Friday, 14 December 2012

A Christmas Tradition is Building

This year’s marketing strategy at LEGO brand stores is tapping into the nostalgia fans feel who remember rattling those wrapped presents in the hope they might hear the rattle of LEGO bricks. Each year LEGO improve their offering of Christmas products, and this year has once again seen a variety of items available. As the Advent countdown is past the halfway point, it seems a fine time to look at how the Christmas offering this year stacks up. 

The first absolute shock that came this year was that all of the LEGO Advent Calendars were still available to buy on December 1st. Typically the annual LEGO City Advent Calendar was sold out by this point, until LEGO upped production. Last year the LEGO Star Wars edition as no-where to be found. There was a suggestion that the new LEGO Friends Advent Calendar was produced in low quantities. Yet all three of the LEGO Advent Calendars were still out there to buy for the last minute person. Who would have thought we would see such a day? Either LEGO have realised they need to make more of these things, or the novelty had worn off.

As for the actual content of the calendars, LEGO Friends didn’t have a lot to live up to. All it has to do is exist and not be awful, because as everyone remembers a first LEGO Advent Calendar is a novelty. LEGO City, however, have been unsure of how to Advent Calendars for a couple of years. Last year’s idea of building a snowy Police Station has not been repeated – perhaps because it looked like the roof and half the walls had been blown off it – but neither is this reminiscent of the year before when a traditional family Christmas was represented by toys much larger than the children. This year’s release is fire-themed, and has had typical little Advent Calendar models, although how much use sections of wall are is disputable. Thankfully it’s not all fire, a wood chopping dude and a child with a snowball mix it up a bit.

If the City Advent Calendar is fine, the Star Wars Advent Calendar seems something of a disappointment. The mini-figure selection is good (frustratingly given away on the design however), as they are all army builders or exclusive novelties. The mini models are a mixture of really cool little builds to shockingly uninspired. And having a weapons rack as a build rather than throwing the blasters in with the mini-figures seems like blatant cost cutting, which is an insult considering how much the price of the Advent Calendars has increased over the years.

An item that did seem frustratingly expensive when announced is the Winter Village Cottage (10229). 2011’s set was £49.99, and in 2012 LEGO expected fans to find £89.99 spare to spend on a special LEGO set. However, once built, the price suddenly seems justified. The snow plough is a substantial build, the igloo and workshop are great, and the actual cottage has an excellent build and fully detailed interior. No token bits in there, a proper patterned floor for the kitchen and lounge. Kitchen units. An armchair. A chandelier. This really is as if LEGO took the best of the previous Winter Village sets and mixed it with the best of the modular series. Once built, the set is absolutely beautiful and the only struggle becomes how to fit the Winter Village series on display. LEGO took a gamble assuming fans would spend nearly twice as much this year as last on what is essentially a self-indulgent treat, but hopefully it will pay off as this is a treat every discerning LEGO fan should award themself.

This year’s free promotional set proved an improvement on last year, as it didn’t “force” fans to spend two lots of money to get both parts. It also complements the existing Winter Village rather than being a completely stand-alone product, which made it extra enticing for those who may have otherwise overlooked it. It is a nice little set, fits in with the theme perfectly, and even includes a new style horse to boot.

Perhaps it makes sense that after years of Advent Calendars, they don’t seem as fresh or novel as they used to – although the Star Wars team should be brimming with ideas, not making some days a weapons rack or micro MTT. For a child getting LEGO rather than chocolate however, they are surely still great fun (and available!). As for those in the AFOL camp, just when there was a question of what could be done next in the Winter Village, LEGO have turned up with an excellent addition to the series.

LEGO have played their part in another Christmas for fans everywhere.

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