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The British Toy and Hobby Fair is the major trade show for the British games industry and is held each year, in London, at the end of January. In 1995 for the second year running the show was held at Olympia, having previously been staged at Earls Court. The show gives the opportunity for the smaller independent producers to exhibit alongside the industry giants. These independent companies tend to be found together at the back of the main hall, where stands are cheaper, in an area commonly referred to as `Death Row'. The term arises from the glum expressions which are often to be found on the faces of exhibitors as they begin to realise that selling their new creations is not going to be quite as easy as they had previously hoped.

Whilst a large part of the show is devoted to toys, there was the usual crop of new board games. Noticeable this year amongst the smaller company productions was a trend toward higher quality graphics and production and toward higher prices. Sadly, for me at least, many of the games were either themed variations of the Trivial Pursuits genre or undemanding family (roll a dice and move) type games. A short review of these productions, in no particular order, is given below.

Leading the way in the non-computer generated graphics field was `The Fishing Game', a creation of Guy Wyndham-Jones of Anglepen-Jones & Co. Ltd. The board and game cards, lovingly painted by Ms. Honey Stott, were supplemented by pewter playing pieces. Interestingly, I was advised that the moulding costs for pewter pieces are surprisingly low, at around £100 per model. This compares with around ten times the amount for plastic. The cost of producing the individual pieces however is high at around 20 to 35 pence each, depending on size, against around just one pence per piece for a reasonable sized run of plastic pieces. Perhaps not quite as interestingly, the game is described in the promotional literature as follows: ``You put the fish in the lake; you walk to the spot you want to fish from, or use punts to get to the island (using dice); you cast your bait out (using dice); the fish picks up the bait and runs off with it (using dice and cards); you play or reel it in (using dice and cards); and then, hopefully, you land or catch it -- or possibly lose it''. The game, which includes a booklet in order that you can keep a permanent record of the size of your catches, is retailing at £39.95.

It was another fishing game, `Pike Attack' which was for me the most promising new game on display. The aim of Pike Attack is to collect and keep a full set of five fishing tackle cards, which are laid face up on the board. A full set of tackle allows a player to fish, with the object of landing the heaviest catch. If the player holds a bite card, then the player is able to take a fish card. If the player's tackle matches the ratings for both line and hook, as shown on the fish card, then the player lands the fish. However, if only one of the ratings match, the player must throw the `fight dice'. The throw determines whether the fish is caught, gets away, or whether a penalty is suffered, such as loosing your hook or breaking your line. Lurking amongst the normal fish is the Pike. If a player draws the pike card then it is possible to catch the pike if a Pike Buster card is held, otherwise you are likely to lose either part of your tackle or part of your previous catch. The game has been sponsored by Shimano, a fishing tackle company, but the inclusion of their logo in the computer generated graphics is very discrete and does not distract from the appearance. If the promised review copy arrives then I hope to include a full review in the next issue. Pike Attack is from Matthew Wallis of Graphic Park Systems and is retailing at £24.99.

Sharing the stand with Pike Attack was `The Producers' by Kate Elliott of Elliott Armitage Games. Each producer (player) has a budget of $10 million with which to hire their film stars and production team. Players then proceed by dice throw to land on seats (spaces) such as an auditorium seat or `cut' seat. The type of seat determines whether, for example, a film related question must be answered, leading to a cash reward and a further throw, or whether a `cut' card is taken, leading to a forfeit or bonus. There are minor decisions to make along the way such as choosing the direction in which to move, namely backwards or forwards, but this is essentially a trivia game for film buffs. The Producers was shown in prototype and is estimated to retail at £29.99.

`Star Encounters' from Ian Adams of Mind Games is another question and answer type game, this time based on astrology. Presumably the sky was cloudy when Ian chose the name for his company, given the Hammersmith debacle of the same name. The sumptuous presentation of this game is amongst the most impressive I've seen and was created by Ian on his Apple Mac using scanned 14th century Italian illuminations. The game is won by filling a Trivial Pursuits type games piece with eight plastic `crystals'. The crystals are obtained by landing on colour coded star signs and then correctly predicting how the other players will react, given their star signs, to various situations. The `correct' reactions (answers) are given on the question cards and for the non-astrologer there is a help sheet detailing the characteristics associated with each star sign and the type of reactions you would therefore expect from those other players. Star Encounters also retails at £29.99.

Another question and answer game on show was Kemco Concept's `Nubian Jak'. Kemco aim to specialise in multicultural games and Nubian Jak is described as ``the black Trivial Pursuit''. Each player has six `jaks' -- Coppit style playing pieces (cones). The board resembles a Union Jack with eight spokes meeting in the centre. Jaks are placed in a player's home zone at the end of one of the spokes. Three of these jaks are attacking pieces and move by dice roll around the board, the remaining three jaks stay at home waiting to be captured. The three attacking jaks must each capture an opponent's home piece and return with it to that player's own home base. The first player to return their three attacking jaks to their home base, with captives, wins the game. Each spoke has a theme: sport, history, entertainment, etc. A player landing on certain squares in a spoke is required to answer a question on that subject so some thought needs to be given as to which spoke to set up your base. All questions relate in some way to people of African descent. For each question you are given three answers. A correct answer is rewarded, a sensible incorrect answer goes unpunished but if the third `obviously incorrect' answer is chosen, e.g. `Daley Thompson' when answering a question which asks who has won four medals in a particular Athletics Championships (he is a decathlete), a player is punished in the `go to' mode. Nubian Jak was created by Johnny Bubeula-Dodd and retails at £29.99.

Mambi Games Limited is a new company producing family games devised and promoted by celebrities (other than the Really Useful One). Mambi had two games on show. `Libel' by Coronation Street actor William Roache was inspired by his court case against The Sun newspaper. In Libel, players move by dice throw round the outside of the board in order to assemble a full legal team by landing on the correct spaces. They then progress to the court in the centre of the board for the `trial'. The first player to circle the centre of the board, get past the `cross examination' squares and throw a double to finish wins the game. The retail price is £22.99. Mambi's second game is `Garry Bushell on the Box', a family (dice roll) game where players collect `star reviews' by answering TV-based questions such as `who is buried under the patio at Brookside?'. Players then progress up the `celebrity staircase' to `stardom' and a place in the star dressing room at the Royal Variety Performance. During the game players are also required to perform certain tasks, such as auditioning for the part of Mr. Blobby. GB on the Box retails at a reasonable £14.99.

My favourite new game from last year's show was a clever little abstract game called `Ko-An', from Image Games. This year Image Games have produced `Blind Draw', a team sketch and guess game where the player drawing is blindfolded. Topics to be drawn are given on cards. If a team guesses what is being drawn correctly then the drawer, still blindfolded, is allowed to attempt to draw a line round the wiggly race track on the small game board. The first team to complete the track, which usually takes around seven attempts, is the winner.

Another game for the creative type was `Zenergy', from a New Zealand company called Brightway Products. Designed by Matthew Korn, the object of the game is to travel around the outer path on the board by means of dice and counters. The outer path has spaces of four colours, with each colour corresponding to a different category. When a player lands on a space, a card is chosen from the appropriate category and the player is then required to make a display, varying from a simple object or event, to a more difficult 'abstract concept'. The displays are made on the board (the centre of which has been designed to resemble a Japanese Zen garden) from the sixty or so wooden blocks provided. The standard trade price of £12.85 makes me wish Bausack had been created by a New Zealander.

`Mystique' is the second attempt of Nenad `Pop' Popovic to bring this face recognition game to market. `Profile' and `Fortune' cards are collected whilst an illustration of a famous face is revealed in six stages. Fortune cards can help or hinder your progress. Points are scored for being the first player to identify the face and also for each profile card collected which matches the character, e.g. male, actor, alive, etc. Mystique is retailing at £19.95.

`The Hustings' is the brainchild of Robert Britton and has been professionally packaged by Iain Kidney and his team at Games Talk. Based on the British electoral process, the aim of the game is to win the election for the fictional Hustingshire North constituency, but is sadly ``primarily a game of chance''. The game is divided into four phases. Firstly the nomination stage. Rolling the dice a player must land on a returning officer space to secure a nomination. The player may then move immediately to stage 2: the campaign. All the other spaces on the Monopoly type board now come in to play. These include the ward spaces which are subdivided into four smaller spaces, allowing players to claim the number of votes shown on these smaller spaces by using rosette markers. A corresponding number of votes are then posted into the game box which doubles up as a ballot box. The other spaces on the board are either of the `take a card and follow the instructions' or `receive 250 votes and roll again' type. After all the wards have been captured, postal votes are generated in phase three. Simply, three d6 are rolled to generate the hundreds, tens and units of the number of votes gained. In the final phase the ballot box is opened, the votes counted and the result declared. `In the unlikely event of a dead heat the Returning Officer must settle the result on the toss of a coin'. Although the game is primarily for two to six players, one or two additional players may play as independent candidates. These independents however `have no chance of winning' and must amuse themselves by creating a `nuisance factor'. The Hustings is produced by Vellow (Games and Books) Limited at a recommended retail price of £21.25.

Last year Galleon Games released the infamous `Haggle'. This has been followed by two new releases. One `Cricket Box' is not strictly a game but an aid which uses magnetic counters and a write-on/wipe-clean board in order to allow a cricket fan to plot field positions, players' strokes and to keep score. Cricket Box bears the BBC's Test Match Special logo and is licensed through the BBC. Galleon's new game is John Francome's Fantasy Horse Racing Game. The object is to be the most successful racehorse owner during a calendar year of National Hunt and flat races. With their limited resources, owners purchase and then train horses and pay retainers to jockeys. Each of these outlays affects a horse's rating, e.g. a good three year old filly with a champion jockey, but no training, has a five length advantage and starts an equivalent number of spaces along the course. Thereafter the race is essentially a dice race with various rules for jumping (National Hunt races) and changing lanes. Dice rolls can be modified by playing jockey cards, enabling horses to avoid the racing incident spaces, which always contain bad news, such as `your horse breaks down and is unable to race again during the year'. The game is retailing at £25.30.

Prior to the show opening, most of the interest in the show in the financial press had centred around the launch of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's new Really Useful Group subsidiary which has been formed to specialise in toys and games. The product was varied: `Play theatres', self assembly card stages based on ALW's popular shows such as Cats and Starlight Express, together with accompanying audio tapes; several children's games for the over threes, of which the most interesting was a memory matching game. Kittens of different colours are viewed through a transparent red cat's eye, through which they all look identical. Two cats are drawn at a time and if they are the same colour they are retained, otherwise they are replaced. A neat idea which I'm sure could be developed into a more serious game; various jigsaws; `Doom Trooper' gaming cards and several variations of Jenga being marketed under the `Timber' trade name. There were in addition two games of slightly more substance. `And They're Off!' was the game to feature most in the pre-show publicity and is the personal creation of Sir Andrew, horse trainer Charlie Brooks and `theatre luminary' Anthony Pye Jeary. ATO is a horse race betting game. There are four horses, the first to move eight spaces wins the race. Movement is generated from a pack of cards. Each card has the name of one of the four horses on it. The top card is turned over and that horse moves one space. The sequence is continued until one horse crosses the finishing line. `Ante (starting) post bets' can be placed at 3-1. After which seven cards are dealt from the pack and laid face up on the board. Further bets can then be placed at odds which have been amended to reflect the cards which have been dealt out of the pack and that cannot therefore generate any movement during the race. For example, if none of a horse's cards are dealt the odds are even, if one has been dealt the odds are 2-1, moving up to 33-1 if five cards have been dealt. More betting permutations are afforded in the advanced game. The second game of some interest was `Ki-Yo', which was shown in prototype form. A frame, similar to an upside down leafless tree is magnetically suspended from an attractive table light type frame. Each team has to lift a plastic rod onto the `tree', with a different person holding each end of the rod using the tip of one finger -- in order to teach players the ``art of co-operation''. Instead of lifting a new rod onto the tree, players may alternatively move a rod already on the tree from one level to a higher level. However this involves two manoeuvres, off and then back onto the tree. The arrangement of the branches on the tree is deceptive so that it is not always possible to place a rod where you originally intended to put it. To win a player must avoid spilling the rods already placed or making the tree collapse -- which in the end is inevitable.

Finally, `Misfortunes' is the creation of Stephen Johnson, who apparently suffered his own misfortune when he broke 16 bones after being thrown 30 feet through the air onto the middle lane of a motorway by a car travelling on the hard shoulder. In the game Misfortunes each player travels around the board, by dice or by answering `intriguing or funny' questions. When a player lands on a question space, the player may opt for a 1, 2 or 3 move question, a choice which will be partly determined by where the player wishes to land next. Misfortunes has more to offer in the way of tactics than the other question and answer type games encountered at the show and, editor permitting, a fuller review will follow. Misfortunes, by Mason Arch Games, is a another professionally packaged production, retailing at £24.99.

Richard Breese

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Stuart Dagger