Recently I teamed up with the guys at UnderScoopFire and a bunch of longtime pals like John from TVandFilmToys.com and Richard from Planned Banter for the list of the 25 Greatest Playsets of All Time! Lists like this tend to be subjective, but we had a pretty good panel of guys from various age demographics and all of us with a wealth of toy knowledge to make this list. However, in the end our picks were averaged out and combined together in some sort of fantastic tabulation that no doubt was more scientific than it had any right to be.
However, I thought it might be fun to pull back the curtain and reveal what my particular picks for this were and the reasoning behind them. So here’s my not-so top secret TOP TEN selections for the 25 Greatest Playsets of All Time!
10. Spawn Alley
This was a pick of mine that didn’t even make the final cut! I find that a little odd, but I’ll owe it to being a relatively unpopular set from a toy line that most people were too concerned with “collecting” than playing with. Spawn Alley just about had it all and was a central display piece and backdrop for many an adventure in my house. Sure I was too old to be playing with toys, but Spawn Alley had enough features to make even an older kid want to get down on the floor and lose himself in a plot. Since it was from McFarlane it had a lot of gritty details that just aren’t seen in most playsets. Working doors, a garage, telephone pole, trash can and crane were among some of the really neat features.
9. Daily Bugle Playset
If the Spawn Alley was the grim and gritty playset which had everything you could want, the Daily Bugle Playset was the bright and shiny technicolor other end of the spectrum. Made of mostly cardboard and plastic framing pieces, Peter Parker’s place of business had tons of neat stuff to occupy your time. This one made the overall list, but just barely. Again, I suspect not as many people owned this masterpiece from Toy Biz. Although it could be a pain to keep together at times, the fact that you basically had a whole comic book city at your disposal made this playset legendary, in my eyes. Plus it had playset right there in the name. I still have pieces of this thing floating around in my house.
8. The Technodrome
I had to fight for this one. There was a dispute on whether or not this counted as a vehicle. Given that the Technodrome was the center for 85% of the plots of Shredder and Krang in the old TMNT cartoon and that it was often part of the overlapping season arcs, I believe it counts as a base and thus a playset. Plus this thing is HUGE! It’s much bigger and more impressive than say, Castle Grayskull. So what if it has wheels? It had two rooms, a full prison cell, a secret escape hatch and an eyeball that could roll down like a bowling ball. Take that USS Flagg!
7. WWF Backstage Mayhem
The Backstage Mayhem/Brawl sets are very similar. They were sort of rolled into one for the top 25, but my personal selection is the Backstage Mayhem set. What does this set have that other playsets don’t? How about a freaking toilet?! That’s right, there’s a bathroom. Relive the amazing WCW Great American Bash match between Kevin Sullivan and Chris Benoit! Plus each side of this could serve as a “scene” for backstage WWE play. This was during the height of the attitude era when brawls spilled backstage all the time, so having this was a must. Where else would your hardcore matches happen?
6. Swedish Kitchen Playset
First and foremost, this has to make the list because it’s a playset for the freakin’ Swedish Chef! How awesome is that?! Most toy lines can’t get a playset at all, Mattel can barely make a Bat Cave and Palisades made a base for the Swedish Chef! It’s insane. It’s also very versatile as it looks like a real working tiny kitchen. Perhaps the best part is the 30 some odd accessories that come with it. Everything from a saw to bags of flour. No wonder it made it #4 on the Top 25 list, because it’s a really spiffy set.
5. Mego Star Trek Bridge
I never owned the original Mego Star Trek Bridge. In fact I wasn’t into Mego or Star Trek as a kid. In recent years I’ve become more interested in Mego figures. I blame Commander X… EMCE toys reproduced this classic set down to every detail. I have since purchased it. It’s the perfect Mego-y set. It’s woefully inaccurate, cheesy and yet somehow fun and charming. It’s the best playset for any Mego figure because it doesn’t really seem like a Star Trek set. It could be the Four Freedoms Plaza, a secret villain’s lab or some lost chamber of the Bat Cave. This is an imagination station, baby!
4. TMNT 2K3 Sewer Lair
If we’d done this list just a few weeks later, I would have bumped this off my list and added the 2012 playset. However, when we started drafting this up, the 2K3 playset was the cream of the crop in terms of the Turtles’ lair. Yes, the vintage lair is a lot of fun and it looks great, but the 2K3 lair is much bigger and expansive. It’s also a really nice carrying case that folds up (but also horribly falls apart at times) and has a lot of nice areas. The couch, workbench and half a broken subway car are my favorite parts. It also came with a crap ton of weapons, which helped to outfit my 2K3 Foot Soldiers.
3. Castle Grayskull
To many people, Castle Grayskull is the penultimate playset. Most people are willing to overlook the fact that it’s pretty cheaply made, clearly dated and doesn’t have much in the way of detail. In fact, if you put Castle Grayskull side by side to any other playset on my list, Grayskull looks like a piece of junk. So why does it STILL rank so high? Because as a kid, He-Man was this awesome barbarian world of monsters and magic. At the center of that was a mythic castle that had untold power. The playset isn’t that great, but what it represented in a simpler time of toys, is what makes this castle still so grand after all these years. The potential of the castle and fond memories of what was, is the only thing that makes me even think about ordering the $250+ MOTUC remake.
2. U.S.S. Flagg
The Flagg is kind of lame in a lot of ways. That’s not something most people will admit, because it’s sort of a holy grail item… But how many times have you said to yourself “I want to hang out in an aircraft carrier”? Probably very few. Especially in comparison to a medieval castle or a giant intergalactic roaming mountain of steel with an eyeball on top… So why would anyone want the USS Flagg anyway? It’s not Keel Haul, I can tell you that. Basically, the Flagg is as long as Andre The Giant was tall. Seriously… THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MINUTE! That’s why people love the Flagg. Although it was produced for a couple years, it was expensive, rarely stocked and has become something of a Bigfoot (I swear I saw one once) item for most collectors. Even if you can afford to buy it, where the hell do you put it? It’s the toy that’s so big that it demanded to be played with. Of course, it’s chocked so full of little intricate pieces that it probably wasn’t much fun for kids who lost all that crap. I wouldn’t know, my name isn’t Richie Rich!
1. Fortress of Fangs
Here it is, my choice for the #1 playset of all time. Better than the Flagg… Cooler than Castle Grayskull. The Fortress of Fangs truly, had it all. Unlike the Flagg, it’s not unnecessarily big, nor is it full of intricate parts. Yet like Castle Grayskull, it has a certain mystical quality about it. The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons toy line is nothing to write home about. Some of the figures are neat, but it’s not a very fondly remembered line. Most people don’t even know the Fortress of Fangs existed… But this baby packed a serious punch and it was the go-to base for all my villains back in the day. It has a wall of spikes that you can use to crush unsuspecting foes. It’s straight out of James Bond or the Conan movies. If that’s not cool enough, it has a trap door, rocks that can crush you and a secret axe that can fall down and cut you in half. It also has a huge gargoyle that protects it, stalactite teeth that fall down, a lava pit and a fortune of jewels in it’s base. Every bit of potential that Castle Grayskull had, the Fortress of Fangs realized. It was my absolute hands down favorite playset as a kid and it still holds it’s own against any playset produced in the last 20 years. This is as good of a playset as has ever been made.