Top positive review
Best of the Hogwarts Express Locomotives / Terrific playability
August 25, 2018
[Photo Caption: set 4841 (2010) on the left, set 75955 (2018) on the right]
***This set does not include track. This set is not motorized. There are no directions for building a motor into the train.***
I am the nut-job parent that you'll see in some of the other train and Lego reviews. I grew up with Lego and returned to it when I had kids. I am terribly partial to Lego (ignore my star rating), but I'll give you the best review I can so that you can make the best decision for your kids. Our family also has a long history with the Harry Potter Lego sets, including the previous Hogwarts Express train set.
My short review is that I love this set. I think it will sell like hotcakes. It is also a good value given its play potential. This is not a perfect set (more on that below), but it combines arguably the best Hogwarts Express locomotive that Lego has sold with a carriage and a station that allow for a large number of play possibilities. The station, which is split between muggle King's Cross and Platform 9 and 3/4 is the most extensive Harry Potter station they've offered. The carriage, though diminutive compared to the last Express, has a pull-off side and top so that the nicely detailed inside can serve as a play diorama. I believe that Lego designed this with the expectation that most children would not put it on tracks, and so it works just fine as a set piece for acting out various scenes from the books/movies. The train will run just fine on Lego's track, though it is not motorized nor easily motorized. This particular set with the Lupin and Dementor mini-figures, as well as the Sirius Black wanted poster, places it firmly in the third book/film.
As for my longer review... Lego has had a wavering approach toward the various iterations of the Hogwarts Express that it has offered over the years. The first one (4708) was solidly a non-track train, with wheels that ran well on floors and tabletops, but not on Lego's track. The next two versions (4758 from the 9 volt era) and 4841 (from 2010 and the power functions era) were designed for running on track. The current version (75955) seems to return a little bit to the idea that this is a set piece first, and a train second. Though I'm a big Lego train fan, I think this is the right approach.
First off, the locomotive finally solves the glaring problem that all of the prior Hogwarts Express engines have had: the lack of large driving wheels. If you dig through the Amazon reviews of set 4841, you'll see this called out eight years ago. Lego got it right this time. The engine is very nicely proportioned. I could stand to see it a stud or two longer, but this is clearly a substantial improvement over all the earlier models. The smokestack, steam dome, and bumpers are all closer to the actual Olton Hall locomotive. One can quibble about the simplistic side rods coming off the driver, but no one should expect an Emerald Night (set 10194) level of detail, and no one wants that level of mechanical headache in a children's toy.
Moving down the train, the rest of the rolling stock shows a bit of cost cutting that is a tad depressing for the train enthusiast. However, most of these design decisions are not the kind of thing that kids care that much about. A number of examples:
-Lego opted not to used magnetic couplers between the cars. They cost more, but they also come loose when kids are pulling the train around on the floor. Most children probably won't miss them. Train enthusiasts can easily upgrade. Not a bit deal.
-Lego shortened the tender from the prior version. It looks out of proportion now. Again, kids aren't going to care and train people can enlarge it.
-The passenger coach is shorter, lacks proper bogies (four wheel sets at each end of the car), and the nice train windows have been swapped out for more common casement windows. Again, kids aren't going to care; the two wheel sets actually help the train roll better when not used on track, and the house windows open (so you can re-enact Harry's chocolate frog making its one good hop).
That said, here's what the rolling stock does well:
-The side of the carriage pulls off so that you can easily act out scenes. The train car becomes a kind of movie set. The roof still lifts off like in prior sets, but the removable wall is perfect for this audience. Try running a sweets trolly through the old trains.
-The inside of the passenger carriage is much better. Instead of four typical Lego chairs and pretty much nothing else, this new car has reasonably designed coach chairs along with a smooth tiled floor, all in a sharp gray-blue hue.
-This carriage actually has doors at each end. The prior train had... a window.
I'm on the fence about the move away from the bright yellow stripe (from 4841) to the more subdued gold stripe (of this set) across the passenger car. I don't think either one hits the mark.
The station is pretty good. They've taken bits of King's Cross and bits of 9 and 3/4 and mashed them together. It is a little hard to get a trolly through from the King's Cross side due to the limited space between the magical wall and the stair case. But I think Lego struck a good balance between cost cutting (e.g. the use of larger single piece bricks) versus the careful addition of detail here and there (e.g., the change in the light fixtures between the two sides of the station, the newspaper stand, the Sirius Black poster, the use of "brick" bricks here and there). It is a toy first, but it is still carefully designed with a discerning eye toward detail.
Finally, the mini-figures. My daughter, who is a serial Harry Potter reader, hates the short-leg Harry, Ron, and Hermione figures. I'm with her. The new, smaller wands are good. But we want the old figures back that have bendable legs. The short mini-figures are never, ever able to sit down properly.
This train will work just fine on track. It does not, as some people have charged, hit the station bridge once it is on track. As warned at the top, there is no track in the set. You would need to purchase something like four sets of 60205 to have a functioning circuit (16 curves make a circle). If you're going the train route, you may wish to purchase a whole Lego train set just to get all the pieces. Also, if you are looking to motorize, I suggest you wait a while as Lego is phasing in a new set of motors and controllers (i.e., the Powered Up hub and motors that operate over Bluetooth).
I'll revisit this review as I learn more. Cheers.