Sunday, 15 August 2010

Western Gunfighters: least popular of all Top Trumps sets

Greetings junk fans. I have been rummaging around in the splendid dustbin of my past once again to bring you another essential blog-broadcast from beyond the grave. Men of a certain age - I don't think any girls ever played this game, even then they had better things to do - will doubtless remember Top Trumps, the number one card game played at junior school on the last day of term before the summer holidays. It was purely a male thing. Ladies: if you played this game, please get in touch. I want to meet you.

You had a load of picture cards, which usually featured cars, tanks, aeroplanes, all that sort of rubbish, y'know, mechanised machinery, and you would try and outdo your opponent by reading out one of the statistics attributed to the machine depicted on the top card of your half of the deck. Understand? No? Well, here's an example. "Engine cylinders: six," you would whine nervously, perhaps clutching a crumpled depiction of a yellow Ford estate car; whence your oily opponent - a scrawny, pasty-faced boy who perhaps always had the faint aroma of curdled milk lingering about his person - clutching a superior Ferrari, would crow joyfully "cylinders: twelve!", and snatch your card. The idea was to get all the other player's cards. Yes, that's what we did for entertainment, circa 1979. There were no other options for amusement. None at all.

There were all kinds of sets, but only a very few that appealed to nerds like me, who couldn't care less about cars, one of which was Western Gunfighters. So unpopular was this set, I suspect that less than 10 sets were sold and very few still exist. Nobody gave a stuff about Westerns by then. Amazing that they bothered to issue it. It was about thirty years too late. My set was bought way back when for thirty pence from Western International Market in Cranford. I'd like to share a few of these cards with you. Do you remember? Read these notes first:

Yes, somebody, apparently, actually did some research before they came up with the 'stats' for these cards. Would you believe it? And that they were worried enough about kids' reactions to erroneous information that they would bother printing a card like this one? Did they think I'd write in and complain? Talk about attention to detail. They were different times. The 'facts' still all seemed like nonsense, though. But any young lad with a deck of these could - and would- proclaim himself an expert on the wild west. At least, I did. In practice, it was only I who could proclaim this, as it was only I who owned this deck. And, on the rare occasions I could persuade somebody to play (often my brother) it got so I could sneakily identify the gunfighter on the card from the information on the back...see if you can guess who this is:

Yes, that's right. It was the film director, Visconti.

Don't you love these terrific ultra-seventies line drawings? God only knows who hacked these out, but they're terrific. The rocket-powered chair flying through the air is a nice detail. Only 10 kills? The only weak spot on this card, which one of the strongest ones. It's all coming back to me now. At the start of the game, after you'd dealt, each player would quickly sift through their respective decks to see how many good and bad cards they had.

This one would always evoke a groan. Black Bart was considered the rottenest of all cards. If you had this one you'd be worried. You might wonder why, if the number of kills and age of the character could not be ascertained, he was included. Is this a game, or a history textbook?

And if you had Marion Hedgepeth as well as Black Bart, you might well have angrily thrown down the cards, refused to play any more, and gone off to for a game of Ker-Plunk with the other more normal children. If the stats aren't bad enough, worst of all, he has a girl's name.

This is more like it. John Wesley Hardin. In the seventies, gunfighters could be podgy and bald and still be ultra-cool.

The deck was a weird amalgam of shoot-the gun-out-of-the-hand wholesome style Western hero types and Spaghetti Western-esque characters, like Bloody Bill Anderson above. The artist even throws in a rather splendid lightning bolt. Very Gothic. I expect he'd rather be drawing the horror trumps (of which there were two sets, yes, I know).

It's only just struck me how many chaps named Bill were knocking about the Wild West...

A chap named Bill nice chaps....if you like that sort of thing...

Some other famous Bills Billy the Kid...and, most famous of all, the one you've all heard of...

Ah yes, the legendary Old Bill...nice purple pantaloons. But if you can't manage more than 6 kills by the age of 66, you're not much of a cold-blooded killer. Might as well pack it in, I say....

More popular non-mechanical Top Trumps sets were the horror sets, Dracula and Devil Priest. I have the Dracula set, but Devil Priest is ultra-rare. Perhaps we should have a look at those sets sometime...anyhow, before the internet, checklists were printed on small pieces of cardboard, with boxes to tick off the packs you had...

How lonely Western Gunfighters looks down in the left corner of this checklist, shoved under Soccer Stars Set 2. I'd like to get hold of World Record Holders (if it means men with beards made of bees, that sort of thing, not if it's more rotten cars), but if that was a pack you had to collect coupons for then I'm guessing it's rarer than hens' teeth.

The bloke at the market who sold Western Gunfighters to me all those years ago seemed to have about a zillion packets laid out on his stall, and none of the other sets at I guess he might have acquired a ton of dead stock and that this might have been the least successful of all the Top Trumps sets. The Del Boy who sold them to him must have been rubbing his hands with glee. He probably claimed it was a crate of Military Choppers. Either way I'm glad I found these...and it's a relief to know that I still own this set. There's just one thing...nobody wants to play any more...not that they did then, come to think of it.

You will find these cards in the HOUSE OF COBWEBS. Reputation: 0


  1. Our bus journeys to school saw similar card games play out. It wasn't long though before the military themes were outnumbered by the likes of Pokemon and other merchandise ventures. I used to collect Goosebumps cards, which make Top Trumps look sophisticated in comparison!

  2. Did you have the Sheriff N/A reward rule? Whereby a sheriif with reward N/A would beat a villain with a standard reward? I think they beat the injuns as well.
    Other random observations: I recall General Custer being a crappy card. Also Billy the Kid always looked to me like he was pulling a 'Joey' face...

  3. A in the Cities: Goosebumps cards? I've never heard of those. Would you care to elaborate? Do you still have them?

    Fred Karno: Nope, we never had such a rule. In such circumstances the cards went into the middle, I think, and the next cards had to be played for the pot. Was there an official rule book? I'm worried about it now.

  4. My sister played them, making her their only female conquest... I had a set but didn't know the rules, so we played a simpler version where we would decide - remarkably amicably, looking back - which was best of our respective offerings. Best meaning scariest, because my pack was a mix of horror characters. I remembered it as just being called 'horror', but presumably it was the Dracula pack, yes? I remember it had the Phantom of the Opera, who was obviously the Chaney version, but behind him was a man with gory open chest wounds... or is that an entirely fantastic memory? I remember lots of purple blood all over the place, anyway.
    What on earth was Devil priest???

  5. Once the jigsaw is finished bring em over. I'll have a game with you. I really like Old Bill's legs akimbo opponent so I hope I get that card...

  6. Mr Coniam: you had a frank, mature discussion as to which card was the best to determine the winner? Blimey. That wouldn't have worked with my brother. There would have been fisticuffs. I've just checked my deck of HORROR (which is the Dracula pack) and the card you recall is THE HANGMAN. The picture is indeed a Chaney swipe and his victim in the background has been hung with a noose that has a rather savage looking blade across the middle. So the purple blood emanates from the neck rather than the chest...all good wholesome stuff for the kiddies. I might do a post about these.

    Ms de Putti: you say that now but I suspect you'll get bored and throw all the cards in the air.

  7. i bought a pack on ebay and play them the odd time
    my pack is missing wyatt earp!
    the pack i had as a kid was missing frank james

    cant believe they didnt include wild bill hickok
    also check out black barts poetry!

    and i gotta look up the horror one now...

  8. Mr Tiddlerz: why not print off the photo of the Wyatt Earp card reproduced here, then cut it out (I advise using round-ended scissors) and paste it to a specially shaped piece of cardboard? Hey presto: your set is complete once more. Hurrah! Hours of gaming await.

  9. The character that looks like The Phantom of the Opera with a guy in the background, is a different character. The Phantom of the Opera is a character in one of the sets but it doesn't look like the Lon Chaney version.

  10. Just looked online. The Horror card which looks like Lon Chaney with the guy in the background with the split open chest, is The Hangman...(who looks like Lon Chaney)

  11. Didn't I tell you all that stuff about the Chaney card ages ago? What's the matter, don't you trust my Top Trump knowledge? And, are you unnervingly replying to yourself, Mr Anonymous? I've heard of imaginary friends, but...

  12. The Bloody Bill Anderson card looks like Jack Elam in "Once Upon a Time in the West," the Wyatt Earp picture looks like it was traced from a publicity picture of Clint Walker as "Cheyenne," and the poses of Bill Doolin and Billy the Kid look like they were based on Randolph Scott in "Decision at Sundown."

  13. Check out the horror decks.

  14. No mention of Jesse James? Shameful, 40 kills, he WAS the top trump.

  15. Anyone remember what Calamity Janes's scores were?

  16. Nice article Karl. I sent it on to my older brothers for a chuckle. I remember loving those cards and the detail but when I look back now the art was pretty rough. Still have our full set.