Me and Lego Castle, Part II: Lego Castle Set Opinion Summaries

This article ended up being significantly longer than I thought it would be.  It’s more than twice the length of the first Lego article!  Some of that is me repeating things, but most of it is just that I have quite a bit to say.  For now I have it posted as a single article, but I may later break it up into multiple parts and add some pictures.  That might work better, I don’t want it to be even longer than this and adding pictures would make it longer.

Opinion Summaries: Castle Lego Sets

In this section first I will repost the sets I have for each line, followed by thoughts.  It’s Lego Opinion Summaries time.  I mention a few sets I do not own here.  I only mention sets that I have actually played with myself here, not ones I’ve only looked at pictures of.


Crusaders

 

Availability: New sets in their theme 1984-1990, with sets still available until 1992, brought back 2022 as the “Lion Knights”.  This section is only for their original incarnation. 

These were the original default King’s men ‘good guys’, if you consider the King’s men to be good.  I am quite uncertain about that point and often considered them the bad guys.  The Crusaders have a lion emblem with red as their primary color.  On their banners, in earlier sets the colors are red and yellow, but some late sets use red and blue.  Lego was often inconsistent with banner colors in their factions, it’s kind of frustrating.  They clearly didn’t care as much as the fans do.  Regardless, the Crusaders were the first of what would be many lion crown themed “main government/’good’ faction” Lego Castle factions.  The lion and the red color make you think of the British crown, though Lego is Danish.  The Crusaders have a lot of small sets, with two castles.  I only have a bunch of the small sets.  Despite this I have quite a few of their minifigures.   Crusaders torsos have either crossed axes, their lion emblem, scale mail, or plate mail.  With scale mail or plate mail they usually have a red torso with blue arms, though this varies.

Assembled:

Lion Knights’ Castle (2022) – If you count this here.  It’s kind of a Crusaders set and kind of a set in a new line that references their design.  I’m currently considering Lego Castle 2021-2022 as a new line which is at the bottom of this post, where I discuss this set more.

Unassembled:

I haven’t had any of these sets assembled since the ’90s, but I’ll say what I can.

Twin Arm Launcher – This catapult’s alright. It’s somewhat plain looking without the added style of ’90s catapults, but still, sure, it could stand to be reassembled someday.  It’s one of the better looking catapults from the ’80s, the Dragon Defender kind of looks like an upscaled version of this set.  The best thing about this set, though, is the horseback knight!   The set came with a horseback knight with barding on the horse, which is fantastic; this is my only Crusaders mounted knight, and it’s their only one from Classic Castle with the full barding.

King’s Oarsmen – This is the smaller Crusaders boat. It’s a small, average little set.  The set is two guys in a small boat.  I do like the way they made a sail for this boat out of white flag pieces, that looks kind of nice.

Viking Voyager – This is the larger Crusaders boat.  Despite being larger, as the name suggests this boat is moderately long but very narrow.  It looks a bit funny, with its treasure chest cargo at the back covered by curving rubber things, but does come with five minifigures, three oarsmen rowing with spears since Lego had not invented an oar piece yet and two others to give commands.  This is a decent little set maybe I should reassemble, but I’m not missing all THAT much, it’s a bit silly looking.  The large number of minifigures is maybe the strongest thing about this set, the design’s okay but somehow a bit off.

Town Wall Tavern (Guarded Inn) – This legendary set is one of Lego’s best castle sets ever. I really wish that I had it assembled, it’s a really really good one. The set is a small tavern attached to a piece of castle wall, and comes with a barmaid or female tavern-keeper or such, a Black Falcon knight visiting, and a Crusader soldier guarding the wall above. The set uses several red and black wattle and daub wall pieces that don’t appear in many, if any, other sets, which is cool.  There are little details too, including a table in the lower part of the tavern.  This is a fantastic set I need to try to reassemble. I have the European version which is why I call it the Town Wall Tavern.  Probably because I got this set during our year living in Europe in the early ’90s, though, this is one of the few castle sets that I do not have any of the original box of.  That’s unfortunate, I have most of my Lego boxes.  I think that this is my only missing Castle Lego box, but we probably just couldn’t fit it in the luggage.  I do have the manual, though the first few pages are long gone — it starts at step six.  Argh.

Knights’ Arsenal – This set is a small horsecart, with a Crusader knight sitting on the seat of a cart which carries some weapons in its back.  It looks like an okay small set with decent design, even if it does again use that ‘rubber hoses covering the treasure/cargo’ design style that the Viking Voyager also uses.  I have two manuals for this set, so maybe we got two of them?  I’m not sure.

Sets I Don’t Have But Want To Mention:  The original King’s Castle is a solid but simple design.  I have played with it before and it’s nice.  I think that it has been surpassed by newer castles, but it is still the standard all non-hill plate castles are based off of.  The Crusaders’ second castle, the King’s Mountain Fortress, ended up being the line’s last set.  This is a small tower on a hill plate with a gatehouse.  This is a midsize castle, smaller than the big ones, but goes for full size castle money today.  I’ve always thought the tower part looked nice, but the overall design does not make sense.  The wall connecting the gatehouse and the tower is totally exposed on one side, for example, it’s not defensible AT ALL!  This set would need modification to be made sane.  I kind of want to get it anyway, though…  And last, the Armor Shop and Weapons Shop are nice little shops attached to wall sections that’d be pretty nice to have, particularly after rebuilding the Town Wall Tavern since they would attach nicely.

 

Black Falcons

 

Availability: new sets only for them 1984-87, sets with them in them 1984-1992 (and available for several years past that in one set), brought back kind of 2010, brought back for real 2021-22. Again this section is only for their original incarnation.

This is my favorite faction.  The Black Falcons have blue as their primary theme color.  Their early sets have banner colors of green and white for some reason, but I don’t have those sets.  The sets I have either use only blue, or blue and white or blue and yellow.  Lego, color consistency?  What is that?  At least their torsos are almost always consistent, with a blue background and their emblem.  The exception are the knights that have plate mail instead, usually on blue but sometimes black.

 

Assembled:

 

Black Falcon’s Fortress (1986) – This set is a medium sized castle.  It originally came with two archers, two spearmen, and two mounted knights.  The set was re-released in the early ’00s as a classic set.  The only Castle Lego sets to get that honor were this one and the Guarded Inn above.

This set is often considered one of the best castle Lego sets ever, and sometimes is called THE best castle Lego set ever.  For those of us who had it back in the ’80s, it’s easy to see why it gets so much praise.   The design is just fantastic.  It’s a classic small square castle which opens in the back, but this set moved Lego castle design forward and still looks fantastic.  This set introduced multiple new pieces, including the angled castle wall pieces and the yellow and black wall, and has a fantastic look with its great-looking pair of front towers and rear inhabitance at the center top of the back wall.  There is nothing inside the ‘house’ part and it has no side walls, but still it’s a great looking area.  They only had so many bricks to work with back then, after all.  It’s just a brilliant design with no real flaws other than maybe the fairly cheap way the drawbridge rope is supposed to work; it’s just laid underneath the drawbridge, without even any pieces for it to pass through, and there isn’t a winch either, you have to pull the cable and attach it somewhere. That is, if your rope isn’t missing like mine now is. Ah well.

This set was unassembled for years, but I found almost all of the pieces and put it back together sometime in the ’00s. I had to substitute a few pieces for different colors and the drawbridge string is missing. The flag’s clips are broken and it is taped to its flagpole.  Said flagpole is grey, instead of the original black.  At least I still have the flag, though! It is probably overall my favorite Lego piece.  Also I substituted blue flags on the front instead of the yellow that came with it, I liked the look of blue better.  And I have the blue flags hanging from spears, instead of black flagposts as the default has.  Other than that though the set’s in decent condition.  Oh, the white-horse knight lost an arm.  Ah well.  Oh.. and there’s a Chicago Cubs sticker on one of the angled wall pieces.  I’m a Red Sox fan of course, but put that sticker there for some reason.  Heh.

I listed the missing pieces above, but I did make a few additions to this set, including a ladder to get up to the wall and a little catapult on the battlements on one side.  Ladders to get up to walls are important, it’s annoying how often Lego leaves out that detail.  Fix that, though, and this set is just about perfect.  The look from the front evokes some of the best-looking real medieval castles, and there is enough inside, from the minifigures to the design, to keep you interested for quite a while.  The design of the roof of the house part is very nice as well. I know I said it already, but the combination of those amazing front towers and rear house on the upper wall is maybe Lego’s best design.

Note: While they are part of the Crusaders, Black Falcons, and Forestmen factions, I am going to put the new 2021 sets at the end of this list, in order to keep this list roughly chronological.

Unassembled:

 

Castle Guard – This set consists of a foot soldier guard in a guard shack and a mounted knight.  The knight from this set gave his horse to the M-Tron king of the Black Falcons, I believe. The set isn’t assembled but its unique roof tile is around somewhere.  I’ve always liked that roof, it’s a pretty medieval-looking octagonal red roof.  That’s definitely the standout part of this set.

Knights’ Stronghold (the Black Falcons catapult part) – This set was pretty mediocre, but the Black Falcon catapult from it is alright, it’s blue and black.  It also had a Black Falcon foot soldier to man the catapult and a mounted knight.  I should reassemble the catapult sometime if I can find the parts. The set also came with the only Black Falcon knight with separate armor over his torso, which is very cool.  I quite like that knight.

Battle Dragon if for some reason you give this to the Falcons just because of the shield (I don’t) – This is a small and pretty average boat with a Black Knights visual theme and two knights in Black Knights or Crusaders scale mail armor, but one is carrying a Black Falcons shield for some reason.  (The Black Falcons never had the scale mail armor, only the Crusaders and Black Knights.) The dragon head on the front of this boat looks a lot better than the one on the Viking Voyager, I will say.  It is of course far behind the Sea Serpent, though, but given the size difference that is an unfair comparison.

Minifigures Only:


Sea Serpent
– This fantastic Black Knights boat comes with two Black Falcon figures who are attacking the ship.  These two Black Falcons are the last Black Falcon figures made before the recent relaunch of the line and look different from any others as they have grey pant legs instead of the usual black.  The Sea Serpent Black Falcon knight with sword and shield and grey pants is, overall, my favorite Lego minifigure.  He probably should be my internet avatar instead of the random Black Falcon axe guy I use…

Forestmen

Availability: 1987-1990, sets available until ’92.  Line relaunched with some limited-production-run-only sets in 2021-2022 as the Forest Guardians, who I will mention near the end. 

This line is very popular and have natural-looking designs.  The minifigures wear green, with Robin Hood style hats with feathers of various colors on the hats.  When the Forestmen have a banner up, it is always just red.

Assembled: None

Unassembled:

Forestmen’s Tower – This set is one of the earlier Lego sets I remember getting. Young me had trouble putting it together, it’s small and a bit finicky to build, at least for a child.  I managed it eventually, but I remember it being tricky. I took it apart later on to build my own stuff and never have reassembled it, it’s just a small tower that kind of looks like a tree. It’s fine I guess. I kind of like the Forestmen even if I have very few of their figures, I should get more of their sets sometime… but their high prices, since the Forestmen are quite popular, make that difficult.  I would say I should try to re-assemble this set, since it is a nice little tower with pretty good design, but it might be hard to find all the parts, if I still have them.

Black Knights

Availability: 1988-94, with sets available past that.

This line had some amazing castles but the rest of their set lineup was always a bit thin.  The Crusaders have a surfeit of small sets, but the Black Knights don’t.  The other odd thing about this line are their torsos — unlike the other Classic Castle lines, the Black Knights never had a torso with their logo on it. Instead, they have scale mail or plate mail torsos.  The problem is that their torso and leg colors, red, black, sometimes blue often only on the arms, and such, are often the exact same as the Crusaders, so telling the two factions apart based just on their minifigures can be nearly impossible, since the Crusaders also have figures with those same torsos and colors.  About the only real difference is that Black Knights usually have black helmets instead of grey.  Also their banner colors of red and blue are also used on some late Crusaders sets… except for one set, which has green and yellow instead for some reason.  Their dragon emblem is unique in its blue and red colors, but with all those similarities it’s no wonder I consider the two allies and put them all in the same castle…

 

Assembled:

Dungeon Masters’ Castle (Black Knights’ Castle) – This is another legendary set, often regarded as one of Lego Castle’s best ever.  Indeed, this set often seems to finish first overall in Classic Castle rankings, and I get why; it’s an outstanding set, certainly one of Lego’s best ever.  I got it for Christmas in its first year of release, which is why I have the “Dungeon Master’s Castle” version of the set, before they renamed it in year two. My version of the set is very nearly complete; all I am missing is one of the best parts, the large four-quarters red and yellow flag that should be flying from the house in the back corner and the rope for the portcullis.  String is easy to replace, though, while that flag is expensive. This castle is on a one-baseplate mountain plate, and a large prison and well are in the center.  The set came with four mounted knights, six foot soldiers and archers, a glow in the dark ghost, and a Wolfpack renegade thief.

This set well deserves its top-of-the-pack reputation.  The sets’ look is fantastic, and its defensibility is mostly great, but there are some weaker areas. It has a gatehouse in the front corner, three levels high; has full-height walls on the front and right side with a second full level in the corner for towers, one in the front right and one in the back left; and lower walls on the other two sides, only single-height at the top of the hill plate.  There is a well and prison in the center.  The view from the front is probably the second best of any Castle set, second only to the Black Falcon’s Fortress.  The lower walls in the rear are there to let you reach in to play with the set, but they do make the front much stronger than the back as far as defensibility goes.  There’s still a steep hillside to account for so getting in from the rear would not be EASY, but it would be easier than the front, certainly.  The side of the ramp up is also open, to allow you to easily play in that area.  The archways along the side of the ramp have always seemed to me to be security issues, they are wide open and beg for someone to try to attack through them. Admittedly they are probably too small to fit a figure with weapons through, but still, they probably should be mostly filled in. The high walls in front and back of the side of the ramp should make this area still pretty defensible, though.

The real weak point here is the rear corner with the wooden house. Sort of like the two Black Falcon castles I have, this castle has a house part in the back, and like the newer one it has the wooden construction on the outside. This is the only set other than Black Falcon’s Fortress to use the yellow-and-black half-timber wall piece.  It’s a fantastic piece, but here it’s on the OUTSIDE wall, instead of the inside as the Black Falcon’s Fortress has.  That’s not a very defensible thing for a strong castle to have!  This part has a house roof on top as well, no battlement. It’s a nice look but clearly is defensively weaker. The back corner has a little drawbridge, too, for direct access to the house part of the castle.  There is no door or portcullis behind the little drawbridge.  The house looks great visually and is nice inside, with treasure in the upper floor and a table below, but this area is definitely where attackers should focus.  The front’s going to be nearly impossible to take unless you can sneak through the pretty small gaps along the slope on the left side or get over the side walls, but the back corner looks vulnerable unless there’s plenty of water right next to the castle there.

As far as the way the gates work, the small rear drawbridge has no automation, you just raise and lower it with your hand.  It’s the right design for its small size.  In front, there is a wheel on the side of the gatehouse to raise and lower the drawbridge, and it works well. The portcullis is not so fancy, though; it just uses an old-fashioned string on a rope, which you have to attach somewhere else on the castle, such as on top of a tower, to hold it up. My drawbridge still works, but the portcullis string is missing. I hold it up by wedging a brick into the grille.

Regardless of its defensive issues, the Dungeon Masters’ Castle is an impressive and beautiful set. I never considered disassembling this set, it looks too amazing to take apart. This is the second Lego hill plate castle, and it is the best hill plate castle. I entirely agree with the consensus that this set is incredible and one of Lego’s best.  It was designed with style and variety, each area has a different look and feel to it.  Oh, and this was also the last Lego castle to come with four, yes four, mounted knights. Two have full body armor and horse barding and look amazing; the other two are plainer, older designs, and clearly are the lower-ranking guys. You get 12 minifigures with this set total. Pretty nice.  I have always considered the guy with the red barding and the red and blue flags to be the leader, and the one with blue barding and a white flag to be number two.  The white flag guy’s white dragon helmet topper is a piece unique to this set, though, so it’s pricey if lost.  Fortunately I have mine.

Sea Serpent – This boat is the largest ship made for classic castle factions. It’s a pretty nice ship with a cloth sail, and was the last set to come with Black Falcon figures, too, which is pretty cool.  As I said, the Black Falcons from this set have grey pants, making them look different from any others, and the Black Falcon swordsman figure from this set is my overall favorite lego minifigure. The boat and its Black Knight sailors look pretty great too, though, they are the best thing about this set.  The ship has a nice dragon on the front, a cloth sail with a rope attached to it, and a small aft-castle.  It’s a really nice miniature of a medieval-ish ship.  This set is certainly a must-have classic castle set and is by far the best ship for classic castle.  Make sure to get this great little ship.  The one oddity about this ship is the green and yellow banner flying on the mast…

Unassembled:

Knights’ Stronghold – This is a pretty plain little black wall with a gate and, of course, a prison; the Black Knights always have those. The set is okay, but I remember being seriously underwhelmed by this set when I got it.  It’s one of the weaker classic castle sets I owned. It is definitely not a “stronghold” despite its name, it’s just a chunk of wall. The armored Black Falcon knight is the best thing about this set.  If you have some more black wall sets or your own creations to attach this to perhaps it could be nice, but on its own this set disappointed me. It’s fine though I guess, just small and bland.

Battle Dragon (despite the Black Falcons’ shield, I cannot consider this a Black Falcons set, it’s very obviously supposed to be a Black Knights ship. The two guys from this ship are among my Black Knights.) – As I said with the Black Falcons listing, this is a decent but average little boat. I’m not missing much by not finding the parts, though the dragon build on the front is one of the better ones on a classic Lego Castle ship.


Dragon Masters

 

Availability: 1993-95, with figures available for a while in sets for a few more years. 

This line was Lego’s first into a clearly fantasy castle setting.  I like this line.  They use red and yellow banners.  Yes, Lego was incredibly unoriginal with their banner colors and repeat the same few colors constantly.  Their logo is the Black Knights dragon logo, but recolored to green and yellow with some red to match the colors of their green dragons.  This line introduced a bunch of interesting new parts and look imposing with their giant halberds, tall shields, and dragon helmets.  I called them a key part of the good faction despite that.

 

Assembled:

Crossbow Cart – This small set is a little push-cart with a standard large Dragon Masters shield protecting the soldier on the back end right in front of where he pushes the cart from, and a pair of crossbows on the front end to shoot at the enemy with. This is an okay but small set with solid design for its size and price. There isn’t much to say about it other than that at the time the oversized Dragon Masters shields were pretty cool and unique.  Lego introduced several nice new pieces with the Dragon Masters, including the oversized shield, halberd, and dragon.

Dragon Defender – This set is a dual catapult. It’s got a big dragon head on the front, which is both aesthetic and functional because its heavy weight helps the catapult shoot out its ammo. If you release the little lock at the back, the heavy dragon head will toss out the rocks. Sure, they won’t go far, but they will fire. This set fits well with the Dragon Masters line, which are a bit overdone in terms of realism and have dragons and wizards, but I like them quite a bit anyway. I think that after this line Lego went too far with the fantasy elements, but the Dragon Masters are interesting and unique enough looking that for me they work in a way that the Fright Knights, for instance, do not at all.  This set is a great example of Dragon Masters design, with the huge dragon head and functional, big catapult.  I’ve always liked how it looks.

Dark Dragon’s Den – This is the Dragon Masters’ second-largest base. I didn’t get their main fortress, but I got this and it’s probably just about as good. This is a half-baseplate fort with walls mostly made out of BURPs and LURPs [Big Ugly Rock Pieces and Large Ugly Rock Pieces; these pieces are somewhat infamous among Lego fans] and some odd design elements, such as the ladder up the side of the cliff for no good reason, but I’ve always quite liked it anyway. The set has a dragon’s den with front gate on one side and a secure base area for the knights on the other, with a platform on top accessed via a curving stairway or that odd ladder on the other side.  This set is open in the back, so it is not fully enclosed, but you do need to be able to play in it and the set isn’t big enough to have a back section, so it’s fine; you just need to imagine that it’s built into the side of a mountain.  I like the tree growing out of the mountain on one side, it looks like something out of a Forestmen set.  I’ve often put my Forestmen in this tree.   The half-and-half dragon and base design is good too. There isn’t much in the base part by default, but I’ve filled it with plenty of random items.

One thing that the two main Dragon Masters sets have in common is that they both have large flat platform spaces on top of the sets.  This platform is open except for a little tower with a flag on it.  It’s a good design idea which helps them stand out from other lines; no other castle Legos have this same design concept. Majisto the wizard and his top helpers stay on top, perfect for surveying the area and commanding dragons from its height, while the other guards live below by the hopefully tame dragons. From here the Dragon Masters can go out fighting badguys and impressing people with their captive dragons and their leader’s magic.  I’ve always really liked this set for some reason, even if it is a pile of BURPs.

Dragon Wagon – This is a prison carriage. Where some other factions have prison carriages for human prisoners, though, the Dragon Masters have one for a dragon. This set makes walls out of fences in a pretty clever way, and you can easily fit a dragon inside and carry it around until Majisto can figure out the right spell to make it more tame. Yeah, this is a good set which fits the Dragon Masters well.  It has their red-and-black color scheme and looks creepy but serves a good purpose, taming dangerous rogue dragons is a service to society.  The prison-cart theme is a bit thematically scary, but of such sets this is the only one I like enough to buy and I’m glad I did. Actually I have two of this set. It’s one of the few Lego set we got two of. I think one was mine and one was my sister’s.

Majisto’s Magical Tower (this set never fully assembled correctly and still isn’t) – This set is a mid-sized house where Majisto can practice his magic in a tower hopefully away from prying eyes. It’s a good idea and I like the less martial design, but unfortunately this poorly designed set must have had some issues with its instructions because I never managed to figure out how to built it correctly, and I don’t think I am the only one who had such issues with this set. In its mostly-but-not-entirely-right state it is in it’s an okay set and it’s nice for a more civilian setup, but I wish it actually assembled correctly. Whenever I get Medieval Market Village and the Blacksmith’s Shop, though, this will go with sets like those.

Medieval Knights – This is a ‘a bunch of minifigures’ set. Lego has made many of these over the years, but I almost never bought them. This might be the only one I have, actually. This set comes with three Dragon Masters and a Wolfpack guy. One Dragon Master figure is a mounted knight, one a crossbowman, and one a foot halberd man. The Wolfpack guy is a regular swordsman. It’s a nice little set that boosted the size of my Dragon Masters mounted knight force, which is the largest of any faction I have — I have five mounted Dragon Masters knights, and that’s not even counting their two or three green dragons.

Unassembled: None.

Minifigures Only:

 

Royal Drawbridge – A horseback Dragon Masters knight comes with this Royal Knights set.  He’s there to get dumped in the water when you set off the trap.  This is part of why, despite my having all of the Royal Knights sets but not all the Dragon Masters, I have only three horseback knights for the Royal Knights, but five for the Dragon Masters… they just have a lot of cavalry for their size.  Well, cavalry does fit in well with their really cool huge lance-length halberds, so it works.

Wolfpack

Availability: 1992-93, available in sets a bit past that. 

This line are like the Forestmen but without the Robin Hood aspect; these guys are just thieves and brigands.  This was a very short-lived line.  They have brown torsos with a wolf’s head on them, wear peasant / bandit hats, and like the Forestmen when they have a flag it is just red.

Assembled: None

Unassembled:

Wolfpack Tower – This somewhat blah set is the Wolfpack’s only larger set. This short-lived line only had a couple of sets, and this was the bigger of them. Unfortunately, it’s not great. This set builds on a half blue baseplate. It’s got a bridge leading to a small tower in the back.  The bridge looks alright and is the best thing about this set, but the actual tower is pretty disappointing.  The tower has a ladder and a ramp inside at opposite angles, neither really going anywhere much, and you can open the sides to get to the small inside. Compared to the nice stone bridge, the mostly unusable nature of the actual tower part is really something I wish they had improved on.  It’s a bit like the inside of the Forestmen’s River Fortress set but smaller, I’d say.  The set makes use of BURPs too, for the record. I wonder where the ones from this set are. Regardless of its mediocrity though, I have thought every so often about trying to re-assemble it, if I can find the parts. I never did because I don’t remember liking it all that much anyway. The look is somewhat generic too, I don’t think it gives the Wolfpack a strong enough identity.  The idea was an abandoned tower they are using as a base for their thieving operations and I guess it works, but I think they could have done better.  But with how few sets this line got, Lego didn’t give them much of a chance.  They were blowing through themes quickly at this point.

Minifigures Only:

Dungeon Master’s Castle (Black Knights Castle) –  One Wolfpack guy comes with this set.

Medieval Knights – And one fairly plainly armed Wolfpack guy comes with this otherwise Dragon Masters-based figure pack, as well.

 

Royal Knights

Availability: New sets 1995-97, with sets still available for a year or more past that. 

The Royal Knights are the second coming of the Crusaders, essentially; they are the second of many “Good Lion Crown” factions.  I have all of their own sets.  The Royal Knights have red and white banner colors, and their figures are red and white as well, with red torsos with their logo on them and white arms.  At least this faction is thematically consistent, other than whatever Lego was thinking when they designed the one set with them in it that I don’t have, the big Dark Forest set which has some Dragon Masters figures as Royal Knights…

 

Assembled:

Royal Drawbridge – The Royal Drawbridge was the first large bridge for a Lego Castle faction. There have been several more since, arguably better according to people who have them, but this is the only castle bridge I have and I’ve always liked it a lot. Yes, I like this unpopular set, and the line it comes from. As I said before I have all of the Royal Knights sets other than their carriage that came with the big Dark Forest set, and I got them all back at the time because I liked this faction.

Their castle is fantastic, but this bridge is also really cool. The bridge has a pair of towers connected above on one side and a bridge crossing its blue half plate. Underneath one end of the bridge is a hidden treasure chest in the water, and there’s a skeleton in the water on the other side. The bridge is fairly tall, and its large size is impressive. The set comes with a small raft with an archer on it. He’s probably supposed to set off the trap floor. Because you see, this bridge is misnamed; it looks pretty good, but is not a drawbridge. This is a flat bridge which is hinged with a trap floor, so when you pull out the branch you can make the bridge spin with a touch and drop anyone trying to cross into the river. Sure, I’m not a big gimmick fan, but it’s a solid concept they execute on well. I think the set fits well when placed in front of the Royal Knights’ Castle, too, since the castle does not have a drawbridge in front. I like the towers in the back and the design of the bridge. With an amusing gimmick and good design, this is a pretty good set I love having.


Royal Knights’ Castle
– Royal Knights’ Castle uses a large plate-and-a-half mountain plate which was only ever used on this one set. It’s a fantastic baseplate which is easily the best large baseplate used for a castle, since it has a fully enclosed hill, unlike the later plate-and-a-half mountain plates which have two separate hills with a lower path in between. I bought this set new and it was the most expensive Lego set I ever bought myself before this year (2022), and didn’t get as a gift as I had with the Dungeon Masters’ Castle or the Black Seas Barracuda.

What you get for your money is a very impressive model. It does have some influence from the then-growing gimmick era of Lego set design, but even so it’s a very good set. By the way, Lego would call them “play features” instead of gimmicks, but that’s what they are, gimmicks — traps and such in the set that look amusing, perhaps, and serve to supposedly make children more entertained.  I think we were plenty well entertained by the almost entirely gimmick-free sets of the ’80s, though, so it really was not necessary, and these gimmicks often make sets look worse.  Lego went too far with that stuff soon after this line. Here, though, I think they got that balance mostly right.  This is a good looking set… with a few gimmick bits.

The castle has a large tower over the gatehouse, a tower in the back left, and an open tower with a throne room in the back right. The back right tower also has a drawbridge with winch, though you will need to help the bridge lower if you want it to go down, it’s not very heavy. There is not a drawbridge on the front gate, only a large pair of doors with a portcullis behind. It’s fine and makes for a somewhat different look. As usual, the portcullis does not have a winch, you just need to tie off the brick attached to the string somewhere. Why did Lego always do portcullises this way? For minifigures, you get two on horseback, one the Royal King, and a good number of foot soldiers and a ghost and skeleton. That the castle only came with two horseback knights, neither one with the plate chest armor of the Black Knights’ leaders, is kind of disappointing, but the Royal King does have a pretty cool cape, crown, and chrome sword, which make up for a lot.

The castle’s design is mostly great, but much like the Dungeon Master’s Castle before it the set is designed with a much lower wall on the back than the front. The whole long back between the rear towers has just a low wall at the top of the hill, though there is a nice bit going out in the center with a crossbow emplacement. And in the front, this set uses regular full-height wall pieces as towers, and has lower walls elsewhere. This is not as tall a castle as the Dungeon Masters’ Castle as a result, the three main towers are as tall but the other walls are lower. I know that this set is built on a larger baseplate, so they have more space to cover, but still this has always disappointed me a bit about the set. I know that the low back and right side walls are there to make it easier to get into and play with, but even so some higher walls would be even more impressive looking.

The other issue is with that back right tower. Now, the back left tower is fine, it is a normal full two level high tower. The one on the right with the drawbridge, though, is fully open, with no walls apart from its roof. The lower level is the gatehouse for the drawbridge, the second level a throne room for the king, and the top under the roof is a hidden treasure storage area. There is a trap door in front of the king. There is also a little staircase covered by a hinged floor under the tower. It’s a nice looking tower and is surely open for playability, but you just need to pretend that it actually has walls top to bottom because as it is it’s completely indefensible; the king could be easily picked off from a distance by an archer, and there is basically nothing keeping enemies from getting through the huge gaps in the wall around the drawbridge gate.

That is a big issue for me, but still I do love this set. It has a lot of little details; Lego sets were getting more and more complex on the interiors at this point. The inside of the castle has a prison area underneath a ramp leading up to the drawbridge gate, and a well in the bottom. There is also a hidden skeleton trap just inside the main gatehouse. The color scheme of the castle is quite similar to the Black Knights, except with the Royal Knights’ standard blue roofs and perhaps a somewhat softer feel from that open rear tower. This is an impressive looking castle that holds up great. For defensive purposes a rebuild to enclose that rear tower would be recommended, but as is it’s a great looking model and certainly a favorite of mine. Compare this to any hill plate castle released later on and you see the progress of juniorification. It may have just started here, with things like the lower walls and the multiple traps, but had not fully hit yet at this point. At this point Lego may have been focused on gimmicks, but they did still made good models. Sadly that would not last long, but this is an awesome set! And mine is in fantastic condition too, missing no pieces. This is a somewhat less valuable set than the Dungeon Master’s Castle, and it does not quite match it, but I do think it’s under-rated and a classic set. It’s big and impressive to look at and also is a good design with mostly good defensibility.

King’s Carriage – This set is a two-horse carriage. As always for the Royal Knights, both horses are white. All Royal Knights horses are white. This passenger vehicle isn’t particularly medieval, it’s much more early modern, but it is interesting to see a horse-drawn carriage from Lego, there aren’t many of those. The cart is in standard Royal Knights black and blue, and there’s a roof you can open to put the king inside, and the sides are open with flaps for doors. There is also storage for a treasure chest in the back. It’s a pretty large vehicle for only a driver and one passenger inside, but it’s a nice design that looks pretty good. Even if it is not very medieval at all I like this set, it’s a good design with some solid play value both in imagining bandits trying to steal the treasure or kidnap the king and in just having a vehicle for people to travel around in. Recommended.

Skeleton Surprise – This set is a small tower with a bit of treasure inside, guarded by a single Royal Knights soldier on the roof. Inside the tower is a skeleton trap you can swing down. The tower looks nice, it’s a simple but classic design that I kind of like, but resetting the trap is kind of a pain — a lance holds up the skeleton, and he rotates on another pole. After removing the lance, you can swing him down with the pole. Easy enough. Putting that lance back in, and getting it through the hole on the other side, is a bit tricky unless you pick up the set and turn it upside down, though.  You have to feed it through to a hole on the other side of the building with no guiderails in between.  It’s not too hard, but you’d think that they could have come up with a better design. Overall this is probably the most average Royal Knights set, but I like it anyway.

Crossbow Boat – This is a tiny little boat with a shield in the front and a pair of crossbows. It’s perhaps better than the raft that comes with the Royal Drawbridge set, but is otherwise about as bland and forgettable a boat as you’ll find. All of the older boats are better, and larger.

Royal King – This set is a horseback king figure, with crown, sword, and lance with flag.  It’s a totally fine average one of these ‘one single knight’ sets, except with the Royal Knights’ king instead of a regular knight.  It’s fine.

Space/Castle Value Pack  – This set contains a Royal Knights catapult and a Spyrius spaceship.  Neither set was available individually and neither has its own name, oddly enough.  I am only discussing the castle set here.  This set is a small blue and black catapult with a soldier. It’s okay, but as far as movable Lego Castle catapults go this one is about as small as they come. This was a small dual pack set but still, it’s pretty minimal. Okay, but minimal. Despite that this is the Royal Knights’ only siege weapon. They’re a line focused on ‘the Royal King sure is cool, huh, look at his neat stuff’ indeed. Their men are soldiers, but it’s clear their main focus is not on war. It’s on defense, running their kingdom, and service. You could complain about the servility part of that, but for the most part they are a fine faction that I have always liked reasonably well.

Unassembled: None

Minifigures Only:

Hemlock Stronghold – This Dark Forest set comes with two Royal Knights soldiers who are attacking this base.  It’s always nice to have a few more guys to guard their castle with, it is a large castle without as many minifigures as the older castles came with.

Dark Forest

Availability: New sets only released in one year, 1996.  The sets may have been available for a little while after that. 

This line is desirable, being a Forestmen offshoot, and was only sold in stores in the US and was mail order only in Europe, so the sets are expensive and uncommon now.  Their torsos are a bit more ‘realistic ruffian’ looking than the Forestmen’s, though not as much so as the Wolfpack.  They wear mostly green, with brown and other colors for vests and the like.  As with the other similar factions their banners are red.

Assembled:

Bandit Ambush – Dark Forest was a very short-lived Forestmen revival. The line had only three sets in one year and that’s it. It’s too bad, because I kind of like them conceptually, though both of these sets are flawed. They like catapults too much, and they seem a bit less Robin Hood-ish Forestmen and more like just thieves, something closer to Wolfpack though not quite that amoral. I have the two smaller sets but unfortunately not the now quite expensive large one. Even this small set is expensive now, though; complete in box this little set is like $100!  This is their small set, which is a small catapult built into the back of a BURP rock wall. Dark Forest have a lot of static, immobile catapults, for some reason. If it’s for attacking travelers along a road, surely something movable would be better? But anyway, this is an okay but fairly average little set. The Forestmen-ish theme is good, but the set is generic.  The set comes with two Dark Forest guys.

Hemlock Stronghold – This mid-size half plate base has a two-level tower that looks like it was built out of a branch-covered rocky outcropping. The tower has a castle wall piece and small catapult on top of course and a jail cell on the mid level, on one side. One side of the tower base opens, though given how much open space is between them on the bottom level and that not much is in there, there isn’t much of a reason to need to do that really. On the other side of the baseplate is a larger static catapult. with a pretty neat multi-part design. It looks great. It’s a good design, with a firing beam which pushes the catapult arm forward instead of the plain ‘arm only’ catapults that many other Castle Lego catapults are, and is plenty big, but who are they attacking with this catapult attached to the ground near this hideout of theirs? It’s a little odd. The set also has a nice well on the ground.  The set came with two Dark Forest guys and two Royal Knights.  One more Dark Forest guy might have been nice, but ah well.

Overall this is a decent to good looking set but the design is kind of strange, with the split open tower and pair of catapults. It’s alright and I certainly like having it, it has a decent look to it with its height and natural-styled tree and rock design, but it’s probably not worth the high prices it goes for today. Dark Forest didn’t sell well back then, so the sets go for something of a premium now. It’s really too bad I didn’t buy the big Dark Forest set, it’s easily their best one and it is now very expensive.

Unassembled: None

Fright Knights

Availability: 1997-1998. 

After 1998 Classic Castle ended, moving on to a short Ninja era followed by the oh-so-popular (heh) Knights Kingdom line.  This line is a very gimmick-heavy light horror themed line.  It’s my least favorite Lego theme ever, the Fright Knights are the absolute worst!  And for that reason I got very few, very small sets of theirs.  The figures have grey pants and several armored torsos.  Their leader has a red armor torso, others other armor colors such as black.    For flags, their cloth banner has a grey field with a black dragon and a red outline, but their banner colors are… red and yellow.  Again.  Oh, Lego.

Assembled:

Bat Lord – For me, the Fright Knights are where Lego Castle took a steep downhill dive. This is a fantasy horror themed line headed by a “Bat Lord” (a vampire?) and a witch. They have black dragons, light horror theming, and such. I’m no Halloween fan so for me the horror theme was a turnoff, but their set designs are just poor regardless of your opinion on that issue. Certainly, the factions of ’93 to ’96 were not as grounded as the ones before, but they were still pretty good, mostly well designed factions with plenty of good sets. But the Fright Knights? I’ve never seen a Fright Knights set I really wanted to get. They are just bad, with an overabundance of awful, extremely gimmick-focused sets with virtually zero attention to realistic design. See, well, every single one of their buildings, they’re all awful. I have seen and played with their main castle in person at least once, and I was not impressed. It’s tall but is otherwise a total mess of a set design-wise. And so, all I got were two very small sets. This one is the Bat Lord himself riding on a black dragon. It’s fine I guess, though the minifigure design isn’t great, and the dragon color is new.


Bat Lord’s Catapult
– This set is slightly larger than the other one. It has two Fright Knight soldiers with a small horse-drawn catapult. The wheels on the cart are nice looking wooden wheels, but otherwise this set is pretty bad and boring, with extremely minimal detail and nothing but a little barrel on a board as a catapult. This has got to be one of the worst Lego sets I own. But hey, what else would you expect from Lego Castle’s worst faction ever. Only the Knights’ Kingdom lines are maybe worse, since they are not just forgettably mediocre to poor design-wise, as the Fright Knights are, but also are very bland and boring thematically; as bad as they are, at least the Fright Knights have a concept. Still, my personal bias is towards the Fright Knights being my choice for the absolute worst Lego Castle theme. I only got some of their sets because at the time I wanted to be sure to have some sets from every Lego Castle theme.

Unassembled: None

Sets I Don’t Have But Want To Mention: I do not have it, but I’d like to mention the Fright Knights castle again.  I know I complained about this set in the last post in this series, but I need to again.   This set is one some people like, but I have always considered it maybe the worst Lego set ever.  I have seen this set and played with it some, and it’s just SO SO BAD!  This set is tall, but is the epitome of gimmicks.   Every bit of the set is designed for gimmick, not sane design.  The walls have random openings without even a door, the set is built on a somewhat dumb looking very thick brick, the tower is just a mishmash pile of styles that don’t fit together at all and only exist to show off a new gimmick on each level, there are of course no staircases to get up, and more.  Ughhh, this set is just bad bad bad.

Interlude: Ninja

Availability: 1998-1999.  The sets came in two waves, one for each year. I only have smaller sets from the first year.

Ninja sets use Japanese-style torsos and armor, new Asian heads, and Japanese-style vertical banner flags.  The Shogun’s side and their grey ninjas use blue, the Bandits and black ninjas red, and the Imperial / white ninja and Red Ninja factions, despite being enemies, both use the same white banner.

Things needed to change, so Lego tried something different, the Japanese-themed Ninja line. These sets are decently interesting, though not too great from a ‘are the sets actual defensible fortifications’ front; like the Fright Knights, the sets are designed more for visual effect and to show off gimmicks than to create a real good structure. Ah well. I was somewhat interested in these sets anyway, but not enough to buy more than a few of the smallest sets.

The Japanese-themed Ninja sets are alright, though.  They are clearly from the gimmick era, but the unique design and new Japanese-styled pieces help raise them up. Now remember, Lego is a European company. These sets are Japanese-themed, but definitely have an element of random Asian mishmash to them, because like, Japan and China are the same thing, right? This line is mostly Japanese, but there are a few random China-ish bits.  To be clear however, this line is inspired by the Japan of Samurai movies, not by actual Japanese history.  And so, Ninjas are prominent.

The first year of Ninja sets are the Blue Shogun’s Samurais and Grey Ninjas vs. the Red Robbers and Black Ninjas. The good faction uses blue banners and the bad red. I have three small sets from this year. The second year only has a few small sets with the first years’ factions, while the new medium-sized sets have good White Samurais and White Ninjas fighting against Red Ninjas. The second year didn’t have any new large sets. Both of these new factions have the exact same theme colors and flag, with the same black and gold flag with an Asian dragon on it, and with buildings with the same blue highlights on their Japanese-inspired buildings, unlike the red building highlights of the Shogun’s faction or dark rocky bases of the Robbers. I really don’t get why these two look so similar, the first samurai and robber factions are much more different. The buildings look kind of nice, but without the figures on them you’d have a very hard time telling which one is the Imperial tower and which is the ninja hideout inhabited by people who want to kidnap the Emperor. I don’t have any sets from this year.

Good (Shogun) – Blue Samurai and Grey Ninjas

 

Availability: 1998, available into 1999.

Assembled:

Samurai Swordsman – This is one of Lego’s classic ‘single horseback knight’ sets. The blue Samurai looks pretty good, with a Japanese-style vertical plastic flag, a custom helmet, and Japanese-styled plate armor over his torso. This is obviously based on a Western vision of Asia from samurai movies and such, but it’s decently accurate to that.

Treasure Transport (good ninja & the rocks he hides behind) – This set contains a pair of robber soldiers carrying a treasure box between them. Human bearers carrying things on poles, including people in carriages of sorts, was common in East Asia and this set reflects that. Opposing them, a good grey ninja hides behind some rocks, waiting to jump out and stop the thieves. It’s a decently done small set with nice details and accuracy.

Unassembled: None

Ninja – Bad – Red Robbers and Black Ninjas (1998-99)

 

Availability: 1998, available into 1999.

 

Assembled:

 

Ninja Surprise – This set is a small base for the Robber faction and their allied black ninjas. The set comes with yet another of those “small building with a treasure which has a trap guarding it” buildings, one of three such sets that I own. This is probably my favorite of the three, though, the Japanese theme looks nice and the trap, an axe you swing on the side, is simple and effective. The set comes with two red robbers and a black ninja with some supplies. The ninja has a glider with black wings and some weapons. Obviously real ninjas couldn’t fly, but this line is based on movie ninjas than reality so it makes sense they’d have this here. It’s a fun concept I guess if you take leave of realism. This is a pretty decent set for its era.  I probably should have gotten more Ninja sets, but was way too busy buying computer games and saving up for an N64…

Treasure Transport (the transport) – I discussed this one above. It’s a good little set with some nice details.

Unassembled: None

Ninja – Good (Imperial) – White Ninjas & Samurais

Availability: 1999.

I don’t have any sets from this line. I should get something. The white ninja is apparently a woman, which is nice.

Ninja – Bad – Red Ninjas (1999)

 

I don’t have any sets of this line. It’s odd how their flags are the same as the white ones and their design style is so similar. The two ’99 lines have only a few sets each and you can barely tell which are which if you remove the markings.  The Samurai and Robber sets from ’98 look very different, but these do not.  I don’t get it, they look good but why are they so similar?

Overall, I’d need some of the bigger sets to say more about the Ninja line, but it was okay. None of the buildings really are defensible in the way an ’80s castle would have been, the main castle is more of a wall than a castle as I don’t think it can actually fully close, and like the Night Lords Castle has some random openings on the sides. That’s not great, though it looks interesting at least and has a Japanese castle-styled design.  As I said though, the main reason I didn’t buy more Ninja sets was because at the time I just wasn’t buying many Legos anymore in my later teens, I wanted to spend my limited money on computer and Game Boy games and to save up for a TV console finally, which I would do in ’99.  Also Lego’s gimmick focus was alienating me and Ninja is no exception there.


Knights Kingdom (I)

Availability: 2000.

Following that flawed but promising aside, Lego went back to a European setting, and to a much more grounded line, with good knights fighting against aggressive evil attackers. That may sound good, but it’s not; the sets set a new low for juniorization and mediocre design, and also represent a change in Lego Castle theming.  I’ve gone over the eras of Lego Castle before, but to reprise, from 1998 to 2013, Lego Castle would have a series of waves with a very clear Good Faction and a very clear Evil Faction.  It’s kind of lamely basic that way, like something out of a pretty simple good versus evil videogame or movie.  You could say that there were “good” and “evil” factions before this, but they were greyer than it would become from this point on.  The variety of factions declines, as well.  From 2000 to 2013, instead of various different factions, you get a series of pretty similar good factions facing off against various different evil factions.   This first line of the new style is one of the weakest Lego ever launched.  I don’t hate Knights Kingdom like I do the Fright Knights, but their incredibly boring and mediocre sets are in no real way better. Their castle is the most basic, juniorized, and pretty much indefensible thing imaginable for a plate-and-a-half raised baseplate castle, and the somewhat sparse selection of other sets give the sense that Lego was cutting the focus on Castle. The villains don’t even get a base other than one tiny tower, only a bunch of war vehicles!  And the line was abandoned VERY quickly, followed by a several year break before Lego Castle returned.  This line was clearly aimed at a young audience, and with me turning 18 this year that was not me. So I mostly checked out on Lego, buying one medium-small set and moving on for over a decade.

The era’s factions: King Leo’s Knights (blue) vs. Cedric the Bull’s men (red).  The one set I have has both sides represented so I will not separate them into two.

Assembled:

Guarded Treasury – This set has two small towers, each similar in size to the Royal Knights set Skeleton Surprise. Each tower has one soldier of their faction guarding it. The badguys’ tower, which is their only building of any kind in the line, is a little jail, naturally. The good guys’ tower is a trap, with a pair of axes you can swing down from above at someone trying to get the chrome sword inside. So yeah, it’s a lot like Skeleton Surprise, except with an unusable rounded tower on top instead of a platform, so there’s basically almost no space for the soldier to stand on top of the tower. The rounded tower piece is a nice piece visually and they used it a lot in the Knights Kingdom castle, but its inside is smooth so you can’t easily keep a minifigure inside. The lion-face bricks also are new for this line and look kind of nice. Otherwise, these two towers are plain. They’re totally average plain stuff design-wise, with nothing particularly good or bad about them. I guess the axe trap is easier to reset than Skeleton Surprise’s skeleton, but the top of that set has more space for its minifigure, so that evens out. This honestly may be one of the better sets in this line, but it’s as average and juniorized as it comes.

Unassembled: None

Interlude: No Castle Lego Line

NOT Availability: 2001-2003.

After the apparent failure of the above one year line Lego waited several years before bringing Castle back.  That’s somewhat unfortunate, though once they did nobody liked the results…

Knights Kingdom II

Availability: 2004-2006.

Because yes, when Castle finally returned, it was with the final top contender for the worst Castle theme ever.  That’s not good.  This line is so bad that even people who will defend the Fright Knights and such can’t defend this one.

I do not have any sets from this line. I will probably get one eventually. I’m not sure what, though, I don’t really think that there are any notable sets in this line. Looking at them, there really are no great Knights Kingdom II sets, no sets I look at and think “I’d kind of like to have that”.  In every other line I see at least decent-looking sets, but not this one.  The line had several waves, with a first wave of the king and his four knights facing off against an evil wizard and his Shadow Knights with a red and black scorpion logo. The second wave has different enemies and some new allies. Each of the knights has a different color scheme and they look alright, but the sets are the ultimate in junior-focused gimmicks with a set loosely built around the gimmick. The castle is the third incarnation of the very mediocre modular hill plate castle that both Knights Kingdom castles also are. I was ignoring this line at the time, and for good reason. If you were a young child in the mid ’00s I could see enjoying these sets, certainly, but that’s it. At least this time the villains have buildings, Oh, and a majority of the Knights Kingdom II sets aren’t regular sets, but instead are these oversized action figures of sorts of the various knights and villains. It’s pretty lame stuff that I, at least, have absolutely zero interest in owning.

The era’s factions: Good: the the King, the six lead knights, and the Valiant Knights. Each lead knight has a different theme color, but blue is the goodguys’ main color. Bad: Vladek and the Shadow Knights (red and black scorpion logo) and his allied Rogue Knights (black and yellow dragon theme).  The Rogue Knights are from the second wave, along with two of the lead good knights.

Castle 2007 (Fantasy Era) & Vikings

 

Availability: 2007-2009.

I do not have any sets from this line. I will get some eventually, it has some that look pretty good. I wasn’t paying enough attention at the time, but looking back at it, this is where Lego Castle starts to turn a corner to better design. The Fantasy Era sets are still somewhat simple, but they have significantly better designs than anything from the mostly lost decade of 1997-2006, the Fright Knights to Knights Kingdom II, and it’s not even close. The buildings actually are functional buildings now, the fortresses fortresses, and the gimmicks present but no longer the centerpiece of the design. The sets also look like they might have slightly increased internal detail, and decreased juniorization. It’s nothing like the details of newer sets, but it’s more than Lego had had before.

As for the theme itself, this era goes all in with fantasy. The good side are humans and dwarves, versus evil trolls and skeletons. Each race’s sets fit their racial stereotype well. However, the most notable set in this line is Medieval Market Village, which is entirely unlike any other set in the line — it is Lego’s first Castle set clearly aimed more at the adult collector than a child. I did know about this set at the time and absolutely should have bought it, because I WILL get this set eventually and I will pay a lot more than I would have back then. The line has some other good-looking sets as well, though they are, of course, much less realistic than that village. The castle is a throwback to the castles of the ’80s, with a central gatehouse and a square castle which opens, no more raised baseplates. I like raised baseplates when used well, but they had been used so poorly in the last few castles that it’s nice to see a change. The various other bases and vehicles all look kind of cool going by pictures and videos; I’ve never seen any of this stuff in person.

Overall this line was mostly obviously aimed at children, but at least the designs are appealing. The next two lines, Kingdoms and Castle 2013, would follow this line’s general design style, with no hill plates, opening castles inspired by those from the ’80s but modernized, and increasingly more interior details. The new sets from 2021-2022 take that trend to a new level.

The era’s factions: Good: Human Crown Knights (blue and gold), and Dwarves (copper and brown colors) vs. Evil: Skeletons (white and black) and Trolls (red, green, brown…).  The separate Vikings line from this same timeframe fits in well with this era as a neutral faction.

Kingdoms

 

Availability: 2010-2012.

I do not have any sets from this line. I will get some eventually. Kingdoms goes back to a more realistic theme, without the fantasy races.  So, basically you have a faction a lot like the humans from the Fantasy Era fighting against evil badguys like those from earlier eras.  And by “a lot like” I mean “way too much like”; a child in 2007 who got the Fantasy Era Crown castle would see Lego release two more very similar castles of the next six years, all for very similar good factions.  It’s a strange and not very good concept compared to the more cohesively unique factions of the past.  I mean, you could imagine each as a separate kingdom, but that is easier when designs are actually different, you know?  And while these three castles are different, they do not appear to be anywhere near as different conceptually as, say, King’s Castle versus Black Monarch’s Castle.  Ah well.

Anyway, this was the last Lego Castle line with a full array of sets. It looks pretty solid though, and set detail looks like it increased slightly versus the fantasy era sets. In this line’s last year, they released another pricier set with some bait for older Lego fans, Kingdoms Joust. This set has a falcon knight with a modified Black falcon shield, though he’s not necessarily a Black Falcon since he is all black and silver with no blue, and the shield is a bit different. This is another set I thought about getting when it released but foolishly did not. I’ll pay more for it sometime. The other set I really, really should have gotten is Mill Village Raid, which is, I believe, the only ever castle Lego set with a peasant house in it. It looks like a pretty nice design, which is why it’s expensive now despite being a midsized set. Bah. The rest of the theme is solid-looking as well, if more aimed at kids, and again you definitely see the increasing internal detail with these sets.

The factions from this era: the good Lion Kingdom (red and white color banners) vs. the evil Dragon Kingdom (green and yellow colors). Yeah, not exactly original there other than perhaps the color choices for the villains.  Even though set quality had improved, rebooting their factions every few years with new too-similar themes was an idea that was reaching more and more diminishing returns as time passed.

Castle (2013)

 

Availability: 2013-2014.

The next year, Lego rebooted things again with a new Lego Castle line. The smallest castle product line ever, this line of sets consisted of only five full sets, plus two soldier packs, and that’s it. There is a good castle, a badguy tower, a few smaller sets, and some added troops. That’s it. The sets look a bit generic and highly reminiscent of the more realistic-ish elements of the previous two themes, as if perhaps Lego was putting less attention on Castle at this point, but they are nicely detailed with little internal details in ways ’90s sets would not have had, and generally have good-looking designs. I got one of the sets when this line was current, the villains’ tower, because I didn’t want to once again miss out at pretty decent-looking sets. Even if this is a small line of sets, I like the little details in them and might get more of them. There are only five…

The factions from this era: The good King’s Knights (blue and gold colors) vs. the bad Dragon Soldiers (red color). The names and concepts are similar to Kingdoms’ factions but the colors are different.  Why make a whole new era when things are so little changed, though?

Assembled:

Dragon Mountain – This set is a midsized tower with a three-level tower on one side and a one level tower attached by a bridge. The two lower parts of the tower can be accessed from the back. The mid level is a prison, and the top a platform. The tower is full of little details, and there is stuff to see in both of the lower rooms in the tower, including tables, food, and more, and also plenty of little details outside, such as a rat and such. As with all modern Lego sets it is on small plates instead of a full baseplate, unfortunately, but otherwise it’s a pretty good set. Oh, and it comes with a huge red dragon; this guy is BIG, dramatically larger than the ’90s dragons who are kind of oversized horses scale-wise. It is a large plastic dragon with movable limbs and wings and such.

However, as far as human minifigures go, despite being the badguys’ main base, the set actually comes with more good guys than bad — you get two badguys and three good. Specifically you get an evil wizard, a badguy soldier, two good knights with a nicely designed, good-sized catapult, and a princess. She may be supposed to be a prisoner, but I gave her a sword. The catapult’s function is basic, it’s just a board with something to shoot rocks with, but I like how realistic the build is. Overall this is a good set which made me think about getting more sets of this line. I still haven’t, but I probably will eventually.

Unassembled: None

 

Interlude: No Original Castle Line, 2015-2020

After the discontinuation of Castle (2013) in late 2014, Lego abandoned Castle until 2021, seven years later. They made several lightly fantasy medieval slash sci-fi hybrid lines in Nexo Knights and Ninjago, but those are NOT castle sets, no way. Lego did make Lord of the Rings sets, for some actual fantasy medieval castle sets, and while Harry Potter is modern its sets include some castles and such, but I’m not counting the licensed stuff here, which rules out the vast majority of 21st century Lego’s output. I find their original sets much, much more interesting, as I always have, than most of the licensed stuff.

Classic-Inspired Lego Castle Returns, In A Somewhat Limited Way

 

Availability: New sets 2021-2022.  We will see if they continue making any more new Classic-inspired Castle sets or not.

When Lego finally brought Castle back in 2021, it was with the aforementioned Lego Creator Medieval Castle, the Blacksmith’s Shop I do not have yet, and the Lion Knights’ Castle I still need to assemble, along with two limited-production-run Forestmen sets that I mentioned at length in my previous post so I won’t get into how bad limited production run sets are as concept again. As I went into in the first article, these sets lean very very hard in highly detailed builds and largely abandon large castle wall pieces in favor of slowly building up walls. I don’t think I’d call this approach better, just different. It results in time consuming builds and a bumpier, more Lego brick-looking building without the large smooth flat pieces of a classic castle.

The Factions:  The factions now are redesigns of classic 1980s factions.  The Crusaders return as the Lion Knights, the Black Falcons as, well, the Black Falcons, and the Forestmen as the Forest Guardians.  They are similar to their old factions, but slightly different: each has only one primary torso now.  The Lion Knights all have the lion torso, for example.  Banner color-wise, the Lion Knights use red and yellow, the Black Falcons either just blue or blue and yellow, and the Forest Guardians red.  Their minifigure colors are similar to before, red, blue, and green respectively.

Black Falcons (2021)

Availability: 2021-?

Assembled:

Lego Creator Medieval Castle (2021) – This fairly new set is an interesting one. I just finished building it a few days ago, and it was a fun build but it sure showed how much Lego has changed; as I said earlier, this set has a lot of small pieces. Building up walls one piece at a time is a bit tedious at times, but once assembled it’s a nice enough look. This castle has a nice gatehouse on the front with a working drawbridge and portcullis. The portcullis just has a pull string you need to attach somewhere. The back of the set has a house part and a tower part, and a well in the center.

On the note of the drawbridge, I need to complain about a few things about this set. The drawbridge has a wheel to make it go up and down, but it’s a bit of a poor design — the set uses two chain pieces to make the bridge go up and down, and if the chain gets tangled up it can pop off. Once this happens it’s pretty hard to reattach. Also, there is a little lock inside the gatehouse which makes the drawbridge unable to go down. However, this isn’t an external lock like the wheel on the side to move that drawbridge up and down, just a little pin inside the gatehouse, and there is nothing to hold that pin up. It likes to fall down on its own, and once it goes down it locks and you can’t lower the drawbridge. Keep trying and you’ll maybe pull off the chain inside the gatehouse. This really isn’t a good design at all. The other issue with this set is the way it keeps the parts of the set together. So, this is a separating set which comes apart into three parts, the main gatehouse and the two back portions, one with the house and forge and one with a tower. However, the set only uses these tiny little round bits to connect the three parts, and they only BARELY hold it together; the lightest touch will separate the parts. Why didn’t they just use a Technic pin like old castles all did, that’s a dramatically better design which actually stays together! Someday I should fix this issue. And last, for issues, once again, that this $100 set only comes with three or four minifigures, if you count the skeleton, is disappointing. And there isn’t even one horse. The set does come with a large brick-built dragon to attack the castle, but I like the original solid plastic dragons better, myself. This dragon was kind of annoying to assemble and is fragile in a way the old ones are not. And it’s too bad that a more realistic theme like the Black Falcons have a major fantasy element directly connected to them now, I’d rather they didn’t.

And lastly, as far as defensibility goes, the front and tower parts of the castle are quite well designed, but the house part in the back corner has issues; its external wooden construction looks nice, but in a siege would be a pretty clear weak point.

Other than that, though, this is a pretty nice set. It’s loaded with little details — inside there is a blacksmith’s forge which hits a sword with a hammer as you turn the waterwheel on the outside, a lounge room for the guy in charge, a jail cell with breakout wall that very oddly is placed right next to the vegitable market spot, a well, a garderobe, and more. This castle is a moderate size, not too large and not too small. The waterwheel, house, and tower parts in the back all look great. Overall I don’t think it looks as great as the original Black Falcon’s Fortress, it is perhaps overdesigned in some places and lacking in others, but it’s good. I do miss castle wall pieces, they allow for smooth wall angles that you can’t get from brick-built ones. Once you get used to this look it looks nice, though, and I certainly like all of the interior details. It is a nice looking castle that was fun to build and is nice to look at, I’m glad I got it.

Unassembled: None

Minifigures Only:

Lion Knights’ Castle – This set comes with three Black Falcon figures.  One is a horseback knight with full horse barding.  He looks great and has a black helmet with a new design.  The second is an announcer, holding a stick with flag on it to announce the knight following.  And the last is a porter, heavily laden with a large backpack.  As I mention in the Lion Knights’ Castle review below, that last figure is likely a certain film reference.  I like the variety of these figures, but while they work as a procession they’re not as useful in guarding their castle if you return them to it, unless you swap out that pack and flag for weapons…  Still, nice work here in giving them variety.

Forest Guardians

Availability: 2021-?

In 2021, Lego decided to release a new very Forestmen-styled, extremely limited production run set called the Castle in the Forest, and also the new Black Falcons castle above.  Lego’s nostalgia-fueled revamp of 1980s castle was on, and that included two new Forestmen sets. I have one.

Assembled:

Forest Hideout – This set is a part of celebration of Lego’s 90th anniversary as a company .  Lego held a poll about what they should do for their anniversary, and Castle and Space won.  So, they designed this set, the Forest Hideout, and a remake of their first classic spaceship, and released them all this year.  This limited-availability set, which was only available as a bonus with other purchases for some insanely stupid reason, is a redesign of the classic Forestmen’s Tower set which I have but haven’t had assembled in decades.  I missed the window to get this set free because I didn’t know about it, so I decided to buy it on ebay.  I payed more that way but hey, it’ll probably go up in value so that’s not too bad.  It’s now available sealed for $40 to $50 on ebay, and it will surely go up as supply goes down.  Forestmen sets particularly hold value.

As for the set itself, I built it today and it’s a nice little tower.  The set does feel a bit fragile compared to the very sturdy Lion Knights’ Castle, but it’s a well-designed little set with a lot of the little touches modern sets have, including lots of detailed small parts in the build that you would never have seen in a classic set.  It made for a fun build, apart from the part where I broke the set as I was trying to assemble it and sent pieces flying everywhere.  As I said, it’s a bit fragile.  Ah well.  It’s assembled now and looks nice.  As with the original, it opens and there is a ladder to let a figure go to the upper platform inside.  They made one figure male and the other female this time, which is nice.  The trees are made with much more natural-looking curving pieces than Lego had back in the ’80s.  It’s a somewhat different look and I don’t know if I’d say it is better looking than the original set, but it is certainly a good set that should have been more available than it is.  Oh, and the throwback ’80s to early ’90s-style yellow box is great nostalgia for people like me who remember that era.

Unassembled: None

Minifigures Only:

Lion Knights Castle – This set comes with three Forest Guardian figures, a man, woman, and girl.  They are very nicely done and have several hideouts in the castle, so you could say they aren’t minifigures only, but as it is the Lion Knights castle and their sections attached to the building I’m putting this in this category.

Lion Knights (Crusaders)

Availability: 2022-?

This is the most recent revamped theme.  They did a great job with them, but I wonder if we will see more of them or if their new design is just a one-off for this one set…

Lion Knights’ Castle (2022) – The biggest result of Lego’s 90th anniversary celebration is this set, and wow is it impressive!  I don’t know if these new Lion Knights will have a full theme built around them or if this set is all we’ll get, but either way this is a stunning set that anyone who can afford it should buy if you have any interest at all.  I recently finished building this set and have a lot to say, enough that I’ll probably do a separate article with a full review of this set, with pictures.  This summary will cover my thoughts in brief.  This $400 set is an about 4500 piece entirely brick-built castle. There are no large wall or base plates.  Lego Creator Medieval Castle doesn’t use the classic castle wall bricks, but it does use some 2×2 and 3×3 wall panels. This set, however, has walls entirely made of single block high bricks.

So yeah, expect hours of building grey walls.  It’s rarely repetitive, however, because of how cool and interesting the building techniques they use for this set are.  Lego’s designers have clearly improved, and also have been given more latitude to use huge numbers of parts.  This castle does some very impressive things with angle wing pieces and hinges to make castle walls that aren’t all at 90 degree angles.  This more realistic-looking building, with its various walls at 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and other angles, looks just fantastic and is a lot of fun to build!  The build took quite a while but stayed interesting beginning to end because of how advanced the building techniques are.  If you want to get a Lego set which justifies the idea of building Legos as an adult, this is a perfect set to buy.  You can’t get a much more interesting building experience than this, and a child would struggle with some parts of this build so I can see why they call it 18+.

The set is broken up into two parts, a castle part and a ‘village’ part.  They are connected after you build them, but they easily pull apart.  They are latched together much better than the Lego Creator Medieval Castle is, thankfully.  Each half is absolutely insanely loaded with details, from weapons racks with weapons to a very full kitchen and grist mill.  The castle part has square towers, as fitting for a Crusaders castle.  The town has a wattle-and-daub look on the house on top of the walls, as with the houses on the Black Falcons and Black Knights houses.  That’s a great reference there, even if it is similarly probably the weak point of the defenses.  There is a well inside, jail cells, a cave, stairs made with very clever construction, and so much more.  I could go on for a long time about the details, but they are best seen rather than just described so I will save some of that for if I do a review with pictures.

For negatives, the most important one is the price point.  I know that this is a time of high inflation, but this set is expensive.  This castle is large, but probably not as large as the massive price and piece count suggest, since, again, it uses a huge number of small pieces, where a classic set would have a much smaller number of often much larger pieces. Lego has been heading in this direction since the late ’00s, but this set is a perfect example of the ultimate end of that approach. As far as value goes, you pay $400 for a 4500 piece set, versus $100 for a 1450 piece set in Lego Creator Medieval Castle. Yeah, this set has a worse price per piece ratio than that set. It does look impressive though, and tall, and the pieces all actually go into the castle instead of building a large and not so great brick-built dragon like that set has you do.

You do get a lot of characters, though. That set has only four minifigures, but this set has an impressive 22 minifigures, including one Crusader (“Lion Knights”, bah, I’ll use their real faction name regardless if Lego wants to change it because the word “crusader” is a bit controversial) queen, a Crusader knight on horseback with red lion horse barding, eight Crusader foot soldiers, three Black Falcons including one horseback knight, five civilians including a return of the Dragon Masters wizard Majisto now as a friendly wizard loyal to the Lion Knights’ crown, three Forestmen… sorry, Forest Guardians now apparently, to be gender-neutral, and a skeleton.  All that’s missing is a return of the glow-in-the-dark ghosts.  I do have a few comments here, though.  Most notably, including only one Crusaders horseback knight is pretty annoying, any full-sized Lego castle should come with at least two knights for the castle’s faction.  The new horse model is pretty nice, but there needed to be more.  And neither horseback knight comes with a lance!  There are lances in this set, but only attached to the walls of the castle.  Somehow NEITHER knight comes with Lego’s standard armament for a horse soldier, which is just insane, how did they mess that up?  The clips on the sides of both horses’ saddles are empty.  That’s just bad design there.  Some of the soldiers are too lightly armed, too; you’ll need to raid the armory to fully arm them.

You do get a ox or cow pulling a hay cart with the civilian portion of the set, so there are three large animals included, but still, one more would have made this set a lot better.  I am glad to see the Black Falcons knight on horseback, since the new Black Falcons castle doesn’t come with any horseback knights, but really that set should have had one so this could have two Crusader horseback knights.  It’s also quite cool that the set comes with a Forestman family, that’s neat.  The Forest Guardians have a man, woman, and girl.  There’s a great musical instrument piece for one of them.  As for the Black Falcons, they are the aforementioned knight, a person with a flag announcing the coming knight, and a pack-carrying guy loaded down with stuff.  It’s probably a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference.  Amusing, I guess.

One more thing to mention is that Lego included ten female figures among the 22 in this set.  That’s great, that’s a dramatic improvement over the gender balance of almost any prior Lego set.  However, the catch is that the way they did it is by having half of the knights be female.  That, of course, is quite highly historically inaccurate, that would never have happened.  It’s accurate to videogame fantasy medieval game settings of course, though, so if that’s what Lego was going for that is fine, but it is worth mentioning.  There is only one civilian woman.  More would have been nice, and perhaps also dress pieces, as options, for the Queen and perhaps also for the female Forestmen.  The Queen needs pants for her military costume of course, but how about for when on the (nonexistent in this set) throne?  Armor there doesn’t seem quite right.

On a related note, one other issue that is both good and bad is the new Crusader/Lion Knights torso print.  The new figures have a pretty nice design with good detail… but all of the regular soldiers have the exact same torso.  Only the Queen has a unique print, and then they hide it under armor.  All Black Falcons similarly have identical torsos.  Classic Castle had more torso print  variety over the years, including crossed axes, the lion symbol, scale mail, or breastplate patterns for the Crusaders.  This set just has one per faction, with a slight variation on the Lion Knights one for the Queen.  The detailed, front and back designs are great, but do make the figures look similar, only differentiated by their weapons, heads, and helmets.

Other than that, my other issues with the set are nitpicks of the design — that the Forest Guardians have two separate and unconnected hidden chambers, when it would make more sense if they had one connected one; that the knights are supposed to not know that this cave right under their front door connects directly to one of those Forest Guardian hideouts, even though there isn’t a false wall or anything in the cave, it just connects right to the chamber; that the front gate and back gate of the main castle tower both go to the exact same room, so there doesn’t feel like enough of a reason to have both doors since they don’t go to different parts of the castle like two entrances should; that if I built it correctly the waterwheel connected to the grist stone doesn’t quite line up right unless you press it inwards while turning it; and lastly, that only one of the towers has a ladder allowing you to access it.  The other three towers are inaccessible, just like the towers on most castles of old, which is pretty lame.  This set goes to great pains to have ladders or stairs everywhere else, so they really should have had ladders to the towers.

If I write a fuller review of this set with pictures I’ll show what I mean here in images, but for now that will have to do.  Regardless of my complaints, though, this set is exceptional.  This set is insanely detailed, with a lot of rooms filled with things, loads of minifigures, crazy good construction techniques, and lots of brick-built, detail-added references to classic Castle building design styles and elements.  Overall, Lion Knights’ Castle may have some minor issues, but it is a fantastic set I love having and that I really enjoyed building.  It was the perfect choice for an anniversary set and it got me to finally buy an expensive Lego set because of how impressive it looks.

Set Rankings: How Much I Like Them

 

First, generally the sets that aren’t assembled anymore rank below the ones that are. The only exception to this is the Town Wall Tavern/Guarded Inn, which is a fantastic, top-tier set.  For now this ranking only covers the Classic Castle sets, the modern ones are separate.  They have very different design philosophies…

Top Five Larger Sets

1. Black Falcon’s Fortress
2. Dungeon Master’s Castle (Black Knights’ Castle)
3. Royal Knights’ Castle
4. Town Wall Tavern (Guarded Inn)
5. Dark Dragon’s Den

Maybe Town Wall Tavern should be considered a small set, but I put it here. Whatever, it’s great. But yes, this is basically a list of the big sets I have, but hey, the top three or four of these would be on anyones’ list of the best classic castle sets ever, so that is just fine. I had good taste in castle Legos when I was younger. (The next two are probably Royal Drawbridge and Dragon Mountain. They are fine sets, but aren’t quite top five.)

If I was to put the new sets in this ranking, the Lion Knights’ Castle would probably rank third, fourth at the lowest.  It would be below the top two, but probably above the rest.  It’s a fantastic set.  Lego Creator Medieval Castle would be lower, a mid-tier castle.

Worst: Wolfpack Tower

This is not an awful set, it’s just mediocre. You could perhaps make a case for Hemlock Stronghold being worse, but I think I’ll go with Wolfpack Tower at the moment.

Worst set I don’t own would go to Night Lord’s Castle.

The Best Small Sets: For sets such as vehicles and little towers, I would mention these, particularly:

1. Sea Serpent
2. Dragon Defender
3. King’s Carriage
4. Twin Arm Launcher
5. Ninja Surprise

The top two here is easy, these are far and away my favorite smaller sets that I’ve got. Why is number four yet again a set that I don’t have assembled? Well, Twin Arm Launcher doesn’t only have a nice catapult I should rebuild someday, but also my only Crusaders knight on horseback. And he’s not just a generic knight, but instead one with full horse barding! It’s a fantastic look that really stands out, this set is great particularly for the horse.

For the modern sets, I don’t think Forest Hideout would make the top five, though it would be high on the list after that.

I need to make special dishonorable mention here of Majisto’s Magical Workshop, which is a midsize set which has a great look to it but just does not ever assemble correctly. But…

Worst: Bat Lord’s Catapult

I have already said that the Fright Knights are my choice for worst Castle Lego theme ever, so this choice should be unsurprising.  There’s really nothing good to say about their sets.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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