For most of my life, if you wanted streets in your LEGO town, you either cleared a path on your floor or table or used some LEGO baseplates printed with the road pattern. These big baseplates predate even the minifigure, and are a classic staple of the LEGO system. But for 2021, LEGO is changing things up, introducing a new design for roads that uses a modular plate and tile system. To kick things off, the new core system is 60304 Road Plates, which retails for US $19.99 | CAN $24.99 | UK £17.99 and includes 112 pieces. Let’s take a look at the new system and see if it stacks up.
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.
For this review, I won’t be looking at this starter kit in isolation, but rather in conjunction with three other 2021 City sets that also include the new road plate system. These other sets are:
- 60290 Skate Park | 195 pieces | 1 road plate | US $39.99 | CAN $49.99 | UK £24.99
- 60291 Family House | 388 pieces | 2 road plates | US $59.99 | CAN $79.99 | UK £44.99
- 60292 Town Center | 790 pieces | 5 road plates | US $99.99 | CAN $139.99 | UK £89.99
At least one more 2021 set also includes the new road plates, but wasn’t available for us to include this review:
- 60306 Shopping Street | 533 pieces | 3 road plates | US $80 (estimated)
The box and contents
The core Road Plate set is designed to jumpstart your new road plate collection. The back of the box shows how modular the system can be, creating a straight road or a variety of intersections.
Two large callouts are present on the box; Glow in the Dark, and Road Plates Included, the latter of which is fairly obvious but keeps the starter set in line with other new City sets, which feature the same callout. We’ll return to the Glow in the Dark later on.
Inside the Road Plates box, there are just three unnumbered bags, one of which contains the four large square road plates.
The death of the baseplate
LEGO introduced the classic baseplate in the early 60s, and baseplates with smoothed out sections for roads followed not long after. Baseplates offered a few advantages; they were pre-built so you could plop one down and immediately start constructing your city on it. Baseplates also provided a sturdy foundation for your creations, letting you move them easily lowering the odds that your new fire station would end in disaster somewhere between the table and your bedroom. However, the drawback is that baseplates are largely “out of System” in relation to the overall dimensions of LEGO elements. In addition to having no anti-studs on the bottom to allow anything to be connected, the baseplates themselves are thinner than a regular plate.
In the 80s and 90s, nearly every set over a certain size that wasn’t a boat or spaceship included a baseplate. However, for about the last decade, LEGO has been steadily retreating from the baseplate in favor of large traditional plates, like the 16×16. These days, only a very few select sets have included them, such as 75978 Diagon Alley, or the popular series of Modulars, which continue to use baseplates for backward compatibility, with even the recently revealed 2021 model, 10278 Police Station, including one.
Of course, for now you can still buy standalone baseplates, though at the time of writing they are all out of stock on LEGO’s website. We assume this is because of the holiday rush rather than the products being retired.
- Light Grey 48×48 Baseplate | US $14.99 | CAN $17.99 | UK £12.99
- White 32×32 Baseplate | US $7.99 | CAN $9.99 | UK £6.99
- Green 32×32 Baseplate | US $7.99 | CAN $9.99 | UK £6.99
- Blue 32×32 Baseplate | US $7.99 | CAN $9.99 | UK £6.99
On the other hand, the two road baseplate sets that were introduced in 2019 are also out of stock, and while we can’t confirm, the introduction of the new system makes us suspect this one won’t continue production.
- 60236 Straight and T-junction | US $14.99 | CAN $19.99 | UK £9.99
- 60237 Curves and Crossroad | US $14.99 | CAN $19.99 | UK £9.99
So is LEGO getting rid of the baseplate? Yes, but also no. It’s clear they’re shifting as many sets as possible away from using them. But at present, we don’t believe LEGO intends to stop selling all baseplates–after all, we already know at least one 2021 set will include one (the aforementioned Police Station Modular). It’s my personal theory that the Modular Buildings Collection is keeping the baseplate on life support, and it would have already been retired completely from normal sets if not for its annual use in those flagship sets that require a decade-old standard.
So with most baseplates disappearing from the LEGO lineup, it’s no wonder that LEGO has seen fit to revamp the road plate design to be usable with newer buildings built on traditional plates.
The new system and its elements
And so the new road plate system introduces several new elements. First up are the modified tiles that make the core of the system and come in three varieties; a large 16×16 square element, and a smaller 8×16 piece that’s available in both unprinted and printed crosswalk versions. We don’t know if LEGO has plans to introduce curves, so for now your city planning is limited to right angles only.
The first and largest is the dark grey square road plate, which is a 16×16 tile with patches of studs. The tile itself is two plates thick. LEGO has created modular elements similar to this before for other systems, such as the 16×16 and 8×8 pieces that interlock, but none have been completely smooth on top the way these are.
The base road plates are unprinted, and you can fill in the inner stud sections with 2×4 tiles to smooth out the road. The Road Plates set and the Town Center set each includes a number of 2×4 tiles printed with a white stripe, which can be used for both the lane indications down the center of the road, as well as the missing stripe on the crosswalk. The tiles can be removed from the center areas by sticking a rod through the Technic pin holes on the underside and popping the tiles off.
When you fill in the lane markings with the prints, add some 1×4 tiles to the edges, and fill the remaining studs with unprinted 2×4 tiles, you have the basic starting block of the road plate system. these can be easily linked to quickly create a road.
Next up is the half-size road plate. At 8×16 studs, allows a bit more modularity while still quickly allowing the road to be assembled. The crosswalk print is available in the base Road Plates set, while the unprinted plate is from the Family House.
Of course, since the road plates completely conform to the larger LEGO system (unlike the old-school printed baseplates), it’s easy to extend the road by whatever increment you need, using your own pieces. Here I’ve added a 2-stud extension onto a half-size road plate, which fits seamlessly to make a 10-stud long road segment. The only thing to keep in mind is that you might have to be a bit careful to make sure the printed white road dividers still fall where you want them.
The other new element being introduced is a curved slope that allows your road plates to smoothly transition to your tabletop or floor. Old baseplates didn’t need a transition because they were so thin already, but with the new plates having the road surface 2 plates above the tabletop, it would leave quite a bump at the end. The new 5×8 slope is nearly identical to an existing part, except that it lacks studs on the 1×4 section that sticks out at the top of the slope.
Returning to the basic starter set for a minute, with all the road plates laid down, you can set up an intersection like this. There are yellow 2×4 double convex slopes for speed bumps on either side of the crosswalk.
Then, it’s time to look at the accessories, which are all modular. The starter set includes eight modular segments that can be added to any space along the road. These are:
- 2 streetlights
- 2 traffic signals
- 2 decorative gardens
- 1 speed limit sign
- 1 crosswalk sign
The streetlights are glow in the dark, which explains the callout on the box cover. Each streetlight uses a 1×2 plate in glow in the dark white, remarkably adding a new color for LEGO’s most common element.
Putting it all together
So now that we’ve got the system down, let’s put it all together. First, I’ll start with just the core set and its accessories, which builds a little strip of road devoid of any of the town around it. So far, so good. This system doesn’t have the simplicity of classic road plates, but LEGO was never about simplicity in that sense. If you wanted a LEGO car, you couldn’t just buy one and open the package, you had to build it. Why should that be any different for LEGO roads?
Now, let’s add some buildings to the mix, courtesy of the other 2021 City sets. I’m roughly following a layout that’s pictured in the back of the instruction booklets in advertisements for the new line, but of course, you could arrange this in any way you wanted.
It’s easy to see that with just these four sets, the city actually feels drivable, with plenty of street space for a handful of vehicles and a lot of pedestrians. This arrangement leaves two street ends blocked off for a skate park and some street hockey, with another road leading out of town. The street ends neatly ramp off onto the table thanks to the new slopes.
Price: I’ll say at the outset that the new set is a good value, so feel free to skip this paragraph if talk of LEGO studs-to-price ratios isn’t your thing. Now then, the old road baseplates cost $15 USD, and included two 32×32 segments. Another way of looking at it is that you’d get 64 studs worth of road for $15, or about 4.27 studs per dollar. The new core Road Plates set costs $20 USD, which is a lot for a set that includes no vehicles, minifigures, or other traditional “play” features. When you add up the length of the five road segments, they span 72 studs, which works out to 3.6 studs per dollar, which is definitely pricier, by about 20%. But those road baseplate sets included exactly 2 elements, the baseplates themselves. On the other hand, the Road Plates core set includes 112 elements, many of which have traditionally been sold separately in an accessories pack to decorate your town. Now called Xtra, these packs cost $4 USD each, and this set includes at least one, if not two, packs’ worth. It is clear that the inclusion of the road plates has also driven up the cost of the other City sets, but that’s always been the case with sets with baseplates too. The only one that feels particularly high is 60290, which has just a single road plate yet costs $40 USD for 195 pieces. The three minifigures and a few ramps don’t come even close to justifying a price double the cost of the core Road Plates set.
Look: The finished result looks splendid. With the crosswalk and speedbumps, the road looks better than baseplates ever did. One place this system gets bad marks is the lack of curves. Hopefully, LEGO has some system for curves in the works, because roads that only meet at hard right angles won’t suffice for a lot of situations.
Usefulness: One feature I love is that you can attach things to the road in various places by simply prying up the 2×4 tiles and replacing them with regular plates, which some of the old baseplates always lacked. The fact that the road plates are perfectly in-System with traditional plates also means that you can connect whatever you want to the plates easily. And of course, the new road plate system is a great deal more versatile than baseplates, with the same elements creating any length or variation of straight road or intersection. Unlike baseplate roads, they can also easily become other things. It would be simple to transform a road plate to a helipad or a spaceport just by swapping the tiles, and with the ability to connect bricks to the bottom, it could even become a roof.
Although I’m not doing a full review of the three other City sets I used for this article, there are a few things that I feel are worthy of mentioning before I wrap this up.
Greater inclusivity: LEGO has been making great strides at representing differently-abled people of all stripes with City minifigures, such as the commuter wearing a hearing aid in this year’s 60271 Main Square. The trend continues with the 2021 sets, bringing us an athlete in a wheelchair in 60290 Skate Park.
Similarly, 60292 Town Center includes a visually impaired person with a guide dog, who sports a brand new element for the harness.
It’s incredibly important for children to see themselves represented in their toys, and doubly empowering for differently-abled children to get cool toys that look like them. Now if we can just get LEGO to realize that most people see yellow minifigures as Caucasian rather than race-neutral, but perhaps that’s another conversation for another time.
New dog breed: And speaking of guide dogs, yes, that is a new dog breed. With longer, shaggy fur, this one looks to me like a retriever, though I’m no expert on dog breeds. In addition to the brown guide dog in 60292 Town Center, you’ll get one in tan in 60291 Family House, where it’s getting a bath after leaving its owner a wonderful cupcake on the lawn.
Environmentally friendly: LEGO City is striving to be a city of the future, with all clean, renewable energy (after all, the LEGO Company itself is investing in environmentally friendly solutions). We already noted the solar-powered street lamps but even Octan is getting an upgrade. Quaint old fossil fuel pumps may be suitable for a classic service station like 10265 Corner Garage, but modern cities have an electric grid. Perhaps Octan is finally out from under the sway of the evil Lord Business, as the carwash in 60292 Town Center includes a yellow OctanE pump to recharge your electric vehicle. (It’s also a clever wordplay for both Octan Electric and Octane.) The new Octan pump of the future has a yellow and blue ying-yang logo to replace the green and red swirls. There’s also a home-charger fit for your LEGO Tesla in 60291 Family Home.
The references: It’s always fun when your LEGO minifigures are aware of the LEGO universe in which they live, and it seems that the Ninjago theme is just as popular in the LEGO world as it is in ours. This is hardly the first time themed crossover references have popped up in other sets, but I always enjoy it. This videogame console and Ninjago game in 60291 Family House are great fun, plus it’s only the second time that controller has appeared in a set after its debut in Collectible Minifigures Series 19.
The kid who lives here is clearly a huge fan, because he’s also wearing a Lloyd hoodie while playing street hockey.
Dungeons & Dragons: But he’s not just a videogame nerd, he’s also an old-school pen-and-paper tabletop guy. If you’ve been itching for more D&D/Pathfinder references since you got a glimpse at Will’s Player’s Handbook and character sheet in 75810 The Upside Down, now you can get a sweet poster to go along with them. It’s only a d6, but we’ll give LEGO a pass that icosahedrons don’t exist in the blocky LEGO universe.
And this poster: OK, so this one’s minor, but this poster on the bathroom wall cracked me up. In the midst of a global pandemic, this is amazingly sound advice no matter if you’re a minifigure or a human.
Conclusion and recommendation
The new road plate system is long overdue and is a welcome addition to LEGO City. If they continue to be regularly added into City sets, you’ll quickly amass enough of them to build a great layout, even if you don’t get any starter packs. The system is versatile, looks great, and perhaps most importantly, is much closer to the core LEGO building experience than baseplates ever were. When or if LEGO completes the system with curves, I can see little reason for anyone to use the old baseplates again, apart from those who’ve already got a big collection of them and use them for convenience. If you’re wondering if you should go ahead and buy some of the new road plates, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
The new road plate system highlighted in this review is included in the following sets:
- 60304 Road Plates | 112 pieces | US $19.99 | CAN $24.99 | UK £17.99 | Amazon | eBay
- 60290 Skate Park | 195 pieces | US $39.99 | CAN $49.99 | UK £24.99 | Amazon | eBay
- 60291 Family House | 388 pieces | US $59.99 | CAN $79.99 | UK £44.99 | Amazon | eBay
- 60292 Town Center | 790 pieces | US $99.99 | CAN $139.99 | UK £89.99 | Amazon | eBay
The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick early copies of these sets for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.
Check out the full gallery of images below, including additional images that didn’t appear in the review.