When I first heard there was a LEGO rental system, I was pretty fired up about it. After doing a bit of research in to Pley, the Netflix of LEGO, I signed up for their free 15 day trial. As much fun as it is to get Lord of the Rings LEGO in the mail, I ended up a bit disappointed by the service.
The first thing I did when I got my Mirkwood Elf Army shipment was to dump all the bricks out in the box it came in, right where it says “Pour Bricks Here.” Then I did the usual thing, separate all the body parts from the swords.
I immediately got crap on Facebook for admitting that I’m a pre-sorter, so I stopped sorting out bricks and just started putting together the minifigures, which is my real passion. LEGO Mirkwood is INTENSE.
I haven’t actually tried to put together a pre-packaged set of LEGO before. In my day we would just have a huge bucket of bricks and build as much stuff as we could out of it. (My brother was way better at that than I ever was, but then again he did grow up to become an engineer.) So this time, I followed along with the instruction booklet, which again I got chided for on Facebook. I figured if I were really using the service and wasn’t worried about the 15-day time crunch to return it without paying, I would probably try to put it together first while drunk. (ADULT FUN.)
Even sober with step-by-step guidance, I get confused and end up giving hats to the Orcs.
Plus even if you’re following along faithfully, there are some things that just don’t make sense. And some things that seem obvious, like “treasure goes in treasure barrel.”
…it turns out the “tree” that is the centerpiece of the Mirkwood armory actually has a hidden catapult at the top. Had I just dumped out all the bricks and tried to put together something on my own, I would’ve completely missed that. Having a predetermined amount of LEGO with a set kind of sucks the fun out that way. This set was mostly hinges and levers, though some of them were super fun:
Mostly though, you have to do pretty much what the designers intended you to do with the pieces you’re given, or you end up with kind of a mess, I assume. I ended up with a bunch of extra little pieces.
I’m not sure if every set is supposed to have a few extra bricks, you know, for kids. But mine was definitely missing one brick, though it fortunately wasn’t essential to the main function of the toy. It was just a piece right on top of a wall to cap it off.
Overall the most fun I had was putting the minifigures together and posing them, which is usually a constant source of fun, anyway. For a “medium” sized rental set, the Mirkwood Army is pretty impressive. It’s got lots of moving parts and you can catapult stuff at your sister’s head, just like the instruction book explicitly tells you not to.
When it came time to return the set, though, that’s when the fun died. Part of the requirements for Pley are that you break down everything to send it back. Yeah, it’s fun to smash stuff. But we’re not talking send it back in five or six pieces. They want you to pull every single brick apart, even those tricksy thin ones. My husband was dismayed to learn that it was basically a requirement to “clean up,” and feels that dismantling sets should be something the company does, to be included in your membership fee.
I was missing at least one brick from the set, so when I logged back in to Pley, I checked out their system for reporting lost items. It’s fairly easy to do.
I’m not sure what happens after you tell them, though. Do they have a LEGO wholesaler where they replace missing parts? Is there a Hobbit LEGO black market?
Another feature of the site is uploading your photos to a Pley gallery, from which they draw a winner every month. (I’m not sticking around to find out what the prize is, though.) I misunderstood the data fields on each photo — “Name, Age, Title” — and accidentally named my first photo “Mirkwood, 35, Finished Set.” Once I realized what was going on, though, I tried to have some fun. Unfortunately there’s only two character fields for age, so Thranduil is only 65, according to them.
The last little weird bit was when I went to cancel my account. Canceling is actually easy enough — there’s a button right underneath your address in the “My Accounts” settings — it’s the confirmation email system that’s slightly screwy. Five minutes after I canceled, I got a “Hey! Your registration isn’t finished!” notification. Then a half hour later I got a “PLEASE RECONSIDER GIVING US MONEY!” email.
I think it’s more of a quirk in the automated emails rather than a ploy to try and get you to sign up again, but either way, Pley isn’t for me and I won’t be re-registering. According to their farewell message, though, they keep your queue for a year before they jettison your account completely. So theoretically if you only really wanted to pay $39 at a time for one of those big’n’huge LEGO sets (like the Millennium Falcon,) you could build it, send it back, cancel, then wait until a few months later when something else struck your fancy, re-activate your account, and get something else.
I’m reluctant to give Pley an entirely negative review, because it’s well-run, as far as I experienced. It’s not that the service doesn’t work. It’s that their target demographic is not a 35-year-old childless woman who just happens to like building blocks. Their ideal customer seems to be in a very specific category, which makes the idea of Pley sort of silly to me.
Their demo video pretty much sums it up: Stay at home parents who have at least two kids and are affluent enough to afford the $39 a month fee. That’s the main group of people who could really take advantage of a LEGO rental system. If your children, for whatever reason, have a need to constantly put together different LEGO projects, then Pley saves you money. Unfortunately, as I mentioned last week, you can only rent one set at a time, which means either your kids have to share, or you have to set up two accounts, one for each kid.
It seems unlikely that you’d have a child who absolutely has to have a new LEGO set every couple of weeks. It also seems unlikely that you’d want to keep track of rental toys. Considering each set has to have the right pieces separated and back in its shipping & cleaning bag before you return it, I think you’d spend a considerable amount of your time chasing down what goes where and which isn’t part of your kid’s personal LEGO stash. And if you didn’t, you’d be shortchanging the next family that rents that set, because you more than likely wouldn’t know or care what pieces you missed.
I’m going back to collecting minifigs. I’ll borrow someone’s Millennium Falcon to take pictures of Ron Burgundy with.