Reviewed by Chris McGee (SAFOLs Member, jhbLUG Member)
A breath of fresh air…
LEGO® Ideas has come a long way since its inception and this set has now become the largest set made from the theme (piece count wise). The range now boasts some of the most vivid and unique models within the LEGO® portfolio, with such memorable non-licensed sets such as the Maze (21305), Pop-up Book, Ship in a Bottle and Old Fishing Store alongside the great licensed sets we have as well. The 21318 Tree House adds something different to what has come before, and after having built it, I wonder why this hasn’t been done before now?
I am not saying that there are no LEGO® tree house sets out there, but they are normally quite timid and lack the actual foliage to really sell it as a tree rather than being a small shack on a trunk (although special mention to sets 3065 and 31053 which are good in their own rights). So it’s difficult to sell the idea as original, but then the new tree house puts itself well above any that has come before and I feel can enjoy the brand of ‘unique’. It should also not surprise us then that the idea itself got its 10000 votes so quickly given what has come before.
Opening the whopping 428 page instruction manual showed perhaps the main reason for LEGO® accepting this recent attempt, which is the ‘Plants from Plants’ initiative started in 2018 whereby all botanical elements in the set are made from plant-based polyethylene plastic, produced from sustainably sourced sugarcane. These make up just over 180 of the 3036 pieces in the set. The 21318 Tree House contains over 180 botanical elements. So this set is the perfect platform to boost awareness of the campaign and get everyone on board with the new direction of the LEGO® Group which is to be making all their products from sustainable materials by 2030. I couldn’t see or feel a difference in quality while building so I am happy with the results.
The set comes with 4 minifigures, which is basically a simple family with a father and mother, daughter and son. Based on the build, the tree house appears to be their actual home (or at least a holiday home). Each figure is identifiable and thankfully does not carry any repeat parts, and each have a unique facial print, mainly with happy expressions. It was nice of the design team to add an additional hat for you to swap out amongst the family.
So the designers clearly had some long thoughts on how to build the tree itself. The build of the trunk was very cool and chose to build on a frame which is both technic and system brick bound. This is really well bolted into the base to make it easy to carry. Plates are connected around the trunk frame to give a rounded feel and with the studs being on the side, it aids in giving texture to the tree. The trunk is immensely strong and I could give a healthy grip for carrying and almost swooshing it about (swooshing not recommended once the cabin roofs and top section of the trees are on the model).
The cabin sections themselves are slightly repetitive but not enough to take the attention away from the build. There are 3 sections to the house, each with a specific purpose, the bedroom, bathroom and what seems to be a research room. Each room has a lot of detail crammed into it and the designers did a nice job to still make it feel cozy. The roofs for the sections are different compared to the normal builds I am used to from LEGO® sets, and reminded me more of ‘MOC’ building. They are not joined via studs but rather rest securely on top of the rooms for easy removal and play access.
Above the cabins are the leaves and adjoining tree top. This is the most repetitive build process within the set, but honestly, I didn’t feel like putting it down. The sheer number of limb / leaf pieces in the set just had me intrigued and wanting to see the finished product. I initially built the autumn scene as I have always enjoyed the colours it displays (I have since changed to the green variant heading into the summer months). The top section or the tree can be separated easily to gain access to the cabins and perhaps the leaf areas are a bit thin when viewed from directly from side on, but the magic is just taking a look through some angles from slightly below or above the initial line of leaves, and the tree appears full of life.
As noted above, the build has 2 different colour schemes of leaf elements, which is great for those wanting to represent a favourite season or change it up a couple of times a year to bring in the new seasons. A dark yellow which is a new colour for the part and dark orange make up the autumn colours along with bright and dark green for the spring / summer colours.
The final product:
With a large portion of the submissions on the LEGO® Ideas website being focused on licensed properties these days, I really appreciate that process allows a healthy release of non-licensed sets such as this, because the fully built treehouse is a fantastic set, both in build and in the aesthetics. The playability is also there with the underlying grass area, the internal house spaces and the winch for grocery movement. When looking over it, the vibrant colours pop and provide a great representation of something that as kids we probably always wanted.
Although I really loved the display value of the Ship in a Bottle (21313), the various possibilities of the Pop-up Book (21315) and the challenging fun of the Maze (21305), this is definitely my favourite non-licensed Ideas’ set (the Ecto 1 still holds a special place in my heart), and well up there in my top 5 sets for 2019. Even buying multiples is a great idea, since the pieces are so usable in other layouts such as city building and general ‘mocs’. Highly recommended purchase if you still haven’t gotten one since it was released (set retails for R3499.99).
Press Release Photos: