The History of LEGO Castle
LEGO Castle, many of us have enjoyed it for years but do we all know where it first began? What progression it took? Well previously I have looked at all the sets available for the Pirate theme, this time I am going to look at all the sets for the castle theme. Below I have briefly outlined each wave I’m going to look at in the future, please note the below blog is just a brief overview which will be looked at in greater detail later.
The First Castle (that you could not buy) 1960
Back in the days of old, LEGO did not actually release fully created castles (decked out with minifigs weapons and all those beautiful things we now take for granted), if fact during this time the only way to actually create a castle was to build it yourself (I know barbaric right?).
Luckily LEGO designed a castle that could be created (provided you had the right bricks) by following the instructions in LEGO Building Idea Book #1. Below we have a picture which is as close to the old design as I could find, please note it is not completely accurate.
As you can see it’s an interesting though gaudy design, not sure about the colours and the lack of minifigs (as with all sets of the time), so from a modern perspective it is a bit disappointing because after the build it lacks all playability. Still to make it now you would need hundreds of blue 1x1 window bricks (very rare) so it’s not something you will see often.
(p.s if anyone has a 100% accurate picture of this castle send it to me and I will change it as appropriate, edit the pic below I believe is the correct orignal one)
This Castle was also shown in LEGO Idea Book 240-1 from 1967, showing you that LEGO had plans for Castles.
The First Castle (that you could buy) 1970
After a Decade of waiting LEGO finally released a castle that could actually be bought fully constructed, this set was part of a Weetabix promotion (rather unusually). Despite the myriad of colours this castle looks nice, though I believe the scale is a little bit small by comparison to the modern day minfig (they fit, but they just look too big). This marks an important moment in the LEGO world as this was the start to what was to become a hugely successful theme.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, the first ever castle that could be bought.
Wave 1 the First Kingdom 1978 – 1983 Initial Sets
After another eight years of waiting (LEGO acted slow back in the day), LEGO finally released a castle again, this one closely resembles what we recognize today. Though the walls be a foolish yellow colour and the horses be made out bricks (rather than a beautiful mould) the set still looks good and contains much of what we still use today, the axes, swords, lances, shields and footman’s helmet’s are still being used in the sets of 2011.
The initial faction only had seven sets (two of which were repeats, so just five really), and mostly these knights lived in peace (jousting and drinking), they had no opponents and all was good in the kingdoms.
Wave 2 the Divide 1984 – 1992 Crusaders, Black Falcons and Forestmen
For reasons unknown the peaceful kingdom of old ended, and three new opposing factions rose up to claim the land.
In the red corner and seen as the strongest of the three, we have the Crusaders looking magnificent in with red as their primary colour and the lion emblem as their faction’s symbol.
Whist in the blue corner we have the Black Falcons with blue and black being their major colours and the symbol of a bird under which they march.
Finally we have in the green corner, the Forestmen, this group took a few extra years to arrive and when they did, still chose to remain outside the major struggle of the other two, they enjoyed the forest and many of their sets reflected that.
LEGO left the actually factions nature ambiguous so that the customer could decide, this new wave brought us castles that actually looked like they were made of stone (grey bricks) horses and ranged weapons, spears, barrels, wagon wheels, armour pieces, new helmet styles and many interesting brick pieces, all of which went towards making this second wave extremely exciting, also the inclusion of printing for all the figs and flags rather than stickers made wave 2 a step above the originals.
Here we see in this wave a beginning of a fully created stylised theme, we have three factions to choose from which allows a great amount of playability. It should also be noted that during this time period there were also a number of civilian sets to help fully maximise the world, many of which are still coveted now.
Wave 3 the Newcomers 1988 – 1993 Black Knights and Wolfpack
During this period some of the previous faction where still around and even attacking many of the new sets, Black Falcon especially had a lot of conflicts with the Black Knights. So this wave can be seen as an addition to the previous rather than a whole new run, like we experience these days (for example with the Fantasy Wave leaving never to be seen again and the Kingdom coming in).
This wave brought about the facial expression for the male figures (in the first three factions every guy had the smiley face and only the girls had something different), despite this fact, there was not a great deal of difference between this and the previous wave, but the extra factions combined with the previous ones created great variety for the castle theme.
The Black Knights where very similar to the crusaders in appearance only darker, the foot soldiers even had some of the same printing on their torsos, which is a little lazy, but still gave a different appearance with the use of a new shield printing (showing a dragon) and the fact that their castles consisted of a lot of black bricks. Due to the similarity between crusaders and the Black Knights (the red primary colour) they only fought against the Black Falcons in any of the sets released.
The Wolfpack sadly only received three sets but they appeared often as the antagonist in many of the dragon knight sets (Dragon Knights being in my third wave). Seen often as a pack of thieves these guys did not come with helmets but soft cloth hats, their perceived leader also sported an eye patch (very criminal).
Wave 4 the Times of Change 1993 – 1997 Dragon Knights and Royal Knights
By the time wave 4 arrived the pervious factions (with the exception of the Wolfpack) had finally left us, but despite the lamentation of many there is still a reason to rejoice. Finally after years of waiting we get a King, LEGO released a King and even gave him a chrome crown and sword (to further highlight his brilliance). This wave also saw the inclusion of the dragon model and the wizard minifigs and the larger axe shown on the dragon knight in the picture above (known as a halberd, I think).
The Dragon Knights had one goal, the capture and mastery over dragons; this is highlighted by both their castles featuring a cage for the dragons, and the general insignia on all their shields and armour. The inclusion of the wizard also shows that LEGO was moving away from the more traditional castle themes (based on historic reference) and moving further into myths and legends. It is possible to view the Dragon Knights as an additional force of the Black Knights faction due to the very similar insignia carried by both.
The Royal Knights looked similar to the older factions of both the Black Knights and the Crusaders (the chest plate torso from 1984 was still being used) and just like the Dragon Knights it is possible to view the Lion Knights as an addition force from the Crusaders faction (with both of them carrying the lion emblem). Overall the faction is seen as a solid force and their castle as one of the better examples created by LEGO, though they do tend to wear a little too much red for my personal taste.
Wave 5 the Times of Pain 1996 – 1998 Dark Forest and Fright Knights
This period of time is seen by many as the initial decline in the quality of castle sets (though it got much worse later on). This period is also seen as the final classic castle sets, this is due to the fact that the sets between 1984 and 1998 had a degree of cross over, with one faction leaving and another arriving, there was always a way to connect one faction to another (e.g Black Falcons fighting Crusaders originally, then the Black Knights, then the Black Knights are viewed as an additional force for the Dragon Knights, then the Dragon Knights attacking the Dark Forest, as such sets from 1984 can still link to sets from 1998). After this period themes would come and go rather than factions and they would have no link to one and other (except what we ourselves chose to imagine).
Dark forest are viewed as a poor rehash and combination of both the Forestmen and Wolfpack, they are also more warlike, despite having only three sets their opposition within these sets come in the form of both Royal and Dragon Knights, the one advantage they had over their predecessor (the Forestmen) was the fact that their trees where actually brown (rather than black).
The Fright Knights are commonly seen as the most bizarre faction of the 90’s focusing on strange machinery and very poor castle construction to lead them onward, though the witch minifigs and bat helm are nice additions to a collection the overall sets where very poor containing a childish blocky style that was not seen previously.
Wave 6 the Way of the Samurai 1998 – 1999 Ninja
This period of time saw a whole new change for LEGO Castle sets, here we see a new style and culture in the form of feudal Japan. The factions shown within this theme are the Samurai (guys in Blue) and Grey Ninjas (guys in Grey) fighting the Bandits (Guys in Red) and Black Ninjas (Guys in Black). I remember at the time being annoyed by the fact that firearms are also included in these sets but then later I was found out that Japan actually created hand cannons as early as the 1250’s and at that point on I feel in Love.
This theme sadly did not get a long enough run and the Bandits never receive a flagship base to defend, they also introduce red and white ninjas in the second year and again these are never fully established.
This theme saw new weapons (samurai swords, black firearms), armour and some awesome torso prints as well as some interesting and unique structures, it’s a shame they finished the line so soon.
Wave 7 the Times of Further Pain 2000 Knight’s Kingdom 1
In the year 2000 castle fanatics received another theme to enjoy, sadly there was very little enjoyment available. Knights Kingdoms 1 is a lacklustre theme with very little on offer.
Here we see the good King Leo fight the evil Cedric the Bull over gold (LEGO Figs love fighting over gold).
The theme has a very clear good vs. bad vibe about it but there no character or personality from the good guys (as they feel exactly the same as the Lion and Crusader Factions from before) and the bad guys don’t even receive a castle from which they could plot and scheme their next wicked plan. The entire collection of sets feel chunky and childish, the elegance from before has truly left this theme; even the castle from this theme lacks everything, being created in sections and then attached to the baseplate (for shame LEGO).
The only redeeming feature from this theme is the new helmet design, sad but true (though a large number of Cedric’s soldiers look quite good too), an overall rating of this theme would be, nice minifigs poor sets.
Wave 8 the Darkest of Castle Days 2004 – 2006 Knight’s Kingdom 2
This theme features a faction of good knights (and their King known as Mathias) fighting against one bad knight (known as Vladek), in the fictional kingdom of Morcia. The knights all came with their own colour code (a blue knight, a red knight and so on) whereas the villain came in the mandatory black, many LEGO fans refer to them as the Power Ranger Knights, due to the gaudy colours.
The good knights where seen as so powerful that the sets strangely featured no basic soldiers one the good side until 2006. Overall the sets focused on the good knights fighting against legions of Vladek’s minions (I assume the knights won because they kept appearing in other sets),the heroes castle looks suspiciously similar to the castle released in Wave 7 which shows a distinct laziness on LEGO’s behalf..
Many LEGO fans see this wave as the worst ever released by TLG, the gaudy minifigs, Large Figs and the focus on a childish story rather than quality sets really let this wave down, though a few gems did shine through for the deserting collector, most notably 8813 Battle at the Pass.
Wave 9 the Times of Hope 2007 – 2009 Fantasy Era
We see Humans, Trolls, Skeletons (lead by a Mage) and Dwarfs, enter the world of LEGO. To keep things from being too confusing the Humans entered a loose alliance with the Dwarfs and the Trolls joined forces with the Skeletons.
For the lovers of all things fantasy, this wave is a truly great one. There is a nice variety and every faction received a decent structure to conduct their wars from, LEGO ever started to embrace the idea of civilian sets again with the Medieval Market Village, possibly the most popular set ever released. Not since the mid 90’s had LEGO Castle felt so complete, finally after a decade of waiting, people received decent sets again.
Wave 10 a New Age 2010 - 2011 Kingdoms
Know we reach the present day (until this post becomes old) LEGO’s third castle theme under the title Kingdoms. Thankfully this wave is actually a great deal better than either of the previous two, we see a green knight faction (called Dragon Knights, again) and a red knights faction (called Lion Knights), even though the names have been used before, the factions feel unique and interesting.
The sets (especially the Dragon Knights) look different to what has come before, a lean towards quality set construction and modular design makes this wave resemble most closely those of the 90’s whilst very detailed printing and shiner weaponry give the wave a modern feeling that actually outclasses the golden sets from that era.
Again we see an increase in civilian sets, so finally rather than having an endless collection of various castles, people can now start constructing a LEGO village (something for the bad guys to attack and the good to defend), the LEGO Castle World is expanding greatly.
Both this wave and the previous show a distinct increase in quality and all that can be hoped for by LEGO fanatics is more of the same.
Well if you have read up to now then you are to be commended, you now know the entire run of LEGO castle. Soon to come on my blog shall be a look at each of the waves in detail.
Thank you very much for reading.
Coming soon a comprehensive review of Wave 1