LEGO Hobbit 79003 An Unexpected Gathering – best set of all time? [Review]

LEGO sets for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey aren’t officially due out for another several weeks, but a local retail chain here in the Pacific Northwest has been putting the new sets on their shelves over this past week or so. I picked up 79003 An Unexpected Gathering (Bag End) today, and I can honestly say that this may be my favorite LEGO set of all time.

Side note: The build process itself is part of the joy of a new LEGO set, so I’m not going to spoil the surprise or ruin the story (if you will) by sharing under-construction photos or shots of each minifig’s second face. Where’s the fun in that? The official photos are better than anything I’d take anyway, so read on…

The Build Process

What impressed me most about LEGO’s rendition of Bag End is that the designers frequently used brick-built techniques where a prefab part might have sufficed. The ramshackle fence in front is a gorgeous example of this, complete with gaps. Each section of fence uses 9 or 10 pieces where another set might have had a single prefab fence piece.

Before seeing any pictures of this upcoming set, I wondered how LEGO would handle all the round windows and front door. They succeed by a combination of a new 4×4 round plate with a 2×2 round hole in the middle in front of “normal” windows, an ingenious brick-built window that made my jaw drop (I won’t ruin it for you), and a large round tile with printed boards on it for the door.

Speaking of printing, the front door and a letter are the only printed (non-minifig) pieces in the set. There is a small sticker sheet for fence boards, the cover of Bilbo’s book, and three maps of Middle Earth on 2×2 tiles. I skipped the boards, but my only disappointment with this set is that we didn’t get printed maps of the Shire, Mirkwood, and the Lonely Mountain. The good news is that the stickers are clear, so you could put them on whatever you want (as I do with sci-fi stickers on all my spacecraft).

Another wonderful detail in this set is that the interior color isn’t just the same color as the exterior — green. There’s a layer of tan that encloses Bilbo’s quarters against the green hillside. And the hillside itself isn’t a uniform green; LEGO included both regular and bright green, and the little spots of bright green add excellent highlights. (Also, cheese slopes in both greens? Yes, please!)


It would be silly to expect that this set would contain all 13 Dwarves (plus Gandalf and Bilbo), so with realistic expectations for a set of this size, six minifigs is quite nice — Gandalf the Grey, Bofur, Balin, Dwalin, Bilbo Baggins, and Bombur (left to right in the photo below).

79003 An Unexpected Gathering

LEGO has begun dispersing its minifigs throughout the build experience, so you don’t get all of them until you open the fourth bag. By then, I was too excited about Bag End itself to care much about the minifigs, but like all the recent figs, they’re actually quite nice.

79003 An Unexpected GatheringNearly all of them have double-sided printing on both heads and torsos — Dwalin even has tattoos on the back of his head. For castle / medieval / fantasy builders, they’re a treasure trove of unique hairpieces, belted tunics, and grumpy old man faces.

My favorite minifig is probably Bombur, whose hair/beard piece has both a bald patch on top of his head and a rotund tummy beneath his beard. In the set, he’s given a pot and a large red sausage rather than weapons. Awesome!

Based on the quality of the dwarf minifigs in this set, I can’t wait to complete the rest of Thorin Oakenshield’s crew.


I’m not going to spend a lot of time going into all the individual parts in the set, but for those more interested in the set as a collection of its parts, I’ve uploaded the inventory pages:

79003 An Unexpected Gathering inventory (1) 79003 An Unexpected Gathering inventory (2)

The Finished Model

When the set all came together, I had the hugest grin on my face and couldn’t wait to show my wife all the cool details I’d built — I felt like a 9-year-old. First, the roof comes off for easier access to the complete interior.

79003 An Unexpected Gathering

Inside, Bilbo has a kitchen, writing desk, shelves, and a table laden with more food than I’ve ever seen in any other LEGO set (including a new pretzel). In a nod to The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo already seems to be working on his book, and Sting is displayed on a shelf. Back out front, there’s a lovely garden, complete with planted carrots and a bench on which to blow smoke rings with your favorite wandering Wizard. The overall rounded shape carries over from the door and windows, and looks exactly like a Hobbit hole should — a green door in the side of a hill.

Bag End is by no means a large-scale modular building, but thanks to all those thick walls, it has a heft to it that makes letting a child or younger sibling play with it not as tragic as with fiddlier sets. It’s also wide enough to look quite attractive on a bookshelf or mantle.


Neither nor list the new Hobbit sets yet, so I’m not 100% sure what the MSRP is going to be for this set. I paid $70 at Fred Meyer, but I do see the set listed on some reference sites at $60. Either way, at 652 pieces and six minifigs, the set is within the magic 10 cents per part range that many LEGO fans look for — 10.7 cents at $70 and 9.2 cents at $60.

(Rant: A ridiculous and outdated standard, if you ask me. What, is LEGO going to stay the same price for these past 10 years as the price and scarcity of petroleum go up? What exactly is ABS made of, again? And how does it get transported to your house? Get real, people.)

At full price, I’m not sure I can recommend the set as a pure parts pack for landscape builders, but it’s a pretty good value for a licensed set. On discount, I’d even recommend this to non-Castle fans just for all that green, brown, and tan.


At any price, this is an absolute must-have set for every LEGO Castle and Middle Earth enthusiast. These days, isn’t that pretty much everybody?

This is probably the most iconic set of the line, so expect it go go fast when it’s out. We’ll let you know when the sets are officially released.

UPDATE: This set is now available from and

Read all of my reviews of the latest LEGO Hobbit sets here on The Brothers Brick:

19 comments on “LEGO Hobbit 79003 An Unexpected Gathering – best set of all time? [Review]

  1. Ryan H.

    The one thing I look for in a set review is information on the individual parts. A photo of the parts layout is nice; adding details on unique or interesting parts is even better. Using stock photos… meh :|

  2. Andrew Post author

    @Dano: So very specific, and thus so very helpful. Thanks!

    @Ryan: Not everybody is a parts monkey. I explained why I chose to do my review this way up front.

  3. Ryan H.

    I don’t mind not seeing mid-build shots, but even the parts list in the back of the manual would be helpful. If you’re worried about spoiling the experience, you could hide it in a link maybe?

  4. Andrew Post author

    Parts lists really wasn’t what I was avoiding, so fair enough. Normally when we post a review, Bricklink or Peeron already has the full inventory in electronic form, so there’s no need for me/us to reproduce it here, but that doesn’t seem to be the case yet. Unfortunately, my scanner is in the shop (figuratively) at the moment, and I’m not able to get a decent shot with my camera, but I’ll try during the day tomorrow, in better light.

  5. Daedalus

    I love a nice, in-depth, picture-heavy review for sets that I’m on the fence about. They almost always make the decision to buy or pass over much, much easier.
    With this set, I already know I want it (can’t imagine there being fence sitters for this one!) so I’m extremely grateful for this review being spoiler-free. It generates a little more excitement for the set, while keeping those pleasant little surprises intact.

    My only complaint with the set is, oddly enough, Bombur’s headpiece. I’m torn on the belly. It’s gives a wonderful degree of character to the minifig, but it also greatly limits its use outside the set. So, torn. But I figure, if my biggest complaint with the set is an awesome piece, it’s a pretty good day.

  6. Sarah

    The Lego catalog came today and it listed this set at $70.
    Thank you so much for the review, especially the part about it seems sturdy enough for the young ones to play with. I really look forward to this set, it just so gorgeous looking.

    P.S. Oh my gosh, Dano lives!

  7. Andrew Post author

    Okay, I got the scanner working, so the post now has inventory page scans, for those out there more interested in this set as a collection of individual parts.

    (Another rant: Isn’t part of the joy of opening a new LEGO set finding out what new parts it has for yourself? Apparently not. Heh heh…)

  8. Ryan N.

    Man this would be great to put up on the shelf. The parts are good too, would hard to part out an awesome looking set :) So maybe I would need 2 of these…

  9. jimmythefly

    The review/set intro seems fine to me, thanks for taking the time and effort.

    Note that the first photo you have of the set is reversed, the door should be on the right. (see the roof-off pic and Bofur’s torso printing to confirm). Speaking of Bofur, your naming left-right of the minifigs is also off.

    RE: 10cents/piece magic ratio.

    Yes, prices have gone up for raw materials, but has LEGO not improved its efficiency enough to offset this? Also $.10/piece is interesting in that it ignores the actual weight of each piece, so a 1×1 tile is “valued” the same as a BURP. It is an interesting contrast to how the value of each piece to an AFOL is not indexed to the amount of plastic in it, either.

    In addition to those points, we’re not even getting into the value of a new piece related to cost of molds and design time and changes to the production line and warehouse system to accomodate it.

    Again, the value of a new piece to AFOLs is also not directly linked to the cost to LEGO of making that new piece. Should a set using no new molds or colors be cheaper than a set that does? And I’m not even getting into licensing costs for this set in particular.

    I’d love to see an article regarding this. I recall one of the designer videos where a LEGO employee talked about making a mold for a new train nose, and the difference between a new part vs. brick-built techniques that would require more individual pieces, although ones already in inventory.

  10. AK_brickster

    ^ Glad that I wasn’t the only one who immediately noticed that the “roof off” picture is a mirror image of what it should be, based on the main picture. Good catch, jimmythefly!

  11. Andrew Post author

    @jimmythefly: I must not be getting enough sleep or something, sheesh! Great catches. And … fixed. That’s also the most balanced discussion of the price-per-part issue I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks!

  12. Eric at A Lego A Day

    Right or wrong, I’ve subscribed to $.10/piece rule for as long as I can remember, and it has served me well. As you pointed out, a 1×1 plate is weighted the same as a BURP, yet they really aren’t comparable. But you’re not buying 100 1×1 plate or 100 BURP sets. We’re buying sets with pieces that run from one end of the size scale to the other. The $.10 rule becomes a kind of weighted average. And that’s my $.02.

  13. AK_brickster

    I’d also petition that the $0.10/piece rule isn’t really about the value of the materials per piece, but the value to the builder. Obviously a raised baseplate is worth much more than a 1×1 tile, in terms of material costs, but the 1×1 tile is more universally useful to a well-rounded builder. If you take that into consideration, along with what Eric said about a “weighted average”, and what Jimmy said about the “value” of each part, I think that helps to better explain why that $0.10 goal sort of works.

    (all that said, you can throw the $0.10 out the window when it comes to small sets with a high minifig to ‘brick’ ratio, such as the SW battle packs and even something like the “Uruk Hai Attack” set. Maybe there should be a formula like subtracting $2-$3 per fig from the MSRP and then performing the price/part qty analysis…)

    Good discussion, guys/gals :)

  14. jimmythefly

    Yeah, thanks all for the discussion!

    I wonder how pick-a-brick fits into this.

    Online, PAB parts are priced per-piece. But in the store they are priced by volume. I’m sure this has to do with the time/effort it takes LEGO to stock and sell each part, and also consumer-friendliness.

    But PAB at the store could easily be sold by weight without really affecting the check-out process, so there must be a reason.

  15. Syruss

    I wasn’t aware others used the magic ratio. I feel vindicated that others share my views on that particular matter.

  16. Novel Ninja

    The parts list seems to be wrong. I looked up those wood-grain tiles and the numbers are for the plain, unprinted version.

    The price-per-piece controversy is an interesting one, but remember (as others point out) averages are AVERAGES. A BURP isn’t the same as a 1×1 tile, but we’re not pricing per-piece; we’re pricing on average.

    That said, if you actually do the math, the cost of manufacturing per se has stayed almost exactly the same in the past twenty years (since I started paying attention to the set prices as a kid). The US set prices have stayed nearly identical with the US dollar’s inflation rate. The margin for error, in every comparison I’ve made, has always seemed to be a matter of rounding up or down to the nearest dollar (usually an amount divisible by ten, but including more and more 5s these days).

    When I used to work at a Lego Store, I would get a lot of customers who would comment on how Lego has raised the price. I’d go through a thirty-second explanation and they’d feel a lot better about spending the money. Most people don’t notice inflation unless it’s pointed out to them; when it is, it gets pretty obvious. (In fact, when I talk about inflation, I use either Lego sets or printed novels to show the rate, since both wind up with the same math.)

    Yes, the cost of fuel and raw petroleum have gone up, but unless I’ve screwed up on the math, it’s mostly inflation. (The fuel costs themselves are mostly inflation; the variances on fuel being directly attributed to political instability and/or policy, but with long-term trends driven by inflation.) And of course the licensed sets have to have a little extra.

    So I actually look at it as a $.12/part price range these days, since we’ve had a rather large jump in inflation recently, both in Europe and in the US. In a couple years, maybe three, I might have to go up to $.15.

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