London Toy Fair 2000

Pevans reports on the new board games

Main headings: Regulars / Newcomers / Round-up

Having only a day to visit this year's Toy Fair, I decided to concentrate on winkling out the new games from small companies rather than trying to visit everyone - a task that past experience tells me can take three full days. Hence I didn't bother with many of the larger companies, whose game range is often limited.

There was but the one major trend visible this year, and this was the board game version of a TV quiz show - an interesting reversal from last year when everybody was claiming that they were working on TV game shows based on their board games. This is not a new idea, but the success of the board game version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? has clearly produced a bandwagon. A minor trend was the emphasis on magic at the show - card tricks, conjuring and so on.

But on to the show. Here's what I saw this year, in no particular order.

Regulars: Cheatwell / Gibson's / Green Board Game Co / Hasbro / London Game Co / University / Upstarts! / Westnedge / Winning Moves

Hasbro, the biggest toy company of all, requires a visit. Their stand revealed few games - I avoided the children's games area, which usually features simple roll-the-dice-and-move-the-dobber games themed to the latest Disney film. These were new editions of classics, the most appealing being Truth or Dare Jenga. This is Jenga with coloured blocks; each engraved with a forfeit. Presumably you not only have to pull out the block but also carry out the 'dare' or reveal some terrible secret.

Upstarts! is riding high on the phenomenal success of its board game version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. New games this year are the Manchester United edition of Flip Football and Corx. The latter is a dexterity game devised by Jon Unsworth. It consists of a variety of games played with pair of tapered corks. The simplest is bouncing the corks to get them to stand on end - you score more points for the narrow end than the thick end. The corks are illustrated with a variety of cartoon characters, adding a collectable element to the game. Other new products are sets of Card and Magic Tricks, which are a Children's ITV tie-in. Upstarts! is also distributing an electronic, remote controlled Fart Machine - an interesting product for a company whose slogan this year is "…bringing quality back."

The company has added to the range of games that it distributes for small publishers. This year's crop includes new versions of five classic, family, board games - including Coppit and Mousie Mousie - from Rocket Games. Britannia Games continues the TV quiz show theme with board games based on Family Fortunes, Strike it Rich and Play Your Cards Right.

Winning Moves UK continues its close ties with Hasbro and will be launching four more regional versions of Monopoly in October. This will complete coverage of the country with either regional or city editions of the game. This year, Winning Moves will be putting some marketing muscle behind its editions of Top Trumps with the assistance of their various partners - such as Shoot! and Smash Hits magazines. The only new game will be the Monopoly Card Game, which will be a faster version of the game that uses just cards and money.

Junior Pass the Bomb is the new game from Gibson's. This version of the party favourite uses pictures, rather than letters, as the basis for the players to think of words. Times Up is an English language version of Austrian publisher Piatnik's Activity game - players have to act/draw/explain against a timer. Activity has developed into a large range for Piatnik and it will be interesting to see if the Gibson's edition will repeat this success. Gibson's foray into the TV game show is Big Breakfast Vital Statistics. As on The Big Breakfast, the game has very obscure trivia questions. The aim is not to get it right, but to be closest to the correct answer. Gibson's has also repackaged 221b Baker Street in a smaller, square box. The company has also overcome the production problems with its Carrom boards and the game is now back in the company's range.

Cheatwell Games is famous for its cheap, fun party games. A new range for this year is Host Your Own… evening packs - everything a host needs for a them evening in Mexican, Indian or Italian style. New adult games include Trouble with Men and Saucy Secrets. The company is continuing its Millennium compendium for the future as New Year's Eve Games and promises that there is a lot more in the pipeline.

Walking with Dinosaurs is an educational game for youngsters from Green Board Games. It is based, of course, on the BBC TV series. The aim is to evolve from an egg as you move through the different prehistoric periods. Players have to answer questions about dinosaurs as they move round the tracks for each period and they get to change their playing piece as they move (evolve) between periods. Green Board Games also has the licence for the first Blue Peter board game: Globe Runner is still in development and is due for publication in the autumn.

The London Game Co continues to expand its range by producing UK editions of games from elsewhere. This includes a small range of travel games, some of which come from Scandinavian publisher Tactic. Another of these, Take 5 Fridge Words comes from Australia and is a crossword game played with magnetic letter tiles. New editions of the Australian-originated Battle of the Sexes due out this year include Bedroom, Drinking and Millennium editions. The same company is also producing a game based on the Sex and the City TV show. Finally, Eureka is a UK edition of the word game that I first saw as Rondo, produced by the old Schmidt in 1997. The game features an extending rack on which cards are laid for players to make words.

Westnedge Games has seen increasing sales in its line of classic games over the last year. As the UK distributor for Gigamic, Westnedge had two new games to unveil this year. In Zenix, players have to stack logs with a hexagonal cross-section into a holder. The aim is to get the longest chain of your colour in the finished assembly. The second game is a travel edition of Quixo.

The UK subsidiary of University Games was celebrating its first year in operation, but its only new game this year is a children's edition of Twenty Questions.

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Newcomers: Aaron / Astral / Charlie's / Counteract / Fabel / Nubian Jak / Pegged Out / PhD / Pireme / Purkess Brittain / Racing

Aaron Games was a new name to me and turned out to be a collective of small games designers/producers, several of whom I had encountered at the Toy Fair before. There were two games that were new to me. Leg-it is about escaping from prison and is highly reminiscent of Gibson's Escape from Colditz. Most of the players try to collect the necessary items to enable them to escape, while one player controls the prison guards. A nice touch is that the escape route cards overlay the board, changing it to show the route out. The Car Boot Game (Lefran Games) is a family roll-the-dice-and-move-the-dobber game with a b-style board. The theme is buying items cheaply at car boot sales and selling them for more, while occasionally being lucky enough to pick up a collector's item. The game was produced last year and has been on sale in one branch of WH Smith and some Toymaster shops.

Charlie Towlson continues to expand the range of Charlie's Games and to sell his family games into new markets. This year's addition to the range is Big Day Out - a theme park game. The aim is to complete all four rides and collect fast food. Each ride features a different goal that has to be achieved by furiously rolling dice against a timer.

Counteract is a two-player dice game that I saw in prototype last year. It is now in production and the publishers are building up an audience by promoting it in local schools. There is also a CD-ROM version.

Fabel was a first for me: a Danish company at Toy Fair. Their game is Star Tales, a fantasy-based board and card game with some role-playing aspects and terrific artwork. Players are heroes trying to defeat monsters and return sound to the land. This they do by rolling dice and moving round the board, encountering monsters as they go. The company is looking for a partner to handle the game in the UK.

It was difficult to miss the man dressed in brightly-coloured wizard's robes and hat. He was promoting the Crop Circles game from Astral Games: players collect different types of crop circle to gain pieces of Stonehenge, aiming to be the person who completes it. The game also throws in signs of the zodiac and the four elements (air, earth, fire, water) to give it a distinctly New Age feel. The amateur artwork and production added nothing to the appeal of the game.

Nubian Jak is an Afro-Caribbean trivia game that was first seen in 1995. It was back at the show this year as the publishers promoted it as a brand, not just a game. The new products include a cartoon, clothing and a TV game show on Channel 4.

Pegged Out Ltd is the company that produces Pegged Out. This is a simple dice game in a can. Players roll dice and play pegs into holes in the top of the can, taking a peg if a number they roll is already filled. Rolling a six takes a peg out of the game and the aim is to get rid of all your pegs first. There are no real decisions to be taken, but it looks like an amusing way of passing time.

Social Insecurity is another family board game with a b-style layout to the board. However, it also features a small flipchart. The creation of "three Newcastle lads" (aka Ph.D. Games), the aim of the game is to accumulate Ł1000 in the town of Stonybroke. A daunting task when players start on the dole with just Ł50 a 'week'. The board features a number of venues and the players all take particular characters. What happens to each character in a venue depends on a die roll - cross-referenced on the appropriate page of the flipchart - and hopefully some of these will generate money (or even a job). A bit too much like real life, if you ask me.

Pireme is better known as the publisher of Miniature Wargames magazine. The company has extended its range with a number of starter packs as introductions to wargaming. Each pack contains figures to make up two armies, rules, painting guide and dice. There are already seven titles in the range covering different historical periods: Ancients, Napoleonics, American Civil War and so on. Some of these feature more complex components - the Pirate game has a model ship and contains biographies of famous pirates. The next addition to the range will be the English Civil War.

Bladder is a two-player abstract game that the publishers, Purkess Brittain games, have cleverly positioned as a football game. Though they also describe it as "for those who fancy themselves as Chess players, but can't face learning the rules." Each player starts with 14 pieces and the 'bladder' in the middle of the board. The aim is to collect the bladder and get it into your opponent's 'goal'. You capture the bladder (and the other player's pieces) by getting enough of your pieces adjacent to it. To heighten the football analogy, there are also rules for passing the bladder between pieces.

Purkess Brittain have already produced one game: b is a bike racing game themed to the Ogri cartoon strip. Play is card-based with lots of opportunity for stitching up your opponents, plus innuendo. The game has been produced as a limited edition of 1000 copies with pewter playing pieces (motor bikes). A new, mass-market edition is planned with plastic bikes and a smaller box. Racing Games's Wheelspin attempts to reproduce all the elements of a Formula 1 motor race. This is done through hazard spaces on the track and cards that detail what happens. Movement depends on where you land and overtaking is difficult - you also have to make tactical choices such as whether/when to fit wet weather tyres. The game looks interesting, but suffers from kitchen-sink syndrome: everything has been thrown in somewhere. It is also over-produced - components include dice, timers, a spinner and a lap counter for each player - which will no doubt be reflected in the price. The first game uses the Silverstone circuit and the publisher promises more if this is successful.

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Missing from the show were two old favourites: TV Board Games, whose range of fun, family games has been a treat in recent years, and Headline, publisher of party game The Great I Am. Also missing was Mattel - though they have very few games in the Spear's range these days. The list of companies I didn't visit includes Abalone, BV Leisure, Enjoy Learning, Jumbo subsidiary Falcon Games, Goliath Games, role-play distributor Hobbygames, Imperial Games (now handling the UK end of Internet puzzle The Stone that was launched last year), Kids International, Living & Learning, Orchard Toys, Paul Lamond Games, Playbreak, Pressman, Ravensburger, Really Useful Games and Hasbro's latest subsidiary, Wizards of the Coast (who featured the Pokémon trading card game and the latest expansion for Magic: the Gathering).

The toy trade's awards for 1999 included the game of the year, which went to Upstarts! for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. This year, they also gave awards for the century and this saw Monopoly named as Game of the Century - Mastermind, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit being its competition. The overall Toy of the Century was awarded to Lego.

This article was first published in Games Games Games 141, March 2000.

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Page created 15th February 2000. Last modified 24th June 2005.
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