Going Big at BrickCan 2023 (LEGO Convention)
Let’s explore the many different ways that AFOLs ‘go big’ to make LEGO Conventions a great experience for everyone.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about LEGO conventions is a large hall filled with amazing LEGO models designed and built by talented LEGO builders. While I have a soft spot for small intricate models, the really large models are definitely crowd pleasers — the models which go big! That said, there are a lot of other ways that AFOLs pour their heart and soul into making these events an amazing experience for everyone.
BrickCan 2023 took place April 20-24 at the River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond, BC, Canada. After being cancelled completely in 2020 and virtual conventions in 2021 and 2022, this is their first in-person event after the pandemic. I attended their inagural BrickCan event back in 2016, and this is their fifth in-person convention.
This article highlights just a few of the many talented AFOLs who went big during the four-day event. While the focus of this article is on specific people and their contributions, I have organized this article into four main themes to make it a bit easier to wrap your head around the type of activities that take place at many LEGO conventions.
- Public Exhibition – The central focus of most conventions is to put on a great show for the broader public. This allows families and casual LEGO enthusiasts to see amazing LEGO creations and purchase merchandise from vendors selling LEGO sets and LEGO-inspired products.
- LEGO Games – Classic LEGO convention games include Speed Build (where participants race to build the same model as fast as they can) and Master Build (where you have a short amount of time to create a compelling MOC using a limited selection of parts).
- Talks / Interviews – Many LEGO conventions host talks about a wide range of topics related to our shared LEGO hobby.
- After Hours / Social – This ranges from a subdued meet-and-greet to over-the-top late-night building challenges. They are sometimes hosted by the event, but are often unofficial and occur outside of convention hours.
The public exhibition is extremely important because ticket sales are critical to the financial success of most LEGO conventions. That’s why so much energy goes into picking the right venue, encouraging AFOLs to bring amazing MOCs, and advertising the event to families and more casual LEGO fans. The right venue has plenty of space to encourage AFOLs to show off their work, and conventions present highly coveted awards to the most impressive models in each theme and for the show as a whole.
Because there were far too many impressive models to highlight in a single article, I wanted to highlight a few of the builders whose LEGO models really brought the event to life by connecting meaningfully with guests attending the public exhibition. While their models were large, they went big in making people feel welcome and learn more about their love of the LEGO hobby.
Bre Burns brought a beautiful brick-built re-creation of the classic arcade game. It was strategically placed at the far corner of one of the islands in the middle of the show floor, encouraging passers by to take a second look or give the machine a try with her help.
The sheer joy in young people’s face when rolling the oversized DUPLO balls down the ramp to see if they will go into the higher-scoring targets was infectious. There is something about using a toy to build a completely different toy that really engages curiosity. Bre has been building large crowd-pleasing mechanical machines for years and I hope that we see more of them in the future!
Vintage LEGO City
Early in the pandemic, Trevor Shaw got out his vintage LEGO and built a LEGO city that’s the same size as a ping pong table with his 13 and 17-year old kids. Before taking it all apart, he wanted to display it at BrickCan and I am so glad that he waited!
I loved watching him explain how everything works to attendees, including some pretty complex 12v electronics which were never sold here in the United States (He bought a 120v to 240v converter to use the European power adapter in North America.)
He frequently handed the train engines to children to show them how the electric contacts work. There is something really cool and approachable about a big model like this that mixes old and new sets in the same way that kids combine sets of different ages and themes when creating their own brick-built worlds.
I absolutely love playing LEGO games at conventions. I really enjoy the casual competitiveness of these games — they push me to build better without any real stress or consequences, and it is a rare and genuine pleasure to build LEGO with friends nearby. That’s why I sign up for as many games as I’m able, and seek out new games when they are introduced for the first time.
I wanted to highlight two new games that I really enjoyed and would like to see explored further in the future.
Bricks and Wagers
Wits and Wagers is a betting game where participants break into teams to try and guess the correct answer to a challenging trivia question where every answer can be represented as a whole number. The answer from each team is sorted from lowest to highest, and each team bets on which answer is right, with Vegas style odds that give a smaller payout for the answers closest to the middle, and a huge payout if the right answer is on either end of the distribution. Every team starts with 300$ which could be split into a 100$ and 200$ bet, or you could put it all on a single number and hope for an even bigger payout. That payout can be wagered in future rounds for even larger winnings, but you never lose the initial 300$.
Pierre Chum adapted the game for AFOLs by selecting challenging LEGO Trivia questions which we tried to answer over seven rounds. Questions included the number of minifigures which had been produced, and the number of sausage parts you would have if you bought one of every set from 2018-2022 (based on my own calculations in the Most Common LEGO Parts article).
The bidding mechanic and opportunity for very high payouts resulted in wild swings in terms of the leading team from round to round. As luck would have it, my team ended up winning the game with no thanks to me — they accurately guessed the right answer for the number of sausages – earning us a massive payout since we bet everything we had on a single answer. In case you are wondering, you would have 290 sausages (in 8 different colors) if you bought one of every set from 2018-2022.
I also want to thank Chris Malloy for introducing a completely new game that challenges AFOLs to arrange the right parts from a bag of seemingly loose elements into a 7×7 grid of clues. (It looks like an oversized bingo card.) A few of the cells have a picture of the required element so you just need to find them in the bag, while others include just the outline of the part, or even just the confusing official LEGO part names. (The official names are notoriously bad — the official names are in English, but the people in Billund creating the names have varying levels of fluency.)
As a parts nerd and the creator of the LEGO Brick Labels collection, I hoped that I would have a big advantage. As it turns out, my lack of familiarity with the official part names proved to be a real challenge… After creating what I believe are more ‘user friendly’ part names for my label collection, I only see the official names when preparing my LUGBULK order once a year.
By the end of about 30 minutes, Seven of the 50 or so participants managed perfect scores which is impressive since some of the clues were not all that easy. (I made a single mistake because I overindexed on the part outline without really thinking about the part name.) That said, the general consensus was that it’s a great idea for a game, but it should be a bit harder by having fewer clues for each cell, less time to complete the board, more parts with confusing names, or a combination of these tweaks. I look forward to playing an updated version of this game at a future convention!
Talks / Interviews
While BrickCan has fewer talks than some other shows (like BrickCon in Seattle), I attended several excellent talks and wanted to highlight three presentations that caught my attention.
LEGO House Experience
Stuart Harris is no stranger to LEGO conventions… As a Master Builder in LEGO House, he gets to design the annual LEGO House exclusive sets as well as the extremely rare Inside Tour sets. He also plays a major role in designing the interactive experiences that entertain guests when visiting the LEGO House. In this role, he also gets to visit several AFOL Networking Events, those premiere LEGO conventions like BrickCan that have the support of The LEGO Group.
Stuart gave two talks at BrickCan which were similar to the presentations he has given at similar events like BrickCon. The first was about the exclusive sets he helped design, and another talk about the LEGO House itself. I wanted to share a few highlights from his talk explaining some of the new experiences that were added to The LEGO House after it opened in 2017.
I really enjoyed learning about how the LEGO House team updated the Yellow zone (which is dedicated to emotional learning) in 2022 to replace the Critter Creator with a new experience called Mood Mixer. Guests have a chance to create mosaics in an emoji style which can be scanned into the computer to come alive as an animated character with arms and legs added to your creation. Adding Mood Bricks in the software experience causes the figure to act out different emotions.
What I found even more interesting than the software experience was the custom furniture used to hold up the large vertical screens. I loved learning that the studs on all of the interior furnishings of The LEGO House are created to the same scale, matching the scale of the custom glazed tiles used on the buildings exterior. Apparently, the math is a bit awkward, with an awkward scale factor of 18¾:1 – so you can build your own oversized LEGO furniture to the same scale if you like!
Insuring your Bricks
In addition to being a firefighter and a great contestant of the most recent season of LEGO Masters, Stephen Joo is a really thoughtful and gifted speaker. In this talk, he tackled a subject that nobody really wants to think about — are we insured if something terrible happens to our homes and our LEGO collections?
Most unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, which is why Stephen instead focused on raising awareness of the main concepts and technical jargon you will encounter when trying to secure additional insurance to protect your LEGO collection and/or investment (depending how you think about it). I’ve outlined a couple key takeaways below to get you started in deciding whether you need supplemental insurance for your LEGO hobby.
- At best, most homeowners insurance will cover losses up to 70% of the value of the home itself, and that’s only if the collection is inside the home. If you LEGO collection is in a detached garage, you might be only covered to 10% of the value of the structure!
- You can’t get stuff replaced or reimbursed if you don’t know what you have. A detailed inventory (with pictures) is a great place to start.
- If you decide to get additional insurance, use an insurance broker instead of an insurance agent. They are better prepared to find the right insurance for you from a range of insurance companies.
- Be prepared to discuss all of the details with the broker. This includes specified limits, specified perils, how value is calculated (depreciation vs. market value), whether items will be replaced or if you will get cashed out, and accepted forms of proof.
Most of all, Stephen emphasised that the burden of proof always lies with the insured. It’s important to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.
Meet the LEGO Masters
Six members of the LEGO Masters Season 3 cast attended BrickCan and participated in a lighthearted panel discussion hosted by BrickNerd’s Dave Schefcik. Since this is the first big North American convention after the season concluded in December, Dave nudged the contestants towards questions about things that happened while filming the show but did not make the final cut and what happens when the cast enjoys a rare day to relax.
The first thing we learned was why they showed up to a 9am presentation on Sunday in their bath robes. We learned from Emily Guedes that the coffee at the hotel where they all stayed was atrocious, so partway through filming she ordered coffee and pastries from Panera on a Sunday morning. This became one of their most inportant traditions all week – relaxing on their days off with their new best friends and some drinkable coffee.
When asked why the Canadian teams did so well on the show, they honestly felt like their decision to relax and socialize on their off days played a big role in helping them relax from the stress of competition and a grueling filming schedule. Several of the other teams were quite insular, choosing to stay in their own rooms instead of fraternizing with the other contestants.
The other really entertaining story we learned was the rich tradition the contestants established about passing gas while on set. I learned that the term ‘crop dusting’ is sometimes used when you intentionally fart while walking past people.
Best of all, this grew into something that could have made the final edit of the show. At one point host Will Arnett got one of the contestants onto a golf cart to do a ‘drive by’ of the other teams. Apparently the higher-ups at FOX didn’t think that farting was wholesome enough for a family prime-time show. #CropDustingEdit
I wanted to close with the social aspects of the convention because this is a place where BrickCan shines! The event is hosted in a Casino and unlike many conventions BrickCan has a firm 19+ age requirement to participate in the four-day event. This ensures that every participant is old enough to drink so they can lean-in a bit more to the party elements of the event.
And when I say party, I mean party — Each evening a bartender was available in the room where evening activities were taking place, and they even provided one drink ticket to help get the party started every evening. The first night was a meet-and-greet where we got to meet Blue Barry (more on that later) and enjoy pizza and chicken wings. The second night was when the ‘elite speed build’ took place — where a self-selected group of builders raced to complete a pretty large LEGO set as fast as they can. The set was annouced in advance, and we were impressed to see that the winning builder had memorized the building instructions — completing the model minutes faster than the second place finisher.
DUPLO Brick Pit
In addition to structured games and events, LEGO Certified Professional (and LEGO Masters New Zealand Brickmaster) Robin Sather brought a small fraction of his massive collection of DUPLO bricks for us to build whatever we wanted with. Some of the more impressive DUPLO models were a tall arch with a heart on top, and a brick-built penguin sitting on an iceberg.
I’m afraid my short time in the DUPLO Brick Pint did not result in anything quite as impressive, since I simply challenged myself to build an oversized LEGO element as fast as I could. Both in honor of LEGO part designer Erling Dideriksen who passed away, and as an acknowledgement of the lack of SNOT elements within DUPLO, I decided to make a giant 40:1 scale Headlight Brick (part 4070), which is affectionately called the Erling brick by some fans.
I even had some help… About 1/3 of the way into the project, a LEGO builder named Sam that I met a previous evening saw what I was doing and offered to help. This made the project go even more quickly, and in total it took less than 15 minutes despite the large size. This is why some LCP’s like Robin use DUPLO for one-day commissioned events — you can build an impressively large model in a short amount of time using DUPLO.
AFOB Life / Blue Barry
It is impossible to describe the unique experience that is BrickCan without a proper introduction to Miffy and Yo-Yo (Miles Finlay and Stephen Joo respectively, both from Calgary, Alberta). While difficult to categorize, they act as somewhere between cheerleaders, cosplayers, and mascots for the event. Every year that BrickCan took place, including the two virtual conventions during COVID, they created a unique brick-built mascot and backstory all based on their “AFOB Life” brand. According to their website, AFOB was inspired by Benny from The LEGO Movie. (ex: Adult Fan of Benny)
In the years since, the “B” has come to refer to other things that start with that letter: Justine Beaver, Boo-Boo the Bear, Bacon, and Bees to name a few. This year we met Blue Barry – an anthropomorphized blueberry which we were able to build using LEGO elements packaged in the same plastic container used for Blueberries at the grocery store. Well Done, gentleman!
Anything CAN Happen
But wait, there’s more… Miffy and Yo-Yo returned Saturday in a completely different costume, this time as the Blues Brothers (sticking with the Blue theme of course…) As it is the last night before many people head home, this is designed to be a party and everyone is encouraged to grab a drink and sit down at tables covered in LEGO bricks for whatever they had cooked up for us.
The first challenges were relatively open-ended and started building a simple adult-themed object. After about 10 minutes, we passed it to our right and were asked to take what we were given and make it into somethign we wouldn’t really want to share with our parents. A short time later, we were given some wheels and the wind-up motor used in the recent LEGO Technic Monster Jam sets, and asked to create a Bluesmobile. I was excited to find a Technic 4×6 frame, a couple of beveled gears, and enough axles to create the mechanism required to turn rotational energy from the wheels into a rotating feature on the top of our vehicle.
In the last stage of the game, we were asked to combine forces with the team on our side to create an even better bluesmobile. We kept the front end of their vehicle and the spinning mechanism from ours. We ended up with a giant car with a sweet engine in the front, fancy spoilers, and what you might call a rocketship on top that spun as the car was pulled forward. It was a fun challenge, and a great opportunity to work with people you might not have met before. (P.S. Thanks to Todd Kubo for buying another round of drinks when we weren’t looking!)
I hope you enjoyed learning about a few of the people who helped make BrickCan a meaningful experience for me. There are dozens more stories that I could have told of the people I met, not to mention all of the attendees that I was not able to meet despite my best efforts. Most of all, I wanted to remind myself and others to find ways to go above and beyond in the next event you attend – to find ways to make it special for everyone else.
Even if you are new to the community, I also want to highlight the important role that we all play when we attend events like BrickCan; the importance of really showing up for the event by really leaning-in to the activities, opportunities, and people you meet along the way. Even though I did not display any MOCs or give a talk this year, I’m certain that one of the reasons I had so much fun at BrickCan is that I was very present during the event. I talked to a lot of people I didn’t know, shared meals with a mix of old and new friends, and participated in every event that had room for me. In addition to being fun for me, showing up and bringing your best to each event makes it fun for the organizers as well – it’s a virtuous cycle that leads to better events for everyone.
I know that this article only highlighted a few of the many people who worked hard to make BrickCan a great experience, and I wish that it were possible to thank everyone who was responsible for hosting a great show. Most of all, I hope that this article inspires others to attend a convention for the first time, or to step up your game in the future — these events are only as good as we make them!
In addition to all of the people called out in this article, I want to also thank the event organizers who refer to themselves simply as ‘The BrickCan Crew’: Allan Corbeil, Flo Frank, John Langrish, Mary Plumridge, and Ley Ward. It was a fantastic show; thank you for all the hard work!
Brilliant article, Tom! It’s always great to see your smiling face, and enjoy your energy. Lovely to hang out with you at “Anything CAN Happen” as well. BrickCan 2023 was amazing! Big kudos to my former crew-mates for putting on a remarkable weekend!
The pleasure was all mine. Sometimes with the pressure of review deadlines and personal responsibilities I forget how fun it is to simply build LEGO with friends. Great time; I’m glad that we were able to build together.