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

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