Gameological At Large

Chicago Toy Fair

“Kids Use Chips, Adults Use Sips”

At the Chicago Toy And Game Fair, creators pitch the cross-generational fun of their games. We pick our highlights and other lights from last month’s show.

By Samantha Nelson and Ryan Smith • December 5, 2012

Populated mostly by parents with young kids and a shocking number of scout troops (thanks to an admission discount), the two-day Chicago Toy And Game Fair is big on spectacle. Our journey through the show floor last month took us past giant Settlers Of Catan boards, costumed Moshi Monsters, and plenty of Star Wars stormtroopers wandering around before the fair’s annual character luncheon.

ChiTAG, as it’s known, has one central purpose: to show off things that you can buy for yourself, your kids, and any game players you’re in a gifting relationship with. (You can define “gifting relationship” however you like. We don’t judge.) While it does attract a few developers previewing products that aren’t coming out until next year, it’s mostly a flurry of purchasing opportunities for people who don’t want to shop at Toys ’R’ Us. With the holiday shopping season getting underway, we scouted ChiTAG for standouts that we might put on our shopping list—or might not.

Jenga Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong Jenga

Specialized board game producer USAopoly has acquired a Mario license, and they aren’t afraid to use it. Their booth was replete with jigsaw puzzles, memory games, chess sets, and checkers boards starring the heroic plumber. But Jenga Donkey Kong offers more than a familiar face. The special blocks are painted to look like the girders from the arcade classic, and the game comes with Mario character pieces that attach to the blocks, so four players can compete to get Mario to the top of the tower before it collapses.

Why you need it: It adds higher stakes to a game of Jenga. Now if the tower falls, you have to mourn the untimely death-by-plummeting of the princess and your hero.

Why you don’t: It’s still basically Jenga.


Players sit around a circle and take turns rolling dice three times. Each player also has their own plastic bead, which sits on the playfield and is attached to the end of a cord. If you roll 7, 11, or doubles, you slam a traffic cone (which Jerk calls a “mega-fun-phone”) into the center while the other players try to get their beaded cord out of the way. If you catch someone, they have to give you one of their chips. There were a few developers at ChiTAG who admitted that their “family games” could also serve as drinking games, but no one was as brazen about it as Talicor-Aristoplay’s product development director, Keith Gardner, who said “Kids use chips, adults use sips.”

Why you need it: It’s a game that can make your next family gathering a lot smoother, entertaining the kids by day and the grown-ups by night.

Why you don’t: Gardner admitted that you can easily make this game at home if you don’t want to pay the $25 price tag.

Word Winder
Word Winder

Take the word-finding elements of Boggle and the competitive cross-the-board layout strategy of Blokus, and you get the jist of the latest from David L. Hoyt, the creator of other vocabulary-heavy games like Jumble and Word Roundup. There are two variations of Word Winder to try—“Racewinder” and “Sidewinder”—but both involve building a connected string of words from one edge of the game board to another.

Why you need it: Smart players will form temporary alliances with opponents to block the smartass who’s about to win, which adds a cutthroat strategy missing in most word games.

Why you don’t: Unlike Boggle, the letter board is formed from pre-printed squares of letters, meaning that some of the letter formations will become familiar over time.

Speed Stacks
Speed Stacks

Apparently not content with letting drunk college students have all the fun with colored plastic cups, a growing number of preteens are latching on to the once-obscure game of sport stacking. Sport stacking is pretty much what it sounds like. It involves arranging a group of 12 empty cups into one of several set patterns as quickly as possible and then tearing it down into three nested stacks. At the show, an 8-year-old Junior Sport Stacking Olympian named Mackenzie used her blazing fast hands to demonstrate the so-called cycle—the-sports stacking equivalent of ice skating’s triple lutz—by forming three increasingly difficult stacks in less than 17 seconds.

Why you need it: By the look of the large crowd huddled around the Speed Stacks booth, all the kids are doing it these days.

Why you don’t: That soul-shattering moment you realize you’re stacking cups for fun.


Already a Facebook game with a modest following, Schmovie is the first board game from a creative husband-and-wife duo. Due out in 2013, the game asks players to take turns coming up with funny and punny fake titles for movies based on random combinations of genres and characters. Then you award trophies for the best entries. For the Sci-Fi + Show Dog category, examples included “Roverfield,” “A Scanner Barkly,” and our personal favorite, “Face/Arf.”

Why you need it: It will inevitably turn into a contest of who can come up with the most clever porn movie title.

Why you don’t: It will severely test your tolerance of puns as a primary source of humor.


As in Scrabble, players of KerFlip spend their time creating anagrams from a small collection of letter tiles. But instead of impatiently waiting your turn, KerFlip flows at a frantic pace because everyone plays simultaneously. You share letters, laying words on the board with everyone else, and race to shout out the best word first. The tiles used by the initial word caller are flipped from ivory-side up to orange and are then worth only half the value for the rest of the round. Some tiles, however, are premium tiles that award bonus cards for point boosts.

Why you need it: It’s like Scrabble on crack—or at least a word game enthusiast’s notion of what crack would be like.

Why you don’t: Fistfights are practically assured.

The Presidential Game
The Presidential Game

Creator Regina Glocker describes The Presidential Game as “Risk for the electoral college.” Players take turns fundraising and campaigning in the 50 states in the attempt to get votes for their candidates. Like Risk, the game requires a blend of good resource allocation and luck, especially when it comes to drawing “Politics Cards,” which give or take away votes in different areas—based on important issues, like your opposition to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, or fluff, like being caught wearing a Red Sox hat.

Why you need it: The game comes with a password for a website where you can update the status of your match on a digital electoral map, making you feel like you work for CNN.

Why you don’t: You just spent a year watching two guys play this game for real.

Zeenie Dollz
Zeenie Dollz

Zeenia, the protector of life on earth, has united a group of five fashion- and environmentally-conscious girls to help her protect the arctic, the oceans, and various cute animals. Made of sustainable materials, the product line’s motto is “Saving the planet…that’s our style.”

Why you need it: It’s a better alternative to Bratz or Barbie dolls since it’ll teach kids about more than spending money and body-image issues. Plus, a portion of proceeds is donated to the World Wildlife Fund.

Why you don’t: At the rate at which old cartoons are making a comeback, you can probably just hold out for Captain Planet dolls.


Modeled after parts of a bulldozer, the goal of Toydozer is to make cleaning up your Legos or other toys with lots of parts easy and fun.

Why you need it: Stepping on little pieces of hard plastic really hurts.

Why you don’t: This is a glorified trashcan.

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  •,96925/ Merve

    Schmovie and KerFlip both look like a lot of fun, and since I now know a group of people who want to do regular board game nights (yay!), either of them would be a welcome addition. Any word on when Schmovie is coming out?

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Schmometime in the Schmear Schmuture. 

      • PaganPoet

        I like a good cream cheese schmear on my bagel…savory please, none of this pumpkin-honey-strawberry bs.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          *gags* Sweet cream cheese is an abomination.

        • SCHMOVIE

          If you like a good schmear then you’ll love Schmovie! 

      • SCHMOVIE

        Schmovie will be out in May. In the meantime, please come “Like” our play-along Facebook page to join in the fun!
        See you at the Schmovies! 

    •,4597/ GhaleonQ

      1 of the weird things that I dislike about modern American board games is that they often sound like they were named by people doing fast food commercials.  The same person came up with the words “crunchtastic” and “kerflip.”

      Anyway, great feature.  I didn’t know this existed, and I especially want to see this Young Inventors Challenge.  John Ratzenberger-endorsed adorable kids doing super nerdy game and toy design?  That’s a beautiful thing.  I wonder if any have been any good.

    • Captain Internet

      Schmovie baffles me. Are they really just charging £25 for a conversation you can have on the bus? Also, why the narrow focus? 

      Internet Pun Thread: The Game is what they should be pitching. It’s a game for two to six players. At the start of each round, one player (called ‘The Blogger’) picks two cards, one featuring a thing, and another an event. These come together to create an “Article”. For example:

      Players then take it in turns come up with comments featuring puns, and award ‘likes’ to the comments they think are best. At the end of the game, the winner is the player with the most ‘likes’.

      It’s basically the same game, but it’s not going to get old <a href='nearly as fast as Schmovie appears to.

      • CNightwing

        Tehran-ly Way is Essex?

        • Electric Dragon

          Unfortunately Basingstoke is in Hampshire, not Essex.

        • Captain Internet

          @google-6108c5611fbc5b86af5df565c4b4b048:disqus Ahwaz just about to point that out too

        • Effigy_Power

          Well, I am the Duchess of Kidderminster and a cracking bird and I say Basingstoke is now in Tehran, as was taught to me by Phil and Magma Queen from Sulky Abbot in Bumsex.

          (I managed to fit a joke from Mitchell and Webb and a joke from Bottom in there. I am the fucking god of Britcomedy!!!)

        • CNightwing

          Tragic, I must have been confusing it with somewhere else.

      • HobbesMkii

        You’re dangerously close to reinventing Apples-to-Apples.

      • SCHMOVIE

        Fun game idea! Come play Schmovie with us!

    • PugsMalone

      Is that a Happy Happyist on the cover of Schmovie?

    • Ryan Smith

      I talked to the creator of Schmovie and he said it was coming out around May of ’13. They have a Facebook spin-off you can play in the meantime.

      • SCHMOVIE

        Hi Ryan… you are correct! Thanks for sharing our FB link here! You rock! 

    • Sara Farber

      Thanks for asking… Schmovie will be out in May. In the meantime, would love to invite you to come “Like” our play-along Facebook page to join in the fun!

  • Drew Toal

    “They’re laughing with me, Michael!”

    • Effigy_Power

      Drew’s not on board.

    • Electric Dragon

       Did you at least retain the animation rights?

  • caspiancomic

    Best Sci-Fi + Dog Show movie titles, go!!

    Best in Space
    Bark at the Moon
    Plan K9 From Outer Space
    Flash Gordog
    Cowboys & Aliens & Dogs

    • Sleverin

       Bone Jammin from the directors of the Big Lebarkski

    • Staggering Stew Bum

      Mastiff Effect

    • CNightwing

      Spayed Runner
      The Day The Earth Played Dead
      Jurassic Bark
      Bark to the Future
      Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Dalmation
      Mad Rex
      Mad Rex 2: Beyond The Underdog

      Apparently there is also a genuine 1975 movie called A Boy and His Dog..

      • Girard

        It’s an off-beat, actually pretty good weirdo post-apocalyptic satire movie, apart from the very jarring, misogynistic ending.

        • HobbesMkii

           It was originally a story by Harlan Ellison, so if you keep that in mind I imagine the ending isn’t quite as jarring.

        • Raging Bear

          @HobbesMkii:disqus SSSHH DON’T SAY HIS NAM–

          Too late. There are lawsuits pending against all of us now.

        • Girard

          Our only hope now is to go overboard and get him so worked up he has a hate-aneurysm.




        • PugsMalone

          I read that story in an anthology from the 80s, where Ellison said in his introduction that there would be an extended novel-length version coming out soon.

          I wasn’t exactly surprised when I looked it up, and found out that it had never come out.

        • Unexpected Dave

          I’ve only read Ellison’s original story, which does end in a rather shocking manner. I’m told that the Dog has a line (added for the movie) which turns the tragedy into a tasteless joke.

        • Girard

           @twitter-493417375:disqus : Apparently that last line wasn’t Ellison’s and he decried it as a “moronic, hateful chauvinist last line, which I despise.”

          But if the circumstances of the novella end the same way, even without the line, it’s hella problematic.

          That final line also commits the heinous crime of using puns, those most sublime kernels of language, for base misogyny. It’s a blasphemy against language.

        • HobbesMkii

          Apparently he claims not to have intended either story or film to be misogynistic. I can understand that. I’ve written stories where people have read morals that I didn’t intend to include (and actively oppose). I think anyone who creates has a hard time imagining what other people will interpret their creation to mean.

      • George_Liquor

        Mutts In Black
        Dawn Of The Dachshund

    • Girard

      The Mutt-trix
      Dogzilla, King of the Mastiffs
      Night of the Lupus
      H.G. Wells’s  The Food of the Dogs

      Starpid Pet Treks (I’m so sorry about that one)

    • ToddG

      2010: The Year We Place Third

    • Raging Bear

      District Canine
      The Dog Knight Rises
      Pup (give that one a minute)

      Since I can’t think of any more sci-fi ones:

      The Fantastic Mr. Fox Terrier
      The Scent of a Bitch
      Blazing Poodles
      O Brother, Where Art Hound?
      A Bone in the Dark

    • Moonside_Malcontent

      Soylent Greenies
      The Twilight Bone
      Halo: Leash

    • ItsTheShadsy

      The Dog Who Fell to Arf
      Hey, Hey, Want to Play Rollerball? Oh Boy Oh Boy!

    • HobbesMkii

      The Day the Ball Stood Still
      Fantastic Walk
      Morning Walk to the Center of the Earth
      20,000 Leashes Under the Sea
      Mutt Rogers
      Bride of Dachshundstein
      The Curse of Dachshundstein
      Island of Lost Tennis Balls

    • Effigy_Power

      Soylent Grrr
      A Dogwalker’s tale
      Oryx and the Tramp / The Lady and Crake
      Tick Impact
      The Day after tomorrow in dogyears
      The Biannual Bath
      Lost in Spayed
      Jimmy Neuteron
      2001 Dalmatians
      Beagle Eye


      Rubber Bones
      Chewing Amy
      The Cat in the Hat that I killed and buried under the shed
      The Boxer (hurr, hurr)
      Collie and Carla
      Chow, Chow, Bang, Bang
      The Spaniard’s Prisoner
      The Beagle has landed
      The Iron Beagle
      50 Shades of Greyhound
      Grosse Pointer Black
      Red Dane

      • caspiancomic

         I thought “The Day After Tomorrow In Dog Years” was the best one I had read until I got to “2001 Dalmations.” God I wish I had thought of that one.

        • Effigy_Power

          I aim to please.

    • Citric

      Independence Dog
      Bark Trek: The Undiscovered Shar Pei
      Logan’s Dog Run
      The Last Rottweiler


      The Good German Shepherd.
      There Will Be Bloodhound


      You rock at Schmovie! Come play with us! Just “Like” the page to join in the fun:

  • NephewOfAnarchy

    Hey, you can’t just show a photo of a black man dressed as a banana and then not follow up on it!

    • Sleverin

      I would think that ADDING the banana suit would make it less awkward at a toy fair, but man, that pic just looks…odd.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Chekhov’s loaded banana.

      • HobbesMkii

        “If in the first act you have dressed a [black man] in a banana costume, then in the next act he must be explained. Otherwise don’t put him there.” – Anton Chekov 1889

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Naturally, should it be a Caucasian thus dressed, it may go uncommented upon.

    • Girard

       I think he is carrying those maracas because they make his banana suit look subdued by comparison.

      • Effigy_Power

        Or thanks to the mantra: If you want to go crazy, go balls-out crazy or not at all.

  • Girard

    “Why you don’t: It will severely test your tolerance of puns as a primary source of humor.”

    TYPO! Obviously, this facet of the product should be categorized under “Why everybody needs it, NOW.”

    Also: Bratz dolls (and these Zeeniez things) have pretty much the exact physiognomy of grey aliens.

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    Does Talicor-Aristoplay at least give credit to Schmidt Spiele? Spitz Pass Auf! is over 60 years old!

    • Girard

      I love that the Google translation of the game description includes the phrase “With so much stress boredom has no chance!”

  • fieldafar

    Schmovie sounds like a real-life Twitter hashtag.

  • Raging Bear

    The “Chi” in “ChiTAG” isn’t pronounced like the “chi” in “Chicago,” is it? Because then it would sound like a rather dirty playground game.

  • The_Misanthrope

    Jerk sounds pretty awful, like a version of Slapjack put together using irregular game pieces instead of a deck of cards.  Then again, I have never liked the kind of games that require dexterity.

    On a somewhat related note, what is the point of this?:

    Are people so starved for that Zynga brand that they will buy what is essentially a Scrabble board to do so?

    • Unexpected Dave

      I think the problem is that Zynga is so desparate for cash that they’ll put their name on anything.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Sorta the Krusty the Clown of the social gaming universe.

      • HobbesMkii

        The best rated Amazon review is merciless:

        “So revolutionary, they have as much vision as Apple in their development of new products. And, while you might be saying to yourself that Scrabble had the tile on board features long before the Words With Friends board game, never before has it been packaged in such a sleek and stylish manner. I mean a curved tile holder, that just makes me want to throw my Scrabble set in the garbage just to experience the gentle curve on that on that puppy. Don’t even think about getting me started on the tiles with rounded corners.Needless to say this is the greatest achievement in the history of board games, and probably rates in the top 10 achievements in the history of the human race.”

        •,96925/ Merve

          Another great Amazon review:

          “It’s a great game and would be even better with a few additions:

          1. Computerized scoring

          2. Maybe have a tablet or screen or something where you could have the letters appear, instead of the tiles

          3. Have a smartphone app you could use to find friends to play with”

    • HobbesMkii

      Can we also talk about Jerk’s use of Arabic numerals instead of regular old pips on their dice? Because that’s pretty stupid, if you ask me. 

      • Electric Dragon

        Also interesting that they don’t obey the “opposite sides add up to 7″ convention.

        • HobbesMkii

          It’s funny, because you’d think it would be a difficult task to fuck up dice.

  • Ryan Smith

    Sidenote on the Speed Stacking booth: The promo video they played on a loop kept showing Glenn Beck trying his hand at stacking cups. My theory is  that he named his new website “The Blaze” in reference to his sport stacking skills.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Glenn Beck was a featured promotional celebrity?  How was he able to still his squat, outrage-palsied fingers long enough to get two cups on top of each other?

      • HobbesMkii

        “When Obama and his army of Commie-Hitler liberals get done with our freedoms, cups are the only toys that will be available to our kids. Better get good at it now! BUY MY SCAMMY GOLD!

  • HobbesMkii

    I’m physically sickened by “The Presidential Game” as a friend and I had been working for the past couple of months on a very similar idea and have written up a pretty extensive design doc and were toying with the idea of taking it into a physical prototype stage. Now I have to e-mail him and tell him all our dreams are dead.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Seriously?  I’m sorry to hear that.  Any chance of salvaging the project by renaming it “The Prime Minister’s Game”?

      • HobbesMkii

        Probably not, as it was really targeted towards modeling America’s gorgeously stupid disenfranchisement machine (i.e. the Electoral College). Although it might still be worth pursuing, as the game we were designing was infinitely perpetual, allowing players to start a new game using the previous one as a scenario (cards modeled events that would happen during a president’s term, helping to alter the political landscape somewhat) and allowed to game to have an additional two players who got to play as third parties (which was a much more difficult challenge that really took advantage of the perpetual nature of the game).

        • Mercenary_Security_number_4

           do it anyway.  If the first game sucks, yours can take the market by storm.  If the first game takes the market by storm, publishers will be eager for copycats!

          No, seriously.  A new politics-based board game comes out every couple of years.  Don’t give up on yours if its really got potential.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Also chiming in to say go for it. There are so many ways you could take that kind of game. The fact that it’s described as Risk up there makes me instantly lose interest. 

          Look at something like Twilight Struggle (which I’ve still yet to play). I think that could have some neat ideas with how to do a political game. You could have different campaigns for actual elections throughout history! That’d get history buffs and teachers interested maybe. Not to mention the growing board game market. 

    • Kyle O’Reilly

      I can’t think of a more fitting metaphor for a presidential race then one person having to call another and say that all their dreams are dead.

      Retool it slightly.  Release it in Canada as “Prime Minister, Eh!”.  Reap in the profits.

      • Effigy_Power

        I can see all sorts of international versions.
        “Chancellor, ja gut!”
        “Premier, crikey!”
        “Chairman, da!”
        The possibilities are endless.

      • HobbesMkii

        Doesn’t Canada have like 1/10th the population of the United States? I think the imagery evoked by the word “reap” might be slightly off there.

        • Mercenary_Security_number_4

           Yes but the money is worth less so they’ll be more of it!
          (edit: apparently that’s not true anymore.  Damn recession ruining my joke).

        • Kyle O’Reilly

          Yeah but that’s why they charge more for stuff. Look at the back of your nearest paperback; stuff in Canada costs more. Ipso Facto: This means you’d make more money. Totally.

          I should know, I read the comments to a youtube video about economics once.

  • Southern_Discomfort

    I remember being told Cup Stacking was the new, cool thing something like ten years ago in high school health class. Glad to see they’re still trying.

    • ItsTheShadsy

      I always suspected that those Speed Stacking groups were connected with those creepy overbearing anti-drug campaigns like D.A.R.E. I also always assumed that the end-game for groups like D.A.R.E. was some sort of Neo-Baal death cult.

      • Southern_Discomfort

        Oh, this one absolutely was. It was like a clean way to have fun, or something.

  • Effigy_Power

    I had the chance and joy to go to the Essen Spiel in …hmm… I think it was 2004. It was so big, so all-encompassing and so amazing, especially with Germany being pretty much THE country for boardgames according to the rankings on Boardgamegeeks, that I can hardly imagine having much fun at another game and toy convention.
    The amount of shitty mail and foam swords in Essen was enough to satisfy this impressionable country girl for all eternity.