At ToyFair this year, I worked hard to move out of my own comfort zone, to look at toys as well as games. As a result, I saw lots of products that I might not otherwise have seen. I also saw a ton of bows and crossbows. It seemed like everywhere I turned, someone was shooting something. I'm sure there's some kind of educational value there, but I couldn't figure it out, so I'll let you track down your own favorite way to release your inner Katniss.
At the intersection of toys and games
CubeQuest is a fascinating 2-player strategy game by Gamewright that has players flicking cubes across the game board. This is a game that has actually been around for a little while under the name KingBrick. Gamewright licensed it and gave it their professional polish. The result is a ton of fun. Educational benefits are all indirect, but they're mixed with such a healthy dose of fun, that you can't miss.
AttrAction, by R&R Games, is a fascinating game where you flick magnets across a table and try to get other magnets to latch on to them. Jishaku, by RSV Productions, also uses magnets, but this time you're trying to keep them from connecting. Both games are surprising and fun. Whether you're looking to discuss magnetism or just looking for something new to play, either of these would be great.
PhotoLoco, also by RSV Productions, provides the ultimate in customization. In this game, one player has a list of items to draw and a photo to draw them on. Other players try to guess the items being drawn. The photo is actually behind a clear piece of plastic, and the drawing is done with dry-erase markers, so the pictures can be used over and over. Where's the customization? You can create your own photo cards on their web site to customize the game. The educational applications here are astounding. Teaching history, geography, or science? Use a relevant photo with your own list of items.
Switchbotz aren't really at the intersection of toys and games. They're just cool toys. These constructible robots are made by the folks that make Wedgits, and what's neat about them is that there's no clicking or hooking or snapping. Each robot kit allows you to make three different robots, and you make them by just wedging the pieces together. Super cool.
Patch had a lot of fun products, as always, but one line that really stood out to me was the Mirari line. In particular, check out Busy Buddy, Roll & Return Ball, and Pop! Pop! Piano! (all for little ones). At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss these well-crafted toys as just throwbacks to an older and simpler time. Playing with them, though, reveals a lot of clever innovations, like the elephant inside the Roll & Return Ball that stays upright as the ball rolls, or the way the gears of Busy Budy fit together. These are toys that invite children to play and experiment, solid additions to any playroom or preschool.
Rainbows and Storms is a great idea from Griddly Games. It's a design-your-own-boardgame kit, filled with stickers creative ideas. The only downside? It's clearly themed for girls. I hope they come out with a boy one next!
Where Puzzles Meet Games
It's not too often that I get intimidated by a puzzle game, but Cobra Twist managed to do it. It's a collection of blocks, each with an image of a part of a snake, and a bunch of puzzle pages. All you have to do is position the blocks on the pages so that they connect together to form the snakes. Sounds easy, right? At first it is, but then you start having to make multiple snakes criss-crossing each other and going up and down towers of blocks... wow, does it get hard. If you have a thinker in your family, this is the puzzle game for you!
No discussion of the puzzle/game category would be complete without ThinkFun. This year, they have another new one that will keep you both thinking and playing. Word ARound is a game where you flip a round card and try to be the first one to shout out the word that's winding its way around the card. It's both simple and a lot of fun.
Lickety Quick, by Educational Insights, is a fun little game where you turn over one card to reveal a clue and another to reveal a letter or letter combination. Players race to shout out an answer that answers the clue. It's quick, and fun. I highly recommend it. They were also showing a game called Wordical, where you roll the vowel dice and combine it with cards in your hand to form words. It's also fun and quick. In fact, having both those games in your collection wouldn't be a bad idea at all.
Dicecapade's Word Pirates, by the Haywire Group, takes word building in a fun direction that I've never seen before. Players spell words to make their way to the treasure on an island at the center of the board. It's fun and silly and educational all at the same time.
What's It?, by Peaceable Kingdom, is a game where you draw a card that has a doodle on it. Players race to write down what they think the doodle is. You need to match answers with other players to score points, though. So in addition to trying to figure out what the doodle is, you're trying to guess what other players might think it is. It's a clever idea that makes for a really fun game.
Squashed, published by Plasmart, is an ingenious three-dimensional game, where you play on the faces of a hollow cube. When placing a piece, you can squash an opponent's piece, and push it into the center of the cube. You can also rotate the whole cube and squash it on the table, eliminating all the pegs on one cube face. Created by ChiTAG Young Inventor Challenge winner Nicholas Metzler, this game is more than just a ton of fun. It's also a great way to show kids what kids can create.
If you're looking for a math game, MadMath is worth a try. Published by Patrix Communications, it's both fun and simple to understand. You roll two dice and multiply the two numbers together. The resulting number represents one or more squares on a grid. You place your piece on one of those squares. The first person to get three in a row wins. This one has been around for a while, but I'd never seen it before. It's a lot of fun, and great for reinforcing those pesky multiplication tables.
Two games I saw with similar themes are Chronology, by Buffalo Games, and Timeline, by Asmodee. Both are fun games, where players try to guess when unrelated events occurred relative to each other. For example, was the television invented before or after the first talking movie with sound? Both games are fun, and each has its own strengths. Timeline has multiple themed versions and comes in a cool tin box. Chronology, on the other hand, plays more like a party game. This is a pick-em sort of situation. Whichever you choose, you'll have a lot of fun with it.
The Rainbow Math games have been around for a little while, but I don't think I've mentioned them before. What's notable about them is not just that they're fun games for building and reinforcing math skills, but that they're a series of games. You can start playing with your kids with a pre-math game, and then move up as their math skills improve. There are three games, reaching all the way up to multiplication and division. I love this idea. We all remember games that we love playing with our parents, but we outgrew. With these games, once your child is too old for the concepts/skills, you can graduate to the next game.
An intriguing game that features physical play is The Magic Path of Yoga. It's a game where the challenges are either yoga poses or yoga questions. Not knowing anything about yoga questions, I actually liked Yoga Spinner a little more. Yoga Spinner is for younger kids, but that's okay by me. Whichever you choose, you're sure to have an unusual game of physical fun.
That's a Wrap!
Did you see anything else at ToyFair that I missed? Post in the comments!
In addition to being the editor and web guy for Games for Educators, Patrick Matthews is the author of Dragon Run. He also designs games and builds web sites. Stop by DaddyTales for a quick laugh, or check out Live Oak Games to see some of his award-winning games.