This is my report of the new board games at the 2006 London Toy Fair. Use the index to find the bits you want or just read it as a narrative. You can also read or print the PDF version (you will need Adobe Reader to do this - it is free from Adobe).
If it's January, it must be time for this year's London Toy Fair. This is the annual showcase of the toy industry, where manufacturers and distributors show off the products they hope are going to be the big hits next Christmas. This includes this year's new games - since games are considered just a sub-set of toys. I am always fascinated to see the new games - the games that will be in toy shops and department stores later in the year. A day is just about enough time to work my way round the companies with games at the Toy Fair and I'm happy to keep my visit down to one day.
As usual, the big boys take up most of the space at the Toy Fair and produce most of the games. However, one section of the show (conveniently next to the Press Office) is reserved for small new companies. The Greenhouse features lots of small stands and is where most of the more interesting new games can be found. However, let me start with the established publishers.
First, though, my usual disclaimer. If I say a game is like another, this does not imply that one game is a copy of the other. This is just a shorthand description of the game by referring to a different game that readers may be familiar with. And let me warn you that all my comments are highly subjective.
As always the large Hasbro stand dominates the north hall. It wasn't high on my list of priorities, as the most interesting games from Hasbro are to be found at the stand next door. This is where Esdevium Games shows off the games it distributes, which include Hasbro's Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill ranges. And very good it all looked, too. Esdevium had a substantial stand and it was stuffed full of interesting games - though most of them were already familiar to me. However, I was surprised to see Polarity among this number. This is a unique dexterity game where players lean the magnetic playing pieces against each other. If you get it right, the result is a whole bunch of pieces apparently suspended in the air. An amazing game and one I'm pleased to see is available again.
New games included the interesting looking Dragonology. The display case had a number of impressive dragon models along with the game's board, but they won't be part of the production game (or it would cost an awful lot more!). The game is based on the Dragonology book and is published by Sababa Toys. I was also rather taken with the Front Porch range. These 'coffee table games' look magnificent and the line includes lovely wooden versions of Shut-the-Box and Liar's Dice. The Adventure Games line features a pirate game and a Master and Commander game. Again, these games are good lookers (the picture below shows some that are due out later this year) and I'll be interested to find out how they play.
Just along from Esdevium was Britannia Games, who specialise in producing board game versions of TV shows. They were still making much of their I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here game. New games include a Captain Scarlet trading card game - based on the new animated series, not the classic puppets - and a Thunderbirds board game. Britannia is also working on a new Family Fortunes game and had a prototype of their horror board game, Forbidden Terrortory, based on the Hammer oeuvre of films.
Cards Inc is a new name to me, which may explain why I failed to spot their stand. This is a shame as I'd have liked to take a look at Fleeced, a Wallace and Gromit game! Designed by Nick Park himself, the game has players rescuing stolen sheep. It's a family game aimed at ages 8+. The other game from Cards Inc is Big Brother Truth or Dare!. Players win by answering questions correctly or carrying out dares - all based on things that have happened in Big Brother and divided into Prude, Rude or Lewd categories. Clearly this is more of a party game. Both games will be in the shops later this year.
While most of the games publishers were in ExCeL's north hall, a few were tucked away in the south hall. One of these was Drumond Park. Their new crop of games included the inevitable Sudoku game. In this case, Carol Vorderman's Sudoku Board Game. I was more bemused by Rubik's Sudoku, a physical puzzle that crosses Rubik's Cube with Sudoku. The new board game was Chain Reaction, a party game for teams. The idea is to keep coming up with things that fit an initial category. ("Things your parents told you not to do," for example.) First person to run out of time loses the turn. Like earlier Drumond Park games, this is a fun game for family and friends. All you need is the right company!
Also on show was an electronic Deal or No Deal game, though it wasn't clear how this adapted the TV show for tabletop play. Drumond Park is producing The Official England FA Who Wants to be a Millionaire Board Game for late Spring. However, what I most enjoyed was the Jack and the Beanstalk game, which is all about knocking your opponents off the beanstalk. I can't help it.