When I arrived back here at Rock Father HQ late Saturday night, I was beat-tired from a day that started at 5:30am, and found my family in Chicago by 8, out in the Western ‘Burbs in the afternoon, and back up North just in-time for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (which underwhelmed). After getting things started at the playCHIC Fashion Show on Thursday night, the Chicago Toy & Game Fair – the largest event of it’s kind in the U.S. that’s open to the public – welcomed families this weekend, and despite my fatigue, I was tempted to share some thoughts right away when we got home. The one thing that actually made me decide to do the sensible thing and go to bed before midnight (probably the first time that’s happened in nearly a year) was the fact that a lot of folks who might want to read those thoughts were probably still at the ChiTagFair, and I’d already been all over the social nets with live posts. That said, it was a great event this year – my second (read about last year) – and unlike last, I actually had my little ones with me this time around.
Arriving at Navy Pier early for a media/blogger breakfast, it didn’t take long to start seeing some familiar faces in the crowd – some I’ve met in-person previously, and others who I’d only been acquainted with through social networks. Within minutes, I’d connected with Jeff Bogle of Out With the Kids, and my friend John Joyce of the band POOCHAMUNGAS (and budding Blogger). Later I’d find Chris Nichols of Rated 4 And Up, Victor Aragon of FanDads, and Eric Bennion aka DiaryDad. Not a Dad, but I also have to give a shout-out to VasTheStampede of Nerf/Blaster Blog Foam From Above. I also saw a TON of folks in passing, and hope we can catch up somewhere down the road.
The breakfast felt like it flew by this year, with an introduction from Mary Couzin, the CEO and Founder of the Chicago Toy & Game Group and an introduction to things like Spin Master Toys‘ Tenkai Knights and it’s shape-shifting brick-to-figure army that’s compatible with brands like MEGA Bloks, KRE-O, and LEGO. While Tenkai Knights were a big push – and a popular line with kids this weekend – what wasn’t really mentioned is how the building category is on fire right now. Everyone wants in on that action, and the ‘Knights are the latest force vying for space in those aisles.
We ran into Miss Lori, who has been a familiar face to Addie through her frequent appearances on WTTW 11 and related events here in the Chicago area. They first met what seems like a lifetime ago (like, two years), and at ChiTagFair, little one just had to be silly. That’s just what she does.
As an observer, I think the show itself was bigger than last in terms of exhibitors and floorspace, and Saturday attendance appeared to be up as well. As I’ve noted previously, while “Toy” might be the first word in the sequence, the Chicago Toy & Game Fair has roots in the game world, and as such skews heavily in that direction. I’m more of a toy guy myself, but that hardly has an effect on the enjoyment.
THE ROCK FATHER’s PICKS for THE BEST OF 2013 from THE CHICAGO TOY & GAME FAIR:
Razor Crazy Cart by Razor Worldwide
Recommended for Ages 9+, this electric go-cart offers riders a full range of directional control at speeds of up to 12mph! It can drift, spin, slide, or just go forward and reverse. Inventor Ali Kermani was on-hand to guide the test-drive experience, which had potential riders and their grownups waiting in line for a shot at glory. If you’ve read this site at all in the past, there’s a pretty good chance you know that I have two little speed-demon daughters. So what did I do when a rep from Razor doubted that four-year-old Addie could handle the Crazy Cart… even assuming that she couldn’t reach the pedals? Double-check the pedal reach, sign the waiver and strap her in and helmet-up. After a few seconds to get a feel for things, she pretty much owned it. And there was also a question of whether Addie’s “frame” would allow the Crazy Cart to spin and drift properly. Question answered:
The Razor Crazy Cart is currently a Toys “R” Us Exclusive retailing for $400, though it was recently on-sale for $350.
BATTROBORG and CHUGGINGTON by TOMY
Battroborg has already been featured in-detail here on The Rock Father as an entry into my 2013 Holiday Gift Guide. While the $80 (suggested retail) Motion Controlled Battling Robots set has some mixed reactions among some grownups I know, it’s a big hit with the kids, and that’s what really matters. Not only did my own daughter stop by to battle a couple of rounds, but the TOMY booth was busy all day with families looking for a chance to “settle the score.” Watch for these on-sale, as you can find the 3-in-1 Battle Arena significantly cheaper than list price at many retailers.
TOMY’s Chuggington line is one that we don’t have any of here at Rock Father HQ, but it’s a collection that my kids love whenever they come across it (we went through a CHUGGINGTON phase some months back, DVR-ing the series for a bit). I’d love to see Chuggington face off against Thomas the Tank Engine sometime, if only because Chuggington would be the supreme victor. No one that takes orders from Sir Topham Hatt is to be trusted, but when you factor in the awesome Chuggington play table and the impressive Stack Tracks, it’s clear who the superior train is, and my kids get it.
HABA USA assorted toys by Haba
Made in Germany (which I appreciate, having German roots), HABA produces a lot of toys and games that are imported here by HABA USA. Touting their line as “Inventive Playthings for Inquisitive Minds,” the folks at HABA were showing off a few items that caught the attention of my family. Their PIRATES’ BLAST game (Ages 6+) was quick to attract little Addie, while the SLEEPY PRINCESS AND THE PEA game (Ages 3-5) caught my wife. What they had at their booth was just a tiny little fraction of what they offer, and from toys & games to outdoor play, ride-ons and even kitchen items, HABA is well-worth checking out.
Spawned from a simple idea that had them intended to wrap around something like a can or bottle, Bendie Buddies are an all-new line of collectible plush animals that are poseable and can be placed almost anywhere. With bendie arms and legs, their hands and feet are magnetic, so kids (and adults) can put them on a backpack, their arms, you name it. Ours wound-up hanging from the stair railings this weekend. While the first assortment is “a new take on a barrel of monkeys,” future characters are planned and were on display at the show. A local start-up here in Illinois, I’m happy to show my support. These are so new, that the only way to get them right now is via their official website.
I have always admired Plan Toys, despite it being another example of a toy line that we’ve yet to purchase from here at home. Their sustainable wooden toys are both contemporary and classic, and every time we’ve come across them, the kids are impressed. The Plan Toys spread at ChiTAGfair was a busy spot, and one that was hard to pull my kids away from.
We were surprised to find BROBO and his Shine Force crew at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair. In fact, I’d just featured Brobo in my Holiday Gift Guide last week, and we’ve had a couple of them here for over six months now. Judging from the booth this weekend, kids LOVE Brobo. Check out my full review here, then get them direct at Brobo.com
Noochie Golf won’t be released publicly until sometime next year, but my kids loved the idea of an indoor miniature golf set-up with interlocking, interchangeable pieces. For me, a guy that played three years of High School Golf (yep, it happened) and doesn’t hit the links much these days, I like the idea of having a little putt-putt here at home. Once upon a time, we looked at a house that had a sort of permanent version of this built into it’s basement, and I though that was the coolest thing ever. Keep your eye on the Noochie Golf site for updates.
Assorted Scooters and Bikes from Kickboard USA.
The children’s scooters from Kickboard USA were getting major play this weekend. With styles available for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-aged kids (and beyond), these transforming rides made a big impression on my own kids, and should do the same for yours.
PLANET SOCK MONKEY by Patch Products
Sock Monkeys have been done to death over the years (I even used to have a hand in a 1990s outfit called “Sock Monkey Records”) but once in awhile, something comes along and makes them fresh again. With Planet Sock Monkey, it’s Magenta Beetsch, a “tough as nails punk rock drummer” that’s “passionate about her tattoo art.” According to the ladies at the Planet Sock Monkey booth, Magenta had previously never danced as much as she did while being played with by Addie. Available here.
NEOS 360 by Playworld Systems
At $27,300, the NEOS 360 is not something for home use (unless you’re wealthy, in which case – go for it!), but a cool new piece of playground equipment from Playworld Systems’ NEOS line. Bringing some electronic elements of video gaming into the physical realm, this is a fantastic tool to get kids engaged and moving outside.
Too many devices, not enough active play, and the NEOS 360 aims to help change that. Learn more at http://www.playneos.com
FLOPPETS by Zydeco Studios
A repeat entry from 2012, Floppets are collectible little characters (and logos and such) that can connect to almost anything, and each other. We have a bunch of them here at HQ, and have even given them as gifts in the past. Last year, the Floppets folks crafted a special 10th Anniversary ChiTagfair edition, and this year they followed it up with the ChiTagfair logo. Another local company, it was nice to see Ilyse and the crew once more, and Addie got hooked-up with a couple new Floppets of her own.
Other hits include: TOP TRUMPS (licensed card games featuring STAR WARS, DOCTOR WHO, DC COMICS, HARRY POTTER, and more), Patch Products’ MIRARI music line, RING SWINGS (a new kind of tire swing), and Goliath Games’ Stick Storm.
THE WORST of the 2013 CHICAGO TOY & GAME FAIR:
Pretty much any Kids Game from Goliath Games
While Goliath Games has a couple of decent brands like the previously-mentioned Stick Storm and Domino Rally (I had the Pressman version back in the 80s), their Kids Games category has rubbed me the wrong way since last year. My opinion is hardly popular as they have some real best-sellers in their lineup, but the gross-out appeal is lost on me, and I pulled my little ones away from their POP THE PIG display. With games about an overeating swine, a pooping dog (DOGGIE DOO), and picking someone’s nose (GOOEY LOUIE), I fully expect DIARRHEA DAVE and PISSING PETE to be ready for Holiday 2014. I mean, where else can they go?
HONOR KIDS by Honorgens Toys Limited
Being “The Rock Father,” a booth filled with musical toys seems like something I’d want to take a look at. Essentially, these electronic, musical instrument-shaped and inspired lines like “Rock Star,” “Light Up Jammer,” and “Music Palace” caught my eye – but there was no way to get a good look at them. The reason? On the first couple of passes, there was no one manning the Honor Kids booth (it was blocked off with a pair of chairs), and when a staffer finally arrived, there was no engagement whatsoever. Nothing worse that attending an event like this to encounter non-responsive representatives at a booth (and sadly, the Honorgens folks weren’t the only ones). If you can’t even say “hello” (and really, you should be greeting EVERY person that stops by), you don’t deserve any business. I did manage to snag a brochure, and their offerings look pretty cheesy. Additionally, the listed website is non-existent. What does work? Their Tripod site from 1999. I had no idea that Tripod still had functioning servers.
The 2013 Chicago Toy & Game Fair once again impressed, with a reasonably-priced family event that offered more than last year. For 2014 it would be nice to see some more of the “big guns” have a presence – outfits like Mattel, Hasbro, MEGA Brands, etc., but with the ChiTAGfair coming just three months before the massive, industry-only New York International Toy Fair in February, I understand that’s more wishful thinking than anything. Beyond just checking out some great products, there’s a lot of activities attached to ChiTAGfair that we haven’t attended but I hear great things about – the STAR WARS lunch, Young Inventor Challenge, World’s Largest Playdate, and more. I expect that next year will take things even further, with continued growth. Keep your eyes on http://www.chitagfair.com for updates.