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Review: 3053 Emperor's Stronghold*

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#1 Inconspicuous


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Posted 06 May 2010 - 12:17 AM

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3053 Emperor's Stronghold was the largest Ninja set I ever owned. The impressive, tall building was equipped with deadly traps, weapons, and warriors, and was always the center of any ninja battle. Many sections of the set are well designed, but there are some minor flubs scattered throughout. Let's take a look at this sturdy set, and see how it holds up.

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Set Name: Emperor's Stronghold
Set Number: 3053
Number of Pieces: 328
Minifigs: 4
Price: $40.00 USD (Now worth about $100 USD Used)
Theme: Ninja
Year Released: 1999


(Remember all pics are clickable, if you want to see anything in more detail)



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First up are the lovely and large instructions. Featured are some dangerous looking mountains and a reddish-orange background, with some flying Ninjas in the foreground. The picture isn't overly flashy, but still makes the set have some action and look appealing.

Minifig Page:
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The inside is oriented differently than the outside. Small submodels and minifigs are built first, separated by cool bamboo dividers.

Random Page:
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Smaller submodels get their own boxes, but piece call-outs are non-existent. Note the subtle but pretty changes in the background color.

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The instructions end on the back cover, with no parts inventory, ads, or even a Win logo.

Instructions:: Thoughts: Simple, straightforward, and easy to follow. Nothing to complain about here.


Tan Pieces:
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One of the set's major colors is tan. The tan pieces in the set are all mostly basic bricks, with a few 1x3 plates and round bricks. There are also a few wavy bricks and wall pieces thrown in.

Black Pieces:
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The other major color of the set is black. The black pieces are much more varied, and include bricks, large plates, and plenty of specialized pieces. My favorite specials are the wavy wall panels and the mini ladders.

Remaining Pieces:
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The rest of the pieces are mostly blue, gray, and brown. There are lots of headlight bricks and delicious blue roofing.

Large Pieces:
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There are also a handful of large pieces: a large brown baseplate, two LURPs, and two rare printed wall slopes.

Pieces of interest:
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Here are the more interesting pieces of the bunch, including many accessories, like the swords, treasure, and cannon. There are also some nice printed parts like the two types of flags and the horse-cover.

Pieces:: Thoughts: A very decent selection of colors and types, with cool accessories and printed parts.


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The set includes two red ninjas, the rare white ninja princess, and a shogun. The printing is lovely on both their torsos and the shogun's legs. I also like the golden decoration on the shogun's helmet.

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The headwraps have sword-holders on the backs, but apart from that, they have no back printing.

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With all the gear removed you can get a look at their faces and other hidden printing. The red ninjas are identical, but the white ninja has her own beautiful face. The shogun also has a stern face, in addition to the torso printing hidden by his armor.

Minifigs:: Thoughts: Sweet printing and detailing on these guys! Not much to complain about here.


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The build takes 44 steps, although the last two are only adding in accessories. They are pictured here at 7 step intervals. The process is smooth and simple. There are no interesting techniques used, but the set is sturdy throughout the process. There are some nice, irregular patterns or architecture built in, so things are mixed up frequently.

Build:: Thoughts: Relatively entertaining and sturdy all the way up.


The Whole Set:
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And we have our completed set! The set is mainly one sturdy building, with lots of little trinkets around it. Let's take a look at the trinkets first.

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The first trinket is the Shogun's horse. It utilizes the neat printed covering, and includes the classic white brick and plate for removing the saddle. Also clipped on is one of the plastic flags.

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Another trinket is the white ninja's flyer. It's incredibly simple, but accomplishes its goal and adds playability. The orange wing pieces are gorgeous!

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The final trinket is the red ninjas' treasure. They both grab one end, and store the swords on the rack. The sword storage is clever and efficient. And to top it off, they each have a spear in the barrel behind them, in addition to their swords.

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The treasure chest opens, revealing coins and a jewel. Again, more playability options.

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Let's take a look at the stronghold itself. The tan, black, and blue color scheme really jumps out at me. You can see the lovely stone decorations at the base. As you go up the building, you can see some weird details and windows. They look incoherent to me, although they are symmetrical. Towards the top, things get better again, with some nice blue roofing and architecture.

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The doorway is one of the more detailed parts. The doors have lovely printed flags, and some ladder detailing. There are a few incoherent studs, which bother me.

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The sides each feature lovely printed rocks and black stone decorations. The grappling hooks can hook onto these easily, allowing ninjas to ride down the building.

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Let's take a look at the backside. You can see that the temple has six main areas- two alcoves to the right and left, an entryway, second and third levels, and a roof. There's quite a bit of space to play in, and the color scheme is still pleasing to the eye from this view.

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The alcoves are pretty nifty and would make good stables for horses. There's quite a bit of space, due to the hollow LURP and wall panel.

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The black plank can serve as a step for ninjas to leap over the wall! Even more playability options.

2nd Floor:
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The second level features a trapdoor with two rocks on it. Pulling the pin sends them into the entryway! Also note the windows- they can be opened and closed by moving a flap on the outside.

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The rocks are poised pretty close to the center, so no matter which door the ninja enters from, they'll get pummeled!

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However, although the trapdoor is centered, it falls at an angle, so the rocks generally go to the right side.

3rd Floor:
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The third level is a tiny cannon area. The cannon in my set is non-firing, so this room has no purpose, but if the set had a firing cannon, you would need to pull the cannon here.

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The side features some interesting designs, like the jail pieces, ladders, and headlight bricks. I always thought it looked a bit sloppy.

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Here's another view of the side designs. There's an abundance of headlight bricks so the grappling hook can have a lot of places to attach. The roof area can be used to start the zip-line, or it can be a launching pad for the white ninja and her glider. Interestingly, the plastic flag only appears on one side.

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And the battle has begun! Two red ninjas turn on each other, and use the zip-line for an ambush! The white ninja attacks the shogun, with the help of some sewing thread.

More Playability:
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Another action shot, where the white ninja has crashed, and the red ninjas have stopped fighting. Note that I've used the treasure chest as a base for the zip-line, another use for it. I never really figured out who was fighting who. The shogun seems to be attacking the stronghold, but yet his flag matches the one already on it. And who are the red ninjas really working for? The ninja theme never had specific stories, so you could make them up.

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Design: 8/10 The set is very sturdy, and most parts are incredibly pleasing to the eye. However, there are some odd bits and colors that don't fit in, which bring the design score down a few points.

Parts: 10/10 A very good selection with plenty of colors and accessories. I'm a big fan of the blue roofing.

Build: 9/10 Overall a fun process, and decently long, but the string tying is quite annoying when assembling the zip-line.

Minifigs: 9/10 The ones that are included are very satisfactory, it's what's not included that's the problem. For one, there's no Emperor in the Emperor's Stronghold. Second, four minifigs for a $40 isn't great, especially considering that a $12 set, Shanghai Surprise, already has three of the four included. However, the exclusive ninja princess is a wonderful addition.

Playability: 10/10 One of the high points of the set. There's lots of accessories, rooms, and traps. Plus the minifigs' factions are interchangeable, so creativity can be expressed.

Price: 8/10 328 for $40 isn't great, but considering the large pieces and baseplate, it's not too bad. By today's price, this is really only for collectors and more serious hobbyists.

Total: 54/60 A solid set that shines in the playability and parts categories. At today's price, it's a collector's item, but if you can get your hands on one, I think you'll enjoy it. I'm very fortunate to have one, and I think there are good reasons why this set is worth so much.

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Persia versus Asia. Prince versus Shogun. Square katana versus octagonal katana. Printed horse versus covered horse. Who will triumph?

Thanks for reading!


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#2 General Redwater

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Posted 06 May 2010 - 01:07 AM

Very nice review! :thumbup:  I wish I had this set, but $100 for this I think is a bit expensive. :sad:  I like the last picture though :laugh: , as for that I think Asia would win. :classic:
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#3 ZO6


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Posted 06 May 2010 - 01:44 AM

Beauty of a review for a wonderful set!

I love the Ninja theme, and this is a fantastic addition to it.  The stronghold itself looks awesome, and the minifigures and accessories are icing on an already very tasty cake  :wub: .  I do appreciate that there is plenty of room at the back to get in and play, but I feel it's a little bare in there and I would have liked to have seen a couple more details or some sort of extra function/trap.  Anyways, thanks again for the great review!

#4 lisqr


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Posted 06 May 2010 - 02:10 AM

This was my largest set back in childhood.  :cry_sad:

Glad to be an adult and have a decent lego budget.

#5 WhiteFang


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Posted 06 May 2010 - 02:19 AM

Inky, this is a wonderful review. I am really feeling so excited for you. This set is practically one of the Crown Jewel set inside the Ninja theme legacy. It's a nice basic looking fortress, packed with cool minifigs such as the special white ninja. In addition, you can get this one of a kind exclusive shogun barding.  :wub:

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#6 lightningtiger


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Posted 06 May 2010 - 07:10 AM

Thanks 'Inconspicuous' for the review, excellent set - AWESOME minifigs......a rare female ninja - SWEET ! :grin:
Dam my dark times, ah well it would be nice to have, but dollars and cents won't allow me the chance to get it.
Keep on bricking ! :sweet:

#7 CMP


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Posted 08 May 2010 - 10:21 PM

View PostGeneral Redwater, on May 5 2010, 09:07 PM, said:

I like the last picture though :laugh: , as for that I think Asia would win. :classic:

Only an episode of Deadliest Warrior can confirm that.  :laugh:  Awesome review, always liked looking at this set.
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#8 Ratshot


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Posted 08 May 2010 - 10:36 PM

Wow, what a great set. It has so many awesome details and amazing figs as well. I'm going to be applying for a job in the next week so I should be able to afford some of the nice Ninja sets :thumbup:

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#9 Tom Bricks

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Posted 11 May 2010 - 02:27 AM

Looks good and great review. The inside could use something more though it looks rather empty.
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#10 Commodore Hornbricker

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Posted 11 May 2010 - 03:00 AM

Fantastic review.  I wish I had all of these.  I missed this theme but I have some sets and parts second hand.  It is a great set...full of Ninja goodness!  Thanks for the review.
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#11 badboytje88


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Posted 11 May 2010 - 10:59 AM

I missed the entire Ninja theme. I just wasn't interested in those sets when I was a kid. Too bad! I would love to own this set. Great review btw!

#12 josykay


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Posted 11 May 2010 - 12:41 PM

Nice Review and nice set. The Ninja-Theme was very exotic, but really cool. Especially the shoguns horse barding is the most beautifull part.

I am a bit confused because of the cannon. The samurai did refused to use gunpowder-weapons  (especially cannons), because the use of those weapons would be dishonorable, didn´t they?

#13 ziljin


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Posted 12 May 2010 - 05:50 PM

This set is amazing. Wish they made more historical themes like Ninja. And Vikings, and etc.

#14 drdavewatford


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Posted 13 May 2010 - 10:59 AM

Superb review ! Compared with some of the sets in the theme I think this particular set is perhaps a bit plain, but there are some lovely details.

Judging by the prices that used sets in this theme are going for on eBay, it's starting to be recognised as a bit of an underrated classic theme I think. I only have the Robber's retreat set so far, but I'd love to get hold of some more of them.


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