By Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop
We play lots of games in our family. One of my fondest (and at the same time irritating) memories is of my father always winning at Clue. How did he always know? I now "deduce" it's because he understood the deduction strategy better than my siblings and I did. Today, we carry a lively mix of games at Blue Willow Bookshop: games for all ages -- single player logic games, group games, and everything in between. So off we (the sisters and I) went to the New York Toy Fair to find the next big game. We each have a competitive streak so the gloves came off when we started sampling the games.
At the Javits Convention Center, the booths were similar to the booths at BookExpo America, with the larger companies commanding the fancy booths with all the bells and whistles, while the smaller companies were trying desperately to catch your eye. Higher-priced items were stacked to the ceiling, while one guy from Massachusetts plied his one game with a little wire rack from IKEA. The BEA rule about rolling carts should be instituted here: I was run down by one within the first five minutes. I started to think that it was going to be a very dangerous three days, but BEA-size crowds never quite materialized. I'm not sure if it's the economy or that these companies don't have as many employees as publishers do. But they bring everyone to help sell -- I talked to people from product development to sales to shipping to human resources.
It only took a few booths and some fast game playing to figure out some overall trends for new board games. The first (which we started to see last year) is that every company has a game that encourages family and friend conversation. According to the game experts, nobody talks anymore. Our favorites included Kubit2me, a soft cube that's a 'tween-friendly truth-or-dare game without the more teenage snarkiness. A Bit of Banter from Family Games, Inc. will also get the kids talking. For smaller shops, Family Games carries a full line of strategy, educational, and logic games, which helps when you don't want to open accounts with multiple vendors.
The other big trend in board games seems to be physical action. Not only are we not talking, we apparently are not moving either. These games ranged from the absurd (one in which you were to run upstairs to your father's closet and remove his ties -- not in our house, buster!) to one we did buy, Stumblebum from Big E Toys, an updated version of charades, which requires the enactor of the clue to perform some distracting feat while trying to get his or her team to guess the clues. (Very, very funny watching Big E staffers -- these gamers have no shame. They are all really big kids at heart.)
Our friends from Bananagrams , our biggest selling game of 2007, were there, too. They also plan to be at BookExpo. Other old friends include McNeil Designs' You've Been Sentenced and Set Games (with a new multidimensional version that we can't wait to sell).
And in a bow to current trends, everyone was trying very hard to be "green." This was a lot harder for the plastic toy makers, but there were many eco-friendly plush animals to choose from, although the prices are higher for these than conventional ones. On a darker note, I counted at least six booths offering a machine or a service that would detect lead in toys, and these were being marketed to both manufacturers and retailers.
While we didn't spot them while we were on the floor, we learned that authors were on hand. Jane O'Connor was in the Madame Alexander booth signing her books to go with the new Fancy Nancy doll (very posh), and Mo Willems signed plush pigeons in the YoTToy booth. For true book and game marriages, we found Briarpatch's booth, which featured Fancy Nancy games and puzzles.
We returned to Texas with new games for family and friends. And a new appreciation for everything that goes into that little game section in the corner.
Valerie Koehler is the owner of Houston's Blue Willow Bookshop, a 12-year-old, 1,400-square-foot store with a peaceful, small-town atmosphere and a committed staff offering personal attention, in-store workshops for librarians, year-round activities for kids, and help for dozens of book clubs.