LEGO have been on a great run of LEGO sets that revolve around Chinese Festivals and Chinese New Year, which is the most important cultural holiday for the Chinese diaspora.
The new 2021 LEGO Chinese New Year sets are now available worldwide from LEGO.com or your local LEGO stores while stocks last.
Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at 80106 Story of Nian!
Thanks to LEGO for sending a review copy.
Name: Story of Nian
Set Number: 80106
Pieces: 1,067 pieces
Price: AU$109.99 | US$79.99 | £59.99 – Buy from LEGO.com [AUS] [USA] [UK]
Exclusive to: LEGO.com / LEGO Brand Retail Stores + general release in Asia Pacific
Theme: Seasonal – The Spring Festival / Chinese New Year
Release Date: 10 January 2021
What is the Story of Nian?
Unlike previous LEGO Chinese New Year sets which have largely focused on traditions and festivals such as Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner, Lion Dances or the 15th day of Chinese New Year, Story of Nian takes a very interesting turn into the mythology and legend of Chinese New Year itself.
Chinese New Year is the most important celebration for those of us with Chinese heritage, and growing up, there were several hallmarks that defined the celebrations – the colour red, fireworks, and the giving & receiving of red packets.
The story goes – the Nian is a ferocious mythical creature that terrorises villages, wrecking havoc, eating their children (slight exaggeration) and livestock.
The villagers learn to repel the Nian Monster with loud noises, firecrackers, bright lights (fire) and the colour red, which gave way to all these traditions of wearing bright red outfits, being loud and boisterous, lighting lanterns, and setting off firecrackers, which are still in practice today.
This entire tale is captured and retold with this gorgeous two-spread illustration on the first page of the instruction manuals – while I like the wordless approach, I do feel that some text to illustrate the history and myth of the Nian monster would’ve been great to introduce this fable to a wider audinece, and reduce the need to look it up.
Fun fact: the word Nian is also a homonym for the word year in Mandarin. The Mandarin greeting for “Happy New Year” is “Xin nian kuai le”!
It’s a fun tradition that I’m fortunate to have grown up with, and with Chinese New Year upon us (12 February 2021), I heartily encourage you to pay a visit to your local Chinatown to experience of the festivities, if public events and gatherings are still allowed in your city.
The set comes with a great selection of 6 minifigures, representing the villagers/townspeople looking to fight off the Nian beast, and a Zodiac Ox Suit Guy minifigure, following on the Rat and Pig Zodiac Suit minifigures included in previous years.
Here’s a look at the grandmother and grandfather, which have exclusive new torsos. I really like the grandmother’s floral design, and the grandfather’s checkered vest which has some red packets sticking out from a pocket.
The presence of the the red packets and glasses suggests that these characters are from the present day, and not from the days of myth, and the grandmother has the exact same face as the one from Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner – which in my head, represents the grandparents retelling the fable of the Nian beast when they come to visit during Chinese New Year.
Here’s a look at the back printing, which is utterly gorgeous, and also grandma’s alternate face, which has a very subtle change of expression (her eyebrows aren’t furrowed, and her eyes aren’t smiling).
Anyone with Chinese grandparents will appreciate how accurate the grandpa is with the design of his vest.
There’s also a man, and 2 children included, all of whom have exclusive new torsos introduced in this set. The official set description says that it’s actually 3 children, but I’m not buying it.
I really like the torsos on the boys, which has a Nian beast printed on the back, and the printing on the little girl’s cheongsam is fantastic as well. I love the added detail of fur trimmings as they’re in a snow-covered village.
The most sought-after minifigure in this set is the Ox Suit Minifigure guy. 2022 will be Year of the Ox in the Chinese Zodiac, and LEGO have commemorated it with this exclusive minifigure of a guy in a Cow mask.
The Cow Helmet is brilliant with horns that you can attach to it and generally follows the style of Animal Suit minifigures, with a big smiling face peeking out.
He’s outfitted in an exclusive new printed torso and legs, which is a great touch.
Here’s a look at his back printing, and alternate expression which has a smirk.
It looks like LEGO are setting off another cycle of minifigures to collect, so we have 9 more years to collect the entire set of Chinese Zodiac minifigures!
But until then, it’s a great minifigure to add to your collection, especially if you’re born in Ox Years 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997 or 2009.
The Story of Nian build was relatively straightforward, with some interesting techniques employed, but nothing that will surprise seasoned LEGO builders.
Check out my speed build video below to see how the set comes together!
Despite being a 1000+ piece set, the build went by faster than expected, and truth be told, I was left wanting a bit more building.
It’s a real simple diorama, built atop white snow plates, with a snow-covered area, with a wall section and gates in a classic Chinese architectural style.
There’s a small section to the right of the doors where the children can have a snowball fight, and build a charming LEGO snowman, which uses a red scarf for detailing.
The use of green mops for vegetables/plants are an inspired choice.
I’m not sure if this was 100% necessary to the model, but I do respect and appreciate the effort undertaken to model the snow on the ground.
From the cascading plates and slopes on the ground, to the great mix of of curved slopes and rounded corners used in the snow embankment along the wall, I really like how slushily realistic it all looks.
The roof of the wall section has some nice details, such as the frozen icicles hanging from clips, and also piles of snow forming in those sections.
The row of grey shingle tiles are also quite pleasing to look at.
The roof of the main entrance ups the ante of intricate snow details, and the combination of white and grey semi-circle elements are inspired.
The entranceway is the most detailed section of the entire build, and I loved the stunningly accurate architectural details that the designers incorporated.
From the yellow beams holding up the roof, to lanterns, steps leading up towards the doorway, and the bright red doors with a gold frame, and knockers.
There are 3 printed tiles flanking the door, and one stretched horizontally across with Mandarin characters printed on them.
The text is loosely translated as:
Left Tile: Joyful celebration of the New Year
Top Tile: Saying farewell to the old, welcoming the new
Right tile: Friends welcome you into the festive season
My friend who helped me translate (I’m pretty rubbish at reading, and speaking Mandarin) also pointed out a really cool reference, that if you take the first two characters from the left and right tile, they combine to form the word “LEGO” in Mandarin – pronounce “le-gao”.
In Mandarin, it’s a common practice to combine words/characters to pronounce anglicised words/names that don’t exist in the language.
On the doors are 2 stickers, which I believe are the first time that stickers have been included in Chinese New Year sets.
There are 2 Chinese deities printed on these stickers, and they represent the Menshen (aka Threshold Guardians) – the divine guardians of doors and gates.
The gods are usually deified generals, and typically look very fierce and imposing, wielding swords as they are meant to protect against evil spirits, and allow good spirits to enter.
I grew up with these in my home, and true to tradition, the pictures of these gods were always printed on pieces of paper and stuck onto doors, so I think the use of stickers here is completely intentional, and a great design choice by LEGO when it comes to respecting the practice.
I did find it off that LEGO would actually feature Chinese deities in an actual set, and was thoroughly surprised when I opened the box to see these stickers as I had assumed it was a rule for LEGO not to depict any form of religion/Gods in their sets.
Is this the first time that LEGO has explicitly referenced a religious symbol?
Here’s a look at the back of the set – there’s really not much going here, as it is literally just a wall section, and the designers clearly meant for this set to be viewed from the front.
I do wish there was just a bit more – the entire set hints at a village being attacked by the Nian beast, it would’ve been nice if the back wasn’t completely void of detail, and had some stalls, or just something at the back that indicated some form of life.
Over at the front of the entrance is a small stash of fireworks – I like the usage of the Super Heroes “power blast” elements.
Speaking of fireworks, the set also includes two fireworks explosions, suspended above the wall. They’re made using a mix of transparent wand, cone elements and an trans-orange snowflake piece, and look very whimsical and festive.
These fireworks will come in handy to….
The ferocious Nian beast! The build concludes with 2 bags devoted to the Nian beast, and it’s quite a striking creation thanks to the otherworldly blend of orange, pearl gold, tan, and teal.
The colour scheme is my favourite feature of the Nian beast, as the colours selected are reminiscent of colour palates of traditional chinese art, and the teal clashes beautifully against the earth tones.
The Nian Monster has fairly good articulation, with ball-joints for all its limbs, and a segmented tail which allows for it to be posed in a variety of angles.
The texturing across the body is pretty remarkable, with the use of pearl gold and orange leaves, and flower blossoms. One of them fell of in the photo above and I only just realised!
Here’s the Nian beast from the back – love the interlaced teal Nexo Knights shields used for its spine.
The tail has a lantern hanging from it. It looks great, but is a bit of an odd choice since lanterns are supposed to scare it off. Stylistically, it fits the look.
Here’s a closer look at the Nian beasts’ head. The large wide expressive eyes really stand out against the rather intricate construction, and I love the use of pearl gold wolverine claws as whiskers. Also, it seems like LEGO designers really love using bananas in this year’s Chinese New Year sets, with teal bananas being introduced in the set, following on from dark blue bananas in 80107 Spring Lantern Festival.
Overall, the Nian beast is a great little build, and ties the entire model together, giving a “foe” for the villagers to battle off.
With fireworks, bright red clothes, lanterns and loud noises, the villagers can finally repel the Nian beast, thus cementing these practices as Chinese New Year traditions for generations to come!
What I liked:
- A set that explores the historical and mythological aspects of Chinese New Year
- Great array of minifigures with new and exclusive torsos
- Year of the Ox minifigure
- Nian beast design nails the mythological element
- Set is great value for what you get
What I didn’t like:
- Build goes by very quickly
- The basic wall and entrance design leaves much to be desired
- Wall section is very plain
- Lack of any “village” builds
Final Thoughts: You have to hand it to the designers for doing so much justice to the cultural and historical influences in the set.
I do like that LEGO took a different route with this set, exploring the legendary and mythological origins of Chinese New Year traditions, with so much reverence and respect to Chinese culture.
From details such as using stickers for the Threshold Guardians, to the Chinese phrases on the entranceway, this set truly beckons to those who grew up in Chinese culture, and serves as a great educational tool to expose those in non-Chinese cultures to many familiar Chinese New Year traditions.
Where the set falls flat is ultimately in the overall design, which is quite one dimensional.
The entranceway and wall section are the focal points, yet beside serving as a nicely designed backdrop, there is a limit to the utility that you can derive from the set as it’s meant to be viewed from one angle only, and the lack of any “village” components to the build leaves much to be desired.
While I liked the architectural details and techniques used for the entrance, roof and gateway, I really would appreciate more “stuff in it”.
The Nian beast has a great design and eye-catching colours, and serves as an “antagonist” to the wall section, which introduces a much-needed burst of colours and dynamism to the set.
LEGO have set the bar incredibly high for its Chinese New Year sets, and 80106 Story of Nian just feels average when compared against all the other sets. While it does score points for a great minifigure lineup and cultural accuracy, it just lacks a certain “je ne sais quoi” that most other Chinese New Year sets contain.
The set is fairly priced, and you won’t feel like you overpaid for the contents.
That said, I still expect this set to do incredibly well, especially in China and amongst the Chinese diaspora. As a set, it is entirely unique in how it tells the rich legend of the Story of Nian, and LEGO absolutely need to be commended for painstakingly ensuring all the cultural details are not only captured right, but celebrated with such reverence.
Rating and score: 3/5 ★★★✰✰
Build  – Didn’t feel like a 1000-piece set, and went by too quickly
Real Value  – Great value with the array of minifigures, printed elements and overall presence.
Innovation  – Some really interesting techniques employed in the doorway design and snow, but nothing groundbreaking
Coolness  – It’s designed to be displayed, and the historical/mythological references are inspired
Keepability  – As part of the limited Chinese Traditional festival theme, you won’t want to miss out, either as part of your collection or as an investment
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about the cultural and mythological roots of Chinese New Year traditions!
Let me know what you think of 80106 Story of Nian and how you think it stacks up against other Chinese New Year sets. Will you be picking this one up?
80106 Story of Nian is now available globally from LEGO.com, or your local brand retail store.
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Special thanks to LEGO for providing this set for a review.