17101 Creative Toolbox
BOOST is the LEGO Group’s latest entry in the Mindstorms family of products, targeted at a younger audience to make coding simple. Brick Fanatics’ resident father takes the new product for a spin with his two oldest children
Price: £149.99 / $159.99 / €159.99 Pieces: 847 Available: Now
LEGO BOOST is an attempt to cash in on the ‘oh snap – my child is going to need to know how to code if they have any chance of making it in this world’ mentality of today’s parents. As the proud father of three children under the age of ten who cannot code himself, let me be the first to say I am wholeheartedly on this particular bandwagon. It was therefore with great excitement that I opened up LEGO BOOST and can now bring you the Brick Fanatics review.
Right out of the box there is a surprise, especially for long time LEGO fans – no instructions manual. With a collection of over 1,000 sets, I confess this stopped me in my tracks – how could there be no manual? Soon thereafter, the mystery was revealed. Everything is in the app, and there is wisdom in that. LEGO BOOST walks the user through a training curriculum first, building a small car and then its mascot Vernie. As the user builds there are pre-determined stopping points where a new section of coding is taught. This step by step approach breaks the learning curve down into bite sized chunks which, while prolonging the building period, introduces young minds to the coding gradually.
The coding scheme is similar to other products in this market. Blocks of functions are strung together which can include basic motions, sensor based inputs and limited voice commands. Sorted by colour, the blocks of code are largely self-explanatory – but not all of them, which leads me to my one and only major complaint about LEGO BOOST; the lack of a code key. Nowhere that I could find, either in the app or in the online support tools, is there a simple key that contains a summary of what each command block does. I tried pressing on the screen over each expecting a pop-up summary to no avail – as far as I can tell there is no key or encyclopedia that shows what each code does. My children and I were left to guessing and experimenting which was a little frustrating, especially for them.
The frustration of learning the code can be forgiven thanks to the brilliance of the LEGO BOOST mat. In lieu of paper instructions, a large mat is included, broken out into a grid with various markings and images strewn across the surface. A forward movement code block is equivalent to moving forward one of these grid squares, allowing children to instantly recognise what is happening and really aid orientation. Ever more complicated challenges keep coming back to the mat and my children rapidly gained a sense of accomplishment by figuring out how to move Vernie across its surface in various ways. This portion of 17101 Creative Toolbox must have been extensively tested because it is both intuitive and simple.
Vernie is the mascot of LEGO BOOST and serves as the entry point for children. Upon completion he can quickly be sent scurrying all across both the mat and soon thereafter a large room. He makes facial expressions, has funny quips – especially while you are building him – and really draws the children in. The key to Vernie is the large Smart Brick, BOOST’s version of Mindstorms’ RCX, which has both an internal motor, sensors and input points. A freestanding motor and additional sensor complete the electronic parts that are used to build Vernie and all of the other 17101 Creative Toolbox models.
With Vernie complete, LEGO BOOST offers four additional models that each introduce more code. Upon completion of each model, that code base is open to use in what is essentially a sandbox mode. Once all five builds have been walked through via the app, the full suite of commands is available for use. This is a very clever way for the LEGO Group to have setup the program and seems to be the reason there is no paper instructions manual. The user must go through the code training step by step as there is now way to jump ahead.
This does introduce a slight challenge, especially due to the target age group for LEGO BOOST – parts getting lost, which may make finishing the final couple of robots difficult. Vernie leaves multiple bags unopened and, considering that he must be fully disassembled before one can move on, there is a lot of time for components to get misplaced.
It is somewhat difficult for me to assess BOOST objectively – my children have been playing with LEGO bricks since before they could walk. We have hundreds of thousands of extra bricks lying around so they are both pre-disposed to sitting down for hours on end to play with these bricks. They also have the backup supply to both replace missing parts and stretch the platform with their own creations. Those two unique aspects give BOOST a much higher chance of success in my home than in one where it may be part of a smaller collection. That said, the quality of the electronic components, the intuitive play mat and lean-as-you-build approach all serve to make LEGO BOOST a product that I can recommend.
This product was provided for review by the LEGO Group.