The British Toy and Hobby Fair, Olympia

Reports by David Ward and Richard Breese

Once a year the great and the good of the British toy industry gather in London to show off their products. These range from cuddly toys and nursery items to complex puzzles and novelty goods. It is a 'trade only' show, and non-ticket holders were being asked for a ten pound entrance fee. The 300 odd companies exhibiting range from one man outfits to multi-nationals, both home-grown and continental. The big names include Spears, Waddingtons, TSR, Hornby, and Ravensburger.

As Sumo is a boardgamer's magazine I am only going to look at what was on offer here that will be of interest to us.The first was from a new company, Galleon Games - 0792 474111, set by Peter Phillips and Gareth Davies. Called Haggle! this is a trading game that is going to be heavily promoted this year, especially before Christmas. The reason why being that they have got some big guns behind them in the form of McCann-Erickson, a PR company whose clients include Coca-Cola and Black & Decker. The players are dealt an equal amount of cash and items at the start. These include Ming vases, racehorses, classic cars, and modern art. Each item has a value which can go up as well as down. During each players turn a die is rolled which determines whether that player haggles with the person sitting to the left, to the right, or of their own choice. At the end of the round there is a mass haggle and then a wheel is spun to determine market factors. This will alter the price of the goods up or down. If players own sets of items then their value increases. There are no fixed rules to the game, no time limits. As the makers say 'everything is negotiable'. Price is expected to be somewhere between twenty five and thirty quid, although I am sure this could be negotiable

A game based around the search for, and mining of, precious stones is embodied in Gem Hunter. From a company of the same name the game requires the movement of imitation gems around a track on the board. Dice are thrown and cards drawn from a deck which do various things to the play. Gem Hunter is designed to be an educational game as well, with detailed information on the gems involved and other aspects of prospecting. Available from Gem Hunter Ltd. of High Street North, East Ham - 081 472 5808.

Do your games suffer from cack-handed die rollers, or those players who have that knack of rolling sixes each time? Then you need Digi-Die, the electronic die from DIGI-DIE Ltd. of Bedford. 'Are you going to produce four, eight, twelve and twenty sided die?', I asked. Blank looks were returned before the younger of the two gents on the stand remembered that other games existed that used these strange shapes. 'No', he replied.

Domark, a company I am more used to seeing with their name on computer games, have launched a board game based on their successful Williams Grand Prix software. Here you have to build your team up from scratch. And that includes the car, engine, drivers, and mechanics. All this before you even get out onto the track.

Ko-An is a new game based on draughts that is being called the ultimate strategy game. The makers are so confident of this claim they are trying to organise a world tournament.The board consists of a 6x6 grid of octagons separated by 20 squares. Each player has 6 octagonal pieces and 5 square ones. They all start sitting on their own shaped spaced at each end of the board. Like draughts the pieces can 'take' each other, but like chess they can only do so when they are in particular alignments. This is where all the different shapes become important. Ko-An is marketed by Image Games - 071 437 6497.

3-Dimensional chess has appeared that is unlike the set Mr. Spock used to play with. Here we have three normal chessboards stacked one on top of the other. DIY'ers please take note.

We'll ignore the Wicked Willy boardgame and Jeremy Beadle 'You've been framed' game from Waddingtons, and look at Pike Attack from Graphic Park Systems Ltd (071 224 9358) instead. This game was only finished just in time for the show. The prototype was created on a Mac and involves the players in trying to catch fish from a pond. An angler I am not, but the promoters were enthusiastic about it selling into the marine blood sports fraternity.

I was collared by Charles Igwe of Aeclipse Games, a Nigerian company with offices in NW1 - 071 388 2573. He was demonstrating two games - Globaltrade and Preselections. The former is a complex trading game where players deal not only with commodities, but they also have to handle currency fluctuations, transportation, and insurance costs. The other game is political in nature. Candidates travel around the country collecting or losing votes on the draw of a card. I think these cards are not declared until the players actually go into the election. Then all is revealed. This reminds me of a political game from the same company that was promoting Ko-An. It has been out a few years now, but I was intrigued by the pitfalls that the MPs could suffer. Situated around the track the figures follow are squares containing tabloid newspaper headlines. Some of these were very appropriate to recent events with cabinet ministers. Is life parodying art?

David Ward

The 1994 British Toy and Hobby Fair was held at Olympia from 29 January to 2 February. In previous years the show, which usually lasts for five days, had been held at Earls Court. The show is the major U.K. trade show for the toy trade and gives aspiring independent games producers the opportunity to exhibit their games alongside the major U.K. games companies. At Earls Court a special area was allocated to the smaller independent companies on the first floor of the exhibition hall. This area, for reasons obvious to any one who had visited the show, is commonly referred to as Death Row. Having attended the show for many years, including a three year sentence on Death Row, I am always interested to see what new games are being exhibited there and the marketing strategies adopted by the inmates. At Olympia, these independent companies, exhibiting their first (and frequently last) board game were much better integrated into the overall exhibition and it will be interesting to see if they benefit as a result.

I attended the show on the first of the five days of the show. To my mild surprise I almost immediately bumped into a certain Mr. Siggins. With some trepidation I said hello, conscious that my last contact with Mike was by way of a short note, written by Mike, advising me that with my last review I had sent him a virus ridden floppy. Was this the cause of the delay in the arrival of Sumo 14/15? Had I been struck off the circulation list? Fortunately not in both cases. The report that follows covers those independent exhibitors, in the order in which I visited the stands, whose exhibits appeared as if they would be of most interest to Sumo readers. As you will see these were, as usual, a 'mixed bag'.

3-Dimensional Chess My first port of call was at the stand of Dublin based Mind Games Manufacturing Limited, producers of 3-Dimensional Chess. Inventor Bernard Kennedy had had the dubious idea, and I quote, of 'making chess more complicated'. He has certainly achieved this. Three standard chess boards are held in a frame, one above the other, providing an 8 x 8 x 3 board. The playing pieces on the centre board are the standard chess pieces. On the top board and the bottom board the major pieces are replaced by the Prince, the Princess, the Abbey, the Cannon and the Galleon. The 'standard' centre board pieces have been endowed with new attributes, not only can they perform the standard chess movements, but (with the exception of the knight) can extend their moves to the upper and lower boards. The new pieces (with the exception of the Cannon) are restricted to their starting board, either the upper or lower board. Most mind blowing of all the pieces is the Cannon. The rules state that 'the Cannon moves three squares in a straight line, then it moves either one square or two squares at a ninety degree angle to the first move and then it moves up or down two boards or one board'. To be fair there is an accompanying rules book which contains sufficient illustrations for a player familiar with the standard chess game to understand each pieces' movements fairly quickly and the game itself has been produced to quite an acceptable standard.

Whether the world is ready for 3-D Chess is open to question. Apparently 3-D Chess is featured on Star Trek so presumably the Klingons can cope with the game. Bernard offered to demonstrate the game to me but, as I know my limitations and as I was only at the show for one day, I declined gracefully. I did however accept Bernard's assurance that it takes four or five games to become familiar with the game and, that having played the game that many times, an opponent playing for the first time would usually be defeated easily. Less easy to accept was Bernard's explanation that he had originally aimed at creating an 8 x 8 x 8 game, but that this idea had had to be abandoned as he could not construct a board that would stand upright and not topple over! 3-D Chess is available now at £29.95.

La Trel Next port of call was Millennium Games 2 Limited, exhibitors of the most impressively produced game in the 'first game by independent company' category, La Trel. La Trel is apparently 'the ultimate lateral thinking board game'. This is mildly worrying, dumb board games I can usually cope with, thinking board games? maybe. But when those board games start to think laterally then I know I can anticipate some trouble.

Funding was clearly not a problem for Millennium Games. The game, including instruction booklet and prompt cards, was produced to a very high standard as was the support advertising, which included a large screen video presentation. La-Trel is a two player game, also played on a chess board, with 32 of 36 geometrically shaped playing pieces. Each player has eight attacking pieces and eight defending pieces. In the standard game the attacking pieces are placed on the 'back row' and the defenders, like the pawns in chess, on the row in front. The object of the game is to capture, or to block, all of the opponent's attacking pieces.

Three editions of the game will be available, including a choice of two deluxe editions. I was advised by the young lady assisting on the stand that the deluxe anodised aluminium pieces, with their additional weight and bevelled edges will apparently be ideal for the partially sighted strategy games player (an important market often overlooked?).

My instinct was to approach the game in the same way as chess. However the attacking pieces capture the opponent's pieces more in the fashion of draughts. Each of the three types of attacking piece moves in a similar way to a piece in chess; the Warrior as a Queen, the Sabre as a Castle and the Trident as a Bishop. The defending pieces move one space either horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally, nor can they take an opponent's piece. An attacking piece can take one or more of the opponent's pieces as long as the path is clear, and provided, and here is the similarity to draughts, a square is vacant directly behind the attacked piece.

The game was apparently conceived by its creator, Richard Morgan, as recently as October last year which makes the quality of the presentation all the more impressive. La Trel will be available in June after a full launch at Hamley's.

Ko-An Ko-An is the second game from David Welch and Paul Whitehorn of Image Games. Their first game, Politician, was published in 1992. Ko-An is apparently Japanese for the 'source of the riddle' and the rather garishly coloured artwork of the prototype reflects this oriental theme. A full review should be in this issue of Sumo, or Sumo Abstract.

Haggle Haggle is the brainchild of Peter Phillips and Gareth Davies. Players negotiate, or haggle, with each other in order to buy and sell assets such as classic cars and oil paintings. The value of the assets fall and rise randomly depending on the result of a spinner. A set of one type of asset is more valuable to the owner than the sum of the individual assets, but then the spinner could generate another of that type of asset and as a result you would no longer have a complete set. The aim of the game is to own the most valuable collection of assets and cash at the end of the game.

The selling point of the game is that everything is negotiable (can be haggled), including the rules and the timing of the end of the game (which otherwise has no natural conclusion). Apparently in one fourteen hour play testing section one player haggled an injunction to stop one transaction taking place whilst another haggled, or invoked, an obscure section of the Companies Act into the rules. This all reminded me of a bad day at the office and I am certain that if I was ever confronted with the game I would desperately try to haggle an alternative evening's entertainment.

Sack O' Bricks Lord Carter's After Dinner Games Limited have secured the U.K. distribution rights to Bausack, which has been renamed Sack O' Bricks for the U.K. market. The production is a match for the German original, comprising 80 assorted hand-crafted wooden bricks, a white tie up sack and a rules sheet. Some nice touches have been added to the original version of the game, in particular the round headed cone shaped piece has been impregnated with a strong smell of cinnamon. The smell was in fact quite appealing and each time I passed the stand I found myself reaching for another quick sniff. Managing Director Tarek el Diwany is clearly a devotee of the game (aren't we all) and had some interesting ideas for future development. He plans, for example, to issue a Christmas extension set with extra difficult blue pieces.

Whilst I am sure that Sack O' Bricks will receive the care and attention it deserves from Lord Carter, I can't help thinking that this is an opportunity lost. As a game from a single product company, with a £37.50 price tag and served in a cloth sack it seems doubtful that it will get into the majors where it needs to be in order to attract the volume of sales that this classic game deserves. Packed in a box, mass produced with less expensive pieces and with a large company advertising budget, Sack O' Bricks could surely have become a big selling family game to match the likes of Pictionary. (I have just read the last edition of Mike's Gamer's Notebook and note with interest that this appears to be the approach adopted by MB with the US edition.)

Digi-Die Electronic Die Digi-Die Limited have produced the ultimate accessory for the lazy games player - an electronic dice. No need to waste any more valuable energy shaking those little D6s, instead just activate the Digi-Die by pressing the 'roll bar' on the top side of the dice. When the roll bar is released the spots (which are also on the top side of the dice) flash, slowing down after 15 seconds, whilst at the same time the dice emits a chirping sound. My plan for a monster game of Bluff or Liar's Dice, which I imagined would sound like a field of Triffids, was however thwarted by the fact that the Digi-Die display automatically switches off after fifteen seconds (and also because each dice, at a trade price of around £6, would probably retail at over £10). Available late Spring.

Squod Squod is a new game from Brand X, and is being distributed in the U.K. by Goliath Games, distributors of Abalone and Trionimos. The game, for two to four players, is played by advancing six playing pieces onto a three by three grid. Each piece is marked as either a stone, scissors or paper. The game is won by creating a line containing one of each type of playing piece on the grid. The game appeared to play well but sadly I succumbed to the demonstrator's (rash) decision to challenge me at Abalone, after which he did not seem particularly receptive to continuing with a longer demonstration of Squod.

Pyraos In the last edition of SKC I reviewed, very positively, the game Elevation. The rights to Elevation have been secured by French Company Gi Gamic s.a., producers of Quarto (reviewed in a recent SKC) who have renamed the game 'Pyraos' for the international market. In his Essen review Mike suggested in his wisdom that he thought that part of the of the appeal of Elevation was in its ornamental value. I am now forced to agree. Whilst I still believe that this is an excellent game I was disappointed to see the large(r) company production. The moulded polystyrene board and polystyrene balls are undoubtedly more practical, the board now has a gutter in which to place the unplayed balls and the polystyrene is significantly lighter. The game is however much the poorer for the loss of the sparkle of the marbles and the quality wooden base of the original.Pyraos will be distributed in the U.K. by David Westnedge Limited. This company also distributes Maureen Hiron's games and I was interested to see that a wooden version of Cavendish will be available shortly.

Pin Point Olympia was the second exhibition showing for Oliver Games's Pin Point, which made its debut at Essen. I note from Mike's Spiel '93 review that he has played and enjoyed the game (I can understand why) and that he will be reviewing it this issue. Briefly, in order to avoid duplication, the aim of the game is to get 'points for your pins'. The pins resemble jelly beans, come in five colours (if you include the all black jokers) and are placed strategically on a plastic board, ten pin holes by ten. Points are scored for various combinations of lines, squares and crosses.

Pin Point can be played by two to four players. Each player places four pins each turn. As a row of three pins, for example, scores more than a row of two, and so on, the player playing last clearly has an initial advantage. This is partly compensated for however at the end of the game where the last player to move has only the final four pin holes to choose from. The game is largely won or lost in the middle game when the highest scoring formations are most likely to be achieved and when the jokers are most beneficial. A player entering the end game with just a two point advantage is unlikely to get caught in the end game.

I often find that having to keep score detracts from a strategy game. Unusually on this occasion it had the opposite effect. In Pin Point, as in Scrabble, part of the fun is in watching the effect that each consecutive move has on the scores and also, again unusually for a strategy game, the players as a result actually speak to each other! I enjoyed Pin Point and wish its creator Oliver Cockell every success. I await Mike's review with interest.

Pike Attack Sadly, having stayed on the Oliver Games stand until lights out was called, I had little time to learn about Pike Attack from Graphic Park Systems Limited. I can advise however that it is a game about fishing by non-fisherman Matthew Wallis. The game appeared to feature dozens of D&D style metal pike miniatures - perhaps Mike can elucidate?

Richard Breese

On to the review of New York Toy Fair or back to the Gamer's Notebook.

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