This weekend, the Chicago Toy & Game Group brought the 12th Annual Chicago Toy & Game Fair to Navy Pier, and for the third year in a row, THE ROCK FATHER was there to cover it. The only show of it’s kind that’s open to the public in addition to members of the toy and game trade, #ChiTAGFair or simply #ChiTAG serves as an unofficial kick-off to the Holiday season here in Chicago – a tradition that offers families a first-hand chance to check out a wide array of new offerings hands-on, from some of the season’s hottest toys, to some of the newest and most “out there” games. While my first two experiences at ChiTAG had been good, and the show had impressed, I left last year thinking that the show was skewing too “game” for my liking, ignoring that “toy” is the first part of it’s name. Knowing that many of the organizers have deep roots in the gaming community, that wasn’t really a surprise, but for my own interests (big on toys, light on games) I was hoping to see a little more balance this year… and the Chicago Toy & Game Fair crew did a fantastic job in bringing together some old friends and new favorites to delight families for two days of pre-Holiday fun. Check out my picks for this year’s #ChiTAGFair all-stars below!
Spin Master Toys: ChiTAG really needed a solid toy company to come out swinging, and Spin Master rolled into Chicago with some heavy hitters… really heavy ones, including a full-size “living” T-Rex (on loan from Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live) to help promote their Zoomer Dino, already named one of this year’s Hottest Toys in my 2014 Holiday Wish Guide (read my hands-on experience with it here).
But this prehistoric cousin to the famed Zoomer Pups wasn’t alone at the Spin Master booth, as they brought with them a full assortment of toys from Nickelodeon’s PAW PATROL (a huge hit with Little Finley, and we ended up buying two of them) for kids to play with, along with Kinetic Sand, Sew Cool (Addie made a little pillow), Air Hogs (the Zero Gravity Laser Racer rocks), Meccano/Erector (whom they’ve acquired and returned to their metallic roots), HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and three more of 2014’s Hot Holiday Toys – Chatsters (our Gabby review is coming soon), Flutterbye Fairies and DigiBirds (which “Santa” may have purchased a pair of that I know nothing about). Learn more: http://www.spinmaster.com/
Lille Huset: Norwegian for “little house,” these customizable paper craft houses could be considered doll houses or whatever kind of house you’d like them to be. Designed and made by Grow Studio of Chicago and proudly MADE IN THE USA, these adorable structures come in a variety of sizes, each completely customizable and with plenty of accessories available. Better yet, the creativity continues well beyond the initial build (a great kid-parent project), with free downloadables available on their website, including holiday packs and new add-ons. Just print ’em, break out the scissors and let the imagination flow. It’s timeless paper doll play infused with the “maker” mentality that’s really pushing paper craft projects into the mainstream. I bought six of these (three for my girls, three for gifts), and owner Alyson Beaton cut me a little deal (giving props where due). I’ll be showing these in-depth at some point in the near future. Buy: http://www.lillehusetshop.com/
HEXBUG and Circuit Boards: We have some HEXBUGs here, and if you think these are just for boys – think again. These robots have been increasing in popularity over these past few years, now available in countless varieties – from the original micro robots to large Vex Ants and Battle Spiders, they recently made a splash with the Aquabot line, and now they’ve partnered with legendary pro skateboarder TONY HAWK for Circuit Boards. These remote control robotic finger boards are pretty sweet, and while five-year-old Addie had some fun with them, my wife pegged it when she said, “Your action figures will end up riding these.” Yep, she might’ve been onto something…
Floppets: Three years covering the show, and the third time I’ve mentioned Floppets. Run by some super-nice locals here in the Chicagoland area, Floppets are wearable, connectable, collectable charms that “Go ‘Wear’ YOU Go”! While their initial assortments were original or seasonal designs, they’ve broken into mass retail with new collections based on MARVEL Comics Superheroes, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Disney Princess and a little film you might’ve heard of called FROZEN. We bought Anna, Elsa and Minnie Mouse this time around. Learn more: http://www.floppets.com/
Battat: A surprising find to run across at ChiTAG, Battat produces some wonderful lines of toys that are made available exclusively through Target stores. In fact, we have several here already, like the Cat Piano and Wheeee-ls! cars from B. toys.
They’re also the folks behind the Our Generation line of 18″ dolls and accessories, Li’l Woodzeez and more. The girls could’ve easily spent all day at the Battat booth, and neither wanted to leave. Learn more: http://battatco.com/
Jazwares: Another surprise was running into the crew from Jazwares, who I had no idea would be exhibiting this weekend. Their Blueprints line of paper craft playsets just launched and is already in my 2014 Holiday Wish Guide with their TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES collection, and their flick-to-stick Bungees were reviewed here on the site earlier this year. While they were showing off those lines at the booth, they’ve also got the new goodies from Minecraft, Chuck & Friends, MARVEL and STAR WARS in the pipeline. Their new NBA Heroes action figures have also just hit the streets. Learn more: http://jazwares.com/
Brickstuff – Lighting System for LEGO Bricks: – We’ve been getting more and more into LEGO these days, along with compatible products such as MEGA BLOKS (DESPICABLE ME sets, coming soon!) and Kre-O. One thing I never considered was lighting the sets, but now the wheels are turning, and it’s all thanks to Brickstuff. Using some super-micro LED technology, Brickstuff has an incredible assortment of lighting kits available that can transform the look of nearly any brick or block project. Having just built the LEGO GHOSTBUSTERS Ecto-1 last month (the girls bought me one for my birthday), I’d really like to see it like this…
Educational Insights: With a huge assortment of toys and games available for both the home and the classroom, the Educational Insights catalog is always something that I enjoy browsing. We have some of their toys here, like the Puppet on a Stick, and the ever-popular No-mess Play Foam (which the girls will get more of for Christmas). This year, their Dino Construction Company is a big hit, and we fell into an interesting opportunity – Addie was asked to do a little photo shoot with their T-TOP! Triceratops Bulldozer and the T-Rex from Spin Master (see above). Why do I do what I do? To create moments like this for my girls…
Thrash Can and Cheap Shot Chair: I know a little something about wrestling (I’m actually a WWE Brand Ambassador), so when Wisconsin-based Great Minds hit my radar with their inflatable Thrash Can and Cheap Shot Chair, I was intrigued. They’re a fun accessory that could go well with the Rumble Fists & Spar Bags that Tech4Kids produces. Maybe there’s a licensing opportunity there somewhere, but as I told owner Kurt Lychwick, the price point needs to come down. Available at: http://www.g-minds.net/
Peaceable Kingdom – Jean Tats: Described as “a fun, easy way for kids to decorate their denim with temporary tattoos,” it was my wife and girls that spotted these and had me breaking open the wallet. These are really cool, and work really well. The tattoos apply in seconds and come off in a normal cycle in the washing machine. Buy: http://www.peaceablekingdom.com/
Razor Worldwide – Crazy Cart XL: Backing up to last year, Razor’s Crazy Cart stole the show at ChiTAG, and went on to win at Toy Fair as well. Above all, it won the heart of my Addie, who is still technically younger than the recommended age range for the drift cart. She handled the cart like a pro, and even ended up appearing in a promo image on the Razor Instagram page.
So fast-forward twelve months and what happens? The Crazy Cart spawned a grownup-sized version, and the prototype was at ChiTAGFair. Available exclusively through RAZOR.com and ToysRUs.com, it’s no longer “a toy,” and is coming out of a pilot run with just 1,600 pieces being produced for a retail of $799. I took it for a hands-on spin, and after giving the PR director a scare with a choppy start (sorry, Edith) I gave it a good go. I just wish I’d had a bigger track to try it on for full drifting goodness…
https://instagram.com/p/vuSe2Kx-tX/” style=” color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;” target=”_top”>#ChiTAGFair: hands-on with the @razorworldwide #CrazyCartXL. Only 1600 in batch one, available in December from Razor.com & @toysrus. #ChiTAG #toys #drifting #gokarts #karting #racing
BERG Toys: I have long admired BERG Toys‘ ride-on pedal vehicles from afar, but this weekend I finally got the chance not only to see them and let my girls experience them first-hand, but to try them myself. When I was a kid, I had a pair of pedal cars – one that looked sort of like an IndyCar, the other more of an off-road version with Road Runner on it that we bought from a cousin. This weekend, I felt that same joy once more as I spun through Navy Pier on a couple of grownup-sized BERGs, one of which had an optional child seat on the back. With some stellar offerings inspired and licensed by Ferrari (I’ve driven the real thing), Ford and John Deere, there’s something for everyone, and I am seriously considering a BERG pedal go-kart for my next ride instead of buying a new bike. My wife and the girls also got to try out an assortment of vehicles, and Addie took to the track for a race piloting a stylish pink-and-white model.
For more on the Chicago Toy & Game Fair, check out their official site and stay tuned for details on the 2015 show.