas Barracuda.  That ship included holds beneath both the front and rear decks accessed by hatches.  I created the same thing here. 

As you can see there are two hinged hatches.  I have extended the deck to just before the first cannon port where I have added a solid wall with a ladder built into it.  I moved the anchor assembly up onto my deck and added a simple locking mechanism using a spare hinge piece.  To round it off I added a few small holders for weapons and called it good.  Nothing I did changed anything about the way the ship is built in the directions, I just filled it in.  A future modification I may try is to make the entire front deck removable and add a furnished crew quarters beneath... we will see.  

What I felt was the most major deficiency of the Revenge was that its rear cabin was not enclosed.  This has been my biggest pet peeve with all of the smaller Pirate and Imperial Guard ships Lego has produced through the years.  The minute I saw pictures of this set I knew that I would be adding a door to that cabin.  The result is, I feel, a door and facade that blends in perfectly with the rest of the ship making it impossible to tell where the original design ends and the modifications begin.

The 6x4 stud brown plate for the door came from set 4191 The Captain's Cabin.
This is the door assembly up close.

In keeping with what I did in the front I also finished out a small rear deck immediately in front of where the rear cabin attachs.  I added two more hatches to access the space beneath and also a small extension out over the cannon well with a fourth large bone as a rail.  The hatches provide access to the area beneath the rear cabin which the instructions left empty but I finished out as the ship’s galley in a similar manner to the rear of the Imperial Flagship. 

You can see the two hatches with handles next to the support for the mast and
the stove for the galley on the left as well as table and supplies on the right.

I incorporated many of the special elements from set 4191 The Captain’s Cabin in various places as well as connecting the front and rear decks on the sides of the cannon well using 3-1x8 peg black plates per side.  The end result is a feel a much more complete set than the original.  I am thrilled with how it turned out.

You can see the 1x8 stud plates that I added here, the ones
on the right end are missing for comparison.

The globe from The Captain's Cabin was a great new piece,
I mounted it near the ships wheel as shown here.
I created detailed instructions for these modifications so they can be recreated the next time I assemble the ship.  If anyone is interested in them let me know and I can send them to you.    

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Take Advantage Of This Opportunity

4645 Harbor
The Chronicler's Rating - 4/5
Price ~ $90.00
Year Released - 2011
Over the years there have been several short lived themes that are revered as something close to holy by Lego enthusiasts.  One of these is the Nautica theme which came and went in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  If that theme is hallowed its holy grail would be 6542 Launch and Load Seaport, closely followed by that set’s little brother (for those who couldn’t afford the elder’s hefty price tag) 6541 Intercoastal Seaport.  Perhaps sales were not as high as we enthusiasts would think but for some unknown reason Lego waited over 15 years, until 2007, to release another harbor set: 7994 City Harbor which was so shamelessly inspired by the Launch and Load Seaport (and why not that set was pretty much perfect!) that it is safe to say it was essentially copied (though it was not quite as good).  When that last set vanished quickly from shelves I figured Lego would likely wait another decade and a half to release another so I was pleasantly surprised to see this offering only a few years later.  Harbors are wonderful sets enabling all sorts of adventures to be acted out that are hard to create on your own or with other sets and this one, though not the best, will work.     

This set differs from all its predecessors in that it is a commodities harbor as opposed to a cargo harbor.  The ship, crane, truck and conveyor belt are meant to convey and transport grain, represented by tan colored cylinders (most of you will know them as “cannonball” pieces).  My honest guess is that this change was driven less by Lego trying to be original and more by an attempt to drive up the piece count (and therefore the price they can charge) while minimizing the manufacturing costs (those cylinders take a lot less plastic than the containers found in previous offerings).  Even with that change the characteristics that make harbor sets great are still here. 

There are some sets that any kid can easily make using pieces from their own collection (see my review of 7869 Battle for Geonosis as an example) and their model will be at least as good if not better than the official set.  Harbors however, are not one of them.  The boat hull in particular as well as the cranes and various other components are difficult to build on your own (boat hulls and other curved shapes are among the most advanced Lego building techniques and beyond the capability of most kids).  Your child will find endless uses for these pieces and they are not found on many other sets so I would recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity while you still can. 

Think of what you could do with that boat hull.  An exploration vessel?  A battleship?  A luxury ocean liner?  The possibilities are nearly endless not to mention playing with it as is.  If you missed (or were too young for) the City Harbor set from a few years ago I would recommend that you take full advantage of this second chance and get this set.  Who knows Lego may decide to repeat history and not release another one until you are in college (that was the case with me)!

In the limited pantheon of Lego Harbors this set is not the greatest, but none of its shortcomings diminish its ability to enable every type of story, adventure and creation that its predecessors did.  If you have any of the previous harbors there is no reason to get this set but if you don’t then I would recommend it to you as there is no guarantee a better offering (or if history is to repeat itself another offering at all!) will be coming and every collection needs a harbor, they are great sets.   

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mid Year Buying Guide

With the mid-year sets starting to slowly seep out from The Lego Company it is time for the first ever buying guide in which we present The Lego Chroniclers top picks out of the 2011’s initial sets in each major pricing category.  We will do this twice a year, once right now as the mid year sets begin to come out and the second right before Christmas.  Without further fanfare, here they are: 

This is the category that has been hardest hit in recent years as Lego sets have gotten more expensive, $10 just doesn’t go as far as it used to!  Searching through the sets the award goes to 7279 Police Minifigure Collection. 

The challenge with a small set is that usually they are not designed to be “stand alone sets” meaning that you can really only play with them effectively if you have one of the larger sets from the same theme (2516 Ninja Training Outpost is a good example of this, on its own this set will quickly become boring, but as a training station alongside 2504 Spinjitzu Dojo it would be much more fun).  Police Minifigure Collection manages to give the young builder everything the need to have a satisfying police chase right out of the box: multiple crooks, something to rob (an atm) and two police officers (one on a vehicle) to chase them.  You also get some of the new special pieces that have been incorporated into the latest wave of police sets (most notably the crowbar and the painted police dog).

$10 TO $30
This was a hard category to decide a winner, more Lego sets fall into this price range than any other.  After much consideration 7325 Cursed Cobra Statue rose to the top of the pile. 

Hailing from the new (and excellent) Pharaoh’s Quest theme this set does very well across the board.  It provides an excellent play experience (even if you have none of the other Pharaoh’s Quest sets) a decent selection of pieces (most notably the multiple ball and socket joints that form the cobra, very useful in making one’s own creations) and is not too bad on value in terms of pieces per dollar.  However, what ultimately pushes this set to the top (there are a variety of other sets that meet those first 3 criteria) is its incredible cross over potential.  That snake could be used as an alien in a space setting, a sea monster in a pirate setting, a mad scientist’s creation in a city setting and the work of an evil sorcerer in a castle setting just to start the list!  Not to mention that the off-road jeep it comes with is awesome! 

$31 TO $50
A unique opportunity occurred this year.  Lego released a very rare type of set (though why it is so rare is a mystery which continues to befuddle me): a bank.  3661 Bank & Money Transfer takes the prize for this price category. 

Considering the near religious release of new police and fire stations the absence of a long line of banks through Lego’s history is a puzzling mystery.  Though there are not very many previous offerings to compare it to Bank & Money Transfer is not only the best by comparison but an excellent set when considered objectively.  Everything needed for a very satisfying heist story is here, the bank itself is very detailed (containing an awesome vault!) and it comes with an excellent array of vehicles.  The only problem with this set is that the building is, relative to many other city sets, tiny, being constructed on the smallest baseplate produced.  Still this is overcome by the fact that the playability this set is fantastic, it has good pieces and that it will provide many hours of enjoyment.

$51 TO $80
The winner for this category hails from another historically overlooked category of sets: excellent bad guy bases.  The prize goes to 2505 Garmadon’s Dark Fortress.

I use the adjective excellent intentionally here.  Unlike banks there have been no lack of nefarious layers for the various Lego bad guys through the years.  The problem is that excellent ones have been rare (some of the most notorious entrants in the hall of shame include every bad guy base from the Alpha Team theme as well as the more recent 7947 Prison Tower Rescue from the Kingdoms theme) and the few that have been produced (such as 8637 Volcano Base from the Agents theme ) have been short lived and had a very limited release.  This set joins the limited company of excellent bases.  From excellent pieces to great design (including lots of prison space which is an absolute necessity for a bad guy lair) and a relatively decent price to boot this one is, in the words of our previous review, a “nearly certain winner”.

$81 TO $100
I don’t know if there is a single type of set that has had more incarnations in Lego’s history than police stations.  Without fail every 3 to 5 years or so a new one comes out.  With so many entrants into the category one that rises to the top in terms of excellence is worth noting and that is exactly what has happened this year with 7498 Police Station.

Obviously influenced by the holy grail of police stations (1993’s 6398 Central Precinct HQ) and its immediate predecessor (2008’s 7744 Police Headquarters) this station does everything right.  Jails, extensive office space, a full 3 stories, vehicles and lots of accessories this is the type of set that kids won’t be regretting having later because something better has come out.  A better police station is not likely to come out for awhile so get it while you can!

OVER $100
I must confess that I tend to not be a big fan of the Harry Potter sets as I feel that they usually sacrifice excellence as a Lego set on the alter of movie accuracy.  However, 10217 Diagon Alley is a glorious exception to this rule. 

Though it is technically a Harry Potter set Diagon Alley’s product number places it in the “Special Edition” category of Lego’s product line amongst other masterpieces such as 10196 Grand Carousel or 10210 Imperial Flagship which, due to their size and complexity (not to mention price!), are not generally within the means of young children and are meant to be more of a collector’s item for older builders.  With beautiful architecture, excellent pieces and a host of unique building techniques this set is truly breathtaking.  It also has excellent crossover potential as it would look right at home in a colonial village being raided by pirates or as a historic district in a town.    

So there you have it, if you are looking for a birthday gift or a graduation present (Don’t be fooled, Lego sets make great graduation gifts for certain people, I got several back when I graduated from high school and was thrilled!) these would be the recommendations I would give you. 

Happy Building (and Buying!)
The Lego Chronicler

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Potential Dissapointment...

7065 Alien Mothership
The Chronicler's Rating - 3/5
Price ~ $60.00
Year Released - 2011
For those of us who were collecting Legos in 1997 it is impossible to look at the Alien Conquest theme without memories of its predecessor, the UFO series, coming to our mind.  While not a continuation (like the Pharoah’s Quest sets are to the original Adventurers theme) it draws heavy inspiration.  In the last few years there have been an explosion of sets and themes like this which are modeled after those of the 90s when I (and likely many of Lego’s current set designers) was caught up in the childhood passion of collecting and playing with these plastic bricks which some of us have never stopped loving.

This set is modeled after the darling of the UFO theme: 6975 Alien Avenger.  Back in 1997 this was the must have set of the year.  Comparing the two, highlights this set’s merits and demerits.  Both crafts are intended to be “capital ships” which have 2 requirements: size and fire power.  The Avenger left no question in these departments, the Alien Mother Ship however is a bit harder to take seriously in both.  With only 1 figure and a single cockpit this set has all the hallmarks of a fighter, the only thing “mother shipish” about it is the size of its outer ring (which is roughly proportional to the Avenger), but with nothing in-between the cockpit and the outer edge the ship lacks a sense of “heft” which all of the great capital ships of Lego sets past have had (compare with 6975 Alien Avenger, 6873 Deep Freeze Defender and 6982 Explorien Starship).  More importantly WHERE ARE THE WEAPONS?  What captured the heart of every young boy in 1997 was the fact that the Alien Avenger was, simply put, BRISTLING with guns.  Mounted on turn tables it had several batteries of heavy lasers which dwarfed any armament seen previously on Lego space sets.  With this set we are to believe the independence of the earth is threatened by a little green man armed with… tiny radar dishes?  Seriously look at the picture, the guns on this craft are constructed of the tiniest radar dish pieces.  So while this set does have size and firepower they don’t command the same respect.

Man versus aliens is a winning strategy.  This theme represents the 4th use of this motif in Lego’s history (the UFO theme of 1997 and 2 separate Mars Mission themes one in 2001 and the latter in 2008.  That last theme had an alien mother ship which was, in my mind, far inferior to this one).  Its continued use is testimony to the characteristic which this set does share with its predecessor in equal portion: incredible playability.  This ship can war against other spacecraft, be incorporated into a Star Wars collection or terrorize a city (or for the very imaginative invade a historical world, who says that these guys couldn’t have been more advanced than mankind in say, the middle ages).  The Alien Avenger vanished from store shelves over a decade ago and while this set does not in my mind rise to the same heights, the core of what made that earlier set great is present here.  However, I will warn you that there is a great potential for disappointment here due to the reasons I mentioned above. 

If you love space sets or the City theme and don’t mind its puny guns and relative lack of heft you will love this spaceship.  If you had a much older sibling I would dig around in their collection to see if you have any of the old UFO sets before you buy, but if not this set will allow you to play a man versus alien storyline.

If your family has an Alien Avenger then I would spend your money elsewhere but if not then this set will suffice as an acceptable alternative.  Beware of the potential for disappointment but in the absence of better set this one will work. 

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler

Worthy Of Joining The Hallowed Company

4195 Queen Anne's Revenge
The Chronicler's Rating - 5/5
Price ~ $120.00
Year Released - 2011

This set joins a hallowed company, revered the world over by kids right on up to the hard core Lego enthusiasts: the large scale Lego pirate ships (large scale defined as having a wide hull and 2 or more middle sections).  It is an elite company which, despite spanning over 2 decades is, with the addition of the Queen Anne’s Revenge is comprised of only 5 other sets: 6285 Black Seas Barracuda, 6286 Skull’s Eye Schooner, 6289 Red Beard Runner, 6243 Brickbeard’s Bounty and most recently 10210 Imperial Flagship (this last one is not technically a pirate ship but it fits in the category of large scale ships).   Lego enthusiast far and wide generally consider the large scale ships to be the holy grails of Lego sets and will argue to the bitter end which one of these revered sets is the best; with their respective opinions being heavily influenced by whichever one they happen to have in their collection.  On the addition of this set to my collection I am fortunate enough to have 4 of the 6 so I can hopefully bring a somewhat objective opinion to the table in this review.  My thoughts can be summed up in one brief sentence: this set is magnificent.

The Queen Anne’s Revenges is heavily influenced by its predecessors, despite the fact that it is first and foremost a re-creation of the ship seen in the movie.  When considered in this vein Lego has done an excellent job of balancing three potentially contradictory goals: creating a movie accurate model, incorporating the hallmarks of the great Lego ships of the past and keeping the price within a reasonable range.  For this delicate balancing act they are to be heartily commended.  I would place this set squarely in the middle of the pantheon of large scale Lego ships ahead of the Brickbeard’s Bounty and the Red Beard Runner and beaten only by the Barracuda, Skull’s Eye and Imperial Flagship.  Considering that all 3 of those latter ships are generally considered by fans to be in the top 10 of best Lego sets ever produced this is hardly a demerit!   

I could fill several pages with observations on the positives of this set as well as the aspects that are influenced by its predecessors.  However, as this forum is meant to primarily inform potential buyers I shall settle for summarizing a few of the main attractions.  First off, this ship is huge due to the inclusion of 3 middle hull pieces.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the measuring standards and design of Lego pirate ships here is a brief tutorial.  All Lego pirate ships have the same basic construction there are front and rear hull pieces joined by what are referred to as “middle pieces”.  The number of these middle pieces are the defining characteristic that determine how long the ship is.  Only one ship, 10210 Imperial Flagship, has ever had more than 3 (and that set was a collector’s model so in some ways it doesn’t count) so this set is tied for second longest ship ever produced alongside the Skull’s Eye and the Barracuda.  The color scheme is beautiful and it has stunning architectural details due to the inclusion of numerous small pieces (a major plus!).  Furthermore it has a middle mast with 3 sails which no other set except for 10210 Imperial Flagship, has ever had, and more cannon ports than any other ship ever produced (I must quickly point out however that only 3 cannon’s are provided so not all of these ports can be armed at the same time without the addition of more cannons).  And finally, it is just stunning to look at.  I have always had a soft spot for how magnificent Lego pirate ships look and this one continues that tradition, a true feast for the eyes, especially from the front!

As a child I longed for a Lego pirate ship with nearly every beat of my little heart.  Due to their expense it was not until much later in life, when I could earn my own money that I was able to finally add one of these treasures (and subsequently several more) to my collection.  Trust me when I say your child or grandchild will adore this set.  If it is at all possible for you to make it happen get this treasure, it will be enjoyed for generations. 

Whether it’s that you like the movies, just want a pirate ship, or need an opponent for another ship you already have there are a thousand reasons to get this set.  Save your allowance and birthday money and add this to your collection, you will love it!

I must confess I was nervous when I heard that Lego was getting into the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  When the Harry Potter franchise temporarily replaced the long running Castle theme in the early 2000’s the need to make the sets movie accurate precluded the inclusion of the aspects which made the Castle theme what it was.  Harry Potter wasn’t a bad theme, it just wasn’t Castle.  I was worried that in the name of “movie accuracy” the ships in this new theme would not have the magic of the great ships of the past.  I was delighted to discover that, although definitely a re-creation, the Queen Anne’s Revenge does not look out of place alongside such legends as the Barracuda or Skull’s Eye and is worthy of being included in the pantheon of Lego pirate ships on its own merits.  The positives of this set are so overwhelming that the few minor demerits my trained eye can see are not even worth mentioning.  I will go a step beyond recommending and say that if you only get one large set in 2011 make it this one, you won’t regret it. 

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler