LEGO has gone all out to promote the new LEGO Stranger Things 75810 The Upside Down set released earlier this summer, with a hilarious retro designer video, and a contest on LEGO Ideas (don’t miss TBB’s own Darker Hawkins LEGO contest). These are all things that every LEGO builder can enjoy together, but LEGO has also released two items to much more limited audiences — Will’s fort Castle Byers (a small build given away only to attendees of launch events in London and New York City) and fan-favorite Barb (a unique minifigure only available at San Diego Comic-Con). Both of these are now only available at exorbitant prices on the secondary market. The Brothers Brick picked up each of these so we could bring you a hands-on review.
Castle Byers consists of just 48 pieces, provided loose at the store (ours arrived from the eBay seller in a Ziploc bag). The parts are all fairly standard parts — nothing really unusual or special that you couldn’t build from your own collection or purchase easily from BrickLink.
The instructions are printed on regular paper from what appears to be an office color printer — no glossy paper instructions printed in a LEGO factory.
Two stickers provide the designs for the 1×2 tiles that say “Castle Byers” and “All Friends Welcome”. These also appear to have been printed on an office printer and then cut down to size. The sticker material is thicker than regular LEGO stickers, and the backing is not as adhesive — the thicker material and less-sticky backing means that these stickers will likely come off much more easily than regular LEGO stickers.
After about a 5-minute build, Castle Byers is complete. The sticks and logs that make up the side of the fort are simply brown antennas attached to the 6×6 dark tan plate that serves as the build’s base. The build is so small that Will (this minifig is from The Upside Down — the build doesn’t come with a minifig) won’t be able to fit inside, much less Zombie Boy with his party.
Event-exclusive sets go for fairly high prices on sites like eBay (where we paid about $50) and BrickLink (where it doesn’t even have an official catalog entry and is currently going for $170). But should you drop $40-170 on this? Absolutely not. The instructions are online, parts easily found, the stickers are rather shoddy, and the finished model actually leaves a lot to be desired, with various loosely attached pieces and a uselessly small scale. This is a set that could have been a $5 polybag or a gift with purchase, with properly printed instructions and stickers (or, even better, directly printed 1×2 tan tiles).
The ill-fated Barb — oh c’mon, if you’re interested enough in the Netflix series to be reading this article, you’ve seen Season 1 by this point — was only available to attendees of San Diego Comic-Con last month. She comes in a blister pack similar to the ones used by custom LEGO vendors like our friends at Citizen Brick, with a glossy cardboard insert — a far cry from the production values of Castle Byers.
Barb herself is a marvelous minifig, with a uniquely printed torso that features her frilly pink shirt. Her acid-washed jeans in sand blue are also unique to this minifig, though not as striking as her shirt. Barb’s defining look is of course due to those huge 80’s glasses that nearly cover her face, printed with subtle details like her freckles. Her head is reversible, also able to express horror at her imminent fate.
The rear of her torso is also printed, with the back of her checked pink shirt.
Including Barb in The Upside Down set that features the Byers residence wouldn’t make much sense in the context of the set itself, so it’s logical that Barb would be released separately. What’s disappointing is that releasing Barb on her own like this may indicate that LEGO may not be releasing more Stranger Things sets in the future. If you want to complete your LEGO Stranger Things collection and pick up your own Barb minifig, you’ll need to drop a whopping $150 or more on eBay (where you have to navigate around cheap knock-offs*) or on BrickLink (where not a single seller has any current inventory and there are no historical purchases to compare prices, indicating the minifig’s absolute rarity).
LEGO has not yet released minifigs of the teenagers in the show, Mike’s older sister Nancy and Will’s older brother Jonathan in particular. And how could we do without Steve “The Hair” Harrington? So, we can at least hope that there are future LEGO sets planned for release that could include this or a slightly different version of Barb (perhaps with a bit of blue printing on her torso showing her puffy coat).
LEGO has been releasing event-exclusive minifigs and sets for several years, particularly at major non-LEGO conventions like San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic-Con. A couple years ago, I wrote about how the release of exclusive sets like Boba Fett and Han Solo in Carbonite BrickHeadz are damaging to the very community that surrounds their product while simultaneously creating negative sentiment toward the very brand that these exclusives are supposed to be promoting. Nothing has changed. If you want to complete your LEGO Stranger Things collection, you’re going to have to drop an extra $200 for 48 pieces and one minifig — equivalent to the price of the complete set that has 2,287 pieces and 8 minifigs.
Sadly, everything I said two years ago still applies today. Non-LEGO collectors swoon on sites like Mashable and Gizmodo about the minifig, while actual LEGO builders and dedicated minifig collectors seethe at the fact that the minifigure given away at Comic-Con went straight into the hands of resellers who’ve turned around and are making a killing on the secondary market. LEGO generated no revenue, while generating huge amounts of ill will from its most dedicated and vocal fans. This false scarcity also creates an unnecessarily competitive marketplace that prices out the average LEGO fan, creating divisions of class and financial inequity within a hobby that is otherwise diverse and generally inclusive.
Whoever makes these decisions at LEGO needs to consider the broader impact that these exclusives have on the very fans that make their product successful. Until they do, we will continue reminding them.
* Custom-printed LEGO minifigures that use unique designs created by talented artists like our friends at Citizen Brick are not “cheap knock-offs” — they’re worth every penny. But unfortunately eBay is awash with original LEGO designs re-printed cheaply on blank minifigs (or even on counterfeit LEGO). Just because it looks like the SDCC-exclusive Barb in the picture and it’s only $15 doesn’t mean you’re getting a great deal. Caveat emptor.