The sixth set in a series of MOCs in which I'm trying to create MOC's that look as if they could have been part of the Lego castle product lineup from the late 80's.
This posting can also be found here on MOCpages.
The idea for this one was fairly simple, I was looking for ways to use up some of the many spare BURP's that I've got lying around and decided that I should build a little hill with a tower atop it. Simple? From an idea perspective yes, from the design and play perspectives; no! This design was one of the earliest that I embarked on but it required several months of revision before it reached the stage that I'm happy with it.
As this was one of the first sets that I started to design I hadn't started focusing on the criteria (listed below) that I now keep in the forefront of my mind. I blithely fired up LDD and set about building a hill out of BURPs. With this first design my idea was to create a cave where things could happen, a tacit nod to story and playability. Some things became evident fairly early on and were carried through subsequent iterations.
- Steps to access the various levels
- A corner tower that introduces a 90degree bend into the wall
- Unequal length wall stubs for connecting to the rest of the castle
- A forestmen opposing force with grappling hooks to scale the wall.
The problem with this first design is that the cave isn't accessible, even little hands are going to struggle to place anything in there, therefore this design has limited play value. The idea is still valid, but the design doesn't quite hit the mark.
With the second iteration I opened the design up. Gone were the little arches over the cave entrace, replaced with big 10stud with openings. The tightly enclosed lower wall segment received a similar treatment whilst the overall shape remains intact, keeping the aforementioned design features such as the stairs.
Better, but it's lacking something; story! For a set which is going to have about 300 pieces and retail for maybe £40 there needs to be a pretty convincing story, two forestmen storming the tower isn't that convincing. Design fails, back to the drawing board.
I have a love/hate relationship with "action" features in Lego sets, sometimes they're just too gimmicky for my liking and seem like they've been placed there to cater for kids that don't have any imagination. I have to put those feelings to one side and come up with some action to make the design more playable.
The first idea was something to top off the tower, thankfully flick shot gimmicks don't fit the 80's ambiance so I don't have to go down that route. Instead I take a 6012 Siege Cart remove the carriage and wheels and adapt it to fit onto a turntable and pivot hinge. First playable action, the defender can shoot some big stuff back, let's hope the forest men can creep up on them.
The second itea harked back to the cave of the first iteration, what about a secret passage? I wanted this to be a bit more than just a collapsing piece of wall and I'm willing to sacrifice the lower chamber of the tower to get something useful. A rockface goes in behind the arches which supports a trapdoor in the floor of the upper chamber. A couple of slopes provide a chute leading to a lifting rock on the outside.
We're getting somewhere now! The shape of the structure is good, there are play elements in the siege weapon on top and the secret passage below. The passage is good because either side could use it depending on how a child want's to play, the people inside can escape out or the people outside can break in. The only problem is that we're at 380 bricks and I haven't added minifigs which will count for at least another 30 pieces. This is well above the 300 brick target that I was aiming for. The design is close but it's not there yet. I did try to tweak the design but I only saved a dozen bricks, not the hundred that I need to remove.
A rebuild of Iteration 3 from the ground up. From the outset I have 5 fully kitted out minifigs and the siege weapon stuffed into a corner of my LDD design space so that I can keep an eye on the brickcount from the very beginning. The shape remains but I pay carefull attention to my layers, unlike iteration 3 there's a layer of plates running all the way through the first floor which means I can use a simpler plating pattern with bigger plates rather that working around the features. This also simplifies the stairs to the upper level and their associated wall. I simplify the rockwork on the outside, limiting the amount of extras added to the BURPs. By the end of it, a piece count of 307. That's within spitting distance of the 300 target so I'm happy.
The following screens capture show some of the play features in more detail. With the redesign one intention was to have a string pull up the trapdoor, the highlighted components show where the string would be threaded first through hole near the roof, then out through a technic brick on the side. The other capture shows the open secret entrance.
I also considered replacing the slope by the stairs with one of the large 30249 Slope 6x1x5 pieces, but the piece savings weren't as significant as I'd hope and I lost the detailing of the arch so the modification was reverted.
Designing in LDD is one thing, seeing it in real life is something different. There was nothing particularly complex about the build, I corrected a couple of design errors that are obvious in real life but not in LDD. This added a couple of bricks but spotting a line of short plates that could be replaced by a single longer plate clawed those bricks back. LDD files are attached to the MOCPages version.
It's a solid build, the base of the hilltop is probably more solid than what you'd expect from the Lego design studio. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it leaves me thinking have I used too many bricks? Could I have got away with less? Regardless, phsical photo's are below.
For those that haven't seen my earlier posting on The Maidens Tower the criteria that I'm working to are similar to those that the actual Lego designers would work to.
- Story - Each set needs to have the ability to have it's own story constructed around it.
- Playability - Sets need to be playable. To a certain extent this can trump reality, rooms that hands can put minifigs in are more important than accurate scale and/or making sure that every room has a door and that therer are stairs to reach the battlements. Little minds (or big ones for that matter) quickly fill in the irrelevant blanks to get on with important tasks of rescuing maidens, slaying dragons or stealing treasure.
- Build-ability - Sets need to be build-able. If I can't provide sensible instructions for my creations then they can't be built. As a rule of thumb I should probably be looking at one instruction step for every 15 bricks in the creation. Therefore a 300 brick model would have at most 20 instruction steps.
- Cost - All Lego sets are built to a budget. My Own Creations should try to fit the price bands that TLG aims for. As a rule of thumb the total cost of parts on BrickLink based on the BrickLink average should be the same as current sets cost. It's not an accurate measure, scarcity of parts on BrickLink pushes the price up, whereas the cost to TLG to produce a brick isn't constrained by it's rarity.
- Consistency - The creations should be of a design that makes them consistent with sets released in the mid to late 80's, the Lion and Black Falcon era's.
Story: The story is there in the form of the Forestmen trying to storm the tower, but in a large setup it could the same secret passage play-feature could be used by the defenders to escape or launch a counter-attack. It's not the strongest story that we've had, but it's not the weakest either.
Playability: Getting minifigs in and out of the secret passage is a bit fiddly but the slopes within mean that anyone going down the trapdoor ends up against the moving rock ready to extract. The far side of the interior of the tower is a bit inaccessible due to it's distance from the outside. In future I probably shouldn't create anything thats deeper than it is high, everything else is accessible. I'm glad that I left the studs on the BURPs since it gives places to clip on the Forestmen when they're scaling the tower.
Build-ability: A simple build, although I've not created instructions for it, I reckon 40 east steps building from the baseplates up. There are no fancy techniques utilised.
Cost: At 307 pieces, including Minifigs. I was quite surprised in that there are no historic examples around the 300 piece mark, early to mid 250 yes, 400 and beyond, yes, but nothing in between until 6088 Robbers Retreat at 277 pieces in 1998's Ninja Theme. From the modern lineup 7079 Drawbridge Defense at 338 pieces is nearest, retailing at £27.
Consistency: BURP's themselves are something of an anachronism, not arriving in the castle lineup until the Dragon Knights era. The trapdoor piece is also of more modern origin but I could replicate it using period parts if I really needed to. Those issues aside I think it fits, the following shot show it between 6067 Guarded Inn and 6074 Black Falcons Fortress.
I think I'm finally happy with the design on the fourth attempt. I still wish it had more story and the longer I look at I the more I think it needs some more minifig weapons and utensils in terms of spare swords, shields and spears, etc...
In the wider perspective is there enough of it to stand up to the parent test, ie. would a parent buy this for little Jonny? It's expensive enough that the temptation would be to go for a fully fledged castle for just a couple more bucks, rather than an expensive extension. Whilst the expansion idea works for the smaller sets that I've produced to date, I'm not sure it translates well into the larger price-points. Unfortunately I don't get the sales opportunity or market research panels to tell me whether my gut instincts are borne true or not, although feel free to pass your own judgement.