LEGO Classic 11021 90 Years of Play review

11021 90 Years of Play offers plenty to enjoy in its celebration of the LEGO Group’s 90th anniversary, but may be of little interest to those outside its target audience.

Ninety years in business is an impressive milestone for any company to hit. The LEGO Group is honouring such a milestone this year, at a time when it’s firing on all cylinders. The company has gone from a simple purveyor of wooden toys to one of the most beloved brands on the planet, with a new focus on young and old LEGO fans alike.

11021 90 Years of Play is the first LEGO set to officially honour this milestone, although it skews towards its younger fans as it does so. The set allows you to build 15 miniature models, inspired by LEGO sets from across its long history. This in turn allows buyers to see the evolution of the toy over nine decades of product design.

LEGO’s wider form factor has dramatically changed as the years have passed, and it’s gratifying to see the scope of that change acknowledged here. But even with this philosophy, 11021 90 Years of Play feels caught between two competing impulses. It wants to please both new LEGO fans and those that grew up with the sets it’s nodding to. Arguably, neither is served as well here as they could have been.

— Set details —

Theme: Classic Set Name: 11021 90 Years of Play Release: May 1, 2022

Price: £44.99 / $49.99 / €49.99 Pieces: 1,100 Minifigures: 0

LEGO: Available May 1, 2022

11021 Ship

— Build —

Since this set is for younger LEGO fans (and encourages a high degree of creativity) 11021 90 Years of Play packages its pieces a little differently from most LEGO sets. The parts for the 15 mini-models are included in six numbered bags (two to four models in each one), with the other elements in five un-numbered bags. These latter bags are sorted by colour, with similar hues kept together.

The instruction booklets take us through the sets in chronological order. We start with a tiny, ‘30s-era Wooden Duck and end with a take on 2020’s 41906 Pineapple Pencil Holder. However, only two instruction booklets are included, which may make it hard to build the set with multiple people at once.

Individual models take a few minutes at most to build, thanks to their small size and focus on simple components. The resulting designs are quite boxy, although more exotic elements (like foliage, wagon wheels and propellors) do creep in from time to time. A few Technic elements are also included.

The set does put certain elements to interesting use. The miniature version of 375 Castle uses yellow crate elements to better capture the shape of its towers. Similarly, 70503 The Golden Dragon has its wings recreated with golden minifigure katanas – one of the very few minifigure accessories included in this set.

At the same time, some obvious inaccuracies can be seen. The interpretation of 8043 Motorized Excavator uses a large orange plate in its construction – a colour conspicuously absent from the original model. Similarly, the tiny version of 7237 Police Station uses strong highlights of dark blue and yellow – a stark contrast to the whites, greys and blacks of its inspiration.

Ironically, if you’re coming to this set as an older LEGO fan you may find the last two builds the most gratifying. The renditions of 41340 Friendship House and 41906 Pineapple Pencil Holder might be of limited thematic interest, but their reliance on smaller parts and more complex construction results in a much more enjoyable building experience.

Once you’ve finished building the main attractions, you can delve into the supplementary bags and start making your own models. It’s perhaps here that LEGO’s evolution is most obvious. There’s a gorgeous selection of colours here, including multiple shades of pink, yellow and green to enjoy. 

A pair of bricks in light nougat (traditionally used for more realistic minifigure skin tones) can also be found in this set, providing a tenuous link to this year’s 10297 Boutique Hotel. Their presence here hopefully signals their appearance in more LEGO sets going forward. 

Even if you don’t break up the mini-models at this point, there’s plenty in the supplementary bags to enjoy. A selection of light tan pieces (including textured masonry elements) allows for the rapid construction of buildings, while a few wheels and axles allow a car to be built in no time. 

Want to make something more naturalistic? A mix of foliage and flower elements allow for the construction of a meadow, while brown and green bricks allow trees to be built as well. If you prefer to blast off into space instead, a varied selection of grey pieces (including slopes, ingots and jumper plates) can facilitate some interesting ships or other sci-fi creations.

— Characters —

While 11021 90 Years of Play doesn’t have any minifigures to speak of, it certainly has characters. These are the set’s biggest selling point, although in practice they do little to recommend it.

Today’s LEGO Classic sets tend to focus on simple elements and small builds to accommodate their young fans. That’s a perfectly reasonable approach to take, but it also makes it more difficult to recreate these specific LEGO models.

Characters like the wooden duck are a perfect example of this idea. It’s clearly recognisable as the toy that put LEGO on the map, thanks to its four wheels and large bill. But by necessity its construction is simplistic and inelegant – a criticism that can be applied, in varying degrees, to the other models in this set.

Tahu is another example of this undue simplification. The BIONICLE character is recognisable thanks to a faithful colour scheme and his iconic flaming sword. But he lacks both proper articulation and fine detail, while his cartoon eyes are hilariously out of character. Even if he’s earned a small fan following, this is far from the BIONICLE tribute we deserve.

On the other hand, this simplified approach to character design can be beneficial. While the set’s reimagined Elton Elephant lacks some features of the original (like hands) it’s still charming on its own merits. Crucially, it captures the spirit of his ‘80s counterpart for the modern era – something the other mini-builds achieve with mixed success.

Elsewhere, the shrunk-down Pineapple Pencil Holder offers similar benefits. It’s obviously unsuitable for use as a storage solution (well, maybe a couple of paperclips in the foliage), but its thoughtful use of tiles manages to convey the essence of the set that inspired it.

Even with these triumphs, we can’t help but return to one question: who is this set for? If you’re in the target audience you won’t appreciate any of the references, and you’ll probably go straight to making your own models. If you’re an older fan your connection to many of the oldest sets will be slim, and the recommended builds are likely too basic to hold your attention.

That latter idea is highlighted by the LEGO Group’s past efforts to honour its own history. 40290 60 Years of the LEGO Brick features similarly-scaled versions of some models in this set, but it recreates them with much greater accuracy. Its version of 375 Castle can even unfold, mimicking the abilities of its ancestor.

Naturally, these two sets set out to accomplish very different goals. But it still goes to show the limits of this approach in the Classic range.

— Price —

11021 90 Years of Play retails for £44.99 / $49.99 / €49.99, and 1,100 pieces are included. Generally speaking LEGO Classic sets are very good value for money, but 11021 90 Years of Play is especially so when compared to other Classic sets currently available.

Admittedly, 11016 Creative Building Bricks is priced the same but features 1,201 pieces – 101 more than this one. That said, it does compare favourably to a few others. 10698 Large Creative Brick Box comes with a mere 790 pieces, 11015 Around the World features 950 pieces and 11014 Bricks and Wheels comes with 653 pieces. If you’re not particularly fussy about what you get, 11021 90 Years of Play offers clear advantages here.

— Pictures —

— Summary —

11021 90 Years of Play is a competent LEGO Classic set, but there’s little in it that will uniquely attract its target audience. That said, it currently offers more pieces than almost any other Classic set at its price point. If you’re shopping for a child, that fact alone is a solid reason to buy it.

Like the LEGO Classic range more broadly, it’s an ideal introduction to the toy for the younger LEGO fan. Its parts are colourful and diverse, and allow for many kinds of model to be built without difficulty. But its main point of differentiation – its historical references – feels irrelevant in this particular context.

Its lack of more sophisticated play possibilities (which 11019 Bricks and Functions allows for) may also prove a drawback. However, if you’re buying for a child and want to stick to the basics, that may work in the set’s favour. 

Older fans might benefit from the diverse parts selection, but – despite the high parts count – it probably won’t prove especially useful as a parts pack. And while its many references spark nostalgia, the models themselves still have little appeal to the people primed to recognise them. 

On a broad level, the LEGO line-up is probably stronger than it’s ever been at the moment. But despite its best efforts, 11021 90 Years of Play serves to expose the toy’s limitations, rather than its boundless potential.

11021 Castle

This set was provided for review by the LEGO Group.

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— FAQs —

How long does it take to build LEGO Classic 11021 90 Years of Play?

Building all 15 models will take approximately one hour – at least, if you’re an adult. As you may expect, building with the other elements in this set will probably take longer.

How many pieces are in LEGO Classic 11021 90 Years of Play?

There are 1,100 pieces in 11021 90 Years of Play. 40% to 50% of the elements can be found in the 15 mini-models, leaving six bags of various elements to use for other creations.

How big is LEGO Classic 11021 90 Years of Play?

The exact size of the mini-models varies slightly, but each one is roughly 5cm to 10cm wide. The biggest mini-model is the recreation of 5827 Royal Coach; with the horse attached, it’s roughly 12cm long. As ever, your own creations may be much larger.

How much is LEGO Classic 11021 90 Years of Play?

Upon its release on May 1, 11021 90 Years of Play will cost £44.99 in the UK, $49.99 in the US and €49.99 across Europe.

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