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What do you get for a $20 set? A comparative review

Published November 14, 2022 By WBI | 0 Comments

by Rose Porta, Kira S, and Yutong Zhang

We (the interns) were sent six $20 LEGO sets for WBI’s annual review of $20 sets. We also had the unique opportunity to assemble the sets together! We each built two sets and reviewed them.

Rose’s Experience

I built two sets: the Recycling Truck set (Friends theme) , and the Jay’s Thunder Dragon EVO set (Ninjago theme). I am very new to LEGO, and this was only my second time building LEGO sets. The Recycling truck features a truck with recycling bins as well as two minidolls. The Ninjago set features a large dragon, a Jay minifig, and a Viper Flyer minifig. Both sets were very fun and not too difficult to build.

Recycling Truck Set

The Recycling Truck set has 251 pieces and took me about two hours to build, but the process of building was fairly straightforward and intuitive. It was not difficult, yet it took a while because of how many pieces it had and the intricacies of some of the patterns. I really loved the fun nuances of the set including the stickers used to decorate the truck and the bins, the pieces such as a paper with writing, the banana, and the plastic bottle to put inside of the recycling bins, and the cute raccoon! I could tell that the set was very thoughtfully designed, and I appreciated that. I also found the bright color palette of lime green, bright pink, and bright yellow to be very visually appealing and refreshing as compared to the dull, dark colors that most traditional sets have.

I found the process of building this set very satisfying because when I was starting off with the base of the truck, it was unclear to me what I was actually building and how it would all fit together. As I started to assemble each part of the truck one after the other, it started to become more and more clear, and it was amazing to see how the final product developed from that assemblage of pieces that seemed random before!

It was also encouraging to see that the set, although it only contained two minidolls, used realistic flesh tone colors and features, included one male minidoll who was also darker-skinned, and included a female minidoll. This demonstrates an effort toward diverse representation.

Although the set was overall super wonderful, I do also have a couple of minor opportunities for improvement to offer. On step two of the instructions, I was a bit confused because the tops of the recycling bins were displayed in the photo, but the tops were not actually meant to be added during that step, and the tops also looked a bit different in the photo from the tops that were provided in the set. Also, there are 3 large recycling bins that sit on the back of the truck, and they are all constructed in exactly the same way, just with different colored pieces. For this reason, it seems a bit redundant to have those instructions written out three separate times. I think it would be sufficient to give the instructions for one bin, then just instruct the builder to repeat those same steps again twice more, swapping out the colors each time. It would also be helpful if the instructions could mention that the user would be building all three the same way ahead of time because after I noticed this pattern, I actually found it simpler to build all three in parallel at the same time rather than building each individually, one after the other.

With regard to the functionality of the set itself, the back wheels of the truck roll smoothly, but the front ones do not. This makes it difficult to roll the truck, which would be nice to do in order to play with it after it is built. Also, the design of the driver’s seat and steering wheel of the truck is such that the minidoll in the driver’s seat cannot reach the steering wheel. This is a very minor detail, yet it seems simple to fix and would add to the realism of the set.

Jay’s Thunder Dragon EVO Set

This set has 124 pieces and took me about one hour to build. Although it had fewer pieces and took less time than the Recycling Truck set, the design was more intricate, and I found the instructions less intuitive to follow. I enjoyed building this set slightly less both because I was not drawn to the design as much and because I had already built a set before that was similar and had a similar design pattern (a dinosaur set).

One thing that I found confusing in the instructions is that in step 29, it instructs to connect two pieces together for the body of the dragon, then in step 71, it instructs to pull those two pieces apart in order to put a different piece between them. A similar instruction pattern happens with the tail of the dragon. I am wondering why the designer of the instructions would not arrange the order in such a way that the user does not have to pull pieces apart that they have already put together. Another aspect I found odd is that the instructions directed to make one back leg, then one front leg, then the other back leg, then the other front leg. The two front legs have the same structure, which is different from the structure of the two back legs, so it would have made more sense to me to instruct the user to make one back leg, repeat the process for the other back leg, and then make both front legs. I find it helpful to have the repetition grouped together because it is easier to remember how I just assembled something if I do it again right afterward as opposed to after making a different part in between.

Regarding the functionality of the set, everything seems to work as it is supposed to, apart from that there was one missing piece for one of the legs (it is possible that I lost it, but I don’t think so). The legs and tail of the dragon move properly, and it is nice that the minifigs can stand on top of it like they are riding it. Compared to the Recycling Truck set, this set is a bit more fragile and falls apart more easily.

Regarding representation, there is only one human minifig, and it is male with yellow flesh tone. It would be beneficial for LEGO to increase diversity and representation within the Ninjago theme.

I am realizing I have said mostly negative things about this set so far, but in the end, it looks super cool and is a fun decoration to have in my room. Although there were a few confusing quirks in the instructions, I had a lot of fun building it too!

It is interesting to note the comparisons between the two sets that I built given that one was primarily targeted toward a female audience (Recycling Truck), while the other was explicitly targeted toward a male audience (Ninjago). The “female” set had more realistic-looking people, brighter, more vibrant colors, cutesy details, and was encouraging positive values (environmentalism and caring for the Earth through recycling). The “male” set had a minifig with an unrealistic flesh tone color (yellow), a minifig that was a creature rather than a human, dark colors, lots of swords and armor, and encouraging fighting and violence. Personally, I was drawn more toward the female-targeted set, yet I see the value in producing a wide range of set aesthetics and styles. What concerns me is that there exists a stark contrast between what is meant for girls versus boys, and this encourages girls to fit into a specific mold and boys to fit into a different one. I think the intention of dropping these divides and making all sets more gender-inclusive would most support children and adults in developing their own unique identities and thriving as who they truly are and want to be.

Yutong’s Experience

I worked on Atrociraptor Dinosaur: Bike Chase, a Jurassic World set, and Monster Jam El Toro Loco, a technic set. I am a novice builder, and this was my third time building LEGO. I first built the Jurassic World set, which took me about 35 minutes, and then went on to build the Technic set, which took me about 2 hours.

Atrociraptor Dinosaur: Bike Chase (Jurassic World Set)

The Jurassic World set has 169 pieces and contains two minifigures, one larger dinosaur, two smaller dinosaurs, and a motorcycle. The two minifigures –velociraptor trainer and animal behaviorist Owen Gardy and poacher Rainn Delacourt– and the larger dinosaur –an atrociraptor named Ghost– are characters in Jurassic World. This set portrays a scene in Jurassic World: Dominion where the trained atrociraptor Ghost chased after Owen, who was on a motorcycle and got pointed at by a laser from Delacourt. This is a typical “the-good-versus-the-bad” theme in LEGO sets with a fair amount of chasing, destroying, and tension involved in the playing.

The pieces were divided into 2 bags. Those in the first bag make up the foundation of the set plus some movable parts (e.g. one minifig, the atrociraptor, the motorcycle, etc.) while the pieces in the second bag builds on top of the foundation (e.g. the bridge) and includes the rest of the movable parts (the second minifig and one small dinosaur). The minifigs and dinosaurs in the set were smaller than I expected, though they do seem to be in appropriate sizes relative to other objects in the scene. Both minifigures are dual-sided. One minifigure is chosen to be placed (printed) on the progress bar at the bottom of the instruction guide to indicate how far I had gotten in the building process.

The overall building went smoothly. For similar parts, they were able to emphasize the face/angle/color that characterize their differences to help me locate the correct one to use. Therefore, I didn’t run into many mistakes or seldom had to reconstruct previously attached parts, which could be a pain given how precise LEGO parts are hence how well they hold onto each other once being attached. The color scheme for this set is relatively dull with brown covering the majority of the surface. However, there are some more colorful parts hidden beneath. I wonder if these brighter colored parts were selected intentionally or just chosen because of availability and cost.

Monster Jam El Toro Loco (Technic Set)

The technic set has 247 pieces in total and is in fact a 2 in 1 set. The alternative instruction is not included in the set and is only available online at LEGO.com/buildinginstructions. The monster jam has a manual pull back. This set also includes a small page of stickers used for decorations on the car.

There were no numbered bags/packages in this set, which makes sense as the final product is just one piece. According to the symmetric nature of the car, there are a lot more similar and duplicate parts in this set than the Jurassic World set, including an abundance of cross-shaped sticks of various lengths. What I liked about the instruction was that it has a 1:1 scaled guide whenever a use of a stick is involved so that I could literally compare the part I have in my hand to the length on paper. The length of the sticks and the number of holes in longer parts were printed next to them as well for reference.

I first followed the instructions when it came to using the stickers, but then I figured that I would rather prefer my car to show its original orange color so I took off most of the stickers. I appreciate this DIY opportunity that people can choose which decorations to keep and which to discard. Afterall, LEGO could have directly printed the fire patterns on the corresponding parts (unless this costs more than printing stickers).

I really enjoyed the building experience of this technic set. The sequence of building from the engine and chassis to the shell/outerior and finally the wheels is intuitive in terms of actual car manufacturing. This means that even at intermediate steps, the unfinished product exerts aesthetic values.

Overall, in both sets that I built, all parts connected firmly and fittingly. Both the wheels of the motorcycle in Jurassic World and the wheels of the car in Technic roll smoothly. I never got stuck at one point for long, neither did I find myself disassembling more than 2 previously constructed steps. The minifigure printed on the progress bar in the Jurassic World set and the 1:1 scale for comparison in the technic set were helpful. It would be nice if there was also a progress bar in the technic set’s instruction (there’s no minifig in this set but maybe a scaled-down version of the car could be printed on the progress bar instead?). I like the option to choose which stickers to put on and the ability to construct an alternative car using the same set of parts (2 in 1) in the Technic set. One thing I noticed is that I didn’t experience an urge to start playing before I finished building the whole set, contrary to what LEGO’s research had found (or maybe their research finding was qualified to girls, not including women).

Kira’s Experience

I builtthe Cement Mixer Truck and the Hogwarts™ Carriage and Thestrals set. I’ve been building LEGO for over a decade, so I consider myself a decently experienced builder. My first LEGO set I ever built was the LEGO City Cement mixer, and decided to pay homage to it by assembling this cement mixer.

This set is one where the difficulty increased quite rapidly between the first steps and the last steps. Set at an age of 4+, it was expected the larger parts of the truck such as the mixer drum or the chassis came in large, singular, pieces. It was also interesting to see the instruction manual, where the left page showed the pieces cupped in hands and the right side showed where the parts go. I haven’t seen one laid out like that before, but then again this was the first set I built with the 4+ age limit. It was also a nice touch having the timeline on the bottom to know how far along you are.

Although, over half way through the set, steps consisted of only small pieces, which I feel like kids who are four years old could choke on. I started off apprehensive of the set as it seemed more like a DUPLO set with all the big pieces, but as it went on then it seemed like a real LEGO set.

Besides the cement truck, the set came with another minifigure (for a total of two), a jackhammer, wheelbarrow, and a container to hold the cement pieces. In all, it took me around 15 minutes to build the truck and all the side parts. I do think it was quite fun, but wouldn’t recommend it for a four year old with all the small loose parts.

The second set- Hogwarts™ Carriage and Thestrals – is based on the scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book. The most unique part of the set are the wings of the therstals, and how there is a gradient incorporated into the wing design. The attention to accessories for the minifigures was quite hit and miss, though. The Quibbler printed on a 2×4 Tile was a nice touch, however a bright green apple for Harry Potter seemed an interesting choice, as I cannot recall a scene where he has an apple in his hand.

The placement of the seats make it impossible for both Luna Lovegood and Harry to sit next to each other, but the back part of the carriage does have extra seats for the second minifigure. Building the tree was very fun as I haven’t built with a majority of the pieces before. However, I had a hard time building it mainly with putting pieces into tight spaces, so I don’t know how a 7+ child will be able to assemble it alone.

I do have to say I find Harry Potter sets to be overpriced, but I do think this set is price at a very good value for the items inside. This set took me around 30 minutes to build, but then again I do have quite a bit of experience.

Many thanks to LEGO for providing these sets for review. All opinions expressed are those of WBI interns.

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