We’ve been pretty excited about the new Pleistocene megafauna (large, extinct Ice Age animals like mammoths and saber-toothed cats) in the LEGO City Arctic sets released on June 1st, particularly after we had a chance to play with them during the Fall 2018 Preview event in New York City a couple weeks ago. With the sets now on store shelves, we’re digging in to bring you an even closer look at the new vehicles and creatures, starting with 60195 Arctic Mobile Exploration Base, which includes 786 pieces, 6 minifigures, and a frozen mammoth and retails for $119.99 in the US (149.99 CAD in Canada | £84.99 in the UK).
The box, instructions, & sticker sheet
The large box (front and back photos are in the full gallery at the end of the review) includes six numbered bags, plus a large unnumbered bag with tires and the crane arm, with the mammoth and instruction booklets and sticker sheet in their own bags. As a result, all the LEGO elements arrive safely. There are four separate instruction booklets of varying sizes for each of the main sub-builds.
The sticker sheet various Arctic Expedition logos, as well as several warning and technical details that are likely to be very useful to space and aircraft builders, such as “Emergency Exit”, “Access”, and “Caution” panels. The “Keep Door CLOSED!” sticker is an entertaining touch for an cold-weather set.
The first bag includes the parts for the mammoth, three minifigures, and a snow-bike. We’ll take a closer look at both the mammoth and the minifigs later in the review, but the snow-bike is worth a closer look itself. The orange, top part of the bike is the standard LEGO motorcycle piece, but the bottom section is new, with an opening to loop a Technic chain through.
With a ski attached to the front instead of a clip-in wheel, the snow-bike looks ready to leap crevasses and icebergs.
The mammoth itself is partially enclosed in a block of ice, built from various white slopes and several trans-blue LURPs.
The second instruction booklet spans bags 2 and 3 for the ice-cutting vehicle with the spinning blade and a sled for equipment and/or the unfrozen mammoth. The ice-cutter has enormous balloon tires with an articulated arm that has an enormous spinning blade. This doesn’t seem like the most precise way to excavate palaeontological treasures, but if speed is what you’re after so you can get back to your warm base, we suppose it’ll suit your needs. In fact, speed may be a key priority, since the cabin is not fully enclosed to keep out the −34 °C air rushing past at 22 km per hour!
The sled attaches to the saw vehicle with a ball joint, though the rear skis are pointed backwards and are likely to catch on small crevasses and cracks in the ice.
The third instruction booklet includes the parts for the mobile lab (also on skis) and the lower section of the hauler unit. Bag 4 builds the mobile lab in its entirety, again with a cargo hitch to connect it to a powered unit. The lab appears to be a palaeontology lab, and we’ll take a closer look as part of the finished model later in our review.
Each vehicle in the set includes a dark blue lower section and orange upper section, with an azure stripe in between the two main colors. The final instruction booklet and remaining bags cover the rest of the crane/hauler unit. The rear window section uses the same 2x8x2 window piece laid on its side and inset into the walls of the vehicle.
The curved arch pieces integrate beautifully with the round hatch that opens and closes.
The hauler includes a crane on the back to lift cargo and unfrozen Ice Age creatures. The Technic mechanism raises and lowers the crane smoothly.
The completed hauler unit looks monstrous with its wrap-around windows and balloon tires.
The finished model
Although each of the four main sections of the vehicle aren’t huge on their own, together with the minifigures and mammoth (in its block of ice) the overall set does feel like a substantial, $120 set.
All four of the main vehicle sections connect to form an “ice train,” though I personally think the saw unit in the middle looks a little ridiculous.
Each of the units has its own play features and details — the front hauler and lab units in particular. The lab has a rear opening door that should be familiar to LEGO Train fans. The roof has a radar dish for spotting approaching polar bears — which are notably absent from these sets. Perhaps they all died out since 2014 due to Global Warming, and also explains why the Ice Age mammals are suddenly appearing out of the ice. (Now I’m just sad…) EDIT: I had forgotten about 60194 Arctic Scout Truck since it didn’t have any new animals in it. I’m very pleased to see that LEGO polar bears are not yet extinct after all!
The top opens to reveal the lab, which includes a bone being photographed on a desk, a coffee maker, computer, and bed in the front.
Again, whacking away at a frozen mammoth with a giant circular saw doesn’t seem like the most scientifically rigorous way of recovering it, but the ice blocks are attached loosely enough around the mammoth that you can bang away at them to reveal the mammoth within.
Here’s the mammoth fully freed from its icy surroundings.
You can then place the unfrozen mammoth on the sled and haul it away for research, whether you want to study its stomach contents and ascertain seasonal behavior or try to determine the species’ causes of extinction. Or, you could use your LEGO mammoth to pretend you’re billionaires just looking to make more money by de-extincting the poor creature and opening a theme park in Siberia. (I have strong opinions on the matter…)
The creatures & minifigures
Notably, I believe this is the first LEGO set in which the animal figure (excluding food elements such as turkeys) depicts a deceased creature. After all, I’m going to hypothesize that the frozen mammoth didn’t walk out of its ice block on its own. Many LEGO builders like me will be using the mammoth and saber-toothed cat in living contexts, but let’s all pause for a moment and think about the fact that they’ve been frozen in ice for 12,000-30,000 years.
The mammoth’s head is separate from the body, with a separate trunk piece and two pieces each for the white tusks (tan would have been more accurate for aged ivory).
The instructions have you build the tusks straight out from the head, but doing so won’t result in anatomically accurate tusks. Instead, curve the root pieces out a bit, then curve the tip pieces back in. See the gallery in the Wikipedia article for reference.
The mammoth figure is considerably smaller than the LEGO elephants released very briefly in 2003 in only two Orient Expedition sets — the mammoth stands 7 bricks + 1 plate tall at the shoulder, while the earlier elephants are 8 bricks + 1 plate tall. Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primmigenius) were about the same size as modern African elephants, so this LEGO mammoth should be larger than the original Orient Expedition elephants (which were presumably Asian elephants), not smaller.
Similarly, the neck connection (on a ball joint) is wide open, in contrast to the well-concealed connection on the earlier elephant.
The six minifigures are fairly varied, despite all wearing expedition uniforms. The figs have four different torsos in a combination of dark blue, azure, and orange — just like the vehicles.
All of the minifigs have full printing on their backs, including several printed hoods.
The motorcycle helmet is the same new accessory released with the summer 2018 wave of LEGO Friends sets, and the bomber-style earmuff hat is also new.
Conclusions & recommendation
Despite my quibbles with certain aspects of the star mammoth, I love this set. I’ve been fascinated by mammoths since I first saw a mammoth skeleton in Hokkaido as a very young child. Where other kids were obsessed with dinosaurs, my extinct fauna of choice was of the Pleistocene variety. The orange, dark blue, and azure elements are great additions to any LEGO collection — I can’t wait to take this apart and see if I can build a deep-space research starship from the parts. And the vehicles themselves are full of fun details and play features, including the crane and laboratory in particular.
At $119.99 for 786 pieces, you’re paying a substantial premium for the large mammoth, as you are when purchasing any of the Jurassic World sets. (I almost think we should begin correlating the weight of the plastic in a given LEGO set to its price rather than the part count. Of course, we can’t be certain of how manufacturing complexity also factors into a LEGO set’s price — this is a rabbit hole we could perhaps go down another time…)
I spent the first 20+ years of my life hoping LEGO would release an archaeologically themed line of sets, which the company did in 1998 with Adventurers. As much as I appreciated those sets, Egyptology isn’t nearly as interesting as the vast span of the Paleolithic. It’s taken another 20 years to add the animals that populated the Ice Age, when Stone Age hunter-gatherers created the first art in places as wide-ranging as Blombos Cave in South Africa, Kimberly in Australia, and Sulawesi in Indonesia (even Neanderthals in Spain were creating art 40,000 years ago). I couldn’t be more pleased.
Look for our reviews of other LEGO City Arctic sets later this week!
60195 Arctic Mobile Exploration Base includes 786 pieces, 6 minifigures, and a frozen mammoth. The set is available now from the LEGO Shop ($119.99 in the US | 149.99 CAD in Canada | £84.99 in the UK). The set is also available from third-party sellers on eBay and BrickLink.