This may come as a shock to some of you, but… I'm a geek! Geeks are marked by a natural inclination for complex, involved toys and expensive, solitary hobbies. But in between building the ultimate gaming PC or tinkering with Arduino kits to make custom Christmas light patterns, there's one hallmark geek toy that doesn't get brought up much.
I'm talking, of course, about Lego. Sure, we all remember the canonical brick building toy from our childhoods. Back when Legos just came in a loose bucket of bricks and you had to supply the imagination yourself, those were the pioneer days that sorted the true engineers from the chaff.
In recent decades, Lego has abandoned free-form bulk block sets to focus on unique sets intended to build one specific model and only that model. To those of us from Generation X and previous, when we could be trusted to have these foreign thoughts called "ideas" and "inspiration," this new standard for Legos sounds like a fun-spoiler.
But when The Lego Movie (2014) came out and was an unexpected smash hit beloved by all, so much so that it caused me to re-eveluate this niche of toy culture, now generations old. If pre-mod kits are the way to go, are there any special Lego pre-mod kits that are absolute show-stoppers, building out to gorgeous models and elaborate playsets of enduring rainy-day fun? The answers might surprise you! If you haven't looked at Lego lately, here's my picks for just the neatest Lego box sets in recent years.
By the way, Lego sets have serial numbers now. We'll include those for clarity. We'll also include the piece count just to give you some idea of the scale of these sets, some of which get into the hundreds of dollars retail.
21137: Minecraft The Mountain Cave (2863 pieces)
Minecraft is a game uniquely suited to Lego modeling. I mean, Minecraft was barely released and people were comparing it to Lego; it is literally a game about building stuff out of blocks, so of course, it makes sense to model it in a toy where you build things out of blocks. There's many Minecraft-themed Lego sets out there, but I like this one just for being so damn big! Look at it, you get a whole mountain, with a minecart track ride, waterfalls, woods, slimes, TNT blocks, and of course, those adorable, beloved creepers! Build this model and then when you play with it, it's just like playing the video game in real life.
31313: Mindstorms EV3 Robot Kit (601 pieces)
The Mindstorms line is another Lego innovation that kind of makes up for not having a bucket of bricks to create whatever you want anymore. This is perhaps the top of the Lego Mindstorms line, a DIY robot kit you can build and then run around with like the cackling mad scientist you are. Comes with an ARM processor, USB port, Wifi, SD card, motors, remote control, sensors, and enough parts to redesign it into a series of robotic forms. If you get just one robot kit in your life, make it this one.
6857: The Dynamic Duo Funhouse Escape (380 pieces)
You can't sling a rock in a toy store without hitting a comic-hero themed Lego set, be it DC or Marvel. But this one stands out for just being the embodiment of play value. Batman and Robin square off against the Joker, Harley Quinn, and the Riddler for good measure, in a huge circus set with booby traps, a roller-coaster track, a working winch, launching platform, homages to the Riddler's fortune teller machine, and a bat-cycle. It is bursting with imagination, creativity, and action features, reminding us what was all fun about these characters in the first place.
21028: New York City (598 pieces)
The Serious Adult Lego model. The Lego Architecture series is Lego's attempt to branch out into the conservative grown-up modeler's world, with sober recreations of famous world building landmarks. You get to play with Legos and still not come off as quite as much of a basement-bound troglodyte. Out of all the Architecture series, this set is the most bang for your buck, giving you a whole New York skyline laid out in a row which will make a great back-set for your office credenza in the corner office of your future CEO headquarters.
76047: Black Panther Pursuit (287 pieces)
Of course, Marvel, just like DC, has been no slouch in licensing Lego models as well. Marvel fans will want to check out the Lego model lines because between all the Avengers / Ultron / Infinity sets out there, it's a super tough choice to single out just one. But we have to go with the relatively humble Black Panther plane model here as our favorite Marvel Lego set. Because - just look at it! Have you ever seen a Lego aircraft look so bad-ass? That black-and-violet color scheme is on point, and the accessory vehicles are worth a second look too.
75192: Millennium Falcon (7541 pieces)
How can we leave out the Millennium Falcon? What is cooler? What is more awesome? None shall surpass its magnificence. It is easily one of the most iconic spacecraft in all of sci-fi, and this set pulls no punches, clocking in at a mind-blowing 7,541 pieces. It is just frickin' huge, and while building it must take, what, a year's worth of free time, the detail is incredible. Plates on the body remove to reveal interior details, and the model has exterior detailing, moving cannons, working landing struts, seating for the figures, and much more. It better have it all, because to this date it's among the largest Lego sets ever boxed.
75954: Hogwarts Great Hall (878 pieces)
Wait, so you're telling me Lego makes Harry Potter licensed sets too? When did this start? Oh, just after the novel series and movie series ensured that J.K. Rowling's wizardry universe would be a staple franchise of children's imaginations for generations to come, that's when. Believe it or not, there's actually several Lego Harry Potter sets out there, allowing you to recreate everything from the Hogwarts Express train depot to the quidditch stadium. You can basically re-enact the whole first movie if you get the full line. But for selecting just one model, obviously, we have to pick the most famous occult school dining hall ever built, in all its Gothic glory.
10196: Grand Carousel (3263 pieces)
So perhaps the above sets were a bit too mainstream for you? Looking for a challenging build that's not only going to be a timeless masterpiece but will be a model to make your friends wonder just when they should intervene in your Lego obsession? Look no further than the Grand Carousel, part of the elaborate Sculptures series. At a staggering 3263 pieces, this is a motorized, highly detailed model with custom pieces and it actually plays music! Must see to believe.
1952: Dairy Tanker (133 pieces)
This is the curiosity of the collection because it is the most generic, nondescript Lego set ever, and yet it's storied in Lego history. It was part of the 1989 Town series released only in Denmark as a promotional gig with the Danish company MD Foods (now Arla Foods). Because of its rarity, it's a highly sought-after collector's item, known as "the milk truck," the golden snitch of Lego lore. Do you want one in the box? It will set you back a cool $2000!
Who knew plastic bricks could be so expensive? Who knew a child's toy could become such an invested adult hobby? Would you believe there are actual conventions for Lego fans? There's more than one in fact; BrickUniverse is one of the best known, with a city tour around the US Midwest area every summer. Just be warned, if you're a new hobbyist considering getting into this, it becomes an addiction.