In Chinese mythology, the Nian is a monster who emerges at the end of the year to terrorize villages. Luckily, it’s a cowardly beast. Red lanterns and robes, combined with a healthy dose of explosive fireworks, are enough to drive it away for another year. LEGO brings this myth to life in LEGO 80106 Story of Nian, part of their Chinese Spring Festival theme. This set was announced back in November at the 3rd China International Import Exhibition, and will be available to buy on January 10th, 2021. Containing 1067 pieces and retailing for US $79.99 | CAN $109.99 | UK £59.99, this set has six minifigures, a village playset, and the Nian itself. That sounds pretty cool, but can it appeal to a wide audience? Let’s take close look and see just what all the fuss is about!
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.
The box and contents
Like other Chinese Festival sets, the box for Story of Nian features a bright crimson background with gold line drawings of fireworks. According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2021 will be the year of the Ox, so that creature also makes a prominent appearance on both the front and back of the box. The front of the box has a pretty standard “here’s what you get” shot of the contents, while the rear shows off the articulation on the Nian, as well as showing small vignettes of the villager’s efforts to drive it off.
Inside the box are eight numbered parts bags, two loose 8×16 plates in white, and a bag of transparent-orange energy effects. A final bag contains the 200-page perfect-bound instruction manual and a small sticker sheet.
On page four of the manual, we get a two-page spread that retells the story of Nian in pictures. You see the Nian arrive and frighten people, followed by the villagers meeting to talk about fireworks, signs, and lanterns as deterrents. And then you see a chastised Nian running away as the villagers confront it, as fireworks fill the sky. It’s an interesting approach, as I was expecting a page or two of text to help me understand the cultural significance of things. As it is, I’m sure I’ve missed at least some of the story elements that were included in this set. That said, I’m sure no matter what LEGO wrote someone would find fault with it, so maybe a pantomime was the best way to approach this. (And if you want more details, there’s always Google or Wikipedia to provide more cultural enrichment.)
One of the biggest draws of the Chinese Festival theme is the wide range of cool parts that LEGO includes in these sets. The Story of Nian is no different, as it’s full of both new and rare colors for many elements, and has several unique printed parts. We’ll touch on those as we move through building the set, but it’s worth calling out the sticker sheet early. The decision to use stickers for these specific images seems to be tied to their real-world usage. These are posters of Threshold Guardians that are attached to doors, and fan speculation is that the designers may have thought that stickers better represented the spirit of these images. Even if it was purely a cost-saving move, the artwork is great.
The first bag of parts yields some nice surprises. There are several new and interesting colors for elements, including 3×3 wedge brick and 2×2 corner slopes in dark tan. There’s also “log cabin” bricks in teal, and 1×1 tiles in metallic gold. These rounded corner pieces in white showed up for the first time in the recent Ecto-1 and Sesame Street sets.
The build itself starts out by building a snowy base for the village playset. Right away there’s a bit of interesting construction. In this case, a stack of three modified 2×2 dark blue-grey plates creates the equivalent of a modified 2×2 brick on either side of the stairs. I would have expected to see this be a stack of two standard 2×2 plates with a single modified plate on top, but it was likely cheaper to include more of a single part than mixing elements. That’s certainly not a complaint – I have a lot of 2×2 plates in my collection and not nearly enough of those useful 2-stud variations.
By the end of bag one, you start to get a sense of the size of the playset. The dark tan rocks play well with the white curved bricks and plates used to form the ground. The foundations of the doorway are also in place, with the gold 1×1 tiles on the red bricks hinting at the rich colors and details we’ll be adding later.
Bag two has more cool and rare part colors. The red for these fence elements are brand new, as is the metallic gold for the 1×6 tiles. And there are more parts in teal, including 1×2 tiles and a 2×10 plate.
Bag two also has three printed parts. These tiles will go around the doorway. I’m not fluent in Chinese, but those who are shared the translations as “Out with the old, in with the new” (top), “Enjoy yourself in the celebration of New Year” (left), and “Welcome the festival with a full house of friends” (right). They also pointed out a very cool Easter egg hidden in the characters – the Chinese name of LEGO is 樂高, which just happens to be made of the top two characters on either side of the doorway.
Bag two builds out the full doorway arch, and the printed elements really stand out against the grey and dark green background. I also like the simple, yet effective, building in the blue elements above the doorway. Twisting a plate 45 degrees out of alignment with the plate below it makes for a nice bit of color play, particularly against the red of the rest of the arch.
Bag three also builds out the wall on either side of the doorway. The rearview showcases the use of 1×2 grey brick with studs on the side, interesting in that most of those exposed studs will never be connected to anything. This is another instance of LEGO using a single part, as the rear of that 1×2 modified brick just looks like a “standard” 1×2 brick from the other side. As the modified brick is used elsewhere in the build for studs-not-on-top (SNOT) building, it makes sense that LEGO would again re-use what is arguably a less common part rather than adding in another mold (and thus likely needing to increase the cost of the set.)
Bag three’s parts haul includes a new color for the ingot brick – dark blue-grey. Although not new or super rare, there are also four chrome-gold rings, and several candlesticks and unicorn horns in white.
Part three of the build finishes out the doorway and sidewalls of the building. The grey ingots look great as roof tiles, here.
The gold rings are used for the handles on the front door, joining the Threshold Guardian stickers we looked at earlier. The unicorn horns and candlesticks are used to make some pretty convincing icicles along the top of the roof.
Moving on, bag four again has some nifty elements. The red pumpkin/lanterns have appeared in a few sets, but are still pretty uncommon. The domed tile in dark grey, however, is new for this set, as are the brown bracket plates. Throw in some gold tassel and flower elements, grey roller skates, and a teal curved slope and you have all the elements of a very colorful party. Well, some of the elements, anyway.
This bag completed the building’s façade, with some complex textures in the roof above the door. From the back, you can see that this is very much meant to be a “display only” building, as the doors should really remain closed as there’s no floor detail beyond them.
Bag six adds some more depth to the playset, though, almost doubling the expanse of snowy ground. Some details for interacting with minifigures start showing up as well. A ladder is now propped up against the side of the building, and a box for fireworks is added in front of the stairs.
Speaking of fireworks, bag six has some! A new neon-orange version of the snowflake piece joins a pile of red bar w/clip pieces as new colors. There’s also a brand new Ox hood minifigure hat, mop ends in green and dual-ended weapon hilt in black. Another standout rare part is the elephant trunk in dark orange, having only appeared once before in a hard to find Monkey King promotional polybag. There are also some fun parts like two colors of magic wands, pyramid tiles in tan, and light green modified 1×1 round tile.
The red bars with clip and dual-ended hilt are combined to construct a string of fireworks, as held by our ox-headed friend here. This is also a sneak peek at one of the unique torsos introduced in this set. We’ll go into more detail about those in a bit.
The fireworks continue with the snowflakes and magic wands. These two colorful explosions are mounted on transparent-clear rods and attach to exposed studs on the top half of the back of the building.
Bag six also finishes out the minifigure-interactivity sections of the playset. A snowman hangs out by a collection of assorted fireworks, complete with a torch to light them. The mop heads in green provide a bit of greenery by the door, and the elephant trunks from the branches for a couple of snow-covered trees.
The completed playset is a great “moment of time” from the Spring Festival. The fireworks really look great, and you get a real sense that this is indeed a noisy, exciting time. Just right to scare off that pesky Nian.
Speaking of the Nian, we start to put that creature together in bag 7. This time, the cool parts include several in teal and gold. The angled tile in teal is new with this set.
Bag seven contains the body of Nian, a solid core that uses ball joints to add articulation. The orange, teal, and gold colors play well together, and the accents in dark red, grey, and tan add just the right level of contrast.
The assembled body has a great range of motion and can be posed easily.
The final bag in the set again is heavy on interesting bits in teal and gold. In teal, the real standout is the banana – certainly not a color we’d expect to see in nature. The modified plate with offset studs is also new in teal. The gold parts include minifigure bandanas only seen previously in an Overwatch set, candlesticks, and a healthy pile of decorative curls.
Putting things together, there’s a pretty complex lantern in Nian’s tail. Domed tile in red creates an unusual texture here, with gold accents and tassel adding some nice detailing.
LEGO saved the best for last, though. The head of Nian is a treat to both build and look at. The gold bandanas and teal bananas create organic curves that really convey a sense of motion and character. The twisting gold vines and other botanical elements also keep this creature from looking even slightly blocky.
The finished model
Putting it all together, the Story of Nian comes to life. This is one set where the minifigures are really well integrated into the scene. With the explosions going off, I think it makes the most sense to show the Nian turning tail and running, and the villagers are very prepared to help make that happen.
Before we get to the village details, though, let’s take one more moment to pause and appreciate the design work that went into Nian’s construction. This sets a very high bar for any monsters that LEGO produces in the future.
Even though the playset is very much in the “driving off the beast” stage of the myth, you can still reenact the early parts of the story by having the Nian chase one of the villagers. Thanks to dual-sided face prints, you can even get a bit of terror out of the little guy.
But the scare won’t last long. Back in the village, the fireworks are all being set off!
Meanwhile, the elders are involved in a bit of spring cleaning. This is the point where I call out one of the only nits I have about this set – the water in the pail should really have been a 1×1 tile, not a plate. And, yes, that’s the level of “petty gripe” I had to descend to to make some negative comments about the build.
This set comes with six minifigures, all with new dual-sided torso prints. LEGO identifies them as “grandpa, grandma, three children, and a person in an ox costume.” You also get a variety of accessories ranging from cleaning and gardening tools to a snowball. (And let’s not forget the string of firecrackers we highlighted earlier.)
Removing hairpieces and turning the figures around, you can see that three of the characters have dual-sided face printing. Grandmother’s change in expression is pretty subtle, going from “eyebrows down” to “eyebrows up”.
Conclusion and recommendation
I’ve been a big fan of the Chinese Festival sets, and this entry into the theme does not disappoint. At $79.99 USD for 1067 pieces, this set comes in at a very reasonable seven and a half cents per part. The six minifigures (seven, if you count that snowman) are all great, and the Nian is a really fun and clever build. The playset is well constructed, although more designed for display than play. And, from what I can tell, this set does a solid job of telling the story of Nian. So if you’re looking for cool parts, an interesting build, or just some festive New Years’ excitement, I recommend you pick this set up. Worst case you end up with some teal bananas that you can challenge yourself to incorporate into your own creations!
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.
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