24 March 2018


Collectors of all kinds face the challenge of completionism.  I suppose it falls on the mostly-harmless end of the spectrum of obsession, as the biggest risks are the thinner wallets, vanishing display and storage space, and the rolled eyes of those who don't understand.   And while Lego is the focus of my own completions tendencies, collections come in all types.  This can include anything from baseball cards to cast-iron cookware to tiny adorably plush caricatures of pop culture characters.

Either by design or by one's own interpretation, all variety of things come in sets, tied together on a common theme, and Lego has long been no exception.  The vast spectrum of hundreds of new Lego products each year is divided in themes and sub themes, linked together by style, size, or licensed intellectual property.  Some themes stick around for years and years, and others vanish after just a year or two.  From a small screenshot I took last year, can you spot the two that are effectively retired?

Some entire themes are clearly marketed as collectibles.  Last year saw the release of the 18th numbered series of Lego Collectible Minifigures (CMFs), which doesn't even count numerous additional rounds each of licensed minifigures for Disney, The Simpsons, and all four Lego movies to date. The fact that the CMFs are packaged in blind bags only increases the challenge, and the collectibility!

Entire themes like Mixels or Brickheads are themselves sets begging the completionist to collect them all.  You never even knew you needed a set of medically-themed googly-eyed crazy critters until you've already collected them from every other themed tribe created before.

Some collections occupy a small corner of a much larger theme, like Star Wars Microfighters and Star Wars Buildable Figures, or even Friends animal polybags sets.  The wacky Mighty Micros theme actually intersects two competing licensed themes, Marvel Superheroes and DC Superheroes.

Some series of sets span several years, like the Creator Expert Modular Buildings, the Creator vehicles (Mini Cooper, VW Van, London Bus, VW Beetle, etc) or even the promotional mini versions of the same.  Other themes like Castle and Pirates come and go in waves, spurring the urge to get them all while the getting is good, essentially stocking up for the next long drought.

Tie-ins with Lego video games have also created new categories of collections.  Lego Dimensions brought a wide variety of new licensed characters to the tangible Lego world, while the various Fun Packs, Team Packs, Level Packs, also provided in-game characters, vehicles, and tools helpful or even necessary to progressing through and even expanding the content of the game.  Likewise the Nexo-Knights theme was designed from the start with a strong connection to the corresponding game app, and most sets included power tiles which could be scanned and add powers to characters in the game.

Even outside of the app, the unique printed designs on the Nexo tiles call out to be collected.  After all, a pentagonal tile printed with an image of stinky cheese might just perfect sign for the cheese shop in your Lego village's business district!

The pieces themselves are the most obvious type of Lego collection.  Builders learn which shapes and colors of parts they need most for the models they want to build, but also want a wide variety of less common parts to use in unique and unexpected ways.  (Check out those hat hooks from the 10197 Modular Fire Brigade.)

Not every Lego part is made in every color, and the existing combinations run the gamut from commonplace to incredibly rare.  For an AFOL, it can be an exciting day when the Danish Powers That Be decide to run a new color of ABS plastic through a mold and release it to the world in sets.  Still, I never even considered trying to collect every color of some of the more interesting Lego part shapes until I saw them presented as simple but beautiful rainbows and fun, bright little MOCs by Elseph De Montes, frequent contributor to Lego fan blogs New Elementary and The Brothers Brick.

Elsie's Colourtastic Garden (1)

Just as collections come in all kinds, so does the call of completionism.  And sometimes the call is to fill in a perceived hole in an existing collection.

I mentioned Lego's line of detailed vehicle models. The Mini Cooper, VW Beetle, VW Van, and Double-Decker London Bus have all been released in recent years, as have promotional mini versions of the same.  Sadly, the Creator Ferrari F40 has no mini-me.  And other large vehicles outside the Creator line, like the Ideas Caterham 7 and the Technic Porsche 911 GT3 RS are similarly lacking.  While this gap is a bit of a relief for my Lego budget, it still bugs me a little and I've felt the urge to fill it with a MOC instead.  When BrickSet announced their recent microscale contest, challenging readers to create a mini version of any set Lego has ever made, the Caterham came to mind.  I pondered and considered this and several other ideas, and hemmed and hawed until the deadline had come and gone.  But not before I came across this masterpiece from a builder named Victor highlighted on Brothers Brick:

21307 Caterham Seven 620R - Microscale
It's a weird combination of awe, disappointment, and relief when you see someone else's rendition of something you were considering building, done far better than you probably could have yourself.  The awe is for the skill of the builder, disappointment over a fun project idea becoming moot, and a bit of relief that now it has been done so well, you can focus your attention on another dormant inkling of a idea.  Sometimes it's not always as important that I personally fill the gaps, as long as somebody does.  When the world is filled with so many incomplete collections demanding the completionist's attention, it can actually be a gift to have a reason to put a self-imposed challenge aside.

05 August 2017

Making an AFOL of Myself

Just a bit after my first introduction to basic LEGO bricks in 1984, I was given the 6682 Cement Mixer, a Town theme set from the same year.  It included my first LEGO™ minifigure, a happy little guy with a red hardhat and black overalls.  And in the following years he poured many loads of 1x1 light gray tiles out of his truck, as well as driving, operating, or exploring all of my other creations.

LEGO has an amazing ability to inspire a craving for more LEGO, to use more parts to build something new, something bigger, or something more challenging.  Like most any kid surrounded by retail marketing, I wanted more.  My parents were generous and I got a few more small sets.  My brothers were generous and let me use their LEGO as they began to use it less.  But I wanted the LEGO Train.  Now I know there have been many Lego trains over the years, but at the time there was only one.  It cost far more than any Christmas or birthday present I ever received, (and as I understand now, cost more than my parents could afford) but I still asked for it every year.
LEGO 7722 Battery Train Set image on BrickLink.com

I did not get the LEGO Train. So I enjoyed the LEGO I did have, and played with it even more.  As a testament to how extensively my cement mixer driver was played with, his hip joints are completely worn, and he can barely stand unsupported.

But I have quite a bit more LEGO now, so I can help with that.

Like the mixer driver, I have also aged.  Fortunately I can still stand unassisted.  But like most children who grew up playing with LEGO, I eventually stopped.  A while after getting my own Technic Set as a teenager (8856 Whirlwind Rescue), I got busy with high school.  Then my LEGO got boxed and I moved off to college and started an engineering career.  I spent my spare time watching the X-Files or playing tabletop games like Settlers of Catan with friends from my campus church.

When people rediscover their love for LEGO and ultimately take it to a new level, they become an AFOL, an Adult Fan Of LEGO.  They become part of a new community of other grown-ups like them who share that love for LEGO.  (Also, they apparently share a love for acronyms, but more on that another time.)  After looking back fondly on their years of being a teenager or kid who loved LEGO (TFOL or KFOL), they realize there’s no good reason they can’t love LEGO again, and discover new reasons to love it.

Keychain from the Slade Child Foundation at BrickFair Virginia 2017

That time in between being KFOL or TFOL and becoming an AFOL, is what AFOLs like to call the Dark Ages.  The term is a bit overly dramatic, but I like it.  I think most historians would agree that the best thing about the Dark Ages is that they’re over.  They were an interesting time, filled with lots of interesting stories, but I think the best stories are about how we pull ourselves out of Dark Ages, leave them behind, and continue towards better things.

(In my mid-30's, I finally bought a LEGO train for myself.  The newer, IR remote-controlled 60052 Cargo Train.)

03 August 2017

Welcome to BrickTeller

"Let me tell you a story..." It's a common, simple request, but an important one.  Storytelling is how we connect to each other.  It lets us express ourselves and entertain or inspire each other.  It's both a way to teach and a way to learn.  It's a way to remember and relate our own experiences, and it is the foundation of history, the memory of our civilization.

So now that I've made it sound incredibly important, let's talk about little plastic toys.  This is a blog about the intersection between storytelling and LEGO™.  In the past few years I've become reacquainted with these Danish-designed plastic bricks and pieces, and discovered the culture that surrounds them. Through this, I've found myself most drawn to how LEGO can be used to both share and inspire stories.

Here's a bit of my own LEGO story as a case in point.  I'm the youngest of four kids, so my first exposure to LEGO bricks was from my older brothers and sister.  Over the course of a few Christmases and birthdays they received a handful of sets: a Town police car and dump truck, a couple small Space sets, a Universal Builder set of System bricks, a couple bigger Expert Builder (Technic) sets.  I must have shown a fair amount of interest, because before long I was given my own small set of bricks.  Remembering little more than the rainbow palette and a model of blue alligator, I recently scoured Bricklink to identify it: 1560 Basic Building Set, from 1985.  Containing 27 two-stud wide bricks, apparently it was a promotion for Pepsi-Cola and Crest toothpaste (separately, I presume, rather than as a collaboration).

Photo Courtesy of BrickLink.com. The box from mine survived only in pieces.

This set neither had nor needed instructions.  Every model pictured on the box could be and was reverse-engineered by this 5-year old.  But building LEGO isn’t just about making it look like the picture on the box. A child who has built a LEGO set has done more than complete a task, they’ve built their own toy.  Now they can talk about what they've done and how they did it, create and tell a story about with that toy, and that can give them an idea to remake their pieces into a new toy, with another story to tell.

My LEGO story starts with the blue alligator from the 1560 Basic Building Set, and it's fitting that this chapter and this blog begin with the same.  I'm away from most of my collection at this moment, but here's a recreation of that alligator using the parts I have hand.

A lot of us stopped playing with LEGO at some point, but we all have stories to tell at any age, and there’s no reason to stop telling stories.  (Also, there's no reason to stop playing with LEGO!)

So how about it? Do you remember the story of your first LEGO set, or the first one that you gave to someone else?  It doesn’t matter whether you use words or bricks.  Build me a story!