London Toy Fair 2001
Pevans reports on the new board games
This year's Toy Fair was held at the new ExCeL exhibition centre in Docklands. An impressive modern facility, it lacks the character of Olympia - which probably means that it's easier for exhibitors. The one drawback is that it's less accessible from central London. There's a Docklands Light Railway station right outside, which is a couple of stops from an interchange with the Jubilee line. So it's not difficult to get to, just time-consuming. Anyway, inside the show, you would hardly have known it was a different place. The companies' stands looked much the same as always.
I couldn't discern any particular trends from this year's fair - though I didn't have time to see everything. Certainly there were a few new word games, but not enough to be significant. It was interesting to see the appearance of several companies that have not been at the Toy Fair before, but already have decent ranges of titles. Most of the usual suspects were there but, as always, there were only a few games of real interest to hobby games-players. Let me start with the regulars.
Regulars: Britannia / Cheatwell Games / Gibson's / Green Board Game Co / Hasbro / London Game Co / Upstarts! / Westnedge Games / Winning Moves / Others
Cheatwell Games have a number of new licensed games this year, including a Cold Feet board game, The Royle Family Game and The Royles' My Arse Game. However, the chief of these is a range of games and puzzles for a pre-school audience featuring Mr Men and Little Miss - which are 30 years old this year. There is also a board game version of Spot the Intro and an increasing range of CD-based games. The Host Your Own range has been expanded with a number of themed evening (e.g. Seventies, Italian) entertainment packs.
Noticeably missing from this year's Gibson's catalogue is Escape from Colditz. Apparently a US firm has bought the rights to tie in with a forthcoming movie (in which, no doubt, the Americans will lead the escape attempts). Gibson's does have new editions of Ludo and Snakes & Ladders and has re-packaged Total Football. It also has an English edition of Chronology, the game in which players aim to put events (cards) in chronological order - first to get 10 wins.
The Green Board Game Company, which has strong connections in France, is bringing in games from Tilsit Editions. They are concentrating on the historical titles which fit well with the rest of their range. Joan of Arc and The Apprentice, from Tilsit Kids, were featured at the Toy Fair, but any other Tilsit game is available to retailers through the Green Board Game Company. New games for 2001 include Walking with Beasts, a follow up to the successful Walking with Dinosaurs, Moomins, based on the Moominfamily books, and Egyptians, a card game in which players collect cards in order to be made Pharaoh.
As always, the Hasbro stand had little of interest to the hobby games-player. Lord of the Rings was present, but was not being particularly promoted - the short paragraph in the company's games press release even refers to the Dark Lord as "Sauton". A particular disappointment was that there was no sign of the Avalon Hill range. The new games on show included Hotel, aimed at the 8+ age range and with some very nice bits, a prototype Weakest Link board game, a Sumo wrestling game - Sumo - with nice plastic figures and Let's do Lunch, an abstract game where the playing pieces are 'cannibals'. This year's Monopoly variants are Disney Monopoly and Stock Exchange Monopoly.
A British edition of Apples to Apples has been licensed by The London Game Company from US publisher Out of the Box. It is being produced in an A4-ish box and should be on the shelves before Christmas. Other new games from the company include AngstZ, which is a clever variation on the trivia game that doesn't require an encyclopaedic knowledge. And then there's the Steps - Step by Step Game. Played on a 1 metre square vinyl mat, with the players answering questions, singing lyrics, dancing and so on. I'll leave the subject matter of these to your imagination. It is, of course, firmly aimed at fans of the pop group. The London Game Company is distributing games from Scandinavian publisher Tactic, which is increasing its range of English language titles. This, and its acquisition of what was previously the games business of Creative Kids, means that the company now has a large range of games.
Upstarts! is building on the success of Who Wants to be a Millionaire with a second edition game and a junior edition. Another quiz game will be Winning Lines, due out in mid-2001, which will be all about numerical questions. The company also has Manchester United Flip Football, a branded version of the simple card game, and Scarves and Ladders, a football-themed Snakes and Ladders. However, the major promotion is Corx, a dexterity game using a pair of tapered corks that we first saw last year. A new edition of The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game is expected later this year.
Upstarts! also distributes games from a number of other publishers. Britannia Games's new titles are Play Your Cards Right and Strike it Rich, both of which appeared in time for Christmas last year. To come this year is Charlie's Garden Angels, a gardening-themed game featuring Charlie Dimmock.
Westnedge Games had the latest wooden two-player abstract game from French publisher Gigamic. Quits is for 2 or 4 players on a square board. Each player starts in a corner with a number of spherical pieces that sit on the square blocks that make up the board. The aim is to get your pieces diagonally across board. Either by moving a piece or taking one of the blocks and pushing a line of blocks across the board. It is Gigamic's usual high quality and looks good. Gigamic has also produced travel versions of a number of its earlier games.
The UK part of Winning Moves continues to produce more regional versions of Monopoly (Cornwall, Scotland, Nottingham, Norwich, Chester, Oxford and Essex this year) and new Top Trumps games (including Xtreme Snowboarders and Buffy: the Vampire Slayer). It also has a Simpsons board game that sold well in its initial market (WH Smith) last Christmas. The game is straightforward as players perform tasks to gain tokens, with which they fill the Simpsons' front room. Other games coming up this year are Planet of the Apes - a movie tie-in - and a new edition of Mindtrap, The Ultimate Mindtrap.
Other regular exhibitors did not have any new games of interest: Abalone, BV Leisure, FEVA, Goliath Games, Imperial Games, Living & Learning, Orchard Toys, Paul Lamond, Pireme Publishing, Ravensburger UK, University Games.
Newcomers: 4th Law / AAKA Games / Abel Games / Gaia Distribution / In Cahoots / Portobello Games / Qfreegames / Risk Takers / Susan Prescot Games
4th Law has produced Wordblind. Players take it in turns to identify a word from the definitions read out - these get 'easier'. Depending on the difficulty of the definition, the player gets to move their pawn further down the track made by playing tiles. The position of your pawn can give you tactical options, though many of the tiles are just blank spaces. The game is already available from the company's website at £29.95 + postage and packing: www.wordblind.com.
Every few years, a fishing game appears at Toy Fair. This year it is Cast for a Bite, based on match fishing. Designed by Alan Dale and produced by his company, AAKA Games, the game is 'roll the dice, move the pawn and perform the action shown on the space you land on'. Players start with some bait and "Cast for a Bite". Getting a bite allows them to take a card representing a fish, which is caught if they have the correct bait. There are snags to hinder things - though some of them are useful. The game is controlled by a timer that runs for 60-90 mins and retails at £29.99. Save Your Planet is about saving the world and is played across a map of the world. Players get cards as they visit airports and then use them to move further. The way to win is to reach the UN with the appropriate three cards - before the pawn reaches the end of the disaster track. You can also try to stop other players from winning - at the risk of everybody losing when the disaster happens. Published by Abel Games, this is for 2-5 players aged 9+. It takes 60-75 minutes to play and retails at £19.99.
Gaia Distribution is a newly-established importer and distributor of ecological and educational card games, board games and puzzles. Initially, the company has games from Living Earth Games in Australia and Murmel in Switzerland. The Living Earth titles include Youri's Pea, a 'puzzle-board game' that illustrates the lifecycle of a plant. Players roll the die to get the bits they need to grow a pea. This is at risk from predators that may be created by playing pieces into the puzzle in middle of the board. Gaia's Garden is about organic gardening. Players compete and co-operate to grow a complete set of vegetables while warding off the attention of predators. The basic mechanism is 'roll the dice and move the pawn', but you can move any of the pawns. Living Landscapes is a pack of cards illustrating the water cycle. The aim of the game is build up a landscape that works, but the cards can also be used for any card game.
The Murmel Games catalogue starts with Tree Quartet, a Happy Families variant focused around trees. Kumbuka is a Memory game using pictures of animals painted by African artists. Another tile game is Nature Detective in which players have to match animals with their correct food. Somewhat more involved is Agropoly, a Monopoly-like game based around the farming year: planting, growing and harvesting. It can be played as a co-operative, learning game or competitively for money. Night Sky features the constellations of both the northern and southern skies. Players gradually complete a jigsaw puzzle showing the stars and constellations. Tempora is a card game using images of people round world. Players have to link up time and theme across sets of cards.
In Cahoots was a new name to me. The company is about brand management and marketing and has taken over several existing properties. In particular, the company has bought Mambi Games - publisher of Libel and other games - previously fronted by William Roache of Coronation Street fame. In Cahoots is re-working these games and will be producing new editions. The company's major promotion is Vocabulon, an educational word game from France that is published by Kingfisher. The aim of the game is to identify the hidden code word and build it from letter cards.
Snatch comes from Portobello Games and is a word game along conventional lines. Letter cards are shuffled face down in the middle of the table and players take it in turns to reveal a card. Any time you can make a word from the exposed letters in middle, you snatch the cards and lay out the word. However, you can also snatch words from other players if you can use all the letters in a new word. Points are scored and lost as the game goes on: 1 point for a 2-3 letter word, with an extra point for each additional letter. The game will retail at £12.99 and should be available from April.
Qfreegames is a new name, but not a new game. This is the publisher of Darren Loughlin's NametraiN, which was seen in prototype form a couple of years ago. The aim is to fill your train with passengers by continuing the round of naming things to fit the current topic. The twist is that the first letter of each word must be the same as the last letter of the previous word.
Risk Takers' Incarceration is a game about escaping from prison - with similarities to Escape from Colditz. I couldn't work out whether it is a revised version of the game I saw last year as Leg It. Anyway, players have to collect items (cards) as they serve their time until they are released. Once out, you need the appropriate cards and a die roll to win. The children's version of the game is straightforward; for adults there are additional rules allowing players to hinder their opponents. An initial production run of a thousand copies is available direct from the publisher's website: www.incarceration.co.uk.
Another newcomer to Toy Fair was Susan Prescot Games, which has been producing games successfully for several years. The company concentrates on licensed games, mainly for children, and titles include Digimon - the board game, Wacky Races - The Board Game, Clangers - the board game and Liverpool FC - trivia game. Adult titles include Stringfellows - the Board Game. Interestingly, the company produces a Buffy: the Vampire Slayer - the board game, which is nothing to do with the game of the same name produced in the USA. New for this year will be Angel - the board game, a tie-in with TV series that spun off from Buffy.
This article is due for publication in Games Games Games 151.
Page created 12th October 2001. Last modified 24th June 2005.
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