Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Finding Female Minifigures

One of my biggest challenges in using LEGO minifigures for RPG miniatures is the shortage of female figures compared to males. Almost every game I run (or play in) includes multiple women players. They rarely cross-play, but I occasionally do, and I prefer a good gender mix among my NPCs, so I'm constantly on the search for new parts to diversify my collection of female minifigures.

Just this week, I saw a post on the Mary Sue that pointed out that in the new Scooby Doo LEGO theme, Velma and Daphne are only available in the most expensive sets. This reminded me of my own disappointment when the first Marvel Avengers sets were released: Black Widow only appeared in the largest one (the Quinjet). Among LEGO's licensed themes, female characters have always been in short supply. In some cases, such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the property itself has a shortage of interesting women characters. In other themes, such as the DC and Marvel Superheroes lines, the LEGO Group's focus has historically been on male heroes or mostly male hero teams: Wonder Woman first appeared as an extra in a Superman set, while Storm and Black Widow only appeared in large sets that included several other team members.

In contrast, Harry Potter and Star Wars each had one major female character (Hermione and Leia) who was usually available in a set of middling size. The longevity of the Star Wars theme (the first movie property that the LEGO Group ever licensed) has made it a good source of female minifigures, though most are still limited to larger sets. One advantage of this line's popularity is the large number of characters that have been made available as key chains over the years.

LEGO key chains are a great way to acquire characters that are normally only available in expensive sets. They only cost $4.99 each, and can sometimes be found on sale for much less when a store wants to clear out older inventory. The chain can easily be removed with pliers, leaving only a tiny loop showing at the end of the screw imbedded into the figure. On the other hand, that screw means that you won't be able to disassemble the minifigure, and keychain characters never come with any handheld accessories. (I may post later about my method for removing the top of the screw, which allows the head to be removed, but renders the toy unsafe for children.)

I should briefly mention the Friends theme, which I've already blogged about recently. While almost all the characters are girls, the minidolls aren't fully compatible with standard minifigures, making it difficult to integrate the two--especially if your game isn't a modern teen drama. The new LEGO Elves theme does provide some fantasy-oriented minidolls and creatures, but the selection is still very limited.

If you have a LEGO Store in your area, then the Build-A-Mini kiosk is a useful option for acquiring female pieces. For $9.99, you can build three minifigures, with accessories, out of bins of loose parts. The selection of parts changes over time, so it pays to check the kiosk periodically for new arrivals--and in my experience, the more unusual the part, the faster it sells out, especially if female.

However, the best source that I've found for female pieces is the collectible Minifigures line. This theme debuted in 2010, and Series 14 was just released this month. (I'll be posting a review of that just as soon as I can finish collecting the last few I still lack!) There have also been a series for The LEGO Movie and two for The Simpsons, which are not counted in that number. Each of these series includes 16 different characters found in no other sets. The earliest series only included 2 or 3 women minifigures each, but that soon increased so that now most sets have 5 or 6 female characters out of the 16. Some of these women are female versions of earlier characters (such as the cave girl and Viking, and the bizarre lady robot and lady cyclops) while others are entirely original (the bee and unicorn costumes, and the fortune teller). Series 10 offered two of my all-time favorite female characters: Medusa and the warrior woman (a fierce Amazon with spear and shield). In fact, the latter impressed me so much that I immediately bought more copies of her than I have of any other collectible Minifigure to date.

(Thanks to Donald Eric Kesler of the LEGO Dungeons & Dragons Facebook group for the Mary Sue link.)

2 comments:

  1. I heard someone complaining, over here in the UK, that they wanted to provide childcare facilities, but were having problems including Lego, because the figures they wanted to buy were not diverse enough. They were saying they were having problems tracking down non-white Lego people.

    I always thought of Lego people as yellow, rather than white, when I was a kid, but I can see how the lack of diversity causes problems when people want to use Lego for gaming.

    Has anyone ever experimented with wrap-around stickers to give new faces to Lego heads? That might not help with the racial diversity you might need in a fantasy gameworld, but it might give you a few extra female looking faces. I bet the could make stickers to go on the Lego bodies too. Back when I last bought Lego they had just moved away from the people with no proper arms to the ones with the movable arms and they all seemed to pretty much be the same thing but made from different coloured Lego with different prints embossed on the front and/or back.

    I have seen a few of those Lego animations. It seems that it is possible for people to make a wide variety of Lego faces. I wonder if it would be possible for those to be printed off as transfers and then stuck onto blank heads. Having said that, it would be a lot of work to modify Lego.

    I am surprised that they locked down Wonder Woman to a Superman set of Lego. I would have thought they would make cash selling individual figures to Wonder Woman collectors who don't play with Lego. And a Wonder Woman with an "invisible plane" made out of clear lego bricks would probably be something they could sell.

    They do seem to pitch most of their stuff at boys. I bet they could win over quite a few girls from buying things like Barbie dolls if they made a few more interesting female characters. What with Lego being pretty flexible, and the majority of the bricks being unisex, I can imagine that they wouldn't need to make radical changes to every machine to increase the number of girl customers. And more customers means more money for Lego shareholders.

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    1. There are people who make their own decals for faces and bodies, and there are a few companies (like Brick Warriors) who offer custom-printed minifigures. I don't do the former because I have a personal bias against modifying any of my parts parts, and I can't afford the latter.

      Wonder Woman is (or was) available as a keychain (which I bought so I could get her cheaply). There's also a more recent set (Gorilla Grodd Goes Bananas) that includes Batman (with a mech), Wonder Woman (with her invisible jet!), and Flash vs. Grodd and Captain Cold. I bought that for myself for Xmas, just for WW, her jet, and Grodd. And just yesterday, I saw a teaser pic for a Dawn of Justice set with WW, Batman (w/Batmobile), and Superman. The movie WW figure looks pretty cool.

      And about the gendered marketing...well, I've already ranted about that here once before, so I'll spare you that. Or you could follow the link above, where I mentione the Friends theme.

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