Thursday, July 26, 2012

Space Police Patrol Ship

So far 2012 hasn't been a high-intensity year for MOCing. 2011 wasn't either, and things like wedding planning have made for understandable distractions; nonetheless, this year hasn't been completely without some from-scratch MOCing. The largest example of that was the Space Police patrol vessel that is the subject of this post.
Although Space Police II (the 1992 sets) has always ranked high on my list of favourite LEGO themes, its predecessor from 1989 only ever existed on the fringes of my LEGO world--chiefly because I was barely acquainted with themes that old. Nonetheless, a Space Police (i) ship has been on my radar for some time. I picked up a few figs on Bricklink over the years, as well as a few basic "Space Police pieces" to use when the day came. The day came when I added to my collection of Panel 3x6x6 Sloped with Window pieces. I have four of these, in blue with dark trans-blue panes, from 6520 Mobile Outpost, an Arctic set. To this I added four of the same piece in red, from Bricklink, with trans-red panes, and then swapped the panes: red panes in blue panels, to use here, and blue panes in red panels for use in a Spyrius ship.
These large window pieces and the trans-red cockpit that had sat waiting in my collection for three years were the first elements of this ship. Then I started amassing blue and black "spacey" parts that I could use with them, and the basic shape started to come together. The triangular girders on their side ended up being pivotal to the shape of what came, as did the decision to put the cockpit windshield on the side, ala the Millennium Falcon.
In addition to the parts that I had, the size of the ship was also determined by the crew: three of my four Space Police (i) figs are posted aboard--none of whom sport a classic "plain" head, a good sign that they were all acquired as parts rather than complete minifigures. As a general rule, I like the classic plain head... but I'm not always keen to outfit entire armies with it.
The interior shots don't show much of what's inside the ship, which is okay, because it's not particularly interesting. There are a couple of consoles, presumably monitoring the "power generator" and/or the "hyperdrive/warpcore/lightspeed-thingy" and a bed so that the crew can take turns sleeping. It doesn't have a jail cell, which might be counted a deficiency in a Space Police vessel...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Old Prince

One of my habits when buying things from Bricklink is to browse through all the minifig parts a store I'm shopping has in its catalogue. This isn't my only such habit; I usually also take a look at whatever old grey pieces are in stock and whatever trans-yellow pieces might be there. As a result, although I've never really set out with a goal of collecting old minifigs, I've built up a number of classic Castle figs over the years, figs from prior to the 1984 debut of Legoland Castle. On the parts to these figs that I acquired was a torso to the prince (or lord or king or what-have-you) who comes with 383/6083 Knight's Tournament, LEGO's very first jousting tournament set. According to Bricklink, this torso only ever came with this set. Unfortunately, in the condition I got it, the torso was a little bit worn; in fact, all the gold was worn off completely. In and of itself, this isn't such a surprise--there are probably more examples missing the gold printing on Bricklink than have it, and gold printing has vanished off many early torsos, such as the Classic Space torso and Lion (Legoland Castle) torsos. I added the torso to my cart without really knowing what I was going to do with it. Should I convert it into a soldier's torso? Rebuild the prince and ignore his missing printing? As you can see, I decided to "customize" him back to his original appearance with the use of a little gold-star sticker:
As you can no doubt also see, I decided to upgrade the prince a little bit so that he could hang out with the other royal minifigs in my Castle realms. I decided against giving him a crown--I kind of like the fact that this guy doesn't have the ubiquitous crown-helm that all the later kings have--but I did give him a sceptre (stolen from the KK2 in the Knights' Kingdom Chess Set.
I also gave him a cape, in the style of the Dragon Master and Royal Knight cloth capes of the mid-1990s, though of course this is actually a paper cape. It should be noted that, in addition to the tri-colour shield emblem of his torso, the prince's cape also sports the crown off the emblem of the main faction of knights in 375/6075 Castle. In my LEGO world, all the pre-Legoland Castle factions are united under the Knights' Tournament Prince, thus making him the titular "crown" of those original Crown Knights. Presumably the Tri-Colour family acquired the throne or married into the original Crown family at some point.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

4641 Speed Boat

Not a long post today, but one for the sake of completism. At the same time that I bought Uruk-hai Army, I picked up 4641 Speed Boat. Picking up the set felt a lot like buying LEGO did as a kid: I had extra money in my budget, there were sets at the store that I could buy for that price, so I did. In actual fact, I was willing to spend a bit more money than I did... but LEGO is expensive these days and none of the sets that I was actually interested in fell below the budget thresh-hold--at least not without making it impossible to pick up the Uruk-hai Army. Nonetheless, I picked up Speed Boat. Why?
Well, as you can see, Speed Boat is not a particularly large set. One of my brothers got it for Christmas, so I've seen it before, and I knew it was "swooshable" (or whatever the maritime equivalent is... swoopable?) but ultimately forgettable. Even the fig is a relatively generic Octan fig. So why buy it? The answer is that for the price of less than three dollars, it was one sale and I didn't own it. LEGO is producing awesome enough sets these days that picking up sets on sale is less frequent than it once was--thankfully those "halcyon days" of 2003 or so are long gone--and LEGO is also more expensive than it once was. You can't even pick up a Collectible Minifig for less than three dollars most places. And with my own budget tightening, it was not only an opportunity but one I could afford. There was also a certain amount of "collector's instinct" involved. I've never been a LEGO fan who limited himself to primarily one theme: Castle, Pirates, Town, Space, etc. I've always aimed to have at least a little of everything--and more of some--and the fact of the matter is that City is at the back of the line these days. Part of this is because, although City has some new and awesome sets, it's just going over ground that they've covered for years and years: police and firemen and planes and race cars; at the same time, LEGO is putting out some new and wonderful stuff: Lord of the Rings and Monster Hunters and Collectible Minifigs, etc.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

9471 Uruk-hai Army

Although my lovely wife declined the suggestion that we spend all the gift money for our wedding on LEGO, in favour of things like cars and rent (which, I suppose, serve the LEGO collection in their own special way), I did get to pick up a little bit of new LEGO once we got back from our honeymoon. My priorities were quite clear: I need to expand my Lord of the Rings collection while they're still available in stores. To that end, while we were at a Target, I picked up 9471 Uruk-hai Army for $30 USD. My alternatives there were Shelob Attacks ($20) or Attack on Weathertop (which I already own). If Gandalf Arrives had been there, I probably would have picked it up too, but, alas, this Target lacked it.
The building centerpiece of the set is a wall-section, presumably a part of the Deeping Wall from Helm's Deep, guarded by Éomer on horseback and an Eorling archer with an (ubiquitous) catapult. (Fun fact: the Rohirrim don't actually call themselves Rohirrim or their land Rohan--those names are given to them by the Elvish-speaking Men of Gondor. The Rohirrim themselves call their land "the Mark" and their people "the Eorlings," people of Eorl--their first king.) The design of the wall is nothing spectacular, but LEGO didn't skimp with it either. Rather than being built with large 1x6x5s or other large panel pieces, it's made up of basic-sized bricks. Also impressive, design-wise, is the fact that it actually has a staircase built into the back; as a general rule, LEGO castles are notorious for leaving to the imagination how one ascends to the battlements. The bricks themselves include a fair number of the new "etched-in brick" 1x2s (all in light new-grey) and a number of sand-green bricks (mostly--but not completely--1x1s). LEGO also took the time to design a very respectable arrow-slit at the centre of the wall, and finer crenelations than any non-licenced LEGO castle I've ever seen.
Besides the wall-section, the building aspect of the set is concentrated on the siege engine for the opposing side. This a "giant crossbow" of sorts, which out-rigs a couple of flick-fire missiles as grappling hooks (presumably we are to imagine ropes behind them for the Uruk-hai to scale the walls with). As a general rule, I am not a fan of LEGO siege engines. I never found them as fun to play with as a kid as cavalry and infantry and I never had enough figs to man them properly anyway. As an adult, I generally find them to be overly "Technicky" and not a good source of great pieces. That caveat aside, I like this one about as well as I like any LEGO siege engine. The flick-fire missiles are well-used (something I would not say about 80% of the sets they come in) here (which also means "well-disguised"). Although it isn't a functional crossbow, it has the appearance of one, and there are few nice pieces here (mostly I'm thinking about the 1x4 printed tiles). Although I don't know that this engine will stay together as long as the wall--and certainly not as long as Weathertop--once I refit it with wider wheels, it should have a long life for a siege engine. Although the 4x4 round brick wheels used by the Knight's Kingdom (both I and II) are not always perfect, they are preferable, in my opinion, to the too-narrow 4x4 round plates used here (even capped with the 2x2 round plates).
And that brings us to the minifigs... Prior to this purchase, I have to admit that the vague sense I had of this set was that it was the "Helm's Deep Expansion" pack with a couple more orks, a couple more good guys, and a bit more wall--a résumé that didn't excite me much. If I thought about it, I would have probably assumed that it was overpriced and unexciting. What I didn't realise, since I don't really pay deep attention to the specs of sets I haven't purchased, was that it comes with six minifigs. That's one more minifig than Attack on Weathertop, and that set is twice the price!
Like the Rohirrim in this set, the Uruk-hai are a faithful and aesthetically pleasing adaptation of the characters from the movies. In neither case do I have any particular beef with these designs (though I don't think they are the only possible interpretations). My only real concern is that the humans are, as always in licensed themes, flesh-toned rather than yellow. Unlike Attack on Weathertop, however, this set makes the conversion easy, since neither of the Rohirrim have exposed skin on their torsos, which means a simple swap of hands and heads, and you have yellow-fig Rohirrim. Here they are pre-conversion. Note the excellent new helms (with printing for Éomer), excellent new shield, and excellent torso/leg printing.
Also note the sword the archer is carrying. In the instructions this belongs on Éomer's saddle (presumably this is his sword, which the books call Gúthwinë). I mentioned before that I like this new sword design--it is, to pun, quite sharp--but I'm not sure I like it for the Riders. LEGO sword design is, in any case, not an exactly replicating science, but this strikes me as more "hero-sword" (think Aragorn or Boromir) and less "Rider-sword." The classic "short sword" (in distinction to the chromed "great sword") is a better fit, but it belongs to a different aesthetic of minifig, and in any case is close to the same size as the new swords anyway. The "gladius" (it first came out with the Gladiator) is the best fit to my taste. That creates problems too, however, because that's the sword that Pippin (I refuse to call him Merry) carries in Attack on Weathertop. In addition to not wanting my Riders to carry mere Hobbit-swords, the gladius is just a touch too short for my taste--and extra 3 millimeters would have been perfect. Still, for the time being anyway, that's probably what I'll make do with--and I'll probably steal Pippin's sword to do it. I might give the Hobbit one of the Heroica swords from the Blacksmith set.
I'm quite pleased with the replacement faces I found. Éomer now sports a "Thresher" face from the Aquasharks line. It gives him a slightly darker hair colour, but I think the effect still works and it's light enough I could still give him blond hair and have it work. The other fig has a "Col. Colt Carson" head from the Wild West line, which ages him a little. That works me, though. He can be Gamling the Old, who, in the Books, was left in charge of the defense of Helm's Deep by Erkenbrand (whose army Gandalf goes to find since, in the Books, Éomer was never banished). You can also see that I've added another Eorling to the wall. Sporting a Bull Knight torso and classic "conical" helm, this new rider has stolen the head, spear, and shield off the Legionnaire and Highlander I recently acquired, making him fit in well with the two pre-existing Rohirrim. Note also the gladii they are carrying. All told, I was immensely impressed with this set--all the more so because I did not expect to be. I expected a decent set--all told, it's a great one.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wedding Loot

Despite the fact that my lovely wife vetoed putting LEGO on our Target registry, our wedding day was not without LEGO. The wedding favours have been mentioned before, but as it turned out, they were not the only LEGO involved with that day. Though no LEGO was on our registry, my family knows me well enough to indulge the habit a little. From my brother, the fare was minifigs of a variety I'd never managed to get my hands on:
(By the way, I apologise for the poorer quality of the pictures in this post--in addition to the usual excuses of photographer ineptitude, it was raining yesterday--hence the droplets on our friends.) These magnets were Toys R' Us promotional items, and as I have no car and Boston has no Toys R' Us, I would never have been able to acquire them--even though I'm a Castle fan. In a similar manner, as I've mentioned before, I never got the opportunity to acquire any Series 6 Collectible Minifigs. Knowing this deficiency in my collection, my brother got me these:
The Highlander and the Legionnaire were the two minifigs of Series 6 that I most regretted missing--and my brother knew this. My sister, on the other hand, probably has no idea at all what LEGO I have, lack, want, or need--but she does know I like LEGO and I like writing. So she got my wife and I these:
(The red in this photo is absolutely atrocious...) To my surprise--and glee--these Moleskine notebooks also come with a couple sticker sheets.
The reason for my glee is that I realised right away that although these stickers are (presumably) intended to decorate the pages of the notebooks, they also have minifig customising potential. Granted, this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I think the results are pretty good:
I am embarrassed to show this photo at all, but it gets the idea across. Both torsos and heads of these two minifigs are stickers cut from the sticker sheet. The effect may not be perfect, but it's sharper than most "do it myself" attempts and looks not unlike some of the very early minifigs, which often had torso stickers rather than printing. And as a way to rehabilitate some of the very worn, garage-sale heads that have been sitting useless in my collection, it's not bad. One just has to make sure to use the right head.