Given how much I’ve recently been discussing LEGO and gender, I can forgive the commentary that’s assumed that I am fundamentally opposed to the new Friends themed LEGO sets. I’m not – not really. I don’t like the way it’s placed next to Barbies in toy stores, and I really don’t appreciate how existing LEGO fans’ magazine subscriptions have been automatically changed based on the gender specified on sign-up – especially since a byproduct of this is the complete erasure of girls from the regular magazine.
Fine. The marketing is crap. There are some serious concerns about the messages this gives to both girls and boys alike – I’ve blogged a little about this idea before (unrelated to LEGO), and will do so again shortly. I’m going to forget about that for a minute. At this stage, while I’m not letting them off the hook about their marketing strategy, I’m certainly not about to start boycotting LEGO.
This is where I confess that we have purchased three of the LEGO Friends sets. On the first day they were available in our local Toys R Us.
There are fourteen sets in the initial launch of the theme. As I’m sure more will be added, here is a list of the present range:
Stephanie’s Outdoor Bakery – £4.99
Emma’s Splash Pool – £4.99
Andrea’s Stage – £9.99
Olivia’s Invention Workshop – £9.99
Mia’s Puppy House – £9.99
Stephanie’s Pet Patrol – £9.99
Emma’s Fashion Design Studio – £9.99
Stephanie’s Cool Convertible – £14.99
Olivia’s Tree House – £19.99
Heartlake Dog Show – £19.99
Butterfly Beauty Shop – £24.99
City Park Cafe – £29.99
Heartlake Vet – £39.99
Olivia’s House – £69.99
I’ve included prices here, simply because it gives an impression of the size of the item. A fiver will buy you the equivalent of a Police bike and minifig, with similar levels of building involved. A tenner gets you – well, the equivalent of a police car and a couple of bits of furniture. For twenty quid you’re talking a much more sizeable build. Beyond that I can’t say as I only bought the cheaper sets on this occasion.
I got the inventors’ workshop, the design studio, and the treehouse. I’d have preferred the design studio if it was a more generic design studio space, but to be fair it’s only really the drawing on the whiteboard that defines it as a fashion design studio. I didn’t get any of the pet themed ones because – well, that’s really not my bag. I will also avoid anything beauty parlour themed – anyone who knows me will agree that beauty parlours are really, really, really not my bag! This is not unique to Friends of course – there is plenty from the rest of the LEGO ranges that I’m not particularly interested in. That’s because I’m one individual person with individual likes and dislikes, just like you.
I don’t have many criticisms across the whole theme. I’m disappointed that the hands on the figures don’t rotate like the normal minifigures, but this just means a slight reduction in the compatibility across sets and accessories – for example, the girls can’t play the guitar – just hold it vertically. I’m also not convinced about naming the characters and giving them official biographies and personalities. Of course, having bios written for the characters doesn’t mean that kids won’t use the figures to represent anyone they want, and make up their own stories instead. Another criticism of the new figures is that once they are fully accessorised – say with a camera and an oilcan (as you do), the skinnier frames make them much more prone to toppling over. This is fine if the set contains a baseplate so they can be stood up properly – but the cheaper ones don’t come with one. It would have made sense to include one of the small black plates that come with the collectible minifigures to add some stability, like this:
The two cheaper sets are very similar in that it is several very small builds – basically the furniture that would go in the space described. There is some lovely use of small pieces to make the items – for example the microscope and vice in the inventor’s workshop, and the desk lamp in the design studio. The pieces from both sets (apart from the blackboard and whiteboard – too big!) are currently furnishing our Hillside House.
The treehouse is a much bigger build, and I’m pleased that it’s still basically made up of lots of small pieces rather than pre-formed larger pieces which reduce both building complexity and future flexibility, and tend to increase cost too. Again, it has some nice use of the pieces, such as a skeleton leg as a telescope stand. Two animals come with the set – a kitten (who gets its own bed) and a bird (who gets its own house). There are several tiny decorative items, including ladybirds and butterflies, and a few new flowers that I haven’t seen before. These are just fiddly though, and being a boring old fart I could happily do without these.
Anyone looking at the sets and dismissing them for the size and simplicity needs to compare them to something of similar price. Of course the splash pool involves less building than Hogwarts – it’s a tenth of the price. You get more build for your buck in Friends than in Ninjago and several others in my opinion. In conclusion, the quality of these sets and designs is high, and the pieces are fully cross functional across other themes and sets. While it’s possible that the figures may be marginally too tall for some of your buildings, that’s true of the standard minifigures and some of the existing vehicles anyway. I see absolutely no reason why I wouldn’t buy more sets from the theme in future.
Apart from any nail parlours, dog groomers or shoe shops that is, anyway.