Friday, April 29, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 014

...and now we move on to the third batch produced of Aquazone Breakfast News, in which we get to see Formendacil's love of bad puns.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Grandfather's Tale Character: Marcel of Flamond

Since one of the major purposes of this blog was as a vehicle to discuss my LEGO stories--a selfish purpose intended to help motivate me to stay on track with it a bit more--today's post introduces a new theme of posts that will appear from time to time: a discussion of the characters in the titular story, Grandfather's Tale.

Marcel of Flamond was introduced in Chapter 1 of Grandfather's Tale as the Lion soldier who comes with the 1463 Treasure Cart, who is doing what he does: carting treasure to Castle Montjoie, King's Mountain Fortress. He arrives there in Chapter 3 at the same time as the adventurers who bring news of the bad guys' impending attack, and so he is swept up in the story as the soldier who lucks into escaping the castle with Princess Anne and the adventurers, Giles and Humbert,

Thus far--that is, Chapter X, the extent of the published story--Marcel has sort of just been riding along, while the real leadership has been provided by Giles and later Rebecca. Princess Anne is equally inexperienced and untried, but because of her royal station she's been taking some stands of leadership already. Even in battle, Marcel has yet to do much, since he gets told to stay close to the Princess while Giles and Humbert deal with the Fright Knights, or to stand back while the Forestmen shoot down the enemy.

So what is the point of having Marcel in this ensemble-cast story?

Well, first of all, Grandfather's Tale is being written as I go along. I have ideas of where it'll end up, ideas that are changing as I go along, but it's hardly fully formed. Thus, originally, Marcel got included because I needed someone's point-of-view to follow, some fairly normal character in a world of heroes, royalty, and magicians who could provide a starting point for me. The decision to include Giles and Humbert, which came about a chapter later, meant that when they got thrown together directly in the flight from Castle Montjoie, it made dramatic sense to have Marcel and Giles clash--and since Giles was clearly an experienced hero, Marcel quickly became the young, inexperienced hero.

This was a bit of a turn-around, because Marcel was never intended to be inexperienced, precisely. He was intended to be a competent, disciplined soldier--young enough to have a story-arc and even fall in love (although I didn't decide if that would be with the Princess), but the inexperienced part fits. After all, why would a soldier whose chief duty is to cart taxes to the king's castle have a broad experience of an adventurer or royal? Thus, by the time we get to his inactivity in the Dark Forest, Marcel is deliberately being cast as "not contributing much," to provide a deliberate contrast for later chapters (as yet to come...) where he will grow into one of the main heroes. And, yes, the door for romance is still open.

So why did I pick Marcel specifically to be my hero? Obviously, I wanted to start with the classic Lion knights, which were my first Castle faction (King's Mountain Fortress was my first Castle set), but why did I start with the little fellow from Treasure Cart? Why not one of these guys:

The answer is that Marcel came with a sword. This made him the "favourite" of my Lion soldiers growing up, since my brother and I had a strict hierarchy of soldiers: swordsmen, axemen, spearsmen, archers, crossbownmen. Within this schema, Marcel (who only received a name when I started Grandfather's Tales) was the most highly favoured soldier. It was also a chance to introduce Treasure Cart, the set, for a brief moment of completion. As of Chapter X, we've also seen King's Mountain Fortress, Wolfpack Renegades, and Dungeon Master's Castle. Although the point of the story is not to focus on the sets; rather to use the sets to tell the story, I enjoy having the opportunity to include the sets, as integral nostalgic elements of my mental LEGO landscape.

Finally, although I King's Mountain Fortress and Treasure Cart, my brother only had Treasure Cart. Thus, for six years (six highly important years of childhood), until we each got the Guarded Inn, this soldier had a huge place in his collection as THE Lion soldier, and was eventually augmented with parts from an accessory pack or two to become a proper knight--a story arc or trajectory that may not be so different for the character in Grandfather's Tales, so it seemed appropriate.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Minifigs: Roboforce

Roboforce was a relatively small Space theme that came out in 1997. It was the last "human" Space faction before the Dark Ages of Space history (between Insectoids in 1998 and Mars Mission in 2007), and consisted of a total of four sets. Coming on the heels of the rather larger Exploriens theme in 1996, the Roboforce were something of a "one schtick" theme: robots. Despite that, and the corresponding poor press that they seem to have had, the Roboforce had some excellent minifigs, and although I've never managed to get my hands on any of the sets, I do have two figs, one of each main variety: red/orange and yellow/neon green.

The yellow fig was something I decided to get because of an assortment of pieces that I got used for Christmas around 2004 (I'm not positive of the exact year), together with a bunch of pieces that seem to have come with one of the yellow Roboforce sets. The red fig was also a Bricklink build, though he came piecemeal over the course of a year or two, instead of as a single unit. Consequently, he does not have a "standard" Roboforce head, as the yellow ones does.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

LEGO Store Acquistions, April 2011

As mentioned before, yesterday was the second 2011 trip to the LEGO Store in Braintree (of all the LEGO Stores, it is the only one remotely accessible to Boston's public transportation system). Naturally, this meant I acquired more LEGO. However, since the whole point of the LEGO Store (in my humble opinion) is to get things you can't get anywhere else, only one item was an actual set...

2258 Ninja Ambush is my second Ninjago set, after the one I acquired at the LEGO Store in January. I continue to avoid the rather expensive spinner sets in favour of traditional boxed sets, and Ninja Ambush is great little addition to my LEGO collection--at least in terms of raw parts. The red ninja minifig is a nice addition to my LEGO ninja army, though red is sadly among the more common colours of ninja. The skeleton is more original, since he's my first Ninjago skeleton, but I don't think I really like him. The new arms are dreadfully non-poseable and their static position is worse than earlier skeleton incarnations. The face is also one of the worse skeleton prints, but I can forgive that since it's a new print. I'm also really not sold on the square-block legs.

Also rather conventionally, I picked up a small Pick-a-Brick cup.

Which looks like this, spilled out:

The main selling point for the Pick-a-Brick were the horses. For some reason, I still don't have enough of them, and while white horses without saddles are low of the totem pole of horse-needs, it was impossible to pass them up. The other most notable addition were the 2x2 dark tan tiles. The rest was fairly conventional, I thought (on the basis of 4 LEGO Store visits in my lifetime).

I also picked up a couple of keychains because they were on sale. Like most keychains I've acquired before, these will probably be de-chained and used as regular figs. The rockmonster wasn't something I would normally have bought, but he was 98 cents. The Classic Space fig is one I ogled before, and at $1.98, I was almost tempted to get two.

The LEGO Store already had Series 4 Collectible minifigs, but I'm less interested generally in the fourth series than the third, and previously I only had the one Elf that I managed to get back in January. Now I have a second Elf, a fisherman, and an alien. I selected them by touch, but I was only certain about the Elf (his shield and bow are a dead giveaway).

It seems that I cannot go to the LEGO Store without using their build-a-minifig section. This time, the lure had to do with the Series 1 Collectible Minifig parts there. I only IDed the Forestman and the Magician parts, but I think there were more. In hindsight, I'm mildy surprised I didn't just make myself three Forestmen...

Finally, there were several bags of assorted bricks... I'm not sure what to call them exactly, so here's a picture:

Opened and sorted through, I discovered a *lot* of 2x1x2 yellow bricks and trans-neon green 1x1 cones. There was also a complete minifig... with several extra heads.

To recap the whole episode, here's a picture of all the minifigs [EDIT: Except for the three build-a-figs]. They're quite the bizarre looking crowd, but after some reorganisation in the collection, they will be fully respectable members, I can assure you. Indeed, I might well do a post on in the near future.

All told, I feel like it was an excellent trip, and I even spent less money than I ever have at the LEGO Store. It helps that my girlfriend got Diagon Alley, so the Pick-a-Brick cup ended up being free (purchases of over $75 let you get a free small PaB cup), and that the keychains were on sale.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Minifigs: Bandit

Today's post is brief because I'm a bit tired out from our adventure to the LEGO Store--about which one should expect a post in the next day or two--and this picture was already taken.

One of my favourite themes, in terms of minifig characters, was the 1999 theme of the Rockraiders. It was somewhat abysmally juniorized, in terms of set construction, but it had some excellent minifigures. Today's post is about my personal favourite, Bandit, although it's possible that he's favoured more because of the personality my brother and I gave him than because he's an excellent minifigure. In the picture below, he's only been slightly modified from his original state: fresh from the set, Bandit had standard blue pants.

The change isn't drastic, giving Bandit dark green pants instead of blue, but the effect, I think, is striking. It's also interesting to consider that Bandit's torso, which came out in 1999, completely predates dark green as a colour of LEGO pieces, but matches the pants completely.

It's also worth mentioning that I didn't come up with the combination myself, but having seen one of my brothers do it, I felt compelled to do it myself. It gives him an excellent set of overalls.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Grandfather's Tale, Chapter X

Today has been a productive day. Granted, it's another chapter of a LEGO story that being published online that makes it feel thus, but that is no reason to dismiss my sense of accomplishment. Chapter X of the story this is blog is named after is now online. (A link to the Brickshelf folder, once moderated.)

02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13

Aquazone Breakfast News: 012

Continuing with the Batch 2 comics, I think my difficulty in striking the right balance with the colour and brightness settings shows more than most here... hopefully 'tis forgivable, though.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

She's "The One"

So my girlfriend has been going through some highly stressful times with her grad school--a grad school that is becoming increasingly superfluous to her lifetime career-plans. Yesterday evening, she told me that this meant we need to go to Braintree this weekend. Braintree, I should tell you, is somewhere we only go when I want to visit a LEGO Store.

"I want to buy some LEGO," she told me.

Yes, AFOLs, I am living the dream: I have a girlfriend who wants to go buy comfort LEGO.

Granted, she has a penchant for licensed themes--Harry Potter in particular--but let's not hold that against her. Not least because I have a substantial (if mostly parted out) Star Wars collection and my own fair smattering of Batman, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones sets.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

8957 Mine Mech

It is unlikely that I am the only AFOL who thinks that Power Miners (released 2009-2010) were one of the breakaway hit new themes that LEGO released in the past decade. A rehash of the 1999 Rockraider theme, complete with drills, transparent crystal bricks, and rockmonsters, it was a complete surprise when this gaudy new theme was released with sets colour-heavy in the orange and lime-green departments.

But a hit it was, and today I am going to look at one of the two sets that I managed to acquire. You may ask, "if Power Miners are so awesome, why do you only have two sets?" Well, the answer is that LEGO has been coming out with a number of really excellent sets the last few years, and a university student's LEGO budget is never equal to what is released.

For what it's worth, 8957 Mine Mech isn't even one of the Power Miners' better sets. It's on the smaller side, and if you consider it as a parts pack, I hope you like ball-and-socket joints.

On the other hand, however, it's a nice introduction for the timid to the Power Miners theme. It has one the new, minifig-sized rockmonsters, with trans-dark green to match the crystal that comes with the set, and it includes a dose of the "big mechanical toys" element that makes Power Miners a lot of fun. Set in a vague-almost present/maybe future, this particular mech is cute in a clunky, almost steampunk sort of way. The fig is completely composed of new elements (as of 2009): blue helm, new crazy genius professor type head, and Power Miner overalls torso/legs.

The result, I think, is a set that is far more cute than its constituent components should add up to.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Minifigs: Johnny Thunder

I don't know about your LEGO collection, but mine is one is which Johnny Thunder looms large. The "Indiana Jones" of LEGO's Adventurer themes, Johnny came into my LEGO collection thirteen years ago, and has had a commanding presence there since. Part of this is due to the fact that he's the perfect adventuring hero to take on adventures into any theme. Many was the game where Johnny Thunder--sometimes with the other Adventurers, sometimes alone--found himself in the Castle realms, or the Pirate seas, or maybe in Ninja lands, or even beamed away to outer space.

Of course, Johnny also looms large as physical presence in many collections, because he was one of the earlier examples of LEGO releasing "character figs" in mass quantities throughout a line. The original version of Johnny, shown immediately below, was present in great numbers throughout the 1998, 1999, and 2000 Adventurer releases, as well as a couple 2001 LEGO Studios sets. A slightly modified Johnny-head would come in 2003 with the Orient Expedition sets, and that later Johnny would also have different choices of shirts, unlike the original Johnny.

All things considered, I got lucky; my collection only has five sets with Johnny Thunder, and two of those were acquired as the "Great Take Apart" was beginning. However, I also have the KK2 Chess Set, which gives all eight pawns on the Shadow Knight side of the board classic Johnny heads... so they're rather pervasive in my collection.

As a result, Johnny Thunder has become one of those "problem figs" that have to be accommodated to every major LEGO collection. One of the earliest problem figs was Majisto--how many bearded old wizards wearing blue does your Castle realm need?--and wizards have continued to be problem figs in most Castle collections, I daresay. Harry Potter was THE example of a problem fig in the years 2001-2004ish, if you were a Castle fan. After all, you wanted those useful building parts, and there were a lot of nifty pieces... but what were you going to do with a platoon of Harry Potters?

This post isn't going to look at where all 8 of those Chess Set heads ended up (perhaps another post will), but it *will* examine where the True-Johnny Five have ended up.

Having already mentioned that Johnny Thunder, as a character, looms large in my collection, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I have an actual Johnny Thunder, built to be a Johnny Thunder, present in my collection. I consider the original Johnny head to be more "Johnny" than the Orient Expedition re-cast, and after five years as "Johnny," I wasn't about to make the fig I acquired in 1998 as a part of Sphinx Secret Surprise be disrobed of his title. However, I was quite happy in 2003 to give him a more colourful shirt--or perhaps it's a vest, since the arms are a different colour?--and a couple years later I decided to give him some dark blue "jeans." The result is a slightly more colourful, but still completely recognisable Johnny.

(As a sidenote, it may be interesting for me to point out that although both Sphinx Secret Surprise and Pharaoh's Forbidden Ruins are among my top 5 all time sets in my collection, I have not rebuilt either of them in the course my "great rebuild" over the past few years. I think the adventuring nature of the Adventurers--able to adventure into any theme--has a lot to do with this anomaly.)

Since none of my Adventurer sets are built, the four remaining Johnnies do not have to be Johnnies at all. Here is a picture of the "True-Johnny Five" reunited:

One will recognize the regarbed Johnny Thunder himself at the centre of the photo, and may wonder why there's another apparently unmodified Johnny standing to his left. It should be noted that this Johnny (who hails from Passage of the Jun-Chi) carries a musket, not a rifle, and has an Orient Expedition head. Actually, he *is* Johnny Thunder, meaning that I do have two legitimately Johnny Thundered Johnnies in my collection. He belongs to an "alternate reality/history" where instead of being a 20th century explorer/archaeologist, Johnny was an explorer/hunter who fought with a band of stalwart rebels in an Alamo-like situation in the late 18th/early 19th century.

Directly connected to this alternate-reality Johnny is Johnny #3, at the viewer's left, wearing the brown tricorne, and also holding a black musket. His stickered torso is his own, and he is part of "tan" regiment that is besieging the "Alamo". He is an actor by trade, coming from LEGO Studios set Temple of Gloom, so perhaps it is appropriate that he (and his torso) "play another part."

Johnny #4, who is between Actor-Johnny(#3) and the "real" Johnny, is a member of my Wild West "blackcoat" regiment, which (as you can see) wears Lord Sinister torsos from the Orient Expedition sets. Johnny #4 comes from Pharaoh's Forbidden Ruins.

And that only leaves Johnny #5, who is a Royal Knight with shiny new "Castle 2007" era silver armour, and a handsome Little Armory axe. He is the original owner of the green shirt that the "real" Johnny wears, and comes from Jungle River.

So... that's my collection of Johnny Thunders, and it is far more manageable than some. What about you? What do you do with these problem figs?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

MOC: MX-2116 Spacefighter

Following up yesterday's Mars Mission set is today's Mars Mission MOC. I only have the one, as it turns out, because I have yet to take apart any of my Mars Mission sets, except for my second copy of 7693 ETX Alien Strike. The pieces from this set form the core of this particular MOC, which I've christened with the imitative and unremarkable name of "MX-2116 Spacefighter."

Much like the M-Tron fighter MOC I previously displayed, the MX-2116 is fair basic build: studs up, and not particularly studless. In design, it's fairly reminiscent of a Battlestar Galactica Viper, and this was somewhat intentional.

In keeping with the established Mars Mission motifs, the MX-2116 features a white-and-orange colour scheme, with some trans-dark-blue highlights, and black/grey elements. I've probably used more grey than would have been found in a Mars Mission set, but I don't think the result is terribly incongruous. I also stuck to the idea that Mars Mission ships are powered by the trans-neon green crystals that the humans and aliens are fighting over in the series. (In my Space world, this is identified as the same element the Rockraiders were digging up, Brickonium--which was also a trans-neon green element.)

The best thing about the MX-2116, in my opinion--and the reason why it will probably stay together even after the Mars Mission sets get dismantled--is its swooshability. This all-important criteria of LEGO spaceships is more than adequately met, at least from my perspective.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

7695 MX-11 Astro Fighter

One of my favourite themes that came out in the past decade was the revival of the Space theme, Mars Mission. It came out six years after the last Space theme, Life-on-Mars, or nine years, if you don't count Life-on-Mars as Space, since the Insectoids. And it was arguably better than either of those lines (it's arguable if only because I'll argue it), and was a welcome return of a LEGO-original science-fiction to a lineup that had been dominated by Star Wars. While Star Wars was definitely the best theme LEGO had going around the turn of the decade, by 2007 it was more than a little tired, and it was nice to have something different.

Its lineup also included one of the first sets that I ever intentionally got multiple copies of: 7695 MX-11 Astro Fighter. There had been one or two sets in my earlier years that I accidentally ended up with dual copies, and I did acquire a few sets with multiple copies in the years preceding 2007 for parts, but the Astro Fighter was the first set of which I intentionally bought two copies with the intention of keeping intact.

And they're still intact today.

I only managed to get two copies, and in hindsight it would have been nice to have a full wing of four, or at least three, but there were many good sets to pursue (this was 2007: the year Castle made a major comeback), and I was having to contend with tuition for the first time. Still, what was a decent but not remarkable little set by itself had the makings of a fun squadron when multiplied.

It's a swooshable little fighter, and did quite a lot for making Mars Mission one of my favourite Space factions. Because it's intended to be a small set, and thus one should not expect X-wing levels of bulk brick from it, I only have one beef with its construction: the stickered engines. I'm not generally opposed to the use of stickers, because it can be nice to have the blank version of pieces at times, and I understand that printed pieces are expensive, so we get more if they're stickers... but I prefer that stickers give detail that is nice to have, but unnecessary. The sticker-engines, alas, are the only thing that tells you where the engines are on the Astro Fighter.

I will give LEGO this, though: though they are to be scolded for using stickers, they're actually rather sharp-looking stickers.