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



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.

behind the scenes at the Today Show

Stephanie practicing her bird calling technique

So I was preoccupied this morning with demonstrating the bird calling whistles for Backyard Safari. One requires filling it with water–it makes the BEST noise, but it does drip and if you don’t have the right amount of water in it–it just doesn’t do its thing. Ali took video of me practicing. Click here.

If you missed the segment this morning you can watch it by clicking here. I did the segment with Ann–we got through a lot of products…but I didn’t get to say everything I wanted to about all of read the article and the reviews of the products featured  – it’s all on our website:


The Hunt for the Perfect Travel Games

The sun has come out…finally. The temperature is above 45 degrees…so in toyland, this means travel toys!  We just got a whole slew of familiar games that have been shrunken.  Mad Gab..I’ve never quite gotten this game.   You read a card that may say Estates In it Her…and from that you’re supposed to guess A State Senator. I can never guess what they’re talking about and each time someone tells me the answer, I always say “oh”…it makes me feel really inadequate as a game player. If you like Mad Gab big, you’ll probably like the smaller version. The set is small and it does fold up so that the little cards are safely enclosed.

Uno Spin - Travel Version

Uno Spin (Mattel)…one of my favorite games when it’s normal size (we gave it an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award) , just doesn’t feel right super small. For kids, the little cards are hard to hold onto…and from my point of view the plastic cover that’s supposed to keep the cards in place is way to iffy. I could see the cards flying all over the airplane, the airport…just not the best design.

Stay tuned…

Five Great Color Concept Toys/Games for Preschoolers

If you’re working on color concepts in your house, playing games can be a fun way to reinforce the concepts.  Here five favorites:

Candy Land Castle Game (Milton Bradley)

eeBoo Preschool Color Memory Game (eeBoo)

Hot Wheels Color Shifters Blaster (Mattel)

Color Wonder Paper and Markers (Crayola)

Lego Duplo (Lego Systems)

Complete reviews are on our site

Toy Wars and George Costanza's shrinkage factor

Even though most of us haven’t even contemplated buying our Halloween candy yet (ok, I’ve contemplated but I haven’t bought any yet), the major box retailers want you to think holiday toy shopping TODAY!  Walmart has expanded its offer of  toys for $10 to 100 items…KB Toys saw that and raised it to 200, and Target is  trying to match prices.  There’s free shipping to be had…and if you’re really sharp, you can find certain Barbie dolls for as little as $5.

So what’s a toy consumer to think?

1. Toy prices are getting a much needed adjustment. All of that toy safety testing costs a lot –and if you’ve bought a toy recently you’ll know that the added expense has been passed on to consumers.  While we don’t rate toys based on price, we have had sticker shock here as we’ve watched the prices just continue to climb for the past two years. So from this point of view toy wars are good, very good.

2. Less Inventory. If there’s something your child wants for the holidays, buy it early.  Tight inventories is another way retailers have protected themselves this year.

3. Shrinkage…

One of the trends we’ve watched this season is shrinkage…which always makes me thing of Seinfeld’s infamous shrinkage episode with George in the Hamptons.

Toy makers are making many of the same type of toys they used to…but smaller…much smaller…and much less expensive.

For example, last year we featured Playskool’s $300 Kota My Triceratops Dinosaur. This high tech dino-wonder was big enough for your child to sit on! Rec_kota

This year, the same manufacturer is offering Kota & Pals  Stompers – TriceratopsRec_tristompHe walks on my desk. Watch the video. He’s very cute and he actually walks (something the big guy can’t do)…but still, this is what the price wars mean.

So does this mean you should buy only $10 toys this holiday season?

There are in fact lots of toys for $10 and under that are really great. We have many award winners that fit the bill, but buying lots of “stuff” seems like a mistake in the long run. Keep in mind that 60% of our toy dollars are spent this time of year…so bringing home toys that will have lasting play value makes more sense in terms of having toys your kids will play with after the holidays are over.

Open-ended toys and supplies are a better bet. I love novelty toys as much as the next guy…and there are some on our list this year.  The holidays are about making dreams come true, but if you’re looking to make your dollar stretch…buying more open-ended toys is the way to go.  Art supplies, games (that are played again and again), blocks, pretend props (toy kitchens, dollhouses), and toys for active play (ride-ons, sporting equipment)…all will be enjoyed  for a long time and played with differently as your child grows.

Pool your resources. If there’s a toy that your child really wants that costs a little more, have your family chip in. Much more fun to get the present you wanted, then lots of little token gifts from aunts and uncles.

The olden days. There was a time when we didn’t go to the toy store with a shopping cart.  We got fewer toys…not necessarily a bad thing.

Get Your Screwdriver Ready. One way to keep prices down…toy makers leave more for parents to do. Many toys don’t even come with the pre-drilled holes.  If you’re handy with a power drill/screwdriver, you’ll be fine. If you’re not, we warned you.

Make it count. We started the toyportfolio with the tag..we test all the toys so that “you don’t waste your money or your child’s time.”  So  no matter what your budget, we’ve tried to take the mystery of finding a great toy.   So take a look at our Platinum List!

Top Toys for Kids with ADHD

Read our article about Top Toys for Kids with ADHD.  We’ve posted both a toy list and general guidelines that are good to have in mind before you set out to go shopping. And rather than be annoyed with your relatives for not getting it…send them the list as well.

Rubik's Cube…new site ""

The makers of Rubik’s Cube are aiming to help kids master the cube…and use that skill as a positive message for life. Having thrown my fair share of Rubik’s Cubes across the room as a kid….I could have used a little help!  (My brother figured it out the first afternoon, put it down in front of me and said… “there, not so hard” and left the room.  The site is  I’m still a big fan of the original…our testers did not like new 360 Edition…where you have a sphere to contend with…even our best brain teaser experts felt it wasn’t the same “skill” experience.

Best Outdoor Toys

I really love that we’re heading into summer with longer days – which means more time to be outside with our kids. Here are some of our new favorites for the season…we’ll be continuing to update this list in the coming weeks.


Nature Station Playhouse (Step 2)  I love this little playhouse that is designed for older toddlers and preschoolers – maybe because it looks like Pooh, Tigger and Piglet should be there too. Kids enjoy having small spaces that are designed just for them. This playhouse has a working periscope (really fun), a sink, a working shutter,  and a fenced in area so if you’re invited in- there’s a bigger space for adults. This product is pricey at $249.99 but will be used for a long stretch. (This playhouse  is marked 3 & up  due to all the extra things that come with it–but the structure itself will be enjoyed by younger children. There are larger play sets from Step 2 that have more height–our recommendation is take your kids along when you’re shopping for this type of equipment. If you decide to bring this product  home to older toddlers, put the goodies away until they’re older.)

Sandbox Vehicles Eco Trucks from Sprig Toys were a hit with our testers.  These are very lightweight – making them easy for kids to use and to take along to the park or backyard sand box. Made from recycled materials. Our favorite is the Dump Truck.

Dump Truck (Green Toys)  The new line of green trucks from Green Toys are heavier than the Sprig trucks. They feel more like a traditional plastic toy truck- with the upside here being that they are also made from recycled materials.   Handsomely designed – they got high marks from our testers.

Hot Wheels Color Shifters Blaster (Mattel) I’ve already blogged about this toy and I think I’m a little sad that I gave our sample away!  My mother doesn’t agree with my over the top enthusiasm for this play set–but I really think this is one of the best toys going.  I’m suggesting that it’s even better if you play with it outside–because truth be told-it does get alittle wet if you’re really playing with it full tilt.  The cars react to cold and hot water–and will turn a different color when put into either temperature (I KNOW!)  Best yet, it comes with a squirt bottle so you can change the cars by squirting them.  If you don’t want to buy the whole set–I’d suggest buying one of the cars–you can use any squirt bottle to have the same experience.  If you want to be the super cool grown up, bring this toy home to any three year old you know. I do think the car that turns from blue to yellow is much more dramatic than some of the other color changes (yellow/orange).


Drive, Chip and Putt Golf Trainer (Little Tikes) There are two different”ts’ to hit the golf ball from…making this a little different from your average plastic golf set.  Our testers really enjoyed the sport of this game and the sturdy design made it a solid choice for the 2-4 crowd.

d431ae4ea2e0258e5b58795242af18f9 Monster Badminton Set (International Playthings)  This set will be ready next month but I had to show it to you now.  These over-sized rackets and birdies are just what our family needed. They are fun for little kids–but truth be told, if you’re not the most athletic person–this is a set for you!  You’d be hard pressed to miss this birdie!  It does not come with a net–our toy testers just liked playing with it alone.


Maxi Scooter (Kickboard USA) Maybe because I’m not the most coordinated person, I loved the idea of this scooter.  It comes with three wheels and a wider platform for added stability but still  looks cool.  As I hoped, our new scooter testers had no trouble with this scooter and really enjoyed it. It comes with two handles–a traditional T-handle and a joystick.  We recommend the traditional handle as a starting point. It’s designed for kids 6-10.  The company now also makes a Mini Kick Scooter (smaller in scale for younger kids 2-5)…also with three wheels.  Helmets are a must!

Razor Spark Scooter (Razor) The granddaddy of scooters just got a very neat feature. When you break, it sparks out the back. Our testers thought this was pretty cool–although if you’re the one doing the braking, it is hard to see the spark–but your friends will!

Outdoor Treats

Freeze Pop Factory (Little Kids)  According to the company, more than 7 billion freeze pops are sold each year (makes you think we should all go into the freeze pop business!) ….in any case, this do-it-yourself kit is really fun. Comes with those pop sleeves (which magically close up and don’t leak) and plastic molds for making bigger pops.  You can experiment with making your own family recipes and limit the amount of sugar your kids use. Every grown-up I’ve mentioned this kit  to has asked the same question, “Could you make grown up freeze pop for a party?” and then they say…don’t say that out loud….but it’s true. Just don’t get them mixed up. It comes with 36 sleeves for making the pops…and the good news is that you can also order more ($4.95 for 50 including shipping) from the company’s site or by calling (800) 545-5437.