What makes a LEGO set great for adults? Is it the subject matter, something that makes a cool display piece for your den or office? Is it the model’s complexity, a building experience that introduces you to new techniques and cool connections? Or is it simply the size, a build with thousands of parts that will take you a weekend to complete and leaves you with satisfaction when you’re done? All of these can play a role in how much we adults love a LEGO set, but there’s no surer way to capture the hearts and minds of older builders than to make them feel like a kid again. The latest model to come out of LEGO’s crowdsourcing Ideas platform is 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay, which we’re revealing for the first time today. It’s an island refuge made of the remains of a shipwreck, and more than any other LEGO set I’ve built in recent years, building it took me back to being a kid and getting my first LEGO sets. Unlike the tiny Pirate sets I had back then, though, the set’s 2,545 pieces ring it in as the biggest Pirate set to date, besting the relatively recent runner-up Imperial Flagship by a wide margin. It will retail for US $199.99 | CAN $259.99 | UK £179.99 and is slated to be available April 1. Here is an article with all the official product images, but we just couldn’t wait to bring you a detailed, hands-on look at the real set.
You may remember the last few Pirates themes from 2007 and 2015. They were largely solid sets; a modern take on what LEGO Pirates sets can be. But beyond some broad thematic strokes (guards vs pirates, etc) they had little tie-in to the classic theme that ran from 1989-1995, much the same as Space Police III had almost no connection with I and II. This set, however, is determined to get straight back to where it all started.
If you grew up in the 1990s, you’re probably already getting excited just from seeing the name of this set and the box with the yellow stripe. The name hearkens back to the classic Black Seas Barracuda, released in 1989, which was the very first LEGO Pirate ship and by far the most famous (and it sells for commensurately high prices, with sealed copies ranging well over $1,500). The set was so popular that it was among the first sets for LEGO to ever re-release, with a nearly unaltered version briefly gracing store shelves again in 2002. The Barracuda name here isn’t just an homage plastered on a new version of Pirates to cash in on that nostalgia. Pirates of Barracuda Bay is a continuation of the original theme. The ship that’s been wrecked is the Black Seas Barracuda (BSB), sporting a more detailed design that utilizes the last 30 years of development in LEGO elements. The pirate crew are modern takes on the original set’s crew, headed by the infamous Captain Redbeard, and weathered by 30 years of island living. But perhaps best yet, the set can build either the shipwrecked BSB or the fully rigged, ready-to-sail version.
So now that we know the set is packed with nostalgia, let’s see if the build holds up.
The box & contents
As I mentioned, the box with its yellow frame and diagonal stripe is sure to awaken the nostalgia of adults who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s. The design mimics the classic LEGOLAND boxes, including the original box for the Black Seas Barracuda. The set is rated for 16+, which is due to the build complexity (particularly transitioning the ship to seaworthiness), but younger builders shouldn’t have many issues if they’ve built with LEGO extensively before.
Around back, the box art imitates a treasure map, again drawing on classic Pirates box art for inspiration. The only thing that’s missing on this box is a flap to open and clear panels to see the parts in the set.
At 2,545 pieces, the box is one of the largest standard sizes, comparable to large Creator Expert modulars like Assembly Square. There’s an interior box to divide the bags, though as usual LEGO packs the instructions in the inner box to ensure that you open everything before sorting. There are 27 bags across 15 bag numbers, plus three more unnumbered bags of large elements. Also included is a bag with the sails, packed with a thin piece of cardboard to ensure they stay flat, as well as the instructions and two loose long Technic axles.
As usual for sets from the Ideas line, the 460-page instruction manual introduces the set and the key figures in its development. Pablo Sánchez designed the original project submission on Ideas, and is responsible for pirates returning to LEGO’s portfolio. There’s also an interview with Milan Madge, the set’s LEGO designer, and Austin Carlson, the graphic designer. The book also includes in-universe backstory on the pirates, as well as a full introduction to the crew, each of which is now named. There are plenty of references to classic sets, from Eldorado Fortress to Rock Island Refuge.
Finally, before we get to the build itself, let’s take a brief look at the parts. LEGO Ideas projects explicitly avoid creating new elements, so you won’t find any new molds here. That is, with one exception of the tricorne/long hair piece, which also appears on the Collectible Minifigures Series 20 Female Pirate figure, but is showing up here first. New colors for existing elements, however, are very much on the table, and we get a handful here. Among those that I found most interesting are a new color for the 5-leaf palm branch, which shows up here for the first time in bright green, and the 1×2 profile (masonry) brick, which arrives in dark orange for the first time. Below is a picture of the palm leaf with lime green (a current color which is also included in this set) and standard green. You’ll get 16 of the bright green leaves, but just five of the dark orange profile bricks in the set.
A few elements aren’t new, but are making long-awaited reappearances here. First up is the cow horn, which has been absent since 2014, and only ever appeared in white in two sets and two Collectible Minifigure characters. The set uses four of the horns, plus there’s an extra. And then, much to my surprise, the set also includes a single black 2x2x2 barrel, an extremely rare element that only ever appeared once before as the engine on 1990’s 1682 Space Shuttle. Here it’s just used as a barrel to hold a banana, and the set also includes 6 common dark brown barrels, so there’s no particular reason for one to be black except as a hat-tip to fans by re-introducing a useful color. When I asked the set’s designer Milan about it, he said “I have to say, I really adopted a pirate culture when designing this set. The barrel is a pretty simple story. Someone else created that barrel in black for their [upcoming LEGO set]. I liked it, so I stole it.” I, for one, think we could all do with some more piracy of this sort.
The island is constructed in two halves, with the right side being built first. This side holds the mid-section of the BSB, which has been turned into an inn by the enterprising survivors. The base is built on large medium azure plates, overlaid with tan quarter-circle slopes, which appear in that color for the first time. The tan slopes do an excellent job of creating the sandy shores of the island refuge. You get five of the larger 10×10 slopes, and 6 of the smaller 6×6 slopes.
Continuing on adds a few palm trees. Designer Milan laments in his introduction that many classic LEGO elements from the Pirates theme are no longer in production and thus weren’t available for use in this set. One such out-of-production element is the classic palm tree trunk segment, which hasn’t appeared since 2005, so the trees here use a different technique. It’s not as much fun as the bendy old-school trees were, but they look just fine. You can also see here the wood foundation for the ship, which is where the mid-section will slot in, clipping to the rocks on the right.
Next, it’s time to build the ship. And while this may be the BSB, it’s immediately obvious that we’re not using techniques from 1989 here. The slanted ladders on the hull exterior require a bit of special engineering to lock them into place, and it’s a detail that would have been easy for the designer to gloss over with something simpler, but this solution shows the care put in.
Once the deck is in place, it’s time to assemble the masts. I say assemble, because many of the classic mast extension elements are also out of production. Each of the ship’s masts employs LEGO’s current mast piece and then extends it with a long segment of black 2×2 round bricks threaded onto a Technic axle. The end result actually seems to be stronger than the classic masts, and allows more flexibility in the placement of the yards, so it feels more like an upgrade than a compromise.
With the ship assembled, it’s time to click it into place. Just two Technic pins hold the ship to the base, but it feels solid and isn’t prone to falling off. You won’t be able to turn the island upside down, but you also don’t have to worry about the ship disconnecting when picking the island up. The exterior of the ship is plastered with debris and foliage to help it blend into the island and give it weathering appropriate to its 30-year rest on dry land. I did die a little inside when the instructions called for me to take the beautifully pristine sails and furl them. Later on, when the ship is converted to seaworthiness, you’ll see that they need a good ironing after having been stowed like this.
The second half of the island follows the same method, but with a much larger permanent dock section.
The buildings in the set are as detailed as any that you’d find in a Creator Expert modular, with lovely details like tiled walls for boards, and this cleverly tilted window to add to the dilapidated atmosphere.
The next piece of the ship to be assembled is the fore segment. The interior details on the fore section are sparse, with a simple table and some storage bins. The exterior detailing is where this section really comes to life. Yet again, there are some fun techniques, such as this bit of brick geometry, which fits smoothly in a black ribbon that runs the length of the hull.
The prow sits at a complex angle across the corner of the beach, and attaches with a pair of Mixel ball joints. Like the midsection, it locks in firmly. There’s a piece of the keel that protrudes below the waterline and allows the hull to sit at an upward angle. It detaches easily later when the wreck is converted to a ship.
Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the aft, which contains the captain’s cabin and the galley. The galley occupies the lower deck, and is where those dark orange profile bricks are used. The walls of this section are constructed upside down, as well as slanted in to give the hull a lovely profile. One of the windows in back wall is missing, because it serves as the doorway into the kitchen in the shipwreck.
Above, Captain Redbeard has gotten quite an upgrade from the original BSB, with a lavishly decorated cabin. Of course, there’s also a treasure chest with some gold bars and other swag. Sadly, LEGO’s chrome gold coins are another victim of the march of time, so there are no shiny pieces of eight for the pirate crew here.
The stern section sits high atop the pillars, and attaches with studs. It’s the weakest connection of the three ship segments, but will still stay in place if you pick the island up.
With all the island and ship segments completed, it’s time to merge the two. The two halves don’t fully connect, but instead sit next to each other. This is because there was no compact way to have the two halves connect well enough to allow them to be lifted together, so the design opted to dissuade potential disaster by making sure you know they’re two pieces.
The completed set
The final model is huge. According to LEGO, it’s over 23” (59cm) high, 25” (64cm) wide and 12” (32cm) deep. The island’s silhouette is still distinctly ship-like, with the prow jutting prominently from the left side and the mainmast standing tall. Beneath, the docks form a labyrinth of platforms and walkways.
The island is teeming with details, and there are crates, barrels, and other debris everywhere, all stacked in a haphazard way befitting a busy dock. Three cannons guard the various angles of approach, each positioned on a different level of the structure.
The building flies a banner for José’s Inn, and it certainly provides better accommodations than most castaways get.
On the far end of the island is a half-buried statue from the island’s original occupants. It’s a nearly identical version of the stone sculpture from the 1994 Islanders sets King Kahuka’s Throne and Enchanted Island, except that the original Islanders horns and plumes are out of production. The horns have been substituted for cow horns, and the top plume has simply gone missing.
Up on the second level, there are more crates, along with the jail cell. It’s not clear who the pirates have locked up, but whoever it was they’re looking a bit under the weather, probably due to the fact that the cell is too small to lay down in.
Over in the middle, the main dock is loaded up with crates of food. There’s lots of food sprinkled throughout the set, including lime green cherries, red cherries, bananas, a pineapple, and a loaf of bread (plus lots of coconuts on the palm trees). Tucked away behind the main dock is the island’s lone Imperial Guard, who hasn’t faired quite so well as the pirates. The skeleton is propped up against a wall and attached to the base.
A small rowboat is included, which appears to be the pirates’ only means of transportation. And given the size of the shark, that’s a scary thought. No wonder they’re stuck here. If you pull the islands apart and paddle around to the exposed edge of the dock, you can access the treasure hidden beneath the docks.
The stairs on the docks lead up to the stern, where the ship’s rudder has been repurposed as a door. The ship is looking a bit worse for the wear, covered in vines and with the ship’s wheel dangling from a chain.
On top of the stern, the poop deck now plays host to a cannon.
The ship’s bow on the left side of the island is just a storage area. In between the bow and the main dock is a small exposed bit of island, which is where the pirates keep Tomorrow’s Bacon (which is what I’ve affectionately named the pig). Throughout the build, I particularly appreciate the disheveled effect of crooked boards and even the flotsam strewn around the coastline.
The ship’s prow looks magnificent, even in its wrecked form.
Around back, the island is a cutaway providing access to most of the interior spaces.
Captain Redbeard comes with his crew, of course, and this time around they’re all named and have backstories in the instruction manual.
We’ll start with the leadership. Although it’s not stated outright, it’s implied that Lady Anchor is now the first mate. Captain Redbeard is instantly recognizable with his green cravat, hook and pegleg, though he looks a bit older and more grizzled. Both Anchor and Redbeard sport new torso prints. Quartermaster Riggings utilizes a common blue pirate torso (having previously appeared in almost a dozen sets).
Next up are Robin Loot and Tattooga. Again both sport new torso designs. Robin Loot also has the first appearance of the new tricorne with long hair element. The version on the CMF Series 20 Female Pirate has a black hat and medium nougat hair, while this one is brown and tan. Tattooga has been collecting artwork for a while, from the looks of it, as he sports a variety of piratey-themed tattoos, including a very cool back tattoo of the BSB in full sail. Both Tattooga and Robin have alternate expressions.
Finally, there’s the red and blue striped sailors that every fan of old-school pirates will recognize. They are now officially the Broadside brothers and are named Port (in red) and Starboard (in blue). What’s not clear is how they’re related to Governor Broadside, but no doubt the family reunions are a bit awkward (perhaps all three are brothers, given their proclivity for magnificent mustaches). The red-and-white striped shirt pirate was sometimes called Flashfork in old LEGO comics, and a similar minifigure design appeared in spades in early Pirates sets. After all, there were two in the original BSB alone. Accompanying them is Jack “Dark Shark” Doubloons, the ship’s bosun. The Black Seas Barracuda was sometimes nicknamed the Dark Shark in old LEGO lore, which is where Jack gets his own moniker. Port’s torso has been in a number of sets before, but the blue and white design on the other two is new.
Making the Black Seas Barracuda seaworthy
At this point, you’ll notice something odd. The set is complete, but Bag 15 remains unopened and there’s still 50 pages in the manual. Turn the page, and you’ll be greeted with nearly a dozen pages of instructions on how to de-clutter the Black Seas Barracuda, first by removing it from its island home (easy and fast) and then by pulling off every last bit of greenery (easy and tedious).
Here are just some of the pieces you’ll remove (I discovered I missed some bits clinging to the ship after taking the photo), along with what the naked island looks like when it’s bereft of the wreckage. All of the pieces you remove are easily disconnected. The quantity of them, however, means that transitioning between the island base and the fully rigged ship won’t be a quick process. Converting it back to the island will be even more of a challenge than un-wrecking the ship, since there’s no straightforward segment of the instructions to facilitate re-incorporating the ship into the island, and you’ll need to follow the instructions in reverse.
And sure enough, the full transition took upwards of 20 minutes, including building a plug for the hole in the stern, new railing segments for the deck, and rigging all the sails. But the effort is well worth it, as the new Black Seas Barracuda looks truly magnificent.
She cuts clean lines from any angle, and the red-and-white striped sails and yellow highlights inspire so much nostalgia for the ship that I stared at endlessly in LEGO catalogs as a kid. I am particularly fond of the cello-shape achieved on the lower hull, with the sides angled in ever so slightly, a feature that classic LEGO Pirates theme ships were always missing.
On deck, the one awesome feature that’s not readily apparent when the ship is wrecked is the capstan, used to raise and lower the anchor. It’s mounted around the foremast and really functions.
I mentioned when building the shipwreck that I was hesitant to roll the sails, and unrolling them here (after being rolled for only a day or two) you can see they’re pretty wrinkled. It’s nothing ironing won’t fix, but I dislike needing to haul out an iron and ironing board to build a LEGO set in good condition. I would have preferred LEGO to include an extra for each of the sails that’s furled in the shipwreck.
Nevertheless, this ship is good. Really good. I’ve built nearly all of the ships from the core Pirates themes (across their various iterations), and this is far and away the best of the bunch. It combines nostalgia for the classic BSB with its iconic design, with a modern approach to techniques, and the result is beautiful. But let’s see exactly how she compares to the original.
Comparison to the original Black Seas Barracuda
Unfortunately, I never got that original 6285 Black Seas Barracuda from 1989 that I ogled as a kid. But I do own the rerelease from 2002, 10040 Black Seas Barracuda!
The new ship is slightly larger in every dimension. It’s also more accurate to a real ship, with better shaping, a covered deck, and cleaner lines. The upgrade that catches the eye first, though, are the yellow decorations on the prow, which much better imitate the ornate woodwork of a 16th-century ship. Both BSBs are rigged somewhere in between a brig and a galleon, while the hull shape indicates they’re galleons, but I’ll leave it to the nautical experts to make that distinction. One thing that’s oddly missing from the new ship, however, is armament. Despite the set including three cannons, none of them make the transition to the assembled ship, and all of the gunports have windows. Perhaps have 30 years stranded on an island running an inn, the crew is pirated out and ready to continue the hospitality business rather than pillaging. Another thing I don’t care for on the updated version, though, is that the sails are printed on one side only, which is a real shame.
(And a caveat for those few of you who are already typing out a comment: yes, there are a few very minor differences between the 1989 BSB and the 2002 BSB releases, but they are insignificant for these purposes.)
One of my favorite details on the modern BSB is the decoration over the captain’s cabin side windows. The original set used a now-defunct Fabuland element in yellow, but the designer has cleverly recreated that shape with brand new elements, including the 1×1 rounded slope, though converting it to black. Like the original, the deck of the captain’s cabin lifts to provide access to the interior. It’s also worth noting that the skull and crossbones design has been updated to reflect the more blockish skull that surely sits within a minifigure head. This aesthetic change actually occurred more than a decade ago, but the specific smiling skull design used on the large and small flags, as well as Redbeard’s bicorne, are new designs for this set.
And of course, let’s take a look at the pirate crews. The new crew is slightly larger, and a great deal more diverse than the original, but there’s definitely a lot of inspiration from the original crew to be seen.
It’s a difficult job to redesign one of the most iconic minifigures of all time, and we’ll never replace the original Captain Redbeard in our hearts. But the new Redbeard is an excellent design that stays true in all the right ways, while aging the captain a few years.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade comes for Lady Anchor who — let’s be honest — looked terrible in the original set. Minifigure design has come a long way in 30 years.
Quartermaster Riggings is seeing double as he meets someone looking quite like his younger self from 30 years ago. Much like Nick Fury from that one Spider-Man poster, Riggings’ eyepatch seems to switch sides, but he’s still got a red-and-white striped shirt and blue vest with three buttons. The pirate in the brown tricorne was named First Mate Rummy, but the one in the black hat doesn’t seem to have been named until now. The new Riggings holds a new map, though it’s been in a few sets before.
And finally, there’s the Broadside brothers, Starboard and Port. Apparently, the duo used to be a quartet, but I’ve been told they don’t like to talk about what happened to the others, whom I assume were named Fore and Aft. In any case, time on the island has been good for mustache growth.
Bosun “Dark Shark” Doubloons, Tattooga, and Robin Loot seem to be new additions to the crew, and I for one am happy they’ve signed on. There was an original bosun named Will who appeared in other Pirates sets, dressed identically in a red-and-white striped shirt to Port Broadside, except with a classic smiley face instead of a mustache.
Conclusion & recommendation
I’ll admit that I’m squarely in the target market for this set. I grew up reading Treasure Island and Mutiny on the Bounty, 6267 Lagoon Lockup was one of the first LEGO sets I remember getting, and classic Pirates was my favorite theme for many years. I even did a redux of Lagoon Lockup back in 2008. So the very sight of red-and-white striped sails and brown flintlock muskets gets me excited. But I also build and review a lot of sets, and I’m not about to blithely endorse a set just because it features pirates and has cool box art. So when I say that this set is very, very good, I mean it. Compared to other masterful sets like the 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V or 75810 The Upside Down, it’s not as complex and doesn’t have as many mind-blowing techniques. But with a great deal of care put into so many aspects of the design, it’s clear that this model is meant for fans, in the very best sense.
Of course, it’s also a pretty good deal, as far as large LEGO sets go. With more than 2,500 pieces for $200, it falls more towards the “bargain” end of the spectrum for a price-per-piece ratio, and an awful lot of those are large pieces, which isn’t always the case. The eight minifigures sport five new torso designs between them, and while the set doesn’t have many non-minifigure decorated elements, there is no sticker sheet. Despite having 600 fewer pieces, the set feels comparable in size to last year’s 70840 Welcome to Apocalypsburg, which bears a $100 higher price tag.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of classic Pirates, this set is made for you, and your Pirates collection won’t be complete without it. If you’re not a fan of Pirates, you won’t get as much joy from the many references and callbacks, but you will enjoy building a very cool castaway island refuge and one of the best sailing ships that LEGO has ever produced.
21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay includes 2,545 pieces and 8 minifigures. The set will be available April 1, 2020, from LEGO.com for US $199.99 | CAN $259.99 | UK £179.99, Amazon, and may be available via third-party sellers on eBay.
The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.