BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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Report: New York Toy Fair 2009

I was lucky enough to go New York this year for the annual Toy Fair, which ran from 15th–18th February (apologies for the rather belated reporting!). Held at the vast Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan the fair is the industry’s largest and most prestigious shindig, excepting (of course) the yet more vast and prestigious International Nuremberg Toy Fair in Germany.

The first thing to say about the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is that it’s big, really big. It’s clearly designed to allow multiple conventions to take place at once, but the Toy Fair takes up the entire space, on two floors. That’s a lot of space. It seemed almost an order of magnitude larger than the London Toy Fair.

The second thing to say about the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is that it’s pretty ugly, if impressively large in a monolithic, 80s-style, tinted-glass, metal and concrete kind of way (it also clearly has a very leaky roof). As patriotically cheerful as I am that the 2012 Olympics were awarded to London, a benefit of them being awarded to New York would have been that the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was scheduled to be demolished to make way for a shiny new Olympic stadium (and, I am assuming, a shiny new convention centre). However, the architectural ramifications of alternate sport-based histories is not strictly this blog’s remit, so I shall move on.

It is worth nothing that the fair is strictly for industry professionals, and not open to the general public. I registered in advance, and received a rather nice badge in the post which said ‘Inventor’ in big, friendly letters. Armed with this the cheerful, welcoming staff were all too happy to let me in.

I spent a whole day at the fair, which was long enough for me to scout out all the points of interest I had. It is by definition a toy fair, and board games, especially strategy/eurogames, are not its primary focus. All trade fairs are principally about selling, and so anyone with a badge that said ‘Buyer’ was of course given the most attention. I was initially unsure what to say when approached by anyone, or how upfront to be about my interests and intentions, but as the day wore on I found my typical British reserve falling away, to be replaced with a slightly more confident (more American?) attitude, which went down rather better, and allowed me get much more out of the experience.

The fair was organized into zones, and most of the specialist games companies were downstairs in the basement. Upstairs in the main hall all the larger companies — such as Hasbro, Mattel and Fundex — were there also, of course, and it was fun, if exhausting, just to wander around taking it all in.

I had not gone with any specific objective, or even with the intention of making contacts, but rather just to get a sense of the event and the scale of the industry. In the specialist game section there were a myriad of stalls of smaller companies, including those for stalwarts such as: Mayfair Games, Steve Jackson Games and Looney Labs.

I had a nice chat with a nice lady who had turned out to have been the driving force behind the Xeko CCG (collectible card game), the company website is here. She was giving out cute little wildlife badges so I stopped to talk.

I’ve been aware of the game for a couple of years, and the visual design of the product is top-notch. She started the company herself, with the single idea for a game based on ecology where the rarity of the cards within the game would be related to how endangered each individual species is in the wild. She did have a useful friendship with an ex-Wizards of the Coast employee who developed the game with her, but the product and its success is quite an achievement for someone without any industry experience! More power to her elbow!

I dropped in on the busy Mindware stand, where they were showing off not just the wildly successful Qwirkle but also its new cousin Qwirkle Cubes which is due for release in America this month.

They seemed a very friendly, cheerful bunch, and after introducing myself were keen to ask me about the sorts of games I design; their New Product Development Manager was also very happy to give me her card.

Along the aisle were R&R Games who this year raised eyebrows by announcing a rather out-of-character, and rather heavy-weight, eurogame in the form of Masters of Venice. The board and its componenets sparkled at me from the display as I passed and I went over to investigate. Edward Miller, the company’s Chairman, spotted me and was happy to chat, giving me a brief run-down on the company’s games, and a rather longer one on the merits of the new American administration (and the demerits of the previous one!).

And lastly, in this very quick run-down of a few of my encounters, I stopped at Mindtwister USA and was given a demonstration of their new abstract Element by the game’s designer Michael Richie. He had brought his prototype for the game to the company booth last year, and they had liked it so much that they not only agreed to publish, they also employed him as their in-house Game Developer! The game looked interesting and was a nice product and Michael was a really nice guy. Thanks for the demo Michael, and good luck!

Was it worth the visit and would I go again? Absolutely! But I think next time I would like to go armed with more research, a few formal appointments with specific company representatives and some actual game prototypes. As with most things, the more you put in, the more you are likely to get out!

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