Are you overwhelmed with awe at the new LEGO Friends line, or do you think it is a blow for Feminism? Who cares? However much you may or may not have been distracted by Friends, it cannot have escaped your notice that there are new CITY sets out, too - and 2012 is one of those years where LEGO CITY eschews the usual Police and Fire sets in favour of some good wholesome civilian stuff. Provided you like vehicles, of course! If you want houses, just swallow your manly pride and go out and buy some Friends
Me, I'm a sucker for civilian vehicles. I couldn't wait to get my hands on these new sets, and I thought I'd start with something that I've thought was missing from the LEGO CITY range since 1984's 6694 Car with Camper.
Name: Car & Caravan
Release Year: 2012 (January)
Price: GBP £14.99 | US $19.99 | DKK 179.95 | EUR 19.99 | CA $24.99 | AU $29.99
Go camping and explore the great outdoors! Drive into the wilderness with the car and unhook the caravan to go for a quick bicycle ride! Start the camp fire before its time for dinner to roast the sausages! Male and female minifigures included.
- Includes male and female minifigures
- Features detailed kitchen and detachable caravan
- Accessories include bicycle, camp fire, 2 cups, 2 sausages and a flashlight
- Lift the camper’s roof to play inside!
- Detach the camper to take the car for a spin!
- Measures over 11” (28cm) long
Click for a high resolution full-frontal
I'm getting a bit tired of describing these CITY boxes . The design hasn't changed since 2005. Still, if it ain't broke.... The cover shot is a lovely picture of the set, showing off the car and caravan beautifully. Typical of caravan owners, in blatant disregard of other road users, this driver has simply slewed off the road when the first suitable camp-site appeared, lighting a fire to cook his sausage - the smoke from which will undoubtedly prove hazardous to other drivers. Interstingly, the tower in the sketched background bears a passing resemblance to the clock-tower of Birmingham University.
Click for a high resolution image
Around the back, insets depict the set's features, modular construction, and HEY! factor - the last scoring 5 on the 'how green is my pullover?' rating system. As expected nowadays, we are informed how the set is divided into modules for 'easy start' - no promises are made as to the ease of middle or end, however. The means by which the caravan opens for play is revealed, and at the bottom right is a superb demonstration of how the dinky little car actually seats both figures.
Focusing in on the bottom left of the picture, we see a new and subversive side to LEGO marketing:
Collect them all! These are no playground sticker-swapping oddments - they are real, solid LEGO sets that eat up your parents' real, solid cash, kids. Pester at your peril!
Interestingly, all five of these consecutively-numbered sets (4435 included) are of a similar size, and occupy the same price point; even their boxes have the same dimensions:
Pictured here behind the Car & Caravan are 4432 Recycling Truck and 4431 Ambulance respectively.
The expected figure-parade atop the box is embellished with the set's camping paraphernalia - frying pan, sausage, mug and bicycle.
The chap appears to be the nth regeneration of Doctor Who, sporting as he does appropriately everyday attire and a Sonic Screwdriver. If the caravan is his Tardis, it unfortunately isn't bigger on the inside.
The box, on the other hand, is airy and accommodating. Opening with the accustomed thumb-tabs, out fall two poly-bags, one instruction booklet and a small sticker sheet.
Both instructions and sticker sheet were mercifully uncrumpled, despite the lack of cardboard backing.
The build may be modular, but only a single instruction manual is necessary. Its cover is identical to the box front...
... except that the suggested age range is absent, and the background graphic has inexplicably shifted to the right.
There's nothing too technical about the build. No piece call-outs are required, and the steps are easy to follow, with a few minor sub-builds.
The step above shows an interesting use of a 1x2 wall element to avoid the SNOT studs on the rear of the car fender panel
Neither is the caravan - the larger of the two modules - too tricky:
Note the sticker applied to the 1x4x3 white wall panel - this is supposed to represent a flat-screen TV on the wall of the caravan (it's not a patch on this) .
Advertisements for more of the LEGO CITY 2012 'civilian' range grace the rear pages:
See what you could do if you had infinite bricks and it was your paid career to assemble such scenes!
Facing this, the new 'concept' range - the Forest Police (with bears! ) is revealed in all its glory:
Clearly enough CITY police sets exist now to keep the town safe, forcing the criminals to resort to robbing bears for all their money. Or honey.
At the rear of the manual, beyond the CITY Forest ( ) range, but before the ubiquitously hideous Raging Demonic WinGagneGewinne Child, lies the Inventory: See Page 1 and Page 2 on Flickr if you're interested.
Decal Sticker Sheet
The mercifully small sticker sheet contains but six stickers - two decals for the sides of the caravan; three registration plates, suspiciously dissimilar; ....
... and the aforementioned TV screen. At first I thought the caravanners were rather quaintly watching E.T., but it transpires it's some dirt-bike trial on the IMM sports channel
LEGO sticker said:
Mercifully, modular builds mean an easier time arranging parts. Bag 1 builds the figures, the bicycle, the 'fire', the wieners and of course the car.
You hardly need the instructions for this module! The modern 4-wide car base is employed again, and the narrower axle-plates mean that the 'standard' LEGO wheels don't stand too ridiculously proud of the car sides, unlike 2007's 7942 Off-Road Fire Rescue
Two pieces caught my eye:
The large yellow double-convex roof slope - Bricklink succinctly calls it, 'Wedge 6 x 4 x 2/3 Quad Curved' - is essentially two of these back-to-back, thought the contouring is slightly different (look closely at the corners, which are rounder). It is new this year, and unique to this set in yellow, but appears in white in these sets.
The other 1x4 symmetrical bow was new to me, but despite only being released in 2011 already appears, in a variety of colours, in 20 sets.
Bag 2 is far larger and contains the caravan. The part selection is rather conservative ...
... as is the colour palette, which would for the most part look at home in a typical Star Wars set.
Introducing John and Olivia. (If they had a dog, I'd have a strong compulsion to call him Newton.)
Neither look especially happy, but then they are going caravanning. John is not especially exciting - his torso appeared in 2010's CITY Advent Calendar and Public Transportation sets, not to mention last year's modular Pet Shop. Olivia, on the other hand, has a brand new - and unique - torso! Dastan's hair in dark tan quite suits her, too
John's sweater, and Olivia's curves, continue round the back:
Neither leg pieces have any printing, unfortunately
Well... and just because everyone's doing it... let's see how these wierdo System figures compare to the beloved Friends range
They're so short and stocky John has Peter's hair in dark brown.
Early on, we also build the set's few accessories: a bicycle, the simplest campfire ever...
... and John pulls out his wiener. Olivia is more interested in her own
She takes it with her wherever she goes, even by bike:
These bicycles have been around since 1985, but they still look great
Built around a standard 4-wide vehicle base, the car is a simple build, but curves are intelligently employed to give her a smooth and sporty look.
I was unsure about the wisdom of the dark bluish grey stripe along the side, but I've grown used to it, and I think it works . It certainly helps to break up the yellow.
I really appreciate the way the profile builds from a low front to the bulky rear, giving her a realistic wedge-shape. I'm not so keen on the blue windows, which are just too Police for me. Why could we have had trans-black?
The simplistic front end looks a bit bland with that 4x1 double curve. This would of course be improved had I applied the stickers. The hinge pieces work well as little wing mirrors
The rear looks a little odd, and again rather plain without the sticker. Its simplicity belies the interesting technique used to tidy up the rear fender piece - see the instructions picture above, or here.
This rear-oblique view is much nicer :
You get to see the lovely new roof-piece in action, and notice how the plate and tile combo overhanging the rear resembles a spoiler.
The dinky size of the car disguises a sizeable interior, seen clearly when the roof is removed:
Perhaps the car is the Doctor's Tardis? I'm not sure what the rear grille tile is for. Note the use of wall panels and cheese wedges to give room for minifigure arms...
... and both John and Olivia can sit in relative comfort:
Saves one of them rattling around in the caravan, I suppose.
A note on the colour: yellow is rather an obvious choice, and we've had quite a few yellow CITY vehicles recently. It brightens up the set, and looks good, and heaven knows LEGO produce few enough civilian cars anyway; but I'd rather perhaps have had a green car or something a bit different.
Maybe I'm just influenced by the plethora of yellow vehicles cluttering our house:
Above is the latest CREATOR car, and a shameless plug for my 7-wide four-seater
Building the caravan is still relatively straight-forward, but it's a much more involved and interesting build than the car. The result is purposeful, and smart, with grille-bricks adding detail and dark red and bluish grey stripes emphasising the lines.
In profile, we can see how the smoothly streamlined front end blends into a rather boxy rear.
Two hinge-plates give a clue as to how the caravan will open; note also how the 'stand' - a single clippy-plate attached SNOT to the tow-bar - doesn't rest on the ground; we'll see the impact of this shortly.
Front-on, the low-set window looks a little odd, and I'm not a big fan of the arch-brick behind it. Personally, I'd rather the arch were replaced with columns of 1x1s; surely the big window should let as much light in as possible?
The boxy rear, replete with Sonic Screwdriver, reveals another minor flaw: despite my best efforts, I could get the opening side of the caravan to close properly - there remains a little yet rather annoying gap.
The rear really comes to life when the bicycle is attached:
Suddenly its square dullness becomes a meaningful play feature! Though if I'd designed it, I'd have put a window on the Sonic-Screwdriver half of the rear (yes, I know it's meant to be a torch, but they why clip it to the back of the caravan? )
Now we get to open the magic box. The latching mechanism is clever, even if it doesn't work perfectly:
A 1x2 plate with arm is hidden under the 2x2 dark bley dish; when the caravan is closed, it clips between the studs on the white plate that forms the roof of the opening section. Neat! When closed, this and the grille tile resemble air-conditioning or ventilation.
The 'door' of the caravan opens a full 180 degrees; however, there's a problem.
I've deliberately left the studio line in this picture to emphasise this point: with the door fully open, it weighs the front of the caravan down; since the 'stand' doesn't reach the ground, the whole caravan leans forward. On the plus side, clips on the interior allow all the accessories (two mugs and a frying pan) to be secured for transit. No rattling around on the journey! (Except for the sausages )
Here's another neat feature. What use would a caravan be without somewhere to sleep? The front end features a dark red mostly-tiled plate that represents a bed (and there's a 'pillow' to prove it. I'm not so keen on their choice of bed linen colours though).
But wait... only one pillow? Where's Olivia going to sleep? Perhaps they do shifts, or perhaps Olivia is content staying up with her sausage.
Happily, there is a solution, though it's not clear if the designer intended it. Hidden in the substructure underneath the dark red plate are two more of these red 'pillow' pieces, one of which is not visible from the exterior and serves no other clear purpose, so they can sleep happily together . Not that you can easily fit two figures side-by-side here, because of that blasted arch.
The main living area consists of two yellow chairs recessed into the floor, and the least convincing LEGO table I've ever seen .
The design here is a little questionable: recessing the chairs into the floor provides necessary headroom, but exposes the dark bley wheel arch bricks, which next to the white looks untidy.
Behind the chairs is a black 2x2 jumper plate which I guess represents a cooker. It's a little difficult to use, given the chairs are in the way:
And that, save the absent Trail Bike TV sticker, is the extent of the caravan's features. Personally, if I were to design a LEGO caravan (I made one in LDD once, but after the program upgrade the file won't load ) I would have built in more kitcheny features - some cupboards and an oven, even if it made the interior a little cramped.
While we're at it, I'd have preferred a proper door on the side of a caravan, with a roof that lifts off. Sure, the opening side allows easy play access to the interior, but I would favour a little realism here, personnally.
For Americans and other non-caravanning types (apologies if I'm selling anyone short here, although I'm far from proud of my country's caravanning heritage), here is what a modern caravan looks like:
Apologies to LeisureTimes Limited and Compass Caravans for borrowing their picture, but I'm sure they will appreciate the plug.
The Complete Set
Bags packed? Utensils on board? Sausages stowed? Kitchen sink? We're ready to go and spend a rain-soaked public holiday weekend stuck in traffic! Woo-hoo!
With car and caravan coupled, we can finally enjoy this set in all its civilian glory. Interestingly, I find my overriding impression is that the designer has gone for an aesthetic that is smart sobriety rather than cute jollity. Observe the dark red and grey stripes of the caravan and its overall boxy shape: the result is rather masculine. I wonder if this is deliberate attempt to appeal to the usual LEGO fanbase - boys - now that girls have a theme of their own. If true, I personally find this rather disappointing. What do you think? Discuss!
In contrast, the car is colourful and curvy, whilst maintaining a sporty appeal. Seen in profile, the convoy is nicely streamlined:
I mentioned this with regard to the car, but it deserves repeating here in the context of the whole set: I do not like the blue windows. It's bad enough that every Police and Fire set has to have blue-tinted windscreens, but here they should have stuck to trans-black, or even clear. Sure, the blue does add a splash of colour to the otherwise sober livery of the caravan, but in my opinion it would have been better to use a neutral colour for the transparent parts, and brighter colours for the stripes and accents.
Take a moment to consider 4435's immediate 'ancestor', 2009's 7639 Camper:
Picture from Brickset
and here in comparison to the set:
7639's colour scheme does for the set what I wish 4435's had done. The lime green accents contrast nicely with the white body and black windows, and, with the curves of the roof at the front and sides, give the set a cuteness that I think would appeal to boys and girls equally; 4435's achieves the opposite. To me, the juxtaposition of these two sets says, 'Camping is FUN!!! Yes, but Caravanning is SERIOUS.'
Don't get me wrong, I do like this set. It is a wonderful representation of a common and popular (in Europe, at least) holiday hobby; it is modern, for the most part aesthetically pleasing, and fills a niche in the LEGO CITY line-up. I think the designers could have done more, in terms of features; and, if the choice of colour scheme was in anyway intended to influence consumer appeal, then I think this might have been a mistake. But what do I know? Perhaps LEGO's extensive market research had found that the Camper didn't sell because of its cutesiness.
Anyhoo, let's get back to what this set is really about. It's a civvy set! Yay! We have a new couple to populate our crime-ridden city (and perhaps occupy one of the many vacant CREATOR houses ), an attractive car, which actually seats two, and a caravan offering something for John and Olivia to do at weekends. Perhaps they can motor off to the woods to meet the Forest Rangers (but hopefully not the criminals or grizzlies nearby)? Maybe they can cycle to work to reduce their carbon footprint (having given the Forest Fire Brigade something to do, with that campfire).
Whatever they do, I just hope it's something that makes them happy
Overall 74% My score 7/10 I set out to buy this set first of the new range. I find my self a little disappointed. Do I regret buying it? By no means, but I feel it could have been so much more.
Design & Build 7 An attractive set, if a little serious for what should represent a happy holiday experience, which could have been corrected with a simple change of colour scheme. Despite its small part count, the car achieves a sporty appeal and has the added bonus of seating two; the caravan features an ingenious latch mechanism, but is marred by a few minor niggles in its design (that arch, for a start).
Parts 6 A decidedly average part selection is brightened only by the new roof piece. Here, again, the blue windows are a disappointment - I personally would find trans-black or clear far more useful. Dark red is becoming more common these days; a few tiles here are not unwelcome.
Figures 7 Any set which isn't packed to the gills with innumerable identical uniforms gets an extra point! Olivia's new, attractive, and useful torso is the only highlight here.
Playability 8 The set's strongest feature. As a stand-alone or starter set, there's lots to do, with car and bicycle as transport, or the caravan and campfire as a play focus; it will integrate well with an existing CITY layout (provided the figures can find somewhere to live), and a car is always welcome amongst the myriad trucks that LEGO seems to want us to fill our cities with.
Value 9 You do actually get a lot for your money here. Of the five equally-priced sets in this 'Collect them all!' mini-range, only 4434 Dump Truck has a larger part count; and only 4433 Dirt Bike Transporter has (arguably) more in the way of playability. The whole range looks pretty good to me
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review
My flickr Photoset
7639 Camper Review by Macoco