Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Toy Fair Recap Part I: Introduction and A Visit to Hasbro

Yesterday was one long day.

You have to understand something: I don't really leave the house that much. I drive the kids around, teach about once a week, volunteer, and go to church, but that's about it. I've been working on my agoraphobia skill set for several years now, and it's coming along swimmingly.

Also, you should realize that I live in South Jersey. Down here, we consider ourselves a different state than New Jersey, and I'm hoping to spend my declining years fighting for full secession. I'm far enough south that it takes 2 to 3 hours, door to door, to haul my sorry, arthritic, anti-social corpse into mid-town Manhattan. This was easier when I was young and went to school in New York. I'm not young any more.

So, I only planned for one day on site at Toy Fair, which means I had to cram the maximum amount of appointage into about 8 hours of time at the amazingly awful Javits Center. (I've been told that the place is a firetrap with poor safety protocols: the Titanic of conventions centers.)

I'm going to run through my day (leaving out things like tooth-brushing, bathroom breaks, and $4 hot dogs) and pick out some of the highlights. At some later point, I'll post a bit more on individual games that struck me as notable.

First off, I decided the liveblog the entire day. We have a nice new Verizon iPhone, so I used it to take pictures, and then wrote and posted using BlogPress. The whole things was an experiment, but I'm kind of pleased with the way it turned out. I'm not thrilled with the picture quality, but the snapshots add a bit to that "you are there" feel. At least, that's what I tell myself.

So, onto my day:

Hasbro's offsite, permanent showroom is always the first stop, since it's on the way from Penn Station to the convention center. The charming Laura Trani showed me the line, skipping the toys and going right to the games. She mercifully whisked me by the branded products (SpongeBob Ants in the Pants? I only wish I was making that up.) and straight to the new card games: Ratuki and The Game of Life: Adventures.  Ratuki seems like a fast-playing variant of Spit, while Life: Adventures continues the trend of making board games into card games.

Scrabble Flash is a huge hit for Hasbro (it's even up for a game of the year award at Toy Fair), so they're expanding the line with Yahtzee Flash and Simon Flash. As far as I'm concerned, you can keep anything with the name "Simon" on it, but the Yahtzee Flash looked better than you might expect. Both versions were in prototype, so it's still too early to say much more.

Hasbro is experimenting with a new line they're calling "Live," which blends electronics and board games. I may like chocolate in my peanut butter, but I hate electronics in my board games. However, both the Battleship and Monopoly "Live" games seem to do something worthwhile with the technology. The center of the board is a tower (I'm assuming it's fitted with infrared sensors) that "reads" board states and inputs. This allows not only for more interaction on the board, but also for more dynamic game environments, such as storms that change the positions of ships in Battleship or random money events (auctions, races, etc) in Monopoly. Gimmicky,  but interesting.

I already described Scrabble Alphabet Scoop, but there's also Connect 4 Launchers, a new Clue Harry Potter, and Cranium Brain Breaks. Connect 4 Launchers is kind of like Connect 4 meets Ants in the Paints: flick the little discs into a double-level game grid and try to make four in a row. I actually kind of enjoyed it. The first Clue Harry Potter game was one of the better Clue variants, and the new version looks pretty nice as well. Cranium Brain Breaks is a set of cards describing a couple hundred mini-games that can be played in about 60 seconds. It has familiar Cranium challenges like acting, drawing, scultping, guessing, and so on. A nice little party/filler-game.
 But Laura saved the best item for last: Ji Ga Zo. This jigsaw puzzle from Japan allows you to create a mosaic puzzle out of any picture. The box comes with three hundred shaded, gray scale puzzle pieces. You import a photo (high-contrast facial portraits work best) into the Ji Ga Zo software, and the software outputs a coded puzzle matrix. Each puzzle piece has a symbol on the back, and by assembling the symbols to match the printed guidelines, you create a mosaic-style custom puzzle. The pieces can be used repeatedly. I haven't tried it yet, and I assume that not all pictures will work well with it, but the results on display were amazing.

And that wraps up Hasbro's offerings for 2011. Tune in later for more from this year's Toy Fair expo.


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