Top trends emerge from Toy & Game Fair at Navy Pier
Like fashion, toy trends go in cycles. Years ago, the focus was eco-friendly materials and ethnic diversity, such as dolls from different countries.
This year's trends, based on the displays at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair last weekend at Navy Pier, were decidedly different.
Here are a few worth noting, as you venture out to do your holiday shopping:
1. Items that incorporate your existing technology.
You don't want to buy more pricey electronics, but what if the toy could incorporate your iPod, iPad or home computer?
The item that shot straight to the top of my 6- and 8-year-olds' wish lists was the App Blaster ($19.99). Start by downloading a few free game apps (or buy a few for $2.99 or less) on your iPod Touch or iPhone and then snap the device into the plastic gun-shaped toy. You can play 360-degree games, such as "Alien Attack," which requires the player to lean up and down, spin around, and you pull on the dual triggers to touch the screen. Hard to describe, but fun to play.
Horizon Hobby had a flight simulator game, FS One ($129.99) that plugs into your PC and provides an experience comparable to flying one of their real remote-control airplanes.
Perhaps the biggest hit of the show, however, was the one-week-old GameChanger Game Board for iPad, from Identity Games ($79.99). Attach your iPad to the game board, and it transforms the device into a variety of board games. The spinner is on the iPad, so to spin, you just dash your finger across the screen. The pieces on the board are tracked by the computer, so you can't move to the wrong spot or the game will stop (in other words, it's impossible to cheat).
"This makes the iPad a board game that you can sit at a table and play," said Downers Grove native Bryan Messersmith, one of the business partners.
The games demonstrated at the fair included Scholastic games like "Magic School Bus." Messersmith said there are plans in the works to expand the game offerings with other well-known characters and companies.
"We're also working on a feature where each player enters their age, and it changes the questions so they're all age appropriate," he said.
In a word: cool!
2. Easy-to-transport toys.
Today's children are always on the go, so transportability and easy storage are valuable features in toys.
The Doodle Roll is a roll-n-go crayons and paper set that all fits into a handy carrying case for $3.99. It's perfect for preschoolers at restaurants, and it even has an open space in the middle so you can roll up and save their masterpieces.
Sports equipment is another thing no one wants to lug around, which is why the feather-light Ogodisks and the accompanying rubber ball are so great ($33, OgoSport). You can use them like tennis rackets or Frisbees, and they provide active play indoors or out.
3. Remote control anything.
Remote control planes and helicopters used to be just for modelers and hobbyists who'd spend hours assembling and flying them.
Now, the aircrafts come pre-assembled and made with durable materials. Plus, the technology is so advanced, you can fly them within minutes of opening the box.
"Some planes even have anti-crash technology," said Kevin Wilson, a senior brand manager for Champaign-based Horizon Hobby, a popular booth at the show because of all of its remote control cars, helicopters and planes. "All ages like them ... and you can just pick them up and play."
4. Board games.
They have never gone out of style, and the choices are endless. Board games composed the vast majority of offerings at this year's Chicago Toy & Game Fair. Some were old-school, some were adult-level, and some incorporated a little technology.
The party game-styled offerings were among the best. The Logo Game, from Spin Master ($24.99), was a trivia game based on ad slogans and commercials. Examples of some easy questions: What sports figure was featured in a shoe commercial with Bugs Bunny? What company uses "angels" as their models? (answers, respectively: Michael Jordan and Victoria Secret).
Another fun pick was Buffalo Games' "Likewise!" It's sort of like the old 1970s game show Match Game, where players are asked to come up with a response to something like, "Outstanding athlete." Each player writes their answer on an erasable paddle, and gets points for every match.
5. Mind puzzles.
Personally, the World's Smallest Jigsaw Puzzle, which you assemble with tweezers, didn't woo me. But the Perplexus ball-in-a-maze puzzles were almost impossible to put down. So were games like Q-Bitz, which is a race to recreate the pattern on the card.
6. Kid-sized cars.
Today's kids don't need to pedal! Electric-powered Jeeps, police cars and Hummers are in every toy store around, and many have well-known characters on them. Knauz of Lake Bluff sells pedal version of its BMW car. Or, if it's a little too soon to buy your child their first BMW, the fair also had another popular choice: a Razor pogo stick.