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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.