Not sure which LEGO sets to pick up for yourself? Need ideas for that LEGO fan who already has more LEGO than he or she can possibly build with in a lifetime? Nervous about the quality of the custom accessories that tempted you at your last LEGO convention? Read our reviews of LEGO sets, books, accessories, and more right here on The Brothers Brick.
Brendan Powell Smith takes a break from biblical action with a new tome released just in time for the holiday season that features great building and a heaping helping of the darker side of American presidential history. The book is entitled Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents and it is now available through the link or from the usual suspects who still cater to those of us who enjoy a hard copy. Brendan is an old crony of mine who sent me a free personalized copy of the new book knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to keep my big mouth shut about it. The first thing I noticed upon grabbing it from the mailbox was its satisfying heft and a larger format than the Brick Testament editions riding the bookshelf in my Legoratory. The book clocks in at 272 pages, features over 400 photos and retails for about $15 here in the States (depending on how you order it) and you can get a signed copy for about $20.
Brendan’s building has come a long way since the first edition of The Brick Testament some ten years ago and I think it’s fair to say he’s on top of his game in this book. Creating 400 scenes without getting burned out or taking short cuts seems like an amazing accomplishment to me so I found that the actual quality of the building exceeded my expectations. What I enjoyed most however, was the writing and the depth of information that Brendan provides on each assassination attempt while maintaining a smooth narrative flow. Being a history buff, I thought I was pretty well versed on the topic going in but in each of the 15 accounts (Lincoln, Kennedy and Ford get 2 chapters each) I definitely walked away with more knowledge on the events than I had going in. My favorite chapter of the book was actually the first one which detailed the 1835 attempt on Andrew Jackson’s life. Brendan has always had a knack for selecting just the right minfig for the right character, but never more so than with Old Hickory.
There are a couple of nit-picky issues with the book both of which are cosmetic in nature and more an issue of printing than authorship. Over the course of 400 photos, there is an occasional difference in brightness between photos that can be a little distracting and there were 2-3 instances where the white printing on the black background was faded to the point of being difficult to read. Neither issue effected my enjoyment of the book, which I rank as my current favorite among the current crop of volumes produced by Lego nerds recently. Coffee table books with pretty photos are nice but I actually feel better informed after reading Assassination! and I’m certainly better armed for any future engagements in American presidential trivia.
With a great price-point, solid building and great writing I can’t endorse this informative volume enough, constant reader and I encourage you to purchase the tome at your earliest convenience for yourself or as a gift. Perhaps the best testimonial I can give is that everyone I have shown it to has been unable to put it down without laughing and remarking about one of the factoids. If you have friends who are anything like mine, you’ll soon be refusing to loan it out. Let’s face it, people never return books.
42005 Monster Truck is one of LEGO’s new assortment of Technic sets, and has an MSRP of $50 USD and 329 pieces. This year, LEGO entered an exclusive partnership with Toys R Us in the United States granting TRU exclusive retail rights to the Technic line. They’re still available online from sites like Amazon, and of course in the LEGO Brand Retail stores, but sadly, you will no longer find Technic sets at other retail establishments. That aside, LEGO’s new Technic line-up looks pretty cool.
I’m not really a Technic guy, so this is the first Technic set I’ve bought in quite a while. I’ve enjoyed Technic sets for as long as I’ve been a LEGO fan, but I gravitate toward building System, so naturally my purchasing skews that way as well. Like the Technic sets of old, most modern Technic sets follow the 2-in-1 box method, meaning that they have instructions for two complete models to be built with the same selection of pieces. The Monster Truck is, of course, the primary model here, but the set also builds a dune-buggy/hot rod type car. Thus far I’ve only had time to build the primary model.
With only 329 pieces, the price seems a bit high if you’re used to System sets, but many Technic pieces are more expensive to produce than traditional bricks, and at $0.15 per part, the price is actually typical of Technic sets. Many of the largest Technic sets have lower price-per-part ratios, but that’s largely because the piece count is buoyed by insane numbers of Technic pins, which are very inexpensive.
Opening the box frees three bags of pieces, a sticker sheet, an instruction book for each of the two models, and four loose tires and hubs. If I had been building a set any larger than this, sorting the pieces would have been useful, since scrabbling for Technic pins amongst all the pieces can be tiresome, but it wasn’t an issue with this size of set. As with many Technic sets, it’s initially difficult to even tell what aspect of the vehicle the instructions have you build first. Unless you peek ahead in the instructions (or are far more familiar with Technic than I am) you just start building some complicated mechanism. In this case, the first part is the central steering gearbox. This Monster Truck contains a cool feat of engineering; it not only has dual-axle suspension, but it also has four-wheel steering. This is accomplished via a special hinge piece that I can only assume is crafted just for this purpose. This piece is essentially a hollow ball-and-cup joint that allows an axle to be threaded through the center from each side, connected by a universal joint. It only appears in five sets, and this is by far the smallest of those, so the set may be of interest to some people based solely on that. There are two included here, one facing the rear and one facing the front, and each houses the axle that controls the steering mechanism. Both the front and rear steering assemblies are identical; in fact, it’s not until the body is built as a finishing touch that front and rear have any meaning.
The instructions then had me do something I have never before done (it’s probably not unique to this set, but I’ve never encountered it before). The instructions called for subassembly that served only as a temporary frame to hold the joints in place while other pieces were attached. Once attached, the subassembly was disassembled and the parts recycled into other areas later on.
The finished model is quite cool. The truck has an indistinct pick-up truck body, which, as I mentioned previously, serves only for aesthetics. The mechanical aspects of the model are completely functional without it, and as such, this kit is ripe for easy customization, turning the body into any sort of vehicle you wish. The suspension is supported by four springs, giving each axle a good deal of travel. The four-wheel steering is controlled via a small gear protruding from the roof. The ridiculously large tires make the truck exceptionally easy to roll around on the carpet or over almost any obstacles. I was left wishing that the truck had some additional play-feature though, like a bumper mounted winch.
All told, this is an excellent model. There’s not as much lasting play-value inherent in the instruction-built model as with the largest, motorized Technic sets, but there’s also not that hefty price-tag motorized kits have. With the exception of the new joints, the parts won’t be particularly exciting (but likely useful) to anyone with a good collection of Technic already, but this model would make an excellent foray into Technic kits for someone who has thus far stuck to System. I imagine it would also make a good gift to a young teenager who imagines they have outgrown LEGO.
75021 Republic Gunship is one of the sets from the summer wave of Lego Star Wars. The set contains 1175 pieces and retails for $119.99, which you can buy from Amazon.
Here is my summary of the highlights of the set, which are elaborated in the review video below. The video also compares the set to its previous 2008 version.
Very sturdy design, can be lifted by just the wings
Include 5 unique minifigs
Improved aesthetics over the previous version
No major flaws, but this is a third version of a Star Wars ship.
This version of the Republic Gunship has the best design in terms of looks and sturdiness. It makes for a good display item and can be handled more roughly without sustaining serious damage. Despite these qualities, the set doesn’t feel very new to me because it has been made twice already in the past. Even the minifigs are just new versions of previously existing ones. If you haven’t been jaded by Lego’s recreations of popular Star Wars ships, then this is a great set to have.
70401 Gold Getaway is the obligatory carriage/chase scene set from LEGO’s newly rebooted Castle line. With 199 pieces and a $20 USD price-point, it falls in the middle of the scale for LEGO’s carriage sets (Amazon actually has it for less at the time of writing).
LEGO has a long history of prisoner transport wagons, releasing them in 1985, 1990, 2005, 2007, 2010, and now 2013, with this one being one of the larger. Thematically, LEGO’s new castle line syncs with the Castle line from the “Fantasy Era” (circa 2007-2009), since the “CASTLE” logo remains the same, and the heraldry is identical to that of the Crown Knights, though this time there’s a lion emblem in addition to the crown badge.
I’m not sure what’s going on in this set narratively. The title “Gold Getaway” implies a heist of some sort, but the wagon is a prisoner transport wagon (which also carries gold). I would guess, then, that the Dragon Knights soldier has absconded with the Crown Knights’ wagon of gold, but the wagon is clearly in Dragon Knights’ colors. Perhaps the Crown Knights soldiers, which have traditionally been portrayed as the “good” guys, have taken a cue from Dennis Moore and gotten into the highway robbery business. That might explain the scowl on the Dragon Knights soldier’s face.
The box contains 2 numbered bags, the instructions, and no stickers or loose parts. With only 199 pieces, it’s a pretty simple build. Bag 1 constructs the 2 Crown Knights soldiers, the small structure, the ballista, and the horse and tack. The structure is hideous. I’m sure the intent of mixing the brown and grey pieces in the structure was to give it a mottled, weathered feel, but it just doesn’t work. It looks like there’s a piece missing on the top of the back side, although with a structure this small front and back have little meaning. I’m not sure what the structure is even supposed to be; there’s no place to put a figure on top, like a small tower, and the bottom is open, so it’s not a defensible structure. I thought perhaps the instructions would give a hint, but alas, no such luck. I suppose it’s simply a doorway for one of the knights to pop out and surprise the wagon. The ballista is better, however. For all my loathing of flick-fire missiles, I do have to admit that when placed properly, they can work quite well. A good finger flick on the missile piece here sends the missile flying several feet, once you get the hang of it. The ballista carries ammo for 3 shots.
Bag 2 completes the set, containing the pieces for the wagon and the Dragon Knight soldier. The wagon is an OK build, but uninspiring. It’s a single horse wagon, with an immobile grate on one side, and a barred-door on the other. It carries a treasure chest on the back. The base contains several hidden tiles. I thought as I was building it that this was to enable the prison section to be removed from the chassis to create a standalone structure. Upon completing the build though, I discovered this wasn’t the case, and the wagon is firmly built as one piece. The only other reason I can determine is that this particular arrangement of pieces means that there are no plates stuck completely within the underside of the larger grey plate where LEGO’s brick separator can’t remove them. I don’t recall LEGO being shy about this in the past, but as long as it doesn’t hamper ingenuity, I think it’s a good idea. The roof is removable, more as an access point than as a play feature. The red 1×1 “cheese” slopes on the roof look like an afterthought. The main play feature of the wagon, however, is the explosive bolt on the chain over the door. Push a Technic axle protruding on the opposite side, and a flick-fire missile to which the chain attaches flies out, “unlocking” the door. It works well, though I think the “lock” 1×1 round tile (which is a neat print) would be better placed on the chain than on the door, since it’s the chain that really unlocks. The unlocking mechanism, cool though it may be, isn’t really necessary though, since any prisoner can easily escape through the gaping hole in the back of the wagon. The wagon’s pearl dark grey wheels are a welcome change from 30 years of brown wheels, and are currently unique to this set. The horse tack is brick-built to take advantage of the new style horse’s ability to rear while in the harness, instead of using the classic harness piece. I thought that maybe with the new style horses, that classic piece might be phased out, but it appears in many sets that use the new horse. This was the first set I’ve gotten that includes the new style champron (that’s the armor piece that goes on a horse’s head). Here’s a comparison shot between the 3 styles of champrons LEGO has made. The two older styles only work on the old horses, and likewise the new one only works on the new horse. I like all 3, and I think they will all have their places. The chest on the back of the wagon contains 3 gems and 6 “coins,” which are 1×1 pearl gold round tiles. Now, I love the new 1×1 round tiles, so I’m always happy to get more of them, but they make lousy coins compared to the chrome ones LEGO has been using for years (and which they recently redesigned). Since the chrome coins do appear in other sets in this line, I’m guessing the substitution here was to shy away from using chrome parts, which are famously expensive.
The minifigs are all solid. LEGO has determined over the past few years that kids really identify with the minifigs, and that they are a strong selling point in any set, so they’ve been slowly working more detail into each figure, regardless of theme. All 3 minifigs have detailed front and rear torso printing. One of the Crown Knights soldiers is in full plate armor, while the other is wearing a tunic. The minifigs are definitely the highlight of this theme.
All in all, this set is very underwhelming. It’s just one example of many from this wave of Castle sets that shows that the general increase in the quality of construction we’ve seen in most sets for the last 6 years or so isn’t immune to hiccups. Compared to the preceding Kingdoms line, this wave of sets is a profound disappointment. This CASTLE line is reminiscent of Knights Kingdom I, which wasn’t the worst Castle line LEGO has produced, but it’s far from a compliment. The parts in this set are fair, and unlike the KK1 line, it isn’t full of large simple pieces. So ultimately, it’s a passable parts pack, and the minifigs are excellent, but I can’t recommend Gold Getaway as a set.
A new fan-written Lego book called Beautiful LEGO recently hit the shelves. It’s author, Mike Doyle, is no stranger to the Lego community, having built the masterpiece seen on its cover. This is a book that shows pictures from most genres of Lego building and includes only scant text, serving the role of a coffee table book highlighting the inspiring creations by fans.
Here is my summary of the highlights of the book, which are elaborated in the review video below.
Professionally re-touched photos by the author himself
Each creation is labeled with its title, builder, and year. Links to the builders’ galleries are included in the back of the book
The first of its kind book illustrating the wide variety of what fans are capable of building
No coverage of trains and military creations!
Not many features on minifig-focused creations, greater emphasis placed on creatures, characters, and microscale instead.
This is a highly recommended Lego book for any builder or fan. For new builders, this will serve as a compilation of inspiring models at your fingertips, and for experienced builders, this is a perfect way to show friends what you do. A book like this doesn’t need words to explain itself, the creations will do all the talking and delight all who’s curious to open its covers. Despite a major flaw of overlooking trains and military builds, Mike still does a great job of covering most aspects of the diverse styles and themes. His professional re-editing of the backgrounds of many photos gives the book a consistent style. You can buy it now from Amazon.
Octan is LEGO’s fictional energy company, and is replete with its own gas stations, rail lines, trucks, and plenty of racing sponsorships. I’ve loved Octan ever since I got 6594 Gas Transit for Christmas when I was a kid, so I’d been looking for an excuse to pick up the new Grand Prix Truck, which is a Formula 1 racecar and transport truck decked out in Octan colors.
60025 Grand Prix Truck has 315 pieces, and retails for USD $30. Inside the box are 4 numbered bags and 3 instruction booklets, which seems a little excessive for a set with only 300 pieces, but it’s really of little consequence. As usual, my sticker sheet was crumpled pretty badly, but I didn’t plan on applying them anyway. There were also two loose large plates in the box, which are the top and bottom of the trailer.
The first bag builds the crew, the racecar, and the toolbox. The car is a pretty simple yet effective build, and I did like the sideways double slopes to make the cockpit sides, which is both efficient and looks great. The kit also makes great use of the Formula 1 car nose and front wings piece from the Disney Cars line. The tool set included here is also new, having changed from the basic set of 6 tools on a sprue wheel that has been standard for almost 20 years to a new set of 9 tools. I’ll miss the old tools, but the new ones are super cool, too. The lug wrench, in particular, looks extremely useful, since it’s basically an X-shaped rod. Some of the tools are almost unchanged, but other tools have been redesigned to fit with LEGO dimensions in subtly different ways, and there are a few new additions, like the adjustable wrench.
The second bag contains the pieces for the truck. The truck is pretty standard, though I do wish it had 3 axles instead of only 2. There are several nice SNOT segments, such as the grill and the gas tanks on the sides. The front of the cab contains some good uses of lesser known SNOT pieces. LEGO designers have become much more receptive to using SNOT over the last decade, which is great. The complexity and accuracy of models is growing immensely, contrary to what my non-LEGO-fan coworkers and friends lament about frequently: “LEGOs were better when I was a kid; there weren’t all these special pieces that make it
too easy.” Take a look at that Gas Truck that I had as a kid; the cab is essentially the same sort of vehicle as the one in the Grand Prix Truck, but the difference between the two is enormous.
Finally, the last two bags build the trailer. The trailer is a really straightforward build, except that the bottom is a train base plate, and the wheel carriage actually attaches via Technic pins. There are two compartments in the trailer. The aft compartment is accessed by double doors on both sides of the trailer, and is a tool and cargo storage area. The main section of the trailer, however, is where the racecar goes. There’s a huge door that swings open on the left side of the trailer, allowing full access to the inside. The tailgate of the trailer folds down to create a ramp for the car. Unfortunately, the ramp is way too steep for the car to traverse; LEGO ought to have designed a hinged-ramp that can fold out to provide a shallower assent; as it is, driving the car into the trailer is pretty much a useless play feature, but if the ramp actually worked it would be great fun. The inside of the trailer is completely bare, but this would the perfect spot for lots of customization like adding tool racks and posters.
This is a solid set. The Octan colors are fun and interesting, and the vehicles feel weighty. The $30 price point feels justified here. There aren’t many unique pieces here, but for once I think that’s a boon. I can easily imagine someone having a lot of fun using the instructions to build a whole fleet of these cars and trucks in different team colors and having an epic race day.
Ever since I saw the preliminary photos from last year’s New York Toy Fair, I knew I was going to buy this set and do a review for the blog. I also immediately knew that this set had to be the work of Mark Stafford. I asked Mark if he would be willing to answer a few questions for me to include in the review. Not only did he graciously agree to do so, but he also gave me some exclusive development photos (see below).
So first the review and then I will get to the interview:
One word for this set, FUN. Whether you are a 32 year old man-kinder like myself, or a 6 year old LEGO maniac like my oldest son, chances are you are going to love this set. I am not even going to get into a lot of details in terms of price per part ratios, collectibility of the minifigs etc. Instead I am just going to say, “Buy this set!”
The build itself is rather brilliant, with a lot of clever techniques for achieving a robust mecha of a satisfying girth. There is also a great selection of parts in fresh colours like dark azure, and a whole shwack of brackets, which I seem to always be running out of. But in all honesty, I am going to find it hard to take this thing apart to steal bricks, it is simply too much fun to play with (as evidenced by the video below).
So long story short boys and girls; I highly recommend this set whether you want something to play with, or you want a good selection of highly useful parts. And don’t even get me started on how awesome the new Gorilla tribe weapons are!
Now on to the interview (& the exclusive design pics!):
TBB: What was your initial inspiration for this set? Apart from the obvious
gorilla influence, I must admit that the first thing that came to mind upon
seeing the images of the set was the Iron Mecha Challenge that you were a
part of in the Mecha Hub flickr group a couple years back, did that have any
impact on the design?
Mark Stafford: Wow, yeah, the Iron Mecha 2 challenge was a bit weird, at that point we were already into early Chima development and myself and Jordan Schwartz had made ourselves stop building ‘FabuForce’ MOCs because it was too similar an idea. But I had promised to source the inspiration picture for Iron Mecha and LEGO Designer Luis Castenda had told me he had a Mecha image from his portfolio I could use. I got it from him at the last minute – and it was Gorilla inspired! I almost called the whole thing off, but figured that would be even more suspicious, so we went ahead with it. I built almost exactly what was in Luis’s picture, no real exploration of Gorilla’s or anything too far from the original image as I knew that this might come up soon at work! Sure enough, though Gorilla’s were not in the first launch I was asked to make a Mecha for the summer releases and I still had a ton of ideas I hadn’t used ready to try out!
TBB: How and when did the Chima cartoon factor into the design process of these
sets (if at all)? Because when I saw those gorilla mechs in the final
battle scene, I thought you may have been behind them, so it came as no
surprise when I found out that you were the designer of this set.
Mark Stafford: We need to send images of the main vehicles through very early in the process, pictures are taken of our sketch models on a gridded background for the animation company to start building 3D interpretations of, and from that point on no matter how many pieces change on the model its overall shape and dimensions should remain roughly the same. Once the TV guys have started work it’s very time consuming for them to change things. There was only one major change with the Gorilla Striker in that the original sketch had a glass cockpit, but this was just too far from the look we had established for the rest of Chima and of course this meant a modification of the TV model needed to be made.
TBB: I recall you telling a story about how you and the others designers of the
Ninjago line would toss around ideas for character names (some rather
hilarious ones resulted if I remember correctly). I am picturing a similar
situation for the development of the banana cannon, any funny story behind
that, or is it simply a creative stroke of Stafford genius?
Mark Stafford: Oh yes, the one eyed snake I wasn’t allowed to call ‘Trowza’… though that was nothing compared to the two hour giggle fest meeting because every single suggestion for the names of Power Miners vehicles sounding like an innuendo!
I can’t remember who first suggested the banana cannon for Chima but once it was an idea there was no way it was not going to be on this model whoever got to build it! Plus I knew from Power Miners that bananas work for kids; I included a banana in the Crystal Sweeper set after a kids test where we couldn’t find a prototype dynamite element and I threw in a banana instead, the kids played for an hour with the rock monsters stealing it and the miners having to get it back. Something about a banana in a set triggered a lot of imagination. This Striker has seven! In an ammo belt! Genius? Far from it, but definitely fun to play with!
TBB: The new weapon elements for the Gorilla Tribe minifigs look quite amazing.
Were you directly behind or involved in the design in any way? I ask this
because these elements seem like they were designed with the intention of
them being highly useful in alternate builds as opposed to being strictly
Mark Stafford: The part designer for both the Gorilla fist and the Hammer elements was Gabriel Sas, like all of our new elements they have to fit into the LEGO system. The entire Chima team had brainstormed weapon ideas, coming up with a Gorilla Hammer and power fists. Then later we get to give input into the parts and we made some suggestions for what would be nice to include, but time is tight with these parts and I think there are a couple of things I would change to make them even more usable as building elements if I had the chance now. That’s always the way though, and they are still very nice and they are going to be hugely useful for details and for microscale builders or minifigure character makers!
TBB: How many prototypes did you go through for this set, and was there any feature from
your initial prototype that you had to sacrifice that you wished you could
have included in the final design?
Mark Stafford: There were about five serious redesign loops on this mecha – and that’s not counting the sketch models some other designers did before I started. There’s this one by Maarten Simons which was the first built with the banana cannon idea included and this grey futuristic one is by Soren Dryhoj and I stole ideas from both for my version. One of the things I hated dropping was the Chi-crystal being in the chest instead of on the chest flap, but I just couldn’t find a way to have it that way around without the door knocking it out of place every time it was closed. I also kind of wish the final version had a closed cockpit over the pilot, but I guess it would look like he had a transparent skull!
TBB: As a LEGO set designer, we know that you have to work within design
constraints in terms of balancing pieces, price and playability. What part
of this design did you find the most challenging in that regard?
Mark Stafford: It was the Raven’s lookout post. It grew and shrank constantly throughout the design process as expense came and went from the Gorilla Striker. The final version is not the largest that it got to, but it’s far from the smallest, and I think it gives plenty of play value – and a few extra cool new parts/colour changes too.
TBB: Over the years you have designed a lot of fantastic sets. How does this
one stack up to you personally in terms of your own favourites?
Mark Stafford: This has a few touches I’m pretty proud of, the locking of the body around the arm sockets and the way everything fits in around and through each other in the torso for example, and I’m really happy with the beefiness of this one, I don’t think I can make a heavier two legged mecha either, or at least not without fully locking the legs. I’m also happy to get more Dark Azure out there, I really like this colour!
TBB: This set certainly has the largest amount of dark azure parts out
of all the Chima line, did you include this colour because you feel guilty
about killing teal? (sorry, couldn’t resist throwing a teal question in
Mark Stafford: You can explain how I killed teal (*), (it was a colour I really liked, that’s why it hurt so much) but yes, the two new Azure blues are in a similar part of the colour wheel and I like them both a lot, particularly Dark Azure, so I’ll use them whenever I get the chance, if it makes sense for the model. I don’t feel guilty about teal though – after all I saved purple!
*Mark’s first set as a LEGO designer, was the Exo-Force Dark Panther. He had the choice of making it in either purple or teal, and whichever colour he chose, the other would be cut from the colour palette. Obviously he chose purple. Hence, Mark Stafford Killed Teal.
75017 Duel on Geonosis is one of the sets from the summer wave of Lego Star Wars. The set contains 390 pieces and retails for $39.99, which you can buy from Amazon.
Here is my summary of the highlights of the set, which are elaborated in the review video below.
Includes unique minifigs such as a new Yoda, Count Dooku, and Poggle the Lesser
Hard to find parts include dark brown cheese slopes and brown 2×2 round bricks with grille
Decent play features
Limited display value
This is a well rounded set that has good parts, minifigs, play features, and an acceptable price per part ratio. It probably won’t look good sitting on a shelf and is more meant to be played with or parted into your collection. Luckily Amazon has a small discount on the set at the moment.
The summer wave of Lord of the Rings sets are skewed towards the high end of the price-range, with 79007 The Battle at the Black Gate in the middle at $60 USD. It does have a nice price-to-parts ratio, with 656 pieces. Beyond the fact that it’s a Lord of the Rings set, which I admittedly love, I wasn’t too thrilled about this set. After all, LEGO’s Battle at the Black Gate consists of, well, a black gate. And not much of a battle.
The gate has been scaled down nicely enough, though compared to the monstrously large gate seen on the screen in The Return of the King, LEGO’s seems laughably small. Still, that’s forgivable, since I doubt many people would be interested in purchasing a true-to-scale version of what amounts to a big wall (or be able to afford it). The gate is paired with a small tower, and two stone outcroppings which take the place of the mountain shoulders the gate is nestled between.
Inside the box are 4 numbered bags, a bag containing the eagle, and a loose dark bluish grey 6×24 plate. The 2 instruction manuals were pretty crumpled, as usual. For a very brief period LEGO a year or two ago packaged instruction manuals in a bag with a stiff piece of cardboard, and it helped immensely. I don’t know why they decided not to roll that out permanently, as it can be very frustrating trying to follow instructions when the pages keep curling up. For the first time in a long while in a set of this size, though, I discovered that there is no sticker sheet. Since I’m not a fan of stickers, I was happy to see that. In fact, the only decorated pieces in this set are the minifigures and animals, which is also a bit of a rarity these days. All 3 of the named minifigs wear capes, and all 3 capes were packaged together. This decision is of no consequence to me, but it is the first time I recall seeing it. As with most recent, large sets, there’s also a brick separator included, which is a nice trend.
The 4 bags break down into two each for the tower and the gate. The tower has a small postern door in the base which raises vertically with a lever, like an old-fashioned garage door. Both the tower and the gate have a lot of texturing on their surfaces which is accomplished by using mostly small pieces. It reminded me a lot of the building style of many of the adult-fan oriented sets like the modular city buildings, except that here everything is black. The abundance of various 1×1 elements explains the high part count. It’s always nice to get more Studs-Not-On-Top pieces, and this set has plenty. In fact, the tower uses 1×1 Technic bricks in many places where a regular 1×1 brick would have sufficed. The tower is topped with a small single-piece catapult, the medieval equivalent of a flick-fire missile.
The gate is built on a large, almost completely tiled base. It’s two large gate pieces which swing outward; more of a moving castle wall than anything else. They are secured in the back with large latch on a knob. Beyond being covered in the castle-y version of greebles, there’s not a lot to this. The tower, gate, and rock pieces each clip to each other via Technic pins, so you can change the layout, but only slightly. The rock pieces have to go on the ends, so basically the tower can just be on the left or the right.
The Battle at the Black Gate includes 5 minifigs, 1 horse, and 1 eagle. There are two orcs, which are slightly different from one another. The creepy-as-can-be Mouth of Sauron is a natural choice for this set. His helmet is rubbery and packaged in a small bag. No doubt the head with no eyes and a freakishly large mouth will do service in many fans’ horror dioramas.
Representing the forces of good are Aragorn in regal garb and Gandalf the White. Both of these versions are exclusive to this set, and I’d guess that fact will contribute heavily to the sales of this set. The Mouth of Sauron’s mount is a black horse. There is armor printed on the horse’s head, which between that and the beady red eyes will reduce its usefulness. Finally, there’s the giant eagle. The eagle comes in both this set and the $200 Tower of Orthanc, so many people simply wanting an eagle will do best to opt for this set at less than 1/3 the price. The eagle is 3 pieces: two wings and a body. Each of the individual elements are completely rigid and non-posable, though the wings connect to the body via LEGO’s standard clip system allowing them to be positioned. The single-piece body doesn’t do much for me, but I can’t wait to try out the giant wings in various MOCs.
In the end, this is a rather boring set. Despite the high piece count, the final model feels small for the price. The problem here is not one of LEGO’s making; they did an admirable job considering the source material. But when your source is a giant gate, there’s only so much you can do. The build-quality is great; it’s just a boring subject. And it’s hard to have a finale-worthy battle with only 5 minifigs, but I doubt LEGO could have feasibly pushed the price point any higher to accommodate more figs, and making the gate any smaller would have been disastrous. I doubt many people will be interested in buying this set because of the gate itself, so the minifigs are the real selling point here, and they are indeed very nice. If you’re interested in getting your hands on any of the rare or exclusive minifigs in this set, then it’s a must-have. Beyond that, I’d give this set a pass, unless you’re running low on your stock of small black pieces.
Lego Minecraft The Nether is among the two new Lego Minecraft sets released in September. The set contains 466 pieces and retails for $34.99, which you can buy from Amazon.
Here is my summary of the highlights of the set, which are elaborated in the review video below.
Lots of dark red 1×1 tiles and bricks, the gray and black tiles can also be useful.
The 1×1 bright light orange tiles are unique to the set
There is limited modularity of the set compared to the other two Minecraft sets
The top surface does not have any notable features
This set is not as great as The Village. It has fewer features and modular components. I feel like this is the weakest of the 3 Minecraft sets. It’s a different story if you like dark red of the setting of The Nether. As with Minecraft sets stock can be unpredictable, so now is as good as any time to get it. It does not appear that Lego stores has them for sale.