Toy Fair 2003
Pevans reports on the new board games at the UK Toy Fair
The fiftieth London Toy Fair was held at the end of January and I got along for a day to look at the new games. For those who've not come across it before, this is a trade show at which toy manufacturers and distributors show off the products they have for the coming year. The primary audience is the buyers for the big chains, buying groups and independent retailers. There are similar shows in Paris, Nuremberg and New York (and the multi-nationals will be at all of them). So this is very much products aimed at the mass market, though a few 'hobby' companies are there as well.
Given the limited amount of time available to me, I concentrated on the smaller and newer companies. Here's what I found, starting with the companies who've been at the show before.
4th Law was along for the third time with Wordblind, the word game that is played by laying tiles to build up the 'board'. The Junior edition of the game, launched last year, was also in evidence. What was new were "portable" versions of the original and Junior editions: Mini Wordblind and Mini Junior Wordblind. As well as the original game mechanics, these both contain a new "quick-fire" game. The two games can be mixed to allow adults and children to compete together.
Boardroom Productions are the publishers of board game Cat Attack, which was new last year. It's an entertaining family game – though rather too luck-orientated for hobby gamers – with some great pieces (little cats, birds and mice).
Britannia Games specialises in producing board game versions of TV game shows under licence – production and distribution is through Upstarts!. The games for this year are I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! and Wish you Were Here…?. There's also a second edition of their Family Fortunes game and a travel version of Play Your Cards Right.
Chart Moves has been around for as long as I've been visiting the Toy Fair – though they've not been there every year. The game, Chart Moves, is about the music industry and is a huge production: multiple square boards with concentric circular tracks, lots of cards, tiles, paper money and playing pieces. This is now billed as "Limited Edition 1st Run Collector's Piece". I inferred that there must be a second edition, but nothing was in evidence.
Cheatwell Games has been around for a few years now and has built up a huge range of fun family and party games. This year's new games are quite extensive. My favourites were the Spoof Experiences. Swim with Dolphins contains a nice plastic dolphin for your bath. Test Fly a Stealth Bomber is empty – you have to find the bomber first! Okay, they're not games, but I enjoyed the joke.
The new games include four new quiz games on CDs. Fart! is a card game that also contains a CD for sound effects. I don't think I need to go into details. Cheatwell has married the "Host Your Own…" idea with the CD format to produce Host Your Own Elvis Night and Host Your Own Abba Night. The pack contains invitations, menu suggestions, tips on dress and decor, games to play and, of course, a CD to sing along with.
The new "Host Your own…" titles are the Hawaiian Evening and Caribbean Evening. Quicksand is, essentially, a variation on Pictionary, played by drawing in sand with a straw. New word games are Associations – making connections between two disparate words – and Think of a Word, which is sort-of Hangman without the hanging. Finally, there are several sets of "3-in-1" games: three little card games shrink-wrapped together.
Esdevium Games will be well-known to most of you as distributors of TSR, Wizards of the Coast and many other role-playing and trading card games as well as wargames and board games – notably from Rio Grande Games. Featured this year was Thud, the Discworld Board Game. It was good to see them making an impact on the mass market.
Falcon Games are UK distributors of Dutch publisher Jumbo, but concentrate on jigsaw puzzles and rarely carry their board games. This year they have Pop Idol – the Game, licensed from the TV show, and produced under the Jumbo brand. Falcon has also added a children's board game to their range of Bob the Builder puzzles. Planks and Ladders is Snakes and Ladders with added sound effects.
Another company that rarely has new games is Feva, but this year they were promoting a quiz game, Britain's Brainiest Family Quiz Game, based on the TV programme. The game launched last year, but time pressure didn't allow me to find out any more about it.
Fridgeplay appeared at the 2002 show for the first time with a selection of classic games. The twist being that the components are fridge magnets. Twelve new games join the range this year. Most are versions of classics: Reversi, Solitaire, Ludo, Chinese Checkers, Dominoes, Fox and Geese, Battleships, Chinese Chess and Nine Men's Morris. The others are a horse racing game (Fridgehorse) and a car racing game (Fridgeracer) plus a version of Edward de Bono's L-game (FridgedeBono), all of which I'd like to know more about.
Games Editions is the UK end of French publisher Editions du Jeu and were at the Toy Fair for the first time last year with word game Expressions. This year they have a new game, Gift of the Gab (Baratin in the French edition), but I didn't have time to find out more about it.
There is only one company that has been at the Toy Fair every year for 50 years: Gibsons. The Fair's organisers, the British Toy and Hobby Association, presented the family company with a special award in recognition of this. The company's main business these days is puzzles, but they had several new games as well. Chief of these was a set of four wooden abstract games that are also 'coffee table' items. Cityscape (by Sjaak Griffioen) is for 2-4 players who place wooden blocks of different heights onto a square grid to produce … the cityscape. Before starting each player secretly sets their own plan for the city and tries to build it to this pattern. And stop the others from achieving theirs. The best fit at the end wins the game. It's a quick game (10 minutes) of tactics, but nonetheless interesting. Jens-Peter Schliemann's Fire and Ice has a board on which seven islands move around, changing the interconnections between them. Players jockey for position on the islands with their pawns, aiming to get three in a row and thus gain control of the island. First to three islands wins. A game with a few subtleties, but not too taxing at 30 minutes a game.
In Octiles (Dale Walton), the board is built up of with octagonal tiles – with little diamond-shaped pieces to complete the pattern. As each tile is turned up, a number of routes are revealed. The aim is to get your pawns across the board using the routes available. There is always one spare tile and players change the routes before they move (Amazeing Labyrinth-style). This one is intriguing and definitely has some replay value. It's for 2-4 players and can take up to an hour and a half. Quadtria (Claus-Peter Bickel) feels much simpler. The two players each have several balls, which they place and then move along the paths on the board. Each is trying to create a triangular pattern of coloured balls in each corner of the board. First to do this wins. I'm not sure whether there is anything deeper to this game, but the playing time is given as open-ended.
Gibsons have one new board game: Therapy. This is a psychology/trivia game with questions in six sections that correspond to the stages of life (infancy, adulthood and so on). The different categories include personal questions (not intrusive, I'm assured), factual (based on surveys) and even Rorschach cards (where the question is "what do most people see in this inkblot?"). Players move their psychiatrist's couch around the board, gaining coloured pegs for each question they get right. First to get all six colours wins.
Note that games are often described by reference to other games. This is purely for comparison and does not imply that any game has been copied from another.
Page created 1st April 2003. Last modified 24th June 2005.
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