Review: #21038 Las Vegas Skyline (with Mandalay Bay Hotel)
In the 12-year history of the LEGO Architecture series, only two sets were cancelled before widespread release. Brick Architect had the unique opportunity to review one of them.
About the set
I was cautiously optimistic about a LEGO Skyline based on Las Vegas when photos of the set were intially released. It seemed like an odd choice to create a children’s toy based on the city where “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Admittedly, in recent years the city has evolved to be more family-friendly.
Having already built and reviewed the widely available revised version of the model (#21047 Las Vegas Skyline, released in September 2018), I was interested in seeing how many differences there were between both versions. I was most excited to explore the building techniques used to build the Mandalay Bay Hotel, which features a ton of exciting 297Warm GoldPearl Gold pieces. I was also curious to see if anything else changed besides a 2-stud narrower base.
#21038 Las Vegas Skyline (January 2018 version)
- Date released: January 2018
- Expected Price: About $50 (€39.99)
- Piece count: 487
- Number of known copies: 24
Other cancelled LEGO Architecture sets
The 12-year history of the LEGO Architecture series began with 21000 Sears Tower. Since then, only two sets were cancelled before widespread release. The first gap was 21025, which was rumored to be based on the Eames House, an iconic early modernist home. (1949, by Charles and Ray Eames, in Pacific Palisades, California.)
Eurobricks was one of the sources indicating that Eames House was planned for 21025, but Toys N Bricks suggested that Eames House was cancelled earlier (near the time of 21014 Villa Savoye & 21015 Leaning Tower of Pisa.)
While we will probably never know which set was planned for 21025, The LEGO Group confirmed “no 20125 will launch – system failure” (Facebook @LEGOArchitecture, Jan 4, 2016) and “We think it was a number assigned to a set in design but never made it to production.” (Facebook @LEGO, April 17, 2017).
The second gap is 21038, which was announced as the original design for the Las Vegas Skyline set, then cancelled before the set reached widespread distribution. The set was revised in response to the mass shooting event that occurred at the Mandalay Bay Hotel on October 1, 2017, replacing Mandalay Bay with the Bellagio.
21040 creates one more gap in the current numbering system, which one would have expected to be released in the 2018 wave (#21039 is Shanghai Skyline, and #21041 is Great Wall of China.) It’s too early to conclude that there will be no set with this number, since sets are sometimes released out of order.
A history of nonviolence
Due to the difficulty in acquiring this set, and the natural desire to compare it to the updated version, this section is a bit different than most of our reviews. Most notably, there is limited detail about the buildings which also appeared in #21047. (Read our review of #21047 Las Vegas Skyline for a more detailed look at the Las Vegas Sign, Luxor, Encore, Stratosphere, and Fremont Experience.)
With 487 pieces, this is one of the larger sets in the Architecture series to not include numbered bags representing stages of the assembly process. (This was also true in the widely available #21047 version, which contains 501 pieces.)
The build process begins the same as the updated version, and every other set in the LEGO Architecture Skyline series—we build a sturdy base featuring the iconic front-facing black nameplate and black tile.
That said, minor changes between the two versions start to appear right away. Most notably, many of the plates hidden inside the base are 1White in this version, while they are 24Bright YellowYellow and 102Medium Blue in the revised version. We also see slightly different design for the lowest layer of black plates: the revised version uses a 2×2 Corner Plate (part 2420) to make space for the hole beneath the clip, instead of a regular 1×1 Plate (part 3024) along the back. Another significant difference is in the section projecting 4-studs backwards to hold the Luxor Pyramid; in this version it is covered in 26Black and 194Medium Stone GreyLight Bluish Gray Tiles for extra support, while it is hollow in the revised model.
The biggest differences appear on the far left end of the base. For one thing, this version of the model is 2-studs narrower than the revised version. It also has a different rear-facing protrusion. This version uses Wedge Plates to create an asymmetrical pier extending 3-studs further back to support the Mandalay Bay Hotel, whereas the Bellagio requires a larger 2×4 rectangular pier.
The tiles used to cover the base are functionally the same, except those which are beneath the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Nonetheless, there are some fairly arbitrary changes here too, including using 199Dark Stone GreyDark Bluish Gray 2×2 Corner Tiles (part 14719) instead of various straight tiles. When we get to the base beneath the Mandalay Bay Hotel, we see two of the relatively new 2×2 Cut Corner Tiles (part 27263) covering the wedge plates. I also noticed that the clip holding the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign is one stud further forward in the revised model.
Buildings which appear in both versions
In steps 29-36, we build the Fremont Experience, and in steps 39-43, we build the Luxor Hotel and Sphinx. Both are identical to the revised #21047 version of the model.
Steps 45-51 build the Stratosphere Tower. It is nearly identical, except the 1×1 Round Plate w/ hole (part 85861) on the top of the tower is a 194Medium Stone GreyLight Bluish Gray on this version, and 1White in the revised version.
Another minor change is in the Encore Hotel. In step 37, we build the bottom floor of the hotel using another 1×1 Round Plate w/ hole (part 85861), also in 194Medium Stone GreyLight Bluish Gray. (In the revised version of this model, it was replaced with a 1×1 Round Plate (part 4073) in 192Reddish Brown.)
Mandalay Bay Hotel
The only structure that’s unique to this version is the Mandalay Bay Hotel. It’s exterior is lavishly decorated in a huge number of 297Warm GoldPearl Gold parts, including two elements which have not been included in any other set. (Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to build this version of the model with the parts you have or can acquire online.)
The Hotel’s triangular arrangement of wings is achieved using Technic 3-Blade Rotor (part 32125) in 297Warm GoldPearl Gold. A horizontal white stripe appears near the bottom of the model, closely matching the real building. The three wings are created using SNOT techniques, which allows three white stripes on each wing.
The rest of the 297Warm GoldPearl Gold exterior is comprised of just three unique parts: 1×1 Plates (part 3024), 1×2 Tiles (part 3069), and 1x2x1⅔ Brick w/ 2 studs 1-side (part 32952). The space inbetween the three panels is occupied by a stack of 1White 1×1 Round parts. After attaching the three wings, we add two layers of white plates and tiles on the top of the model.
The final effect is quite pleasing, matching the hotel’s appearance pretty closely. One difference worth noting is that the real building has nine vertical white stripes per wing, rather than three. This doesn’t bother me too much since it’s common to reduce complexity while capturing the spirit of the original structure in a LEGO model. A bit more upsetting is the fact that the proportions aren’t quite right, with the LEGO model a few plates taller than it should be.
Nonetheless, the 297Warm GoldPearl Gold exterior makes the Mandalay Bay Hotel an aesthetically pleasing addition to the model, which is sure to catch people’s attention.
LEGO Internal Review Process
Every official LEGO set goes through many different versions—the difference is that we usually only get to see the final version! (That said, there is a photo of a larger version of #21035 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in my 2018 interview with Rok Žgalin Kobe.)
Having two very similar versions of the same model gives us a window into the ways that the final stages of the editorial process at LEGO result in a variety of refinements. Even though the #21038 version would have completed the normal review process, bringing it back through the process resulted in several types of changes:
- Subtle improvements to the model, such as using a 2×2 Corner Plate (part 2420) in the base of the revised model.
- Brighter colors for hidden structural elements (presumably to make the model easier to build.)
- A further reduction in unique parts to make the set cheaper to manufacture, such as completely removing 1×1 Round Plate w/ hole (part 85861) in 194Medium Stone GreyLight Bluish Gray from the model.
About the parts
The majority of the pieces in this set are the same as in #21047 Las Vegas Skyline—with the exception of two elements which are unique to this set, none of the elements are especially rare or expensive.
Unfortunately, two of the elements are not available outside of this set:
- 2x – 297Warm GoldPearl Gold Technic 3-Blade Rotor (part 32125)
- 12x – 297Warm GoldPearl Gold 1x2x1⅔ Brick w/ 2 studs 1-side (part 32952)
November 6, 2019: I updated the building instructions to use the 1×8 black tile with “Las Vegas” printed on it, and re-rendered the image shown below.
I actually built this model twice—once using the real LEGO bricks included in the set, and once using the Stud.io 2.0 software (from BrickLink). This gave me two opportunities to discover differences between the two versions of the model, and it gave me a chance to try Stud.io for the first time.
I was also motivated to re-create the model in LEGO CAD software, as this is an easy way to share the building instructions with a wider audience. It also allowed me to create some high-resolution renders of the finished model, which I’m happy to share here.
- 21038-Las_Vegas_Skyline-v2.io (BrickLink Stud.io 2.0)
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The main point of this review is to offer a comparison between the LEGO re-creations of the Bellagio and the Mandalay Bay Hotel, as these are the only significant differences between the two models. I strongly believe that the Bellagio was a better choice for a Las Vegas skyline set, because the building has a strong design, and it’s impossible to visit the Las Vegas Strip and not notice it’s choreographed fountain performances. That said, I found the building techniques used to build the Bellagio quite displeasing—the ugly clips and bars visible on the back of the model really detracted from my impressions of that version of this set.
Even if we set aside the tragic events which unfolded at the Mandalay Bay hotel, it isn’t as prominent of a hotel and not as aesthetically pleasing. That said, the LEGO re-creation is quite faithful, and looks striking in the finished model due to the overwhelmingly large number of 297Warm GoldPearl Gold bricks used to create it.
Since Mandalay Bay Hotel is a better LEGO model, but it’s based on a less interesting building than the Bellagio, the two models feel about equal in overall quality. With very few other changes compared to the more widely distributed #21047 version, it’s not surprising that my objective assessment of #21038 is that it deserves the same rating—both versions earned our modest ‘Good’ (3/5 stars) rating.
From South Africa to Seattle
This story is incomplete without thanking Bob and Kerri for providing a copy of this extremely rare set for me to review. I’m excited to share this international story of kindness and trust.
In January, Bob Kueppers contacted me hoping to learn more about broader availability of #21038, the original version of the Las Vegas Skyline set. He explained that in July 2018, he saw photos of #21038 in a retail store on Instagram. He reached out to the person who posted the photos.
The photos were taken by Kerri, who purchased the set for 699.99 South African Rand (about $50) at Lilliputs, a retail store in Johannesburg, South Africa. Kerri was very new to LEGO and had no idea that the set was rare! Since the store was not able to ship the set halfway around the world to Bob’s home in Ohio, he asked Kerri if she would be willing to buy the six remaining sets, keep one as a thank you, and ship the rest to Bob’s home.
Kerri was happy to help, so Bob sent money for the sets and expensive international shipping costs, and waited several long months for the sets to arrive. After sharing their stories with me, photos of the sets and receipts, as well as screenshots of their enthusiastic test messages, Bob offered to provide one of his copies so I could share it with my readers here at Brick Architect. In exchange, I’m going to build a custom MOC for him.
It is an honor and privilege to play a role in sharing their story of kindness and generosity. It’s refreshing to learn a positive story of people connecting through social media, and that trusting people that you’ve never met can work out so well.