I'm pretty stoked about finally getting this set, so here's a little review:
Mill Village Raid is a Kingdoms set released in 2011, featuring a barn, a mill, a small cart and six minifigs, three of them villagers and three of them attacking dragon knights. The Kingdoms Lions must have been taking a day off, because they are nowhere to be seen, and are replaced by animals who do much of the fighting in their stead.
One of the strongest points about the set to me is how thematically, it brings something to the table that was largely missing in past castle lines: civilians and civilian buildings. Sure, the Kingdom was always under attack from some kind of villain, but what was at stake? Where were the King's innocent subjects? Where were the people who required protection? Mill Village Raid solves these problems to an extent, while generally keeping our minds far away from the gruesome reality of actual
medieval village raids through the hilarity of the ways in which the villagers and their loyal animals defend themselves from the dragon knights.
The civilian minifigs are really nice additions to anyone requiring a bit of medieval extras apart from hordes of soldiers. The kid's hairpiece is a particularly nice part, and the kid can easily be turned into a full-fledged peasant, his legs being assimilated into any dwarf faction you might be building. The 'milkmaid' (her face at least), seems to be more suited to a princess', but this opens up a nice amount of possibilities. Maybe she's a princess who's hiding, desiring a normal life? Maybe the peasant (who also looks a little bit clean for a peasant) is a knight in disguise who will reveal himself to have the skills to save the 'secret' princess from the Dragon knights? I've never been a huge fan of double-printed faces, but here they actually open possibilities for customization. The dragon knights are excellent minifigures as well, as all of them have a nice-looking, but not overly detailed Dragon Knight torso, as opposed to the more mechanical one their armoured knights sometimes have.
Parts-wise, I was quite impressed with this set. This might be influenced by the fact I grew up with sets that were pretty low on parts, but still, there's a nice colour variation and a good number of slopes, plates, windows, tiles and pips. Most of all, the large amount of dark tan bricks is very interesting. Parts like the ladder, barn gate, and dark blue feather (of which you get an extra one) are also easy to find an (alternate) use for in your castle world. As I was putting this set together, I encountered many parts I wish I had had (more of) in the past, or parts I thought I would've used (even in Scifi MOC's!) if I had had them, often making me fear I'd have to take this set apart sooner than I would like.
And I wouldn't like taking it apart, because assembled, the barn and the windmill look really good. The subtle colour variations in the parts create a complexion that turns these relatively simple buildings something much more interesting, and suited to a variety of locations. There's no space to do anything inside the windmill and only a bit of space inside the barn (the top floor, above all, is quite cramped) but this is made up for by the fact that they're easily accesible. The construction techniques aren't super-advanced, but it still takes a while to put together, maybe too long for kids' patience? However, the parts are nicely distributed over different bags, allowing for easy breaks between constructing buildings (the barn, for example, is split into two parts), so this isn't really a problem.
Price-wise (and I have to speak for myself here), I wouldn't say it's cheap, but I certainly wouldn't say it's a ripoff either. I got the set for 59 euros, which isn't much if you compare it to for example the Warg Attack set, which is smaller, with fewer parts, but costs 70 euros.
Of course, the villagers can't be expected to fight fair against well-armed knights, so there's several mechanisms they have for protecting themselves. The trap door in the barn works as well as the one in the Pharaoh's temple set (one of the first sets I got): the fig either gets stuck in the opening with his weapons, or sticks to the studs of the floor. Fitting them in there can also be kind of dodgy. I tried knocking dragon knights over with the rotating windmill, but unfortunately it's not really up to the task, meaning these windmills are not Don Quichote-proof (though they could be, given some customization). There's some kind of mechanism in the back of the windmill that allows you to shoot what I'll assume are sacks of wheat (essentially white pips) at the dragon knights over a distance of a few studs. The best thing about this mechanism is the warning in the instructions to not
shoot this at kids' faces. I can't imagine the Lego guys putting that image in there without cracking up at least once. The most effective defense mechanism the villagers have is probably the basket hanging from the barn, which they can drop (or lower) on to the heads of pesky dragon knights trying to force their way inside. Anyway, while I'm not particularly bothered by these quirky mechanisms (they're not really obtrusive or anything), I don't rate the civilian's odds of survival very highly either.
There are a couple of very fine details that really make this set shine. The large flower (which has to be put on another side than seen in the instructions lest it gets crushed in between the two parts of the barn if you open it up) isn't a completely 'necessary' inclusion, but it looks nice, shows the creators had an eye for detail and just might inspire kids to build some foliage of their own. The brick-built iron hen on top of the barn is probably one of my favourite bits.
The two buildings don't make a village, but they are a nice start to it. Putting them together on some baseplates easily encourages you to add some buildings and terrain detail of your own, and quickly creates a nice-looking, if small, medieval village. The playability is where this set really takes the cake, because, as the minifigs aren't all knights, peaceful scenarios become easier to pursue, even if conflict is definitely shown on the box. While most people will probably like the conflict, the opening up of more possibilities is always a good thing. And if your kid wants conflict and he has enough imagination, a barn will make just as nice a fortress as an actual castle (presumably, after some modifications).
One thing I'm missing are alternate builds that used to be included in Lego sets, but since this isn't Lego's fault (people actually complained about them, apparently) I won't hold it against them.
Is this set geared more towards the AFOL Lego audience? I'm not entirely sure, but it seems like it could be. Adult Lego fans certainly seem quite happy with it (likely because we all have huge armies of knights already, rather than peasants). Regardless, Lego took a small risk moving away from their more prevalent 'set templates' throughout the castle line, and have done it well. I would certainly recommend this set to anyone trying to create realistic medieval scenes.