My first introduction to Playmobil® buildings came through buying the Large Victorian House (5300) in 2000. I fell in love with the traditionally influenced design before I even opened the box but was even further impressed by how well-moulded the parts were and how neatly the Stecksystem pieces fit together when I started to assemble it.

Up until recently I have been only vaguely interested in the modern house sets found in the CityLife theme. The bright colours of the Family House (3965), while designed to appeal to young children, seemed a little too garish and unrealistic in my opinion. Apart from the A-framed Summer House (3230), the shape of the buildings has always seemed to me bland and lacking in individual character. The SystemX building parts certainly offer a great deal more versatility - they can be added to more easily than Stecksystem pieces, allowing for the creation of many different floor layouts - but the tell-tale traces of holes in the walls and floors detract greatly from the overall appearance of the finished buildings.

In September I read about the "exclusive" release of set 4062, a small modern house complete with furnishings, family and working lights! I looked at the pictures and liked what I saw. I was a little discouraged when I discovered the cost, but when a friend said it was currently on sale at a much reduced price I decided the time had come to stop hesitating. I was finally ready to take the step into the world of SystemX building construction! Besides wanting to own another Playmobil® house, I needed a modern building as a backdrop for an e-card I was planning to make - another good reason to make the purchase. ;-)

The whole base of the building is made from only 2 floor panels but it is big enough to get all the accessories in without it looking over-crowded. In one corner it has a very small bathroom, separated from the other living area by a short wall and a semi-transparent doorway which should provide adequate privacy to any occupants. It is only basically equipped with a toilet and basin and due to their shape and the proportions of the room these will only fit one way - below the front window. This unfortunately means the raised plumbing pipe is visible from outside. It is slightly annoying but can be overlooked due to the lack of space in the room, made even more noticeable by the battery pack on one wall which powers the interior lighting in the house. It also explains the absence of a shower, but does leave me wondering where the family go when they need a proper wash... there's always the pond outdoors if they get desperate, I suppose. :-)

The remainder of the building has an open-plan design comprising of kitchen, dining and living room all rolled into one. This is a good amount of space for a family of 4 (including the pet dog) and has everything they should need to happily go about their daily life. The kitchen has a stove, oven, sink and a dishwasher. It comes with pots for cooking and crockery to serve the meals on. The lack of cutlery does leave a small question mark about the eating habits of the family, but perhaps they just exist on the box of "self-replenishing" biscuits which is included.

The living area has a modern dining suite the same style as the one found in set 3968 but with red and yellow chairs like those from the City Cafe, 3989. For relaxing in front of the television or reading the magazine or books, the family has been given a sofa like the one in 3966, only it is all blue rather than two-tone. This is a very handy item as it easily folds out to create a double bed. There is no other furniture provided for sleeping so this leads me to assume the family all sleep together. Very cosy, but it's doubtful the little girl will ever get the sibling she's hoping for. ;-)

The big attraction for me with this set is that it does come with so many accessories. Aside from the furniture and the figures, there are also 4 real, working lights - a wall-light in the bathroom and 3 overhead lights for the main area of the building. This is the first time they have been included in any set. Previously it was only possible to order lighting components for the other SystemX buildings separately through the Direct Service mail order catalogue. The lights are a super feature and look great when they are switched on - it's quite surprising how much illumination is produced by such tiny bulbs.

Another thing that gives this set more appeal than the Family House - apart from its compact design - is the colours used. The dark grey roof (previously seen on some of the other city houses, 3959 and 3988) is a more natural colour and well-proportioned for a one-storey building. The windows and doors are rust-coloured with a yellow trim - again, a little more tasteful and quite pleasing on the eye. The porch is the same as that used in 3965, nicely shaped with a wide, curved step leading up to the main doorway. The symmetry follows through with narrow windows either side of the door and (non-working) lights arranged above these.

The front door itself is a let-down because the door knob sticks out awkwardly over the "glass" pane section and spoils the look of it. It appears this was changed sometime after the original design was decided on, because the door on the plans is the same style as the one in 3965. If it was so important to create a new door with 2 parallel window-panes then they could have avoided this mess easily by having either a lower doorknob or making the panes begin higher, above the level of the doorknob. This new door shape does give the house a slightly different look, but it is one detail which I would have preferred to have been left the same. Thankfully, the large folding doors which lead out to the attractive, landscaped pond area have been kept the same as those in 3965. They are very neat-looking and superbly moulded, opening and closing with complete ease - a very welcome feature which adds a touch of style to the layout.

While the building itself has an individual look, the figures in the set do not and this may come as a mild disappointment to the collector. The bodies are not unique, the printed parts have been recycled from other sets and just put together with different heads, arms or legs. The girl has a similarity to the one found in the Guinea Pigs Pen (3210), the mother shops at the same fashion store as the woman in the Mother and Baby Special (4619) and the father has borrowed his sweater from the customer in the Supermarket Vegetable Counter (3202).

I had never assembled a SystemX building before but I knew from the experience of putting together space vehicles and landscape pieces that the small plugs are fiddly, often difficult to insert and it can even be painful if you slip with the tool when you are trying to push them into place. It took a few hours to completely assemble the set but much of this time was spent installing the lighting system. It is a rather complicated process and the wiring, even when clipped inside the lip of the roof, does show in places and looks a bit messy. Don't be fooled by the picture on the box cover... it is impossible to completely hide the wiring no matter how you arrange the lights. ;-)

This set was released in September 2003 as an exclusive to Karstadt and Quelle stores in Germany. At present it is not known whether it will also be made available in the export countries at a later date. The original retail price was around 99 Euros but I was able to purchase mine at a lower sale price of 69 Euros. This is very good value when you consider all the items that are included with the building and that to purchase a lighting expansion set separately from Direct Service would cost a minimum of 25 Euros (not including postage).

If, like me, you're still undecided on whether you like the modern buildings enough to buy one but would like a small taste of CityLife then this house would be an excellent starting point. If you're already a SystemX fan then you will be delighted with this set and youngsters of all ages, who are unlikely to notice any of the negative design aspects, would also get many hours of fun from playing with it.

Countess Krystal, November 2003

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