The Chronicler's Rating - 4/5
Price ~ $50.00
Year Released - 2011
With the Ninjago theme Lego resurrected a design tactic which was most prevalent in the late 90s and first few years of the 2000's (primarily with the Lego Sports theme): blurring the line between set and game. The general gist of this tactic is that every set is designed to both be a standard Lego model used to act out adventures and stories from a child's imagination as well as an actual game with rules that children can compete in. As I mentioned the heyday of this approach was the Lego Sports theme (which included soccer, basketball, hockey and more) in which the sets depicted sports venues but also contained special elements which actually allowed balls (or pucks) to be passed and shot. The child didn't just have to act out a soccer match, they could actually compete in one with their friends. The spinners included with this and many of the other Nijago sets are designed to allow minifigures to actually "battle" by using the spinning action imparted by the players to knock the weapons out of the hand of the opposing minifigure, imagine dueling, spinning tops and you will have the idea. So the set can be played with normally or used as a game board to compete with friends.
Creating this type of set requires that the designer maintain a very delicate balance. Making a set both an enjoyable play piece and an amusing game is a tall order and very often the old adage of "something that tries to do everything does nothing well" is proven as one aspect is sacrificed for the sake of the other. I am pleased to say however that Lego appears to have walked the line well with most of the Ninjago sets including this one.
The beauty of this type of set is that it appeals to a wider audience. Growing up I had a sibling who was a sports fanatic. Quite often the standard Lego set does not appeal to his kind of personality which always wants to be competing. This type of set bridges that gap while also appealing to someone like me who enjoys the more traditional style of Lego play involving imagining your own adventures by oneself or with friends. The only caution I would give is this, the value of this set in terms of pieces per dollar is low. This is very standard with this sort of set because the pieces needed to create the game aspect are often specialized and more expensive to produce. If value is your primary objective look elsewhere but if you are mainly concerned with playability look no further, this set is a safe bet.
If you like to imagine great adventure stories or to compete in games with your friends this set will be a great addition to your collection. If however you are the type that puts together a set once and then takes it apart to use the parts for your own creations I would recommend that you look for a set that has more and better pieces than this one. Also, be aware that it only comes with one spinner so if you actually want to have 2 minifigures compete you are going to need to get an additional set that contains a second spinner.
Lego made a bold gamble with the Ninjago sets. I am happy to report that for the most part the theme and this set especially appear to have walked the fine line of making both a rich play experience and a decent game. The only problem I have with this set is that it is what I call a Façade set meaning that it isn’t a complete building but more of a wall, like a set piece one would see at a theatre production. This type of set didn’t exist when I was a kid, everything was a complete building so ultimately this set seems incomplete to me, however, I recognize that this does not steal from the play experience very much (you can after all just image the rest of the building) so the set still gets high marks.