As you may have noticed, the LEGO Group have been releasing fantastic sets for the Chinese New Year these past few years. Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner (80101), Dragon Dance (80102) and Dragon Boat Race (80103) from 2019, Lion Dance (80104) and Chinese New Year Temple Fair (80105) from 2020, and Story of Nian (80106) and Spring Lantern Festival (80107) from this year are all beautiful sets that reflect so much of Chinese culture and tradition. Today, I’ll be reviewing the Story of Nian set.
According to Brickset, Story of Nian consists of 1067 pieces, 7 minifigures, and is sold for £59.99 / $79.99 / 69.99€. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much, just a wall build and a uni-dragon. However, it’s packed with teeny tiny pieces, and lots of amazing details. But before we get on to the set, let’s dig into its history first. Or rather, the history of the story.
The Story of Nian
According to Chinese legend, Nian is a half dragon, half unicorn creature who lived deep in the sea, and surfaced during the New Year to feast on livestock and people, especially children of the nearest town. The townspeople couldn’t do anything to fend it off, so they ran to the mountains and hid until the beast was gone.
One day, an old man came to the town on New Year’s Eve. The people didn’t pay much attention to him, since they were busy running away. An old woman opened her house to him to provide him food, and warned him of the coming beast. He said she shouldn’t worry, he has a way of defeating it. The old woman, however, did not believe such a thing was possible, and ran to the mountains with her people when the old man refused to leave.
At night, Nian came to the town as it always does. However, it sensed something different this time. Usually, the whole town was dark when it arrived, but tonight, there was light in one house. It went there and saw there were red papers hung on the walls, and candles lit inside the house.
Nian approached the house, and that’s when it heard explosions. The old man has lit firecrackers. The monster was dazzled by the loud noises and shiny lights, as it was with the old man dressed all in red. It was so scared that it ran all the way back to the sea.
The townspeople came back the next morning, only to find their town unharmed. They asked the old man how he fended off the monster and he told them Nian was afraid of the color red, dazzling lights and loud noises.
They visited neighboring towns to let them know how to defend themselves, and the word spread. Every year, people put up red couplets, lit candles and lanterns, and set off firecrackers and fireworks to scare the monster away.
Nian never returned.
The set contains 8 numbered bags, 1 bag of fire effects, 2 8×16 white plates and a 200-page instruction booklet. At the beginning of the booklet is a cute illustration which summarizes the legend.
You get the base at the end of the first bag. It’s a snow-covered scene fitting for the New Year. You also get the stairs of the entrance to the residence – which is not included in the set, just its front wall.
With the second bag finished, the wall is starting to show. The red windows, which is a new color for this part, make a great contrast to the light gray wall. Like in the story, there are red couplets on both sides of the gate and above it, with Mandarin characters on them. While I’m not able to read them, I found out what they mean on another blog: “Joyful celebration of the New Year”, “Saying farewell to the old, welcoming the new” and “Friends welcome you into the festive season”.
As you can see in the picture below, there are hints that something will happen on the backside of the wall.
The third bag has the finishing touches of the wall, along with the canopy and the doors.
The fourth bag has the tiled, sloped roof – covered partially in snow, of course – and what seems to be mini cannons to shoot fireworks from. We also get the lanterns hanging from the door in this bag.
When the fifth bag is done, the base of the set is enlarged. We get a few accessories like a ladder and a box to keep the fireworks in.
And the scene is finished with the sixth bag. We have fireworks, which attach to the back of the wall, two small trees, a snowman, and some fires. There are also two little bushes which show great parts usage in my opinion (more on that later).
The last two bags are for the construction of the monster Nian. We get the body in the seventh bag and the head in the eighth.
And just like that, the set is finished!
After all is built, there are a few parts that are left behind. Okay, maybe more than a few…
Nian itself is a beauty – for a beast, that is. It consists of 276 pieces (yes, I counted). All of its parts, the legs, the tail and the head, are fully articulated, and the mouth opens to eat those children he so loves. It has a nice orange color with teal and dark red highlights, and of course, gold accents to complete the look.
There are many illustrations of Nian, but here’s one very close to the LEGO version of the creature.
With no disrespect to the Chinese folklore, I think the LEGO version of Nian looks incredibly silly and cute. I may have gone a little “how to train your dragon” on it – I just couldn’t help myself!
The feel of the overall scene, for starters, feels very much like a traditional Chinese building entrance. A quick search on Google, confirms this feel immensely. Don’t take my word for it, though, see for yourself.
On one side, we have 2 examples of Chinese doors, one taken at a regular time, it seems, and the other around New Year’s. As you can see, the LEGO version of the entrance is a spitting image of the real thing. From the stone statues at the bottom to the yellow beams at the top, the texture of the wall, the door handles, along with the red couplets and the stickers on the doors, every detail is there.
The two stickers represent the Menshen, the divine guardians of doors and gates in Chinese folklore. Here’s a comparison of their LEGO version to their real version.
My favorite details of the set are the little green bushes, and the icicles hanging from the wall. Green is a completely new color for this part, which you may remember as part of the mop from the Janitor minifigure from CMF 15, and together with the yellowish green modified round tile, it makes a nice little bush. As for the icicles, it’s obvious that they had no chance but to go down with so much snow piling up on the wall!
I love how the fireworks “hang in the air”. The bar part used to give this effect seems perfect for the job, and it can be fastened to the back of the wall with the pin piece provided in the set (official name: bar 1L with tow ball). The number of the fireworks can be increased if you have the spare parts, and you can change the place of the existing ones – that’s what the SNOT bricks on the back are for!
Is Story of Nian worth getting?
Even though the set seems simple – a wall and a dragon-like creature – the way it’s packed with details makes it such a beautiful set. I’m sure it would be a nice challenge to create the rest of the residence, and maybe even combine it with the Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner set in some way. While the minifigures may seem simple at first, the details of the torsos (and the fact that they’re all exclusive to this set) makes them great for collectors.
As for the villain itself, Nian, it’s a great build with beautiful colors. With so much articulation, it can be posed however you like, so that’s gotta be a plus for toy photographers. Like I said before, the LEGO Nian looks really silly, and this can help it become the hero as well as the villain of any story.
All in all, I think the set is worth getting. Even though it’s more of a display set than a play set, I’m sure it can be improved and turned into an even more beautiful set with lots of play features.
- Chinese New Year set pictures from Brickset
- Scared off Nian from Shine (there’s also lots of information regarding the Chinese New Year there, worth reading!)
- Teal Nian illustration from China Culture
- Door images from Flickr and Kid World Citizen
- Menshen image from ArtMo