Toy Fair 2003 – print version

Pevans reports on the new board games at the UK event

This is a plain text version of my article on the new games at this year's UK Toy Fair. It should print fairly neatly onto A4 paper.

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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.

The regulars

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).

Bright Sparx were back with Going Underground Zoo Edition, which they launched at last year's Toy Fair. The game is about capturing zoo animals that are loose on the Underground.

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.

Cut and Run Productions were back with their gambling game from 2002, Cut and Run.

DKL Marketing is the UK distributor for University Games, but didn't appear to have anything new for this year.

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. 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.

The Green Board Game Co produces fine children's games with a strong educational element. On the stand this year were production games that were only seen in prototype last year: Constellation, in which players race across the night sky with some great pewter spaceship playing pieces; and Treason in the Tower, a family board game of stealing the Crown Jewels, also with some great pewter playing pieces.

There were several completely new games as well. Your Number's Up is a game of sums. The first player lays a number as the first in the equation shown on the board (e.g. x + y = z). Subsequent players try to complete the equation correctly. Whoever plays the last card wins the 'trick' – and cards left in your hand are penalties at the end of the hand. Two new card games are aimed at improving arithmetical skills: Fraction Action and Times Table Snap. Both packs can be used to play Snap or Pairs. The first contains different ways of expressing fractions: '½', 'half', '0.5'. So the players have to recognise the equivalence of these to play the game. The same principle underlies the second game, but here the cards show '8x3', '6x4' and 'twenty-four', for example. All of these are aimed at children and the educational market.

Hasbro is, of course, the biggest thing at the Toy Fair, but games are only a small part of their range (under the MB and Parker brands plus TSR and Wizards of the Coast). This year's new games include ProJax, a version of Jacks, and Twister Moves, a Twister variant using dance steps. Aimed at kids are Jungle Book versions of Twister and Matching Pairs.

From WotC there's the Subbuteo Trading Card Game – an extension of the TCG idea that capitalises on a well-loved Hasbro name. Family games include Globetrotter Trivial Pursuit, Simpsons Monopoly, Wonders of the World Monopoly and Deluxe Monopoly. Completely new is Knowing Me, Knowing You, in which players are asked questions about other players. You score points if you give the same answer as the other player – and find out who you match best with.

There's also an expansion set for Lord of the Rings Risk and the Dungeons and Dragons Board Game. Once again, there was no sign of the Avalon Hill range that Hasbro publishes in the USA. Magic: the Gathering is being revamped for its tenth year with a different card design for the Eighth Edition that's due out at the end of July.

Hobbygames were present to show the range of products they distribute in the UK. This includes Decipher's trading card and role-playing games – notably The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game – and Wizkids' Hero Clix and Mage Knight.

Having started with NametraiN a few years ago and word game Wordrop last year, Qfree Games is expanding its range considerably this year. Words and Letters is Snakes and Ladders with an educational twist and aimed at young children. But the main expansion is a set of six traditional games (Ludo, Draughts et al) packaged as "Games in Books". The box is formatted as a book. It opens to provide the playing surface and closes to store the playing pieces.

I didn't bother with the Ravensburger stand. The UK company concentrates on children's games and rarely brings in the sophisticated board games their German parent is famous for, let alone anything from their strategy games subsidiary, alea. For gamers, Ravensburger's stand at the Nuremberg Fair is always much more interesting.

Re:creation are publishers of Cranium, which they were busy promoting again, along with CadooΈ the children's version of the game.

Risk Takers returned with Incarceration, their family board game of prison life.

Toy Brokers appeared to have just the one new game: Trotters Trading Game. This is family board game themed to TV show Only Fools and Horses.

Upstarts! is best known for its family games, starting with The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game. The new edition of this is in a smaller box and has a lower price, which may introduce it to an even wider audience. This year the company moves into trading card games with Yu-Gi-Oh!, based on the latest hit from Japan. Bargain Hunt is a more usual family board game. Based, of course, on the TV show, the game includes the twist that the antiques players buy may actually be fakes. Squad Seven is a performance game in which players have to act out fights and shoot dart guns at cardboard targets. The jungle soundtrack on CD acts as an unpredictable timer. Sounds like fun!

Chart Star is a karaoke game: players sing over a backing track, aiming to get a high position in the 'charts'. Aimed at teen (pre-teen?) girls, Girls in Love is based on Jacqueline Wilson's books and TV series. The players decide whether to date, kiss or ditch various boys, aiming to avoid the geeks. The Mummy is a traditional family board game based on the cartoon TV series: players try to find the Dead Sea scrolls and avoid the mummy.

As well as its own productions, Upstarts! handles production and distribution for several other publishers. I've already mentioned Britannia Games above. Other games this year include Tinderbox Games' Classic Scrabble. This is in the familiar green box and contains wooden tiles and racks. Presumably Tinderbox has picked up the game from Mattel, who bought Spear's years ago and no longer seem to produce any games. And there is a new edition of The London Game Company's Rapidough.

Westnedge Games no longer distribute Gigamic's range of fine abstract games in the UK, which means that their product range is now traditional games and decks of cards.

Winning Moves had yet more local editions of Monopoly and Top Trumps decks plus Monopoly and Cluedo card games, but none of the interesting games that the company produces in Germany.

New boys (and girls)

Quaffers comes from ChonkyChonks (I didn't like to ask) and is a game about wine. At heart we have a fairly conventional trivia game: roll the dice, move your plastic wine bottle round the circular and, depending on where you land, answer questions about different aspects of wine and wine-making. Correct answers earn money and, with enough cash, you can buy your opponent's vineyards to win the game.

The gimmick is that each player brings along a bottle of wine and these are concealed in the drawstring bags provided. The game allows you to taste other players' wines and guess what they are to earn more 'money'. There's a bit of knowledge, a bit of luck and a bit of tactics in this nicely-made board game. Quaffers made it into the shops for last Christmas and should be widely available this year – my wife certainly wants a copy!

Cirondo is a two or four-player abstract strategy game from Cirondo Games Company and is effectively a Chess variant (though it's some distance from the original). The playing surface is made up of concentric rings, divided into spaces in a checkerboard pattern (if you see what I mean), with an unused centre circle.

The players each have a number of pieces, which come in three types. Moons (a crescent) move one space forward and take diagonally (as Chess pawns). Planets (a sphere) move and take 'diagonally' – in arcs – like Chess bishops. Solar Systems (a ringed sphere) move and take in any direction, like Chess queens. Moons that reach the centre of the board convert to Solar Systems.

Moons and Planets start on the outside edge of the board, Solar Systems on the inside. Eliminate your opponent(s) to win. Production is great, with a solid board and nice, hefty pieces with felt undersides – just like a high quality Chess set. There's also a computer version of the game and it can be played online at

Golden Goose Games had a prototype of their game, Make a Million. This is essentially a quiz game. Players start with a notional 100,000 cash and invest it in shares. Then they take in turns to roll the dice and move round the board. Depending on what they land on, they have to do an action or take a question card. Questions are about people, heads of government, capital cities, national flags, currencies and others. Get it right and your investment goes up, get it wrong and your shares go down.

The first to raise the value of their investment to a million wins the game. What raises the game above the standard are the tactical options available. Players can auction a question card to the others (a maximum of three times in the game). Do you take the most money or sell it to someone you think won't be able to answer it? Players can also merge their holdings, subject to certain restrictions. This allows players who are clearly losing to take on the leader.

As I was leaving the show I suddenly noticed Impact International – a new name to me. Most of their stand was taken up with toys, but they had one display case full of Lord of the Rings games. One each for The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, clearly licensed from the films. Something to find out more about.

Biras is the game from Okami – though it's more of a game system. The board (the inside of the box) is a mosaic pattern of a five-pointed star and surrounding areas in lots of different colours. The other main component is a set of colour dice (i.e. cubes with different colours on the sides). In the basic game, you roll the dice on the board. You get points for sets of colours and for landing dice on the same colour as they rolled. There are lots of variations on this, giving several different ways of using the components. The rules are a bit opaque, but there seems to be an interesting game in here – albeit one that is heavily dependent on rolling dice.

Quadfootball is the company and Quadfootball is also the game. There's usually at least one football board game each year and this the one for 2003. The playing area on the board is made up of concentric rings divided into spaces. Each player has a quadrant, with a goal space on the outside. They also have two strikers and three defenders (it's a five-a-side game), which are moved around and pass the ball by dice roll and play of cards.

The aim is to get your strikers in position to attack an opponent's goal, while defending your own. However, the turn moves unpredictably round the table, governed by rolling the dice. The first player to score against all the others wins the round. After as many rounds as the players feel like, the winner is the player who won the most rounds. Even to this non-football fan, this feels like the sort of family game that will go down well.

Contiquences is a trivia game with a geographical twist from Red Inc. A track loops round the outside of the board with a map of the world in the middle. Both map and track are divided into six continents and players have to answer questions based on the continent they're in: geography, history, current affairs and so on. Each question answered correctly gains you a seat in the 'Senate' for that continent. The aim is to have a majority in the Senates. Get the question wrong and you lose 'credits' – lose them all and you're out! This seems like quite a tough game: you need to get a fair number of questions right to win and too many wrong answers will take you out.

Taso International has produced a game called Tube Fun. This has an interesting board showing stylised Underground lines. Each line is the same length, divided into stations, and they interlock/overlap in the middle. The aim is get from your starting point at the end of one line to your destination at the opposite end of another (for a longer game, you have to make it back again). Getting the interchange right can shorten your journey, but these stations also introduce hazards into the game. The game looks like good, family fun, isn't challenging and it has nice plastic engines as playing pieces.

Termination Incorporated has the theme of a shoot-out for hitmen – a tournament that provides an outlet for aggression in the otherwise peaceful world of the future (3001, to be exact). The board is a plain grid, broken by black lines that represent glass walls (the idea being that protagonists can see each other everywhere in the arena/board, but can't shoot through the walls).

Players use cards to move, trying to get a clear line of sight in order to get a shot at someone else. A shot scores points according to distance (the nearer, the more points) and a die roll. It also allows the shooter to move through the a wall to make a getaway – a neat mechanic that makes sure players don't get into a loop of trading shots in turn and gives an incentive to get up close for maximum points.

Once a player has got a certain number of points, he just needs to last a full round to win. As successful shots also remove (half) points from the player hit, this means everybody else will be after him/her. Players also have a limited amount of ammunition, but can re-load – the re-loading points are suitably exposed to other shots. I can see this being great fun with five or six players and a tense, cat-and-mouse contest for two. The game is being manufactured by Carta Mundi, so quality is high.

Treasure Trove is a new name on me, but the company is apparently UK distributor for a number of toy manufacturers. Noticeable on their stand were Tactic games, which were previously imported and distributed by the London Game Company. I didn't get the chance to find out if there was anything new.

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For completeness sake, I'll just mention a few companies that I didn't visit. Living and Learning, Orchard Toys and Playbreak all produce great games for pre-school and young children. These are not really what I'm looking for, so I gave all of them a miss to save time.

BV Leisure have a number of Murder Mystery-type games, but haven't produced any new games for several years. Paul Lamond Games have an extensive range of 'adult' and party games, but somehow I failed to find them. They are listed in the show guide, so my apologies for overlooking them.

A number of companies were missing, though. I don't count those who appeared for the first time last year in this number – so few of them come back for a second time. However, I will mention Boxer Games as they have been running for over twenty years, even though 2002 was the first time they made it to the Toy Fair. They are a distributor of 'adult' and party games aimed at the gift market. I'd guess that the Toy Fair isn't the best place for them to reach their market.

Also missing was the London Game Company, although their flagship game, Rapidough, was to be seen on the Upstarts! stand. Last year the company had a large stand and was showing off the Tactic range. Clearly it's lost this business, but I don't what else has happened. Another disappearance was Susan Prescot Games, who have been at the Fair the last few years. They specialise in producing simple games to licensed themes (for example, S Club Seven last year).

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.

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