Friday, January 23, 2009

Nostalgia Trip: Top Trumps

Flying into Gatwick airport recently, and subsequently nosing around a W.H. Smith, I was reminded of the old maxim: 'Great Britain and the USA are two nations divided by a common language. And Top Trumps.'

In fact, I'm quite sure the only reason it's taken this long for me to blog about one of my favourite playground pastimes in the '70's is because the phenomenon is very alien to almost everyone on this side of the pond. Let me explain in simple terms: starting in the mid '70's, kids played a game called Top Trumps. The game consisted of (usually) 32 cards similar to normal playing cards in size. Each card would feature a photograph or illustration, and below would be listed several statistics about the subject. If it was a car, it might list the top speed, or the number of cylinders; for a soccer player, it might be the number of caps (international appearances) or his age. Players would divide out the cards and then face off with one person selecting a statistic and the others (most often it was a two player game, head to head) would compare, with the best one winning. The object was to collect all the cards. It was simple enough, and portable enough, to be played anywhere, at anytime, for a few minutes or a couple of hours.

Most of all (and I'm facetiously wondering if this is why it never caught on in the States) the cards were a form of education. After playing for a while, you could point out a Vauxhall Viva to your uncle and tell him the horsepower and engine capacity. You knew what year the Luftwaffe introduced the Bachem Natter (1945) or how many times Gordon McQueen had scored for Scotland (3, at the time the card was printed).

Initially the sets were quite predictable: cars, boats, planes, etc. Then, more interesting designs came out, such as horror cards (with stats such as "killing power") and cars of the future, and perhaps most controversially, Stars of Cricket. Collecting the packs became quite a hobby.

They died out in the '80's once Atari and Commodore has brought all the kids indoors. But then, strangely enough, the Top Trumps brand was revived 1in 1999 and since then many new packs have been issued, featuring TV shows (24, Doctor Who, Postman Pat), movies (Shrek, Lord of the Rings, X-Men), sports (soccer, for the most part) and quirky (Bratz, FHM Covergirls, Famous Marmelades, etc).

We didn't really do it at the time but it occurs to me that there was a great potential for mixing the packs up. You could have had the Death Star Vs an Austin Metro, Joe Jordan Vs Godzilla, or a Norwegian fire engine (I'm not making that up) Vs the USS Nimitz.

Naturally, there are many people who have devoted a lot more time on the net to the subject. A good starting point would be The Ultimate Reference Site. Then there's the wikipedia entry and the official Top Trumps website. You can also find complete sets in various places, such as Horror, Rally Cars (do Americans know what a 'Rally' is?), World Cup 1978, Fabulous Buggies, and I'm sure plenty more if you look around.

Here is a montage of some cards I remember from the seventies. Obviously, we didn't have cards like this.

Oh yeah, and this being the age of empowerment, there are several places you can make your own cards, such as:


Davy H said...

Bugger. I've drawn the Austin Allegro again.

Anonymous said...

LOL - 75 for updatability may be a bit high. ;-)


McDoC said...

Wow, I think I was about 7 or 8 when I got into this. The series with cars were my fave. Most of the cars sold here in the Philippines at that time were American and Japanese made. But we got to know more about European cars thru Top Trumps. Until Pacman ate it up and Space Invaders blasted it to bits.

Nig said...

I am very pleased and surprised that Top Trumps have made a comeback because the game could be played anywhere and last from just minutes to upto 20 minutes!

I must say that as a collector and the webmaster of Ultimate Top Trumps, I am very disapponted with the current titles being made available as they are all licensed which pushes the prices of the packs up. More importantly what can anyone learn about knowing that The Black Gate is 'x' high or Post Man Pat is whatever. Simply, these days it is all a case of marketing and jumping onto a profitable brand.

Personally I prefer the older packs and now, the foreign packs such as the Top Ass, N├╝rnberger, Ravensburger and Piatnik packs simply becasue they stick to the original themes. Some of the newer packs and especially the US releases are much better simply because the title include things like Bugs, Wonders of the World etc, things that you can actually learn something from.

As far as collecting goes, well I have been collecting since 2005 and in that time I have been able to collect upot and over 2,000 packs, most of which are listed on my site. For many collectors they are more specific, such cars or just British packs. The only real source of packs are to be found on that auction site and I have noticed that the prices are on the increase as more and more people start collecting.

There is in my opinion just one thing that I really do like about the newer titles and that is the designs. The older packs were plain and with a structured format - Quartet/card number in a top corner, parallel to the card title, beneath which is the picture and beneath that are the stats, a format that lasted right from the early 50's right up to 2000 when Winning Moves began their reign.

I am pleased to see that my site has been mentioned as it started out simply as a site where I could list the cards in each pack I owned due to the number I first got that were incomplete and were made up from cards from another similar pack. The site is bigger and better than I could pssibly have imagined and it is all down to the growing fanbase of Top Trumps. Since starting the site I have been shocked almost daily with the discovery of a new brand from the 70's or a new series within say the Ace label as well as the countless variations of the same pack! It is a collectors paradise but the amount of space it takes up is a serious consideration!

DrStirringRhod said...

This is a great post!! :-) I have a couple of this too. Unfortunately, I guess It's not anymore on my Vaults. :-)