The Chicago Toy and Game Fair was really jumping this year. The exhibit space was the same size as last year, but it was more crowded with exhibitors, and absolutely packed with people. During my walk-through to check out the fair, I had several moments where I found myself in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. Kids were absolutely everywhere, playing, building, laughing, driving... And I saw more than a couple adults standing back and watching, wearing that fondly exhausted expression that all parents know.
Enough about the fair, though. It's time to get to the games!
I don't usually spend too much time with building block type things, because, let's face it, most of us have enough. There were two things that caught my eye, however. The first was Clix, by Ohio Arts. These plastic rectangles snap together with an ingenious little hinge mechanism on the edge. What makes it ingenious? The hinge. Once they're connected, they can swing back and forth, opening up all sorts of building opportunities. The hinged connections is pretty secure, too. They don't fall apart while you're building.
The other building-type toy that deserves mention is BrickStix, little peel off stickers that you can use to decorate your Lego (or other plastic block) buildings. There's not too much more to be said about these, except that they're super-cool. They probably wouldn't last too long in a classroom, but if you know any little builders, you can't go wrong with this one.
Perplexus, by Plasmart, is an incredible toy. Imagine a clear ball with complicated plastic pathways twisting around inside it. The goal is to start the little metal ball on one end of the pathway, and twist and tilt and turn the Perplexus, guiding the metal ball along the path to its end. It's the three-dimensionality that makes this game a show stopper. The paths aren't all oriented in the same direction, so you have to rotate the Perplexus to keep the ball in its path. It's a puzzle that challenges you both logically and physically.
Another impressive game dealing with visualization and spatial reasoning was Quadefy, by Maranda. Quadefy is a beautiful three-dimensional wooden game, the kind you'd like to leave out on your desk. In it, players take turns placing blocks of different shapes. Force your opponent to place a block so that a portion of it juts outside the play space and you win.
Staying for the moment with the areas of spatial reasoning and visualization, another great game is Swish, by ThinkFun. This game features transparent cards (something I've never seen before), each with a dot and a circle on it. You lay the cards in a grid between the players. The first person to see a way to stack two or more cards so that every dot is inside a circle calls out Swish, and then stacks the cards to prove it. If you're right, you keep the cards (which are points). It's fast and fun, and a real thinker.
Another game that hones the reactions is Befuzzled, by Fun-Q. In this one, challenge cards are covered by symbol cards so that all but the titles of the challenge cards are covered. One player draws a symbol card from the deck, and reveals it. The other players race to first find which challenge is covered by the matching symbol, and then perform that challenge. The challenges I saw were fun things like “Say Arr like a Pirate,” making the game a lot of fun. From an educational perspective, this one would give anyone a boost with things like attention span and focus and paying attention and thinking quickly.
Another fast reaction game is Kabam, a word-building game by Educational Insights. In this one, two letter cards are revealed. The first player to shout out a word that uses those letter cards (in any order) gets the hand. One of hand we had when I played featured the cards “NT” and “U”. I called out “runt” to take it. Actually, I called out “nut” first, but that broke up the N and T so wasn't a valid answer. It was easy to understand and fun, and would be (I think) particularly great with first or second graders.
Winning the category of things that aren't either games or toys is DoodleRoll. It's a six inch high roll of paper, with crayons attached. You unroll as much as you like (up to the full thirty feet) and start drawing. Even as I write this description, I realize that I'm not doing this item justice. Go to their web site, get the little one (15 feet for $3.99), and hand it to your kids (or place it in your classroom). I guarantee you'll be back to get another one. I talked to the owner, and he said they do have classroom packs available.
In the probably-too-expensive-for-the-classroom category, there is Chatterback. It's got something I've never seen in a game before: a voice recorder. You look at a clue (which appears to be just nonsense syllables) and guess what it will sound like when it is played backwards. Then you read the clue into the voice recorder and listen to it get played backwards.
There were so many great games at ChiTAG this year, that I feel like I could keep just writing and writing and writing. Instead, let me end with a quick list of items I didn't fit in.
- X-ceter-o: I loved this game. It's Tic-Tac-Toe with an additional strategy element, but that doesn't do it justice. Kim reviewed this one here, so go read what she had to say about it.
- PowerTrip by Epik is another game that you simply have to see, and one that I'm hoping to do a review of in a future issue. Don't wait for that, though. This game is flat-out fun, pure and simple.
- The Parli-cards series of games. I wish I'd gotten a chance to play one of these. They teach politics and the language of politics, and looked extremely interesting.
- Oversight: Same thing with Oversight. I'm a fan of Griddly Games (Reisa writes for this newsletter), so it's weird that I didn't get a chance to play her newest game. I didn't, though, so I can't write too much about this one. Go check out their web site. I'm sure this one is great!
- Hike: This card game mixes beautiful artwork with a fun matching mechanic. Be the first one to get rid of all their cards wins. It's for ages 7+, and mixes in all sorts of environmental and ecological lessons.
Let me close by saying ChiTAG this year was an amazing show. It just gets bigger and better every year, with tons to do. I can't wait to come back!
In addition to being the editor and web guy for Games for Educators, Patrick Matthews writes stories, 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.