Over the last few weeks, we have started to see images of next year’s sets, and there are some changes afoot for LEGO City. The images, revealed by a Dutch retailer, and republished throughout the LEGO Fan Media, show a new design of LEGO Road based on a new modular plate system, rather than the traditional baseplate. I’ll look at the new system later, including a best guess simulation, as well as a new use for your old plates. But first, let’s remind ourselves of what we have known over the last 40 years or so.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Since 1978, roads in LEGO Town and subsequently City, have been based on baseplates. In a variety of greys with different road markings, we have had several consistent shapes over the years: Straight, 90º curve, T-Intersection and Crossroads. Other road plates have been produced, but are outside the scope of this discussion.
These plates are all 32×32 in size. Initially, the plates were sold in 2 packs – with double of the same plate.
In 1978: the plates feature a road bordered with green lines, and then 9 studs to build on, beside the road. Essentially leaving us with a road that is 14 studs wide ( with some offset for the road, and centre line) – around 5 studs/lane, at a time when the majority of vehicles are 4 studs wide. Cross walks are present on the straight and T interesection
In 1986, we see a subtle revision – removing an additional 2 studs from the verge on each side, leaving us with 7 studs to build on. Additional white printing along the edges of the road gives us some guttering. Crosswalks are now only to be seen on the crossroad and T-intersection
We see further changes in 1997: We now have roadside reserves, grassed areas, 8 studs wide, with a green strip along the edges of the road. Pedestrian crossings are on 2 sides of T-Intersection, and all of the crossroads. The plates are green in this iteration, and the road is printed on in grey.
In 2002, we have another revision, again on green pates. The roads are now dark grey. Only the side road of the T- Intersection, along with the crossroads has a crossing. these plates are only on the market until 2005, when the contemporary plates were released. Here, the studs are only present for 6 studs on either side of the road. This makes our road a total of 20 studs wide, roughly 10 studs per side, this is important now that we have an increasing number of vehicles that are wider riding the roads of LEGO City. With cars at six studs and trucks often 8 studs wide, the extra width providing that additional realism of allowing cars to park at the side, and preventing another vehicle from driving past them without crossing the median line, and increasing the risk of a head on collision.
The LEGO City Plates, as we know them today, have been on the market since 2005. They feature similar markings to the 2002 plates, except they are all printed on dark stone grey plates, and the drain grilles are printed in medium stone grey. I regard this as an attempt to reduce costs, by reducing the amount of printing required. However, this is the first time that the plates remove any form of ‘green’ from the plates – marking a descent into urban brutality, and moving away from the natural world. Initially sold in packs that combined Straight and cross roads; and T-intersection and curve, the packs were rearranged in 2019: Curves and crossroads; T and Straight.
Like the 2002 plates, these plates have 6 studs on either side of the road.
It has been some time now since we saw a street style baseplate, with studs and ‘flat’ included in a LEGO City set. In 2010, we saw one in the fire station (7208), we also had two examples in 2011: the 7498 Police Station, and the 3368 Space Centre.
The most recent appearance of any baseplate, as far as I can identify, in a ‘normal’ LEGO City set was in 2012 – the 4207 City Garage.
Thesed days. baseplates themselves are relative rarities: other than the Classic Range, they turn up annually on the bottom of the Creator Expert Modular Buildings, and larger sets such as the Ninjago City, and Ninjago docks. It would appear that we will also see a number of baseplates used in the 80107 Chinese New Year Lantern Festival in 2021 to make up its footprint of 48 x 32.
The Bother With Baseplates:
There have been fewer opportunities for baseplates to be used in recent years: but why might that be the case? Other than nostaglia value, what do they have going for them?
Baseplates are not entirely in system:
A baseplate is approximately half a plate thick, plus the height of the stud. The top of the plates is fine, but the bottom of the plate does not accept a stud. Never has. Probably never will. Baseplates do not join together without a fixed gap, either. This is never an issue with regular plates.
Increasingly, we have seen regular plates form the base of LEGO City buildings, as well as those in LEGO Friends sets. The base of Old Trafford – the Creator Expert set released earlier in 2020, is a network of Technic frames. A base to a diorama that is five plates thick (eg a brick and two plates) is the perfect thickness to incorporate a tidy SNOT Frame. A baseplate will not.
Baseplates limit the size of packaging. Once you put a 32×32 plate into a set, you have defined the minimum dimensions of the box. If smaller road elements can be developed, then it will not influence the size of the packaging as much.
Baseplates are relatively flimsy:
Certainly, once a baseplate becomes greater that 16 x 16 studs, it becomes relatively flexible, and potentially prone to breakage.
Baseplates are no longer manufactured in house:
I have heard this from multiple sources over recent weeks, but I do not have specific details. Certainly, if regular road baseplates are discontinued, only the ‘standard’ baseplates need to be continued: reducing the process to only one mold: around 48 studs wide, allowing the excess plastic to be trimmed off and recycled. The need for the molds for the four different road plates will be eliminated.
BUT nothing will change the fact that for covering a lot of area quickly, baseplates are terribly convenient. And, if you have been accumulating parts for a few years, you will quite possibly have more than you can comfortably use.
We have looked into the Future, and it is (very nearly) here.
So, what can we expect to see in the new road system? We have seen images from some of the 2021 LEGO City sets, and it appears that at this point in time, we can expect to see road elements in at least four of the 17 sets that pictures have been seen for (source: Brickset) What elements can we see?
Let’s look a little closer at the road pack 60304. Today, I am just looking at the road elements, and ignoring other elements such as the signage, plants and the cool glow-in-the-dark 1×2 plates used as street lights.
The roads appear to be 2 plates thick, and there appear to be 16×16 and 8×16 variations. The sets also come with ramp elements, a curved slope 4×8 studs, to facilitate cars going on and off-road. It which appears that it might well be this element, seen here in 60074 Bulldozer.
As far as I can can see, the plates had 1×4 studs between the 3rd to 6th; as well as the 11th-14th stud position, where applicable. A 1×4 tile will edge the road nicely, where a 2×4 will connect to a neighbouring plate. Yellow 2x4x 33º slopes will be available to use as speed bumps. This is the first time we have seen this element in this colour since 1996.
The 8×16 elements appear to come in unprinted and printed versions (showing a pedestrian crossing). The 16×16 elements appear to be unprinted, with the option to insert 2×4 tiles with a street line printed in them.
It would appear to be relatively simple to convert a straight to a T intersection or cross roads, but I am uncertain as to how a curve might be created here.
I appreciate that the road plates are relatively versatile – with plates allowing the addition of a skate park, or street hockey goal nets, while printed tiles can create lane division. Indeed, you could attach 2 side by side to create a multilane highway.
I also apprectiate that the 60304 road pack comes with a few plates to place signs on. If the road plate is flush against a footpath, then the signs could be placed on that footpath..
There appear to be both printed and unprinted 2×4 tiles available, with 4 places for a 2×4 tile to be installed in the road plate.
Putting it all together: Simulation of new road elements
I do not have access to the new street elements yet, so I attempted to reconstruct them, based on what I can see in the pictures that have surfaced from some online retailers recently. I expect that they will look a bit like these. I expect that the studded recesses in the plates will have holes in them, to allow removal of any plates or tiles you insert. They will also be in Dark Stone Grey only at this time.
I am left wondering if I have now found a solution to my dual problems – what do I do with my old baseplates, and how do I make a modular building flush with the new road system?
A New Problem, a New Solution
So… Here is a modular building, with its basic layer of baseplate and tiles. It’s a little dusty, please ignore that. As you can see, the footpath is a little shorter than the level of the new double plate road. As you can see, the new road element is likely to be higher than the footpath.
I now have many redundant baseplates, that are no longer ‘supported’ in LEGO City. Perhaps I will use them to support LEGO City:
As you can see, the street is now just a little lower than the modular’s footpath, even giving a feeling of a slight gutter.
Might these new roadplates be a better option?
These are just my thoughts: the 16 stud square foot print will make them easier to pack into standard packaging, to say nothing of using the same moulding technology as the other elements manufactured by LEGO. Reduced packaging size also means potentially reduced shiping costs and environmental impact per item delivered.
We now have control over how wide our roads might be, and with the ever expanding dimensions of LEGO vehicles, we need a wider road today than we had in 1980. There have been multiple revisions to the LEGO road system in the past 40 years, but the current plates have been in use for over 15 years. Over this time, we have seen many builders abandon road plates for a brick built version (often competitive in price), particularly in city layouts at exhibitions.
Where do I stand? I’m torn. Over the years, I have made a significant investment in the old road system. However, I don’t have a fulltime LEGO City layout on display. I am curious to try the new system, and will endeavour to do so in the new year. I do wonder if a ‘curved corner’ option will become available. I doubt it, but I live in hope. I believe that the new system provides an option for a ‘Green verge’ to the road, rather than the grey offered by the current plates, and that might also increase the amount of parkland we are automatically drawn to create in LEGO City. Of course, this change has been prepared for in part, through the use of 2 plate thick elements in the juniors range, in recent years.
We are getting to the time of year where next year’s modular is due to be announced ‘Real Soon Now’ – I wonder if it will continue to be set on a baseplate, or on the ‘new normal’ plates? Hopefully we shall find out soon.
What do you think of the new modular road system? Do you think it is potentially an improvement, or to the detriment of LEGO City? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
In the meantime,