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 www.toyportfolio.com

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

Top Pick of the Day: Curious George Discovery Beach Game

curiousbeachThe Curious George Discovery Beach Game is great fun (and even looking at a beach on a cold January day made us feel better).  The board is really innovative.  The board shows a seascape with puzzle like pieces that lift off. Now here’s the really cool part–below the puzzle pieces there is “blue sand” that is safely behind  clear panels.  Players actually shake the whole board (box) and when they do they redistribute the sand and the hidden treasures.  We found that shaking the box was a great hit with players.

The object is to collect six cards representing hidden treasure that you look for on your turn (the spinner tells you where you may look on your turn).  So it’s a really fun visual discrimination game that moves pretty quickly (also a plus with this age group).

The other GREAT aspect of this game are the directions…which are much clearer than my explanation I think….kudos to the team at I Can Do That! Games for making the directions so easy we only had to read them once and we were good to go.

Curious George Discovery Beach Game is the type of game your older preschooler and early school age kids will want to play again and again.  ($16.95).  We have given the game an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award–but we can already tell it will be a strong contender for our year end Platinum Awards.

Gender Free Toys: Do they exist?

Sometimes it feels that for some reason, some group of toy makers, somewhere have determined that girls can only play with pink toys. A new innovative toy is introduced and within one season, there’s always a new “pink” version. Even great classic toys like Monopoly and Twister are now pink-a-fied. Perhaps it’s my formative years in the 70s women’s movement, but why must it be pink? Several years ago when scientific studies indicated that playing with building blocks developed important visual perception skills that helped kids achieve higher math scores — toy makers responded with building kits for girls (a good thing)–pink and lavender (unfortunately), and the themes: build a mall, a stable or a cottage (even more upsetting).

I have nothing against pink. Ok, as a kid I did. Much to the dismay of my mother, I really preferred the Hot Wheels tracks that my brothers played with to the dream dollhouse she bought me (that stood without a homemaker for most of my childhood). I have since apologized for not really getting into the whole “doll” thing either. My worst playdate — being sent to a house where the effusively pink bedroom was chockful of huggables and dolls — both sisters were very excited to play dolls. I never went back. They were well meaning, but it just wasn’t my thing.

As a professional toy reviewer (and mother of two boys), I quickly saw that there was also a problem on the other side of the equation. Boys tend to get two types of presents: things that move and things to build- that’s pretty much it. When we first started toyportfolio.com, a mother was surprised that I suggested a toy kitchen for her son. “Do you want him to grow up and feel comfortable in a kitchen?” I asked. This is where it starts. When my younger son and his friend took their dolls (yes, both my sons loved huggables and dolls) in their strollers to the park, an adult commented loud enough for everyone to hear “only in Greenwich Village”. He then asked the boys (almost three years old) what they were doing. “We’re playing daddys” they both chimed. It was one of my proudest parenting moments. They parked their “babies” and ran off to play on the climbing equipment.

Throughout the years we have kept track of what we call the GenderAgenda in Toyland. Our annual book has a gender-free list of toys and products that bend the gender agenda. We applaud toy kitchen makers like Step 2, Little Tikes and Small World Toys–that have broken away from the stereotypical pink kitchen.

So what can you do?

Buy building sets for your daughter – the more open-ended the better!

Buy a gender free ride-on (they also have the added advantage of being enjoyed by younger siblings no matter what their gender).

Buy your son some dishes and a toy kitchen. Your future daughter-in-law will love you for it.

Buy board games for both – playing games enforces not only reading, math and language skills- it’s an important way of introducing negotiating skills – something we all need!


Since we didn’t publish our book this year, I thought I’d share our GenderAgenda list with the caveat that with the exception of the Cat In The Hat Game and the Kidizoom Camera, we did not test any of these toys for lead.

ActiviTot Developmental Mat (Tiny Love)
Amazing Baby Sound Balls (Kids Preferred)
Cosmic Catch (Hasbro)
Go Baby Go Stride to Ride Lion (Fisher-Price)
Hyper Dash (Wild Planet)
Cat in the Hat! I Can Do That! (I Can Do That!)
Kidizoom Camera (VTech)
Kitchen Appliances (various makers)
Retro Rocket (Radio Flyer)
Trikke 5 (Trikke Tech)
Word Whammer Fridge Phonics (LeapFrog)
Ultimate Lego Duplo Set (Lego Systems)

The Cat in the Hat: I Can Do That! game

game_icdt_prod.jpggame_icdt_prod.jpgWe’re always on the look out for active games for preschool and early school age kids. It’s not always easy to design games that are right on target for these age groups. If the games are too complicated, you can quickly lose your audience and even at this age if the game seems too babyish – that can also draw a chorus of “We’re too big for this!”

A new company, I Can Do That Games www.icandothatgames.com, seems to completely understand their young audience and has created a wonderful new active game that our testers really enjoyed playing. The Cat In the Hat: I Can Do That! Game ($19.99) is an active game where the Cat in the Hat wants to see what players can do including doing the limbo under the included Trick-a-ma-stick. Game comes with 33 acitivty cards and props right out of the book including a fish, a boat, and a cake.

Parents will love the book connection and kids will enjoy watching their parents joining in the silliness of the game. Ideal for kids 4-8. For other award winning games, visit www.toyportfolio.com.