Each year Lego unveils its new sets that combine top name franchises and in-house brands. For families though, there’s a tension between block building creativity and the product becoming a way to get children into other franchises.
At this year’s Nuremberg Toy Fair we got our first look at how the 2016 Lego sets will break down. It’s a year of consolidation for Lego. Recent innovations like Lego Nexo Knights, Lego Elves and Lego Mixels are all expanded. There are some nice innovations for classic Lego lines like City and Technic as well. The revised mini-figures also continue in Lego Elves, Friends and Disney Princess.
It’s an impressive line-up but it’s not cheap. For families it’s important to pick and choose which sets are invested in. Not only how many bricks you get for your money, but the variety of play value that can be had.
One way Lego is again upping the value is through tie-in cartoons and video-game apps. This not only extends the number of ways to interact with a toy-line like Mixels but also pulls in gaming mechanics to the toys as well — like the elemental key collection in Lego Elves.
These are the sets that will be coming up this year you need to look out for.
Lego The Angry Birds Movie
Most directly related to gaming are the sets for The Angry Birds Movie. These use the video-game flinging of birds as inspiration along with characters from the movie. The success here will rest on how well the movie does in theatres, but the toys also relate to the original app game source material as well.
The Mixels are collectable characters sold individually in waves. Unlike the mini-figures you can see what you are getting in each bag — which makes it easier and cheaper to collect. Series 7, 8 and 9 were on show at the Toy Fair and will be appearing in both the related cartoon and app through 2016.
Lego Nexo Knights
The final pillar in Lego’s gaming sets this year is the Lego Nexo Knights. These extend the classic, and popular, Lego Knights range in a video-game direction. Characters in the packs unlock different skills and abilities in a virtual world to create a role-play like adventure experience.
Lego City Airport
In more classic territory, there are new sets coming for the popular Lego City range. These offer a couple of different building scenarios from everyday life. Additions to the Lego City Airport adds a range of different aircraft, hangers, support vehicles and passengers covering all aspects of Airport life. Our highlight is the new VIP passenger jet.
Lego City Volcano Explorer
Slightly more fantastical is the Lego City Volcano Explorer sets that take the city in more extreme direction. Mountains and volcanoes are the focus of an array of different vehicles here - both heaving, drilling equipment and haulier trucks.
Lego Technic Bucket Wheel Excavator
The realism is taken a step further with the 4,000 piece Lego Technic Bucket Wheel Excavator. Including both the motorised excavator and related trucks and diggers, the scale here is impressive. Be warned though, this is for expert builders rather than casual Lego fans. Perhaps one for dad to tackle with the kids.
The new sets are rounded off with three themes utilising the larger mini-figures. Although these were initially criticised as being too overtly aimed at girls they have proven popular. Also, the sets have diversified not only in a gender-binary direction but also offering play-schemes absent from Lego in the past.
Lego Friends is the most style-centric set and this year focuses on a fairground. A range of different rides and attractions are available with the highlight being the fully-functioning rollercoaster. This isn’t powered but still looks impressive when built.
Lego Disney Princess
Lego Disney Princess again uses the slightly larger Lego mini-figures. Here though, the focus is on the various Disney Princesses. Inevitably this gets into boy-girl territory, but the presence of the films helps a little.
New at Toy Fair was Bell’s Enchanted Castle. This is a nice set not least because it includes Mrs Pott, Cup, Cogsworth, Lumiere and the Beast in mini-figure form.
Finally, these fantastical play sets are rounded off with additions to the Lego Elves line. These feel a bit like Lord of the Rings meets Pixie Hollow with a combination of pastel shades and wooden glens. Happily this moves the sets away from anything overtly home-making or shopping oriented.
There are also more sets incoming for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Minecraft and Ninjago although they weren't available to film. With the New York Toy Fair in a couple of weeks, you can expect to see more news on this front from there.
Overall, the 2016 Lego sets do a good job of extending existing lines. This is a year of consolidation for Lego, and after the massive innovation of 2015 (Lego Dimensions, Nexo Knights and the like) that’s probably no bad thing. Especially for parents' pockets.