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It may not be our standard fare, but any one amongst you that doesn’t absolutely love a good Lego set is a liar or a soulless, heartless bastard. These tiny brick-building bundles of joy are amazing, if a bit pricey. So, which among them are the absolute greatest?
What I’d originally intended as a line-wide column quickly grew beyond my control. Simply put, there are too many fantastic Lego sets to choose just eight. So, for our first installment, we’ll be looking at the subset that’s nearest and dearest to my heart… the Medieval theme – through all its various permutations.
7093 – Skeleton Ship Attack
I’ve chosen these sets based on two things; their general playability, and the extent to which they inspired imagination – two things the Lego brand has always been about. The Skeleton Ship Attack delivers on both these qualities in spades. I’ve gone on and on about my love of the game Oblivion, and this set immediately draws my mind into the world of Tamriel. The skeleton ship with its crew is impressively detailed and appropriately creepy, conjuring images of a far away land, perhaps an island, from whence these clamoring corpses come. Meanwhile, the coastal wall which defends the dock just feels “right” – right out of the town of Anvil, to be precise. Together, this set creates an enjoyable experience both on its own, or as the first glimpse into an expansive and mysterious world of might and mysticism.
7037 – Tower Raid
Another set that deftly plays both sides of the fence, the Tower Raid shows us that our brave heroes aren’t merely besieged by reanimated skeletons, but also warmongering trolls! An outpost tower manned only by a pair of soldiers is set upon by the trolls in their siege wagon. It’s not the first time either concept was produced by Lego, but it is easily the best representation of each component. Once again, we’re given a set that paints a picture of the world in which these knights find themselves, while simultaneously offering up a great deal of play value. A swinging battering ram, break apart wall, and firing ballista make for an action packed adventure!
6066 – Camouflaged Outpost
The oldest set on this list, the Camouflaged Outpost belonged to the gone-but-not-forgotten Forestmen. Whether you saw them as elven archers or merry men, Lego wasted no time in establishing their place within the kingdom – living amongst the forest, they traveled in secrecy, lived in shadow, and seemed to run afoul of the law from time to time. This set wasn’t their “home,” per se – we’d be treated to a couple of different versions of that in other sets. No, the camouflaged outpost was part dead drop, part hidey hole. From the secret entrance to the cave to the hidden lookout post in the tree, this set may have been short on conflict, but its air of subterfuge coupled with the myriad of possibilities of how it might factor into the grand scheme of things make it a must for any castle collector.
7036 – Dwarves’ Mine
I was reluctant to include this set… the Dwarven realm was never my favorite aspect of the Lego medieval theme. Still, what this set brings to the table in terms of both fun and fantasy is undeniable. For one, there’s a lot going on here. The Dwarven mine actually works, first of all. On top of that, the trolls attacking the mine immediately establish the rivalry between the two not-so-human races. And speaking of establishing story elements, this set clearly lays out the Dwarves’ role within the Lego universe. It’s nothing unique – they’re miners and weaponsmiths – but still, it’s nice to see them given their own niche. The set just beat out the Troll War Ship, which for all its amazing features, didn’t tell nearly the narrative we have here.
7093 – Skeleton Tower
Remember that far away place the skeletons had set sail from? The Skeleton Tower would almost certainly lie at the heart of that realm, and what a cold, black heart it would be. A skull-faced tower? A “jaw” bridge? A cage, made of bones, to trap the princess? What’s not to love!?!? The set also includes a menacing dragon and a necromancer who would seem to be the source of the undead uprising (in case you’re wont to wonder what brought about all of these bony wanderers). Weep for the brave – if foolhardy – lone knight who assails this wretched den of the dead; he may soon be the next corpse drafted into lifeless servitude.
852293 – Castle Giant Chess Set
A chess set might seem an odd entry at first, but take a look at this one, and you’ll soon understand why it gets the nod. Roughly a year after the release of a similarly themed Lego chess set, the Castle Giant Chess Set hit Lego’s website, boasting a board which represents the four corners of the medieval realm. On one side of the board, a Dwarven mine and castle tower make up the corners, while across the plane of battle, the skeletons and trolls share the field. The “evil” knights ride skeletal horses, the heroic bishops are wizards ready to strike, and beneath the king and queen on either side is a caged dragon. Most importantly, of course… all of these pieces are completely removable, so when you’re done strategizing on the chess board, you can bolster your armies on a different field of battle altogether.
10193 – Medieval Market Village
The worst part about the Lego castle sets was always that with all of these knights battling each other, there never seemed to be anyone for them to be fighting over. The whole point to lording over a feudal society is the wealth and power one draws from their subjects. But who would the villains oppress, who would the knights defend, in a world where everyone was conscripted to one side of the conflict or the other? Enter the Medieval Market Village, a set so ridiculously intricate in its detail and expansive in its construction that it practically defies classification. It may well be the single greatest value in Lego history, as well, with approximately 1600 pieces clocking in at a mere $100. By comparison, the average castle was half that size but just as expensive.
The Medieval Market Village features an inn, blacksmith shop, stable, market stand, and a plethora of townsfolk including a beggar. Oh, and there’s a village green that brings me right back to Oblivion – Chorrol, to be exact. Now, imagine an army of skeletons on the march from the port towards the town. A woodsman hidden amidst the foliage of the forest sees them, and rides swiftly to alert the brave knights. The call goes out to the good Dwarves to join the battle, but they themselves are assaulted by trolls and cannot join the fight. A war fought on two fronts; a land hanging in the balance… what more could you want?
7952 – 2010 Advent Calendar
This holiday season, Lego is answering that question for us with their latest castle themed advent calendar. Over the course of 24 days, nine figures and a whole host of surprises will be revealed – not the least of which, the first ever (I believe) Lego queen! The set also looks to include a somewhat Arthurian sword in a stone and a rather lusty (I’d imagine) tavern wench. It may not be an environment in and of itself, but the characters included in the calendar will bring a new level of depth to any existing castle collection that makes this set an absolute must.
Now, I know, I know… I’ve just taken you through a list of the eight greatest Lego castle sets and I didn’t even include a castle!!! There’s a damned good reason for that; simply put, the castles are all a little lackluster and moreover largely indistinguishable from each other. At the very least, there’s absolutely no clear front runner. Those built on base plates make impressive strongholds, but fail miserably as true castles. The sectional designs offer a great deal of customization but tend to lack the more intricate details of their less modular counterparts. And almost none of them really contribute anything to the mythos of this world like the sets listed above. Truth be told, any one of the castles will do in a pinch, but which one you choose should be up to you and your specific “needs.” As long as it stands watch over a world populated by the eight sets above, it’ll do just fine.
Be sure to stay tuned to PoP! as we’ll be looking into some of the other Lego themes and subsets in the future. Next stop – City!