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How many large LEGO sets is too many?

The recent reveal of The LEGO Batman Movie 70922 Joker Manor marks the second year in a row when over four sets containing over 3000 pieces have been released by the LEGO Group. Daniel Konstanski asks whether the LEGO Group are releasing large sets too frequently…

I can remember the first LEGO System set to include over 1,000 pieces. It is one of my childhood favourites, 6542 Launch & Load Seaport. I loved that set so much that now I have two of them. Part of its appeal lay in its incredibly unusual part count. In the 1980s and 1990s, even the most expensive sets topped out in the hundreds of pieces – not the thousands. Each year would see one, and at the absolute most, two big sets released in the upper echelons of the price range. One year a pirate ship or castle, the next an undersea base or perhaps a western fort.

A dedicated child such as myself could dutifully save all year and split the cost of a flagship set with his parents for Christmas and feel like he had obtained a satisfying chunk of what the LEGO Group had to offer that year. That LEGO upbringing has left me completely unprepared what has been happening recently – the trend of releasing multiple mega sets per year.

The LEGO Group has just revealed 70922 Joker Manor to a decidedly mixed reaction. A large contingent of the criticism has not been over the respective merits or demerits of the set itself, though there can definitely be a rousing discussion there, but have instead centred on the subject of fatigue. 70922 marks the fourth System set released in 2017 with over 3,000 pieces. It joins the hard to find 75192 Millennium Falcon remake, utterly amazing 70620 NINJAGO City and the commemorative 10255 Assembly Square.

Not only are each of these sets enormous, all of them carry a special designation that adds to their appeal. The Falcon is the largest set ever by any metric applied. NINJAGO City is a masterpiece, the largest set of its theme and the largest internal IP set ever produced by the LEGO Group. Finally, the modular building line has a dedicated and rabid fan base who consider each entrant a must have, making the biggest ever, 10255 Assembly Square, a non-negotiable purchase. A collector like myself wants them all for the reasons stated, as well as a few others. I am not alone in this – everyone wants these sets, for their own reasons. In the past some large sets were mediocre, or outside of my wheelhouse, but not these… I want them all.

Wanting and acquiring are, however, two very different realities. To collect just these four big sets will require forking put over £1230 ($1650), an amount which is a measurable percentage of the annual salaries of most AFOLs – excluding David Beckham of course. This isn’t an anomaly; 2016 had just as many System sets over 3,000 pieces as this year, more if you throw 42055 Bucket Wheel Excavator from the Technic line in. As little as five years ago, sets of this magnitude were released once a year. Collecting them was somewhat manageable if by no other method than my childhood model of saving all year and then finding someone who loved you to split it with. Four must-have sets in a year feels like the LEGO Group is being unrealistic – the need to keep up feels overwhelming.

This leads to an obvious and important question: is it possible for the LEGO Group to produce too many large sets in a given year? Is the company we all love so much on the verge of burning us out by requiring so many massive expenditures? I believe the answer is an unequivocal yes. There is something odd about a collector’s brain – perhaps we get an extra dose of dopamine when we complete a collection.

I first experienced this back in the mid 1990s with Ice Planet, the first theme that I was able to collect in its entirety. That was no small accomplishment, utilising only my birthday gifts, Christmas presents and the couple of pennies I received as an allowance. That sense of accomplishment led to a real feeling of satisfaction and delight, not just in the sets themselves, but in having all of them. While it is still possible to get that feeling, obtaining all of any category of LEGO sets is getting harder and harder.

Themes like The LEGO Batman Movie, or The LEGO NINJAGO Movie, have pushed the set count for a theme and the number of sets in higher price points up and up. Even long standing stalwarts like City keep getting more prolific and more expensive. There are so many options in a given year that it is starting to cross over into overwhelming. For me, it feels like the LEGO Group is producing too many options – the joy of collecting has been replaced by frantic planning and finagling in an effort to (stealing a phrase from another major franchise of my youth) ‘catch ’em all’. I also suspect that parents are feeling the pinch too. My mom delighted in making my annual dream come true. That is likely a harder and harder feat for today’s parents with so many choices.

We will have to wait until 2018 to see if the trend of at least four monstrous sets a year continues. If it does, fans will have to answer a simple question – is this a good thing? After all, with the exception of the recent Joker Manor, every set mentioned in this article was received to largely rave reviews from the community. NINJAGO City especially stands out as one of the most amazing sets released in a long while. Fanning out from there Ghostbusters HQ, Disney Castle and of course the Falcon are sets which fans routinely speak of holding pride of place in their collections.

The simple fact is that part of the reason the LEGO Group releasing these sets so quickly is so painful is because they are also so good; we really do want them all. These sets are expensive, and have lots of parts, but almost across the board those parts are being put to amazing use. I can’t think of a single one of these sets that I wish did not exist. The LEGO Group has been releasing products that have been the stuff of AFOLs dreams. Bottom line, I think that is worth the price and hope we keep seeing this trend despite the painful reality it creates for our wallets.

75827 Firehouse Headquarters, 71040 Disney Castle and 70620 NINJAGO City are available now at shop.LEGO.com. The LEGO Batman Movie 70922 The Joker Manor will be available at shop.LEGO.com from November 24.

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