Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Toy Fair Recap Part II: Lego! Mayfair! More!

Toy Fair is an annual trade show in which the toy and game industry shows their latest wares, usually in mid-February. I liveblogged my day on Monday, and now I'm writing about everything I saw in a little more detail. The first part of the report can be found here.  

After Hasbro, I cabbed it over to Javits, had a painless check-in, dropped off my coat, and started heading for the show floor. That’s when I noticed that Activision was doing a bit of a demo in a little conference room off in a corner. Thus, I began my day by looking at …

Wappy Dog
Okay, so it wasn’t the most thrilling way to begin Toy Fair, but it’s a cute product that is expected to have a reasonable price point. Wappy Dog is a little robot dog (like the old Tekno toy) that works in tandem with a Nintendo DS game. The package comes with a DS cart and the dog itself. The game is a standard Nintendogs clone, but the twist comes from its ability to interact, wirelessly, with the robot dog. The dog barks, sings, changes color, makes noises, dances, and so on. You can pet it, train it, play with it, and get reactions from it.

Look, I have a daughter, so I’m around a lot of little girls. This kind of stuff is like catnip for them. If it works (the version I saw was prototype) and the price stays reasonable, it could definitely find its market. 

Although I didn’t make an appointment, I did manage to slip behind the velvet ropes of the Lego showroom and get a tour of their game line. It turns out that last year, Lego nabbed almost 13% of the children’s game market with their new Lego board game line. The first series of games not only had several Reiner Knizia designs, but Knizia had input into the direction of the line.

Lego games will continue in a couple of interesting ways. The new flagship title, following on from Lego Creationary, is Lego Champion, which offers a combination of building challenges and racing.

The new Lego Ninjago line (a popular item with my son) is getting a board game this August, and there’s also a pirate-themed game called Pirate Plank due in March.

More interesting is the Heroica line, which is an entirely new Lego line created exclusively for boardgames. The initial releases will be four build-and-play adventures—Draida Bay, Waldurk Forest, Caverns of Nathuz, and Castle Fortaan—which can be linked together to form an even larger game. All four are due in August, but the art I have is tagged “preliminary” and is thus embargoed. I could probably describe it to you, but I’m afraid Ninjago agents would appear from the shadows and cut me to ribbons with their little Lego weapons.

Oh, and Lego now has the Pirates of the Caribbean license, which explains this stupid photo of Yr Humble Correspondent. 

Man-sized minifig heads:
Gruesome trophies from a tribe of Lego headhunters 

Queen Games
I’ve been trying to score a review copy of Fresco for ages with no luck. Now I understand why: Queen Games is based on in Germany and has no real US PR presence. Plus, their products are big, heavy, and beautifully produced. They had a wide range of items on display—Samarkand, Kairo, Lancaster, Show Manger—but Fresco and its expansions was clearly the highlight.

In Fresco, you manage your Renaissance art studio, buy and mix paints, and slowly restore a fresco for the bishop. The pieces, board, art, and mechanics all look wonderful. I’m going to have to buy this one, so please start shopping through my Amazon store so I can afford it.

Days of Wonder
My first scheduled meeting of the day was with Days of Wonder’s Mark Kaufmann. DOW didn’t have a booth and they were only showing Cargo Noir, which I’d already covered. So we just talked a bit about the games business and some of the interesting reactions Days of Wonder games generate among hardcore gamers. It was nice to sit down and talk with someone who wasn’t trying to flog his new game--Scowling Men With Beards Trading Little Wooden Blocks--as the greatest thing since penicillin. Thanks for the break, Mark.

And then it was on to Mayfair, who are also very matter-of-fact about their product and their audience. When you have the first Eurogame to be sold in a big-box store like Target, you really don’t need to worry about what the hardcore crowd on BoardGameGeek think.

Mayfair's Bob Carty ran me through the brand-spanking-new, straight-from-the-printers copy of Martin Wallace’s new game, Automobile. This one looks good, but it’s a heavy numbers game, with the entire board dominated by research, auction, sales, and production tracks. It lacks the map element that gives Wallace’s train games their life. I think this one will find its audience, but it probably won’t break as a big as Steam (my favorite among Wallace’s train games).

On the other hand, Bob got me all worked up when he mentioned the third part of the Mayfair/Wallace transportation trilogy. The next game will be about air travel, and will return to a map-based design as people fight for dominance of various air hubs.

In some other Mayfair news of interest:
  • They’re publishing a new edition of 1830 with a nice-looking board, original rules, and new variants. It’s a slick-looking bit of work for the hardcore 18xxers. 
  • Steam is getting a map expansion with three new tracks: Mid-Atlantic US on one side, and Belgium & Luxembourg and Brussels Metro on the other. 
  • Rivals for Catan is also getting an expansion, with new lands, resources, and adversaries. 
  • I’m not at all sure what to make of First Bull Run: A Test of Fire, a fast-playing Civil War game from … Martin Walace. It’s listed as ages 10 & up with a 30 to 60 minute play time, which sounds a lot like Battle Cry. I’m really curious to see what they do with this one. 
  • The final one that caught my eye was Five Points: Bloody Politics in Old New York. Since everyone else is going to be calling this “Gangs of New York: The Boardgame,” I might as well get the ball rolling. Players control factions vying for influence in upcoming elections, using agitators to tip the scales in their favor. It plays in under an hour, so it’s obviously a lighter game. 
I also got my best swag of the trip from Mayfair. I whispered in the ear of a friendly Mayfair lass that my daughter was the biggest Catan fan in the world, and she returned with a bag filled with these:

My daughter always tells me I’m the “best daddy in the world,” but last night she really meant it.

Final part of the Toy Fair recap coming later today.


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