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  1. JackJonespaw

    Review: 21127-1 The Fortress

    This recent Lego Minecraft theme has always been an enigma to me. Sure, way back when Minecraft was first starting to become big, you had people citing it as “Lego, if everything in the world was already made of Lego”. So, to counter that challenge, in 2012, Lego released the rather brilliant Minecraft Micro line, it made sense to me, and those sets look damn solid. But, of course, what is good can’t stay forever, and in 2014 Lego introduced the larger Minecraft playsets, starting with The Cave, a set belonging to this Minecraft playset theme, a theme that never particularly piqued my interest. In fact, I’ve always considered this entire line underwhelming, compared to both Lego themes as a whole and the older Minecraft Micro Line. Maybe that opinion has changed. Brickset Link A bit of a tangent, but this set and three others on Brickset are tagged under “sugarcane”. I don’t know about any of you, but whenever I decide what set to get, my criteria is as follows: Big enough box to double as a litter box? ⃞ YES ⃞ NO Do the pieces at least look edible? ⃞ YES ⃞ NO Sugarcane? ⃞ YES ⃞ NO I know what you’re thinking - “Oh, that JackJonespaw, what a clever goof he wrote up! But there’s no way he actually does that!” Checkmate, Mazdakites!* *Apologies for any Mazdakites out there, it’s just a joke. On a more serious note, I’d love to discuss the systematic oppression of Mazdakism and the sociological effects of a small religious such as yours. I can’t thank the Lego Group enough for allow me the opportunity to review this set, nor the Reviewer’s Academy admins, especially WhiteFang, for actually letting me review it ~2 years after it was actually sent to me. You guys are the best, and I want you to know that I know.* *If any of you are Mazdakites, again, I apologize. See footnote #1. It’s right above this one. In fact, you probably already read it. Well, where to we start? I. THE BORING STUFF Yea. Let’s just get it out of the way. Box, booklets, bags. So, yes, these are the official images of the box. Some of the reviewers on this site can take absolutely incredible pictures of boxes. I am not one of them. Feast your eyes on the yellowed, blurry, flat pictures that I take! Clean up that vomit around your mouth, folks, because we’ve still got a lot more review to digest. So these Minecraft sets channel the Creator line a bit with their “multiple models per set!” schtick. The first instruction manual (it’s tricky, but it’s the one with the “1” on the cover) is in standard Lego instruction format. These pages focus on building what I’ve taken to calling the “assets” of the set (please, save your inappropriate butt-related jokes for the end). Instruction booklets 2-5, yea 5, detail the different models you can build with said assets (stop giggling). Here’s three, four, and five. An interesting thing about these booklets: they’re made from a different paper, a thinner, less crisp and sexy paper. I’d equate it to thin magazine paper. It feel pretty flimsy to the touch, and very easy to tear (I speak from experience). So there’s 6 bags inside this baby, each one designated to a few specialized assets (Jesus, stop) or, in the case of bag one, a bunch of copies. And with all these pieces, what do we get? 8 of these, and…, 8 of these. That’s it for bag one, aside from the minifigs, which I’ll get into later. Bag 2 has four simple platforms, the most interesting of which contains four swords and a training dummy. Bag 3 gets more into the structure of the walls, with a “waterfall” (or leak in the structural integrity of the fortress), two walls with windows (in the game, these are iron bars) and, oh, look, sugarcane! 5 stalks of it, that’s the most out of all that Brickset tagged under “sugarcane”! We also get a wall with a “play feature” of flick-fires (just wait, I’ll get into that in a bit). Bag 4 has the largest build in the set, of the double doors (which I guess would be a pressure plate and two wooden doors? Some of this stuff doesn’t exactly translate perfectly to the game). It also contains two of these bannered platforms. I wonder why Steve (protagonist of the game and star of the set) would have banners of creepers’ heads adorning his fortress. I equate that to lining the walls with the heads of your enemies, which works as a fear tactics, but when your enemy is a suicidal exploding fanatic (the creeper), would that really stave him off? You can catch more of this genius analysis in my upcoming book titled “Minecraft: The Politics and the Underlying Rule of the Kratocracy”. Check it out on Amazon! Bag 5 has a few more of those tower platforms and the crenellations (what a brilliant word!), which have fires on top. If you consider the way this structure is built, there’s no way to really get on top and extinguish or light the fire. Once it’s on, however you get it on, it’s on. Maybe it’s like that Return of the King scene where Pippin lights the beacon. All you’ve got to do is climb unsafely and risk your life. No problem! I know you know the scene I’m talking about. Go watch it; it’s been too long. I’m not going anywhere. In fact, I’m watching it, too. And to wrap things up, with Bag 6 we get a nice little stable, a less nice tree, and a roof that seems like a five-year old built it. Hey, at least the tree has an apple. II. FIGURES So there’s six figures in this set, four of them unique. Steve is first. I believe this was before they added female Steve (Alex, I think? She was added after my exit from Minecraft), so you’d get Steve in nearly every set. Luckily, to spice things up, he comes with gold armor. In the game, no one wears gold armor, as it’s not great for defense and, like all gold items, has a pretty low durability. See, guys? I’ve played Minecraft before! Yet, for whatever reason, perhaps because Steve wanted to look just so damn right, he’s donning the full gold set and a gold sword (which will most likely break before the night is out). I never particularly liked the design of these minifigs. They’re not bad, it’s more of an issue with the source material - the Minecraft model for Steve isn’t winning any beauty contests. Something which I think is a good move is giving us this collection of weapons and items. I can’t explain why, but there’s a certain satisfaction in having all these weapons. Seriously, it’s the whole collection: wood, stone, iron, gold, and diamond. Maybe if you have a shortage of these skeleton parts this is exciting for you. If not, well, sorry. At least the armor (iron, I believe) breaks up the monotony. These guys each have bows and a gung-ho attitude. And then these two unfortunate creatures - “hinge-neck” and “dead-eyes”, as I call them. I never liked the animal models in Minecraft, especially the sheep, and I’m glad to see that it translated just as badly to Lego. Having misplaced that sheep headpiece, I often have fever dreams of discovering it in the back of my car, watching me, or perhaps surveying me on my first date with the woman who is to become my wife. He doesn’t want to harm me, just to observe. And I will never know that he was watching me. Or maybe I misplaced that sheep headpiece right into the fireplace. I don’t think I can legally say. III. “PLAY FEATURES” Man, I accidentally put those in quotes. Oh, wait, according to my editor, he put those in to continue this snarky tone that I’ve established. Honestly, at this point, I may just rename this section to “things that move when you do something”, calling them play features puts a five dollar word on a one dollar feature. I haven’t forgotten the “tree” play feature from the Battle of Takodana. Check it out if you’re considering calling them play features still. We’ll start with the best feature - this double door that opens. It’s slick and feel great to use. Maybe this would have been too bulky to add, but a feature where if you weren’t pressing the plate down the doors close? No? Too picky? Alright. The intrigue of the double doors are pretty much removed as we get a rehash of it, but with one door and a less smooth opening. I mean, come on, don’t do a repeat feature when you’ve only got 3 total! Because, of course, it wouldn’t be a Lego set without flickfires. I think my dislike of these as a feature is well-documented by now. They’re easy to tack on (see examples ALL OF THEM) and don’t really provide anything fun, per se. Now, those spring-loaded missiles that are in a couple of sets? Those are awesome. I still sometimes fly my Imperial Shuttle around and shoot the missiles. It’s really fun. Besides, Minecraft doesn’t have flickfires. It could be a dispenser with an arrow, but, then, why are the arrowheads black? Minecraft doesn’t have different colored arrows when I last checked. Ah well, it’s been, like, ten years since flickfires first came out. I think we’re stuck with them. Moving on - IV. PAINS IN THE ASSETS See? I can be immature if I want as well. Here are the platforms that you get in total once you build the set. There’s roughly 30 in total, and this seriously leads to a big problem with the rest of the set. Compare this to a set like, say, Emily and Noctura’s Showdown, it really doesn’t matter for the sake of argument. The goal of building the set is to build the set. The builds are generally various and interesting, especially with this set full of curves and bright colors. Once you finish the booklet, that’s it, you see the set in completion, and get a satisfied feeling about you. “I built it!”, you might say. Not here, all you get is a bunch of assets. As we’ll look at in Section V, this leads to four models that, quite frankly, feel uninspired and like nothing more than filling a quota. In a twisted way, it’s like building with a tiny amount of Legos. If I gave you 30 blocks, most of them 2x4s or 1x2 plates, hardly anything capable of using in interesting ways, and told you to build me four completely different models, you might have a tough time. However, this isn’t a problem with Creator sets (not to this extent, though there is always one model of the three than you can tell is the main model). So why is it such a problem with the Minecraft sets, or at least this set? I think it has to do with the “Minecraft” part. Sure, Minecraft inherently is about building different things out of the same selection of blocks, but for whatever reason this set decides to split things, not into individual pieces, as is seen with the Creator sets, or even this Minecraft Crafting Box, but into blocky assets that result in four similarly blocky models. But don’t take my word for it, look at Section V below! V - THE ACTUAL SET Honest to God, I don’t hate this first model. Like I said, there’s always a main model, a model that gets the most space on the box. And it could be a lot worse. It’s well-put together, nicely filled so it’s not boring flat areas (oh, those are coming), and actually feels like something I could see someone building in Minecraft. Out of the four models here, this one has the clearest vision, and you can tell that this is what the designer thought of when she came up with “The Fortress”, not whatever comes next. I can’t really think of anything particularly bad about this model - it conveys a Minecraft building and forms a really solid fortress. Ah, but why can’t things ever be perfect? If Model 1 were the only model, I would think this set, while perhaps lacking in interesting building techniques or piece usage, has a clear vision and executes it. This one, which I’ve taken to calling the “tall monstrosity”, and which is very difficult to photograph, is where everything falls apart. Let’s compare: in Model 1, everything has a place. The crenellations are at the top of the parapets, the bases of the towers fit nicely together, it has a wholeness about it. Model 2, on the other hand, and Models 3 and 4, while having decent sections, kind of fray off at the edges, trying to fit everything into the model. Why are the tower bases now just hanging out on the sides? What is the weird shape of the floor? Model 1 was a nice rectangle. Model 2 is a jankey mess. It honestly feels like it was put together because the designer was told to make 3 more models using the same assets. They just get worse. At least there’s a symmetry to it, and the water collects in a rather pleasant corner, but it no longer feels like a Fortress. It feels like a wall, but not a particularly solidone. Again, just look at the placement of the assets when compared to Model 1. They are nonsensical here! The tower bases are there just because they had to be, as is that odd block of stone walls and torches. Not to mention strange things like this. A building that’s supposed to be a fortress should make some kind of architectural sagacity to it. I get that Minecraft is a kids’ game, but a floating door for no reason? Come on, guys. VI - A SIGH When building this set, after completing the first model and moving on to the second, I didn’t have the excitement of “I can’t wait to build this out of nothing!”, instead I had “okay, so it’s just the first model but tall / long / weirdly arranged.” Most Lego sets, on some scale, at least, contain a clear sense of vision, and you can sense that the designers or designer really wanted to make the set. There’s a feeling of fun about it. Seriously, look at the new Harry Potter or Classic sets and say that they don’t look like a blast to play with and build. That’s what Lego is about, it’s what it’s always been about for me. Lego’s vision statement says they want to “inspire and develop children to think creatively”, and, I say this completely seriously, I don’t think they succeeded with this set. It’s not bad, per se, and from a certain perspective any Lego set fosters creativity in that it contains bricks that can be arranged in infinite ways to build incredible things. I would describe is as...mediocre, a word that has always been more impactful to me than “bad” or “awful”. Mediocre is when people get too comfortable and begin to slack on what once brought them so much joy. Office work, for instance, is a perfect example of mediocrity - one starts full of inspiration and excitement for their job, and within a few years are operating at the bare minimum to succeed and fulfill the quota. That isn’t to say that Lego is working at their absolutely laziest - no, and like I mentioned, some of these upcoming 2018 sets look absolutely incredible and may make me buy my first set in years. Maybe the Fortress is just an exception, a cockroach that slipped through the cracks. So my rating? I know I said when I started on this kind of revival of reviews that I wouldn’t grade things, but maybe I’ve matured. Maybe. After a lot of thought, the best I can give it is a 3/10. The rest is just...there. It didn’t blow me away, and as Lego doesn’t really make bad sets, this set is just an absolutely mediocre set, and mediocrity doesn’t deserve average. Maybe my once joke-a-minute attitude is changing, but I’d really like to encourage discussion. Let me know what you think about this set, the Minecraft theme, and Lego in general. I’d love to hear it. Once again, a hundred thanks to Lego and the Reviewer’s Academy for this opportunity.