If you’re like me, you didn’t give The LEGO Ninjago Movie a lot of thought. Sure, The LEGO Movie was great, and The LEGO Batman Movie was surprisingly ok, but a movie based on LEGO’s 7-year-old homegrown Ninjago theme? Our own Dave Schefcik gave it a warm — if not exactly glowing — review, though it wasn’t the box office success that LEGO and Warner Bros hoped for. But unquestionably the film’s highpoint for fans like me — that is to say, adult builders — is that it brought us the absolutely stunning Ninjago City. As I reviewed that set last year, I was struck by the cyberpunk city’s incredible detail and gorgeous techniques. And now, although at first glance it seems an odd choice given that The LEGO Ninjago Movie’s short-lived hype has all but disappeared, LEGO is adding to Ninjago City. 70657 Ninjago City Docks will be available August 1 for $229.99 USD, and features 3,553 pieces and 13 minifigures.
The box, instructions, & sticker sheet
While the Ninjago theme primarily targets kids with a standard fare of small/medium/large sets, the theme has been rapidly amassing huge sets, including those targeted at fans with higher expectations for techniques and details and correspondingly deep pockets. Between Ninjago and The LEGO Ninjago Movie (technically two distinct themes for branding purposes within LEGO), Ninjago City Docks marks the third “premium” set, following The Temple of Airjitzu and Ninjago City. But there have also been another 10 sets featuring more than 1,000 pieces each. With its 3,553 pieces, Ninjago City Docks handily jumps to the top of the list, bested only by its sibling, Ninjago City.
Consequently, it’s no surprise that the massive box is stuffed with pieces, including another box. These inner boxes are common in ultra-large sets, and serve only to keep LEGO’s manufacturing process simpler — the numbered bags aren’t sequentially divided between the main box and inner box. We’d love to see LEGO adopt the UCS-style graphics for the inner boxes in other themes that we enjoy so much in the Star Wars line with sets like the Y-Wing, but for now we just get a plain white box with a manufacturing code printed on. All told, there are 19 bag numbers, with some numbers having multiple bags. The stickers are packaged with the instructions in a sealed bag, and the instructions themselves are a single hefty booklet with 562 steps spread over 378 pages. There are no behind-the-scenes interludes the way Ninjago City’s booklet had, though at the end there are a few glamor shots, screenshots from the film, and a Ninjago language key.
The sticker sheets are similarly massive, with 53 stickers between the two sheets. For those keeping score at home, that’s not quite the most stickers we’ve ever seen in a review set; that award goes to the Ferrari Ultimate Garage with a whopping 75. The stickers are mostly signage, and they provide lots of color to the scene and are easily reusable in other creations, unlike the Speed Champions stickers.
The Ninjago City Docks have a large footprint, starting off with a 32×32 and a 16×32 baseplate, making this set 50 percent wider than Ninjago City. The build begins rather monotonously, however, with row upon row of plates — mostly black 2x6s — laid down to form the coloring beneath the water. After that, foundations for the buildings are laid with sturdy 2-stud-wide bricks, and then the real fun begins. Two entire bags are dedicated to trans-light-blue 1×2 tiles, with a handful of 1×1 tiles and some foliage. All told, there’s 301 of these tiles, as the water covers about a third of the baseplates. There are green tiles beneath the dock area, which aren’t visible once the dock is in place.
And speaking of the dock, it’s also a bit tedious to build, but is well worth the patience. Rows of brown Technic connectors and 1×1 bricks are assembled and laid out to form this rough wooden surface. It’s the same technique used in Ninjago City, but significantly more expansive. At this stage the sidewalks are also laid down, made of a hodgepodge of grey tiles and plates to give an uneven cobblestone look while still leaving plenty of exposed studs for posing minifigures.
Once the build is beyond the repetitive foundations, the construction quickly becomes engaging with lots of interesting techniques and marvelous details. This column behind the cave is inverted thanks to the help of the nipples paired with a new 1×2 plate with holes; this inversion technique is becoming increasingly popular with official sets, having also recently appeared in the Downtown Diner.
The column supports the newspaper office’s deck, which is the top story above the captain’s office and the cave.
On the harbor side of this building, the curved stairs beside the cave employ an admirably simple technique, accomplished with only a few element types.
The stairs smoothly transition down to the water, giving easy access to the boat cave from the buildings above.
Next door in the central market, the street-facing side uses a few simple techniques to add texture to the walls, first lining up rows of dark red flags for shingles, and then a pattern of brackets and 2×2 half-tiles for an excellent wall with raised beams.
The dock side of the central market features a rotisserie with a whole turkey, turned with a knob on the building’s side. The sign below reads GRUNDLE MEAT, a reference to a species of reptilian creatures in Ninjago. However, a quick Google search reveals that term also has another, less kid-appropriate definition. Whether LEGO’s designers failed to do enough research or just thought it was hilarious, we can’t say.
No self-respecting city would be fit for fight scenes and tense chases without a fruit stand to knock over, so the other half of the central building is the Food Shop with a built-in function for spilling produce.
The docks themselves have a nifty little crane for moving cargo. It’s a very simple design that instantly reminds me of classic sets like the Imperial Trading Post, though this design looks better.
The building on the far end of the docks houses a stone carver with a workshop full of grey figurines and a tiny poster of a Vitruvian Minifigure (which actually isn’t the first time that’s been done). The windows in the studio use pairs of clips for the intricate bars.
12 bags in, and it’s time for the second level. Like Ninjago City and the Creator Expert series of Modulars, each floor slots into the one below, attaching with only a few studs to give easy access. Above the stone mason’s studio sits a dojo, richly furnished with trophies and gold trim. The lower portion of the dojo’s walls are made with masonry bricks, but not in the way you’d expect. They’ve been turned sideways, so that the brick pattern is vertical rather than horizontal. The finished construction is quite solid despite this ring of sideways bricks.
The building’s top level is an arcade brimming with game cabinets and a candy dispenser. The arcade machines are great designs and a lot more compact than the one featured in the Dimensions pack.
But the coolest feature is the soda machine outside, which dispenses cans when money is inserted.
The roof of the arcade is topped with a balloon pig to match Ninjago City’s excellent pufferfish. The pig is assembled with pink 2×2 boat tiles attached around a central core (with small variations for the eyes and snout) making a remarkably decent sphere.
The middle building is the shortest of the three structures, consisting of only two levels. The top level is a detailed apartment. The walls use outwardly facing studs to attach vertical brown tiles for columns, giving the exterior texture.
The street-facing side of the apartment features a giant round window, covered with a wagon wheel. The wheel is attached in the center with a click-hinge element, and the natural play in the hinge makes the wheel a bit wobbly and lean out from the building. While it doesn’t look too bad from a distance, it’s a small mark on what’s otherwise an excellent design, and there’s no denying that the end result looks pretty cool. The 4×4 quarter circle tiles that make up the window’s frame are attached with the help of some 1×1 brackets, a brand new element that builders will find tremendously useful. The exterior lanterns are also attached with a new element: a wickedly cool pearl gold dragon hilt.
The whole set is filled with easter eggs, and half the fun of building the set is discovering them as you go along, so we won’t cover all of them. However, one that tickled my nostalgia is this signed poster from Johnny Thunder, which is plastered on the underside of the apartment’s upper bunk bed.
Next to the apartment and above the cave sits the captain’s office. It’s filled with charts and navigation equipment.
Atop the captain’s office is the office of the Ninjagon, the city’s premiere newspaper. Lots of papers in the form of printed 2×2 tiles are available here, both in the office’s window and at a newspaper rack outside. One wall of the office is a huge bank of drawers, which although sadly not functional look perfect.
Throughout both this set and the original Ninjago City, no two buildings’ roofs employ the same techniques, and the mismatching gives the city an authentic, aged feel. Each of the designs are clever, employing lots of elements not generally sorted into the “roof pieces” bin. For instance, the food shop’s is made with shovels, layered so that the blades form tiles.
The apartment’s roof is made of layered flags and road signs, and the finished design looks as if the pieces were expressly made for this purpose.
The arcade’s roof is built entirely upside down and uses classic 6×3 hinge panels, placed neatly edge to edge. The roof’s apex is then inverted to reorient the studs face up.
Every building is accessible to minifigures, even if it’s by a ladder that would make commuting even more of a challenge. And the abundance of signage and decorations feels appropriate for a cyberpunk city, making the ample sticker applications feel much less onerous.
There’s one vehicle included, which of course is a boat, similar in style to Ninjago City’s boat. This one has a covered section for the helmsman, and a small covered cargo hold.
The finished build
Once all the segments are complete and assembled together (there’s nine segments, in case you weren’t counting), the structures look like a jumble of colors and textures, perfectly fitting the ramshackle aesthetic of Ninjago City.
There are lots of play features, but the maze-like nature of the set itself counts as its biggest attraction. Every corner is packed with details, including extra signage for the billboard (similar to Ninjago City’s extra movie posters).
Ninjago City Docks includes a full baker’s dozen of minifigures (13), and they’re mostly average citizens of Ninjago. However, don’t let that fool you; they’re all adorned with lovely print designs and lots of details.
First up are the Ninjago characters you’ll recognize: Lloyd, Garmadon, and one of Garmadon’s soldiers, Private Puffer. LLoyd is nearly identical to the one from the Collectible Minifigure Series, though with a few less details, including no arm printing. Garmadon is the same as the one that appeared in three other Ninjago Movie sets. His lackey is Private Puffer. The pufferfish helmet previously came in another Ninjago Movie set, though it appears in orange for the first time here.
Next up, we have what I like to call the traditional villagers. These are the characters who fit perfectly into the rough-hewn “old city” on the bottom level. They wear cloaks, kimonos, or vests, and two have sandles printed on. From left to right we have the Betsy & Baby, Runme the stonemason, Chan Kong-Sang the villager, Runde the boatman, and Runje the fisherwoman. Each has their own accessories, and the baby with a classic smiley head is a nice touch. Of particular interest is the stonemason’s chisel, which is a pure black lipstick element (and there’s an extra as a spare part, also).
The Betsy, Runme, and Chan each have double-sided heads with an alternate expression showing how they feel during Garmadon’s daily attacks on the city, while Runje touts her wares.
The final five characters consist of Lil’ Nelson the student and Dareth the sensei, Mystake, Chad the high school student, and Cole. Poor Lil’ Nelson has a broken wrist and wears a cast around his hand, a new element that’s only appeared the Friends Heartlake Hospital until now. Cole carries a smartphone, and Mystake has a tea set with an adorable cup made of an upturned nipple element.
Both Chad and Cole have double-sided expressions, with Chad expressing terror and Cole showing determination.
Addition to 70620 Ninjago City
Of course, the Ninjago City Docks isn’t just a standalone set. Back when we reviewed 70620 Ninjago City, we remarked that it featured the same pin connection points as Creator Expert Modular buildings. So it’s no surprise that the Ninjago City Docks is designed to be connected to last year’s set. And although it’s obvious in retrospect, I did find it surprising at first that the “front” of the Ninjago City Docks which is shown on the box art actually faces the back of Ninjago City, while the street side lines up that set’s front walkway.
However, the transition is seamless, and despite the towering height of Ninjago City, the two sets fit together even more perfectly than the Creator Expert Modulars. Now that I’ve put the two together, I don’t think I could bear to separate them again.
The waterways in back are joined into a single large canal and dock.
Conclusion & recommendation
I didn’t think there was much that could make me love Ninjago City more, but this set does. Now, instead of being a very cool one-off set, Ninjago City is officially a theme. The Docks have pin holes on both ends, and this theme is just waiting to be expanded upon further. This set is stuffed with details from the layered water to the multitude of roof designs and everything in between. And with over 3,500 pieces for only $230, it’s a phenomenal deal. That clocks in at 6.4 cents per piece, about 35 percent below LEGO’s norm of 10 cents per part. In a year filled with amazing sets from huge franchises like the Star Wars UCS Y-Wing or the Creator Expert Roller Coaster, LEGO’s homegrown theme has managed to produce an unquestionable winner.
70657 Ninjago City Docks includes 3,553 pieces and 13 minifigures. It will be available August 1 for $229.99 USD.
The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.