I recently had the pleasure of attending the Australian Toy, Hobby and Nursery Fair and I thought I would prepare a brief report for LXG to let everyone know what this event is all about. The Fair is held annually in Melbourne and the 2012 offering ran from 6th – 9th March.
I have been promoting the Viewpoint card game in Queensland for 93 Made Games, for the past 3 years. The good people from 93 made Games were unable to attend the Toy Fair and asked if I could represent them instead and explain the game to any potential customers. They kindly offered to fly me down to Melbourne to attend the Fair for two days.
The Toy Fair was held at the Melbourne Convention Centre and took up a huge space with over two hundred exhibitors present. The size and layout reminded me of the Gencon Oz setup at the Brisbane Convention Centre a few years back. The big difference between Gencon (and all other games conventions I’ve attended) and the Australian Toy, Hobby and Nursery Fair, is that the latter was restricted solely to toy and hobby manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. There were no competitive games tournaments or access for the general public in any shape or form. This was strictly business with manufacturers and their agents showing off the latest products to the buyers from retail outlets.
I arrived early on the morning of the 6th of March with a bag load of promotional material and samples of the Viewpoint Base Game and the new release “Reflections”. I was met at the entrance by Mr. David Peard, who is a Queensland-based distributor for “Even Toys and Games”. ETG has a wide range of wonderful games, some I’m familiar with and many that I was not. David’s stand was set up at a crossroad, near a group that sold model classic cars (they had a fantastic looking real vehicle at the centre of their display (that everyone was taking photos of). The other two points on the crossroads were taken up by a lady selling colourful raincoats and umbrellas for kids and a
wholesaler of every imaginable you could play with in a swimming pool.
David gave me a run down on his stock, in case anyone asked about his products when he was busy with another customer (and believe me, he was very busy over the next two days). The games sold by Even Toys and Games are mainly family –oriented and are highly educational, teaching maths and grammar in a fun way. Many of his clients who dropped through were from educational specialty stores. I got time to witness David demonstrating quite a few of his educational games to buyers and was most impressed. I made a mental note to discuss with the LXG committee the purchase of a few of these games next time we do a large purchase for the library. Other games that “Even Toys and Games” sold that I was more familiar with included “Portobello Market””Sitting Ducks” and “Scary Tales”.
Before the doors opened, I set up a small display of Viewpoint and waited for the buyers to be let into the complex and start doing the rounds. It wasn’t long before the troops arrived. David had pre- arranged meetings with a number of his key clients and it wasn’t long before I was fielding people who had arrived for their appointments. Luckily, David’s wife Jennie arrived soon after opening to assist in this area.
As the day progressed, I talked to interested people about Viewpoint and explained the game in detail to buyers that David sent over to me. I had particular success with a few owners of collectible card stores, describing how LXG members who play “Magic: the Gathering” have also participated in the club’s Viewpoint league. David advised me that the promotion had resulted in sales to retailers and that he would be re-stocking his supply from 93 made games.
Some of the games that David was heavily promoting looked very interesting. “Space Checkers” was one of these. It’s basically a checkers game for four people with an alien theme to the design. There are four alien races (each a different colour) whose flying saucers occupy places along each edge of the board. The object is to advance across the grid and jump over enemy saucers. Once you capture 10 saucers (of any combination of colours) you win! To make the game a bit different and add more strategy than basic checkers, you roll two dice each turn. One of these is a standard die and is used for movement of one of your pieces. The other die had four colour sides and two wild sides. This die indicated the direction you had to move your piece (for example- if I rolled blue, I had to move toward the blue side of the board). Wild meant you could move anywhere. Added to these rules were a wrap around board (you could exit one side and come onto the board on the other side (in the same row) and all wild zones where you didn’t have to roll the directional die.
David had received a promotional copy of “Space Checkers” – the stock would be available in June 2012. I played a game against David and was able to identify some aspects of the game that need clarification in the rules. David took these on board and emailed the manufacturer the details of the rule enhancements. I let David know that many would-be game designers use LXG to test their products and we would be happy to take a look at any future product lines that are in a ‘testing phase’.
Another game I played and recommend is Army vs Aliens, a dice based game in which you roll dice with different equipment on each face that are based on the fighters/equipment that you have at your command (eg. The Army have soldiers, artillery, tanks etc while the Aliens have equivalent units in the form of warriors, lasers, hover-cars etc). On your turn you get to eliminate the opponent’s dice that are of the same value or play a number of strategic options like destroying a larger unit by combining three of a kind of your units. Each side also has some unique powers they can use. You can recall dice that have been used or have not been committed to battle and re-roll them. The game has a collectible element in that you can buy other armies – they come in pairs, with Ninjas vs Pirates being the next release. Any army in the series can be used against any other.
However, the big hit game (in my opinion) that David was promoting is called “Yikerz”. This was the ‘wow factor’ game and most people who were new to Yikerz (including myself) were rapt as soon as they saw the demo. Now Yikerz is not a brand new game – it has been released a year ago.
However, David had to recall a few thousand copies of the game that arrived in December 2011 after Australian Customs ruled that the product breached the copyright act. The problem? “Yikerz” is made by a Canadian manufacture called Wiggles 3D. They have been in the toy and game business for years and have never had a problem distributing their products until now. Looks like as soon as you have a hit on your hand, people take notice. Certainly, the game was still a hit with buyers who had sold all their previous stock and were after more copies. David is waiting for new supplies that are about to land – minus the Wiggles 3D name on the outer packaging!
And what is “Yikerz!” It’s a simple strategy game using stones with powerful magnetic fields. The stones are divided between two players and you place them, alternately, one at a time on the playing mat. If your stone manages to attract other stones (or repel stones from the board) you have to take those stones into your hand. The winner is the first person to get rid of all their stones. It’s quick and easy to play and you get a buzz out of watching the stones suddenly leap across the mat at each other when you make a bad placement! I was able to acquire a copy from David (with the Wiggles name removed of course!) so check it out at the next club meeting.
My poor feet were aching from spending most time standing up and talking to people, so I was glad to go back to my hotel at the end of the day and just relax.
Day two was much the same as day one. I demonstrated Viewpoint, helped David out with other games where I could and got the opportunity to walk around and see some other exhibitors. The focus of the Toy fair was more toys and hobbies rather than games. There was no-one showing off many other games. Most of the buyers were from stores like Toyworld and stocked family games (like David was promoting). Most buyers that I talked to were aware of Eurogames, like Settlers of Catan and “Ticket to Ride” but only stocked a limited range but would have liked to see exhibitors at the Fair demonstrating more of these type of games.
At lunch I checked out some of the exhibitors who displayed WWII model kits and wandered down to have a look at the Hasbro site. They had their own mini-hall, cordoned off from the main hall and I breezed in and had a look at their display. It was largely devoted to Star Wars products and other items in their toy range and had very few of their games, other than some of their DnD board games.
I took some pictures and was surprised when a burly gentleman with a black suit and sunglasses (who looked remarkably like Agent Smith from the Matrix) asked me if I had an appointment. I said I didn’t and was ‘nicely’ escorted from the area and also asked to refrain from taking pictures (I had missed the sign at the main entry doors that said no photography unless approved by the owner of the exhibit!
Having survived being arrested for industrial espionage by Hasbro, I spent the rest of the afternoon in the safety of the Even Toys and Games stand before wrapping things up and saying my goodbyes, before heading back to Brisbane.
In summary, I enjoyed my visit and experiences at the Fair but I believe it could be a much greater event if they allowed access to the public. Now I know the reason that they don’t – this is for the buyer and the prices displayed are wholesale and there are some new releases that they don’t want the public to see yet. However I think the whole thing would be even better if they continued the existing format but allowed the public access in some format to play in organised game tournaments and buy from retailers. This does not have to be in the same hall but an adjacent hall where retailers could set up. This could possibly work on the weekend that the Fair leads into. Retailers could even buy stock from the main hall during the week and set up a shop in the gamers’ hall on the weekend. It would certainly help reduce the amount of stock exhibitors have to ship home!
Food for though. Maybe one of the organisers of the Australian Toy, Hobby and Nursery Fair 2013
will read this and run with the idea. I ‘d be happy to help!
Reviewed by Keith Done