So far 2018 is a good year for Lego sets. After a mixed 2017 with a lot (probably too much) of hype going on about the Lego Batman- and Ninjago-Movie and not always great sets (like the infamous Bat-Space Shuttle), Lego’s line-up for this year seems to be back on the right track.
Speaking of track, roller coasters are one the big things this year, after the pieces initially showed up in last year’s Joker Manor: first we got the news about the Pirate Roller Coaster, which draws heavily from the original ’89 pirate theme (and does a great job doing so) and then a couple days ago the announcement of a large 4000-piece Creator Expert Roller Coaster. Not bad at all! Sadly the pricing for the large one is a bit beyond reason and I blame partly the new pieces for that, but certainly not exclusively.
Another highlight is the Tron Ideas set. Ok, its another licensed theme, and a bit on the expensive side as well, but I still like it. Its small, its charming and not only because its Tron, but also because 80s-vectorgraphic inspired futurism still looks quite ermm… futuristic – and so very cool!
The first pictures for the upcoming wave of Harry Potter sets started to pop up at around the same time. Whilst I am by no means a fan of Harry Potter, I find the Hogwarts Great Hall set actually quite appealing. I probably will get one from Ebay without Minifigures, since I don’t really have any interest in them (apart from a few ones with cute dresses on or so). Very interesting Stuff!
The City-theme in the meanwhile ventures out into the arctic, uncovering frozen (and probably still living) mammoths and something that looks like a tiger, but could also be a sabre cat – cool beans! Especially if you, like me, missed out on the 2014-arctic theme.
Another pleasant surprise was the announcement of a new City Hospital. Something Lego hasn’t done since 2012! So its really been time. The hospital building itself might be a bit basic, but it has a strong minifigure and accessory-lineup, which definitely gives it a lot of play-value. Even if we AFOLs might have to mod it to make it a decent display piece.
Tree House Treasures is another charming addition to Lego’s creator-series. And it features pirates again. Well, sort of. I really like the twist of a playset where kids can play kids who play pirates. This is definitely one of those sets that can add personality and life to a city layout. Imagine it as center-piece of a kids playground in a park – just brilliant!
Brickheadz! It seems that in 2018 even they can excite me. At least their Go Brick Me-set, since this is really something else. What a great idea – and probably the bargain of the year at 708 pieces for € 30! Usually I am just ignoring these, but this one is a buy.
All in all it seems that The Lego Group is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a healthy dose of inspiration from its past. I won’t call it nostalgia though. More a subtle change of direction back to the core of the brand. Especially the recent years saw too much focus on action, conflict and vehicles across the themes. While overall the new sets featured here still offer a lot of things to do, they seem to me more grounded and versatile. Maybe a slight change in the big picture, but the sets and themes above really have my sympathy!
Its not all roses though. With the current Collectable Minifigures Series (#18, to be precise), TLG really has stepped into it. All lovely, cute and quite inventive Minifigures (the Party Clown being my favourite) that are more or less evenly distributed in their boxes – and then there is the 1978-style Police Officer (only 1 per box), which is just such a facepalm-worthy blunt invitation to scalpers. Its really the ideal recipe for speculation: take a world-renowned brand (Lego), add some childhood-nostalgia (policeman), mix it with a memorable date (60th anniversary) and then add rarity (only 1 per box). Really “well” done, whoever is responsible. Luckily it is a visually not terribly appealing minifigure, so from every angle, except from the collectors’-perspective not a must-have.
And whilst we are at the bad news, the elephant in the room is obviously the dip in sales and revenue that continued in 2017. I think there is no single reason for it and probably no single answer either. The over-reliance on license-themes certainly contributed to it. It seems the interest in sets to be big franchises has cooled down somewhat. Its also seems that the interest in physical/traditional toys somewhat declined as well, as other big manufacturers reported dips in their sales as well. Time will tell if its just a temporary thing or if there will be lasting consequences on the market. The steadily increasing prices certainly play a role as well. Lego was never a cheap toy, but my overall impression is that you get significantly less set for the money than just a couple years ago. Anyway. It will be interesting to see how TLG will answer these questions. I have no doubt that Lego will be around for a long, long time and probably outlive us, unless something with the brand goes seriously wrong. The lessons learned from the almost-bankruptcy of the early 2000s however are surely still very active in the minds on the top of the company – at least they should.
I personally also think that a lot of the sets recently got quite samey, following a certain, proven pattern: one or two vehicles, a patch of land with a destructable structure on top of it and some minifigures thrown in. Depending on the price the vehicles and the structure are bigger or smaller, with the amount of minifigures and their accessories varying accordingly too. That’s certainly not a bad concept, but a bit of breaking free from the mould (pun intended^^) is sometimes needed to prevent ideas from becoming stale – and I think that is exactly what is happening with the recent sets.
So my overall impression is a positive one. I certainly wasn’t quite as excited when the 2017 sets got announced. A lot of what I have seen this year looks very good and feels just right. Inventive, exciting and positive sets, actual buildings and a healthy variety of themes and ideas. Way to go!
That’s so far on my impressions of this year’s sets. I deliberately focused on the things I find most interesting, instead of summarizing everything TLG is putting out this year, since if I don’t find something interesting, it doesn’t interests me! 😉 See you next time and have a lovely spring!