As I’ve said a number of times here on this blog I’m totally not into Minecraft – I know that it exists, I get what the appeal may be and I acknowledge that millions of people play it, but personally I never got hooked. That is pretty much the same in the LEGO world, though as I mentioned in my blurb on the recently launched LEGO Minecraft comic magazine, I’m always keeping an eye out for interesting parts from that range. That’s how I ended up buying The Guardian Battle (21180), after all, so let’s see what it offers.
Contents and Pricing
If you have been following these things more closely than I do and for much longer, then certainly the set will feel familiar to you. The building is sort of a spliced out segment from the original The Ocean Monument (21136) released in 2017, representing a gate or just some random ruin section, embedded in a bit of reef. Wiser minds more steeped in the lore will actually know what it is supposed to represent. The puffer fish on the other hand are an almost 1 : 1 recreation of the ones in the original set. The real difference is the minifigure, defined as a diver, and the little guys that come with it, so this could indeed be a scenario where the original temple long has been destroyed and only pieces of it are still there decades or centuries later.
The set itself retails for 22 Euro and having literally bought it three days after its January 1st release, I did not get any discounts. If you do your math and take into account the usual 20 to 30 percent discounts this will get after a while you’ll arrive at around 15 Euro. That’s okay for a 255 pieces set, but regardless you have to keep in mind that you are paying a for a few standard bricks and lots of small elements. On the other hand that’s certainly much more affordable than the 120 Euro ocean monument and even people who have this older set may consider getting this one to have some extra stuff.
Minifigures and Animals
The single most important reason why we are even here reviewing the set are the Axolotls. I just couldn’t help myself from thinking “Oh, how cute!” when I first saw a picture of them. As far as I understand, they have special magical or healing powers in the game, so it seems one would take care to not lose them or gather as many of them as you can. Two of them are supposed to be attached to the minifigure as if they are swarming around him and protecting him, but I found that construction clunky and way to heavy, so the diver tips over backwards.
The little newts are a new mold, which can be attached onto a regular 1 x 2 plate from the underside. If they ever come out in more regular colors like Tan, they could make for nice decorative elements on buildings. LEGO have done that for some of the heads already to be used as lamp shades or stucco on facades of Modular Buildings (Police Station  for instance), so I’m optimistic that this may happen one day. The heads are separately printed 1 x 1 plates and there’s a spare for each of them in the package.
The singular minifigure is a bit of a head-scratcher. Obviously there could and should have been two at least, even if they were the same, but I’m also concerned with how it looks. The Dark Bluish Grey and Olive Green just don’t pop enough on the Dark Orange body and at the same time the bright face looking through the round glass window stands out too much. It would likely have looked better with different colors. There’s also quality issues with the prints. No, for once not that they aren’t opaque enough but rather in a way the opposite. The paint here seems to have been a bit too pasty and the prints have notable ridges/ stamp marks. If I were collecting these figs, I’d likely request replacements.
The temple fragments and reef parts are the simplest build you can imagine. It’s literally a case of “My 3-year-old could have come up with it!” with simple stacked bricks and plates with the only real bits of finesse being the vines/ plant stalks interwoven as extra supports. By that I don’t mean to imply it’s bad, just simple. It certainly could have been a bit more elaborate with perhaps some debris lying around or the reef parts being larger with more flowers and all that. The squid with only four very short “tentacles” perched on top of the archway is also odd, but not knowing better I have to accept that this is probably how it’s meant to be.
The Puffer Fish
The puffer fish are essentially simple cubes with a bunch of appendages and protrusions. The larger blue one is based on a 3 x 3 x 3 SNOT construction using the 1 x 2 clip plates as the basis. Regrettably LEGO did not recolor those clips in Dark Tan of Blue, as would have been desirable, so they stand out a bit despite their “neutral” grey. While the fish is pretty much a 1 : 1 re-creation of the one already used in the ocean monument, there is a small enhancement in that the tail uses the new 1 x 2 modified plates with a horizontal clip instead of the less directionally stable 1 x 1 version. More on that in the extra section on the notable pieces.
The smaller puffy is constructed around a 2 x 2 x 2 cube arrangement and for its spikes reverses the underlying principle with the hinge plates being on the body and the clips forming the appendages. Naturally, for any of it to look good you have to spend some time orienting the spikes on both models.
For a set this small the selection of notable and new parts is amazing and of course this was part of the plan after having studied the digital PDF instructions. The orange clips aren’t new, but technically still sort of exclusive, as they have only been in the previous The Ocean Monument (21136) set and a Nexo Knights set. I’m sure MOC builders will appreciate their reappearance. The 1 x 2 plate with the horizontal clip is already appearing in many new sets released since last autumn and here you get two of them in Tan. Apparently at long last LEGO seem to have realized this gap in their parts portfolio since the 1 x 1 counterpart tends to slightly rotate on its single stud, even when butted against other plates around it. Having this available definitely should make some constructions more stable while at the same time reducing the number of elements needed. the fish tail is a good example for this, actually.
LEGO have long been extremely reluctant to produce certain items as transparent pieces. Their rationale always has been that it’s not good for models due to friction and tension working differently and thus those pieces being more prone to damage. That and of course things like cracks, fogging and gilding being even more apparent than on opaque parts. It seems they are finally coming around and easing up on this strict stance, so we now get the 2 x 2 jumper plate in Trans Dark Blue and a Trans Clear 1 x 2 vertical clip plate. the latter is part of that clunky block you are supposed to attach to the minifigure’s back to hold the Axolotls. Insignificant as it may seem, there is also now a Blue 1 x 1 round flower plate/ stud. So far they have been mostly produced in greens, yellows and pastel tones and I’ve forever wondered if we’re going to get a few more colors. This is a good start, but how about browns and Black for withered and charred flowers?
The element that will no doubt cause the biggest sigh of relief by many is the 2/3rds or two plates tall 1 x 1 brick, depending how you want to see it. This is not an essential element by any stretch of the imagination, but a) other manufacturers have had it since forever and b) it solves one big annoyance, that being having to stack 1 x 1 plates to get uneven heights. This can be particularly frustrating on areas where they need to be aligned perfectly to give the illusion of a solid surface, so this new element should indeed facilitate such builds considerably. In this set it’s included in Olive Green, but it can already be found in some others in Medium Nougat and Dark Orange. It will be pretty standard in no time and should be available in a wide range of colors then.
This is a lovely little set and in a way I’m surprised myself how much I like it. There is soem decent value here and unlike many other Minecraft sets it has a certain elegance about it and doesn’t look too crude and blocky. The only real complaint would have be the skewed value. A second minifigure certainly would have provided a better balance as would have some extra bits and bobs on the reef. Overall one can’t complain, though.