Monday, 7 April 2014

Old School

Time to dip into my ever-growing build queue this week.... Set 31011 Aviation Adventures caught my eye as soon as pictures started to leak onto the internet in 2012, and it was of course part of the 2013 Creator line-up which got the nod as my theme of the year in the 2013 Gimme LEGO Awards. I've been meaning to build this set for months, and I finally got round to it. Did it live up to my expectations ? Read on to find out....

The box is around 38 cm by 35 cm and quite heavy for its size thanks to the 618 pieces contained within. The front of the box (above) is dominated by an image of the primary model, an airplane, with the secondary models - a speedboat and a helicopter - and the Creator 3-in-1 logo relegated to a series of small windows beneath. There's also a boxout top right which highlights the main play feature of the airplane. The back of the box gives the three models approximately equal billing, highlighting a play-feature of each. Overall, the understated, clean and minimalist branding and artwork is perfectly suited to the Creator theme.

The box contains 8 un-numbered bags of parts and 3 instruction booklets; I never get tired of seeing the instruction booklets nice and flat in their own bag with a cardboard backing. There's no DSS. The instruction booklets are A4 sized, and there's one for each of the featured models. The 84-page booklet for the airplane contains nothing but building instructions, while an inventory of parts and advertising for the 2013 Creator sets and LEGO Club are split between the significantly shorter speedboat and helicopter instruction booklets.

You can see a selection of some of the more noteworthy elements that are included in the set in the picture above (click to enlarge). Consistent with this being a Creator set, most of the constituent elements are fairly commonplace - the set is a good source of standard blue plates, for instance. That having been said, there are a few elements, most of which are blue slopes and wedges of various types, which are noteworthy by virtue of their relatively infrequent inclusion in sets; all bar one of the elements in the picture above can be found in less than ten sets in total. Rarest of the lot is the flat silver wagon wheel which is unique to this set, while the white 1 x 5 x 4 inverted arch is included in just two sets including this one, and the trans black windscreen has appeared in just three sets to date. A full inventory of parts can be found in the instruction booklet for the speedboat, and you can also find the parts inventory online here.

The first model I built was the speedboat, and you can see the cover of the instruction booklet above. LEGO has designated this the most basic of the three models, and I think the build is probably best described as a "good, old fashioned' building experience' which utilises lots of plates and basic bricks in 'traditional' LEGO colours and calls upon relatively few specialised parts. The fact that the part selection in this set is heavily geared to the primary model means that there's a lot of 'making do' involved in the secondary models; the compromises inherent in having to make the best use of the parts available took me back to my long lost childhood.... This is particularly evident in the mid-section of the hovercraft which, beneath the skin, is a patchwork of parts and colours that no right-minded builder would have used given a choice. Up until fairly late in the build I couldn't really see this model coming together very well at all, but the end result (picture below - click to enlarge) is better than I expected.

The back of the model is dominated by a huge fan which would seem to be far better suited to an airboat than a speedboat, but I'm no expert so I'll give LEGO the benefit of the doubt. The fan rotates, which I guess counts as a rudimentary play feature.

The main play feature of this model, apart of course from zooming it around on your carpet at home (there are six boat studs attached to the underside to reduce friction), is a simple mechanism for opening the speedboat's twin canopies. The canopies are popped open by pressing on the trio of flat silver modified tiles with grille located just in front of the rear fan (picture below - click to enlarge). There's also what LEGO describes as a luggage compartment in front of the cockpit which has a hinged lid that can be opened and closed.

As a fairly simple introductory build the speedboat does the job, although it's not really a design to sit and endlessly admire; good job too as no sooner had I built and photographed it then it was time to break the model down and get to work on the helicopter.

LEGO have designated the helicopter as 'Medium Build' in terms of build time and complexity. It was actually a pretty quick build - construction time didn't feel appreciably longer than that of the speedboat - and the build was fairly simple. I suspect therefore that it may have been classified as medium difficulty purely by virtue of the Technic mechanism that it includes. As was the case for the speedboat before, there were a substantial number of elements left over once the model was finished, and you can see the finished model below (click picture to enlarge).

If I'm honest, it doesn't look particularly great. Aside from the relatively unmemorable overall design, there's a distinct lack of polish close up, with awkward gaps left showing in various places, an at times untidy use of colour, and a somewhat messy feel overall. Look for instance at the helicopter's tail in the picture below, with its multi-coloured stack of 1 x 1 elements at the back, or even the 2 x 2 plate-sized gap just above the rear wheel.

One thing that the helicopter does have going for it compared with the speedboat is a more complex Technic mechanism; slide the protruding structure circled in red in the picture below backwards and forwards a few times and the main helicopter rotor spins quickly, building momentum and continuing to spin for a while afterwards even when you stop. It's a good way of exposing newcomers to the joys of Technic, not to mention making the model more interesting.

Having checked out the secondary builds I was more than ready to crack on and tackle the main attraction - the airplane. It was this that had caught my eye in the early publicity photos, and I'd been looking forward to seeing if it was as good "in the brick" as it looked in the pictures.

I'm delighted to report that I wasn't disappointed. The airplane is a proper build - substantial enough to be spread over a couple of leisurely hours, and with only a few tiny extra elements left over at the end. In terms of the part count, at 618 elements I guess it ranks as one of the bigger aircraft that LEGO have ever released; off the top of my head I could only think of four - Set 10024 Red BaronSet 10177 Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Set 10124 Wright Flyer and Set 10226 Sopwith Camel - that have a higher piece count. The airplane is solid, robust and surprisingly heavy.

I think it looks as good in the brick as it does in pictures. It's a decent size - a little over 33 cm long and with a wingspan of around 40 cm - and it's well proportioned to my eye. The front is particularly nicely realised - the flat silver wagon wheel makes a perfect engine cowling - and the curved front of the fuselage flows elegantly back from the cowling over the wings and around the cockpit, while the tail is nice and curvy. Eight radial pistons fit neatly inside the engine cowling behind the propeller, and a pair of detailed exhausts are attached to opposite sides of the fuselage. If I have a criticism it's that the studded wings maybe jar a little against the studless fuselage, but it's a minor gripe and overall I think it's a great-looking model.

There are a number of notable play features. Front and centre is the mechanism for spinning the propeller which is similar to that found in the helicopter and which is activated by sliding the rear wheel of the airplane backwards and forwards; there's even a small hatch just behind the engine cowling which opens to reveal the inner workings of the mechanism. The front and rear sections of the canopy are hinged and lift up, and the rear section of the canopy also slides backwards to allow easier access to the cockpit. The cockpit itself features a flight stick, a couple of printed elements to simulate the airplane's instruments, and there's seating for two minifigures within (not provided). Both wings feature ailerons which can be manually angled upwards or downwards as you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge).

The underside of the airplane features additional moving parts, namely a working undercarriage which is more than strong enough to comfortably bear the weight of the finished model. The picture below (click to enlarge) shows one wheel retracted into the wing and the other wheel extended. The underside of the wings look a little messy; this could have been easily remedied with the addition of a few more white plates, but it's a minor complaint. This view gives you a better look at the rear wheel which you slide forwards and backwards to spin the propeller.

Overall this set provides the classic Creator experience. You get a reasonable number of parts for the money, although some will no doubt bemoan the lack of minifigure(s), and the primary model in particular is an enjoyable build with a ton of interesting play features. You're also getting a significantly extended building experience by virtue of the three sets of building instructions included. The two secondary models - the speedboat and helicopter - are OK but nothing special. The primary model is however excellent in my opinion and I'd have happily bought this set for the airplane alone. As of April 2014 the set is widely available in stores. While it retails for £49.99 / $59.99 I picked up my copy from Amazon at a significant discount, and at time of writing the set is 26% off RRP at Amazon's UK site and 20% off RRP at Amazon's US site so there's no need to pay RRP if you shop around. Unreservedly recommended.

Monday, 24 March 2014

A New Millennium

Can there be a vessel in the Star Wars universe which has been the subject of more official LEGO versions than the Millennium Falcon ? By my reckoning, Han Solo's Corellian freighter has graced at least eight LEGO sets to date, from the mighty 5195-piece UCS version to the teeny micro scale advent calendar model, and that's even before we consider LEGO-branded Millennium Falcon Bag Charms, Messenger Bags and other tat. And yet, just when you thought that LEGO's designers had surely exhausted all conceivable options, they still somehow manage to come up with yet another variant, Set 75030 Millennium Falconwhich is one of a series of six Star Wars Microfighters sets released earlier this year. These sets, consisting of a Star Wars mini-build and a related minifigure, are surely the spiritual successors to the recently departed Star Wars Planet Sets; I was keen to check them out, and was predictably drawn first of all to the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

At just 13 cm x 12 cm x 4.5 cm the box is laudably compact. Interestingly, it doesn't share the dark blue 2014 Darth Vader Star Wars branding, instead sporting a distinct Microfighters identity and logo.  As you can see from the picture above, the box art is dominated by a picture of the set contents superimposed on an end-of-Episode IV background featuring the Death Star and some explosions and blaster fire. The back of the box (below) shows Han Solo dismounted from his ship and highlights the set's main play feature - a pair of flick-fire missiles. It also advertises the six Microfighters sets and a Microfighters app, of which more later.

The box is designed to be opened via the single thumb tab that you can see on the right side of the rear of the box above. Opening the box reveals a couple of un-numbered bags of elements and a small instruction booklet. There's no DSS and no loose elements in the box.

The instruction booklet is wider than the box and is therefore supplied folded in half. The image on the cover of the booklet (above - click to enlarge) is largely the same as that on the front of the box, although strangely the explosion graphics are missing. A whole page of the booklet (below) is dedicated to advertising a Star Wars LEGO Microfighters app; a visit to Apple's App Store revealed that the app is surprisingly not free, but in the interests of research and for you, dear reader, I stumped up the princely sum of £ 0.69 and downloaded it to my iPhone and iPad. It's actually not too bad, basically a top-down vertical scrolling shooter quite reminiscent of games from my youth such as Capcom's 1942. I wouldn't go so far as recommending it - it's a bit of a one-trick pony - but if you're a fan of scrolling shooters and a fan of Star Wars then you'll probably get some enjoyment out of it as I did.

At this point I'd usually share a photograph of unusual or rare parts contained within the set. On this occasion, however, there isn't really much to show you - the majority of the constituent elements are pretty commonplace. There are a couple of exceptions to this generalization - a light bley 2 x 2 truncated cone featuring a printed Millennium Falcon cockpit pattern which is unique to this set, and a couple of trans-light blue 1 x 1 plates which have appeared in only 4 sets to date - but that's pretty much it.

The set contains one minifigure, a version of Han Solo. The back-printed torso, featuring Han's classic tan shirt and black tunic combo, also appears as part of the Han Solo minifigure included in Set 75003 A-wing Starfighter and Set 10236 Ewok Village. His head and legs are unique to this set, however. The light flesh head, with a smile on one side and what Bricklink describes as a "determined pattern" on the other, features wrinkles which are presumably supposed to make his expressions look more realistic but actually just look messy and seem a bit unnecessary to me. The dark blue minifigure legs in this set are similar to those found in the version of Han Solo included in Set 7965 Millennium Falcon but there's now a greater level of print detail on the gun belt; again, I'm not entirely convinced that the increased detail is really necessary, although the quality of printing is certainly good.

Once Han Solo has been assembled it's on to his ship; the building instructions for the Millennium Falcon occupy fully 22 pages of the instruction booklet, believe it or not, which is pretty remarkable for such a small model. Construction is quick and straightforward, and you can see the finished ship below (click picture to enlarge). Despite the small scale, some key features such as the forward mandibles, cockpit and radar dish have been reasonably approximated, although I don't think anybody's going to be making a case for the model being an accurate representation of the subject matter anytime soon. You can see the truncated cone with printed Millennium Falcon cockpit pattern that I mentioned earlier in the picture below. A couple of flick-fire missiles are included to increase playability, and there's a recess behind the cockpit to accommodate the Han Solo minifigure (see later). The model sits on 4 boat studs which serve as the landing gear.

From the rear (picture below - click to enlarge) you can see that the radar dish attaches via a pneumatic 'T' piece; this clicks into a modified 1 x 1 tile with clip, allowing the dish to tilt up and down. The characteristic blue glow from the engines is recreated with trans-light blue round 1 x 1 bricks plus a couple of 1 x 1 plates mounted sideways on modified 1 x 1 bricks with headlight. A light bley round 2 x 2 tile serves as the port docking ring, but there's no starboard docking ring due to the need to extend the cockpit backwards to accommodate the minifigure.

The Han Solo minifigure slots in just behind the cockpit as you can see in the pictures below (click to enlarge). The massive disparity in scale does admittedly make the finished model look rather ridiculous when the minifig is in place, but I think that the ability to integrate the minifig if desired does add some play value, in marked contrast to the Planet Sets which, with their various different elements mounted separately on a base, seemed more like display pieces than something a kid could actually play with.

The Falcon is pleasingly chunky and swooshable; its chibi stylings bring to mind the limited edition Comic Con Landspeeder that I reviewed on Gimme LEGO a while ago, and while I'm generally drawn to more 'realistic' and accurate LEGO sets, I think I'm going to find it hard to resist picking up the other 5 Microfighters sets at some point.... Set 75030 Millennium Falcon contains 94 pieces and has a recommended retail price of £8.99 / US$ 9.99; if you're in the UK you can currently pick the set up for a few pence below retail at Amazon (click here to buy).

While I'm on the subject of Star Wars, here's a thing.... I was in the Watford LEGO brand store recently, and Assistant Manager Kevin alerted me to something interesting. Below you can see one of the 2014 Star Wars Battlepacks, Set 75036 Utapau Troopers to be precise. Do you notice anything unusual about the packaging ?

No ? OK, take a look at the picture below of the left end flap instead. See it now ? In case you're still wondering what on earth I'm going on about, this small battlepack has tape seals, rather than the usual thumb tabs. There's also a small cutaway on the bottom left corner of the end flap, revealing a patch of light blue printed with a white triangle. The right end flap is also closed by way of tape seals, but there's no cutaway.

So when did LEGO start putting tape seals on small sets like this ? The Watford store had a few of the Utapau Trooper sets; some were sealed with tape, and the rest were of the thumb tab variety; furthermore, there's a review of this set on Eurobricks and the pictures clearly show the thumb tab version. I could only find one other small set in the Watford store which was closed with tape seals - Set 60056 Tow Truck - and again the store had a mixture of tape seal and thumb tab versions. It therefore seems as if LEGO may be in the process of transitioning to tape seals on some smaller sets, or at least tesing the water. As some of you will no doubt have realised from previous reviews on Gimme LEGO, I hate using thumb tabs to open sets due to the destruction that this wreaks on the boxes. I'm therefore absolutely delighted to find tape seals appearing on smaller sets, and I hope that this practice becomes more widespread.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Social Phobia

OK, I admit it - I've been slow to embrace the 'joys' of social media, be it Facebook, Twitter or whatever. It hasn't however escaped my notice that lots of people do seem to like these communication tools and spend a lot of time using them, so I figured it was about time I dusted off my Facebook account, signed up to Twitter, and had a bit of a play to see what all the fuss was about.

Having now done a bit of exploring, I'm starting to see why people spend so much time using these.... Still, at least I have something tangible to show for all my stumbling about in the dark - there's now a Gimme LEGO Facebook page and a Gimme LEGO Twitter page. At the most basic level, if you visit these pages and click 'Like' and 'Follow' respectively you'll get a notification like the Facebook example below when I post something new on Gimme LEGO.

Use of these tools also opens up a few interesting new possibilities. I've tended to stick to a fairly rigid template on Gimme LEGO consisting of generally lengthy articles which are usually posted a couple of weeks apart; use of Facebook and Twitter makes it easier for me to share snippets of news or information, juicy bargains etc. which wouldn't merit a blog posting of their own, as well as allowing me to highlight interesting LEGO-related articles that I've come across. They also offer additional ways for readers to interact with Gimme LEGO if they wish.

Feel free to click here and here if you want to follow Gimme LEGO on Facebook and Twitter respectively, or else click on the Facebook and/or Twitter icons at the top of the right sidebar when you're ready; I see a few folks have already signed up, so welcome ! Hopefully these services will be a useful addition to Gimme LEGO, and if experienced users have suggestions for content or anything else then please get in touch.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Man from Atlantis

Nobody with a life (and a finite budget) could possibly ever acquire and build every single set that LEGO releases; a more attainable aspiration is to dip your toe into as many different LEGO themes as possible, and that's something I try to do. I therefore decided to pick a set from a theme that I'd not previously tackled and run the rule over it this week.

I didn't pay much heed to the Atlantis theme when it first appeared in 2010 - I was far too focused on LEGO Star Wars and the modular buildings at that point - but the theme started to appear on my radar as it approached retirement and the price of Atlantis sets tumbled. Although I subsequently snapped up a bunch of Atlantis sets because they were heavily discounted and looked interesting, I never actually got around to building any of them, something I felt it was time I rectified. The set I chose to build was Set 8080 Undersea Explorer, for no other reason than the primary model looks decidedly mech-like and I have a thing about mechs (see, for instance, here, or here, or even here...). There are actually some other pretty neat-looking Atlantis sets to choose from as well, not least Set 7985 City of Atlantis, but as the Undersea Explorer is perhaps a lesser-known, lower profile set I figured I'd go with that one.

The front of the box (above - click to enlarge) shows an action shot of the Undersea Explorer mech attacking a sea serpent, while the back of the box (below) shows the mech transformed into its alternate form - a wheeled vehicle - and also features a series of pictures illustrating the transformation process.

The box is designed to be opened via thumb tabs, should you choose to use them. Inside the box are three numbered bags of elements, each of which contains an un-numbered bag of smaller parts, an instruction booklet, a DSSand a couple of pearl light grey ribbed hoses.

The single glossy instruction booklet has a footprint of approximately 21 cm x 20 cm and it's 76 pages from cover to cover. The front cover imagery (above) is very similar to that of the front of the box, although the perspective is shifted slightly and there's more of the yellow Atlantis motif framing the image.

In addition to the building guide, which takes up around 60 pages of the booklet, there are a couple of pages (one of which can be seen above) explaining how to transform the Undersea Explorer from its primary mech form into its secondary wheeled form, a two page inventory of parts, four pages of advertising for other sets in the Atlantis theme, advertising for the microsite (now sadly defunct), a couple of pages of advertising for the LEGO Club, and a rather nice image of an Atlantis diver (below). The back cover of the booklet encourages you to complete an online survey for a chance to win "a cool LEGO product", although most potential participants would surely have been driven away by the accompanying image of a shouting child before they ever got to the survey.

The sticker sheet can be seen below. It contains a total of 13 stickers, to be applied to the sea serpent and Undersea Explorer. None of them, with the possible exception of the black triangular stickers at the bottom right of the sheet, turned out to be particularly problematic to neatly apply.

Most of the elements to be found in this set have appeared in many other sets as well, although there are a few which are less common. With the exception of the red 4 x 4 Technic cylinder, which has featured in a total of 11 sets including this one, all the elements that you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge) have to date appeared in ten sets or less. This set contains six of the red small hard plastic wheels; these have only appeared in 3 sets including this one, as has the red modified 2 x 3 brick with rotation joint half ball and socket. The variant of the lime Robot Body which appears in this set has also only ever appeared in three sets; you may recall having seen this element, which is a modified round 2 x 2 x 2 brick with a bottom axle holder, in my Ghostbusters MOC, where I used it for Slimer's body. The trans-red ring with centre triangle, gold bands and shark pattern, which can be seen at the top of the picture, is an example of an Atlantis Treasure Key. This one has appeared in 4 sets, and Treasure Keys in a variety of different colours, and featuring different designs, were distributed in sets across the Atlantis theme. The large, 7-blade pearl light gray propeller can be found in a total of 5 sets, as can the black curved Technic pin connector with fin and hole, while the trans-bright green bubble canopy has appeared in 6 sets, most recently the Alien Conquest Set 7051 Tripod Invader from 2011. The red Technic 2 x 2 modified brick with rotation joint half ball and socket, the small yellow barb and the 3-blade pearl light gray propeller, have appeared in eight, nine and nine sets respectively.

The set contains just one minifigure, who goes by the name of Atlantis Diver 2 - Bobby - Without Flippers on Bricklink. Given LEGO's propensity to stuff sets full of minifigures these days, just one minifig in a 364-piece System set seems almost inconceivable. Still, at least this version of Bobby is unique to the set, although only by virtue of the fact that unlike the version of Bobby included in other sets, he doesn't come complete with a set of flippers for some reason.

Although described by Bricklink as "Minifig, Headgear Helmet Underwater", Bobby's diving helmet has graced a number of sets which don't have an underwater theme; it appeared in white in some of the 2011 City Space sets, including Set 3367 Space Shuttle reviewed by me here. More recently, a sand blue version has appeared as part of Mr. Freeze's outfit in Set 76000 Arctic Batman vs. Mr Freeze : Aquaman on Ice.

Beneath Bobby's diving helmet is a dual-sided head with an open smile on one side and a surprised alternate expression on the other; the head looks fairly unremarkable at first glance, but its availability is actually restricted to just two minifigures including this one. Removing the bulky diving helmet also reveals a nice torso printed front (above) and back (below) with a cool design featuring air hoses and a weighted diving belt. The legs are adorned with what Bricklink describes as an "Atlantis Diver Pattern", part of which is a red and black trident logo the inverse of which appears on a sticker that attaches to the roof of the Undersea Explorer.

Once the mini figure has been assembled it's time to build the sea serpent (below, balanced on a perspex minifig case). The serpent is suitably intimidating and spiky, not unlike a cross between an angler fish and a dragon. It has a surprising number of moving parts and articulation points - the mouth opens, the fins flap, and the tail can be manipulated and rotated into a multitude of positions, although it unfortunately doesn't always stay put due to a lack of friction in some of the joints. The black and yellow colour scheme works well, and overall it's a nice little model, apart perhaps from the clunky section where the body joins to the tail.

I'm a big fan of the Undersea Explorer, at least in its mech form (below - click to enlarge). This isn't really much of a surprise, seeing as it brings to mind Set 6862 Superman Vs Power Armor Lex which was one of my favourite sets of 2012; look closely at the feet, arms, fingers and canopy of Lex's mech in that set and it's not hard to see the common DNA. I think the designers of the Undersea Explorer have done a nice job pimping the mech for deep sea exploration, loading it up with lights, and propellers to help it to manouevre. Armament comes in the form of a couple of trans green-tipped flick fire missiles and a Technic cannon complete with a spring-loaded Technic competition arrow. Rotation joints at the hips, shoulders and elbows permit a reasonable range of movement in two planes, and the ball and socket joints at the ankles facilitate a stable stance. I like the lime green canisters bolted to the inside of the legs, and the sparing use of lime green detailing elsewhere on the model.

The rear of the mech (below - click to enlarge) looks bare and unfinished, although in LEGO's defence it probably needed to be this way in order to permit the mech to transform into its alternate form. From the back you can get a clearer view of the various articulation points described above, and you can also see the insertion points of the pearl light grey ribbed hoses.

As previously mentioned, the Undersea Explorer mech can transform into a wheeled vehicle which you can see below (click to enlarge). The transformation process is very quick and straightforward - you simply straighten the legs and fold them back 90 degrees at the hips, whereupon the vehicle rests upon the previously-decorative wheels protruding from the sides of the mech's legs. You can then either fold the arms back against the body, as I've done in the pictures below, or leave them extended forwards per the picture on the back of the box. Credit to LEGO for designing this transforming feature into the set, and I thought that the wheeled vehicle looked quite cool in the promotional materials and on the back of the box, although if I'm hones it turned out to be a bit small and underwhelming "in the flesh". It also looks quite messy from behind. Even so, the alternate vehicular form is a neat play feature, especially given the simple and elegant transformation process which takes literally a couple of seconds.

You can see all of the elements of the set below (click to enlarge); Bobby's seated at the controls of the mech ready to rain Technic competition arrow death down on the unfortunate sea serpent and claim the prize - the trans-red Atlantis Treasure Key....

Set 8080 Undersea Explorer was released in 2010 and retailed for £39.99 in the UK and $39.99 in the US. This is expensive given that Atlantis wasn't a licensed theme and the set only included 364 parts and a single minifigure. Unlike many themes, the Atlantis theme hasn't in general increased in value much if at all since retirement, which is obviously good news if you're looking to pick up Atlantis sets; while Set 8080 Undersea Explorer is perhaps harder to find than many others in the theme - it appears that the set was only available at retail for around 6 months before being retired - there are nevertheless a number of new, sealed examples on Bricklink available for significantly less than the original RRP. I actually think it's an interesting set, with my only major reservation being the price, so if you stumble across a cheap copy then I can recommend it.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Bargain Watch lives !

I discovered the joys of buying LEGO from Amazon not long after emerging from my LEGO Dark Ages back in late 2008, and it soon became my main source of new sets, the combination of a wide selection, good discounts, convenience and excellent customer service quickly sealing the deal for me. I was soon perusing Amazon's pages on a regular basis sniffing out the best deals, and it was therefore a logical next step for me to add the Bargain Hunt ! page to Gimme LEGO and post some of the best deals that I'd found on there so that readers could also bag a bargain. I still have nightmares about the painstaking process of manually writing and formatting the links to each bargain one by one, however....

Set 8039 Venator-Class Republic Attack Cruiser - my first Amazon LEGO purchase....

What was needed was a way of checking Amazon for the best deals on a more comprehensive, systematic and regular basis, and this dream started to become a reality back in early 2011 when Huw from Brickset and I started work on an automated system for doing exactly that. After much discussion, experimentation, iteration, reiteration, testing, more testing and tweaking, the Bargain Watch system was launched in September 2011  In a nutshell, Bargain Watch analyses the LEGO sets currently available for sale on Amazon in a number of countries and calculates the level of discount on each set by comparing the Amazon price with the LEGO RRP. Sets are then ranked in order of discount and a listing is generated, complete with links so that you can click through and buy the set. Use of the LEGO RRPs to calculate the level of discount is important - some rival systems take Amazon's word for the RRPs when calculating the percentage discount, and this can be misleading as Amazon sometimes list an incorrect RRP. Also, where possible Bargain Watch factors shipping costs into the equation when working out the level of discount so that there are hopefully no nasty surprises when you decide to take the plunge and make a purchase.

Once home to a few hand-generated links, the Gimme LEGO Bargain Hunt ! page is now home to a subset of the Bargain Watch listings, namely ranked lists of the twenty LEGO sets across all themes available on and with the biggest percentage discount off RRP. You can see a screen grab of part of a sample UK listing below, or click here to view the actual live listings themselves. The listings were recently offline for a few days while Brickset moved to a new server and the Bargain Watch system underwent maintenance, but I'm delighted to report that the system is now back up and running and listings are once again being generated. The UK and US price data are currently updated every 4 hours, so if you visit regularly you should hopefully catch the best deals before they sell out.

Brickset hosts the bulk of the Bargain Watch listings, which capture, rank and list the best LEGO deals to be found on Amazon's sites in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Canada, as well as in the UK and US. These more comprehensive country-specific listings can be filtered in various different ways, for instance by theme. In addition, because Amazon ship overseas, there's also the facility to compare prices across all of Amazon's EU websites to look for the best deals (sample screen grab below, or just click here to view the actual live listing); this listing can also be filtered by theme so you can quickly focus in on the themes you're most interested in. The icing on the cake are alerts which appear on the Brickset homepage when sets are newly discounted by 30% or more from RRP.

It goes without saying that the listings can help you to save money by highlighting the best bargains; as an inveterate bargain hunter myself, Bargain Watch is the system that I always dreamed of, and I quite possibly use it more than anybody ! As well as saving you money, clicking on the links and making purchases also supports both Gimme LEGO and Brickset by generating referral fees at no additional cost to you. Many thanks therefore for continuing to click the Amazon links on Gimme LEGO and Brickset when you buy LEGO, or indeed any other items, from Amazon.

We've been tweaking and optimising the Bargain Watch system ever since it launched, but if you have any suggestions for how the system can be further improved then please send me an e-mail or post a comment below; similarly, if there are sets which you notice are available direct from Amazon in any country but which aren't appearing on the listings then please let me know and I'll add them.