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.
We got an email from a family that bought the Great States! Game from International Playthings…in large part because our award seal was on the package (always nice to hear). We were really concerned that the family had a whole host of issues with this board game. There was a mechanical problem with the timer (which was replaced by the company). But the family also brought to my attention some concerns about the accuracy of some of the questions.
So we asked the company to send us another set–we first reviewed the game in 2004 and thought it was possible that it had been changed. We found that out of the 400 question cards there were six that were not completely correct.
The question: Name the three states that board the Pacific Coast? Answer: California, Oregon and Washington. Obviously Alaska and Hawaii have been omitted.
Where’s Alcatraz? Answer: On a small island off the coast of California. Not really, really in the Bay.
The question: Close your eyes and name 7 states that Border Canada. Answer: Correctly includes 13 states but excludes Alaska.
Question: Which is the most Northwestern state? Answer: Washington. Again…we’d go with Alaska.
Most of the questions have to do with a starting point that players are only supposed to include the 48 contiguous states. We agree with the family that complained that these questions should be adjusted.
We still think, after some debate here, that this is an engaging game that helps teach and reinforce American Geography and trivia.
We hope the company will address the questions we’ve identified (the family also took issue with the color of some of the state birds).
Perhaps because I grew up with many maps on my wall and a Dad that loved chronicling all of our journeys in the family Atlas…I have always liked games that work on these skills in a way that’s fun, not mean.
Chickyboom from Blue Orange Games is a fun balancing game that appealed to our school age testers (and their parents). Most balancing toys like this ask players to add pieces – here you take away chicks, bales of hay and wagon wheels…they all have different weights and will affect the balance of the perch. Points are assigned for each of the play pieces–the players with the greatest point value (when the rail finally falls over) wins. Easy to learn –and fun to play. The company says that each round takes about 1o minutes. Our parent testers gave this one a thumbs up. We’re giving this one an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. A solid gender free choice for kids 4 & up.
Hooray! We have a new silly fun game to tell you about! Ring-o Flamingo from Gamewright is really lots of fun to play. The first thing that our testers loved was the game board. You lock in the pink flamingoes and the two alligators into the board that fits into the box. The game play involves the concept that one of the flamingoes has gone overboard and you have to fling the flamingo a lifesaver as quickly as possible before the alligators get the flamingo! Watch out, you don’t want to get a lifesaver around the neck of one of the alligators. Now here’s the really fun part, each player has a life boat that is loaded with lifesavers–that you “fling” onto the game board. So it’s sort of like play ring toss…but you’re all playing at once. The key is learning how to be far enough away from the board so that you hit the flamingoes repeatedly. The more flamingoes you save the more points you get…and win. Points are deducted if you save the alligators. Fast paced and fun for all ages. We’re giving this one an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award!
The 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.
The folks at Mattel see four major trends for the new season…As we go through toy fair–we’ll be adding to the list and putting their trends to the test to see if they apply across the board.
1. Customization- Kids have the ability to use self-expression through their toys. We do see this with more and more on-line/product based tie ins where kids are able to customize their play experiences.
2. Simply Social- With the economy in turmoil, board games and other products for the home are now part of a clever marketing campaign that encourages nesting and entertaining closer to home. Makes sense–and from our point of view any opportunity to connect with family and friends is a plus.
3. Active Play- this trend continues from last year with toys that encourage kids to get up and move–often with an electronic plug in component of course. This is the Wii generation after all.
4. High Value Toys- I love this spin….in other words inexpensive toys–classics that are still a great value. Lets face it, the industry knows that your toy dollars are more restricted — and the price points of many products are being brought down to get under that magic $20 bar. All good news for consumers.
We’ve gotten several new cooperative board games. So far our testers aren’t too interested. Older game players really like the “winner” “loser” thing…and let’s face it, your average 3 1/2 – 4 year old expects that you will bend the rules to assure him a victory. One of our testers said “what do you mean, we all win?” I’m all for cooperative play–treasure hunts where everyone works on a team is a great experience for kids. One of the most humbling experience I ever had in life was when my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Goldsmith, put all of the so called leaders in one group. We lost terribly–because we couldn’t agree on a plan. It has always stuck with me – of course that was the point. Playing games with your kids is a great way to model good behavior but I’m not sure that means there can’t be a winner.
So let me know if any of these new games are hit in your house.
One of our favorite games this year has to do with listening. Diggity Dog (International Playthings $19.99) asks players to listen to the number of times the big electronic dog barks – and then the player must move his game piece that many times. When you land on the space, your magnetized dog picks up a bone. If the color on the bone matches your dog, you keep the bone in your dog house. One of our parent testers loved that kids really had to concentrate and listen. The games involves simple counting and color concepts. The kids loved the sound effects! A good choice for kids 3 & up. For other award winning games visit www.toyportfolio.com.