New York Toy Fair 1994

Report by Jack Jaffe

There are two parts to the Toy Fair: for a week, the larger established companies - Parker, TSR, MB etc - display their stuff in the permanent showrooms at 200 Fifth Ave, although MB/Hasbro has its own vast display across 23rd Street; then for four days, attention switches to the Javits Centre on 11th, a vast exhibition centre big enough to hold two simultaneous exhibitions. The Toy Fair at Javits contained about 1500 booths, of which about 8% featured games. So there were lots of new games but few new ideas.

Because of the predilections of Games magazine, the vast majority were either word or trivia games. The former included WWIII (Word War III) (Genco), a game combining Some of the features of Chess and Word games. Played on a board with columns and rows of letters, players move their chess-like pieces to collect letters/form words and can use pieces to block other players. In the trivia world, you could find the Cheers game, the Gone with the Wind game, the Elvis game and Star Trek - The Game, all from Classic Games who also offered Claymania, in which players build six ounces of pink clay into an object for team members to identify from a list. Classic see it as the obvious successor to Pictionary.

By far the best trivia game, however, was Daring Passages (MJM). Best because a) the mechanism is better than most trivia games: the answer on each card refers to a well-known historical, cultural or social figure and each card contains three 'keys' or clues to the name. Two dice are rolled - a normal six-sided die and another giving 0-3: the number of clues to he read aloud. However, the clues are read one at a time and, if the starting player fails to identify the player to the left has a bash and so on. If no-one makes a correct identification, the next clue is read and so it proceeds until a player makes a correct ID or none do. (The reader varies from turn to turn and sits it out). When a correct ID is made, that player advances to number shown on the D6. On certain squares, players can make short-cuts by immediate correct answers. And because b) the packaging, in the shape of a bottle, is innovative and attractive.

There were few new strategy games. Sid Sackson drew my attention to Quadrature and Rootbound (Locus), both two-player abstract games played on a Go board. In the former, from a prescribed starting position on the periphery, players take turns to move pieces forwards and sideways but not backwards, to try to form rectangles. If you create a rectangle in which three corners have your pieces and one has your opponent's, you replace his piece with one of yours. To win, you must eliminate all but two of your opponent's pieces. In the latter, in a kind of Go-like offshoot, your lines grow, a piece at a time - but when a line can't grow any further, it dies and is removed from the board. Your objective is to remove all your opponent's 'roots'. Sid enjoys abstract games - I, less so.

Although not new, Stack (Loresch) is an enjoyable strategy dice game for 2-8 players. Each player throws his 14 dice (a different colour for each player) onto the table and, on your turn, you can stack any one die on top of any matching number on any opponent's die, where it remains for the rest of the round. (Two or three high stacks don't move. ) During your turn, you may elect to throw one of your dice in the hope of rolling a higher number. Whether you do or not, you must then stack that die, if possible. If you place a fourth die on a stack, it becomes your stack and is added to your points total. A round ends when a player stacks his last die; the other players then have one more turn. If you stack an opponent's last die, both players are deemed to have finished and the remaining players have a last turn. Only the value of the top die in a stack counts for points and each player calculates his score, with the one counting as ten and the remainder at face value. The first player to reach 200 wins. Strategy in Stack isn't complex but you have to vary your attacks on each player. It's good policy to build first-level stacks with as high a number as possible; most times, opponents will think twice about a risky third-level stack because someone may place a fourth, removing the stack and scoring. Near the end of the round, when players are low in unstacked dice, there's less risk. As far as I know, Stack hasn't been available in the UK.

Maybe you thought that Monopoly was passe? Well, Sid Sackson also brought Global Survival (Vision Quest) to my attention. In an elaborate box, one finds a largish board on whose two peripheral tracks are listed 191 countries of the world; their geographic location is shown on the central map. Each player receives 2.5 trillion at start and the same amount can be drawn in credit. Four players are appointed (by dice roll) (Global Banker, Loan officer (sic), Global Aid Director and Real Estate Syndicator, with respective salaries of 40 billion, 25 billion, 10 billion and 20 billion - really tough being a mere Global Aid Director. Their administrative tasks can be inferred. In addition, each player rolls a 12-sided consortium die, determining with which of the 12 consortia each is associated for the duration of the game: Transport, Environment, Manufacturing etc.

So there you have it! Instead of buying Bond Street or Park Lane, you buy Brazil or Pakistan. Instead of building hotels, you try to buy all of the countries in a particular grouping: there are 54 countries in Asia, 52 in Africa, 37 in Europe and so on. It will cost you $213Bn to buy Oceania and $4.355 trillion (!) to buy North America, so it is 20 times more expensive but if someone lands on your countries he has to pay you 500Bn for North America and only 50Bn for Oceania. I'm ignoring the obvious difficulties in trying to land on 54 squares, throwing four six-sided dice each time you move... The saddest thing is that so much research (and investment) has gone into a game where so little attention has been paid to the game's mechanism - history repeats itself yet again.

So what are we left with? Well, Mayfair showed nothing new and were remaindering Flying Turtle games and the AH Games Co were showing their production of what was Chris Baylis's Euro-Hit, under the name Assassin, described as '.... a challenging card/board game for 3-6 players, aged 10 and up. Played against the backdrop of modern Europe, players travel about the board, scoring points for visiting as many cities as possible. But beware, for some unknown among the players is an 'Assassin', who scores even more points by making a 'Hit' when in he same city as another.' Further references are made to Espionage Agents and Innocent Bystanders - for a minute I thought I might have been reading about Save The President! I don't know if AH have re-worked Chris's game but I hope it's a big winner. AH haven't produced any other new games except in the military sphere (We The People on the American War of Independence and Guerilla - I wonder if this may be a re-working of Banana Republic?) but they did tell me they plan to reproduce MB's Daytona 500 which I consider a very enjoyable race game.

The most interesting and innovative booth at the Fair was the very small one furthest away from the entrance, occupied by four Germans calling themselves Ideas From Europe, including my German agent, Harald Bilz Of Heidelburger Spielverlag, and Bernd Brunnhofer showing his elegant Manhattan where players build Skyscrapers in midtown - now why didn't I think of that? There was more innovation contained in this one booth than in the rest of the Fair put together! And if the Germans can do it, why can't the Brits? Yet just try suggesting to small British companies - if there are any - that they should try to combine and show products at the US Toy Fair or anywhere else for that matter. This allows me to mention Sid Sackson's latest: Quinto. It wasn't at the Fair since it's being produced in Germany by Ass but he gave me a copy and showed me how to play and I can tell you it's like all Sid Sackson games: a well-crafted card game for 2-4 players and fun to play. Although I didn't see it, MB are hoping for big sales from their 13 Dead End Drive. Interestingly, this comes from Andrew Berton, an Englishman living in the US and working in the industry. My pleasure at meeting him was increased immeasurably when he quoted the name of the game he said he always uses as an example of a superbly-designed theme game. Modestly, I won't quote its name here but (hint) Martin Burroughs would be in for a surprise....

Jack Jaffe

On to the Credo or back to the review of The British Toy and Hobby Fair, Olympia.

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