Friday, January 23, 2009
Nostalgia Trip: 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: