Captain Toy/Michael's Review of the Week

Captain Toy Picks...
The Top Ten Action Figure Play Sets

Date Published: 2017-04-05
Written By: Michael Crawford

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McFarlane Monsters Sea Creature play set

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Action figures are great, but can they really be great fun without play sets? It wasn't long before G.I. Joe had his command headquarters, and the Lone Ranger had a town. Over the last 60 years, there's been some great play sets produced to go with your favorite action figures, and I figured it was time to put together a list of my ten favorites.

You won't find any vehicles here, although they are technically 'play sets'. I'm going to hold off on those for their own list.  I also did what I could to stick to actual sets with which you could 'play', versus straight up dioramas.  There's some cross over though, and I'll note the close calls.

I stole the opening photo from Halloween Love, where they had a great retrospective article on the McFarlane sets. I didn't include any of the Monster sets, not because they aren't fantastic, but I ended up deciding they were more diorama, less play set, at least by my definition. Your mileage may vary.

Let's go!

10 - Hogwart's Great Hall, Harry Potter, Popco
One of my up coming lists will be underrated lines. High on that list will be the 4" Harry Potter series from Popco. Really only distributed in the U.K., it never took off the way it might have with better marketing and distribution. It's not perfect, but it did have some high points, and one of those is the uber-cool Great Hall play set. This thing is HUGE, even for 4" figures. It opens up to reveal a series of tables and benches, along with the front podium for Dumbledore to pontificate. While most of the figures can still be had pretty cheap, this set is a tough one to find.

Hogwarts Great Hall play set

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9 - Tanis Map Room, Indiana Jones, Sideshow, 2012
Most sixth scale 'play sets' are really just dioramas. On top of that, they tend to be undersized and better suited to smaller figures. But Sideshow has done a few that I feel actually qualify, and are large enough to be a lot of fun in this scale. My favorite is the Tanis Map Room from the Indiana Jones license. Of course, you need an Indy that works (the DX Indy had the proper outfit), but the set has a ton of detail, and is large enough to work as a play set. How much fun would this have been with the Secret of the Mummy's Tomb G.I. Joe?.

Tanis Map Room Indiana JOnes Sideshow

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8 - Batcave, Batman Forever, Hasbro
I stole the photo below from the interwebs - sorry, I have no idea whose it is. If it's yours, let me know so I can give credit.

I have a lot of Batcaves.  At one time, I was sort of a completist on them. There's some terrific versions, from the old Mego release, to the DC Super Heroes, to the most recent version from Mattel. But none of them come close to the cool that is the monstrously large Batman Forever play set.

Not much good came from that film, but there's always an exception. This is it.  With three huge sections connected by steps, this cave-like structure can hold both the Batmobile and the Batwing from the movie, with room to spare.

Batman Forever Batcave

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7 - Star Trek Bridge, Mego
Let's get old school for a minute, and jump back to the terrific Mego action figure line of the late 70's. While the large figures - 8" - might not seem to be the best for play sets, Mego produced some winners, including their Batcave and the Wizard of Oz Emerald City. But my favorite was easily the Star Trek Bridge Set, complete with captain's chair and transporter. Okay, so the transporter wasn't on the bridge, but do you think kids cared? Hell no, and this set was made for fun.

Mego Star Trek Bridge Play Set

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6 - Space Station, Major Matt Mason, Mattel
Another amazing vintage toy line of the 70's was Major Matt Mason. Every kid had at least one of the bendy astronauts and a couple of the aliens.  But very few got to own the huge Space Station play set. With lots of cool details and a ton of room on the triple decker for your figures, it was an amazing set. I just wish I had any of my Matt Mason stuff today, since replacing it now would bankrupt me.

Major Matt Mason Space Station

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5 - Cabin Control Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mezco, 2002
I'll admit it - this one is on the border between 'play set' and 'diorama'. But I see lots of play potential within, particularly because it was LOADED with extras. There's somewhere between a dozen and a gazillion accessories here, and they are all extremely cool. The detail work on the set was amazing, right down to the rounded portals. Even the figure was a solid release, although he could use a bit more articulation. Mezco did another version of Nemo (Wave Rider), but this one was a stand out for them.

Cabin Control Nemo Mezco Toyz

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4 - Main Street, World of Springfield, Playmates, 2008
We got a lot of very cool play sets with the World of Springfield. There are several fantastic examples themed around the various Treehouse of Horror episodes, and there are some that no one ever thought we'd see. For example, Moe's Tavern took a tremendous amount of effort on Playmates part, because they had to convince the powers at Fox that it wouldn't turn into a marketing nightmare. Selling a bar to kids? Are you insane? I only wanted to put one of these many play sets on this list though, so I had to narrow it down to the one I thought was the most worthy.

Main Street is truly impressive, thanks to its size and ambition. It combines a number of store fronts, and provided dialog for several characters that were woefully short on speech in the other sets. It was an expensive proposition, but it makes for a fantastic center piece for any Simpsons collection.

Simpsons Main Street play set

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3 - Library, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Diamond Select,
I'll let you in on another spoiler - the DST line of Buffy figures is another on my list of highly under rated series. The sheer number of figures they produced is impressive enough, but they also put out a terrific play set centered around the school library where Giles worked. This set is sought after today because it works with any 6 inch action figure line, and it's such a 'normal' situation. There's a ton of nice accessories too, and it has the size to provide for plenty of space for multiple figures.

By the way, I found the photo below out on some site that had themselves appropriated it at some point. I recognize the name of the photographer - Artistix - as a collector that often posted photos of his collection on line. I don't know if he's still posting out there on any of the forums or Facebook, but the photo below was his work.

Buffy Library Play Set

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2 - Castle Grayskull, MOTUC, Mattel, 2013
The original Masters of the Universe series had its own terrific Castle Grayskull, but I'm putting the new MOTUC version on the list. While that might be sacrilege, I really do love this new set. It has a ton of cool play features, space for the Wind Raider, and a bunch of useful accessories, creating the sort of set I would have killed for as a kid.

MOTUC Castle Grayskull

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1 - Swedish Chef Kitchen, Muppets, Palisades, 2003
I think I spoiled this one when I was talking about the Muppets Back Stage set in my 'smart purchases' list, but the clear winner for me is the Kitchen with the Swedish Chef from Palisades.

The set isn't huge, with room for maybe three characters around the island on the tile floor. But it's packed with extras and features. There are 42 accessories - yes, 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything! It can't be a coincidence. From the old time radio to the bags of flour to the pots and pans to the tennis racket, there's a cornucopia of goodies here. The refrigerator, stove, and cabinets all open - I counted 15 separate doors or drawers that open up!  The level of detail is unheard of, and I've never seen anything quite this impressive in any other play set.

Muppets Swedish Chef Kitchen

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I'm sure I skipped some of your favorites - there's a million out there. Series like G.I. Joe, TMNT, and others have provided some truly fun play sets that have given kids hours of enjoyment. I'd love to hear which ones were your favorites, and I bet a few were your all time best Christmas gifts too. Thanks to the added cost, our parents usually bought these things for big holidays, and I can tell you that sets like the MMM Space Station found a home under many a Christmas tree.

If you're enjoying this top ten concept of Captain Toy Picks or have a suggestion for a future list, drop me a line and let me know! I've added a section below with links to all the past Captain Toy Picks... features:

Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Smart Purchases!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten McFarlane Lines!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Bad Action Figure Ideas!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Toy Fair 2017 Reveals!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Unproduced Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...The People's Picks for Best of 2016!
Captain Toy Picks...Best/Worst of 2016!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Poppies Winners of the Past Ten Years!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten DC Universe Classics Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Christmas Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Joker Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Superman Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Animated Action Figure Series!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Toy Things I'm Thankful For!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Premium Format Statues!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Horror Sixth Scale Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Horror Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Disappointments Over $100!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Disappointments Under $100!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Palisades Muppets!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Wanted Licenses in Sixth Scale!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Batman Black and White Statues!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Masters of the Universe Classics Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Female Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Prop Replicas!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Simpsons World of Springfield action figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Batman action figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Grails!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Figures!

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Photos and text by Michael Crawford.

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