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I agree that weight would be a good index, but the boxes (at least in the U.S., where it is required by law) have the piece count printed on them, so you can in fact do this calculation when examining the item.
Also, @tensor and @jasor, I assume you're both speaking specifically only about System?
I guess for me it is more of a "I know a good value when I see it." Compare these two sets, exact same RRP:
#10229 good value
But again, for face value, 10c per part is what I consider a quick, 5 seconds of thought rule of thumb for whether it's a good deal or not. The next step is to start considering the size, complexity and rarity of pieces (and minifigs).
So, I see something that is over 10c per piece then I try to justify what kind of special pieces make it worth being above the ratio. If it's got awesome pieces or minifigs, then it's worth it.
Conversely, if I see something under, like TB for example at < 6c per piece, I try to justify why it's so low. For that example, it's the billions of cheese slopes.
If I can't justify the variances, then it's either a set with lots of extra plastic or it's lacking plastic. So, I don't necessarily label a set good or bad based on ppp, but instead use that as a starting tee, and from there go off with other analysis to finally determine if it's actually "good deal."
Like analyze #6172 at $2.50 per brick and say "oh, it's got a cool, big truck, I get it."
Maybe I should have given my idea of what "fair" means. I think a price is fair when both the vendor and the consumer feel that the transaction has the right balance. The consumer does not feel that they are being gouged, and the vendor has achieved sufficient profit to be satisfied with the sale. I know that's touchy-feely, but that's the nature of fairness to me.
It seems lego is going up in price, but I have not done the calculations and comparisons to determine that.
Over the last few years plastic/fuel price I thought have risen.
If Lego is not being simply greedy and there are valid price increases, I would expect we are more realistically at 12 cents/piece on average.
8 minifigures (actually 10 if you wanna' count the statues)
1 minifigure/$10- not quite, but this rule only really applies to sets <$80 and varies wildly. I mainly feel cheated by the lack of new characters. 2 new, 4 variants (only 2 of which are new prints), and 2 duplicates available in cheaper sets. <p>
Size- No. It's dense and a fairly solid build, but the overall small size compared to a modular makes it feel like a ripoff at $160
Build experience- Yes. There are a lot of interesting techniques and the asymmetrical building makes for a fun build.
Parts pack value- Yes. Lots of new, rare, or interesting elements that could be harvested for MOCs.