LEGO Creator Expert | Bonsai Tree [REVIEW]
Theme: LEGO Creator Expert
Name: Bonsai Tree (10281)
Price: $49.99 | €52.99
The Bonsai Tree came out in January 2021 as part of the first wave of “Botanical Collection” sets under the Creator Expert theme. With the double VIP points event recently, I finally bit the bullet and bought it. Here are my thoughts.
The set has no stickers and no minifigures, so those sections will be left out of this review.
This is one of the nicest looking boxarts I’ve seen within the 18+ type sets. The tan greebling strip looks great alongside the green glow behind the set. It’s very appropriate for this set, and gives it a classy feel.
You get a single instruction manual with it. The manual only has a picture of the set on the front and is completely plain black otherwise. Its also a fair bit smaller than I expected, with a staple spine to it
The instructions come with a little UCS-style intro at the beginning with some information about the set and real life bonsai trees. There isn’t a lot to read, but it does add a premium feel to the set and the extra info is welcome. It mentions how 3 of the elements in the set are made from a plastic derived from sugarcane, which makes it much more sustainable. This isn’t the first time this plastic has been used in a LEGO set, but it is a very appropriate subtheme to trial it more regularly.
The instructions are printed on the standard greyish-blue paper, as opposed to the black background. With LEGO moving away from the black background recently, this isn’t too surprising.
There were 6 numbered bags in the set. One for the black base, one for the trunk, another for the pebbles, one for the green and pink configurations respectively, and finally one for the wooden base.
The First Half
Sorting and knolling the pieces was super easy and barely took any time at all. The numbered bags contained pretty similar pieces throughout so it probably only took 10ish minutes to organise then it was straight building.
I found the first half of the build really fun. It starts off with the black base, which came together quickly with lots of tiling off to make it smooth.
The trunk was a quick yet somewhat complex build. I loved the techniques used to get the angle of the tree and to thicken the spine.
Bag three was a fairly unique step that somewhat resembled the step in the Ship in a Bottle set, where you dump a bag full of 1×1 circular tiles into the set. The difference being that the instructions tell you to mix it around in the plastic bag first (presumably so there is a more random distribution of pebbles in the base) before dumping them in. I don’t know why they bagged half the pebbles separately though, as it would’ve ended up ‘randomized’ anyway had they just had one bag with all pebble colours in it from the start. This was still a really fun step though, despite the slightly wasteful use of plastic bags.
After bag three though, the build took a tedious turn. It’s at this point that you begin to assemble the actual leaves and branches of the tree. You first build the green version of the tree, before proceeding with the alternate pink one.
The green version was tolerable, probably because its your first time putting together the leaves, and the experience is fresh and new. There is a fair amount of repetition with it, but not as much as you might think just by looking at it. Towards the end of the green section, I just gave up trying to follow the instructions perfectly and just placed the leaves where I think made sense.
The pink version of the tree, on the other hand, was a pain. It was super tedious, especially having just finished the green version, and there was a lot more repetition involved (at least it certainly felt like there was). It felt like you were just doing the same thing 20+ times, which was just exhausting. I couldn’t wait to be finished with this section as I was building it.
It needed to be this way, of course. You can’t recreate the natural look of the Bonsai Tree without some repetition. My advice is, if you do get this set, only build the version you want to display and keep the alternate pieces somewhere safe. Should a time come where you want to see how the other version looks, build it then. This should save you from the tedium.
The Wooden Base
The wooden base at the end was a very simple build. There was nothing surprising or noteworthy about it really. You can almost piece it together yourself just by looking at pictures, honestly. There was a good degree of tiling involved, as you can imagine, which is always fairly satisfying to do.
Overall, I’d describe the build as varied, as you get an interesting mix of simple, complex, and generally unique steps with this set.
The design of this thing is absolutely beautiful and perfectly captures the essence of a bonsai tree. It has a small footprint, and its natural colours don’t pop out at you and demand your focus (in the green version at least). It’s a very nice set to just leave on your desk, whether at home or at work.
My favourite part of the build was definitely the trunk. Its really well textured and the designer created an incredibly natural shape for the tree. The two vine pieces that wrap around the trunk is such a small addition but it adds so much to the look of the set. The pebbles at the base mask the ends of the ‘root’ pieces, which gives the illusion that they extand deep into the base, which I also really like.
Definitely the biggest selling point of this set is the ability to easily swap the leaves out and change them to the other version. I’m not exaggerating when I say it takes less than 2 minutes and requires no instructions to do so. Its very intuitive and adds a lot of value to the set, in my opinion. As for which version I personally prefer, I’m undecided really. I think what I’m going to do is swap them out when seasonally appropriate.
Overall, it’s a fantastic display piece if you’re into this kind of thing. Even if you’re not, I think it’s instantly recognizable to most people, so even if you’re not strictly a LEGO fan I think there’s a lot of value to glean from having an ever-lasting, no maintenance Bonsai Tree.
For 52.99 you get 878 pieces, which sounds good on paper. However, the majority of these pieces are very small. For example, 200 of these pieces are just the pebbles and 101 are just the pink frogs, which wouldn’t be used half the time. The price-per-piece isn’t necessarily representative of the value this set has to offer.
I forgot how much I paid for this set as I was building it, so I asked myself what an appropriate price for it would be. I figured €49.99 would be a fair price for the set and sure enough, it retails for €52.99. In my opinion, you certainly get what you pay for with this set.
Other sets in this price range would be the Flower Bouquet set, the Architecture New York skyline set, and the Scout Trooper Helmet Collection set. It’s hard to compare these given that they are completely different themes of sets. From the ‘eye-test’ my subjective opinion is that neither of those other sets can really compare to this. The exception being the Scout Trooper helmet if you’re a Star Wars fan.
I think the only set that is comparable thematically to this would be the Ship in a Bottle set. The Ship in a Bottle set is one of my favourite sets ever but retails for €84.99, a whole €33 more than the Bonsai Tree. The price difference here means it’s hardly a fair comparison.
Which brings us back to the Scout Trooper Helmet. I think if you already have some Helmet Collection Star Wars sets, you’re probably better off getting the Scout Trooper helmet instead. If that’s not the case, and you’re just looking for a nice display piece for €50, you can’t really go wrong with the Bonsai Tree.
This is a brilliant display piece with a varied build and no real competitors at this price. It’s also very hard to rank, in all honesty. Even within the Creator Expert theme, I find it very difficult to place it relative to others.
Within the Creator Expert theme, I’m going to rank this at 6th place out of 17 sets. It’s probably recency bias that has it placed above the DB5, but for now that’s where I feel it belongs. As time goes on, it may find itself lower, but here we are for now.
Relative to all sets, I’m going to rank it at 29th out of 95 sets. After a ranking shift this week bumping up the Helmet Collection sets, I’m sandwiching this set in between the Jedi Starfighter with Hyperdrive, which I prefer because of its display and minifigures, and the DB5 which I believe doesn’t display as well as the Bonsai Tree.
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