Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Reveiw : Lego Technic 9391 Tracked Crane (Part 2)

Rather more days later than I originally anticipated (1), and I’ve got round to dismantling the Tracked Crane and building the 9391 ‘B’ model, the bulldozer.

It’s a fairly simple build which doesn’t take long at all.  In terms of functionality, it’s leaning towards the ‘basic’ end, with the bulldozer blade that raises and lowers being the only part that moves courtsesy of some ‘Technic engineering’.  There are two spikes on the back (still not entirely sure what they’re for - some sort of plough-type thing?) that also move, but that’s a simple ‘get hold of it and move it’ arrangement.

It’s smaller than I expected, and comfortably sits on the palm of your hand.  It’s probably not unrelated to the fact that there are several parts left unused in the bag.  With the two mini trucks, virtually every part was used in both models - I guess as things scale up, it’s not always possible to recycle everything.  

Still, a nice little model.

The Lego Technic 9391 'B' Model - the Bulldozer

One of the things that I found interesting was the use of angles, which I hadn’t seen in my previous builds.  Up until now, everything has been clipped in using multiple connectors, meaning that nothing had any play in it.  However, the uprights for the cab roof are only fixed at one point, in order to allow those uprights to be held at an angle.  The upshot of this is that rather than being a rigid structure, the cab roof actually has a fair amount of play in it, and can be wobbled backward and forward.  While I can understand why the build is like this, it’s a little disappointing, and I’d probably be looking for some way to reinforce one or more of the beams in order to give the structure some more rigidity.

Probably just me being picky. (2)

As mentioned, a pretty straightforward build, with a gearwheel at the back of the ‘dozer turning an axle with a wormgear.  This drives the gearwheel on a second axle which is attached to the end of the blade arms, enabling it to be raised and lowered.

The plough / spikes at the back are simply hinged, but they use friction pins so that the spikes stay in whichever position you put them.  The caterpillar tracks are, understandably, exactly the same as the crane, and work well on textured surfaces like carpet, but tend to slide on smooth tables.

All in all, a fun little model - not as interesting (to my mind) as the ‘A’ model, but a nice build all the same.

The gearwheel for raising the blade can just be seen at the back of the vehicle

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(1) It's a lot easier to build, and more importantly, photograph, models when you've got good daylight.  At the moment, that means building at weekends.  No fancy light tents for me.

(2) No 'probably' about it.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Reveiw : Lego Technic 9391 Tracked Crane (Part 1)

Yes, it’s actually some information about a Lego Technic set, rather than me waffling on about shopping, or complaining about not getting huge discounts on expensive sets…

I decided a while ago, that rather than work through the sets in the order that I bought them - which would have involved me embarking on some enormous builds while still being a Technic newbie - I’d begin with the smallest sets and work my way up in scale.  This way, I figured, I’d pick up some experience, but if I did mess something up, it shouldn’t take too long to fix, even if I had to start again from scratch.

So thus far I have built a couple of palm-sized models, the 9390 Mini Tow Truck, and the 8065 Mini Container Truck.  Looking at the large and inviting pile of unopened boxes (1), the next smallest set appeared to be the 9391 Tracked Crane

Lego Technic 9391 Tracked Crane

It does have 218 pieces, which sounds quite a lot, but over 60 of those are the individual links of the caterpillar tracks, so in practical terms, it’s more like 150-odd.

Opening the box reveals the following…

Two bags of Lego goodness

...plus a couple of manuals.  In a break from what I’m used to, both the ‘A’ model (the Tracked Crane) and the ‘B’ model (a bulldozer) have one manual each.  Previously the ‘A’ model instructions were split (unecessarily, to my mind) into two booklets.

'A' model booklet

'B' model booklet

Sorting out the packets, I had one main bag, containing…

It also contained two sub bags of axles, connectors and gears…

...plus a bag of caterpillar track pieces.

Parts neatly sorted (I tend to lay out the main parts as above, and empty the small bags' contents into a bowl to stop them rolling away), I began building.

Talking of parts rolling away, something I’ve found useful is to have the section that you’re working on sitting on a tray.  That way, you have a lip around your build area, and if something does ping out of your fingers, it can’t usually go too far.

What with Technic being a largely ‘work from the inside, out’ sort of discipline, I find that I usually start building without having any idea what it is that I’m putting together.  There’s usually an ‘Ah!  That’s what that is!’ moment 10 minutes or so down the line, but to start with… who knows?

So after the requisite 10 minutes or so, I had this :

I figured it’s probably going to be part of the superstructure, as there’s a turntable under there.  And as it turned out, I was right.

All in all, the build took around 30 - 40 minutes, and in terms of complexity, was a step up from the previous, relatively simple trucks.  It has three separate mechanical functions - a gearwheel at the rear of the main body drives a crownwheel hooked into the turntable, which revolves the crane itself.  On the body, a second gearwheel drives a wormgear that raises and lowers the (fixed length) crane arm.  And lastly, a third gearwheel winds the string to raise and lower the crane’s hook.

To be honest, it’s a lot simpler to just turn the crane body by hand, but it’s nice to see more examples of engineering at work.

One of the last jobs to do is to put the tracks on.  As you can see from the picture, the tracks come as 60-odd individual pieces, which clip together.  I thought that fitting the completed tracks onto the model was going to be a fiddly task, but as it turned out, it was pretty straightforward.

The finished model

It’s a nice model.  Understandably, given that it’s a piece of construction equipment, the majority of the parts are yellow, with virtually all of the remainder being black.  In comparison to the trucks, it doesn’t really ‘drive’ round the kitchen table terribly well, as the tracks tend to remain static on shiny surfaces, so it just slides.  It does, however, do just fine on carpet.

It was an interesting build to look back at once it was complete.  It all fits together perfectly (as you’d expect), but involves a lot of techniques that probably wouldn’t occur to me if I was going to try and build something similar from scratch. (2)  Which parts to use as spacers.  The times to use free-spinning connectors, and the time to use friction connectors.  Just because a piece can connect two items , and then a third at right angles doesn’t mean that you have to use it like that, and so on.

I find I learn as much from taking the models apart as I do from putting them together, as when you work backwards, you can see what the intention was, and then see how it was acheived.


I’ve got a thing about using string on models like this.  It’s… I suppose it’s just not neat enough.  When I used to build Airfix kits as a child, I’d start out with the best of intentions.  It was going to be perfectly put together, all the edges would align, there would be no blobs of glue all over windows or cockpits, the painting would be crisp.  I’d get all the transfers in place - without any wrinkles or tears - and it would end up looking just like the exciting picture on the box lid.

But it never did.

Maybe I didn’t have the patience, maybe my fingers were a bit too chubby, maybe I just didn’t have the skill, but they always ended up… so so.  From a distance they’d look fine, but get up close and you’d realise that the pilot’s eyes were two huge blobs of blue paint, or the camouflage wasn’t quite right.  Maybe there was a wonky wheel, and there would always be a trail of glue somewhere.

So Lego appeals to the neat-freak inside me. (3)  It can be put together exactly as the picture on the box shows.  Nothing misaligned, nothing uneven, no glue, no paint issues.  Because the bricks are either put together correctly, or they’re not.  There’s no almost right.  But the string…  the string introduces fat-fingered fumbling again.  It’s never neat enough, or there’s too much string sticking out of the knot.  And if you trim it off with a pair of scissors, then a) the string gets shorter, and b) how do you get it undone again?  And when it is undone, you’ve frayed the ends.

Anyway.  Enough about string. (4)  Anything else?

Well it would have been nice if you could extend the crane arm.  Automatically I mean.  You can extend it, if you get hold of the end in a firm manner and pull quite hard, but I guess that given we’re talking about a set that costs less than £15.00, you can’t ask too much.  I mean, if the tiny sets did all these things, nobody would buy the large ones!

All in all, a really good model.  And of course that’s only half the story.  Next task will be to take it apart and build the bulldozer.

Watch this space.

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(1) Some artistic licence here.  Due to compliance with Mrs Boo directive No. 45318, all unbuilt Lego sets are actually stored in the loft.

(2) Which is one of the main points for me.  As well as putting together some neat models, I’m trying to grasp the basics of Technic construction.

(3)  Off in the distance, Mrs Boo is snorting with derision, as my desire for neatness doesn’t always stretch as far as the domestic arena.

(4) More than enough.  I wonder if I have OCD?

Sunday, 12 May 2013

May the Fourth be with you. Well… some of you.

“May the Force be with you.”  

One of the most recognisable phrases in cinema history, introduced to the world in 1977, via ‘Star Wars Episode IV : A New Hope’.  Fans all over the world have questioned why Lucasfilm, when releasing any of the five subsequent films (all of which were released in May) didn’t do the obvious and release them on May the Fourth.

May the Fourth be with you.  It’s a sort of pun, you see?  It’s even become known as Star Wars day for crying out loud.

But while Lucasfilm might have chosen to ignore this obvious tie-in date, Lego haven’t.

Back in 1999, they signed their first licencing deal with Lucasfilm and started creating Lego Star Wars models.  And for some years now, May the 4th (and quite often a day or so either side of it) has been ‘Lego Star Wars bargain day’.  There are usually some decent discounts to be had,  but more importantly to many, spend over a certain amount of money, and you’ll get a ‘not available anywhere else’ minifig or similar.  Last year it was a chromed TC-14 (think C-3PO, but in silver), and this year it was Han Solo in his Hoth outfit.

The rumour mill as to what the discounts might be usually starts production a few months beforehand, and is based on complex analysis of sales patterns, length of time that a set has been available, wild speculation and guesswork.  Nearer the time, people will comment on the forums that they’ve ‘heard something’ from a ‘Lego insider’, or have had an ‘off the record conversation’ with a store manager, and this is chewed over and debated at great length.

Anyway.  This year, the hot rumour was that the 10227 UCS B-Wing was going to have a 50% discount.  In the UK this retails at £169.99, and in the USA, $199.99.

The B-Wing has been available since October 1st 2012, or a little over 6 months.  It had a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ part in Return Of The Jedi, and according to wikipedia, this is because it’s very thin from certain angles.  This made it difficult to film against a green screen and still make it stand out against the blackness of space.  So much of the planned footage was dropped, and it only ended up being on sceen for a few seconds.

So when it was released, much of the Lego buying population thought ‘Huh?’.  There are any number of iconic vehicles in the Star Wars universe that could have been given the UCS treatment, which are far more recognisable than the B-Wing.  Luke’s Landspeeder, the Empire’s Speeder bikes, and the one that many fans are clamouring for, Boba Fett’s Slave 1.

So it’s safe to say that at £170, a ship that most people didn’t remember hadn’t exactly been flying off the shelves.  I’d had a good look at it on AFOL day when I picked up R2-D2, and while there’s no denying that it’s a big (1) set, and does look pretty cool, you have a hard time justifying the money.

But at half price…  I think I could be tempted by an £85.00 B-Wing.

The other people who would obviously be tempted were the Lego resellers.  Safe to say that if they could, they’d be buying up armfuls to stash away for a while and then make a killing once the set had gone EOL.  So reasonable to expect that Lego would impose a one, maybe two, set limit per person.

Anyway.  May 3rd rolls around and the forum is buzzing with expectation.  At this point it doesn’t matter whether your granny’s next door neighbour’s friend’s cat has heard anything, even if it is directly from the CEO of Lego himself, right now, you just want to see what’s actually available on the site.

Well done, Lego…  (2)

Yes, the B-Wing does get 50% off.

If you’re in the USA.

UK and elsewhere?  You get nothing off it.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

And that per person restriction it might have been sensible to put on?


Seriously?  Five?

I can believe that there are one or two guys (3) out there who want to build a battle fleet, and so might need a bunch of these, but for the most part, anyone buying five of these is going to be selling at least three of them.  As the sun rolled around and stores began opening across the USA, it didn’t take long for the stories of disappointed Lego fans to surface, who got to the till only to be told ‘sorry - none left’, while other people struggled out of the door with an armful, giggling to themselves about ebay.

They were available on the US Lego website for a while, but unsurprisingly, they didn’t last long.

The UCS B-Wing. Amazing value, if you're in America.  
Elsewhere, not so much...

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)

Meanwhile the rest of the world were granted the sort of discounts that you could usually find on Amazon every day of the week.

May the Fourth looks like it can be a huge amount of fun, what with all the speculation and whatnot, and (depending on where you live), there are some stunning bargains to be had.

Yes, there were probably people who were happy with a small discount on a set, particularly if it was something they’d been after for a while, if they got their limited edition Han minifig.  Other people had been waiting for the much vaunted UCS Red Five X-Wing which went on sale on the 4th.  Although it sounds like that was pretty much forgotten about in the USA, as everybody stampeded for a B-Wing shaped bargain. 

Can’t help thinking though, for a family friendly, global brand, they’ve got a lot to learn about treating their customers fairly.

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(1)  I mean big!  The downside of which is that you need a lot of space to display it properly.

(2) Insert slow, sarcastic handclap at this point, known in some circles as a ‘Golf clap’.
No - I have no idea why it’s known as a golf clap.

(3) And let’s face it, it is going to be guys.