My interest in LEGO has spread through our extended family. The kids are discovering the hobby and even some of the adults have shown a desire to do a little building. As a result, I already have several sets to wrap this year and I'm sure they will be opened to great excitement in the coming weeks.
I thought it would be fun to sit down and go over some of what I see as the best gift-giving options for the little (or big) LEGO fan on your list. Several of these sets I have built and even reviewed here, while others are based on my impressions from looking over other reviews and the parts lists. I'm a little late for Black Friday, but there's still plenty of shopping days left before the holidays.
Stocking stuffers (Under $15)
I think these represent some of the better small sets out there right now. Perfect for the kid you kind of know and need to get a gift for, or if you just want to pad the stocking with a little extra something.
Gandalf Arrives - There's a ton of play value packed into this at a fairly reasonable price point. My daughter is still a little too young for regular bricks, but this is one of the sets she always gravitates toward when she comes in my LEGO room. She loves to push the little cart around and play with the fireworks. Both of the figures are great, there are interesting accessories, and you get a new horse. I don't think young fans of LEGO even need to be familiar with Lord of the Rings to enjoy this set.
Mia's Bedroom - This is pretty impressive for a $10 set. Between the bed, drum kit, and furniture; I see plenty of good play value for young fans of the Friends line. If I did not have larger sets for my nieces ready to go, I would probably grab a copy of this for them. Friends has been a big hit this year and I'm glad to have an easy gift idea that both of my nieces seem to love.
Batmobile polybag in the Christmas stocking stuffer aisle at Target is a great little build. The Ghost polybag has also been a big hit with my nephew, who reportedly plays with the ghost all the time. Both of those will require a little more effort to locate, but I honestly would not feel bad about giving any of the polys LEGO currently has out there.
The "average" gift range ($15-$40)
Jay's Storm Fighter - While Kai's Blade Cycle seems to get most of the love, I am far more impressed with this set. I find the cycle too bulky and the jet has far more possibilities for play beyond the world of Ninjago. If you have a Ninjago fan on your list, my vote goes for this one. Ninjas are great, no matter what color they come in, and evil snake dudes can be put to multiple uses...but awesome jets with swords mounted on them can swoosh around the living room for hours on end.
Garbage Truck - Many of the City vehicles in this price range have interesting features, but this one gets my pick for best design. It just feels like a much large vehicle than most of the others and it's a service vehicle that goes beyond the usual fire trucks and police cars that tend to dominate city collections. If you dislike the idea of giving a garbage truck, the Dump Truck is also a great vehicle.
Superman vs. Lex Luthor - I love almost anything Super Heroes related, but this has consistently been one of my favorite sets from the first wave of the DC/Marvel lines. The power suit is a joy to build and the articulation makes it tons of fun to play with. The figures are just amazing as well. Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of the $20 SH sets, but this one is hands down my favorite. The Cosmic Cube Escape and Chopper Showdown are both excellent, but I have a lifelong attachment to Superman and I really think this is just one of the best sets LEGO has put out this year. It's also a really good value when broken down by price per piece.
Black Phantom - While I'm not a huge fan of Hero Factory, I know many kids seem to love the sets. I think the Black Phantom is one of the more impressive sets in the line. You get a very imposing figure and the black parts make it possible to use this for something beyond just making the phantom. I keep meaning to grab one of these to use as the basis for a MOC Balrog.
The Vampyre Hearse - I'm a big fan of The Werewolf set also, but I think the hearse has a lot more going for it. The car is just extremely cool and comes with the two main characters of the MF line. You also get a zombie, even if it is the most common one out there. As I've said before, I don't think you can really go long with most of the MF line. I picked this one since I think it's the cheapest set that actually starts to feel like you're getting something substantial.
For the "really good" kids ($40-80)
This is also the range where you start getting to sets adults will really enjoy more as well, since they offer more of a challenge and are typically more detailed.
Fire Plane - As usual, the City theme is full of police and fire vehicles. Still, I like the more rural focus of some of the 2012 sets. Between the forest police and some of the more landscape related fire sets, there have been some interesting new designs this year. I like this set because there's a lot going on. You have an excellent plane and small vehicle, along with some scenery that actually gives them something to do.
Olivia's House - It might be getting hard to find, but that's mainly because of how popular this set is. It really is an amazing model at this price point and is full of fun little details. If you are pushing the Friends line with your young ones, this is a set that should not be missed. I've also seen some fun MOC Friends modulars out there that make use of this set to start things off.
Attack on Weathertop - It looks small, but there are actually a ton of details in this set and the figures are great as well. I think adults will really appreciate this one as well. There are several exclusives in here, such as the Ringwraiths and Merry figures. I like this miles above The Mines of Moira, since it feels far more complete.
The Ghost Train - This set will probably end up being one of the more iconic releases of the year, given its unique design and appeal to train fans. In the Monster Fighters line, it only comes in second to the hard to find Haunted House. Note that it will require serious modifications to run on LEGO track, but it's still worth picking up for young monster and train fans out there (and big ones as well).
Destiny's Bounty - Ninjago is hot this year and I'm really wishing I had stocked up on sets like this, since they are now becoming very hard to find in the run-up to Christmas. If you can find it, I think this ship is probably one of the better large offerings in the theme. There's a number of excellent minifigures present and the ship itself has a great design. If you can't find the Bounty, check out the excellent Samurai Mech instead.
X-Wing - It's by no means the first (or probably last) version of this iconic Star Wars ship, but most agree it is the best design yet. It's swooshable, it has a ton of figures, and it can usually be found for much cheaper than the suggested retail price. An easy grab for Star Wars fans of any age.
For the "amazingly good kids/spouses" ($80-150)
This is the stuff that growing up as a kid my parents would have picked as a "big present" under the tree. Most of them are more expensive, but I would only get a set like this once a year on Christmas. These sets are the ones fans young and old will enjoy.
Fire Brigade - I have built every single one of the modular buildings at this point, and this remains my favorite. It's the one the kids always want me to take off the shelf and it's probably destined to become a classic. It's amazingly detailed and is something fans of all ages can appreciate. I would buy this again without a second thought...even though it's the building that started me down the very dark path of modular collecting. It's currently selling for about $130 on Amazon, which is a great discount.
Jabba's Palace - Hours of fun and pairs up nicely with the Desert Skiff and soon to be released Rancor Pit. Past Jabba-based sets have done fairly well after retirement, and I expect this one will hold its popularity for years to come. I see this as the best of the bunch for the non-UCS Star Wars sets out there.
The Mine - I think this theme is doing a little bit better than people expected. This set is already hard to find in many places, although I think that could be more related to the Walmart $40 mistake about a month ago. Still, this thing is packed with cool features and vehicles, which is sure to entertain many kids.
Shuttle Expedition - You will only find this online or at a LEGO store, but this is another one of my favorite sets from the past year. I love the space program and this now retired shuttle will likely serve as a symbol of US exploration for decades to come. The ship itself has a fairly solid design and is a joy to build. It's also extremely impressive on display and has plenty of play features for kids. Currently marked down to about $85, this thing is a steal and should be in your family's collection.
Helm's Deep - You either love this set or you find it falls short. Personally, I was very impressed after completing it and I think it has a lot to offer young and old fans. The figures are amazingly detailed, as are the walls of the fortress itself. It's also another set that's been on sale a lot lately, making it an excellent bargain.
Epic Dragon Battle - The ship has probably sailed on finding a Fire Temple at this point, so this is your best bet to find a Dragon this year. I do like the Fire Temple more, but I think this will still make any young Ninjago fan go wild if they find it beneath the wrapping paper. I have only seen display models up close, but the dragon appears to be very well designed and has some great play features. You also get a ton of minifigures. More Ninjas!
The Batcave - My pick for best set at the top end of the Super Heroes line. At least until Arkham Asylum comes out next year. There's tons to do with this set and I've found hours of entertainment just dropping Bruce Wayne down to become Batman. I would look around before paying the secondary market prices on this right now, since it should still be readily available in most stores.
For the "Can you buy presents for me?" crowd ($150+)
This is the stuff that's for the really good kid/adult on your list.
Imperial Shuttle - Likely to retire soon, this is the current UCS set I desire the most but am unlikely to buy for myself. The IS is just another one of those iconic Star Wars vehicles everyone knows and the construction on this just looks amazing. Get it now, while you can, since all signs point to it going away as soon as supplies run out.
Death Star - The DS is one of those releases that just will not die, but it also seems to be one of the most celebrated sets since the UCS Millennium Falcon. With a huge assortment of minifgures and scenes from throughout the classic trilogy, I can't imagine any gift that would make a fan happier and keep them very busy for a few weeks.
The Haunted House - One of my top targets going in to 2013 will be this set. I'm just waiting for a good sale and holding out hope they don't keep back stock like they do with the winter line. I can't say enough about this set. Just look at the many glowing reviews out there and it should be clear that any fan would love to find this under the tree. Currently, the best place to pick this up is through a LEGO store or LEGO.com, where you can get it for about $190.
That ended up being a much longer list than I expected. Let me know in the comments if there's anything I missed that you feel would make a good addition. Happy shopping!