Monday, December 14, 2015

Gifts of Christmas Past--Crossbows and Catapults!

Hail Fellow, and well-met! It's time to smash thy house!

I was thinking about Christmas gifts from the past. They seemed to be largely toy-based for me. Yet these days it seems like children have fewer toy choices to choose from. Yes, there is a slate of new Star Wars toys for them to enjoy. However, the majority of toys out there are for adult collectors. This is something I'll discuss later on, but suffice to say, Christmas isn't what it used to be. 

Then again, I'm not a kid during this time period. I was a child of the 80's, the best time to be a kid! Sure, we had no internet, but we had imagination. And because we had no internet, we had the time to use our imaginations. 

Case in point...

Crossbows and Catapults! 

The commercial that started the siege! Be forewarned, ye warriors of courage, for this commercial is really quiet. You may have to hike up the volume. 

This medieval bash'em up was originally created by Lakeside Games. It's undergone many a revision, and was re-released in 2007 by Moose Toys. It was rechristened Battlegrounds, and has since brought sword and shield carnage to a new generation. 

The game depicted opposing sides locked in castle siege warfare. The noble Vikings faced off against the brutish Barbarians. You even tell by their faces who the good guys were. The Barbarians had pig-like visages, while the Vikings were toned and ABBA-esque. They were of Norse origin, so I'd imagine Dancing Queen was their battle theme. 

The game was simple. 

Either side would build their respective castles out of plastic bricks. They weren't tight-fitting like Lego. Instead, they were just tight enough to stand upright, but loose enough to be toppled when struck. 

Both sides would adorn the castles with insignia flags. They would then populate their castles with these mighty warriors. 

Finally, and this was the important bit, each side had a crossbow and a catapult. Well, obviously. These siege machines fired plastic discs (caroms) with the associated colors and images. 

The Viking discs were red, with a Viking logo. The Barbarian discs were blue, with a snarling Barbarian face on them. Each side fired at each other until one of two things happened. 

1. A castle tor was knocked down.  
2. The tor was knocked down, and then a disc landed on the treasure underneath. The Vikings had a sword (which I assumed was Excalibur) The Barbarians had a goblet (which I assumed was the holy grail). 

My half-brother and I played for annihilation. Whoever level the other's castle won. 

This was a rivalry that would continued into the next century. 

It was given to my brother as a Christmas gift in the mid-80's. We played it extensively. Sometimes I'd win. Sometimes, he'd win. And other times we'd set up a massive castle for both of us to storm. And yes, we had fun storming the castle. 

As we grew older, the personal rivalry faded. However, the Crossbows and Catapults rivalry did not. Before my half-brother handed the game over to my nephew, we had one final decisive battle. As per usual, I played the Vikings. My brother played the Barbarians. And on that cold day on Baden Hill (my sister's living room carpet. If I recall the month was July, and with a heatwave) We engaged in a battle to rival the gods. 

Sir Robin would have wet himself. 

Many a Viking went to Valhalla that day (and I don't mean a trendy nightclub in the West Village). However, the stench of Barbarian dead was a perfume to their departed souls. Odin would have been proud. And whatever gods the Barbarians prayed to would have been annoyed. 

The game wasn't specific on what the Barbarians were like, since their name is a generic term. Maybe they prayed to Stretch Armstrong, Lord of Plastic? Or, perhaps it was Crom, and they had a common ancestor in Conan? Conan could have propagated the whole race for all we know. He is very virile.

In the end, both or castles lay in ruins, save for their respective towers. 

Amid the rubble of my baronial estate (with nice shrubberies out front) I picked up a red carom, and fired it with a crossbow. It bounced off a dark gray brick, and was airborne. It spun in the air, and then bounced again off another brick. My brother launched a blue carom with his catapult, but it fell short. My red carom bounced again. On the third bounce it leaped upwards, and then smacked into my brother's castle tor. It knocked the hollow facade onto its backside. 

"Yes!" I proclaimed! 

My brother replied with, "Uh, he beat me." 

He was crestfallen. And indeed, his crest did fall to the mighty Norsemen from...The land of the ice and snow, where the midnight sun and hot springs glow! 

Yes, the hammer of the gods was with me that day. And so the final battle concluded with victory for the young (20-something) upstart.

In the words of Leif Erickson, "I done schooled him, yo."

It was a good day, indeed. 

I have since discovered that sets of the original sell for big caroms! They've sold for as high as $300 bucks, or more! Sets of Battlegrounds are more readily available, but even the older sets are selling at a premium. While I'd enjoy playing this again, it'll be a long time before I can afford an original set. Still though, it's nice to know that such sets exist. 

While my affinities lie with outer space, and the promise it brings, deep inside my psyche lurks a berserker. It is waiting to be unleashed on a living room carpet! And it will sing the songs of Valhalla, all shiny and chrome! 

Uh, plastic and shiny, that is.

Text copyright Mr. Joyce 2015

Images from
video from
With some research from Wikipedia. 


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