When I first heard that the LEGO company was coming out with a new line of building sets for girls, I was indignant. I found myself thinking, Why on Earth do girls need separate LEGO sets? I'm a girl, and I have always just played with regular LEGO sets! I turned out fine!! But really, if you think about it, LEGO has changed a lot from when I was a kid. I used to have this huge bin of bricks and I would just build whatever I wanted--usually houses and house-cars (don't ask...), and then play with whatever I built for hours.
These days, although you can still just buy a big tub of random blocks, LEGO (especially at the intermediate building skill level) is most often purchased in very specifically-themed building sets. Many of these themes cater more to boys than to girls. Now--please don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting for a second that girls don't like Ninjago (that's what my niece wanted for Christmas) or shouldn't like Ninjago (my niece is way cool), but probably more boys like Ninjago than girls. Similar things could be said of Batman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Dinosaurs, Super Heroes, Alien Conquest, Hero Factory, Bionicles...you get the idea. *Maybe* girls could use some different LEGO choices. Maybe.
Keeping an open mind, I headed out to Target to see what these new things look like. Well...they look like they are for girls. Here's what one of the $9.99 Friends LEGO sets looks like:
It's all purple and pink with curvy writing and hearts and butterflies. Very appealing to some little girls, I would imagine. I heard a mom passing me in the toy aisle say excitedly to her daughter, "Look, honey, the girl LEGOs are finally here!"
Purple doesn't necessarily make me want to buy something, but, look at the theme--it's a science lab! Awesome! I had to buy this one to check it out up close.
I heard through the grapevine (my mother) that LEGO research found that girls like to build for a little while and then play with what they've built for a lot longer. This means that they are looking for quick-build sets that have a lot of play value. I get it. That's exactly what I was like as a kid. It's also exactly like my elder son. He would build his Bionicles as quickly as possible and then play with them for months, getting wrapped up in these intricate imagination games. My younger son is the opposite. He will seek out the biggest, highest piece-count LEGO set each year and then lock himself away in his room for a week to build. When he's done building--that's it. He's done.
So, I have a few a few questions about these new sets:
1. Do they take less time to build?
2. Do they have higher play value?
3. Will they actually appeal more to girls?
With these questions in mind, I decided to do some science of my own. I bought a comparably priced pre-Friends LEGO set and took the two sets home to do my experiment:
For the second set, I wanted to choose something that didn't have a big licensing name like Star Wars. I think you pay more for less with those sets because of the big name. I chose this "Dino" set because it looked cool and it was the same exact price as the Friends set.
The boxes and age ranges are exactly the same, and the piece counts are almost identical (80 vs. 81):
For my experiment, I opened all of the packaging and then timed myself building each set. I didn't rush, but I didn't dawdle either. I started with the Dino set. Here's what was in the box:
On my mark, get set...go!
It took me exactly 10 minutes. That's pretty good. That's like dollar-a-minute entertainment, but let's not think about it that way, please.
Check out what the set is like all put together; it has this cool little hypodermic needle--or I think that's what it is. Maybe for tranquilizing the velociraptor? Never seen this piece before:
The dinosaur is neat--he has rubbery legs that are bendable and it looks like you could get him to carry loads on his back:
There's a little bit of foliage and then the dinosaur hunter and his truck.
In the instructions, it shows those yellow torpedoes shooting off the back of the car, but you'd have to do that with finger power...there's no mechanism for launching them or anything.
Our hero and his tranquilizer gun:
So, it's a pretty great little set, I would say. Just remember that humans and dinosaurs never lived at the same time and we're good.
Ok, now for the Friends set. Here's what comes in the box:
On my mark, get set...go!
It took me 8 minutes to polish that one off. What did I get for those 8 minutes? First of all, here's Olivia, one of the new figures:
She's a little taller and slimmer than the regular LEGO mini figures. Her legs do not move independently and she can't swivel her hands.
She reminds me of Polly Pocket. Her rubbery, bendable hair comes off and her body is in three pieces--head, torso and legs. I guess you could customize her a bit?
She comes with a remote control robot. A remote control robot! I love it. Where was this thing when my kids were younger?
She has her own microscope. She has to stand on a stool to see into this microscope, which is a little strange, but it is otherwise a very believable microscope:
|I think she needs to zoom out a little bit...|
She really shouldn't be wearing flip-flops in a science lab, but never mind. She also has a blackboard with some basic fake formulas (and a stick figure with a heart, which is...hmm. What is that? Maybe she's making a love potion?). She also has a beaker full of scary-looking green stuff:
She's got a whole shelf-full of chemicals and reagents:
She has a tool bench! Look at the vice grip! The drawers open and she can store some of the smaller tools in them:
It's a pretty amazing little set. I could play with this thing for a while.
That definitely put me in a science lab kind of mood, so let's do some calculations. The Friends set has 81 pieces and it took me 8 minutes, that's a build rate of 10.125 pieces per minute. The Dino set has 80 pieces and took me 10 minutes, so that's 8 pieces per minute. Let's pretend this is exactly and scientifically accurate. If you extrapolate to a larger set (like Olivia's House-- Gah! That looks fun!) with 695 pieces, that'd take about 69 minutes or just over an hour. A 695-piece set built at the Dino rate would take 87 minutes or about an hour and a half. Not a huge difference.
In reality, neither set felt easier or harder while I was building it. They are both made up of a lot of regular LEGO pieces--not custom pieces. That's a big plus in my book. The Dino set has a few Technic-style pieces and the Friends set does not.
|That green stuff is the tranquilizer for his gun!|
|...or maybe it is a love potion after all?|
Bottom line? The build times for the two sets were very similar. There was no dramatic difference in the size of the pieces or types of pieces. I was actually impressed by how many classic LEGO pieces the Friends set used. Maybe I picked an especially good set? I'd have to look closer at the bigger sets to see if they have any of those "big chunk" pieces or shortcut pieces that I really dislike.
The colors are not for me. But I have never liked pastels much.
In terms of theme and playability, the science lab Friends set is much more appealing to me and definitely gives me many more ideas for play than the Dino set. I love the clever little details like the microscope and the tool bench, and the robot is fantastic. It is a much more creative use of bricks than the Dino set. Had I chosen the Butterfly Beauty Shop, for example, I might not have had as much fun, but I'd have to build it and see.
While chatting to my wise 12-year-old son, he said, "LEGO should just work harder on making gender neutral LEGOs and not sets for one or the other." Too true, and I think over a certain age, the kinds of sets that are challenging are gender neutral (the VW camper, the Kingdom sets, the Grand Emporium) but with so many choices on the opposite end of the spectrum for the younger kids, maybe it is ok to have some pink and purple LEGOs with more fashionable minifigs...especially if those minifigs are working in their own science labs and designing robots.
Summary (for "Olivia's Invention Workshop")
5 and up
Good. Lots of classic pieces and fun to build.
Typical of LEGO, this set is very high quality. No missing pieces.
Great. Mostly cardboard with small plastic bags holding the pieces.
Yes. LEGO has a history of being highly collectable, and I don’t see why this will be any different.
This small set has limited building options, but everything except the minifig is completely compatible with all other LEGOs. Imaginative play value is very high.