I finally made an username here after lurking for sometime. Last summer, I got my old Legos out and rebuilt my sets I got in 1988 and 1989 along with my Black Sea's Barracuda and Forbidden Island. I began to strongly desire to finish my Castle Collection. I remember Battering Ram being the elusive set I could never get because they disconnected it so I got it for my Birthday on ebay. Later on, I got King's Castle for Christmas because I was tired of the Lion Knights never having a castle. After that, they became the most powerful faction in my collection after Black Monarch's reigned supreme for 20+ years so I bought Knight's Stronghold to give the Black Falcon's a catapult and buffer up the Black Knights a bit more to balance things out. After getting a second job and getting tax returns, I've become a lego maniac and have began to collect all the original sets. I have all the connectivity relevant sets now (Guarded Inn is in transit and King's Mountain Fortress doesn't count since it doesn't really connect well). I recently got Knight's Castle, the Catapult, Siege Tower, the Armor Shop, and the Blacksmith. And out of scrap pieces in my collection I produced the Lion Knight wagon from 1984.
So, we get to what I wanted to talk about. I am very impressed with the work that went into the original set up of the theme in 1984 and the years that followed. There was a grand plan and it took about until 1990 to lose steam (and 1992 is the year I consider the last true year of classic lego, though the ultimate end wasn't until the Fright Knights). Let's look at what 1984 started with. We have two factions and there really wasn't any clear good guys or bad guys. The theme included castles, connectivity, wagons, and siege.
First, there was King's Castle. An awesome castle set that set the standard for castles to come. It would be the focal point of the theme. It had 4 horse men, 2 spearmen, 2 axemen, and 4 archers. It had the gate, the drawbridge, the towers, the dungeon and could open up. The only draw back is that just the castle alone had limited playability. You needed the other parts to have it reach it's full potential.
Then we had Knight's Castle, which was basically a smaller version of King's Castle without the gate house. I always thought that set was kinda lame but now that I own it, I really like it. It actually came with many falcon shields. I also love the fact it had green and white flags. The Lion Knights had red and yellow and in the very beginning there was vision to give the falcons their own color theme too that was quickly lost in the years to come. Knight's castle had 2 horsemen, 2 spearmen, and 2 archers and also had a dungeon and two towers and a drawbridge. As a closed castle, Knight's Castle is kinda lame but when combined with other sets I will mention later, it's a great set.
Then we had Siege Tower. It's clear that the best siege weapons came from 1984. The siege tower made a realistic castle invasion possible with both the tower and the ladder. It also came with a wall that was hinged which would serve a highly critical role in connectivity. On the inside there is a strange black object that appears to be what you tied that black horse from the Blacksmith to. The set came with only one faction. Granted, they mostly have the cross axes on their shirts and the ones in the tower might be seen as neutral with the round shield and such. Notice how the lion crest only appears on guys in King's Castle, suggesting that the cross axe guys might have originally been intended to be more neutral. I simply removed the two cross axe guys from the siege tower and stuck them in King's Castle and put the two falcons from the Sea Serpent set on their instead.
Then we have the Blacksmith. This set of course is something every medieval setting needs. The Blacksmith fits within either of the aforementioned castle's if the siege tower wall is also there to close the gap. I gave the rake to my peasant from castle mini figures 1988 that lost his original rake about 23 years ago.
Next is the Catapult. This set bolsters the Black Falcons with two men with shields and a catapult, which is highly critical in castle siege, since it allows you to kill off all the archer towers so you can later approach the tower with a much lesser threat of arrows. I think it came from technic wheels for the sake of alternate builts. But this catapult is the best lego catapult I have seen yet.
As for the rest, there is the Horse Cart with two cross axe men on it. This to me appears it could be used like a chariot with an archer on the back while the guy steering the horses can stick a sword or polearm to the side and do some damage. I don't have the supply wagon yet but it appears it's a just a peasant to round out your kingdom. And the jousting knights add more horsemen and round shields to your collection.
I don't have any of the 85 sets but those are mostly just wagons and units.
1986 is more or less phase 2. Three more sets are added to connectivity. The armor shop replaced the Blacksmith and served a similar role. But it did come with two interesting pieces in the form of the Lion flag and the black sword (which so far, for me, just sits on the hook in the back). I put the falcon shield to use.
I don't have siege cart but I assume it's supposed to be like a ballista? Maiden cart I don't have either but it appears it adds some royalty to the castle theme.
Black Falcon's Fortress was my first set in 1988 and is awesome. But it's full potential wasn't unlocked until now. I figured out that the combined units of both it and Knight's Castle basically equals King's Castle, giving us 4 archers, 4 horsemen, and 4 pikemen. The castles can combine and one more key set that comes up the following year leaves us with a nice Falcon Castle I might link a picture of later. Essentially, two small Castles equal King's Castle while King's castle gets a bunch of smaller add ons to match the size of the large Black Falcon Castle.
Guarded Inn is in the mail at present but it gives us another Falcon horseman and will make King's Castle bigger when I add it on. It's a very nice looking semi civilian set though that I had to wheel and deal on ebay to get it! I might edit more info later after I get it within a week.
Then in 1987, Lego rounded stuff out. Battering Ram added in another siege weapon and an important wall to complete the Black Falcon's Castle. They gave the lions two boats (I have the blue one). I also have Castle Guard coming in the mail too, but that set seems to serve as an armor bolster to me and it has that nice tent. Knight's Arsenal is another wagon set I think replaces Horse Cart.
Then the forestmen are introduced and while I don't use them much anymore (due to having all this other nice stuff now), they have a lot of playability and can rob any castle set (which is why we continued to see forestmen in the years to come).
1988 and 1989 comes (this is the year I was introduced) and it was a good year and is where lego has already got their original vision complete so they start trying new things. We get our replacement for King's Castle in the form of Black Monarch's Castle. I always thought this was a well designed Castle. It has the same unit set up as King's Castle but it has that black color. I think they did this because they wanted to do something different and new. Also, I am sure there was a demand for a dragon themed faction every since the inception of lego castle. This is where they began to drop the ball on connectivity with the walls not lining up properly. Now that I have a much larger collection, Black Monarch's often sits on the dresser while the Black Falcons and Lion Knights play.
More forestmen sets are added in these years and we also got Knight's Challenge, a good jousting set that easily fits into whatever else you have going on. The castle mini figs had two falcons to make up for the lack of new Falcon's otherwise in that time frame. Then the catapult was replaced by twin arm launcher and the Lions now finally have a catapult.
1990 is where Black Monarch's gets it's add ons (that do not line up or match well at all). We also get King's Mountain Fortress which I do not have but I have kinda built with the pieces I have and I thought the set was fairly lame. I may eventually get it and it'll serve more as a keep inside the walls of other castles. In the end, the Black Knights have the smallest castle in terms of connectivity and they have no siege, making them very underpowered. But as I said earlier, lego did it's original vision in the beginning and started trying new things later on.
But, I am impressed with what classic castle was. The original years produced a lot of good stuff that all collectively worked well together if you had them all. I think lego castle suffered from being reinvented over and over as the years went on. If Lego didn't discontinue sets and kept the original 1984-1989 sets around, it might stagnate, but they'd be armed with the best sets they ever made. These are some of the best toys ever designed!