Battling Tops was as close to watching gladiatorial combat as most kids got (except those kids whose dads took them to illegal cockfights!).
Once you sent that top into the arena of battle, all you could do was watch, cheer, and hope your little spinner was the last top standing.
It was a brutal sport for the tops, what with all the spinning and knocking together, but oh, what a thrill for their gladiatorial masters.
Ideal’s 1968 Battling Tops game had six fierce spinning warriors (all with non-threatening names like Dizzy Dan, Twirling Tim and Tricky Nicky, but don’t be fooled), four of whom could enter the combat arena at any one time.
The round arena had four top-launching areas, wherein the battle-ready top could fit snugly until it was time to spin. Four ‘Battling Top Pullers’ started the action – wind the string around the top, hold the puller outside the arena, then give puller a solid yank to send the tops flying.
Out the tops went into combat, ramming against each other until only one remained spinning.
Alas, there was no time for the victorious top to enjoy its glory, nor for the losers to lick their wounds (metaphorically – the tops didn’t actually have tongues). The melee went on until one top-scored ten victories, enough to make any top gladiator bruised, exhausted, and very, very dizzy.
Battling Tops quickly became a family favourite in many homes – so easy that even the littlest siblings could play (as long as some kind soul wound their tops for them), yet compelling enough that even the oldest member of the household couldn’t take his eyes off the spinning dance of death (the hypnotic patterns of the tops’ surface may have had something to do with it).
In the late 70s, Ideal redesigned the game in the wake of Star Wars mania as ‘Battling Spaceships’. Redesigned tops and a new space-themed gameboard around the arena added a twist or two, but the name of the game was still last-top-standing.
Marx took over the Battling Tops title in the 80s, but by the end of the decade, the game had disappeared from toy shelves. And while the embattled tops themselves may be grateful, the rest of us fondly remember one of the most enjoyable spectator sports in the family game room.
The later ‘Beyblade’ fad owed much to Battling Tops!