Toy Fair “Best in Show”
It’s always fun when Toy Fair coincides with the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, since the cast of characters in New York City gets even more interesting (remember the movie Best in Show?). This year, the winning pooch even made a surprise appearance at Toy Fair. Inspired by my encounter with Malachy the Pekingese (who I may or may not have mistaken for a pygmy goat… in fairness, it was from a distance), I present my top picks from Toy Fair 2012 as best of breed and best in show.
Best baby toy
Sort-a-Shape House, by Kid-O
Shape sorters are nothing new, but this one is so fresh and so lovely. The colors are vibrant, and the shapes feel nice and solid and are designed to only go into the correct slots, meaning there’s no fudging allowed. The shiny chrome-eque door adds a nice bit of bling, too.
Best toddler toy
Duplo Creative Sorter
Duplo blocks have always been a favorite of mine, but I loved this new idea. The brick bucket comes with 23 bricks and 3 shape sorting overlays to go on top of the bucket. Each overlay also shows how you can use those sorting bricks to make something fun, like a bird, an elephant or a giraffe.
Best ride-on toy
KaZam balance bike
I was tipped off to this line by the Cool Mom Picks team, and was impressed by what I saw. Wooden balance bikes are still popular, but there’s something nice about the durability of metal. These are made of bike-shop-quality materials and have a patented foot rest to help train children to move their feet towards the center of the bike when in motion (e.g. where the pedals will be someday).
Best musical toy
Musical Touch Soundstation, by Neurosmith
This little device essentially turns a person’s whole body into a musical instrument. It must be done with at least two people, who each touch one of the sensor plates with one finger. Then, when one person touches the other person’s skin, the Soundstation plays music in rhythm to the touch. It’s so interactive, so magical and so, so much fun.
Best educational toy
Alpha Pops, by Learning Resources
This is not a complicated item, but I totally loved it. It’s a set of 26 popsicles that interconnect. Each one is double-sided so all letters of the alphabet are represented in both upper and lower case. It’s recommended for ages 2+, so this is one of those learning toys that will give you a ton of mileage. Get them for your toddler to use for food play and color recognition. As your child grows, these will help with letter recognition, word formation, spelling, early reading, and, of course, make believe. It’s a whole lot of bang for your buck.
Best game – preschool
BBQ Blitz, by Educational Insights
I played this game last night with all three of my kids and everyone loved it. The inside of the box looks like a grill, and all the burgers and buns go on the grill. Then, each player uses a spatula to flip the burgers and find their matching condiment, then move it to their plate and cover it with a bun. The first player to finish all four burgers wins the round. It’s fast-paced, simple to grasp and lots of fun to play.
Best game – solitaire
Turnstile, by ThinkFun
This logic maze challenges players to navigate each piece to its proper corner of the board through a series of revolving turnstiles. As with all solitaire puzzle games, the levels range from fairly simple to extremely difficult. These sorts of logic puzzles are very popular as apps for i-devices, but ThinkFun did a great job of making the game pieces and the turnstiles so much fun to touch and manipulate that it’s hard to imagine wanting to trade the real thing for a swipe of the finger.
Best game – cards
Shrimp Cocktail, by Blue Orange Games
This was a tough category, since we saw a lot of really exciting new card games at Toy Fair this year. But Shrimp Cocktail won me over with a combination of great game play and hilarious Canadian shrimp. The squeaky starfish goes in the middle of the playing area. Then, shrimp cards are played to three different fishing “zones” on the table. When you spot a match, by any one of four different attributes (size, quantity, color and origin) you rush to squeak the starfish and grab the cards. Like their hit game Spot It, Shrimp Cocktail is equally challenging for adults and children, so you can play competitively against your kids… and lose.
Best game – family
Telestrations, by USAopoly
Strictly speaking, this game isn’t brand new – it came out in 2011. But it is absolutely the best new family game we played at Toy Fair. It’s a combination of the old-fashioned game of telephone and Pictionary. Each player starts with a sketchbook, a dry-erase pen and a card with several common words and phrases. A roll of the dice determines which word/phrase each person will begin with. Then, each player has 60 seconds to make a drawing that will represent his or her assigned word or phrase. Once finished, all players pass their sketchbooks to the left, and try to guess from their neighbors’ drawing what the original word or phrase was. After everyone has recorded a guess, the books are passed again and the next person looks only at the previous person’s guess (not the original sketch) and tries to draw it. And on it goes until the sketchbooks end up back with the people who started them. Then everyone reveals how the original word or phrase evolved (or didn’t).
This is the best family game I’ve played in a long time. It is ideal to play with lots of people (6 or more), and although the box says the game is for ages 12+, this is due to the included dry-erase pens and safety standards. My 7-year-old plays this game very well, and while Telestrations is great with a group of adults, I actually prefer playing with kids, since they always make the outcome a lot funnier.
Best game – strategy
Nowhere to Go, by Educational Insights
Two spies start on opposite sides of the board and the goal is not to get trapped. You can move as far as you want each turn, and after each move, you place a blocker down on the board, ostensibly to try to trap your opponent. This game is very strategic, very easy to learn and play, and it’s got a really unique, retro look that will appeal to kids and parents alike.
Best game – collaborative
Race to the Treasure, by Peaceable Kingdom Press
I’ll admit, I wasn’t always a fan of collaborative games, since I think that winning and losing are what really attracts children to games. But one of my children is extremely competitive and has a hard time playing games because she hates to lose. A great collaborative game teams up the players vs. the game itself, and Race to the Treasure does just that. You need to build your path through the forest collecting keys and navigating to the treasure chest, all before the ogre gets there first.
Best construction toy
EdToy Magnetic Blocks, by Manhattan Toy
This new line of magnetic construction has a really unique, patented feature: The magnets used to connect the blocks will swivel, so polarity is never an issue. Any two blocks will attach and rotate with a satisfying clicking sound. EdToy is a Korean company, and Manhattan Toy has just started distribution of these in the United States. Their Magnamobiles are already in stores, and additional products, like translucent plastic blocks and dinosaurs are coming very soon. I expect these will be a big hit.
Best science kit
Candy Chemistry, by Thames & Kosmos
I can’t think of a better way to attract children to studying chemistry than by adding some sugar to the mix (as I write this, my 7yo is watching, wide-eyed, over my shoulder). This kit has enough materials for 25 different “experiments” (using safe ingredients from your kitchen) and a 48-page full-color guide that provides clear instructions and explanations.
Best craft kit
Make Your Own Snow Globe, by Seedling
Seedling is a New Zealand company that makes gorgeous craft kits, assembled of locally-sourced materials and packaged with great attention to environmental impact. They are pricey, but that’s a reflection of the quality of the product. Any number of their products could’ve taken this title, but these new Make Your Own Snow Globe kits are especially lovely and unique. We’ve attempted to make our own snow globes before and it was an unmitigated disaster, so I’m particularly glad see an option that would end with an actual snow globe rather than a mess of glitter, hot glue and water.
Best eco-friendly toy
Plan Toys, based in Thailand, is already globally recognized as one of the most eco-conscious manufacturers. They use rubberwood, a byproduct of the natural rubber industry, to make their colorful wooden toys. They use non-toxic dyes and glues to finish and assemble their products. Their plants use alternative energy. They use recycled and recyclable materials and soy- or water-based inks in all their packaging. But they’ve really kicked it up a notch for 2012. Using the sawdust generated from making their wooden toys, they have created a new wood composite material they are calling PlanWood. It’s dishwasher-safe, less expensive and even more ecologically responsible to manufacture. They are using PlanWood to make some of their most popular items available at a lower price point.
Best toy on wheels
SpinBall Racers, by Kid Galaxy
These itty bitty cars were designed by the same person who worked on Micro Machines in the 80’s and 90’s. But unlike Micro Machines, which don’t move particularly well due to the small size of their wheels, SpinBall Racers are fast, due to a spinning ball incorporated into the bottom of each car. They can be collected, launched and raced. I think kids will be really attracted to the tiny size and the great designs.
Best tween toy
Color Rox Hair Chox, by Fashion Angels
This temporary hair coloring is easy to apply and easy to remove (it comes right off with water). Kids will love it and parents will be happy to give them an option for changing their look that isn’t permanent.
Best new Playmobil set
This new Playmobil series is coming out this summer, and is part of their Future Planet line, which will feature the good-guy E-Rangers vs. the bad-guy Dark Rangers. The Headquarters is a very cool set that includes lots of futuristic details and even a solar panel that actually powers the fan built in to the roof of the building.
Best new Lego set
This was also a tough call, since the Lego booth was jam packed with cool sets. But I was most drawn to the new Super Heroes line, which features familiar characters from both DC and Marvel Comics. Kids can assemble the action figures, which are all fully articulated, and then play with them. As they collect more characters, they can mix and match in creative ways.
Best Tech Toy
Game Changer, by Identity Games
This accessory turns your iPad into a board game with a touch-sensitive game board surrounding the screen. There are two game overlays included in the box, and more are said to be coming soon. There were a lot of technology integrations at Toy Fair this year, but this one was both fun and social, since the games can be played with up to four people. I liked how the board “knew” if you moved your piece too many spots (or too few), and the trivia questions in the Magic School Bus game were fun and educational.
And…. Best in show
Begin Again Toys
Founded by the same team who started Sprig Toys and then sold it to Wham-O, Begin Again Toys is aptly named. It is a fresh start for these designers, who are passionate about creating great playthings in an environmentally responsible way. They’ve already acquired Imagability, a line of gorgeous (yet poorly packaged) wooden puzzles, and they are revamping and revitalizing that line, adding new packaging that will make it far easier for toy stores to merchandise and sell them. But they are also designing a bunch of fun, quirky new toys using high-quality, sustainable materials and a great sense of humor. We can’t wait to see where this company goes next.