79003 An Unexpected Gathering is, without doubt, the best Hobbit set. It's also the best set of 2012. In fact, I think I agree with Andrew over at Brothers-Brick who said in his review that it could just be the best set of all time.
That is a very bold statement to make but it really does tick all the boxes.
Read on to find out why you have to buy this set...
So often these days sets are just a collection of sub-assemblies that don't join together (like, in fact, most of the other Hobbit sets), but that's not the case here. Everything is fixed to the large plate-built base and the result is very sturdy.
Often you build a set only to have a feeling that the designer has scrimped on bricks to keep the cost down, but not so here, it's solid, sturdy and there's not a big ugly single use piece in sight.
Thirdly, the parts selection is excellent. Lots of greens, browns, tans and 'earthy' colours. There are some new pieces, and old pieces in new colours. This picture shows some of them. The best can barely be seen in the photo: a transparent 4x4 ring plate like the dark orange ones in the picture.
There are no 'filler' pieces in odd colours, everything is useful.
There's four reasons why it qualifies as the best set ever, and I haven't even mentioned the minifigs yet...
It also contains four dwarves, from left to right: Bofur, Bombur, Balin and Dwalin. All are excellent and feature unique hair, beards, or both. You can't quite see it in this picture but Bombur has, how can I say it politely, a 'stomach extension' under his beard.
One thing I haven't mentioned in the Hobbit reviews, but I've been asked about, is the origin of the new minifig parts. The vast majority are of European or Mexican origin. The only ones that aren't are those that are complex and painted, such as Bofur's hat in this set. Having said that there is nothing at all wrong with them and nothing to worry about.
So, there's the fifth and reason: the minifigs are all superb and, being dwarves, cute and cuddly :-)
So what's not to like? Excellent sturdy design, satisfying build, great parts selection, highly playable and superb minifigs. The finished model looks idyllic, just as you imagine life in The Shire to be. Even the price (£60, US$70) is pretty good.
Is there anything negative I can say about it? I'm hard pushed to anything I don't like, to be honest. I guess it would have been nice to get a different Gandalf, and stickers are always annoying (although to be fair there are not many, they mostly go onto tiles and they are printed on clear film so won't peel).
I suppose the worse thing is that stubby-legged dwarves and Hobbits can't sit on the stools provided for them round the table, but there's not much the set designer could have done about that, I guess.
Best set of the year? Definitely! Best set of all time? I reckon it comes close! What do you think?
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