Hasbro’s Monopoly News

Hasbro has a lot of Monopoly news this season. First they retired the iron play piece which feels right to me. I’ve never known anyone hollering to be the iron. So here’s the replacement…a cat. If you’re a cat person, I suppose, this will be a great addition. For me, I’ll stick with the doggie.

The new play piece for Monopoly...the cat.

The new play piece for Monopoly…the cat.

Also new for 2013, the Despicable Me 2 (click thru to watch the trailer-it’s really fun) version to coincide with the launch of the movie this July. Comes with off-the-chart cute minion pieces (they had to glue them down at toy fair so that they wouldn’t walk out of the showroom. In the good old days, they would have given us a sample, but I digress). Personally, I’d take any one of the minions over the cat! I like that both versions are classic Monopoly sets where a person, rather than a electronic device, is the banker.

Monopoly Despicable Me2 Version from Hasbro

Monopoly Despicable Me2 Version from Hasbro



Hot Toys on Today Show – Behind the Scenes

This morning we headed back up to the studio to take another shot at talking about Hot Toys of the season. The segment had been bumped on Tuesday.  This time we got into the right car. On Tuesday we had gotten into a car that was headed to the airport -which should have been a signal to us that the rest of the morning was probably not going to go smoothly.

With Joanne (the best biz partner and mother!) outside the studio

We arrive at the Today Show. All was unusually quiet in the green room.   The Duggars had been there on Tuesday–making for a very crowded room!  This time Robert Pattinson was upstairs

Robert Pattinson visits Today Show

…we never got to see him but he certainly draws a crowd outside the studio. I always wonder about the fans that wait overnight to catch a glimpse.  I thought it was fitting that we were there with Mattel’s Monster High Dolls that are really part of the Twilightization of America. Our tween testers, many of whom have not read the books or seen the movies really still love these dolls.

Mattel's Monster High Doll Collection

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about them. They’re so over the top–but I’ve come around. Their focus is on character traits of each monster and how they navigate high school.  It’s less about their body image. I also like that there are boys in the line, and that Mattel participated in an anti-bullying campaign this year with the collection.   I certainly wouldn’t characterize them as beautiful dolls–but they do have a sense of humor that appeals to the 7 & up crowd.

Getting to know Let's Rock Elmo

Many of the kids who were scheduled to be on the segment on Tuesday came back today. We were very grateful to their parents!  We were also joined by some other families who quickly got into the swing of the segment.   I’d always rather do a segment with kids there–it just adds more energy and I think it’s useful to see kids actually playing with the toys we’re talking about.

Right before the segment

For complete reviews of the toys we showed on the segment, visit You can also watch the segment on the Today Show by clicking here.

Natalie Morales, Stephanie Oppenheim and toy testers at the Today Show

One of our favorite testing families!

The Countdown to Disney Pixar’s Cars 2!

I can feel the anticipation for this weekend’s opening of Cars2 from Disney Pixar from our testers in the 3-7 age range. While we haven’t seen the movie yet, we have been busy for the last few weeks taking a look at many of the new Cars2 games and toys.   Videos of all CARS 2 products are also on our youtube channel.

Our testers loved the new LEGO DUPLO sets…The pieces are chunky and satisfying and can be integrated into your existing sets of LEGO DUPLO.











We have also taken a look at all of the new games from HASBRO with the Cars 2 license – now attached to many classic board games.

Here’s what you need to know about each:

Cars 2 Connect 4 – In interest of full disclosure, I love Connect 4.  It’s one of my favorite games for the 6 & up crowd.  A beginning strategy game that kids really like (and their parents don’t mind playing). Sometimes the added license detracts from the game. A few years ago, there was a Sponge Bob Squarepants version that interfered with the utter elegance of this game (where you drop pieces into the grid with the goal of getting four in a row before your opponent). I would not recommend this game for pre-schoolers.  Even for 6s, it’s a game that they need to play several times before they make that leap to being able to think several steps ahead.

Cars2 Connect Four

In this new Cars 2 version, the game play still comes through. Rather than the classic game where the game pieces are red and yellow, you’ll need to place the decals on the play pieces. They become either Mater or Finn. The color scheme of Mater (brown against white) vs. Finn (blue) makes it easy to distinguish the pieces (a plus).  If you don’t have a Connect 4,  and your child is into Cars 2– this wouldn’t be a bad version to buy. In any case, we’d always recommend the classic Connect 4 as part of your game library.

Cars2 Monopoly

Cars 2 Monopoly

Also very well done.  Smartly identifying the younger audience for this movie, this version of Monopoly is closer to Monopoly Jr. — the money is much easier (only one dollar bills).  Our testers loved the way you spin…which you do by moving McQueen around the track that circles  the game board. Instead of Park Place and Boardwalk, the spaces are other characters from the movie.  A well-designed licensed game that integrates the license into classic board game play. This game is appropriately marked 5 & up.  Most younger kids will find the game play frustrating.


Cars 2 Guess Who?

Cars 2 Guess Who?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Guess Who? Here the game play is guessing by process of elimination which character from the movie your opponent has picked. I would say that if you have a super fan of the movie, they will love having all of the characters on the top of the board. It would also be a good travel toy for the car. Not sure I’d make the commitment to taking this one on a plane ride. I don’t think it will have that kind of lasting play value.  Instead of playing by picking out hair color, here you’re asking “Is your car blue?”  It is a game that calls for visual discrimination…it just never grabbed me as overly exciting.


Cars 2 Memory Game

Cars 2 Memory Game

If you have a 3 or 4 year old in the hunt for a Cars 2 game, this is best choice. If you’ve ever played a memory game with a preschooler or early school aged child, you know they have the ability to crush most adults at this type of game.  They’re really great at the short-term memory. I’m not sure why adults tend to lose at these games…are we distracted? Already on the decline in this department?  In any case, this is a particularly clever version of memory that incorporates the theme of Cars 2 into the game play. Once you make a “match”, the cars are placed into the grandstands to watch.  Kudos to the design crew at Hasbro for coming up with this added dimension.  There is also a score board where you are “racing” up to the finish line. Your play piece is a car.  Now our testers thought that the cars should have had working wheels… but it’s still a nice aspect of the game.

Cars 2 Operation is pretty much what you’d expect. Instead of the classic big guy, it’s the character Mater. The board features bed bugs…a sign of the times.

Cars 2 Sorry! Sliders

Cars2 Sorry! Sliders

This one takes a while to put together but once you have the track assembled it’s pretty large. The game play involves “sliding” your piece around the track five times, but watch out your opponents can sometimes slide you backwards. This Candyland aspect (even worse because it’s being done to you) makes this a potentially “heated” game.  Marked for kids 6 & up — but I suspect many of these games will be purchased for younger players. I’d really stay away from this one for 4s and 5s – the slide backwards will likely produce tears.  (Unless they are playing with a parent.) The other problem with this game from my point of view is that the pieces do not fit back in the box unless you take them apart again. If you’re the parent in charge of such tasks you know how annoying this can be…why no make the box that 1/2 inch taller and wider so that the pieces can fit in without taking them apart!

Car 2 Trouble

Car2 Pop-o-matic Trouble

If you liked playing Pop-o-matic Trouble as a kid, you’ll enjoy this version.  The character Mater is in the middle and you “pop” in the center of his vehicle.  I thought it would make a car sound when you popped…like last year’s R2D2 Star Wars Version (my all time favorite).  It was noisy (and more expensive) …so this one is less high tech. The game play remains the same.








And as Forrest Gump would say…that is all I have to say about Cars2 games.

Stephanie behind the scenes at the TODAY Show

Stephanie Oppenheim, Al Roker and Natalie Morales

This morning’s segment was about the’s BEST HIGH TECH TOYS for 2010, the complete list of products is on our site.   If you missed the segment from this morning you can watch it by clicking here.

This morning Joanne and I  were in the upstairs green room. Usually we have so many kids with us that we are in the larger downstairs green room.  As much as upstairs is very dignified, there’s usually a lot more action downstairs. I was down there for hair and make up. Rascal Flatts was getting ready.  I got to see Peter Krause out of the corner of one eye while getting mascara put on. Love his  show Parenthood!

The set seemed strange without my usual ten or twelve kids milling about but since I had a lot of high tech toys we decided to go without kids in the studio. We turned on all the bugs and many of the Hexbug Nanos jumped from their Battle Bridge and ended up on the floor. We had a fun collection of games, bugs, spiders,  a motion activated snake, Crayola Color Studio, and an assortment of video cameras include Barbie Video Girl that seemed to really disturb Al!  I see his point about the placement of Barbie’s camera (on a necklace–on her chest) but our kid testers really liked using this high tech version of Barbie.

Al taking a look at Barbie Video Camera

At the end we did a demo of the hot new KINECT for XBOX 360 from Microsoft.  I was planning on wearing a dress but I was told last night that the sensors might not read my legs in a dress.  There’s nothing like having to pick out an outfit where you know the camera is going to shoot you from behind (every woman’s dream).  So I decided to go Matrix-y – all in black with the highest heeled boots I own!  For the live tease Whitney (from Microsoft PR team) did a demo with me–she did great!  And thankfully Tim (my tech hero this morning) was making sure that the KINECT game was up and running.  Hard to play a game and talk about it as you’re playing I’ve discovered.

Al Roker and Stephanie Oppenheim playing KINECT

Usually after I do one of these segments I remember all the things I didn’t say.  This morning the list includes:  I didn’t mention that you need alot of space to play KINECT so it’s not great for really tiny apartments or dorm rooms.  You need to be about 8 feet back and you also need room to move side to side (or run the risk of really hitting your opponent!).  Als0 – most of the games that have come out for the holiday season are family and action oriented.  So if you’re more of a point/shoot XBOX 360 fan, there aren’t titles for you yet…but suspect they’ll be on their way.  I love playing Rallyball – it’s like Dodgeball but no one gets hurt!  While it’s true that you don’t need to use a controller to play KINECT you will need to know how to use one to set it up initially…(in otherwords, if you’re not comfortable with controllers…you’ll want to get someone who know what they’re doing).  The last thing I forgot to mention is that KINECT has facial recognition so that if you make your own Avatar and you turn it on–it will recognize you. How cool is that?  Also there is voice recognition as well (also pretty Jetson like if you ask me!).  That said…there is a learning curve for selecting games that can seem slow which seems kind of odd since the whole concept is so cutting edge.  Ok…now I’ve said it all!

Bed Bugs- in toyland

Bed Bugs (the game!)

Every time I turn on the tv, there’s a new report of where bug bugs are now…forget tacky hotels, they’re now everywhere it seems (stores, movie theaters).  The old expression “sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite” doesn’t seem like a cute little thing to say to your kids as you turn off the lights.  I’m itchy just thinking about it.

Bed Bugs are also in toyland!  This week I got a new updated version of the classic game Bed Bugs (now from Patch Products). The game was first released by Milton Bradley in 1985.

The game is still fun (if you can get over the current hype about the real bugs).  Comes with a bed that’s just hopping with bed bugs, literally (the bed is motorized so the bugs really do move about). The youngest player calls out a color and then it’s a free for all where all players are trying to get those colored bugs out of the bed with a tong.

Wonder if the current epidemic will help or hurt the sales of this classic game.

A look at the latest in Operation

Shrek Operation

One of my favorite games when I was growing up was Operation.

The Original Operation

Something so pleasing about getting those little pieces out without the buzzer going off!  I’m not really sure how well I did it–but the game remains a fun hazy childhood memory.  It’s probably those memories that always make me perk up at Toy Fair when they unveil the new Operation games of the season. 

Toy Story 3 Operation

So far we’ve received both the Shrek and the Toy Story 3 Versions.  As my son Matthew pointed out this is not the first Shrek Operation — the folks at Hasbro confirmed that there was an earlier version to go with one of the first three movies.  There is also a Buzz Lightyear–you’ll notice that this is the first break from the usual image of one large body image stretched out (a la on an operation table).  You see all of Buzz Lightyear but now he’s in an action pose.  Probably not earth shattering news–but worth noting.  Each of these movie-based versions has you going after appropriately themed pieces accompanied by sound effects that go with their characters.

Watch our VIDEO REVIEW by clicking here.

TODAY Show today…active and fun

Natalie and Stephanie discussing ride-on toysI headed up to the studio this morning with my intern Daniel — after putting toys together for us all semester, I thought it would be fun for him to see the studio and the end result of so many packages, emails and testing. I tried doing my hair this morning–and emerged from the building looking like a bad 1970s “before” picture.  Happily, the hair and make-up people at the show are so terrific, that I knew it was going to be ok.  I think they were even a little shocked by the sheer volume of hair.  Thanks to high def tv, I also think make up takes longer (not to mention that I’m a little older!) than it used to.  It really is amazing what professionals can do.  Everyone emerges from the hair and makeup area a better, more polished version of themselves.

This morning we had about ten kids.  One family has tested for us since their son was born five years ago.  They moved to Hong Kong in between and as I traveled up to the studio I realized that we had never met–so that was fun!  They now have two kids and I’m so happy they’re back from their adventure and can resume testing for us! Other kids were on with me about a year ago–so to see them now as full preschoolers was fun.  A new group joined us – I have to say this was the most well-behaved group of kids in the green room.  Their parents were really careful to hold off on the delicious donuts and cookies until after the segment. Smart move.

The challenge was to show toys and equipment for active play –indoors!  The YBIKES were a hit and disappeared when we went to talk about them–but I think they got camera time later on. The Kazam Balance Bike – also great was on the pedestal–and may have been blocked a little by the fire truck. You really couldn’t see how amazingly high the Sky Balls bounce in the air–or the 3D bubbles…but trust me – there are fun choices this season.

A very polite "excuse me" in the middle of the segment

Half way through the segment one of our testers very politely asked if she could go play in the playhouse…one of those great real live moments…priceless.

Natalie, Finley and the end of the segment

Segment over, chocolate donut enjoyed on the car ride home…a good day!

Taking a look at the indoor Hopscotch Rug from Alex

To read the full article about the toys featured, visit

A rose by any other name…

Old Names, But New Games. One of the trends for the fall is familiar names (Monopoly, Scrabble, Twister, etc.) being used with all new game play.

U Build Monopoly

The new U-Build Monopoly (Parker Brothers $19.99) looks like an interesting concept, you build the board – allowing you to control how long your game will take. But the traditional game board is completely gone.

Scrabble Flash Cubes

Scrabble Flash Cubes (Hasbro $29.99), one of the coolest games we saw at Toy Fair, has electronic cubes that you use to build words, again no board, no little tiles…no double or triple word points. If you’re a purist about Twister and love the smell and feel of that mat, you may feel sad about Twister Hoopla (Hasbro $19.99) -where your body becomes the mat. We’ll have to see how these test with kids and their parents.  All Available Fall 2010.

Brand new. We did find some new innovative games. Konexi (ZimZala Games $24.99) brings the fun of Jenga and word play together. Here you stack letters to create words-but watch out you don’t want the letters to come falling down. We loved the design and feel of this game – can’t wait to test with kids.

Konexi by ZimZala Games

We suggested that they could make one of games younger so that the age range of 10 plus could come down considerably.  Available Fall 2010.

An anti-technology theme. Appealing to parents that would like the playroom to be more “real” – we found even more organic and recycled products than last year.  A new approach  – classic toys that now require no batteries – saving money, another bonus.   We all grew up with Spin Art – one of my all time personal favorites!   Innovative for this year, Crayola will roll out  Crayola Color Twister Spin Art (Crayola $14.99) which uses an air pump to make the platform spin.  Watch our video.

Crayola Color Twister Spin Art

We only got to to see the prototype–but look forward to testing the real toy later this season. Available July 2010.

LEGO RACER with Air Pump

The same “air” technology is now being used to propel certain LEGO RACERS ($12.99/ Available now).

Pure Whimsy.


Sing-a-ma-jigs (Mattel $12.99 each) may turn out to be one of the hottest toys of the season if the real things work as well as the prototypes.  Be sure to watch my video. Each of the dolls will chatter, sing and even harmonize together. To me they look like claymation characters come to life. We look forward to testing these as soon as they are ready.  First collection available May 2010/ more to come for the holidays.

Hexbug Nanos. You either loves these little bugs that come in test tubes…or they’ll  creep you out. I love them. Rolling out right now are habitats that you can put them in.  Our testers enjoyed the portability of these little bugs that go like crazy!  The bugs are each $9.99, the habitat starter set is $19.99. 

Hexbug Nanos in their Habitat

They are to me the tech answer to Zhu Zhu Hamsters. If you’re shopping for that hard to buy for tween, these will be an interesting novelty. Available Now.

May the Force be with you. As a complete Star Wars fan, it makes me so happy that there is a whole new generation falling in love with the saga– thanks to the Clone Wars cartoon.  For my LEGO builders, the Star Wars sets are always the number one request.

LEGO TIE Defender

LEGO has responded with many new models including the TIE Defender ($49.99). This is the Empire’s most advanced fighter, it comes with 304 pieces and includes two action figures. Available Now.

Star Wars Millenium Falcon

We also can’t wait to test, the Star Wars R/C Millennium Falcon (Hasbro $49.99/ Available Fall 2010) – watch our video; the Star Wars AT-AT (Hasbro $99.99/Available August 2010)- a pretty impressive play setting for your own battles against the Empire.

Star Wars AT-AT

It’s more than 2′ tall and 28″  long, comes with LED lights, sounds and phrases from the movie; the Star Wars General Grievous Lightsaber (Hasbro $34.99/Available August 2010) is fun to spin–with double lightsabers that come apart. The lights and sound effects will appeal to Star Wars fans young and old.  Watch our video.

All of these toys will be tested and full reviews will appear on

Related videos:

Our video of Sing-a-ma-jigs

Our video of General Grevious Lightsaber

Our video of the Crayola Color Twist Spin Art

Our video of the Star Wars Millenium Falcon

LOVE Hasbro Games Scrabble Flash Cubes

It was only a prototype (and a buggy prototype at that)…but if it works the way it did during our demo, this promises to be one of the best games for 2010.  Takes the play of Scrabble, Boggle…and marries it with fun technology. Take a look at our video.

Free Game: To Go With Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear?

Chances are you have a copy of Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle’s Polar Bear Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?

Here’s one of the games we recommend in Read It! Play It! with Babies and Toddlers that you play after you share the book with your child.

I Went to the Zoo

Borrow the refrain of “Polar Bear, Polar Bear…” as you pull your child’s toy animals out one at a time. Before long your child will be adding animals as you both say…”I went to the zoo and what did I hear? A little lion growling at me!”

Make a “zoo” for the animals with a collection of shoe boxes or blocks that your child can continue to play with alone.

(from p. 46, Read It! Play It! with Babies and Toddlers)