I was fortunate enough to visit Toy Fair in New York City this year through the gracious powers that be at NonPro. Even having covered many different conventions and industry shows over the years, I didn’t quite expect quite how large this event was; Toy Fair has been the toy industry’s leading show since 1903, and it has been growing ever since. Buyers and media outlets gathered in droves to explore new and classic toys for every age range, including dolls, puzzles, books, and my personal favorite, board games!
My first stop was the lower level of the Javits Center, which held some of the smaller, more independent game and toy creators, as well as vendors selling really cool merchandise. I met with an awesome woman named Helen at the Shire Post Mint booth. She told me how her dad, who has a love for fantasy fiction, created replica coins that may have been featured in some of our most beloved fantasy cultures. Now their company produces these amazingly detailed, well-designed coins. You can tell a lot of heart went into them; I even got to walk away with “The Iron Coin of the Faceless Man” from Game of Thrones (made with actual iron of course), which is just one of the many currencies that Shire Post Mint makes for the houses and sects of the GoT universe. The company used resources like Kickstarter to license popular properties such as Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, and many more. The coins are available online but will be seen in Barnes and Nobles stores starting this summer.
I spent some time wandering through all the toddler toy aisles, which were packed with so many neat new ideas for those, like me, with an interest in early childhood education, that this area might have to be the focus of another article. My next stop was to find myself a Toy Fair exclusive Superman Meeple and then back to the games!
A sales rep caught me staring at “Geek-opoly” and its chance card giving you a bonus for “getting a life”. I chatted with the man telling him I wasn’t sure if I was amused or offended by the game. We talked for a bit; one of the more interesting aspects of covering Toy Fair is that you get insight on the behind-the-scenes work in the toy and games industry. The “-opoly” people are actually a company called “Late for the Sky” and they are the ones that create all those monopolies for each state, city, or hobby you see on store shelves. Talking with their rep I discovered that their games are almost completely manufactured in the US, in fact all of it except for the dice. I learned that in the US, dice making is a skilled trade and can be expensive, so there is only one manufacturer in all the nation that actually makes dice. As a result, almost all games made here have to outsource their dice. They are coming out with a fantasy-based “-opoly” soon and everyone at the booth was excited about it.
While discussing how adorable Travel Catan was, I found myself being lured away by an incredibly satisfying sound. It led me to a few kids “cup stacking,” and I got to speak to one of the kids there who schooled me in the art. Apparently, sport stacking is a recognized competitive game across the world, and it is fun to watch and fun to do after I was taught a few basic steps. Still… I am glad no one was around to film me learning.
At Cryptozoic’s booth I met Dekan, the super-helpful rep that showed me some of the new properties that Cryptozoic games were presenting. After the popular DC deck-building game, and the recent Portal board game, which has gotten rave reviews from Menza, I got to see some of the stuff they will be releasing later in 2016. For those of you that enjoy the deck-building genre, the company is releasing a Cartoon Network themed game. It can be mixed with your DC version too, so if you ever dreamed of pitting Samurai Jack, Dexter, and Johnny Bravo against Lex Luthor and The Joker, then here is your chance (it might even make up for the Batman v. Superman movie).
Another new game coming out is Mr Meeseeks Box O’Fun Dice and Dares Game. Any Rick and Morty fan should be excited just for the packaging of this game, but the cards are hilarious and the box will have recorded audio from the actors when you hit the button on top. It looks like a fun party game, and this will be a must for me when it comes out. I hope it helps everyone with their golf game.
My last stop before lunch was a smaller booth for White Wizard Games. Promoting a card game called Star Realms that can be found online or in hobby shops, White Wizard has a sci-fi product that seems just as in depth and as much fun as your big selling card games, but at the cost of only 15 dollars. Nathan, the studio manager, was nice enough to play a little trial game with me. There is also a free app for the game available for smart-phones. It’s always nice to see people who just want to get their games out there to be enjoyed by other people.
Upstairs was where all your major game and toy companies had their booths. There were lots of men in suits and most of the booths were by appointment only, and as a cub reporter I wasn’t scheduling any meetings. I tried to peek inside the Lego and Bandai booths but it was a no go. The Bandai booth was even being guarded by the power rangers and I left my mech suit at home.
After nerding out at the Pokemon card booth I headed over to North Star Games. There, I was taught about a game called Evolution, that is so educational that it was recently written about by an Oxford professor in the magazine Nature. It is a board game where you try to have your species evolve into the most successful creature of the round. The art is fantastic and it seems like it might be a great learning tool as well. The company has another game that can be played alone or as an addition to Evolution called Climate. It was recently became one of the most funded board games on Kickstarter, and campaign isn’t over until April.
Next, I enjoyed some time at the Think Geek booth. This is a big moment for the popular company who now has partnered with Gamestop and has opened three physical stores in the US, one being close by at the Palisades Mall in New York. They were showcasing one of those 3D printing pens, with one marketed for children that releases the plastic at a safe temperature for all little hands to touch. With this pretty cool device, kids can create figures, labels, decorations and more. There were a few other booths with the 3D pens and 3D printers, one of the more popular trends at the show, with big shots like Mattel releasing their own 3d printer geared towards kids. The Think Geek pen kit seems like the most affordable way to play with the new technology as of now.
Now introducing, Play Fair
Down the hall from all the big suits and business deals of the Toy Fair show floor, was Play Fair. A new addition to the show that is open to the public, Play Fair was a nice foil to Toy Fair seeing the kids actually enjoying the Legos and Funkopops, while meeting their favorite super heroes and Nickelodeon stars. The hall had a stage where they had game shows for the kids and showcased the current popular trend of “unboxing” YouTube videos. Play Fair was completely sold out for the weekend and a big hit with the families there. While watching the parents and kids fly along the go-kart track, I was reminded that at the heart of all this toy business, is the spirit of fun.