Monday, December 26, 2011

6546 Slick Racer

After getting a reasonable haul of LEGO for Christmas yesterday, it seems appropriate to look back at a Christmas set of yore: way back in 1997, 6546 Slick Racer became the very first LEGO set I received in my stocking. It was not the first LEGO set I'd received for Christmas--that set was five years old by the time Slick Racer came into my collection--but it was the first set I received in my stocking, a sign of the fact that LEGO had definitely become the central toy of my childhood, presaging the growth of my collection to come. Indeed, if I were to pick a time when I went from having LEGO a child to buying LEGO with all available funds as a slightly older child and teenager, I'd have said 1998 was the first year of the new era. As a result, Slick Racer is poised on the cusp between my very early LEGO era and my Golden Age.

Despite an abiding interest in LEGO race cars as a child, I never acquired more than three or so in my collection, and Slick Racer was the earliest of the three. The others were 6519 Turbo Tiger from the year 2000's rather paltry line-up, and 2963 Extreme Racer from 1998's eXtreme Team. Slick Race was also my favourite of the three, the perennial winner of any race. This favouritism was due, in part, to its status as the earliest racer in my collection, and also because of a bias towards Octan.

Octan looms large in my LEGO Town imagination, despite the fact that this set and a handful of torsos were all that I possessed that were connected to that venerable logo. They were a multi-business corporation that manufactured cars, sold gas, sponsored races, and produced millionaires. Looking back, I would say now that they were a strange juxtaposition of greedy mega-corporation and squeaky-clean Town company in my LEGO games.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 068 (Advent Day 24)

And that wraps up the Advent Calendar! Aquazone Breakfast News goes back to a weekly, on Friday, schedule.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 062 (Advent Day 18)

Weird... I couldn't log in to Brickshelf today. I'm not sure why--the site seems to be running normally. Fortunately, I can upload pictures straight to Blogger--but it's weird.

EDIT: Okay, so it's not so fortunate as I thought. The full-size image is accessible, but you have to right-click on the image itself and then hit "View" to get it full-size. More updates as things change...

2nd EDIT: On second examination something *is* gimpy with Brickshelf, which is more relieving than it ought to be: a problem with the whole site is more likely to be fixed than if it's just my log-in.

3rd EDIT: And Brickshelf is back to normal!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lord of the Rings and LEGO - Part Three

When I wrote my first two posts, several months ago, about The Lord of the Rings and LEGO, I did not expect to be writing a third, but breaking news in the last couple days has changed that.

Coming 2012, the LEGO Company is releasing a new line of minifig-scale sets, based on the upcoming Hobbit movies and their decade-old Lord of the Rings predecessors. This is probably the biggest news in LEGO licensing since Star Wars LEGO came out in 1999, because more than with any other work of literature or film, LEGO fans have spent spent the past decade either bemoaning the fact that LEGO hadn't acquired the LotR licence or arguing that such a licence was unnecessary, and possibly even undesirable.

Well, the debate about whether LEGO should get the licence has just taken a completely new turn, and a lot of people, LEGO fans and otherwise, are excited about what this means. For myself, however, I am at best cautiously interested. I am not excited, probably because I was always on the side of feeling a licence was unnecessary.

As a Tolkien fan, I don't think that LEGO sets based off the already-derivative movies are going to be the be-all and end-all of the LEGO experience. I have problems with some of Peter Jackson and Team's decisions in portraying The Lord of the Rings, and even where I don't, I feel that his interpretation is only one among many possible interpretations--and I'm not a big fan of making it into "the" interpretation.

Secondly, as a LEGO fan, I'm not a big fan of licensed themes. I don't like flesh-toned figs in place of yellow figs (though there are moments when the variety is nice), and I don't like the overpricing that comes from purchasing the licence--an overpricing that is often associated with mediocre or weak set designs. Not always--some Star Wars and most of the Indiana Jones sets were really well done... but I cannot say that same for Pirates of the Caribbean.

Does this mean I don't see potential here? Of course not. I am excited about the likelihood of new weapon moulds, new Castle-valuable parts, and lots of foliage. Even if the product is less-than-Tolkien, it should still add a lot of interesting new parts to my Castle collection. In all probability, I will acquire more of these sets than I have of many themes of late, simply because everyone knows me as the LEGO guy *and* as The Lord of the Rings guy. But I'm not getting overly excited ahead of time, and I'm definitely not getting my hopes up.

Aquazone Breakfast News: 061 (Advent Day 17)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 056 (Advent Day 12)

I realised, as I put this together, that this is actually my very first LEGO Police Station. I discussed my longtime love of Police LEGO--and the fact that, despite this love, I don't have a Police station--back in this post. I guess it's not true anymore.

Sigh. You want your first time to be special.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 055 (Advent Day 11)

Yeah... I'm not really enthused about the police station--not originally and not now that it's ongoing. I suppose I'm glad that LEGO has put something in the calendar that will build up to something bigger than a one-day item, but the police station lacks any wow factor. I'm also glad that they didn't put all the section together in some dreadful week-long drudge... but that means that we get another section intervening today.

On a positive note, I'm kind of excited about the blue 1x6 arch.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 052 (Advent Day 8)

It's getting to be winter-cold, but there's natural sunlight I can use again!

Also, I did not expect on Day 1 of this Advent Calendar that hot chocolate and marshmellows would be such a prevalent theme.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 051 (Advent Day 7)

For the first time in rather a while, I've had to take today's comic pictures indoors and, sadly, the difference shows. Hopefully, there'll be a moment or two of dry weather tomorrow while I'm home...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas Day

In the midst of focusing on the Advent Calendar in my daily labour of Aquazone Breakfast News comics, it's easy to remember that it's Advent, the liturgical season that prepares for Christmas. Less easy to remember is that today, as December 6th, is a gift-giving religious holiday of its own.

St. Nicholas is well known, of course, for being Santa Claus, via his Dutch name of Sinterklaas, and it is on his feastday, December 6th, that Dutch children traditionally received presents, not Christmas. As a Dutch Catholic on my father's side, I belong to a family that made an effort to commemorate the day over the years. We never did anything too fancy, but we would get one medium-to-small present, and it usually marked the approximate time for putting up the Christmas decorations. It had the added bonus of helping satiate our desire as kids for presents, and at an age when Christmas seemed YEARS off from the start of Advent, it was a welcome moment of rest during the long wait.

As such, it was the third most prominent LEGO-receiving day during my childhood, after Christmas and my birthday. Not that I got LEGO every year, but even with a total of three or four years, that was more than Hallowe'en, Easter, Valentine's Day, Canada Day, or Labour Day could ever say.

The first LEGO set I ever got for St. Nicholas Day has already made an appearance on this blog. Sixteen years ago to the day, I got my first Aquazone set--and in light of the Breakfast News strips running, it's kind of amazing to see how I've had Aquazone for sixteen years. If my Aquashark were a child, he could get his driver's licence.

Other sets I got over the years included my only set of Town roadplates, my second Star Wars set, and two Creator buckets.

Aquazone Breakfast News: 050 (Advent Day 6)

And Aquazone Breakfast News puts out its 50th edition!

It's also St. Nicholas Day, which as someone of Dutch-Catholic extraction has some Christmas-y significance.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 047 (Advent Day 3)

It is more than worth acknowledging that my inspiration (and the inspiration of anyone doing a LEGO Advent Calendar comic) comes from Chris Doyle and his comic, The Brick House. This is the fourth year? fifth? that the Advent Calendar has featured into the main storyline of his comic, which is one of the best (and my personal candidate for flat-out "best") LEGO webcomics out there. You should go there and get his take on the Advent Calendar, if you aren't already.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Favourite Minifigs: Sir Edmond of Orimault

He's a Lion knight. No... not those new Lion Knights. This fellow belongs to the oldest Lion Knights in the LEGO Castle genre: the 1984-1992 Legoland Castle "Lion Knights."

Of course, as you can see, this guy isn't straight out of a contemporary set, but a customized fig. He's made an appearance on the Internet before, as the rather minor character of Sir Edmond of Orimault, one of Princess Anne's suitors in the early chapters. His sword, helm, and breastplate comes from the now-defunct Little Armory, one of the earliest commercial LEGO customizers.

However, as you can see, the customization on Sir Edmond is not limited to what the Little Armory products I gave him. The pennant on his lance, his shield, and his torso all bear customized arms--based on the gold-rimmed classic Lion shield seen on this torso, and it is by limiting myself to these two colours (with the addition of greys and blacks) that we get this distinctly non-traditional Legoland Castle Lion Knight--a faction that defined itself by wearing red in opposition to its opponents, the Black Falcons.

Although I created the actual stickers seen on Sir Edmond, the templates were based on those created by Anthony Sava on Classic-Castle, and would likely not have appeared without them.

Also, in other news, look forward to daily updates from Aquazone Breakfast News over the next twenty-four days. Starting tomorrow, they present the 2011 City Advent Calendar!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Favourite Pieces

Having been at the LEGO Store last weekend, and having gone through the Black Friday ordeal yesterday I'm at a point where I've been thinking about acquiring sets, and the reality is that I'm pretty happy with my collection of sets currently available. There are a number of sets from the past that I'd like to acquire, and I wouldn't say no to a host of sets out there, but there are no sets that I'm really after.

Insofar as I am still after parts, however, some sets are better than others, and looking at all the sets available this weekend, I've been doing some more thinking than usual about the sorts of pieces that I like--and that I like in large quantities.

This might be occasion for a multi-post series, but one trend came to mind immediately: I like pieces that have both stud-connections (either studs-proper or stud receptacles) and bar-connections. A number of these are what Bricklink calls Plates Modified, such as Plate, Modified 1 x 1 with Clip Light and Plate, Modified 1 x 2 with Handle on Side. Plates in general sort of qualify for this versatility, insofar as they can be gripped by a clip. Headlight bricks are also awesome.

The problem with all these--and other--bricks is that they tend to come in small quantities. Many, many sets have some, but it's one here, two there, four in that set if you're lucky, and in a host of colours. On the other hand, when I use them in a creation, they tend to disappear at a rate faster than they exist in my collection, or I want to use colours that I don't have them in. So creative changes have to be made.

So, if you're listening LEGO, those are great pieces to have at Pick-a-Bricks.

What about the rest of you? What generic "parts" are high on your list?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

5766 Log Cabin

Celebrating Thanksgiving--well, digesting it anyway--I'm going to take a look at one of the sets I picked up at the LEGO Store last weekend. This is the second year in a row that I've visited the LEGO Store in mid-November, and it seems like it's a good time to go there. They already had some of the 2012 sets out, including the new Dino sets and some of the new city sets. The main set that I was after, however, was a 2011 set, 5766 Log Cabin.

Like the other Creator sets, Log Cabin's appeal is a combination of a robust design (in one or more models) and a phenomenal quantity of basic pieces.

The minifig is a bit plain--though the green backpack is a *bit* rare, though not super-useful. His kayak is a rather attractive design from the top--less so when you hold it up, because of the "boat round" pieces underneath.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 043

Whoops! I had this mostly ready to go yesterday afternoon... and then forgot to actually finish/post it in the evening. I'd have remembered sooner, but today was a trip to the LEGO Store, so I wasn't online to notice before now.

In other news... "teleprompter" amuses me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

3367 Space Shuttle

It's getting to be about a month, maybe more, since I made an order at Shop@Home to buy a set that was apparently out of stock when I last visited the LEGO Store, back in early September. That set was 3367 Space Shuttle, the first NASA-based LEGO shuttle I've managed to acquire, though LEGO has been making them for decades.

As a $30 set (USD), the Space Shuttle is a fairly good size, large enough to adequately capture a sense of weightiness. I admit that I thought it was a bit expensive when I was buying it online, because all the pictures of it made it look a bit smaller than it actually is, but I was convinced once the set arrived and I put it together. Among other things, this swooshable ship has *heft*. It's also a fairly good parts pack: other than the specialized cockpit piece, there really isn't anything in this set that I would be averse to having multiple copies of.

As a playable design, Space Shuttle is composed of a cockpit and a cargo hold containing a Canadarm and a deployable satellite. The satellite is less complex than some we've seen in the past, but surprisingly cute. (I'm particularly thinking of this one from the Spaceport theme of 1999, the last major minifig-scaled series of NASA/Space sets--though there have been some impressive standalone and non-minifig sets in the years since). The cargo hold might be more fun if it had room to stow extra astronauts or aliens, but the room is there, if one leaves the satellite in space--also if one rooms the Canadarm.

As for minifigs... well, no one is going to buy this Space Shuttle as an army builder, but since I already have two Spaceport astronauts and two Launch astronauts from the Dacta 30 Minifigures (9293 Community Workers), I'm not really in the market to get more astronauts anyway. And as far as getting an astronaut at all went, I was quite happy that the Astronaut that DOES come with this set has the new "Space Police III" helmet, as well as the "Atlantis" bodysuit.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Minifig: Witch

I probably should have posted this on Monday to have been mostly timely, but it has been a crazy week for schoolwork (not overwhelmingly crazy, but definitely distractingly crazy).

The witch is not particularly novel in terms of part use. Lightsabre/gem combination "magic staffs" have been around for years, and the torso/dress come from LEGO's first witch (1997's Willa the Witch, from the Fright Knight line). Nonetheless, I am extremely pleased with this little witch, as a minifigure where all the elements have come together just right.

The black "queen" headdress in place of the standard wizard/witch's hat is probably my favourite element, and the extra blackness of the dress with the hat is offset by the substitution of the torso's original black arms with red ones. The black and red combination, which extends to the trans-red of the staff, is found right in the head-choice, with its black eyepatch and red lipstick. The head was an accidental, late addition to the witch (I was stealing her previous head for something else and this was handy), but I think it works well. She looks a lot more badass than Willa, and the colours tie together well.

Aquazone Breakfast News: 041

And that's the end of the Evil Peachy storyline--at least for now. My apologies for the funky reflections in the first panel; I didn't see them when taking the pictures, I only noticed that it wasn't shaky like the first take. Fortunately, the others turned out fairly well. I'm taking pictures outside, and so far I've been lucky that the weather has remained sunny when I've needed it for me to do that. I really need to get some pictures taken in advance, though, rather than taking them the day of all the time.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

7130 Snowspeeder

One of the major paradigm shifts in my view of the LEGO universe took place in late 1999 when I became a Star Wars fan. Star Wars sets had been out for most of the year, in anticipation of Episode I: The Phantom Menace's release in May. I didn't see Episode I until September that year, in the cheap theatre after friends introduced me and my brother to the original trilogy for the first time.

As a loyal recipient of the LEGO Mania Magazine, I was aware of the existence of Star Wars before this, and particular of Star Wars LEGO, and although I was had little enough interest in Star Wars LEGO prior to seeing the movies and becoming a fan, I still spent a good chunk of time looking at those magazines, because I can still remember my overall impression of what the Star Wars story must have been, on the basis of those original five sets.

7130 was one of those original five sets. The above picture is slightly incomplete, as it lacks the Rebel trooper minifig that rounds out the set, who does not seem to be travelling in the boxes that have made it back to Boston.

My original impression of the Star Wars story aside, which coupled with the original run of Episode I sets left me with a rather different idea of what the story included, the original five Original Trilogy sets have a special place in my heart. Admittedly, they are not as sleek as later sets, which introduced a whole host of rounded pieces into LEGO's inventory, nor all as accurate to the original source, but they have a preeminent place in the my nostalgic memory, not least as a tie to that original misconceived story.

Snowspeeder was the mid-most, size-wise of the original five, and I would argue that it was the least exciting of the five. TIE-Fighter and Y-wing had Darth Vader; the X-wing had the eponymous fighter and R2-D2; Speeder Bikes had two Scouttroopers, the closest thing we had to Stormtroopers; and the Landspeeder had Obi-wan Kenobi. Snowspeeder would seem a bit ill-equipped to compete with these, though it was a solid set in its own right. Its selling features, as I see them, are that it was cheaper than the X-wing or Y-wing/TIE, but was still a solid, fighter-sized, famous ship that let the buyer get a copy of Luke Skywalker (with blue lightsabre). The attractions for the buyer of the full collection, in addition to the snowspeeder itself, was the second pilot, Dack, and his unique helmet, and the rebel snow-geared trooper.

Of the original five sets, this would be the last that I would acquire. I got the other four in the early years, when they were all still available in stores (though two of them were gifts), but I only acquired Snowspeeder years later, when a collector friend in university was looking to unload it, and knew of my LEGO habit. I couldn't pass it up, of course--not least because his price was less than Bricklink's, and that is the main reason that it is still built today, able to be photographed. The rest of my Star Wars originals had been taken apart, like everything else, in the Great Take-Apart of 2004, and because of their high ratio of useful parts have never been put back together.

Though they might, one of these days... I mighty nostalgic about them, especially the Landspeeder...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

1969 "Robot Moon Walker"

A couple weeks ag, while Bricklinking pieces for someone's Christmas present, I happened to be buying from a store that had a copy of 1969 (which I am calling "Robot Moon Walker," in honour of the fact that its set number, 1969, is the year of the first moon landing) at a reasonable price. As a Space Police (ii) set that I did not already own, I couldn't pass it up (see this old post for my fondness for that theme).

(Also, note that my indoor, lightless, picture-taking skills are improving, albeit at small increments.)

"Robot Moon Walker" is now the fourth, and smallest, Space Police set I have acquired, and it probably isn't something to write home about. It's a fairly standard early 1990s Space set, using wheels, hinge-pieces as hands, and 2x2 "radar dishes," all controlled by a minifig with a walkie-talkie. Nor is the fig anything special, being perfectly identical to every other Space Police non-officer out there.

All that being said, however, I was pleased as punch to get this little set, and for what it is--essentially an impulse set or part of a cross-themes combo pack--it's pretty nice. The robot itself is rather cute, and I admit to having more fun with wheeled robots like this than more complex--and articulated--legged robots. Much of this pleasure is tied into the nostalgia of the set, no doubt. Back in the 1990s, this set was in the combo pack on the inside front cover of my 1993 catalogue, opposite the main Space Police page, and I would have died of happiness to have received that combo--mostly because I would have been able to get my first Space Police fig. Now that I've got him, I admit I didn't die (of happiness or otherwise), but I was still quite pleased with him.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Century of Posts

This week's Aquazone Breakfast News, which would normally publish today, is going to be held off until tomorrow. Not, as might be thought, because I have been yet to figure out a successful way to take pictures of LEGO in my dimly lit basement (though that would be true), but because this post is the 100th here on Grandfather's Tales, and it seems appropriate to mark the occasion.

Looking back over the eight months or so that I've been blogging, I have to admit that the back half would have looked a bit better if it had followed more closely in the steps of the first half. This is partly due to the tumultuous Real Life events that have spanned the past few months, from a death in the family to moving home across the continent for the summer and then moving back to Boston in the fall. Nonetheless, I am not going to criticize myself too harshly since, after all, I made it this far despite that, and 100 posts in three quarters of a year is not a bad statistic (unless it were sheer quantity in place of quality, which I hope has not been the case).

All the same, I'm not going to pat myself on the back too much, because as much as this is a time for celebration, it's a time for reconsolidation. In the effort, then, to keep myself on course, I am going to publicly commit to the following:

1. First of all, that I will continue to post Aquazone Breakfast News on a weekly basis. I haven't missed a week yet, but the image woes surrounding my living space suggest that I should definitely make this a priority.

2. I will not let myself use poor images as an excuse for not posting. After all, everyone else on the Internet links to images from other people--surely I can do that too.

3. I will aim to post at least once a week besides Aquazone Breakfast News. This is an average I am aiming for, not a second Regular Posting Day (the way Friday is AqBN Day), but it is an aim for greater constancy.

4. To finish Chapter XII of Grandfather's Tale. The pictures have been sitting on my computer since April, so I have few excuses.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Two New Kingdoms Sets

First off, my apologies for continuing to fall off the face of the Earth, even though it's no longer summer. School has been great, but it's also been busy, but that's not the real reason I've been tardy in the posting. The real reason is that I'm really not proud of the pictures I've been taking of my new acquisitions, so I've been putting off having anything to do with them. However, I have now bitten the bullet and will round out the sets acquired--rather a long time ago, now.

Both the sets I'm looking at today are from the current line of "Castle" LEGO, the Kingdoms theme, which is in its second year. The sets of this second wave were released over the summer, and I picked up two of them. The first is 6918 Blacksmith Attack, the smallest in the wave.

There have been many Castle blacksmiths over the years, from the original 6040 Blacksmith Shop in 1984, to the fan-designed set by Dan Siskind, 3739 Blacksmith Shop, the recent Medieval Market Village, and a couple others. As sets go, Blacksmith Attack isn't the stand-out best that has ever featured a blacksmith, but it has its perks.

In terms of design, Blacksmith Attack most strongly resembles the smithy portion of Medieval Market Village, and it is naturally going to lose out to that masterful set in most categories, except for affordable size. The blacksmith himself, however, is new, with a new torso and a black cowl not seen since the 1996 Dark Forest sets. The other fig is a more-or-less standard Dragon Knight, who I note with approval has a shield (unlike his predecessor in 2010's 7950 Knights' Showdown.

The real departure for Blacksmith Attack (other than simply being a cheap blacksmith set--most of the other examples are in rather pricey sets) is the inclusion of the Heroica weapons. Designed for one of LEGO's boardgames, this set of six-weapons-on-a-sprue are slightly smaller than most minifigure scale weapons, and I don't personally like any of them as much as I like the equivalent "classic" minifigure weapon. Nonetheless, they provide some variety, and I definitely think they have a place. Speaking for myself, I can see them being quite helpful for distinguishing Hobbit-scale weapons from Man-scaled.

The second Kingdoms set that I bought, which also came out this summer, is 7187 Escape from Dragon's Prison. Much like Blacksmith Attack, Escape from Dragon's Prison belongs to a pedigreed "type" of Castle set, namely the "mid-range size, Castle wall" type of set, which goes back to
1984's 6061 Siege Tower, and has had a number of reinterpretations over the years. As such sets go, Escape from Dragon's Prison is not a terrible wall, but it is a little weak on the ground floor, where one can shoot an arrow or toss a spear right through the bars of the prison--admittedly, this would probably kill one's captured vassals or allies.

The real reason to buy Escape from Dragon's Prison is the parts and the figs. It is a respectable army-builder, with four figs, none of whom are individualized hero, king, or wizard figs. I was a bit disappointed that LEGO included two Lion Knights and only two Dragon Knights. I would have preferred a single captured Lion and three Dragons, but that's because I have other sets. I suppose that from LEGO's perspective, one has to assume that the kidlings getting this set don't have any other minifigs they can draft, so if they only get one little Lion and he's captured, it's game over--hence the need for a second Lion fig to rescue him.

This minor disappointment is made up for by the impressiveness of the lead Dragon Knight, who I feel I can rightly say is *the* Dragon Knight:

The dark pearl euro visor, new-designed printing on the dark pearl euro armour, new Dragon Knight barding, and new Dragon Knight kite shield (and, I believe, new head--though I'm not sure about that one) make the Dragon Knight here *the* Castle fig of the year to beat.

Aquazone Breakfast News: 036