This is my report of the new board games at the 2007 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).
Itís Toy Fair season Ė well, what better time than January to be thinking about Christmas? And Toy Fair season is the middle of winter. One of my abiding memories of visiting the Nuremberg fair is trudging through the ice and snow from the U-bahn station to the Exhibition Centre Ė and across the cobbles of the old town. So it felt absolutely right that there were ice and snow about as I strolled up the ramp from the Docklands Light Railway station to ExCeL.
The London Toy Fair, held at ExCeL every January, is the annual showcase of the toy industry. Itís where manufacturers and distributors show off the products they hope are going to be hits in the coming year and it features most of the big names in toys. Games, of course, are just a sub-set of toys and thus make up just a sub-set of the fair. This suits me, as I can get round the companies with games on show in a single 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.
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 will be familiar with. And let me warn you that all my comments are highly subjective.
Iíll start with the older, bigger games companies. Alphabetical order brings me first to Britannia Games, who specialise in board game versions of television shows. This year is no exception with one of their new games being In It To Win It. Essentially itís the TV show translated to a board Ė thankfully without Dale Winton. Britanniaís other new games are more diverse, however. They include Magical Mystery Tour, a DVD-based game of Lennon and McCartney songs. Only mock-ups of these two were on show, so I didnít find out that much about them.
Forbidden Terrortory, on the other hand, is now in production. This game uses Hammer Horror as its source and pits the players, as vampire hunters, against Count Dracula. Other Hammer favourites come into the mix (Frankensteinís monster, zombies and so on), but the aim of the game is to destroy Dracula. Players move round the board to collect the items they need for this ritual, while avoiding Ė or fighting Ė the other monsters. There is also the opportunity for a player to become Dracula and try to take out the remaining vampire hunters. But playersí time is limited. The game is good on atmosphere and fun, but not particularly challenging fare for gamers.
Drumond Park also has a TV tie-in with their latest board game, Deal or No Deal, which was the best-selling toy last December. The game comes with 22 plastic red boxes, to hold the prize money (distributed at random), and an electronic phone for the Banker. This is essentially a calculator, which takes the prizes already found and, at appropriate moments, makes the current player an offer. Yes, the game unfolds pretty much as the television show. The winner is the player with the most money after playing several times. The game looks good and Iím sure it will appeal to fans of the original. This doesnít include me. For this year, Drumond Park is adding the Deal or No Deal Card Game. This uses cards instead of red boxes and gives all the players a chance to be Banker.
Distributor Esdevium Games was flying the flag for hobby games as usual. The centrepiece of their display was the new edition of Polarity again. This fascinating game uses magnetic discs, which players lean against each other, supported only by their magnetic repulsion. Itís a game that requires both manual and mental dexterity and was the Science Museumís ďSmart Toy of the YearĒ in 2006. Esdevium was also making much of the range of classics from US publisher Front Porch that impressed me last year. And promoting the Pokťmon Trading Figure Game. Itís what it says on the tin: model pokťmon figures to collect and match against each other.
Gibsons is one of the venerable names in the British game industry, but nowadays the companyís main business is jigsaw puzzles. It still produces some games, though, and this year will see the publication of a new, 10th anniversary edition of Pass the Bomb. For those who havenít come across it, Pass the Bomb is a round-robin game in which players take it in turns to come up with a word that begins with, ends with or contains certain letters. The game is controlled by a random timer Ė in the form of a rough black sphere with a fuse Ė that is passed on as each player comes up with a word. When the timer goes boom, the player holding it loses that round. Great fun and Iím glad to see itís still going strong.
Gibsons' other new game is Fumble, a variation of the old game of guessing whatís in the bag without looking. In this version, players have to identify and remove the shapes shown on their card using just their sense of touch. Itís harder than it sounds and Fumble should make a good party game.
I didnít bother visiting Hasbro this year. Iím sure they have a selection of new childrenís games, but their more interesting material is handled in the UK through Esdevium. I also avoided Ravensburger. They may be a major games company in Germany, but their UK business concentrates on jigsaw puzzles. I did take a look at their new product list, though. The only Ďgamesí shown are childrenís action games Ė such as Winnie the Pooh Tip íní Topple. ínuff said.
Time for a quick mention for Orchard Toys. They produce some great games for young children. But not my subject matter, so Iíll move on.
Continued on the next page