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[REVIEW] 76403 The Ministry of Magic vs 76408 12 Grimmauld Place

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LEGO finally released its first ever Deathly Hallows Part 1 set this year! But is it worth it? Or should you drop a little more on 76408 12 Grimmauld Place?

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SET INFORMATION
Number: 76403 | 76408
Name: The Ministry of Magic | 12 Grimmauld Place
Theme: Harry Potter
Released: 2022
Part Count: 990 | 1083
Minifigures: 10 | 9
Set Prices (RRP):
76403: 99.99 EUR / 89.99 GBP / 179.99 AUD / 99.99 USD / 129.99 CAD
76508: 129.99 EUR / 114.99 GBP / 199.99 AUD / 119.99 USD / 149.99 CAD
Links: (76403) Brickset, Bricklink; (76408) BricksetBricklink
Flickr set

INTRODUCTION
After 2021's Harry Potter line took an abrupt turn away from the 2-books/films-per-year model the theme had been doing since 2018, some of us fans were worried the theme was headed in an unappealing direction plagued with ugly Hogwarts and gimmicky non-playsets. We needn't have worried, as June 2022 brought us not one but two sets covering all new ground for LEGO Harry Potter, in the wave's highest price-point slots to boot.

For a LEGO Harry Potter fan these are essential sets by default, but I thought I'd pit the sets against each other and answer the question: if you could only buy one (or are looking to give one set around these price points as a gift), which one should you choose?

I bought these sets with my own hard-earned cash.

THE BUILDS
Having bought these sets for my own enjoyment and built them before deciding to write this review, I didn't take any pictures of the build process or the parts.

As a brief comment on the build process and experience, The Ministry has quite a tedious and repetitive build, as if it wasn't obvious from looking at the set itself. Its four offices all share the same external structure, and while interior details set them apart, they are still a bit of a slog to get through.

Grimmauld Place by contrast has a much more varied build, though it too has some repetitive features. Its sliding ability is the most interesting single thing to build out of either set, and it is fun to see that fully come together over the course of building the set.

THE MINIFIGURES
The sets contain nearly equal quantities of Minifigures, with the Ministry having just one more than Grimmauld in the form of the monochrome wizard statue. In terms of raw stats, both minifigure completements contain astonishing quantities of new prints: the Ministry has 8 new torsos, 1 new leg print and 5 new heads while Grimmauld has 7 new torsos, 4 new leg prints and 2 new heads plus a new moulded head for Kreacher (and Sirius' head is new this year but shared with other sets). In terms of raw data, these Minifigures have the high level of care and attention to detail we have come to expect out of the Harry Potter line.

But raw data isn't everything. How are the actual designs and choice of characters, you might ask?

Starting with the Ministry's Minifigures, it has to be said that, with a few exceptions, these characters feel rather specific if not borderline niche. I absolutely love how DH Part 1 rendered the trio's mission to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic - it's probably my favourite sequence in the film - but I doubt many people were jonesing for a Mary Cattermole Minifigure, and one on which LEGO has lavished a leg print to boot. Even Yaxley, who makes a memorable menacing impression and plays a bit of an important role, isn't the most integral character to the broad story.

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Speaking of Yaxley, his Minifigure has one of the several details across this lineup that let it down a little, being his reused face print with eyebrows that contrast too heavily with his exclusively recoloured hair. The decision to render Reg Cattermole (dark tan mustache) after his run-in with a rainy office also spoils the usefulness of the minifigure prints; it's fun attention to detail, but a light gray suit with wet splotches isn't of much use. The hairpiece chosen for Hermione's disguise, Mafalda Hopkirk, also it's right and the "bride" hairpiece should have been used as it's almost a prefect match apart from the front part going the wrong way.

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I am regularly perplexed by minor design decisions like these in the Harry Potter line, as well as the choices for which characters should receive new face prints and which shouldn't. Umbridge's smiling face is so remarkably similar to her previous incarnation, I wonder why they didn't simply use the old head and give Yaxley a new one instead. Meanwhile, they gave Hermione and Harry new prints for their un-polyjuiced faces, yet printed an existing bemused one for Ron when he could've used a new one too (perhaps depicting painful agony after splinching).

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All-in-all, I am pleased LEGO went to the lengths they did and provided us with all of these new characters to re-enact the Ministry infiltration, despite several bothersome details and the fact that few of them besides Umbridge and Arthur Weasley play that much of a role in the Harry Potter story overall.

Grimmauld Place is chock full of important characters, by contrast. Though only Kreacher makes a first appear in the line, this is the second 2018- appearance for many: Tonks, Mrs Weasley, Kingsley, plus the first appearance outside of Azkaban clothing for Sirius. 

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Fred and George maintain their unique sets of face prints from their previous appearances in Diagon Alley and the second HP CMF series, and I applaud the detail put into their and Ron's movie-accurate yet basic clothing, along with everyone else's.

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Tonks comes with an alternate piggy face and red hairpiece to demonstrate her magical abilities, and her regular face looks much more Tonks-like than her previous one. I slightly prefer the CMF series 2 Kingsley due to the printed hat especially, but this makes a decent alternative for people who missed that one. The set also contains a bright orange cat, which looks just as little like Crookshanks as the one included in CMF series 1.

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Overall, I'd say that Grimmauld's minifigures are slightly more must-have than the Ministry's due especially to Kreacher and Order of the Phoenix members Tonks and Kingsley, and the roles they all play in the series. Apart from Kingsley's hat lacking a print and Mrs Weasley continuing to use a face that doesn't quite suit her, I'd also say that I can find no flaws with the designs, while there are some noticeable ones in the Ministry.

EXTERIORS
For sets priced $20 apart, the sets have similar visual impact overall, given that the Ministry goes tall and makes use of negative space while Grimmauld packs in the detail more densely. The Ministry might even be more striking due to its gaudy colour scheme and overall footprint.

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And boy what a colour scheme. I know a lot of that comes down to the dark and moody colour grading, but this set looks a whole lot more like LEGO's imagining of a Ministry amalgamated from books and movies rather than something pulled off the screen. Pausing film clips, vertical lines of brick past the office windows are red, but they don't look as bold as these red lines, and of course they are brick with brick patterning. This isn't terrible, but something about it doesn't quite capture the true feel of the Ministry in the films.

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Grimmauld Place also has had some visual liberties taken, but looks more similar to its film counterpart overall. In the films, Grimmauld Place is the same colour as the surrounding town houses, but for a toy and display piece I think making it stand out with a distinct colour scheme was a good choice. It also just generally looks good and would work outside of the Harry Potter context.

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Both sets have the option for multiple configurations in which to display them. The Ministry's sections are modular, meaning they can be rearranged like in the image below, or in further different ways. Their modularity has the drawback of compromising the structural integrity of the model overall, so you have to be very careful when moving it.

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Grimmauld Place has the massive, set-wide play feature of being able to hide Number 12 away via a smooth and simple-feeling sliding mechanism. No complex gearing or anything of the sort; simply pull at the lampposts to reveal Number 12, and conversely push there to hide it back away. This allows for the set to be displayed mid-transformation, which could be a good way to show off the set's feature even while static, or it could be displayed with Number 12 hidden altogether.

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INTERIORS | Ministry of Magic
Each module of the Ministry of Magic set is pretty much made to be played with separately, and the modules don't amount to much when viewed all together from the back, like this. Nobody would display this set from the back.

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It's impressive that the Ministry looks as sizable and impressive as it does while still managing to have side builds. In the films, the Fountain of Magical Brethren is split into two sections: one of just the wizard, and the other containing the centaur, witch, goblin and house elf. In Deathly Hallows, the wizard statue remains while the other one is replaced by the fascist statue of wizards crushing muggles, so including the wizard here is technically accurate to the scene. It's much much smaller than it should be, but that's ok.

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The phonebooth visitors' entrance doesn't make an appearance in Deathly Hallows, but is a fine inclusion anyway and allows for more Ministry of Magic scenes to be played out. It's very nice that the door is printed and not stickered (and also available on Pick a Brick). Fun fact: the phonebooth can also just barely fit all of the set's spare parts!

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On ground level we have one of the many magic fireplaces, and a decorative section with stacks of printed Undesirable No. 1 newspapers featuring Harry. The reverse sides of these sections don't look like much, but it's fun how the designer has used gems for the handles of play function actuators.

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The fireplace can be tipped back to make a minifigure "magically" disappear, while the newspaper stacks on either side can be shot off with decent force, sort of mimicking when Harry flicks the newspapers as a diversion while the trio tries to make their escape.

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On the next level up we have rooms that don't really make sense in this context. On the left is the courtroom chair where Umbridge sits to interrogate people, while on the right is a shelving unit of prophecies from the Hall of Prophecies (which Harry and co destroyed in Order of the Phoenix). Both of these scenes take place in their own massive rooms in the basement level of the Ministry, and there's no room to put minifigures with them anyway, so they feel quite shoehorned in.

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For play it's almost essential to take these rooms off and put them on the ground so that the courtroom furniture can be taken out and displayed separately, but then you're left with an empty office room. The prophecy shelving has a decent play feature to simulate knocking it over, but again it's forcing you to play outside of the included room, rather than actually having enough space for minifigures to interact with the room properly.

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Unfortunately the same problems persist in the actual offices. Umbridge and Arthur's offices have great detail packed in, but once again there is no space for minifigures to interact with the rooms apart from sitting in the seats. I have tried placing a second figure in Umbridge's office, but there's no space at all in Arthur's.

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The bridge section that links the two towers has a nod to all the desks where workers sit typing. The placement of this desk seems odd, but the detail looks good, and there is actually space for minifigures up here.

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The set also contains some printed 1x1 accessories, which I haven't shown yet. There's Slytherin's locket (the object of the trio's infiltration), a bumblebee in Arthur's brief case for some reason, and a Time Turner in Thicknesse's briefcase.

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INTERIORS | Grimmauld Place
Unlike with the Ministry, you could potentially display Grimmauld Place from the back because it has a doll-house style interior with lots of details that ostensibly fit together. For fairness, we'll explore each room and test how will the rooms fits minifigures.

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The main, central room contains the dining room/kitchen with banquet table. This placement is awkward since of course this should be entrance hall, being near the door. This room also contains another instance of a set suggesting you pop something off to play with alongside the actual set, being the little stove build. It can be left on the set, but doesn't interact with figures well in that position. Otherwise, there is ample space for figures in this room.

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Off to the right we find a room containing actual entrance hall details, in the form of a small table and an umbrella or broom holder made out of a severed troll foot. There's also the portrait of Mrs Black, covered by a curtain so she doesn't scream. Given all of the builds here, there is not much room for minifigures.

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Over on the other side is merely a storage closet, which can fit a whole figure, like Kreacher.

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One level up, we find two sitting room-like rooms containing a large armchair and a piano, and then off to the right is the room with the Black family tree.

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These rooms contain enough space for figures, and I love the attention to detail with the relatives blotted out from the family tree.

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The top floor has bedrooms and an empty space portraying something that I do not recall from the films. Some sort of empty attic?

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On the right is a fairly generic bedroom, where Fred and George can hang out. Slytherin's locket sits on a shelf, so is this Regulus' room?

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On the left is Sirius' bedroom, complete with patterned bed and bat "skeletons". I love seeing this old bat mould in tan, though they do hang awfully low.

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CONCLUSION
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While it's fantastic to get a Ministry of Magic and Deathly Hallows-based set, both thing for which fans have been clamoring for quite some time, 76408 12 Grimmauld Place is the better set of these two. It matches the movies reasonably well and has the fantastic mechanism of hiding Number 12, while the 76403 kind of matches the movie design for the Ministry but looks a bit off. Grimmauld Place has detailed, limited but at least usable interior, while the Ministry has a couple of ok rooms and a couple that shoehorn in different locations, while leaving no actual interior space for play whatsoever.

Both sets include very details minifigures with heaps of new prints, but Grimmauld Place contains the more important characters of the two, and has fewer flaws in its minifigures' details than the Ministry, even if the flaws I pointed out are minor nitpicks.

Finally, though I didn't really touch on all of the accessories given this review is already so long, Grimmauld Place strikes me as the better parts pack, at least for interesting recoloured parts like the tan bats, sand blue barrel, new brooms, (not) Crookshanks and more.

SCORE | 76403 The Ministry of Magic
How do I rate this set?

9 MINIFIGURES
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Despite their flaws, it still is an awesome minifigure lineups with many characters I never thought we'd get, and lots of new prints.

9 PIECES
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There's nothing especially fantastic here, but there are plenty of parts for the price, which is good. If you like dark green panels, this is the set for you.

6 DESIGN
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It doesn't totally capture the feel of the Ministry of Magic from the films, and the interiors are way too cramped.

6 PLAYABILITY
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Hand-in-hand with the design, playability feels severely compromised by the design of the interior rooms. While there's certainly play to be had around the set and with all of the included minifigures, the cramped rooms would still hamper play.

10 PRICE
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The set has shelf presence going for it, and plenty of parts and minifigures, so I can't fault the price.

8 OVERALL - 76403 The Ministry of Magic isn't a bad set by any means, and the novelty of it certainly makes it attractive, but it could be better with more interior space and a more restrained colour scheme.

SCORE | 76408 12 Grimmauld Place
How do I rate this set?

10 MINIFIGURES
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A fantastic lineup of important characters, done well in new outfits.

10 PIECES
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Lots of good accessories and generally good stuff to be had in this set.

9 DESIGN
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The sliding mechanism for Number 12 is wonderful in its simplicity, the exterior looks good, and the interior is packed with details. Only the arrangement of some of the interior space leaves a little bit to be desired.

8 PLAYABILITY
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The hiding function is a massive thing for play in and of itself, while the interior also has pretty good room for play, but some cramped spaces and rooms that lack enough available floor space bring this score down.

9 PRICE
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While the set feels heavy and dense, it's overall footprint feels just a tad small for the price, so I can't give the RRP full marks. A slight discount would make it a no-brainer.

9.2 OVERAL- Like 75980 Attack on the Burrow before it, 76408 12 Grimmauld Place captures a magical home with plenty of detail, fantastic and appropriate minifigures, and of course the core house-revealing function.

 

GIFT GUIDE

For a kid... both of these sets would provide good fun, but the sliding function and better space for place in Grimmauld Place edges out the Ministry for me.

For an AFOL... Grimmauld Place provides the more intriguing building experience and could also fit into displays outside of Harry Potter. Its colour scheme is also more suited to being a parts pack, for AFOLs that like earthy and grey tones anyway.

For a casual LEGO fan...  I would still recommend Grimmauld Place for the build and the fact that it looks more recognisable on display.

For a Harry Potter super fan... both of these sets are essential buys for a Harry Potter collection, though if you had to get just one, the characters and sentimental value of Grimmauld Place might make it slightly more essential.

 

But what do you think? Ministry of Magic, or Grimmauld Place?

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What a great way to review these sets! The Ministry feels more like a parts pack for Dark Green fans while Grimmauld feels like a better HP set.

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