One of the biggest problems I had with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was that the violence in the movie was just dished out like any other action movie. This sat in definite contrast to the book itself, where violence was always with reluctance. And while who kills who in the this battle is fairly accurate, it all felt too aggressive from the good guy side. After all, they were sort of intruding there, and forced the issue. This is a whole lot less of a battle, and more of an escape / aggravated breaking and entering.
The Goblin King Battle is the biggest set from The Hobbit series thus far, and features said Goblin King (otherwise known as the Great Goblin, and never called a king), a few more of our dwarf company, and several goblins to push around. Like everything else from this particular theme, this is a playset, and designed as a place for you dwarves to run about while falling from distances that would kill pretty much anyone.
At first glance, this isn’t a set that really impresses when you first see it. The box is big, but sitting next to things like An Unexpected Gathering or the Lord of the Rings sets, Mines of Moria (same size and $20 less) or Battle of Helm’s Deep (much bigger and $20 more), it seems a bit puny. It’s really not, weighing in at 841 pieces, 8 minifigs, and $100. More than that, the three dwarves in the set are only available in this set.
So, does it stack up to the price tag, or should you look elsewhere for your minifigs?
This was a hard set for me to review. I actually purchased it months ago in a moment of weakness (and wanting to complete my dwarf company), and it sat in the corner waiting to be built. There just wasn’t a lot of “wow” factor to it, and after I felt let down by Mirkwood Spiders and infatuated with An Unexpected Gathering, it was hard to decide if I really wanted to jump in.
Eventually I decided to built it for the strangest of reasons: my daughter managed to get part of the box open. It was pretty impressive, given that she was only nine months old at the time. If I wanted to be able to build this before she crawled off with a bag of parts (she’s made off with a tub of collectible minifigs before… I found them under her crib, the little thief!), I had to get to it. So here we are…
What this set isn’t lacking for is minifigs. We get three more dwarves in this set, Ori (left), Dori (middle), and Nori (right). I’d like to tell you a lot about them, but I had to check Brickset three times while typing that out to make sure I got the names right. Worse, when you check their Wikia pages on the Lord of the Rings wiki, the only “descriptive” information is the studio promo blurbs. Given that there are hundreds of paragraphs related to the patterns on boots used by background characters in these films, that’s not a good sign of a character’s importance to the plot.
These are more of the somewhat nondescript dwarves, like whosit, and whatshisname that were in that other set. Okay, to be fair, these three dwarves are all siblings, and are just as unremarkable in the book as they were in the movie (or in this set). The only one who stands out at all is Ori, since he’s the one who recorded the last words and death of Balin in Moria. So I guess we’ve had two Ori figures… one was just a bit thinner and more skeletal (and knocked down a well by Pippin).
All of the dwarves have alt faces and elaborately printed torsos. The little slingshot for Ori is an interesting touch, one I’m curious about (and wish would have been made into a real part).
We also get Gandalf. He’s still Gandalf. The more I look at this figure, the more I want to swap his head for the comic book Magneto figure from Wolverine’s Chopper.
We also get a trio of goblins. We can always use more goblins. We also get an axe on a bone (which would snap like a twig when you first made contact… trust me, I know), one of the beat up scimitars, and a short guy with some parchments. I remember when I was so excited about that new sword design, back in 2008 with the underrated and hard-to-find Dwarf vs. Orc sets. Those are still the only variety in the copper color, but the style itself has been popping up all over the place.
When it comes to bad guys in the Lord of the Rings, more is always better. About one-hundred more of these sets and I’ll be able to build a proper Orc Forge set to go next to my Tower of Orthanc (once I actually pick one up). Please, LEGO, make a battle pack with these greasy looking guys. We need it!
They all have alt faces as well, which are barely distinguishable from their other faces. The printing on the torsos of each figure is also unique (and also kinda gross).
Last up is the set’s namesake, the Goblin King (really called “The Great Goblin” in both the movie and the book), voiced by Bruce the Shark from Finding Nemo. Okay, he’s voiced by Barry Humphries, but I was excited to hear Bruce!
Much like similar large figures (Hulk, the Cave Troll from Mines of Moria, or the Rancor from Rancor pit), he’s pinned together with some technic parts. He also has a few extra accents, like adding the horns for the crown. He’s got hollow arms, which I’m still not a fan of, but the printing is nice, making the figure recognizable for what he is.
He’s also big. About the same size as the rancor and bigger than the Cave trolls (or the 2008 Castle trolls). He also comes with a little brick-built staff, which isn’t bad, but nothing all that special.
The set itself isn’t a single part, pinned together, but separate parts that make up different parts. The biggest part is the throne for the Great Goblin, which actually “seats” the big figure. Okay, really, he stands there, as his legs doesn’t bend, but it fits well enough. The use of stickers for the back of the throne is disappointing, as this is the kind of detail that could have set the set apart.
Instead, it’s like Mines of Moria, and uses stickers where bricks or accents would have worked much better. Except maybe for the butt-pillow. I don’t know what to make of that sticker…
I don’t even really mind the use of stickers in a lot of these sets, like on the wood slats stacked on the side of the throne, or even the book sitting in front of the goblin. Those are small accents that don’t detract from the set. But once you sticker up an entire panel to hide detail, it gets distracting more than anything.
One thing of note on this set is that its absolutely littered with play features. Some, are great, like the bridge that I’ll cover a bit later, some are weird, like the slide-out treasure under the throne…
… and some are just strange, like the cage launcher. I don’t rally remember when there was a small cage that held a dwarf, positioned by a throne and launched a couple of feet, but it’s there. In truth, this is probably one of the worst features of the set, since the cage “smashes” easily when handled, and parts keep popping off when you try to use it. On the other hand, it does give you three short chains and some skeleton arms, so maybe it’s a wash.
To the right of the throne, we get a couple of pieces walkway for our dwarves to run across. There are a few small features on here, like a wheel that serves no real purpose and a small catapult. I’m really not a fan of the tiny catapults as a play feature, as they’re not capable of launching a part all that far. The fulcrum is too short, and typically you’re just going to end up putting that 1×1 round brick into your finger. They also carry warnings not to put out your eye with it, though I really can’t conceptualize how you can do that.
These pieces don’t connect physically to the throne, but sit beside it. In truth, you should put them closer to the bridge, since the whole “battle” was really more of “dwarves running for their lives, trying to escape before Gandalf offs the big ugly guy.”
The last piece is a bridge section, complete with a bucket and ladder! Okay, sarcasm aside (at least for the duration of this sentence), this is probably the coolest of the play features for this set. The bridge itself is quite nice, with plates/tiles snapped between different rope sections. It’s an interesting build technique that works out a lot nicer than the single-piece bridge that the old Indy sets brought us. This way of building would find its way into MOCs of the Ewok village (which is, sadly, bridge free).
There are actually several playset features that overlap here. The first is a plunger that knocks out part of the bridge, causing it to collapse. The bucket also sits on a spinner and a that can turn, and chain that gives very limited rise/fall for the bucket. It’s interesting, but feels awkward when you turn it.
Next to the punger to pop the bridge, there’s also another one that kicks out the ladder up.
While the ladder release works quite well, the ladder kick is hit/miss. It tends to fall out on it’s own, and if you don’t have it positioned just right, the punger can catch on the cheese slopes around it. But the whole thing together makes a lot more sense than the rest of the bridge work, just because it can come crashing around them. The biggest issue with these parts? They’re barely off the ground. I know there’s a big limitation to the parts that are used, but the entire fight in the goblin mines were very high, where falling meant certain inconvenience. In reality, it would have been death, but Peter Jackson was nice to the dwarves and turned on the Michael Bay physics pretty hard.
But that’s the movie, this is the set. And after building it, my opinions were still fairly mixed. On one hand, it gives a lot of play features in the set. While I quite liked how the bridge was built (even with the BURPs), the actual part assortment was sub-par. This thing had a lot of cheese slopes, bones, and other accents that artificially increased the part count. It may say 841 parts (about 50 of which are really in the minifigs), probably 100 or more of them are minor parts that are absolute weeds in some sets (the white skulls, the white horn/teeth, cheese slopes).
More than that, while there’s a lot of play features to it, none of the things fit together in a way that really feels like a complete experience. And given that the other big set in the line, Bag End, looks and feels like it meets it’s value, this set doesn’t seem any larger than the Mines of Moria set was. Only it commands $20 more. I wasn’t a big fan of that set either, but at it was because of quality, not value. This set feels like it fails on both of those measures.
What I liked:
- Goblins! Okay, and a good assortment of minifigures
- The Great Goblin is done well, and makes an interesting addition to castle-themed stuff
- Bridge was fun to build; it’s the kind of piece that’s always fun in an official set, since you want to find other builds to fit it into
What I didn’t like:
- Stickers are used to make up too much of the detail, especially around the throne
- Piece count has been inflated by tiny pieces like cheese slopes, bones, and skulls
- Playset features vary pretty widely in quality, and some (the bridge) are much more fun than others (pretty much the rest of it)
- Sections don’t lock together, which diminishes some of the playability
Verdict: If you can get it on a good sale, like, say, the 25% off Amazon.com is currently running, this set it worth it. At $75, it delivers on value. But at $100, unless you really want the goblins, kings, or a complete dwarf company, skip it. Otherwise, use the money for a better set that’s even cheaper, like Mines of Moria or An Unexpected Gathering.