LEGO Icons 10320 Eldorado Fortress: Searching for Pirate gold [Review]

The Pirates line was a seminal theme for LEGO, introducing hoards of new elements and many things we take for granted now, such as unique faces beyond the classic smiley head. One of the largest and most sought-after sets from the original theme was 6276 Eldorado Fortress, a colonial-style base of operations for the blue-coated Imperial Guards. 10320 Eldorado Fortress is a remake of that iconic set taking advantage of 34 years of advancement in parts and techniques since the original. LEGO has avoided straight re-releases in recent years (with some notable exceptions), opting instead to tribute classics for the company’s 90th anniversary in 2022, with 10497 Galaxy Explorer as a modern upgrade to the original set, while 10305 Lion Knights’ Castle pays homage to a whole generation of Castle. Although the anniversary has passed, I am excited that LEGO has continued that nostalgia trend, turning its eye now to my personal favorite theme, Pirates. With 2,509 pieces, the new Eldorado Fortress nearly quintuples the original set’s 506 parts, though thankfully the price increases by a lesser margin, as the original was $66 in 1989 (about $161 in today’s dollars). The new set will retail for US $214.99 | CAN $279.99 | UK £189.99 when it’s available starting July 4 for VIP members (general availability will follow on July 7).

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 last year’s Galaxy Explorer and Lion Knights’ Castle and a few small gift-with-purchase sets, the Eldorado Fortress leans into nostalgia with its packaging featuring a full-color background and the prominent yellow stripe in the corner. I’ll admit that I’m squarely in the target audience for that nostalgia bomb, but I think the packaging is amazing and captures my interest a lot more than the black box packaging of the adult-focused sets of the last few years, as nice as those are. The only thing it’s missing is a flap you can open on the box front to view the contents behind a clear window.

And speaking of contents, the bags inside are divided into surprisingly few steps. There are 20 bags across just 10 numbered steps, plus an extra unnumbered bag of large elements. There are also two packets to protect the manuals and the ship’s sails. There are no stickers in this set.

There are four instruction booklets—one large and three small—each sporting LEGO’s new minimalist design language picturing the set on a stark white field that makes me feel like I’m building something from IKEA. On these nostalgic redos of classic sets, LEGO should take a cue from the box design and mimic the original manual cover. There’s also no indication of which order the manuals are in, though unlike some other sets where that’s frustrating, this set is modular and can be built in any order. Inside the booklet for the ship (one of the smaller ones) there’s a bit of background on both the original set and this update.

The set includes a great selection of pieces, with no pink or teal bricks hidden in the core; like the sets of 30 years ago, the hidden interior bricks follow the same color patterns as the visible ones. There’s a small cadre of recolors and new prints, but no new molds. Two that caught my eye are the 1×2 ingot in yellow and the classic rowboat in dark brown. You’ll get 18 of the ingots, but just one boat.

There’s one new print that caught my eye. The updated treasure map and small pirates flag both appeared in the Ideas 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay from 2020, but the large printed Imperial Guards flag is a great new version with some minor changes, including reshaping the cannons to match the LEGO element. It stays closer to the original than the 2015 Pirates III flag did, though admittedly that gold-fringed flag was pretty awesome.

One piece that’s not new is worth calling out as well, as you’ll become very familiar with it during this build. That’s the Slope 2×2 Inside Corner in dark bluish grey. It’s appeared in that color in 69 sets before, so it’s hardly rare, but you’ll get 91 of them here. It’s used throughout the build, making up a fair portion of the rocky base.

The build

We’ll take a closer look at the original Eldorado Fortress later in the review, but if you’re familiar with it you’ll recall that it included two rowboats, but didn’t have a ship. LEGO calls this out in the introduction, as the ship is an update of the small merchant vessel from 6277 Imperial Trading Post from 1992. This time around it gets a much higher part count with a SNOT (Studs Not On Top) hull that makes use of the greater variety of curved elements available now.

It’s still quite a straightforward build that will only take you a few minutes to assemble, making it the perfect opener, as the finished vessel can sit on your table immediately. It’s a nice update that captures the style of the original build. Along with the rowboat and three minifigures, this finishes bag step 1 and the first manual.

Now it’s time to start on the fortress itself, which sits in the sea on a rocky outcropping. The base is built of from basic slopes and bricks, including lots of those 2×2 inside corner slopes.

The first bit of the base is the largest, which is the portion that holds the ramp. The ramp is a large plate held in with ball joints, and covered in a nicely randomized jumble of tiles and round jumpers.

Of course, in the original set, the base wasn’t brick-built but was a raised baseplate. The word nostalgia is coming up a lot in this review—for good reason—but although I do have nostalgia for that old raised baseplate, there’s no denying that the brick-built design looks better and has a lot more detail. And it’s yet another example that puts the lie to the common refrain that LEGO “cheats” nowadays by molding custom pieces for everything instead of doing it the old-fashioned way. Coincidentally, the only other set to use the same raised baseplate was 6277 Imperial Trading Post, the set from which the ship hails.

Eldorado was famously the city of gold, and I imagine part of the reason the Eldorado Fortress is so named is for the golden hue of its walls. At last we’re getting to the yellow lower walls, which are riddled with cannon ports that are nicely detailed with ingots to give their edges a beveled effect.

The white crenelations are also capped with ingots, tying the design together. Here and there dark red bricks—1×1 and 1×2 round plates—stand in for the red bricks showing beneath the crumbling plaster walls that were printed on a handful of elements in the original.

Above the gatehouse resides the governor’s office, which a blurb in the manual calls out as holding “his most prized possessions and important documents.” The reality is a bit underwhelming, as possessions consist of a candle and inkwell, while the documents consist of a single treasure map. Perhaps the pirate raid was more successful than the governor wants to let on?

The first and largest module of the fortress is the one that carries the most iconic aspects of the original set, so once you finish it you’ll really begin to see Eldorado Fortress emerging.

The other four sections of the fortress are less immediately recognizable, but they’re all interesting in their own ways. The instructions call for them to be built in sequence, but I built up the rocky bases of each in parallel to get a better feel for how the new design compared to the original.

A few play features have been added along with a lot more detail than the original set. For instance, the back corner segment now features an escape tunnel beneath the jail, while the cell itself gets some straw bedding. There are also a few separate hidden tunnels beneath the fortress with a treasure hoard and a skeleton, along with a cellar with casks.

The middle courtyard module, which can be turned into a tall dock by rearranging the modules, features a trapdoor triggered by a lever on the side. The lever is inaccessible when the modules are arranged in the standard square fortress format, which is unfortunate because I think it would be relatively simple to have engineered a lever extension on another module to allow it to be used anyway. This is also the only one of the three trapdoors in the fort that’s a trap; the other two doors in the jail section lift up.

I love how a mix of pieces are used in the plaster walls to give a mottled, worn look to the structure. It’s a technique that’s been used extensively in fan-made models, but it’s nice seeing those techniques filtering into official sets, even if they’re a bit simplified from what fans turn out. The crane that sits atop the front corner tower is also a great design that’s not even in the same ballpark as the original.

The completed model

Once all five segments are finished, the booklet has a guide on how to assemble them into the Eldorado Fortress. Each segment connects to the next with clips.

Now that looks more like the Eldorado Fortress I know!

The interior courtyard has a dining table and stools and a small oven. Each of the buildings and levels gets ladders to reach their rooftop defenses. The jail in the back corner is the only building with a removable roof for access. It also features a key hanging on the outside, which seems dangerously within reach of the prisoners. The jail also incorporates red tile roofs in an homage to the same set as the merchant ship set, 6277 Imperial Trading Post.

The fortress has been upgraded with more defenses over the last 30 years, gaining an extra balcony on the back with another cannon. Both this cannon and the one in front by the ramp are wheeled cannons mounted on turntables.

While many things have changed since 1989, one of the few things time has not touched is the basic wheeled cannon design. Thankfully, LEGO has returned to shooting cannons, which were sadly missing from the Pirates sets of my childhood. Although shooting cannons were included in most original Pirates sets in Europe, at the time LEGO used non-shooting cannons in sets bound for the American market.

Another bit that’s nearly unchanged from the original is the rowboat, and it looks just as good now as it did then.

Of course, the modular design also means that the set can be rearranged. The instructions show one example layout that creates a great waterfront harbor with a tall dock at one end.

This layout allows more access to the interior spaces and play features.

The tall dock was made specifically to allow the new Black Seas Barracuda from 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay to dock.

Meanwhile, the small merchant ship can still dock along the front.

The minifigures

Like the original, the new Eldorado Fortress includes eight minifigures, with Governor Broadside, 5 Imperial Guards, and two pirates. We also get a monkey this time around.

Let’s meet the original crew, too. Sometime in the intervening years, one of the soldiers has received a promotion to an officer, presumably a non-commissioned rank as she still bears the red epaulets like the other infantry. This time around, each of the guards also has unique faces, and three seem to be female. While some might balk at LEGO updating the Imperial Guards to include female soldiers, it’s worth remembering that the entire Pirates line has always been a highly fictionalized theme that bears little resemblance to historical events. Pushing for historical accuracy in a colonial army is a path I’d rather not go down, given the tremendously ugly implications of colonialism. LEGO’s Islanders subtheme from the 90s was already questionable enough, and thankfully will likely never see a similar modern redo.

The two officers are the only soldiers with double-sided heads, due to being the only ones with hair covering the backs of their heads.

The uniforms have received an update, making this the third iteration of the classic blue Imperial Guard uniform. The 2015 Pirates III theme introduced blue torsos printed with white (rather than the white printed with blue), but this new design takes more cues from the original with the diamond buckle in the middle, and the return to red epaulets. I do miss the printed shako hat from the 2015 line, though.

The pirates similarly get an overhaul, with Captain Redbeard being replaced by an updated version of the female pirate, Lady Anchor, who featured in a few other classic sets. She’s got the same head and hair as the Lady Anchor minifigure from 2020’s 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay, but the torso is a new design. I do wish LEGO had gone with Captain Redbeard here rather than Lady Anchor. Since both characters have seen recent re-releases anyway, I’d have preferred LEGO to stick with the original cast. I also miss the original monkey from the Pirates theme, but that mold has been retired, and a monkey wasn’t included in either the original Eldorado Fortress or the Imperial Trading Post, so technically this monkey is an upgrade.

Comparisons to the original set

At last, let’s crack out the OG set from 1989. I had stored it disassembled in a bag, so I got to experience rebuilding it for this review. Whatever else you might think of the comparisons between the two, there’s one thing that is undeniably better now: the instructions. I love the style of the originals but I am vastly out of shape for following instructions of this style, which give absolutely no indication of what parts are to be added. Each step is a “spot the differences” exercise comparing it to the previous step, and there are only 16 pages in the entire booklet.

As is usually the case when building a set from 30+ years ago, my nostalgia goggles wildly overestimated the depth of the original set.

The original has charm in spades, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the update in terms of techniques, play features, or style. Even disregarding the bulk of bricks used to replace the raised baseplate, the new set uses 2-3 times the bricks for the fort.

Perhaps the single biggest change, though (apart from the raised baseplate) is the updated crane. The highest praise I could place on the old crane is that it is “technically functional” while the new crane both looks the part and works much better.

Sadly I don’t own the original Imperial Trading Post, so I can’t provide a comparison of the merchant ship to the original, though I think it would be interesting as well.

Conclusion and recommendation

It should be fairly obvious by now that I think this is a phenomenal set, and as a fan of the original Pirates theme and Eldorado Fortress, I’m beyond thrilled to get a modern redesign that pays homage to the original. In fact, years ago (and before I joined TBB), I built my own updated version of my favorite Pirates set, 6267 Lagoon Lockup. The new brick-built base is excellent, and all the brick-built walls add a lot of welcome detail, such as the inset chunks of red brick in the white mortared walls. They work together to modernize the set while retaining the aesthetic I fell in love with. The figures are likewise fantastic updates to the originals. But it’s the fact that the new design is modular that takes the set from awesome to incredible. It’s fun to build each of the modules, and it gives you multiple ways to display the set depending on your space. Without that, it would be difficult or impossible to access or even see much of the interior space.

Whether you owned the original set 30 years ago or you’re just getting your first introduction to the Pirates theme now, you’ll find lots to love about the new Eldorado Fortress. As much as I enjoy LEGO’s explorations into adult-focused sets with things like Typewriters and Disney Villain Icons, it’s the return to the greats of yesteryear that really tickle my fancy. I suspect it will do the same for you.

10320 Eldorado Fortress includes 2,509 pieces and eight minifigures. It is available from LEGO for US $214.99 | CAN $279.99 | UK £189.99 starting July 4 for VIP members (general availability July 7). It may also be available from third-party sellers on Amazon and eBay

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.

6 comments on “LEGO Icons 10320 Eldorado Fortress: Searching for Pirate gold [Review]

  1. Thor96

    Fantastic review as always. Thank you for making the brickbuild baseplate first to show it in the photos.

  2. Rogue 10

    I am a bit disappointed with two features, although the bulk is great!
    (1) The office actually felt enclosed originally, now it’s just a facade.
    (2) the old ‘gunports’ could almost-sorta fit a cannon through them. The ingots make that impossible now, and are probably the feature I most dislike about those gaps now.
    #1 is probably an easy fix, with a few 1x1x5 white bricks and a little extra grey plates and white bricks.

  3. Jason Maxwell

    If I remember correctly the original batch of American pirate sets had firing cannons. Certainly I got one in my Shipwreck Island (which may have come from Europe) and my friend got one in his Eldorado Fortress (which I’m almost certain was bought in the U.S.).

  4. tim1724

    Yes, the original 1989 sets (and I think maybe a few more years’ worth of sets) had firing cannon pieces in North America. (I received the original Black Seas Barracuda for either Christmas or my birthday in 1989, and it was bought at a Kmart in California.) But many of the 1990s Pirate sets(and all Western sets) used the non-firing cannon piece in their North American versions.

  5. Jessy S

    It is my understanding that the Consumer Product Protection Agency (US Government) was concerned about the fireable cannons being actual weapons that they were banned in the United States. LEGO had to introduce un-firing cannons in order to sell the Pirates sets in the United States.

    As for the review, great job.

  6. Hernán Cortés

    “Pushing for historical accuracy in a colonial army is a path I’d rather not go down, given the tremendously ugly implications of colonialism. LEGO’s Islanders subtheme from the 90s was already questionable enough, and thankfully will likely never see a similar modern redo.”

    Is it really necessary to flaunt your right-on views in a Lego set review? Give it a rest!

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