Why are some LEGO sets rated 18+?

 In March of 2020 the LEGO Group introduced the world to LEGO 18+, a new branding approach that they began to introduce into their marketing around the world. Also known as “Adults Welcome”, this was a formal acknowledgment from the LEGO Group that they are focusing heavily on growing the demand for LEGO sets amongst adults. It was not only an acknowledgement, it was a declaration of intent.

The 18+ line of LEGO sets is a marketing effort aimed at bringing adults into the LEGO community, by communicating the message that LEGO sets are not only for children. These LEGO sets are typically more difficult to build and are often highly displayable sets that look great on a shelf. 18+ LEGO sets do not contain any mature material that is not fit for children, but they may be too difficult to build for some younger audiences.

While Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOLs) are certainly a significant part of the 18+ equation, there are many other fanbases out there that LEGO has not historically represented. How does the LEGO Group try to capitalize on existing fan bases that aren’t LEGO centric? How do you get a diehard sport fan to spend $350 on a LEGO set, or a music lover to stop and look at the LEGO aisle while shopping? LEGO Group seems to have figured this out!

What is LEGO “Adults Welcome”?

If you take a look at the LEGO Group’s website, there is an entire page dedicated to the mantra “Adults Welcome”. 

“Welcome to your zone. Premium, display worthy LEGO sets. Carefully curated and designed specifically for adults. In a world of distractions, LEGO sets for adults is a focused, hands-on, mindful activity. A creative recharge. A zone for zen. A chance to Find Your Flow.”

“Adults Welcome” is a tagline that is used by The LEGO Group, similar to the “18+” rating, as part of their marketing efforts to create interest amongst adults for LEGO products. This tagline has been used extensively in marketing materials on official LEGO websites, in LEGO stores, and also in other retail partner stores that sell LEGO sets.

While I don’t know that non-LEGO fans are checking out the website, it is hard to miss what the LEGO Group is going for. Firstly, the page is not laid out by theme, but by interests (art, science and technology, et cetera). Secondly, there is no doubt that these sets are premium and focused display. There are numerous fantastic display options. The UCS Republic Gunship (75309), the World Map (31203), Camp Nou (10284), the Titanic (10294), Hogwarts Icons (76391), the Boutique Hotel (10297) represent a small sample of the available options.

Do 18+ LEGO sets cost more?

Most LEGO sets that are tagged with an 18+ rating are at a higher price point than sets targeted toward children. This is due to higher piece counts and more focus on detail in 18+ LEGO sets, as well as the fact that many of these sets are part of LEGO themes that typically cost more on average, such as Creator Expert.

With the 18+ being squarely focused on high quality, beautifully designed sets, the high price tags are not surprising. LEGO collecting has never been a cheap hobby, but the 18+ has frequently introduced expensive sets.

There were 44 widely released 18+ sets in 2021. The average price tag for one of these sets is just over $170. The LEGO Group was clear on the intent, there was going to be a sustained emphasis on the adult market, and the evidence is overwhelming (source).

Are 18+ LEGO sets too difficult for younger builders? 

While most 18+ sets are larger and more elaborate than your average set, there is nothing that makes them inherently more difficult. Let’s look at a couple of examples that highlight the mismatch in the difficulty of a set and the 18+ rating.  If we look at a couple of Disney sets, it is easy to see that the rating system has been tweaked overtime.  

71040 The Disney Castle (Not labeled as “18+).

  • Piece Count: 4,080
  • Dimensions (inches): 29 X 18 X 12
  • Age Rating: 16+

21326 Winnie the Pooh (Labeled as “18+”).

  • Piece Count: 1,265
  • Dimensions (inches): 10 X 8 X 9
  • Age Rating: 18+ 

Just looking at these two sets, they aren’t really comparable builds. Yes, the Pooh set is wonderful and detailed, but it isn’t any more difficult that the mammoth build that is the Disney Castle. 

If we want to look at a closer one to one example, the age ratings on the UCS Tumbler versions are different. The 2014 version, 76023, was marked for 16+, while the current version, 76240, is listed as 18+. The original set wasn’t simple, and the 16+ rating seems appropriate. The designs between the versions are similar, and I can’t imagine that there is anything substantially more difficult in the new model to warrant the increase. 

The exception to difficulty might be the Technic theme. Maybe 18+ makes more sense there, but honestly those have always been more intricate builds than system sets. Simply put, no. A set being marked as 18+ does not make it too difficult be builders under 18. The designation has more to do with marketing than difficulty. 

Are all 18+ LEGO sets based on an adult subject matter?

There are some sets in the 18+ line up that seem to be an odd inclusion. There is set number 21326, Winnie the Pooh, and 21324, 123 Sesame Street, for example. Both of these are Ideas sets, and both cover a subject matter that was typically aimed at young audiences. 

On the surface, the 18+ branding doesn’t fit for these two sets. While these both could have both been simplified to reach younger builders, both are wide-reaching influences that many adults grew up with.

The releases through Ideas were sufficiently displayable to warrant an inclusion into as 18+. The nostalgia that many adults feel for these properties doesn’t hurt either. 

There is also another inclusion that isn’t as easily explained. The LEGO Group has begun to include the annual Creator Expert Winter Village releases as “18+” in recent years. While yes, these are a bit similar to the Creator Expert modular buildings (which are “18+”), they aren’t quite on the same level when it comes to difficulty of building. They look amazing and tick a lot of the boxes, but in my opinion, the black box artwork doesn’t fit as well for Elf Clubhouse (10275) and Santa’s Visit (10293).

These are designed to be holiday sets after all, I would love to see the box art lean into the Christmas spirit.  

Do LEGO 18+ sets contain mature material? 

Absolutely not.  The LEGO Group has always been very clear on their standards. You don’t have to look any further than the Technic Osprey (42113) debacle to understand that the LEGO Group seems very unlikely to relax their standards. The Upside Down (75810) from Stranger Things was a shock to many when it was revealed. There are certainly individuals that would be willing to pay for sets based on mature or R-rated content, but I just don’t see it happening. 

The only example I can think of an 18+ set including content that might not have been included in previous iterations comes from The Daily Bugle set, 76178. That set includes a minfigure of the Punisher. That particular character is probably darker and more graphic than most, and would not be a candidate for a stand-alone set. That however is a figure, not a set, not really content, just a small detail in a set that is busting with minifigures. Very much a stretch to say that 18+ includes anything more graphic, adult, or risqué than a normal set. 

The LEGO Group has made their intent known, and there does not appear to be any plan to slow down. Better get used to seeing the black boxes in your local LEGO aisle!

Final thoughts

While 18+ is typically a term associated with exclusion, the LEGO Group has turned the expression upside down. The 18+ line is not meant to exclude anyone, but include those that may not normally think that a LEGO set is for them. There are certainly new fans of LEGO that would not be here with LEGO pushing into their existing interests. 

If you want to learn more about other categories of LEGO sets (outside of the usual ‘themes), check out this article we wrote which explains what ‘Exclusive’ LEGO sets are.

Overall it is an exciting time to be an Adult Fan of LEGO. This attention and focus on the adult market from The LEGO Group is quickly introducing new adult fans to an amazing hobby, helping existing AFOLs to feel even more connected to their passion, and making The LEGO Group be more intentional about how they design their sets with adults in mind. As a result, more display-worthy pieces such as World Map or Bonsai Tree have been created, which in my opinion is a great thing for fans.