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Saturday, January 31, 2015

M-Tron 6956 Stellar Recon Voyager

In terms of construction, I have always favored Lego Space from the late 80's and early 90's. They have lots of wacky pieces that aren't always easy to use, they sport exaggerated features unhinged from realism and they often seem to be designed from scratch; not beholden to any real world designs.  Simply put; I love them because they're the fevered dreams of a small danish toymaker; A lucid world conceived in the minds of free thinkers with no license limitations.

I picked up Stellar Recon Voyager in November 2004 as an act of defiance against some marketing guru who convinced the Lego company to abandon the original grey, dark grey, and brown.  It was an accidental discovery.  The first Star Wars set slipped by and I didn't notice, but the second Star Wars set's new colors were decidedly obvious (On my birthday no less!); and mid build I held up the new dark grey piece and thought, "Something's rotten in the state of Denmark!"

This was to be my first encounter with Ebay; one of many that would follow.

I believe in my heart that early Lego sets have aged well because the designers built for themselves first and children liked the models as a result.  That Adult-centric design ethos began to stagnate around '96-'97 before the company began to tailspin into weaker and simpler designs.  I held on for the downhill ride; appreciating the rare upticks like Ninjas, and Adventurers.  The Lego group was losing ground to video games and flailing, theme after theme came and went without building a cohesive whole. Finally; after many dreary years I was beginning to really like the direction the company was heading in; around '02-'03,when the color change hit in '04.  10 Months after discovering the color change I sat down at a college library computer and won an auction for Stellar Recon Voyager.  First try, list price, and brand new.  I was pleased as punch and ran down to the grocery store to pay with a Money people still use those things?

Mom and Dad weren't so pleased, and this was only round 1.  I was about to take aim again...but that is another blog review.

Stellar Recon Voyager is a supply transporter.  It comes loaded with two M-Tron boxes, the most in one set, one giant crate, and one small car for transporting supplies on the ground.  In addition 6956 contains a crew of two astronauts and their 5 tools: A wrench, walki-talki, robot arm, chainsaw body, and a megaphone.  No job is too tough for the intrepid voyagers.

The moon rover is very small and basic.  It has a light on the magnet, and a steering wheel on a slope where the make believe motor undoubtedly resides.  The wheels are of the smallest sort and come with grey rims.

An arrow on the nose indicates the car's attachment dock; this was the first arrow print of this type.  So while the print looks insignificant now, it was actually a pretty big deal as it was a unique print for one year.

And of course, here is the rover docked between the two front antennae.  Stellar Recon Voyager was loaded with magnets.  It came with eight of them.  (And in referencing this I have discovered that the Lego magnet was introduced in 1980 with the train line.  M-Tron's lineup offered 2 new attachment clips for new interactive options.)  The magnet is not as recent as I thought; I feel like I've got some Deja vu...did I say this before?

I'm a big fan of the crate in this model.  It's spacious and perfectly shaped for the cargo bay.  The sidewalls are plain and might have benefited from a print, but overall the hollowed out walls offer great square footage for the tools.  Of all the Space themes; M-Tron's mechanical prints stand out as my favorites.  The prints aren't as heavily centered on logos, like Space police, Black-Tron 2, or Ice Planet; it's a refreshing alternative. Spyrius tried to repeat this, but they used stickers; scowl.

The main craft is made up of a long cockpit and an open storage hangar.  The design grows taller and wider from front to back in much the same way as Cosmic Fleet Voyager.  Both ships make great use of the Classic Space honeycombs and angled prefab walls.


Here's Cosmic Fleet Voyager for reference.

Two cheers for the Voyagers!  Overall I think Cosmic Fleet Voyager looks by appearance to be big and imposing, but in many ways Stellar Recon Voyager was able to revisit and refine some of its earlier motifs;  in particular, I appreciate the use of sizeable airplane wings in the M-Tron design.

9 Booster rockets hold 6956 above the ground, and 2 stanchions support the wingtips.  I happen to really like the underside rocket and stanchion pieces.

Among other parts, they definitely swayed me in making this my first purchase over the superior Particle Ionizer.

The new antennae, came in great abundance on 6956; 4 were provided, the most in any M-Tron model.

The long tapered cockpit has a transparent extender allowing for plenty of room to extract the spacemen; these extenders are always a unique color which is a bonus.  You can tell the extender was designed for a different window (Classic Space/Black-Tron/Futuron era) as it doesn't sit flush with the newer window design.  In the main model the height difference is obscured by the recessed placement of the extender.

On the side we have black double doors that swing open but don't really have room to let a spaceman through; they're more, aesthetic than functional.  Boxes full of M-Tron's precious green goo can be loaded on either side below adjustable spotlights.

The fencing along the cockpit gives some texture, but I'm not exactly a fan of the very squared off front end that results.  Pockets form inside around the tapered nose and when combined with the brick high block behind the cockpit you get a chunky look that would create severe drag problems during atmospheric takeoffs and landings.  Among the M-Tron sets Stellar Recon Voyager's 2x6 block below the M logo may be the most notable design fail within the theme. Surely, there ought to have been a better way to shape the ship to the honeycomb brick.

In the aft portion of the ship there is cargo.  and a small hinged crane to hold and drop it.  Look how snug those angles are; it's geometrically gorgeous!  And check out those 4 boosters on the undercarriage; they give the ship a nice hefty appearance.

The classic hinge clicks into place with the two studs and has a gentle fit that is only just secure; with a gentle tap the assembly will slowly lower the cargo as if it's pneumatic.  The crate is perfectly weighted for this feature and it's fun to watch the crate drop.  I tried it again just now; delightful!

I've seen comments from other enthusiasts disparaging the huge airy space in the back of this ship.  It's true, the ship is very inefficient in its design and wastes a ton of space.  I personally think the trade-off is worth it.  We get 2 black honeycomb bricks, and 4 unique red double window frames.  They aren't exactly the most useful bricks, but I really like them precisely because they aren't made anymore.  The Honeycombs are miserable to work with given the two, one stud, attachment points, but they are great eye catchers if you can make them work.  They were also influential in my picking the set up long before this blog was a thought.  Sadly the Honeycombs and angled window bricks never appeared in large numbers, and given their length of retirement/the angle window's fragility, I suspect they're to remain retired.  Maybe we can hope for a redesign.

As we move on to other topics it's only right to mention the grey parts at the back.  They are the classic grey; obsolete.  They're all cool space bits like tubes, directional rockets/loudspeakers and rockets.  I love how they combine with the giant neon dishes, and neon rocket tips.  The ship is bursting to the the gills with rocketry and the newfangled neon green color that screams 90's.

In some ways M-Tron's Stellar Recon Voyager was a sort of final farewell to Classic Space,  Significant Classic Space parts that had been absent from 1987-1989 returned for a final hurrah and retired.  I waited through my childhood for their return...but they never did.

With all that said; Stellar Recon Voyager contributed these elements to the M-Tron theme.

2 Bricks with a pin, this color hasn't been produced for a while, but it's got a decent supply.

2 1x8 red bricks; quite handy and ordinary.

2 Grey loudspeaker bricks.  Yeah, that grey.  This is actually the most widely dispensed color for the part, but there will never be more made.  The mold is still in production; one of the few remaining Classic Space elements.

1 black 2x2 brick.  It's a very common piece.

1 Black 2x3...I'm beginning to see a trend.

1 Black 2x4 brick.  #Brick.

1 of each side in black.  These tall doors are only somewhat prevalent in red, black is the 3rd most  prevalent color, but the drop off in quantities available is steep.

4 red lattice gates 1 brick height.  This was an early option for building SNOT (Studs Not On Top). This is the most common color for the part.

2 Red lattice fence pieces with a centered frame.  This is an interesting and useful SNOT piece that was very much a product of the 60's and 70's.  It strikes me as a part intended for my sisters sets, and so its inclusion here is odd, and yet given its usefulness it's an excellent addition.  I 'borrowed' these frequently as a kid.

Here are some lovely samples from the fence's introduction.

I'm kinda digging this pretzel shop.

1 Red sloped stanchion.  A very poorly distributed color, but at least one set packed in 6 of them.

1 red hinge with extending plate.  This 1970's hinge saw its production end right before the color change.  It's responsible for the play action in the cargo bay.

2 Grey barrel taps.  Originally this part contained a small hole in the tap, but recent examples have a solid tap end.

2 Grey tubes with removeable tabs.  This is an obsolete color, the grey tubes were available in 4 space sets, two Classic Space, one M-Tron, and one Unitron.  I'm an ardent fan of the Lego tubes, I love their dynamic options.

1 Black Minifig Loudhailer...also well remembered as the original Stormtrooper blaster.  Huh, I'd have thought there'd be one in Mega Core Magnetizer.

2 Black Steering Wheels.  In keeping with 6811 Pulsar Charger's design scheme we get a steering wheel in our spaceship.

2 Black Panels.  Victory Lap Raceway contains 8 of these, but it only appears in 5 sets.  Given the dearth of bricks in these older sets it's a good part to have.

2 Black corner plates.  This piece is extremely common now, but in digging through these old sets I'm finding very few.

1 Black 2x3 plate.  It's sometimes easy to forget that most of these sets and theme's aren't built with an eye towards self sufficiency.  This part is common, but again, M-Tron's supply is incredibly spare by comparison.

1 Black 2x16 plate.  This is a nice part for quickly extending a design's foundation.

2 Black 2x2 Helicopter Plates.  My earliest familiarity with this set was its prevalence in Helicopters during the early 90's.  The center hole makes a good offset attachment.

3 Black 4x8 plates.  Pretty standard part.

1 Black 6x16 Plate.  Build big or go home.

1 each Black airliner wings.  When I was young I thought these parts were very common, but they've been replaced by Star Wars wings, and it turns out they're all somewhat uncommon.  The Space theme is remarkably sparing with these.

3 Black 2x3 Slopes.

2 Black inverted 2x3 slopes.

2 Black Sloped technic bricks.  This common part offers some intriguing SNOT options, and a little Technic tinker-ability to the theme.

2 Trans neon green 4x4 dishes.  These neon green dishes showed up frequently in the 90's, and almost approached the realm of ubiquity (The state of being everywhere).  This was the first time the 4x4 dish appeared in a transparent color.

1 Unique trans neon green window spacer hinged.  No matter what color, every version of this part is unique.

1 This arrow tile's first appearance was in Stellar Recon Voyager.  It would easily fit in with the Futuron arrow tiles.

1 Unique M-Tron Logo slope.

4 Unique red double sloped window frames.  I happen to like these pre-fab parts.  This was the farewell set for this mold, they were never seen again.  This is for all intents and purposes a Space wall, but one coast guard set uses the part in white.

It would be remiss of me to not have a retrospective for this rather special shortlived prefab spacewall.




Overall, there are a handful of very special parts tucked away in this set, and quite a few ordinary parts that only got a sprinkling inside M-Tron's theme.

And now it's time for alternates!

Most notably, the extender doesn't appear in any of the alternates, given that it is one of Stellar Recon Voyager's most specific parts I view that as a missed opportunity.  But what of the alternates themselves?  Top left image is a spacecraft with a base.  Bottom left appears to be some kind of robot and car.  Right model is definitely a spacecraft.  The robot's spindly design appears simplest to reverse engineer.

Speaking of reverse engineering, there's a method to its madness.  I can't speak for anyone else, but my tactic is to build what is visible to dry up the well of possibilities, then I can reduce the guessing game to about half the parts, and a strong part palette will further improve my odds of getting it right.  I haven't done it in years, but I remember attempting it on my childhood firestation somewhat successfully; it had over 500 pieces.  Stellar Recon Voyager only has 221 parts, a much more manageable number.  We can argue about the quality of these box alternates all day, but as a teaching tool they are magnificent.

First up I have this lovely little scooter and service bot.

Next up is this Warehouse Mech, for moving crates and such.

Finally I built this mobile facility.

Oh, and one more thing.

Overall very nice, I might take a crack at some more alternates with this set later, but I think the varied creations I constructed all at once are proof enough that Stellar Recon Voyager has plenty of parts to get any builder's appetite for invention going.  I could have built any of these sets better with a full collection, but the kernel of an idea was quickly achieved here and could lay a foundation for something even cooler.  That mobile lab is something I would never have dreamt up while using my main collection, but now the possibility is before me and by gum I can see the beginning of something very cool.

Final score A-
Pros: Many multiples of cool pieces, Honeycomb Bricks, Printed elements, Loads of tools, unique parts, High playability.
Cons: Awkward design above the main model's cockpit, rover design is an afterthought, poor airflow design in the nose.