So here's something I've been wanting to do for a while: a list numbering all the castle themes, from what I think was the worst castle theme to what was the best. I know judging these themes separately might not be completely fair, since some were overlapping, but I'm going to do it anyway for easiness.
16. Knight's Kingdom II
Not a big surprise, I suppose. It's actually so bad, it can't even beat the themes that consisted of only 3-4 sets. Knight's Kingdom II actually got me out of Lego and into a dark age, at a point where I was still willing to buy more castle had there been a proper line. I only ever got 1 or 2 of them, and by accident all the giant knights. Because this line's deficiencies and horribleness have been discussed enough already (and are too many to name), I'll just list the things I did like about it:
- the Knight's faces were generally well-designed and I still use them a lot
- the unusual colours can be used well if implemented, as a standalone thing the figs were horrible though
- I did like Vladek and his Shadow Knights, and their gear (the shields above all)
- I liked the King's torso and still use it since I think it's great for a fancy nobleman
- The ridiculousness and the humorous scenarios it evoked were sometimes amusing
- It re-introduced Euro armour after it'd gone missing for a while
- The swords, if in the right colour, were pretty cool
- The giant knights are useful as real giants in my castle world
15. Dark Forest
A theme that suffers from weird catapults and the fact it's a rather incomplete line, I will however praise it for its unusualness and vegetation parts. It has the fortress, which is a pretty good set, but I think the other 2 are kinda 'eh', and in such a small line, 1 good set isn't exactly enough to get it where it needs to be. I liked the original forestmen better, both in set as in fig design.
14. Classic Castle
While I don't think Lego did a bad job designing these with what they had at the time, I think we can all agree the lack of actual sets makes this line incomplete and the lack of technology makes it pretty crude. If just this line existed, we wouldn't have access to almost any parts. We like them for the nostalgia, of course, and I have nothing really bad to say about this theme, I just think it's logical Lego only improved their Castle line since they first started out with this theme... mostly, most of the time. A big plus are still the old visor helmets (or Jackal helmets as I prefer to call them
Wolfpack is a nice theme to add some criminal flavour to your castle world, and I always had a weakness for these underdogs, who bravely wore their Wolfpack sigil in the open even though it was the equivalent of shouting 'Hey! I'm a bandit! Come and catch me!' Their hideout is a really nice set, imo, it's just, as a standalone theme Wolfpack can't really do much because of the lack of sets.
12. Fright Knights
We're getting into the more fully-fleshed out themes now (if we ignore KK II, which we will), and Fright Knights is probably one of the worst of of those... but not because of the figs! The actual armour prints of the three soldiers are actually much better than just a big sigil on top of a canvas and bats for sigils make a nice change from the everlasting dragons and lions. Also I remember as a kid, I thought Basil was pretty awesome... even though that kind of took a hit when I saw his face
I'm biased towards defending this theme because 2 of these (the cart and Willa's flying dragon thing) sets are among the first two I got, but I'll also have to admit I almost got none (except for the Fright Force) of them beyond that point...
The set designs are horrible. Except for the prison transport, all of them pretty much are. The Witch's manor is probably in the top 3 of worst designs ever, it just hurts my eyes to look at it, and the actual Night Lord's castle isn't much better. Then there's the fact they made 783648 sets with 1 fig and some small weird-looking contraption while they should've been trying to design some better medium-to-big sets. I did like the 'evil' aspect of it and how the lack of sigils on most people made it possible to have them fight each other even though there was no big opposing faction.
11. Dragon Masters
The dragon masters aren't the worst, but they aren't exactly the best either. Again, the figs are nice and I'm a big fan of the blue and red colour scheme, but the set designs are lacking. There is a better mix of sets and they're not as bad as the Fright Knights', which puts the Dragon Masters above those still.
This is a theme I never minded, but never really did much for me either. The sets and their unusualness are pretty nice (at least, those that aren't bad-looking carts), but all the hideouts are too similar-looking for me to really love this theme. What it does do is give you the opportunity to actually have a forest, which can be a far more exciting place than a castle. There is a lack of defining characters, imo, the forestmen are all very similar. The set designs (again, except for the three carts which I really don't like) are still good enough to put it in front of Fright Knights and Dragon Masters though.
9. Knights' Kingdom
I'll just admit right off the bat that I'm sentimental towards this theme because it's the theme I grew up with. Sometimes, I feel like I'm the only person who's ever amassed many of these sets (I think I own almost all of them more than once, and some even 3 times), as I hardly ever see anyone else using parts from it. I believe it was a theme that was simply too short-lived to become as great as it could have been.
Parts-wise, the lion head pieces that were introduced are really awesome and I find myself using them in most of my MOC's, I even managed to incorporate them into a Mech once. I liked the stress on vehicles and the playability they offered. If you had the castle and the Bull's Attack, you could fight a helluva battle. That this was one of the first themes with a very clear confrontation between two factions is a big plus for it, I believe. The theme had many smaller sets, but they weren't the small crappy-ass Fright Knight sets that had really no idea or intent to them, they were actually useful for something.
I loved the figs, too. The King looks simple enough that you can easily turn him into a soldier, we get knights with (at that time) new helmets, awesome armour prints and even a female knight and what is still my favourite queen of the entire Castle line. I'm aware the Bulls are likely passionately disliked by many here, but I own them in large numbers and I think they look good together, especially when you expand on the tribal aspect by giving them Bull Gods to worship, put berserkers and / or shamans and some new faces in there.
However, I'm not blind to this theme's deficiencies either. It was a very 'cheap' theme where Lego seemed to try to minimalise both the parts and figs it offered... I remember being unable to build hardly any sort of sizeable castle when I owned almost only sets from this line... even though I had the castle twice!
The 'second wave' (if you can call it that considering how short-lived the line was) of sets, with chrome parts, was another plus for this theme (to me) and it was really exciting getting all these parts and creating a 'hero' or 'leader' fig for it, or having your characters go on quests to fetch these items...
8. Royal Knights
I think Royal Knights is another theme that could've been better if it had had more sets in it, but at least here, the few sets that do exist are all good (well, except maybe for the carriage). The figs actually weren't all that great and it's time isn't really that much of an excuse here, but at the same time this does give it that 'classy' feel. The Royal Drawbridge is, imo, a very good set, and the Royal Knight's Castle is and will probably always be my favourite set ever. I put it above Knights' Kingdom because it offers far more and better parts for castle-building.
I really like this line's darker concepts, even though that may have been a reason for it's short-livedness. It's simply the originality and derivation usual castle sets (vikings vs. monsters instead of knights vs. knights in settings that are endlessly repeated) of the theme that makes me put it above certain more well-established castle lines, and lines I own more of.
6. Black Falcons
The Black Falcons are a personal favourite of many castle fans, I'm aware, and they did have some nice designs for their time. As far as the 'simple' minifigs go, they're probably also among the best, with their really cool often black and blue colour scheme. The only reason they're not higher up is because they are still somewhat lacking in the set department imo, and there have been lines with better designs. Nevertheless I think Black Falcons are one of Lego Castle's most defining and inspiring themes.
5. Fantasy Era
Fantasy Era is pretty high on the list because to me, it was so renewing and refreshing, and really opened up a lot of possibilities. Even though it was probably made to serve as a 'test theme' to see if the Lotr license would be worth it, you can tell a lot of love went into this theme. We'd had fantasy elements in our castle themes before, but never on this scale. Although it is brought down just a little because it did have some less impressive sets as well, the sheer number of sets in this theme is almost overwhelming and getting them all can be a real challenge (as it should be), and most of them are still eye candy, not to mention the versatility between structures, siege weapons and ships. Crowns make for interesting new sigils, too. The Fantasy Era also gets a huge boost from the Medieval Market Village.
Another one of Castle's defining themes, imo, crusaders pretty much had it all. The smaller sets don't lack quality, there is a form of attention towards civilian buildings, there is some set versatility and 2 sets with great playable scenarios (both wall attacks). For one thing, you can certainly not accuse this theme of holding back on the minifig and extra parts aspect of things, because it pretty much spoils you. The crusaders are also one of the best-looking 'simple-sigil' factions in Lego imo and even today they still work really well with newer figs like the Kingdoms Lions if you give them a similar colour scheme (as I have done). Though I was never as impressed with the King's Castle as most people seemed to be, the mountain fortress is a whole different story, as I really liked that one. All in all, a great theme.
I never really understood what made them 'Crusaders', though.
Surprising, perhaps, that I put it up so high but... Ninja is one of my favourite themes of all time. Even though it focused on the (awesome) figs a little too much sometimes, there's some great, very unconventional (because of the line's theme, of course) designs in there, and a great mix of playable factions (robbers / red samurai / all ninja factions / blue samurai), if you want to divide them like that (because the theme mostly leaves this to you). Well-made Japanese Lego armies based on these sets also tend to be jaw-dropping, at least to me.
I love Kingdoms because of how it brought back Lego Castle in the way we all wanted it to be. Fantasy Era was already a relief, but Kingdoms was the ultimate relief, to me. Lego didn't repeat old mistakes like cheapness (KK I), daftness (KK II), useless small sets (Fright Knights), mediocre designs (Dragon Masters), lack of sets (Royal Knights), lack of conflict (Forestmen) or any other mistakes. Though the fantasy theme was pushed to the back, it was still 'there' with the inclusion of the wizard. The Dragon Knights may be the most awesome 'villains' we've had, with their foresty ways and architecture, which was something different than anything we'd had up until that point. Then there's the Joust and the Mill Village Raid, which are simply among the most amazing Castle sets I've ever seen. Oh and did anyone say 'Great Helms'?
Another plus for this theme is it's attention to civilians, even though it's only in 2 sets (Blacksmith attack and Mill Village Raid).
The only bad things I have to say about that theme is that I was disappointed by how quickly it got canceled, and that there's 1 torso on each faction I don't like (those used mostly for their knights wearing the great helms). Had they expanded the theme a little more (Dragon Knight's Forest Fortress, Dragon Knight's Hideout, various naval sets are things that come to mind) it could have been the greatest.
1. Black Knights
The Black Knights theme is really what defines Lego Castle to me. It just had such great figs and design for it's time. There's boats, siege weapons, and some of the best-looking castles, minifigs, sigils and horse bardings we've ever seen Lego produce, imo. Black Knight's castle may be among the greatest Castle sets of all time, and to me it certainly houses the greatest Lego mini-figure of all time, the white Dragon Knight
I have high hopes this line will be topped at one point, but I don't see it happening very soon.