Toy Fair 2002
Pevans reports on the new board games at the UK event
This year's Toy Fair was the second held at the ExCeL exhibition centre in London's Docklands. It's a bit of a pain to get to, but is a decent venue once you're there. I took a day to wander round and look at the new games. As usual the companies were a mixture of the big names and the young hopefuls.
Hasbro is the biggest name, of course. I was hoping that Hasbro UK would have decided to carry the Avalon Hill range, but there was no sign of this. Instead the games were mostly themed variants on old favourites: Lord of the Rings Risk, The Simpsons Cluedo, Trivial Pursuit Kids' Edition. One exception is Saint or Sinner, Hasbro's entry for the truth-or-dare 'adult' game. The aim is to collect Saint Tokens by denying that you've done the naughty things you are accused of by the cards. The gimmick is that there's a "lie detector" to catch you out. No doubt it's fun in the right circumstances. The bright spot was the Reiner Knizia-designed Lord of the Rings board game from last year together with the new Friends and Foes expansion. At Christmas imported copies of this were selling at much the same price (£30 give or take a bit) as the full game. I was relieved to find that the official UK edition is priced at £14.99.
There isn't really anybody to match Hasbro in size, so those in the next tier are medium rather than big. Proceeding alphabetically we come to Cheatwell Games and their extensive range of party and adult games. New this year is Frasier: the board game, a license from the TV show, additions to the Host Your Own... range and Quicksand, which can best be described as Pictionary but using sand and your finger to draw with. Cheatwell has two complete new ranges. Canned games are a series of parlour games packaged in plastic drink cans. All the Pencil games use pencil and paper and are packaged in a plastic case shaped like a giant pencil. The company has also expanded its range of audio CD-based games with sports quizzes and timer games. There are now some 120 games in the Cheatwell range, which is impressive just on its own.
DKL is a new name to me, but they are now distributors of US publisher University Games. I take it from this that University Games UK is no more. This was only set up two years ago, but has presumably discovered just how small the UK market is in comparison to the US. I wasn't able to determine if University had any new games for this year, but DKL was featuring their range of Dr Seuss-based games.
Falcon is the UK arm of Jumbo, but is largely a jigsaw company. Surprisingly, this year's releases do not include a single board game.
Gibsons is another company whose emphasis has switched to jigsaw puzzles over the years. The games section continues, however, and this year has three new releases. Blast it! is, like Pass the Bomb before, licensed from Austrian publishers Piatnik and contains a 'bomb' timer. The game has a number of dice with letters on. Players have to come up with things in the chosen category using the letters available before the time runs out. Don't Eat the Neighbours is a license from a TV game show and is due for publication later this year. Talkin' Tango comes from the US and is a parlour game for teams. Players have to speak one word in turn, aiming to explain the word or phrase from a card to the other team(s).
After its success with the Walking with Dinosaurs board game, it's no surprise that The Green Board Game Co now has Walking with Beasts. There are several other new additions to the company's range of children's and family games. Chief of these is Egyptians, a family board game in which players struggle to become supreme Pharaoh by collecting cards. Apart from collecting cards in their own right, players can barter with other players - or attack them for cards. The game did well in France last year and The Green Board Game Co hope to repeat that success in the UK.
There are several other new titles this year. Bioviva is an environmentally aware trivia game with players navigating their way around a board of the world to gain ECO points. Smuggler is all about bringing contraband back from France to sell in England. The game was not on show, but I expect it's about eighteenth century brandy smugglers rather than twenty-first century white van men bringing in beer and fags. For astronomers, there is Constellation, a race across the night sky while avoiding black holes and other hazards. Finally, we have Treason in the Tower, due for publication in April, in which players vie to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Expect to find this one on sale in Royal Palace gift shops. The Green Board Game Co continues to handle Editions Tilsit games in the UK and is also distributor for the Sophie's World board game.
Distributor Hobbygames needs no introduction to anyone familiar with the hobby/fantasy gaming market, but have not been at the Toy Fair for a while. New games for 2002 include a host of new Trading/Collectable Card Games: Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter and others. Chief of these, however, is Cardcaptors; a TCG based on the Japanese cartoon TV series. Also featured was Mage Knight Dungeon, a board game fantasy adventure with the players fighting their way through traps and monsters to secure the treasure from the dungeon. It sounds much like the original Dungeon, in fact. I was intrigued to see the company billed as "the new Hobbygames". Apparently there's a new management team in place, but main man John Maitland still seems to be firmly in charge.
The London Game Company's stand was so popular I didn't manage to get a look in. Prominent this year was a new two-player abstract game and the UK edition of Apples to Apples that was launched last Christmas. The company also distributes the English language games from Scandinavian company Tactic, so it had plenty to show.
Upstarts! has never looked back from the Who Wants to be a Millionaire board game. This year's new titles include themed Millionaire sets (Sports & Leisure and Entertainment) to go with the Junior and second editions of the original game. The TV tie-ins continue with a Winning Lines electronic game and board games of Mr & Mrs and Shafted (assuming the series makes a re-appearance). There is also a new edition of The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game. Famous for the size of the box, this game has been re-packaged in something that's a more reasonable size and the model racing horses replaced with smaller card playing pieces. Finally, we have the Bionicle TCG - a card game based on Lego!
Apart from its own titles, Upstarts! distributes other companies' games, notably from Britannia Games. Britannia also produces board game equivalents of TV game shows and is working on Blankety-Blank for this year.
Westnedge Games is another distributor, with its focus on playing cards and traditional games (Chess, Mah-Jongg, Backgammon and so on). However Westnedge is also the UK distributor for Gigamic, the French company that specialises in high quality abstract games. This year's game from Gigamic is Domingo, a Dominoes variant.
Winning Moves is best known as the home of Monopoly variants and Top Trumps. This year is no exception, with several more local Monopoly games (Coventry, Devon, Kent, Norwich/Norfolk and Sunderland) and new Top Trumps sets (Lord of the Rings, various football teams and others). In addition, the company has acquired a Roald Dahl licence and is bringing out two board games: Fantastic Mr Fox and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Nowadays Wizards of the Coast is yet another part of Hasbro and their stand was notably low key. Collectable/Trading Card games are their staple and the big news was that Wizards have acquired the licence for the Star Wars Trading Card Game. This will be a new game, designed by the man who started it all, Richard Garfield, and thus (I presume) no relation to Decipher's original Star Wars CCG. The only other thing of note was the first expansion for the Harry Potter TCG, Diagon Alley. This adds the magic shops that feature in the books.
I have skipped over a few companies here, so let me round up. BV Leisure is best known for a range of murder mystery games, but appear to concentrate on puzzles nowadays. In Cahoots is a marketing company that handles several ranges of games, but I couldn't see anything new on their stand. Living and Learning and Orchard Toys both concentrate on the pre-school market and lack of time means I have missed out on the new releases in their extensive ranges. Another casualty of my lack of time was Paul Lamond Games, who have lots of party and adult titles. Playbreak have an expanding range of educational games for young children. Ravensburger UK only publishes a small fraction of the games that its German parent produces and I decided to give them a miss as time was short. Susan Prescot Games produce licensed titles and this year's new game is the S Club Seven board game.
Which brings us to the smaller companies. Running through in alphabetical order again means I start with 4th Law. Wordblind is their game, which was new last year. They have added a Junior version to this successful word game, Mini Wordblind. There are two uses for this. First as a children's version of the game - although Wordblind can be and is played by children. It can also be used in conjunction with the original game to allow children to compete on even terms with adults. Save Your Planet is a board game in which players conduct 'shuttle diplomacy' around the world to avert an "extinction level event" (a term I've only come across in the film Deep Impact).
Publisher Abel Games was at the show for its second year and looking to build on its first year's success.
Snatch was also at the show last year and publisher Portobello Games was back to report its Christmas sell-out.
Qfreegames have been around for several years with NametraiN. This year they have three new games. Wordrop has a Connect 4-style stand into which players drop letter tiles to form words. The twist is that the players see the letters in opposite directions. Thus one player's 'god' is the other player's 'dog'. NametraiN Junior is a children's version of the company's flagship game. It drops the restriction of naming things within a category, but still has the idea of starting a name with the last letter of the previous name. And finally there is Words & Letters, a Snakes & Ladders variant that uses letters and words to move players up or down.
Toys in the Attic appears to have replaced PhD games. Certainly the former was showing Social Insecurity, a game that has been at the Toy Fair in previous years with the latter. The theme is life on the dole, with a lot of Viz-style humour.
And then there are the companies and games that are new to Toy Fair. There are always hopefuls at Toy Fair with a new game that might catch the eye of the big buyers. Life being what it is, only a few are back the following year.
Boardroom Productions have Cat Attack, a board game in which the players are cats. The aim is to collect set of food items while not losing all of their nine lives. Players have the option of raiding others' larders, which adds some spice to the game. Then there are the Curiosity cards: and we all know what curiosity does to cats! (Actually that reminds me of a Far Side cartoon.) Anyway, this looks like a fun family game - and the playing pieces are great, too.
They may have been around for twenty years, but 2002 was the first appearance at Toy Fair for distributor Boxer Games. Aimed at the gift market, the range is adult and party games almost exclusively themed around booze and sex. New for this year is Hanky Panky: ten plastic figures in a cocktail shaker. These are effectively five-sided dice that can be used for a variety of games - the pack includes rules for 12! The game was launched in Australia at the end of 2001. Growing Old Disgracefully is Bingo for older people with attitude and will be available later this year. The other new game due out this year is Kama Sutra.
Going Underground: Zoo Edition is the first game from Bright Sparx. It's played on a map of the London Underground and the idea is to catch animals that are on the loose. The counters representing the animals are spread across the board, face down. Each player gets the cards for five animals and the first to collect their set and get back to the zoo wins the game. There is an educational aspect as each card carries information about the animal depicted and the game is aimed at children and families. It is currently on sale at London Zoo and the London Transport museum.
Monogamy made it out for last Christmas from Creative Conceptions. This is a sex game for couples with therapeutic overtones. Movement around the board controls the play of His and Hers question cards that get progressively steamier (or you can tone things down - or up! - by sticking to one level). The winner gets to play the two Fantasy cards that they've collected through the game. What happens after that is up to the players…
Cut and Run is a gambling board game from Cut and Run Productions. According to where you land on the board, you get the opportunity to gamble chips at various casino games (Roulette, Blackjack et al) or buy the casino. Just to add to the fun, there's a bluffing element that allows you the chance to re-roll (or whatever). The game went into production at the end of 2000 and sold well through 2001. Once you've got enough cash you try to cut and run by making a final circuit of the board.
Games Editions is the UK arm of French publisher Editions du Jeu. Their game is Expression, a rather different word game. It's a sentence game. A random selection of words is placed on the stands and players try to make the longest sentence possible from the words. The game has been successful in France and the publishers are hoping to get it established in the UK.
Maldoo is rather different. It's not a game itself, it's an electronic board for playing games. These start with Othello/Reversi and include a cut-down Go plus lots of others. The computerised board shows where plays are legal, allowing people to learn the game by playing, and provides an opponent for solo play.
Oil Barons is not Dallas - even if the inventor was wearing a ten-gallon hat. However the game is about oil production, refining and selling. The Monopoly-style board has several oil fields in middle. Oil barrels pass from the fields along pipelines to refineries. Control over the valves on the pipelines allows players to move their own barrels or block others. So getting your oil to the refinery may require some negotiation with other players who have control over crucial valves. Passing the start position on the board allows players to sell their oil. The game is for 2-6 players - better with more, says the main man - and has been out since Christmas 2001.
Recreation Group is the publisher of Cranium - a best seller in the US since film star Julia Roberts told a TV audience that she "couldn't stop playing". The game is a mixture of familiar parlour/party games: trivia, performance, word tricks and modelling clay. What you get called on to do depends on where you land on the board - and is a good reason for playing in teams. The UK edition of Cranium was launched at the end of 2000. The new game for 2002 is Cranium Cadoo, aimed at the 7-12 age range.
Being something of a punster, I love the name Sibling Revelry. This company is the publisher of Cinematique, a performance/trivia game with a cinema theme. Players have to gain five topics in two of the available eras of film history. The game features some great art deco-style design, but was only at the show in prototype form. Publication of the UK game is due this spring and international editions are in the pipeline.
Simply Great Games come from Inverness with Owch. At first glance, I thought: Ludo (I think that's Parcheesi to the Americans) and that is the basis for the game. Each player has four family members to get round the board and into the centre. However, opposite players play as partners. They can stack pieces to block opponents and cards can be used to hinder the other team. In fact, there are a lot of tactical nuances in the game and it consistently produces a close finish. The game sold well in its home town over Christmas and the publishers hope to have it nation-wide this 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.
Page created 4th March 2002. Last modified 24th June 2005.
This website produced by Paul Evans. © Copyright Paul Evans 2002-2005. All trademarks acknowledged.
Problems, comments and feedback to the Webmaster.