Given their focus on gorgeous design and parallel rise, fall and ascent to global dominance narratives, it’s perhaps no surprise to hear that I love Lego almost as much as I do Apple products. With hundreds of sets in total — and a reported 62 bricks for every single person on Earth — picking out the greatest Lego sets of all time is tough to do.
Not all of the ones on the list below are easy to get hold of (eBay is your best bet!), but if you’re looking for a fun challenge and great way of gobbling up your spare cash before the Apple Watch arrives, you can’t do any better.
Ready to get building?
Black Monarch’s Castle 6085
A late 1980s “Black Knights” set, this masterpiece of Lego design boasted 695 pieces, and came with four knights on horseback, four guards, and four archers. One of the greatest Lego castles ever created, the Black Monarch’s Castle included a working drawbridge and portcullis. In a particularly neat bit of invention, the castle walls open up by way of some nifty hinge pieces: not only allowing easier access to the inside, but also letting you rearrange the appearance of the castle to give you one long wall instead of a squared-off building.
Oh, and there’s a prison cell thrown in for good measure, too.
Blackbeard’s Bounty 6243
Released in 2009, Blackbeard’s Bounty is my favorite Lego pirate ship of all time: surpassing even the legendary 1989 Black Seas Barracuda. It’s not the largest Lego ship set (that would be the 1664-piece Imperial Flagship) but it’s probably the most fun — with 8 minifigs, a rowboat, mermaid figurehead, three cannons, treasure chest, shark, parrot, and monkey.
In other words, it’s got everything you’d ever look for in a piratical Lego set. The ship’s removable plank feature is perfect for dispatching the Admiral’s Daughter, or those who try to rescue her.
Death Star 10188
With 3,803 pieces, 25 minifigs and a 20+ hour build-time, the Star Wars Death Star is one of the most elaborate sets in Lego history. Combining elements of the Death Star from Episodes IV and VI, this enormous setpiece shows off 12 high-detailed scenes from the two best Star Wars movies.
Assembly will take you a while, as will convincing your significant other that $399 is an acceptable price to pay for a single Lego set, but as far as quality is concerned, this is the absolute pinnacle of Lego. My personal favorite part is the Emperor’s Throne Room, complete with two imperial guards and, of course, a Palpatine minifig. The force is very strong with this one.
Futuron Monorail Transport System Train 6990
When I was a kid, there was very little that was cooler than regular Lego sets — except, of course, for electrified Lego sets. That, in a nutshell, is what the Futuron Monorail Transport System Train was: a futuristic space train set with a geared track instead of rails.
The vehicle was operated with a 9 volt battery, while the set also boasted a blinking light to complete that authentic space-age look. In an age of movie tie-ins, this 1987 Futuron set is the closest Lego has come to a 2001: A Space Odyssey collection.
The Batcave: The Penguin and Mr. Freeze’s Invasion 7783
The first of two Batcave sets Lego put out, this 2006 set sported 1075 pieces, and came with Batman, Robin, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Alfred, Bruce Wayne, and various henchmen minifigs, plus a couple of vehicles.
The premise of the set is that Batman’s subterranean Batcave has been invaded, and it’s up to Batman and Robin to utlize the various tricks and traps at their disposal to capture their villainous adversaries. The best features are a detailed Batcomputer rig, and a transformation chamber for switching Bruce Wayne into the Caped Crusader.
Hogwarts Castle 4842
There are four different incarnations of Harry Potter‘s Hogwarts Castle, but the best is the fourth version, which ups the painstaking detail to previously unimaginable levels. Essentially, it combines the best things about the first three versions of the Hogwarts sets — while coming with a superbly generous 11 minifigs.
Tower of Orthanc 10237
One of the most iconically recognizable and visually striking sets in the Lord of the Rings Lego tie-ins, the 2,359-piece Tower of Orthanc is a tremendous six-floor tower coming in at a vertigo-inducing (well, for minifigs at least) 28-inches.There are dungeons, a throne room, alchemy lab and other locations for Gandalf and Saruman to battle it out — plus a glowing crystal ball, Gandalf’s magnificent eagle, and the monstrous, tree-like Ent.
Taj Mahal 10189
With a simply astonishing 5,922 pieces, this 2010 Lego set is, as far as I’m aware, the biggest one of all time. Part of a Lego series based on real-world landmarks, you can also pick up sets based on the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House, Tower Bridge and a variety of others.
Of them all, the Taj Mahal is the most impressive, however — and certainly the most complex. If you were ever looking for a Lego set to demonstrate that Lego isn’t simply a kid’s toy, and can be used to build genuine works of art, you need look no further.