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 and the second part can be found here.
Blue Orange was a new company to me, but I liked what they had to say and show. Their goal is to bring quality European-style games to America without the usual high Eurogame prices.
A number of these games use round cards inside little tins. They’re compact, inexpensive, play fast, and make for good ice-breakers and party games.
Tell Tale is a storytelling game that uses illustrated cards to help people improvise stories. In Spot It!, each card has a constellation of images of varying sizes. Every card has one image that matches an image on another card. You have to be the first to find the match. Trigger! offers factoids with “true” or “false” answers. You slam down your left hand to vote false, and your right to vote true. The goal is to answer first and answer correctly. The mechanics are nothing special, but the facts, such as “Groundhogs have teeth” or “Cows drink milk” make it a fun.
Dragon Face has been in development and testing for a while and the results look good. It’s an abstract strategy game played on cloth mat with double-sided checkers. The goal is to capture the enemy’s emperor checker by blocking it in. It plays a bit like checkers and a little like chess, except that when you jump an enemy, you flip it over and the enemy piece is now yours. There are a few other nuances, but it appears to have all the makings of a really nice entry in the abstract strategy genre.
I’d never heard of Wonder Forge before, perhaps because a) they used to be I Can Do That! Games and b) they traditionally produce a lot of kid games that I just don’t cover.
However, they caught my interest with a traffic-stopping Busterpult for their Mythbusters game (it's always fun to fling a rubber crash test dummy at a target), and then really impressed me with an item called Konexi.
The Mythbusters game looks fine: a bit of fact-or-fiction guessing, a bit of Buster-flinging, and about what you’d want in a licensed game. May it make them giant piles of Mythbuster money.
Konexi, however, was closer to a piece of playable art. The game is comprised of 26 thick, handsomely-sculpted plastic letters. These letters have grooves and tongues so that, when stacked, they hold together, although you needed to be careful during placement. The goal is to stack letters, make new words, score points for the words, and keep the tower from falling.
It’s a great game to just leave out on the coffee table, since it’s aesthetically pleasing, clever, and nicely designed. The gameplay element is simple, but it just looks and feels good.
ThinkFun always has something interesting to show, and thus year was no exception. The two that caught my eye were Tilt and Pathwords
Tilt is a logic maze with an interesting implementation. You follow directions on a puzzle card and set the board with obstacles and sliders. The sliders are little circular tiles that travel along grooves in a tilting board. The goal is to get the green sliders through a hole in the center of the board by tilting the board in any of the four cardinal directions. The maze element is familiar from dozens on logic mazes, but the implantation is clever and has a nice design to it.
Pathwords is a logic-word game hybrid with a neat mechanic. Each puzzle has a matrix of letters that lays under a clear plastic grid, and requires a selection of translucent, colored tiles akin to Tetris blocks. These tiles come in various configurations (L-shaped, U-shaped, etc...). Each tile has to be placed over the letters in such a way that it forms a valid word, and all of the tiles must fit together without any blanks or invalid words. It's part word search, part puzzle.
The GameWright booth had the most important thing I needed at 3:30 in the afternoon: water. (Thanks Emily. What, you thought I was going to say good games?) When the vendors are charging $4 a bottle for water, anyplace you can score some of that wet gold is welcome.
Oh, yeah, their games were good too. Then again, we always like GameWright stuff.
First up was Gubs, with designers Cole and Alex Medeiros on hand to show it off. This is a fresh, mass market version of a game you can check out at gubcards.com. The idea is to collect little critters called gubs, using special cards to get more gubs or take away those of your opponents. I didn’t get a really good sense of how this one played out, but the art is very nice and it looks appealing.
Mermaid Beach is going to be popular with tween and pretweens, thanks partly to its theme and partly to its colorful art. It mixes a bit of Sleeping Queens and a bit of Go Fish together to form a quick pairing and collecting game. You gather pairs of cards (taking necessary ones from another player if needed) and then "spend" these pairs to buy shell cards of varying values. Quick, cute, and family-friendly.
Finally, City Square Off has a bit of that ole Tetris/Blokus feel. Each players has a tray with a building in the center, a pile of different Tetris-like shapes, and a deck of cards. The cards tell you which shape to place, and the goal is to fill as much of your tray as possible.
Playroom does a lot of nice games aimed at the younger kids. The packaging and style on a number of their games is a lot like GameWright (or vice versa), so you have small, quick, fun card games like Sherlock, Saddle Up, and Monkey Memory. I had a great chat with a man whose name I don’t recall (it was a really long day, and I lost his card), and he showed me one of their games called Trading Faces. I’m going to cover this on its own, but it's about "collecting" and reproducing facial expressions, and looks like a great way to help kids with high-functioning autism and aspergers recognize facial expressions.
Playroom’s biggest line is Killer Bunnies, which I had never played because it seemed a bit too Munchkiny. It’s a huge success, however, and they’re expanding the series in interesting ways. Killer Bunnies and the Ultimate Odyssey seems to be a deeper game with more deck-building and strategy: kind of like Dominion with green rabbits. I’ll try to get hold of some cards and write it up at some point.
They’re also releasing some children’s games that use thick boards and magnets to create a new twist on memory games. The Magic Labyrinth, for instance, lets you set up a custom maze use little tiles placed upright inside a plastic frame. The gameboard fits over this, hiding the maze. Player pawns have magnetic bases, which allow them to hold a marble placed underneath the game surface. As the pieces move across the board, they must follow the correct path or the little upright tiles dislodge the steel balls, which rolls back to the start of the maze like a pool ball. It’s a little hard to visualize in words, but it works quite nicely.
The Magic Labyrinth uses a hidden maze under the board.
I hadn't been to Toy Fair in a few years, so it was good to get back, walk the floor, talk to people, and soak in the weirdness. It's always strange to see a few acres of floor space occupied by every manner and permutation of toy, doll, game, and geegaw, with nary a child in sight. (You have to be 18 or older to attend. "Child correspondents" are explicitly banned.) This is a trade show, which means professionals who take their work seriously are either trying to put their best foot forward, or looking for interesting things to stock in their stores or write about for their publications.
And it's not just the big guys who come to Toy Fair. I saw both of my local comic book/toy store proprietors walking the floor looking for new stock. I also saw a surprising amount of Amish people--at least half a dozen--there to look for items to stock in their own stores back in Lancaster County.
Sure, a lot of the space is devoted to people hawking stuff you don't need and planning to find new ways to separate parents from their money. In a tough economy, toys and games need to do even more to stand out among the hoard. There's certainly a lot of junk no one needs, but there are also a lot of clever, interesting items. I focussed on the games, and found quite a lot of interesting items. There wasn't much that broke the mold or screamed "next big thing." There was no Dominion or SmallWorld on display. But there were a lot of good items that will be worth seeking out in the year to come.
Also: there was a giant mouse.