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April 2019


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April 2019


No. 204 | April 2019

What chance have the small guys got?

Editor Robert Hutchins

Sales Manager Rob Baker

Designer Nikki Hargreaves

Follow us @toynews online


arly this month, the formidable board game designer Rachel Lowe got in touch with ToyNews to pitch an article documenting the closure of Portsmouth's 96 year old joke and toy shop U-Need-Us. Her touching tribute to the store she spent so much of her childhood (and pocket money) in, before becoming one of its best-loved suppliers, garnered fantastic industry response in a stand of solidarity amid this chrished shop's final chapter. An emotive piece, Lowe's account fiercely called out today's dependence on 'convenience' and online shopping to the detriment to businesses like U-Need-Us'. "If Toys R Us couldn't make it, what chance have small shops like this got?" she asked. It's here that I feel her question is worthy of response. Because my answer, like many I've been talking with these first months of 2019, is: plenty. This month I've been exploring the Board Game Café scene, one that has grown substantially, to total more than 100 now across the UK - with more cropping up year by year. It's been an inspirational look at just what a High Street bricks and mortar name can achieve in creating and fuelling an entire community around an industry, and one that I hope can inspire something in our own to take charge and become that destination spot for the generations that grow up around them. It's the chance the small guys have been waiting for. Robert Hutchins, Editor

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April 2019 | toy news | 3

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Contents April 2019 Features



Opinion 06 Steve Pasierb 07 Trudi Bishop 08 Rob Trup 09 Rebecca Deeming


Tabletop gaming newcomers X2 Games talk us through the next level of boardgaming, and it involves AI


BEHIND THE SCENES AT BIG POTATO ToyNews goes for a tour of the London games publisher's Shoreditch office, to study the secrets of global growth


CAFÉ AU PLAY We take a look at the UK's growing board game café scene to find out why they're the unsung heroes of the sector


AIS INTERVIEW Miles Penhallow offers up his latest insight on the independent retail landscape

Market Data 34 Kids Insights 36 Generation Media Sector Guides 37 Games & Puzzles 48 Preschool toys 56 Construction toys

Back pages 64 Industry Moves 66 Bossing It...

April 2019 | toy news | 5


Designed for life: Inventing is at the heart of our industry By Steve Pasierb

The creativity and talent of inventors and designers are at the root of every great toy and game - it is their ingenuity, pluck and resolve that is at the heart of our industry’s ultimate success. At the Toy Association, we appreciate the essentiality of the inventor community and remain committed to strengthening and supporting these vital professionals across our trade events (Toy Fair New York and Toy Fair Dallas), through partnerships and collaborations with like-minded organisations - whether by financially supporting college toy design departments or by providing toymakers with a number of resources (from basic Toy Inventor and Designer guides, to webinars, research reports, networking events etc.) As a global hub for innovation, Toy Fair New York just celebrated its 16th year of distinct programming, serving the needs of inventors and designers under the banner of Creative Factor. The programme has significantly expanded with the benefit of an advisory board comprised of experts across the global creative community (and including the UK’s very own Billy Langsworthy, co-founder of Mojo Nation), making for a very exciting time for this arm of the industry.

Toy Fair NY also hosted Inventor Day, during which, selected finalists were invited to present their ideas to prospective partners in manufacturing and licensing attending the show. It was a great success. A product showcase at Toy Fair Dallas (October 2nd to 4th) will offer another venue for product to be showcased to retail buyers, licensors, and industry decision makers. We are delighted to be in a multi-year collaboration with Mojo Nation, and support its important work advocating for and celebrating the creativity of the toy, game, inventor and designer community at all levels, from design students and one-man-bands, to R&D teams within toy firms. What’s more, we are honoured to co-sponsor Mojo Nation’s opening night party to kick off Distoy and look forward to connecting with the inventor community at the party and during the show. Innovation in the toy community is essential - and inventors are at the lead. Trends change at the speed of light, the retail landscape is evolving through disruption, new tech is emerging, and consumer expectations and shopping habits are in constant flux. Creative professionals are working in a fast-paced and competitive environment, and are challenged to not only create new products that will entertain kids, but also hopefully move beyond ‘trend’ status to stand the test of time.

"Ingenuity, pluck and resolve is at the heart of the toy space." Steve Pasierb is the CEO and president of the US industry body, the Toy Association. He is responsible for the growth and oversight of the $21 million trade association representing all businesses involved in creating and selling toys.

6 | toy news April 2019


Closing the loop: A 360 approach to a more sustainable future By Trudi Bishop

Like most of you, I've sat in many a licensing and toy presentation in which the recurring message is “we are going to give this the full 360° treatment”, meaning to reach consumers at every touch point along their journey with their respective brands. The time has now come for toycos (and all manufacturing companies) to look to adopt the same approach to the manufacturing process too. We are currently hovering between a linear economy (where everything ends up in the bin) and a recycling economy (where everything ends up in the bin, albeit via a few recycled steps). The alternative and more sustainable approach is the circular economy or 360° approach. Admittedly, in the current disjointed world, this feels like I’m suggesting a bit of a utopia. However, borrowing inspiration from our own icon, Barbie and her 60th celebratory theme of ‘closing the dream gap’, I’d like to see my dream of the toy industry creating a fully sustainable future for our little consumers to draw closer.

But what is the circular economy? The phrase itself was coined by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation and is based on three core principles: Design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; and regenerate natural systems. It sees waste and pollution as a design flaw, suggesting 80 per cent of environmental impacts are determined due to decisions at the design stage of a product’s lifecycle. Through the circular economy, the foundation estimates an annual cost saving of $700million in the FMCG sector alone. In the simplest terms, a circular economy means looking at every touch point along a product’s lifecycle and making each of these as sustainable with minimal environmental impact as possible. Starting at source, ending in the consumers hand and going back to source to be reproduced again to come back around into the consumers’ hands. I wrote in my last article that I believe the toy industry can start now, by more sustainable design in the packaging. And by designing out waste (as Hasbro has started to do) toycos could potentially save themselves millions of dollars in the longer term. Let’s be like Barbie and ‘Dream Big’ for our future.

"Let's be like Barbie and Dream Big for a sustainable future." Trudi Bishop is the director of Bee Licensng Consultancy and an advocate of the circular economy for a sustainable future. Bishop will b contributing regular thought pieces and developments on the topic of sustainability in the toy industry.

April 2019 | toy news | 7


Toy Shop Pit Stop: If you build it, they will come By Rob Trup

Retail can be tough at the moment. Customers are stepping less often into shops and their minds progressively retrained by the net sellers to think primarily about online shopping. Even if they do show up, some cheekily use you as a showroom simply to go away and order products on the web. Despite this, we are seeing small and large shops "discovering" their big advantage over the online giants, and successfully staying in the game. (You may well be one of them, so you won’t need to read on!) Big advantage? Well, no surprise, it’s you and your brilliant staff making real human engagements. But these days your people power needs to go beyond the friendly, attentive in-store service that you pride yourselves on. It’s a two-fold process: First, rethink your shop as a destination by creating regular events and activities and then, use these events to grow your social media following and database. All GDPR compliant, naturally. Best of all, toys are perfect for events. Celebrate your toys with a store party, hold arts and crafts sessions, board games nights, run demos, or even parent training... Ask suppliers to help support you with

products. Local social media groups are a great way to spread the word before and after the event. Experiences show that customers will buy what they have just tried (so make sure you have enough stock). Throw in a voucher and they’ll buy even more. Events draw passers-by into your shop, who you can then encourage to follow you too. One of our customers has recently taken this all to a very ambitious level. Walk into one of their shops and, inexplicably, the front fifth of the store is plain empty. But if you’re there at the right time of the week it’s packed: kids making messy crafts, authors reading stories, teachers guiding parents. Parents and children have the products at the front of their mind, they are in the shop and they are ready to spend money. Apart from the obvious sales on the day, parents enjoy a bit of respite while their children are engaged and meet other parents with similar aged children. This all creates a warm, emotional connection with your shop - one that will be sought out time and again. There’s no denying that all of this takes a lot of effort on your part - and yes, another thing to add to your weekly task list. But built up over time, it really can help place your shop firmly in your customers’ hearts and minds when they next need you. Drop me a line with your thoughts at Rob@ I would love to hear them.

"We're seeing independent shops discovering their advantage." Rob Trup is the head of marketing at Fiesta Crafts and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. You can contact him on Rob@ with your ideas and suggestions. Expect to find a regular column from Rob Trup in ToyNews.

8 | toy news April 2019


BTHA Briefing: Tackling all manner of challenges By Rebecca Deeming

I’m starting this month’s column by saying a huge congratulations to all our runners who took part in the Vitality Big Half on behalf of the Toy Trust last month. It’s such a great achievement and we appreciate the donations made from all of those who sponsored. If you missed it this time around, worry not - we recently announced this year’s Big Toy Trust Challenge, meaning you’ve another chance to get raising money for charity. This year’s fundraising day comes with the option of a triathlon, a 65 mile bike ride, and a 5km or 10km walk or run. The event will take place on Saturday, June 8th at Oxford’s Wet N Wild in Wallingford, where there will also be an inflatable assault course for use during the event. All funds raised from the challenge will go towards two UK based charities My AFK and Over the Wall and you can book your place via the BTHA website www. Now, to this month, and members have been invited to join a free webinar hosted by Comply Direct on ‘The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) Phase 2 Explained’ on Tuesday, Apri 2ndl. The webinar will provide information covering what ESOS Phase 2 is, which businesses are affected by the legislation and how obligated companies can become compliant. In addition, the content will include details on the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR)

framework as many ESOS obligated companies will need to comply with this initiative too. The BTHA is also hosting a BTHA Toy Compliance Masterclass, exclusive to members and invited guests next month on Thursday, May 2nd at BAFTA, providing updates on the toy safety climate post-Brexit with topics including Sustainability, Connected Toys, Toy Safety and a Brexit panel. Tickets are now also available for the BTHA AGM and Toy Industry day which will take place on Wednesday, July 3rd with keynote speakers including Ken Clarke MP. There will also be a representative from KPMG who will deliver a presentation on current retail trends and the trading environment. The BTHA AGM (exclusive to BTHA members only) will take place at 9.30am, and the Toy Industry Day will commence shortly after at 10.15am. The event provides an excellent opportunity to network with industry peers in a fantastic setting at Great Fosters Hotel in Surrey, over a hot buffet lunch. The day’s events will finish by 3pm and tickets are priced at £50 for the first ticket, and then £25 for any additional tickets. Brexit has been on our minds and the teams here have produced a detailed guide for members on ‘No Deal Brexit’, which can be found on the BTHA website, along with new GDPR guidance for members on the use of child images for marketing. If you would like to know more about becoming a member of the BTHA, please contact Tracey@btha. with all questions.

"Congratulations to our runners in the Vitality Big Half." Rebecca Deeming is the head of communications for the British Toy and Hobby Association, the UK toy industry's knowledge basin.

April 2019 | toy news | 9


"We're working in a nascent hybrid gaming space. It's the Wild Wild West out there." Zai Ortiz, X2 Games

10 | toy news | April 2019



“WE’RE ONLY SCRATCHING THE SURFACE” Zai Ortiz and Nolan Bushnell are heavyweights in the world of film and gaming with a common goal; to deliver immersive storytelling through board games, the likes we’ve never seen before. That’s the aim of X2 Games, and that’s what its first release, St Noire is capturing with Amazon Alexa


hen you put the brainpower and foresight of the founder of Atari and creator of Pong in the same room as those of a Hollywood creative director and the name behind Iron Man’s J.A.R.V.I.S. hologram system, the result is always going to be worthy of attention. This is the exact set-up over at X2 Games; a relatively new name on the tabletop gaming scene, made up of a team of gaming and entertainment fanatics, who just so happen to be some of the biggest heavyweights in the field of storytelling. Gaming nerds will of course know Nolan Bushnell for creating the video game industry when he founded Atari back in 1972. Bushnell gave the world the first blockbuster video game with Pong, before going on to start-up more than 20 companies across Silicon Valley. Meanwhile Zai Ortiz boasts a hugely enviable Hollywood career, having served as a creative director and 3D visionary for some of its biggest titles, as well as playing a major role in the success of the design and visual communication studio, DarkMatter. Together, and under the joint venture banner of X2 Games, the two are about to launch the first fully immersive Amazon Alexa-powered table top game in St Noire: a title in which players take on the role of detective in piecing together clues and solving a crime in a murder-mystery adventure developed for the 21st century gamer. And yes, the result is certainly worthy of

an attention that makes one thing very clear - tabletop games as we currently know them are just the tip of the iceberg of their potential for immersive storytelling. “We are working in a nascent hybrid gaming space - it’s like the Wild Wild West,” Zai Ortiz, president, chief creative officer and co-founder of X2 Games, tells ToyNews. “We have this sense of ‘we get to make up the rules,’ and as such, we took our collective knowledge of graphical interfaces and digital game design, then applied that to a board game, where our only technology is sound via Alexa.”

“We felt we were at this exciting turning point in the tabletop industry, where leading-edge tech was there, but no one was using it.” Zai Ortiz, X2 Games This has made for quite the unique development process for both Ortiz and Bushnell - as well as the ‘small but perfectly placed’ team around them, who have according to Ortiz “felt more like explorers or mad scientists than designers.” There’s something about the tabletop gaming space that attracts creativity from the farthest flung corners of interest. One

of the hottest titles of the moment here in the UK, for instance, is an ornithological game titled Wingspan, that takes a scientific look at the behaviour of birds, through a deck-building system. At the other end of the scale, you have a game like St Noire. “We both felt we were at this incredibly exciting turning point in the tabletop industry, where leading-edge, prodigious technology was available but no one was really taking advantage of it in a meaningful way - especially when it came to tabletop gaming,” explains Ortiz. “We had many conversations about where we wanted tabletop gaming to be in five years, 10 years, 15 years. Not just what kind of games we could make but how could we make them? What was the most exciting new tech that wasn’t being properly utilised? That was when we started looking at AI.” St Noire is billed as the world’s first voice-controlled murder-mystery board game. Half of the game is played with a physical game board, cards and tokens, while the other half is played on an Alexa-enabled smart-speaker. Using Alexa, players can question a group of “unsavoury suspects” to figure out who is lying about their whereabouts on the night of the murder. It's a first of its kind crime story. “The entire game is voiced by professional actors and features a full cinematic soundtrack,” continues Ortiz. “In addition, the replayability is incredible, as it’s nearly April 2019 | toy news | 11


impossible to have the same gaming outcome twice.” Not only does St Noire promise to “do away with that annoying Alexa voice,” by using only professional voice actors, but it also promises to deliver an experience far more cinematic than any before it. For X2 Games, it would seem, hybridity is the number one mission. What else could you expect from an alliance of minds from the world of videogaming and film? “Nolan and I come from somewhat different backgrounds," says Ortiz, "but what really brought us together was the idea that our respective fields - movies and games were merging more and more everyday, yet people were still developing games for the gaming sector and movies for the movie sector,” he muses. “We felt it was such a false binary. There was this entirely new hybrid world where 12 | toy news | April 2019

you could merge the two in a way that was exciting, engaging and relevant to the user, and that’s exactly what we decided to do.”

“Dividing games and movies is such a false binary. There's a new hybrid world where you can merge the two in exciting new ways.” Zai Ortiz, X2 Games But this isn’t a ‘bells and whistles’ project for the team, not by any stretch of the imagination, and while St Noire does utilise Amazon Alexa in a way not seen to date, it’s not the technology that sits at the centre of

the game, but the players themselves. This is the philosophy of those at X2 Games, and something they are keen to maintain along all stages of evolution of the tabletop gaming space. “Our project at X2 is to create games that people will play for years,” continues Ortiz. “Games that almost everyone could get into because they commit fully to one thing: the game play. There is an immense power in the social aspect of gaming, and the shared, social component of game play isn’t just some afterthought or seperate ‘game mode,’ it is the game play.” So why is now the right time to be exploring what can be done with technology in this shared, social space? Of course, Ortiz has a philosophical response to this, too. “The short answer is: the technology is finally here,” he says. “We are in a place where technology and hardware is catching

up to our imagination, and it’s coinciding with this incredible resurgence of tabletop gaming. “The unique thing about tabletop gaming is that it’s social in a completely different way to video games or movies. You’re physically there with your friends - playing, interacting and engaging.” St Noire is available for pre-order on Amazon right now. It will be landing on the Amazon platform, as an Amazon exclusive in July this year. Once its contracted run with Amazon has come to an end, the game will be rolling out to retailers the world over. A keen gamer himself, Ortiz understands the importance of having games available on global platforms to global audiences, and this includes online and brick and mortar retailers. The UK will also be factoring heavily in those roll-out plans for the team.

As for the future, X2 Games has big plans. It’s a company not shy of outlining its desire to become a global name in the future of gaming. However, it insists that seeing this mission fulfilled won’t come at the expense of maintaining a curated

“Our project at X2 Games is to create games that people will play for years. It won't los sight of what's important for a game.” Zai Ortiz, X2 Games team of specialists “selected for each being specialists in their fields.”

“Yes, this approach means we won’t be churning out titles. There’s no pressure to do that. I had enough of that life working in Hollywood. We have got three titles as well as this under development at the moment including two separate AI-powered tabletop games - as well as interactive visual storytelling projects, so five in a year is a realistic portfolio,” states Ortiz. “I believe that we are only just scratching the surface of the future of AR, VR and MR (Mixed Reality) in tabletop gaming here. As AI matures even further, we will develop more and more complex games that use a physical tabletop as its foundation. “We are working on some pretty exciting things in this regard already, but I can’t quite talk about that just yet. Ask me again in six months,” he concludes. For now, we have a world of AI waiting to be explored. April 2019 | toy news | 13

Behind the scenes

HOME GROWN One of Britain’s finest exports is the London-based board game publisher, Big Potato who last year turned over £4.5 million. This year it’s eyeing a surge in growth through US distribution with Cardinal Games… not bad for a group of one-time small fries selling Linkee from their bedrooms

14 | toy news | April 2019

Behind the scenes


t’s on the top floor of London’s members-only club, Shoreditch House that Dean Tempest, the co-founder of Big Potato Games pulls me to one side for a quick word. “I got bullied by the team for the last interview I did with a reporter who wrote that I had thin stubble,” he tells ToyNews in earnest. “It descended into me having a ‘wispy beard.’” He’s referencing a recent interview he did with The Evening Standard. A full

spread on the success of this Londonbased games publisher, documenting its rise in the capital’s centre-spot of young professionalism (with a little bit of Hipster thrown in for good measure) in Shoreditch, while seemingly - and simultaneously analysing the 32-year-old’s fashion sense. “I’m not sure if she was trying to make me more bohemian, or just surprised that I was wearing denim,” he jokes. Our own visit with the team has actually been months - nay years - in the planning,

having taken on many guises and ideas, including a Halloween tour of the Big Potato Cave. Schedules never aligned and Big Potato subsequently outgrew its Cave dwelling. It now occupies an entire converted office space - minutes down the road - in what was once the home of the singer-songwriter Matt Johnson of the English post-punk band, The The. “He actually lives up stairs, above the office now,” Tempest explains. “He pops down now and then. I was sat having a April 2019 | toy news | 15

Behind the scenes

whisky with him at our meeting table the other night.” Everything about Big Potato is so Big Potato - the company that actually has radio and TV presenter Matt Edmondson on its list of contributing board game inventors; and a team that even manages to make moving offices seem cool. I tell Tempest as much as we pour over a menu of kale and beetroot salads, six floors above central London. “Honestly, most of everything that happens for us is down to luck, good fortune, or perfect timing,” Tempest tells us, his beard fuller-bodied today than has been previously documented. “I never thought I would be in a position where I am talking to journalists or taking business trips to check in on our distribution in the US, not when I think back to when I was selling boxes of Linkee from my bedroom.” 16 | toy news | April 2019

That’s a reality still very fresh in the memory for Tempest, being little over six years ago when a Shoreditch set-up, global distribution for a portfolio of games across 27 countries, and a team of 18 staff

"I don't think there are many doing what we are doing, moreover, how we are doing it, and people really respond to that." members, couldn’t have seemed more than a distant dream for this young company. The Big Potato founding trio of Tempest, Tristan Hyatt-Williams and Ben Drummond have come an enormously long way since

then. In fact, Big Potato’s 2018 forecast was a turnover of £4.5 million, and by the end of the year, it was tracking a 50 per cent jump in sales. This year, the firm is eyeing something larger that will emanate from big growth overseas - part of its plans for world domination, of course - having secured a major distribution deal with the now Spin Master-owned Cardinal Games. “This is a mega deal for us,” says Tempest. “Some people have looked at it and thought ‘oh, Big Potato and Cardinal Games, this long-established US name… how do they fit together?’ but actually, this partnership is great.” Not only does it now offer Big Potato access to a huge network of big name retailers - all to run alongside its ever expanding network on home soil, that now includes not only the likes of John Lewis

Behind the scenes

and Oliver Bonas, but ASOS and Urban Outfitters, too - but it also gives this small London team a route in with some of the biggest names in entertainment. It’s why the US had been on the radar for Big Potato Games for some time now. This is the team, afterall, that happily sent its own former head of marketing Massimo Zeppetelli out to New York one and a half years ago to set up shop and scope out opportunities. And it turns out, it’s a market of big opportunities, indeed. It was at London Toy Fair this year that the team released details of its first ever licensed board games, with the launch of Disney Colour Brain - a Disney version of its popular colour guessing game - and a new movie trivia board game called Blockbuster. Yes, based on the famed - and now retro - video rental brand itself.

“You know,” continues Tempest, “we wouldn’t have gotten near these kind of licenses if it wasn’t for the connections that Cardinal has been able to make for us. We actually have a whole initiative planned now with Blockbuster to coincide with the Netflix special on the last Blockbuster in the US; they’re going to be giving games away as part of the plan.” There’s something deliciously sardonic about a special on the last Blockbuster in the US being shown on Netflix, but this is the culture of today. There’s a huge call for the retro, but it is inter-sliced with the natural progression of technology; it’s why the resurgence of analogue gaming is something still being felt and enjoyed by so many today, yet exactly why companies like Big Potato are constantly evolving how they market and showcase them to today's audiences..

Aside from Asmodee, who hosts a Twitch stream around big shows like Essen, Big Potato is the first and only UK board game company to stream regular live content on the platform. This usually takes the form of live gaming, sometimes joined by board game designers, and always put out for the enjoyment of the evergrowing - and digital savvy - board gaming community. “We might not get big numbers on some of the sessions we host,” says Becky McKinlay, head of marketing at Big Potato, “but that’s not why we do it. We do it to always have something for this community of gamers, to have our name and a presence out there among them, whether we are hitting 200 viewers or 20.” If you’ve any prior knowledge of Big Potato, its launch onto Twitch would have come as no surprise; this is a team that April 2019 | toy news | 17

Behind the scenes

lives by the ethos of being personable and always putting a face to its brand. It’s probably a mindset that resonated from the days Tempest would cycle 11 miles to deliver a board game order to its very first stockist. Since then, the firm has never been one to endorse faceless marketing. “I think a lot of our success is down to this philosophy,” continues Tempest. “People like the way we present ourselves, and they respond to that. That has really helped us grow our international business, across Europe and all the way to Korea.” It’s also helped Big Potato keep its costs down, prove the worth of home grown marketing content and highlight the power of the many social platforms upon which companies can reach their audiences. Big Potato is very good at that. “Not having the big budgets means that we have to think carefully about everything we do,” continues McKinlay. “This forces us to be more imaginative in what we put out there.” That would explain why, back in the office, project manager Nicola Twiston Davies is finishing up gluing cut out Game of Throne characters to sticks. It's for a video the team is working on to explain the rules of one of its games. In any other office in London, you’d likely receive a warning for gross misconduct. At Big Potato, this is all part of how the team makes money. This ethos would also explain why at London’s famous Loading Bar - a renowned gamer’s cafe - there is a vending machine filled with scaled down versions of Big Potato’s top games, such as Bucket of Doom and Obama Llama. “Having a vending machine of games,” laughs Tempest through a mouthful of beetroot, “what sort of crazy idea is that. But we will always give something like that a go. And having that kind of retail presence in one of London’s coolest spots; a cool board game cafe like that, that is really special and very different.” Talk about perfect timing; Big Potato’s rise certainly coincided with a surging wave here in the UK for tabletop gaming, and Tempest graciously credits titles like Cards Against Humanity for opening doors to audiences that companies like the Big Potato Troupe 'simply took the chance to walk through' with their own titles, very much like the popular Bucket of Doom. 18 | toy news | April 2019

"The whole 'badult' gaming thing is more or less done now, but it really opened the doors for new audiences." “That whole badult gaming movement, I would say has died out now,” he says in a moment of quiet reflection, “But not before it did its job in opening up a whole new appreciation for the more sophisticated

games to come pouring in, just as we are seeing now. That adult gaming scene and the rise of board game cafes have done so much for the life and vibrancy of the tabletop space. In fact, you could say that board game cafes are the unsung heroes of our industry.” Board game cafes will keep a place close to Tempest, who credits such establishments for providing innovative new outlets for audiences of potential gamers - and potential customers - looking to be entertained. On the topic of of what the next step is for the entertainment factor of board

Behind the scenes

gaming, he maintains that its future will remain in the analogue but that its audiences will become more varied and wider reaching. They certainly will if Big Potato continues with its current expansion plans that span not only the pre-school market, with an offering its has been secretly working on for reveal in 2020, but also the business professional market, too. “Think of Ann Summers parties for board games,” he suggests to a chorus of tittering from the table. But Tempest isn’t joking. Already the firm has held a string of successful game night evenings for local businesses under the banner Big Night In. The idea is to provide an alternative social scene for London businesses other than ‘just going down the pub’.

“They can still do that, and we encourage it,” explains Tempest, “but through the Big Night In initiative, we send a Big Potato rep along with a case full of

"I would say that board game cafes have become the unsung heroes of this industry." Dean Tempest, Big Potato Games

games, and get them all playing tabletop games for the evening. “It’s been really successful so far, and we have built a scalable model for it, with the aim of creating a franchise that reaches

across all the major cities in the UK. There’s even the option for these businesspeople to buy games from us at the end of the night.” There’s no doubting that Big Potato has big plans for a long future in the tabletop gaming market. Yet for the success it has seen in just a short space of time, it remains humble of its own achievements. “It’s down to the success of other industries that form the success we have seen,” reflects Tempest. “We don’t really look inwards at the toy industry, better that we look out to those like tech, or video gaming to see what is coming up next.” Looking out over London from Big Potato’s spot in Shoreditch, the midafternoon sun casts its light on Tempest’s stubble. There’s a good week’s worth of growth there. But plenty room for a more. April 2019 | toy news | 19

Board Game Cafes

CAFÉ AU PLAY Board game cafes are fast becoming the ultimate in experiential hubs for today’s consumers and hobbyists. A place to not only spend a few hours eating, drinking and playing, they have become central to today’s board gaming community. Robert Hutchins explores the UK’s board game cafe scene

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eature writing for ToyNews often lands me in interesting places, but I have never before found myself walking through an underground melee of graffiti artists and street performers to a soundtrack of hip hop; at least not during my working hours. I am literally ‘under the arches,’ of London’s Leake Street, besides Waterloo, where the area’s local collection of artists, musicians, and skaters meet up to show off their abilities; whether that’s big wall art, or turning their hand to a multi-deck mixing system, while holding a can of energy drink. Opposite this group of hoody-wearing musicians and within the cavernous looking Arch 16, is the now famed Draughts; London’s first Board Game Cafe where guests can find a selection of food, local craft beers, ales, ciders, and wines “for all those late night sessions,” and, of course, a library of more than 800 board games. This is actually Draughts’ second London site. The successful name first opened its doors to the playing public in 2014 in the heart of Hackney; the result of a Kickstarter campaign that rode the surging wave of the board gaming hobby here in the UK, all with the dream of creating a hub for all things board gaming; whether that's playing, teaching or game designing. “We strive to be an active part of the community and help spread the joy of board gaming to everyone,” reads the brand’s marketing material. One glance at the business’ efforts here, tucked in between London’s Waterloo station and South Bank, and I’d suggest it’s a mark well hit by this troupe of gaming enthusiasts. I’ve loosely arranged to meet up with Draughts’ events manager, Russell Chapman for a chat about business. The throngs of guests that come through the door as I wait, the packed out tables that decorate the cafe floor and the beads of sweat on the foreheads of Draughts’ own staff members suggest that any time for such pleasantries at 5pm on a Friday afternoon, may be a little more pie in the sky than either of us had anticipated. The cafe's atmosphere is simply testament to just how popular a past time board gaming has become; not only among the youth of today but a generation of young families too, who populate the front end of the room and send delegates to

Rob Cormican stands with his floor to ceiling collection of board games (left) at The Library Pot

the games library towards the back of this cove of treasure. Games populate shelves that stack high and deep, like cubby holes in this honey-combed setting of London’s arches. Outside, the atmosphere buzzes like a hive in a setting where, two doors down, you'd expect to find a '90s style rave. This is today's audience for board gaming. Over in Richmond, it’s a much more genteel kind of affair.

"Going down the pub and getting leathered is losing its appeal, people want more."

Rob Cormican, The Library Pot Directly opposite The Library Pot, stands a converted block of flats that, I am told, was once the church in which Vincent Van Gogh delivered sermons to the gathering crowds of 1876. It’s partly with thanks to this snippet of history that patrons of this Richmond board game cafe can find a menu comprising - among all manner of food and drinks generous helpings of absinthe, in honour of the area’s one-time esteemed guest. It also plays a major part in The Library Pot owner, Rob Cormican’s patois with his paying guests. Cormican, you quickly learn, is an historian at heart. One that, having escaped the rat race some five years ago to spend a year writing an historical account

of the year 1876, finally struck upon a move into the business of board game cafes. “Two events happened in the year 1876, that to me just couldn’t have seemed further apart,” he tells me, brandishing the self-published copy of his book, 1876, quite possibly the only one in existence. “It was the year that Colonel Custer was pinned by the arrows of the native American foes, while on that same day, in that same year, Doctor Alexander Graham Bell was making the world’s first phone call…” Cormican is a man that loves his history. This, perhaps goes some way to explain his affinity with the world of board gaming, and the many titles, cultures, worlds and historical dates that his collection of over 600 titles now spans. In the centre of the room at The Library Pot is a table set up with a game of Mahjong - a beautifully decorated set of tiles that plays out like an ancient Eastern version of the game Rummy. Behind this is a bar, set up with a selection of ales and alcoholic drinks, while menus sit alongside chess timers on each of the cafe’s tables. “We are actually becoming known as a restaurant in it’s own right,” says Cormican. “I would say about 50 per cent of the guests we have come here, haven’t even heard of Ticket to Ride, they see us as a restaurant and cafe first, and board games come as a bonus to them. ‘The other 50 per cent are as eclectic a mix of board game fans as you can get.” April 2019 | toy news | 21


The Library Pot’s games collection takes up a whole corner of this Richmond cafe, prime real estate for any kind of set up in these parts of the London borough. The majority of these titles, Cormican scouts for at events such as UK Games Expo, others are sent to him from up and coming game designers, while the rest are sourced via accounts he has with the likes of Asmodee UK. “My knowledge of board games was normal before all of this happened,” Cormican explains. “You know, the usual level of knowledge that a person would have growing up.” You wouldn’t think it to look at the collection he has today. Escape from Colditz sits among the shelves dedicated to the ‘top picks’ amongst the regulars who drop into the cafe for a bite to eat and an adventure across WWII Germany. There’s a copy of Quirk on the side, Pandemic, all manner of titles inspired by the games 22 | toy news | April 2019

played by ancient civilisations and our ancestors, and of course, Bez’s In A Bind. The Library Pot is one of the board game cafe movement’s success stories, that,

"We are right at the forefront of this 'experiential' movement you hear retailers talk about."

Rob Cormican, The Library Pot now in its fourth year, has built a name for itself among the gaming community’s most devoted, as well as those looking for an alternative “to getting hammered in the pub every weekend.” Word of mouth has given it a local status and it’s even hosted a group party for the local Sky News team and Sky Sports TV presenters.

“We’re at a time when going down the pub and just getting leathered is losing its appeal among a lot of people,” Cormican tells me. “People are looking for alternative ways to spend their time and their money… our job here at The Library Pot is to provide them with that opportunity, all by convincing them to stay and spend their money with us.” Where a board game cafe sits within the wider retail sphere, is really a rather unique position. The business model for any usual restaurant or cafe is in the volume of its turnover. Such establishments are geared up to have as many paying customers in and out throughout the day as they can. The board game cafe, as a concept, takes a much more leisurely look at life. In fact, it’s arguable that it operates in that same interstice as the garden centre; acting as a venue for those that have a day to spend. It’s why the Library Pot is more than a cafe, or a restaurant, more than shop, too; it’s

a hangout with a drive for providing a day and an evening's worth of entertainment. “You hear a lot of talk these days among retailers about experiential, and I suppose we are right at the forefront of that,” states Cormican. He is stood in front of the cafe’s own adult ball pit, moving a delivery of frozen turkey burgers into the kitchen, while a folk number plays over the radio. “We provide guests with a full day of entertainment here; lunch, drinks, dinner and as many board games as they’d like to play. Yes, we get the ones who only want a water and those are the ones we take out the back and shoot…” Cormican’s joke is a reminder that encouraging people to spend their money is the primary focus of any business, not just The Library Pot. It’s not such an easy task in today’s climate and not all board game cafes are destined for the success that this one - and our friends at Draughts - have seen over the past four or five years.

News of board game cafes closing almost as soon as they open is not uncommon in the circles in which Cormican operates. Then again, those that find success are stories that have resonated for the best part of the last decade. Oxford’s Thirsty Meeples was the first board game cafe to open here in the UK way back in July 2013, stocking

"A board game cafe is the ultimate experience hub for visitors to become someone else." Sergey Punzhin, The Victory Point

over 1,700 games, as well as coffee and beer. It was the launch that gave rise to the board game cafe movement here in the UK. It was perfect timing then, that over in Cambridge, work is now underway to launch a board game cafe of its own. The Victory Point Boardgames Cafe is scheduled

to open this Autumn, under the leadership of board game lover Sergey Punzhin, heralding his long-awaited destination after running a seccuession of popular events, evenings and pop-ups for the last few years. “We now want to create a space that can bring together people from all walks of life, with great service, great atmosphere and a great community,” Punzhin tells me. "Board game cafes are community centres and we want to foster that face-to-face interaction." Educated on the current strains on the High Street, Punzhin sees his project - along with the number of cafes now popping up across the UK - as the ultimate antidote to a sedentary retail scene. "Difficulty has come from the growth of online retailers and services that make it easier to stay at home, but board game cafes are a reason to get away from the screen and meet people,” he says. Unlike Richmond’s Cormican, Punzhin is a life-long board game enthusiast who, April 2019 | toy news | 23

Board Game Cafes

24 | toy news | April 2019

having grown up surrounded by board games, saw no alternative other than to turn to his life’s passion for his career. It's a career path that he also feels will play a key role in the future of how retailing is done by those occupying the High Street today. “Considering the rather incredible development of home entertainment options, businesses have had to respond with increasingly elaborate experiences of their own; hence the appearance of Escape Rooms or museum-sponsored puzzle-solving events,” Punzhin explains. “A modern board game is an experience by itself - putting players into the roles of explorers, firefighters, spies, gods… It is then natural that a board game cafe becomes an experience hub, a great library of possibilities for people to be someone new and different.” His philosophy makes a lot of sense. But not only this, Punzhin's belief is that in

creating a community around a board game cafe, it helps fuel a sector that is reliant on innovation and development by providing board game designers with audiences to try out and playtest their latest concepts.

"As retail and high street evolve, we need to be the strongest ambassadors of our hobby and culture that we can be."

Sergey Punzhin, The Victory Point Believe it or not, the role of the board game cafe goes beyond this still, with an integral role to play in shaping society: “Board gaming and board game cafes are, to some degree, responsible for the development of our culture of games,

specifically offline, social games,” Punzhin continues. ‘They need to be able to offer attractive options for generations Y and Z, who have become disillusioned with the anonymity of social media. We need to be there when businesses wish to invest in teambuilding activities and to achieve this, we need to both create a visible space where anyone feels welcome and we need to be the strongest ambassadors of our hobby and culture that we can be.” If this doctrine is to be followed, it's no small task that the independent board game cafe scene now has set out ahead of it. But, while no two board game cafes are ever the same, they each share a commonality; whether catering to skaters in Waterloo, students in Cambridge or the Sky Sports presenters of Richmond. “This community can become a UK movement,” says The Library Pot’s Cormican. “That'll be nice for business…” April 2019 | toy news | 25

start-up scene

DARLING BUDS OF MAY Emmerse Studio’s CEO Emma May has only been on the toy scene around two years, but already she’s garnered legions of fans of her debut title (and its subsequent spin-off games) Quirk. Robert Hutchins catches up with the game designer to talk her blossoming career


ome away from a conversation with Emma May, the CEO of Emmerse Studios, and you come away with a fascinating insight into the world in which she operates; from the fandom of followers she regularly interacts with over social media, to her mother’s own fascination with Green Giant peas and sweetcorn. It’s only been two years, but Emmerse Studios has already made quite the impact on the independent gaming scene with its

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flagship title Quirk - one that has spawned legions of fans, a series of spin-off titles and a compendium of ‘the best impressions of mermaids that May has ever seen.’ While most consist of players mimecombing their hair, belting out Under the Sea, the rudest impressions have witnessed players “grabbing their tits and flailing around on the floor,” May divulges. But what could you expect from a game played largely by crowds of drunk adults casting off their inhibitions with reckless abandon?

This is part of the pleasure of creating a game that literally spans the ages, May tells us about Quirk that, thanks to its simplicity and nature in “just getting people to act out daft impressions,” allows it an audience of both pre-schoolers from the age of three, all the way to adult gamers looking for a game to play while having a drink. “There’s very little difference between the two ends of the scale, when it comes to their impressions,” May tells us. “Then you get players like my mum, who just sings

start-up scene

the Green Giant peas and sweetcorn advert everytime she pulls the Giant card.” Quirk is a game that started out life as an “overly-complicated” party trick designed by May to get her friends drunk. It was player feedback that May was encouraged to develop the game into what we know Quirk to be today. And what we do know Quirk to be today, is a title that is picking up pace with inside track party gamers as well as some of the biggest names on the High Street at the moment. It’s secured space in a string of Waterstones stores across the country, and found distribution with Asmodee UK that “should - all things well - place it in all Waterstones in the UK,” says May. We also know that this game has a devout following that May charmingly refers to as “my fans.” Her turn of phrase summarises precisely her approach - she wants to feel close to the players of her games, and she wants to give each of them the best game playing experience she can. “You could say that I am all for the people,” she laughs. She may be joking, but she isn’t far off the truth. Time was that May was so devoted to her followers, she would spend hours a night interacting

"It's good and bad times for indie devs." Emma May, CEO

with them all via social media - answering questions, offering advice and generally ‘supplying whatever guidance I could.' She describes her social media activity as a kind of hobby. But, as the game has started to gather pace, she’s found a need to limit her time immersed in this community. “I started a Follow Thursday on Twitter that ended up lasting five days,” May recalls. “I kept following the conversation until it all got out of hand. But I really enjoy connecting with people who have this love for the game, and being close to the players is so important for an indie publisher.” May knows her mind; intuitive and business savvy, it’s something that has propelled this entrepreneur - whether in her life as a tech developer, life coach or game designer - to success. However, it is on the topic of the indie publishing scene she seems to waiver. There’s a dichotomy that is hard to grasp instantaneously.

“It’s a great time to be an indie game publisher,” she states, “but at the same time, I don’t think it has ever been harder.” She’s talking about Kickstarter. The stats suggest that around 2,500 games are funded via this crowdfunding site per year. However, May believes this is a skewed statistic, considering that more and more big game publishers are using the platform “as a pre-order site,” for titles “making millions in funding,” while small people like Emmerse Studios struggle to hit £1,000. “This isn’t only turning a platform that was once great for creators to find money to develop projects into a corporate engine, it’s creating a false reality of what game development actually is,” offers up May. “Big companies come to the platform with hundreds of thousands of pounds behind them, and big teams of developers. When the game reaches its funding, they are knocked out and packed off no problem. “The reality is a small company has so many extra hurdles to navigate, it’s never as easy a journey for them.” But, explains May, this isn’t what the consumer sees. They pay their money and carry expectations of the big companies. “This is actually really damaging to that whole creative process of the independent publisher. I think there needs to be better education - for both publishers and backers - as to the reality of the Kickstarter process,” states May. Such is the nature of May, she has taken on the task herself. When asked what we can all expect next from Emmerse Studios, it isn’t just her plans to secure further retail listing for Quirk in both the independent retailer and high street name that tops the list, but a project to create a series of educational videos to help people better navigate crowdfunding. “There is such a vital and vibrant community of passionate gamers out there, but I do think that there are groups of them that have been blinded by how the big players operate," she tells us. "It would be good to see that balance restored for everyone." There’s clearly a compassion to May that could see her strike up an affinity with almost anyone, even if they were flailing on the floor, clutching at their breasts. It’s no wonder she’s struck up such a large base of followers. And it’s only growing from here. April 2019 | toy news | 27

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AIS Preview


With a long list of suppliers waiting to get on board with the AIS group in the wake of Toys R Us, Miles Penhallow, head of toys and childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gifts at Play-room and name behind the Independent Toy and Gift Show is currently the man of the hour. He talks to ToyNews about the shifting retail space, this year's show and how to maintain that air of exclusivity April 2019 | toy news | 29



here’s something rather quite exclusive about being a member of the AIS buying group that you’re not necessarily privy to elsewhere. It’s a penny that dropped for me as I was chatting with the group’s head of toy and gifts, Miles Penhallow, about what we can all expect from the upcoming April show this year. For a start, I don’t know any other buying group that hosts a professional Murder Mystery night at a swanky hotel for retail members and selected suppliers to come together for a sophisticated evening of networking (I’ve seen a number of retailers carve up the dance floor, or butcher a mix of disco classics at a certain Harrogate hotel in my time, but nothing quite like this), neither have I heard of buying groups handing out M&S vouchers to those retail members, simply for turning up. It would appear that the perks offered up by Penhallow and his team lend AIS membership a certain piquancy, that - dependent on your tastebuds, of course - gives it all an air of fine-dining, among so much of today’s fast-food fascination. 30 | toy news | April 2019

You'll have to forgive the food analogies for the moment, the AIS Independent Toy and Gift Show's famed lunchtime menu is a thing of fine reputation across the industry, after all. However, there's more than beautifully braised beef to this Solihull show, and more than one reason as to why Penhallow is today, such a popular character. To understand the show's ever-increasing esteem among the industry players, it perhaps helps to take a look at the shifting dynamic among suppliers and the independent retail base. Since the demise of Toys R Us, this is a scale that has begun to find itself sliding. “We had a very good year last year,” Penhallow tells ToyNews, “we ended last year seven and a half per cent up on our invoice sales from our members and we are currently running at 22 per cent up… but the picture is mixed. “There are some areas of the country that haven’t benefited from Toys R Us closing as they never had one near them anyway. But there are those that have benefited greatly, because they had a Toys R Us on their doorstep.

"The general message is there are now less places to buy toys in bricks and mortar stores, and while it will take longer for the larger players to gear up and take that gap, the indies can benefit in the short term.”

“We have a long waiting list of suppliers wanting to come on board, but it's not in our interest to increase numbers.” Miles Penhallow, AIS That’s why Penhallow’s recent message, when announcing the dates of this year’s Independent Toy and Gift Show (April 29th - 30th, by the way), was that this is very much the year for the independent retailer. It’s also why, Penhallow explains, that when it came to walking the halls of this year’s London Toy Fair, he had never found himself “to be so popular.” It’s important to note at this point, and seldom remembered, that AIS is the fourth largest supplier to its

AIS Preview

members after the likes of LEGO, Hasbro and Mattel, so when it comes to having a grasp on the indie trading sector, none can be better equipped than Penhallow is now. “We have seen,” he says, “certainly among the large companies - including LEGO - they are saying that they need to be working with independents again, getting closer to them. They have to because there is the worry that this could happen to the next biggest customer. They want to spread the risk and build up their base with the independent. “We have seen a lot more support in certain areas and, dare I say it, even some improved terms in certain places.” Words perhaps none could have predicted to be uttered at the end of 2017, yet an indication of just how far that pendulum has swung in the wake of Toys R Us. As a result, AIS now has a long list of suppliers who “would love to come to the show.” “But the show is only for those suppliers that have agreed to become preferred suppliers, that can be invoiced through our central paying system, and because we have always had that criteria, we have ultimately

always had that number limited to around 85,” says Penhallow. Given the current demand, would it make sense for Penhallow and the team to capitalise on this surge of popularity of the hallowed AIS member supplier status and increase the numbers? “That’s not something we will be doing,” Penhallow states. “We won’t be diluting our messaging by opening the floodgates. We don’t want our members to have a choice of seven jigsaw companies. We want them to deal with the best three. If they deal with the best three that turnover becomes more meaningful and that member benefits more. “This way, we can set growth targets, we can do more if we are focusing the turnover into less suppliers. If we let that turnover get dissipated across too many suppliers, and I think 200 suppliers is too many suppliers, how can we put a message out saying we believe in this range, or that range, if we’re promoting three similar ones?” I mentioned the exclusivity of this particular club, didn’t I? But it’s not to say retail members are restricted to deal only with those preferred suppliers, neither does

it mean suppliers don’t all get a crack at the AIS whip. Its list of preferred suppliers is updated regularly, with inactive suppliers bumped for newcomers, in order for the Group to keep up with the current trends. It's why this year will see the likes of Jazwares, Hornby Hobbies and Wild & Wolk make their show debut, because trends is a pulse upon which AIS has a finger firmly placed. The group was ahead of the curve when it came to spotting the growth potential of the garden centre, and among its retail membership today sits all manner of outlets for toys, from pharmaceutical chains and department stores to visitor attractions. And AIS likes to tailor its approach for each; because this is a group that makes a point of of knowing each of its members vry well indeed. “I will often be on the road, making store visits to our members - finding out what is working for them, what is not, what their in-store layout is offering in terms of set-up, or experience,” explains Penhallow. ‘We like to then share those stories with the membership, to help encourage them and inspire their own efforts. It’s a close-knit community that we like to create when you’re a member of AIS.” Even if you’re not, there’s still plenty that AIS’ Independent Toy and Gift Show has to offer you this year, starting with lunch and ending on two days of relaxed supplier-buyer interaction, at a show famed for bringing the big names like Hasbro, Mattel, LEGO, and Character Options all together under one roof. Puzzles is this year's central theme - with Gibsons and the firm's 100 year celebrations taking centre stage of this easy-paced yet integral trad show. As long as all bloodshed is kept strictly to the Murder Mystery evening, of course. April 2019 | toy news | 31

“Kids today are digital first, so why isn’t the toy industry?” In WildBrain’s first column of 2019, the analytics team checks in on how digital viewing by kids is growing, and compare official YouTube channels from the toy industry with other sectors, to discover that while children today are digital natives, the toy industry still needs to catch up…


ids these days… Stream video content like it’s the norm. It’s true that a child born in the same year that YouTube was launched - back in 2005 - will be turning 14 in 2019, while those born in the year Netflix first launched its streaming platform (in 2007) will turn 12.

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Today’s children have grown up in a world where streaming platforms like YouTube and Netflix are as ubiquitous as established broadcasting giants like the BBC. The rise of these streaming video services has not been without controversy, particularly with YouTube whose platform allows anyone in the world to upload video

content, free of charge to an instant global audience, with little guidlines. In recent years, there have been several high-profile stories about brand safety on the platform and concerns surrounding its masses of children’s content. Despite the bad PR in the industry trade press, data suggests that parents and


billion came from official industry channels (two per cent). This is despite the enormous popularity of formats featuring toys. Based on this, it would seem the toy industry is under-utilising YouTube as a marketing channel.

Source: Tubular Video Intelligence, WildBrain Analysis, excludes media brands (eg TV channels and music labels)

Growth opportunities and connecting with digital natives In some ways, the toy sector faces some challenges with establishing itself on YouTube. The kids genre is highly developed and competitive, with tens of thousands of channels competing for views. However, brands have more advantages on their side. They have significantly bigger budgets and resources than many of the largest YouTubers, who are typically ‘mom and pop’ organisations.

“The toy industry needs to follow the audience.” Will Mahmood, WildBrain

Source: Tubular Video Intelligence, WildBrain Analysis, excludes media brands (eg TV channles and music labels)

children still do flock to YouTube for free entertainment. Viewing of kids’ content, for instance, continues to post double digit growth. At the time of writing, monthly views in February 2019 were 71.6 billion, a year on year increase of over 25 per cent. Marketing channels and screentime are fundamentally changing, but is the toy industry adapting quickly enough? Industry Channels on YouTube Brands have been active on YouTube for years, attempting to do what they have done traditionally on TV, which YouTube allows, but also to do new things, such

as forging direct relationships with their consumers. In 2018, the toy industry ranked in tenth place on YouTube based on annual views, compared to official channels from other industry verticals. This is further down the list than one might expect, given the rank and size of the kids’ content vertical, which is the third largest content category on YouTube, behind only music and entertainment. Official toy industry channel views continue to represent a very small share of kids’ content views. In 2018, kids’ content was a 756 billion-view category, but only 14

To stand out from the crowd, brands can invest in paid advertising or higher quality original content. Paid advertising to target parent decision makers is highly efficient on YouTube, with many advanced targeting capabilities that are not available on television. For those concerned with brand safety, ads can also be targeted to premium channels such as the WildBrain network which reaches on out of three children in the world, with internet access every 90 days. For the first time brands can also have a direct connection with audiences through owned channels. No longer disintermediated by a broadcaster allows for deeper audience insights that can help brands market products more effectively. Official channels also ultimately become strategic assets that can be leveraged when launching new lines and toy ranges that may appeal to the channel viewers’ interests and preferences. Streaming offers brand marketers many advantages over traditional TV. Kids today are digital-first, and the toy industry needs to follow the audience to remain relevant. April 2019 | toy news | 33

Kids Insights

The revolution will not be televised… it will be streamed Following Google’s Stadia announcement last month, it stands to reason that the gaming revolution is just about set to go to the next level. This month, The Insights People look more closely at how this could affect the toy sector


he popularity of video gaming is ever-increasing - the UK's gaming industry alone is estimated to be worth £3.86bn - more than video and music combined - and Kids Insights data shows it is the second most popular hobby of children aged four to 12. Although the ever-changing children’s media and entertainment landscape presents some challenges, it is also opening opportunities for brands to adapt and respond to these changes.

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By surveying more than 1,600 different children each week across the UK, US and Europe, and by using our team of dedicated experts that specialise only in kids’ and family market research and intelligence, we here at Kids Insights help clients to develop their advertising, content licensing, marketing, product and sales strategies, as well as reporting on and highlighting trends in the sector. At the same time that we see video gaming grow its numbers, and while companies like Google get in on the act

by launching platforms like Google Stadia, data tells us that daily use of YouTube by four to 18-year-olds is on the wane, having reduced from 61 per cent to 51 per cent in 2018, as we saw this demographic increasingly migrate to new platforms, such as the gaming-focused Twitch, which continues to grow in popularity. As predicted in our Future Forecast report, created at the end of 2018 and issued in January, it makes sense that Google, which owns YouTube, would launch a gaming streaming service that

Kids Insights

connects to YouTube to drive users back to the platform, and so the timing is perfect to launch “Stadia”. Clearly, the company and its new head of gaming, Phil Harrison, have seen the direction of travel for both the gaming sector and YouTube as a platform, and have acted decisively. By developing this platform, they have the potential to be perfectly positioned to become the nucleus of the current gaming revolution, as our data shows that gaming continues to grow, but console ownership in certain age segments is now in decline. Much of the success of Stadia will depend on uptake, however. It’s a known fact that online gamers regularly complain about the lag between performing an action on their controller and the action occurring in-game, so uptake of Stadia really will depend on how well the Stadia controller, which Google says will connect directly to the internet rather than through the platform to help decrease the possibility of lag, performs in reality. For Stadia to succeed, then, it will need to quickly develop a stable of games for

users to choose from ahead of its launch later this year, and when it does launch to users, it will need to not only compare to other gaming platforms, it will arguably need to outperform them in terms of usability and lag. But the opportunity for Google goes beyond targeting gamers. We continue to see that this generation of kids are wanting to create their own stories, and with game developing one of the top career aspirations of this generation of kids, there is a significant opportunity for the platform to evolve to enable children to co-create in the building and development of their very own games. In addition to this, and as video gaming rapidly migrates from a console to an in-browser and in-app experience, we believe there’s a significant opportunity for developers to create new worlds of new content. Creating new titles, characters and content also opens vast new opportunities to develop licensing properties, an area the video gaming industry is already actively pursuing, with movies based on Sonic,

Pikachu and Super Mario all due for release. To find out about the other trends The Insights People are predicting for 2019, download our 2019 Future Forecast report at or speak with us about your advertising, licensing, product and sales strategies.

KIDS INSIGHTS Kids Insights specialises in research and insights on kids and their ecosystems. We survey 400 kids, tweens and teens every single week and our real time portal is continually updated to allow our clients to spot the latest trends before their competitors. Our insight-led reports are produced by some of the top kids’ researchers in the UK and have seen us short-listed for a number of start-up and innovation awards. For more information on Kids Insights, a sample report and a demo of the Kids Insights award-winning portal visit or call the team on 0330 159 6631

April 2019 | toy news | 35

Generation Media

A SVOD-ING MINEFIELD Lauren Coombs With the launch of Apple TV+ just last month, there’s now a multitude of SVOD platforms to wade through. Generation Media’s Lauren Coombs asks how it will affect the media market Source BARB May 2018


e’ve seen a plethora of subscriptionbased VOD platforms enter the market this first quarter; from Britbox, a joint venture between BBC and ITV focusing on British television, to Disney Plus, to be released this year following the removal of its content from Netflix All of which are no doubt a direct result of the success of Netflix and Amazon Prime. For the purpose of this piece, we want to focus in on one of the largest tech powerhouses who, at the time of writing launched its first offering into this space. Apple TV+ is set to be an on-demand, subscriptionbased service that will be available on Apple TV (the app) in 100 countries from this autumn/winter period, with the roll-out extending to selected TVs including Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizio. Apple TV+ looks to cater for several audiences including celebrity-focused chat shows geared towards women featuring Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon, to more specifically children’s content the Helpsters teaching children about coding (produced by the Sesame Street team). It’s been reported by some that the service will be non-commercial at this point. However, knowing that Apple is a largely commercial entity, we expect it won’t be long before advertising opportunities appear. Will it take viewing away from linear TV channels, alongside other SVOD offerings including Netflix and

Amazon? At this point in time we would not estimate it to have such a significant impact on the children’s market. There simply isn’t a high level of children’s content being discussed at this stage. However, the adult market may suffer, particularly if Apple continues to invest in new high-quality, exclusive content, and, as these subscription-based platforms gain increasing traction it puts current and additional fees such as Sky subscriptions and TV license fees under some scrutiny. The negative impact of it all is that these services do represent further erosion of commercial impacts, and the platforms being widely discussed as noncommercial will limit audience availability. So the question is, how will media channels provide mass awareness with a proven return for future campaigns? For these reasons, measurement of younger audience’s viewing across devices and platforms is key for agencies and advertisers to understand. As many know, Youth TGI reports from seven years old plus and BARB measures from four years old upwards, so there has been a large gap in understanding viewing among the younger demographic. Giraffe Insight’s Kids and the Screen’s revolutionary research in this space helps the market understand how the on-demand subscription service landscape is changing viewing patterns over time. For more information, please do contact us through our website.

ToyNews PlayTime is provided by Generation Media 0207 307 7900 |

April 2019 | toy news | 36

Games & Puzzles

ROLLING WITH THE PLAYERS The games and puzzles sector continues to fight its good fight against today’s screen-saturated society. Robert Hutchins rounds up all those making a big impact on the category this year

Jumbo Games 01707 260436 Having finished 2018 as the UK’s number one manufacturer of adult puzzles and accessories, Jumbo has started the year with growth, driven by the investment in over 60 new adult puzzles that launched in January. Jumbo’s market leading adult puzzle brand Wasgij is already seeing growth of 15 per cent this year that is being led by the six new 1,000 piece puzzle releases across it Original, Destiny and Mystery puzzle concepts. In June it will introduce three 1,000 piece puzzles in the range; Original 32 The Big Weigh In, Destiny 20 The Toy Shop, and Christmas 15 Santa’s Unexpected Delivery that will again include a free 1,000 piece for added consumer value. It’s why it was the UK’s number one selling adult puzzle item in 2018.

To continue driving the 29 per cent growth for its Falcon de Luxe puzzle brand, having already released 10 new puzzles in January, Jumbo is bringing out 10 new puzzles across 500-1,500-pieces in April. 10 new puzzles are on their way for June, including the Christmas 1,000-piece puzzle, titled ‘Santa’s Special Delivery’, that includes a free 1,000-piecer. Jumbo will be releasing four new 1,000-piece Puzzles for Dumbo, Aladdin The Lion King and The Little Mermaid’s 30th Anniversary, but it’s not all adult puzzles for Jumbo this year. With the new hit pre-school property, Moon & Me, already topping the viewing charts, Jumbo has four puzzles aimed at children three and upwards, while hot off the press is its range of pre-school eco-games produced using 100 per cent recycled materials are already proving popular move for the company. There are four games in the range for this year, with more to come. April 2019 | toy news | 37

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NeW fUn gAmEs FoR Ss19 fRoM ThE mAkErS Of


Games & Puzzles

Gibsons 0208 661 8866 / Gibsons has released a new collection of design-led jigsaw puzzles that have been manufactured right here in the UK. There are six 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles available in the White Logo range, all of which have been selected for their unconventional scenes. The White Logo puzzles are made from the thickest board available on the UK market and are presented in compact boxes that are sealed with paper tabs to reduce unnecessary cardboard and plastic waste. Following the trend for mindfulness, Gibsons’ White Logo jigsaws are perfect for the new wave of puzzlers who are looking for more innovative and contemporary designs, rather than typical, traditional puzzle scenes. The puzzles don’t conform to the conventional jigsaw illustrations, with designs such as Avocado Park, which is filled with everyone’s favourite little fruit, and the crazy Carnival jigsaw, created by the artist Rob Pybus. Zonkers is Gibsons’ brand new, fast and frantic dice game. Frantically roll your dice in a head to head frenzy as you try to win cards and beat your foe. The aim of the game is to match your dice with the dice graphics on the cards. When the cards are filled with dice, or when a player places their last dice, the round ends and the player with the most dice on a card wins. Following the success of Gibsons’ other quick-play games, Mind the Gap and Pixit, Zonkers has been added to its collection. These games are billed as the perfect entertainment for long car journeys or rainy afternoons spent indoors.

Big Potato Games The golden age of video rentals is back, as Big Potato taps into the demand for retro with this season’s launch. That’s right, the firm is introducing a super-simple party game for literally anyone who has ever seen a movie - and like all great blockbusters, this one is double bill. Blockbusters is a movie trivia party game that sees groups split into two teams. In round one, each team will get to choose one of their members to go head-to-head in a quickfire buzzer battle. From ‘Famous Trilogies’ to ‘Movies with a Zombie in’, these two players must think quick, shout out a movie and slap the buzzer to put the pressure on their opponent. The first player to run out of ideas loses the round (and gives their opponents a serious advantage in round two). We like to call round two ‘Movie Charades with a Twist.' The player that wins the buzzer battle picks up six movie cards, gives the hardest three to their opponent and keeps the rest for themselves. When ready, they’ll get 30 seconds to get their team to shout out the movies by acting out the film, making up a quote and describing them with just one word. Get them right quick enough and you’ll have a chance to steal from your opponents. It’s an all-out race to collect a film from every genre and be crowned the new Blockbuster big-shots. With 200 classic movies, 60 category cards and a (nearly) life-sized replica of a Blockbuster carpark, this is a party game that promises to bring home the entertainment. April 2019 | toy news | 39

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Gift of the Year

Winner 2019 And the award for Hot Novelty Gift of the Year goes to…us! Woo Hoo!! Cue: tears and a long embarrassing speech. Here’s how to play: We give you the first half of an Internet search and you have to guess the top ten auto-suggestions. Some of the results are pretty bizarre but think like a human and you’ll do fine. If you’d like to see the full range of Big Potato party games, contact Emily Polglase: 07427 824 526



PoTaTo gAmEs

Games & Puzzles

Ravensburger 01869 363 800 Following nine years of consecutive growth, Ravensburger is upbeat about being seven per cent up in games and puzzles for January 2019, and excited by its burgeoning new games and puzzle launches. Ravensburger is the proven fastest growing games supplier in the top 10 among the games and puzzles sector. This year, the firm’s focus remains to deliver high quality individual products that consumers love. Building on the success of Disney Villainous, Labyrinth, Bugs in the Kitchen and Harry Potter Pictopia comes Google kNOW!, the always-current and always on-trend quiz game, and the world’s first board game developed in collaboration with Google itself. Powered by Google Assistant, this quiz game’s responses and answers will always be updated depending on just where and when in the world you are playing. The game will feature 1,500 questions. Other highlights include Monster Splat, Bugacula, Jaws and Ramses, and, for younger children, simple to play games based on Toy Story 4, Frozen II and Peppa Pig, while the ThinkFun range is packed with STEMinspired games, backed by the company’s 35-year TN-APR19-GIBSON.qxp_Layout 1 12/03/2019 12:31 ideas. Page 1 heritage and a love of truly original

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Games & Puzzles

Paul Lamond Games 0207 254 0100 / Secure strong sales in 2019 with an exciting array of new games and puzzles from Paul Lamond Games; spanning award-winning board games to pre-school puzzles. From The World of David Walliams is the Gangsta Granny ‘Stash the Swag’ board game, winner of Toy Fair’s Hero Toy Award 2019. Granny and Ben are planning the greatest jewel theft in history but can they avoid the Queen, collect and stash all the jewels? This family game is for two to four players aged seven years and over. Meanwhile, for pre-schoolers are the new Oi Frog! Memory Card Game in a Tin and three Oi 35-piece puzzles. Starring the renowned Oi Frog! Oi Cat! and Oi Dog! characters from the award-winning, funny, and rhyming story books, these eye-catching products are educational, colourful and fun. Are You Dumber Than a Box of Rocks? Pit your knowledge against the Rocks in this quick play trivia card game. For players aged 12 and over, it's perfect for parties as any number of players can take part. A bit of outdoor family fun is just what Flickin’ Chicken offers. This is a game of insane chicken throwing, where chickens bounce and roll but can you hit the target? Flickin’ Chicken is the go-anywhere game, while also new on the shelves this spring, is the I Spy Eagle Eye family game and the I Spy Preschool game. Both titles see players racing to spot the matches. New to the family puzzles sector is a range of 500-4000 piece jigsaws from Educa Puzzles. This collection, from the Spanish company Educa Borras, features classic puzzle favourites, panorama puzzles and on trend images.

Orchard Toys 01953 859 539 Orchard Toys prides itself on being one of the few British toy companies that still manufactures its games and puzzles here in the UK, making over 1.8 million products each year. Not only that, but the company also exports its products to over 40 countries worldwide. Each title in the Orchard Toys portfolio is designed with the support of educational advisors, including teachers, nursery practitioners, early years professionals and children themselves. The company strives to produce games and jigsaws which are interactive, fun and appealing, as well as enhancing learning. This season, Orchard Toys has released a new game, which combines board games with a free app. Sound Detectives encourages children to put their listening skills to the test. The game can be enjoyed by two to four players, and is suitable for children aged three to six years. Players race to identify the sound and if successful, they add the card to their board and move one step closer to catching their sneaky thief. For guaranteed play value, Orchard Toys has ensured that Sound Detectives can still be played without the use of the app. Like all of Orchard Toys’ games and jigsaws, the new launch is designed with the ethos of learning made fun at its heart. Orchard Toys games, puzzles and packaging are all made using 100 per cent recycled board and paper that is sourced from sustainable forests and manufactured in the UK. April 2019 | toy news | 43

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Games & Puzzles

Asmodee UK 01420 593 593 Asmodee UK is looking forward to a successful 2019, with some exciting lines. Perhaps the most attention-grabbing new product is Harry Potter Dobble, set to launch in the summer. This combination of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world and the UK’s biggest-selling game of 2018 will delight fans, as they attempt to spot the single matching image between two cards. Each will be decorated with stylised imagery of Harry, his friends, magical creatures, Hogwarts houses and more. Another new draw is Telestrations. This popular drawing game sees all players sketch out a word from a secret card, then pass their drawing to their neighbour who guesses the word. Their guess is then passed along again for another drawing, continuing until everyone has their original sketchbook back. Expect hilarious outcomes and questionable artwork. Telestrations’ broad appeal makes it an ideal headliner for Asmodee’s new dedicated Party Games range, which will debut over the summer with widespread demonstrations at family events and festivals. Also in the category is Time’s Up, in which players are split into teams and take turns trying to describe a variety of famous names to their team-mates. Meanwhile, Asmodee’s Fun Fast Games range is building on a strong first year, led by the phenomenal success of the original Dobble. Fun Fast Games also includes Bananagrams, Cobra Paw, Rory’s Story Cubes and Who Did It? Plus Dice Academy - a new addition for 2019. Asmodee can provide eye-catching POS material to support the entire range this year. Retailers should also make sure to have a look at KeyForge, a ground-breaking, flagship Asmodee title that has taken the card-gaming market by storm. There's all this an more in Asmodee UK's portfolio this season, so be sure to check it all out.

Wild & Wolf Looking for a trendy game that’s unique, wildly fun and with just the right amount of quirkiness? Look no further than Ridley’s Games from Wild & Wolf, because the firm has two new titles launching in SS19 with Peach Snaps and Nope!. Peach Snaps is a fruity card game of fast reactions, brought to you by the makers of Avocado Smash. Peach Snaps is a juicy take on Snap that doesn’t fall far from the tree. It’s a quick and easy game to learn and play, comes packaged in a novelty peach case and can be displayed in a novelty fruit carton CDU. Snap down the cards from your hand onto the center piles each time you have one of three matches: by colour, symbol or number. Everyone plays at the same time, in a furiously fast race to get rid of your cards. Stay alert, as the game includes number cards and unique action cards, including themed “Freeze”, “Clear Hand” and “Add a Stack” cards. Nope! is an addictive colour-matching card game from Ridley’s Games with completely bespoke gameplay. It’s been billed as the perfect game to play with friends and family and has a cool, simple graphic style with unique fluorescent colour palette. When it’s your turn, look at the top card of the center pile to see if you have to discard anything from your hand. If you do – you must obey, or play an action card to avoid losing more cards. If you're lucky and you don’t have to discard anything from your hand, say ‘Nope!’ and pass the buck on to the next player. April 2019 | toy news | 45

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Games & Puzzles

Spin Master Games Spin Master Games continues to focus on its most popular lines with exciting refreshes in 2019, that includes the refresh of Hedbanz Disney edition – party game featuring children’s favourite Disney characters and Mickey-ears styled headbands. It follows the classic animal-themed Hedbanz Jr. in which kids guess “What animal am I?”, while Beat the Parents will have a refresh with the addition of challenge cards over and above the question cards this Autumn. Hedbanz, Hedbanz Jr and Disney Hedbanz are aimed at kids aged five and upwards and retail at between £13.99 and £14.99. Players select a card from the deck and stick it in their head band. Each player takes turns asking “yes” or “no” questions to figure out the answer to the big question: “What animal am I?” Beat the Parents brings kids together with their parents to go head-to-head in a fun-filled family trivia game. Prove who’s the boss in the game where the adults answer questions about kids’ stuff, and the kids answer questions their parents should really know. For kids aged six and upwards, it retails at £14.99. One of the most sought-after games of Christmas 2018 The Sock Game, remains on the ‘must-have’ list this year – this hilarious fastpaced game where your fingers do the seeing is the perfect addition to any family games night. It carries a £19.99 price tag. The CAT Game also continues to prove a popular choice for unmatched feline fun. It’s a hair-raising drawing game (with cats) in which players pick a card from a category, draw the clue and see if players can guess the answer. It retails at £19.99.

Vivid 01483 449 944 As part of the Goliath family, Vivid will be introducing over 20 games into the market in 2019 across preschool, kids and family. Launching July 2019, Gator Golf is the golfing game that’s sure to deliver giggles time after time. Players must use the flamingo shaped putter to putt the coloured balls into the gator’s mouth and watch as it returns the balls. Each ball you putt scores one point; score four points to win the game. Save your catch before the shark’s jaws snap in Shark Bite. Players must rescue the fish from the shark's mouth using the fishing rod, but they need to be careful - it might bite. Roll the dice to see how many fish you need to rescue from the shark's jaws; the player with the most fish at the end of the game is the winner. Dragon’s Snacks also joins the new introductions for 2019. A unique proposition with a magical light reveal feature in the dragon’s belly, players must take it in turns to peek inside his tummy and try to remove the coloured snacks. Last but not least, is the popular family game Wordsearch, which is a board game twist on the UK’s most popular word puzzle. Players compete to spot words in one of the special pre-printed puzzles. Game play is simple; the more you spot, the more you score. The game comes complete with 10 double sided game cards for lots of play value. Also available is Wordsearch Junior which is designed especially for children, offering a fun way to aid word identification and spelling. April 2019 | toy news | 47

preschool toys

LITTLE EARNERS It’s a burgeoning market with plenty to talk about for 2019, so let’s get to work in rounding up the newest lines in the pre-school market just for you.

Paul Lamond Games 020 7254 0100 / www, University Games UK and Paul Lamond Games has a portfolio filled with preschool games and puzzles. New for 2019 and available now, is the Oi Frog! Memory Card Game in a Tin and three Oi 35-piece puzzles. Starring the renowned Oi Frog! Oi Cat! and Oi Dog! characters from the rhyming story books. Each are educational, colourful and fun. For preschoolers and arriving this summer is the Dinosaur Roar Board Game, Dinosaurs Galore. Players need to answer prehistoric questions, name different dinosaurs and make the loudest roar to collect dinosaur figures and help Dinosaur Squeak find her friends. Also available is a variety of games and puzzles for Eric Carle’s renowned character, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, who celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. As well as the Let’s Feed the Hungry Caterpillar board game, there's a Memory Card Game and four in

one Games Cube available, as well as a 24-piece Floor Puzzle and four in one Puzzle Set. There's also a plethora of games and puzzles starring The Tiger who Came to Tea, Room on a Broom, The Highway Rat and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

Posh Paws 01268 567 317

As the exclusive distributor for NICI in the UK and Ireland, Posh Paws has an array of luxury plush product and other accessories such as girl’s gifts, stationery, nursery gifts and bedroom accessories. Also coming soon is the official plush collection for the world of Moshi Twilight. The range will focus on the four ‘Sleepies’ from the world of Moshi Twilight, each of which will be available in two size variations. Plush characters include Yawnsy the Sleepwalking Otter, Nodkins the Bedtime Bunny, Professor Feathersnooze the Owl of Nod and Sleepy Paws the Snoozy Koala. 2019 will see Posh Paws bring a plethora of popular Disney properties to life in plush form. Aladdin, Dumbo, The Lion King and Toy Story 4 all feature. For those looking for gifts inspired by nature then the BBC Earth plush range from Posh Paws will be a real eye 48 | toy news | April 2019

catcher. These high quality, super soft stuffed animals are available in small and medium. From elephants to sea turtles, sharks to tigers, there’s an animal for everyone to collect, whether it’s a gift for an animal lover, or for a fan of BBC’s beautiful programmes Planet Earth and Blue Planet. There's all this a lot more from the plush specialist this year.

preschool toys

Jumbo Games 01707 260 436 Jumbo Games has launched a new collection of pre-school games, each produced using 100 per cent fully recycled materials. There are four games in the range; Catch the Mouse, Colour Chameleon, Honey Yummy and Peek-A-Boo, that are all aimed at children aged three and upwards, and are specially designed to help them in their early development years. Having already produced all its puzzles on 100 per cent recycled cardboard for decades, this is the next step in Jumbo’s ‘sustainability’ strategy across its puzzle and game portfolio.. To support the launch of these new games, Jumbo has invested in in-store POS and online material that will help inform customers of their environmentally friendly production process and drive sales for retailers. With the new hit pre-school property, Moon & Me already topping the viewing charts and consumer demand for product building steadily, Jumbo Games will be releasing four puzzles aimed at pre-schoolers this autumn/winter – including the 4 Shaped Puzzles, 4in1 Puzzle Pack, Giant Shaped Floor and a Story Puzzle. Meanwhile, if you are looking for classic preschool property that has stood the test of time in an extremely crowded market for children’s licenses, then Jumbo’s range of the classic Beatrix Potter inspired Peter Rabbit puzzles are the perfect choice. The 4 Shaped Puzzle Box Set and Giant Floor Puzzle become a favourite among parents as support for the property remains strong YOY. In Jumbo’s Disney Junior puzzle range for pre-school favourite such as Vampirina, Puppy Dog Pals and its new Muppet Babies puzzles, they have a four Shaped and 4in1 Puzzle Packs available for all – both these popular puzzle formats are suitable for ages three and upwards.

Schleich 01279 870 000 With Schleich’s huge assortment of farm and wild life animals, little ones can learn as they play. Each Schleich animal, whether new or part of the existing collection can be added to until an entire play world is created. With the Farm World play sets, pre-school children can get to know about life in the countryside in a playful way. From strong bulls and sweet calves to cute dachshunds, many new animal figures are waiting to move onto the farm. But that's not all: the Farm World theme is getting even more horsepower. Four new pony agility play sets provide even more variety on the farm. And in the second half of the year, Schleich will be launching a large stable that is equipped with many exciting functions and lots of accessories and is aimed at preschool children. Thrilling new arrivals to the Wild Life range will make their debut too. Whether it’s a proud lioness, clever lynx, cute raccoon or sweet white calf: the Wild Life theme world focuses on the fascinating world of animals that children can discover while playing with the lovingly painted individual figures. This year, little adventurers can also expect a colourful play mat and an exciting set of flash cards that bring them closer to the wonders of nature in a playful way. Like all Schleich products, the new Farm World and Wild Life figurines and playsets are designed with attention to detail and handpainted with care. The possibilities for individual arrangement stimulate children’s imaginations, opening up endless new opportunities for play.

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Passionate about Play We believe childhood should be enjoyed to the full. That’s why we’ve been making imaginative wooden toys, designed in Great Britain with a touch of French je ne sais quoi, since 1995.

Collection 2019

preschool toys

Ravensburger 01869 363 800 Brio sales have been doubling since 2015, and play value is the linchpin of every product, driving innovation. Brio’s growing success proves not all wooden railways are the same. There are six new items for spring 2019 in the toddler range. The superb RC racing car has been designed for tiny hands, meaning two year olds can control their very own racing car. The success of My First Railway and the Farm theme combine allowing children to have endless fun playing with all the funny farm animals that have both sound and actions. Brio World recreates real-life scenarios and open-ended play, encouraging creativity and imagination. Key themes include Travel, Lift and Load, Countryside, Rescue and Explore. Purchase patterns show consumers start with a starter set with extra trains (like the super Smart Tech engine), rolling stock, destinations and figures becoming “must have” gifts for many years to come. There are nine additions to the Brio World for spring/summer 2019, with the highlight being a clever innovation enabling the packaging of a product to become a permanent part of the playset. Three new trains come in a see-through tunnel – a simple but brilliant idea, that looks great on shelf, saves on packaging waste and delivers classic Brio play value. The Brio range is supported with some great Point of Sale Material. Full-size play tables and engaging TV displays drive incremental sales. We can even arrange in-store events, so do discuss with your Ravensburger representative how we can help and support your business.

MGA Entertainment 01908 268 480 Little Tikes is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a key focus on playing and learning together to inspire active and imaginative play. The core focus on ‘playing big’ aims to improve social skills and development, offering a range of products created specifically to improve cognitive ability. My Buddy, available in pink or blue, is the only plush toy that truly grows with children via three play stages. My Buddy exposes babies to textures and cuddles, teaches the alphabet, encourages counting and introduces taking directions through discover, learn and play. With over 200 songs, sounds and phrases, there is plenty to keep little tikes entertained throughout their preschool years. Iconic to Little Tikes, the Big Car Carrier enables little ones to experiment with their spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination whilst engaging in role play and vehicle games. Complete with two toy sports cars and a ramp that is easy to flip down, kids can load the carrier again and again for endless fun. Brand new for Fall 2019, the 3-in-1 Switcharoo Table has three different play modes, switching from a school to a zoo with one surprise twist. Modes include: sit and play, take-along activity toy, and stand and explore. With over 75 songs, sounds and phrases, little tikes will be encouraged to learn about colours and music through hands on activities that keep early standers engaged.

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Excellent Fit










preschool toys

Le Toy Van 0208 979 2036 As a wooden toy company, we believe trees are the lungs of the world. While these glorious things reduce our carbon footprint every day, we are striving to find ways to reduce our impact on the planet. We know we’re not perfect yet, but we’re making progress towards our zero waste ambition. In the last 12 months we’ve switched all our energy at our London HQ to 100 renewable sources, and also drastically reducing single use plastic in our packaging and sourcing new bio-degradable, plant-based materials. Le Toy Van is investing in sustainable play for all the generations to come. We re-purpose Rubberwood trees that have reached the end of their rubber-giving lives and are a by-product of this natural process. Instead of them being burnt, contributing to greenhouse gases, we let them live on and have a second useful life as a Le Toy Van toy. We’ve worked closely with local communities for over 20 years to manage the Rubberwood forests. For every tree that we re-purpose into a toy, at least one replacement is planted.We also use non-toxic paints, safe for your children and kind to the environment. At Le Toy Van we believe in a world of play without plastic. We have been targeting single-use plastic as a priority and have already removed recyclable plastic windows and inserts from a large percentage of our collection, moving towards recyclable and compostable cardboard boxes. We aim to have 100 per cent plastic-free packaging for all our toys by 2021. We ar working hard towards our mission to be entirely natural and plastic free.

Rainbow Designs 01329 227 300 There’s plenty of fun in store for preschoolers this year, thanks to a host of classic character toy developments from Rainbow Designs, who offers new products, starring some of pre-school’s best loved characters. 2019 is the milestone 50th anniversary of Eric Carle’s classic storybook character The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Rainbow’s extensive collection includes bright and colourful soft toys, such as the Developmental Caterpillar, Large Activity Caterpillar, Jiggle Caterpillar and the large plush Very Hungry Caterpillar. Timeless wooden toys from the Very Hungry Caterpillar collection, perfect for pre-schoolers, include the Wooden Blocks featuring the alphabet and numbers, Wooden Pull Along and Wooden Peg Puzzle. Paddington Bear is a playroom perennial and Rainbow’s Classic Paddington collection is enjoying huge success following its launch last year, with the Classic Bean Toy Paddington, Cuddly Classic Paddington and Key Chain Paddington being particular favourites. This year looks set to be just as exciting with the launch of a new pre-school series which premiers with a Christmas special, and the series which starts on Nick Jr in spring 2020. Rainbow’s Peter Rabbit TV range continues to grow in popularity alongside the awardwinning TV animation series. Key products in the collection loved by pre-schoolers include the award-winning feature plush Talking and Hopping Peter Rabbit, Talking Lily Bobtail and the Peter Rabbit 18cm Soft Toy. April 2019 | toy news | 53

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preschool toys

Flair 0208 643 0320 Series two of PJ Masks, which includes Super Moon Adventure themed episodes, will go FTA in April on Tiny Pop and the themed product range expanding with the Super Moon Adventure Fortress Playset, with interactive features, and hero and villain figures. Beware of the crystal trap beneath the mountain which will snap shut when the loser falls in. The playset comes with two articulated figures: Cat Boy and Luna Girl. The core range continues to drive sales, with the PJ Masks vehicles behind the wheel. This spring saw the introduction of the new PJ Masks Power Racer Vehicle Assortment. Each set comes with a 7.5cm articulated figure dressed in a racer outfit, along with a vehicle. A major focus for autumn is the PJ Masks Seeker, a set that can fit up to four vehicles in the detachable carrier and up to three 7.5cm articulated PJ Masks figures in the cabin. Features include a light-up searchlight, disc launcher and a detachable cage. There’s even a pull-out ramp and drop-down side door. The Seeker doubles up as a storage solution for fans’ vehicle collections. The Mission Control HQ Playset, Super Moon Adventure HQ Rocket Playset and Romeo’s Lab Playset will also all continue as part of the core AW19 range. Disney Jr’s Vampirina is another fun choice for preschool rock stars. In autumn fans will be able to go on a musical tour with Vampirina and her friends in the Rock N’Jam Touring Van. It has a Ghoul Glow Roof top stage and transforming sofa, as well as sound effects. The Vampirina and Family Figures Set will include Vampirina, Mum - Oxana, Dad - Boris, Gregoria the Gargoyle and Wolfie the Puppy, each Hauntley family member has a ghoul glow.

Spin Master Spin Master’s PAW Patrol is set for an exciting year with the launch of new content and toys that continue to push the boundaries. The brand kicked off the year by winning Preschool Range of the Year at the Toy Industry Awards, while the latest product in the core spring/summer line, the PAW Patrol Ultimate Construction Truck, was named one of UK Toy Fair’s Hero Toys. This year will see a new theme and storyline brought to silver screen with the first theatrical release for PAW Patrol from Nick Jr. and Paramount Pictures rolling into cinemas in May. A meteor showers the pups and Harold with a mysterious green energy, giving them all powers to become Mighty Pups. The film will be supported with toy launches in April. PAW Patrol fans can collect their favourite pups with the Mighty Pups design. The Action Pack Pups include superhero masks and action pack with unique transformation that reveals their tools to help them on their adventures. New Flip N Fly vehicles also take on the Mighty Pups theme with even more themed details and unique transformations. The Ultimate Construction Truck is the hero item in the spring range. The dump truck has all the features kids need to create their own PAW Patrol Ultimate Rescue missions with Rubble. The range includes the PAW Patrol Mini Figure Blind Box Collectable, PAW Patrol Ultimate Rescue Construction Figures, and PAW Patrol Ride ‘n’ Rescue Vehicles.

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"Educating people about the need for STEM accreditation will be a slow but important process for the booming STEM category." Costas Sisamos, Engino 56 | toy news | April 2019


THE MARVEL OF ASSEMBLE With 25 years in the STEM learning sector, and as the creative force behind the construction brand Engino, Costas Sisamos is widely regarded as among the first pioneers of the STEM toy movement. ToyNews catches up with the man that brought this booming category from the shores of Cyprus to the school classes of the UK


ith the rise in popularity of the STEM toy sector over the past five years, so too has come a rise in concern over the number of products trying to piggyback off its strength, simply “by sticking the word STEM on the box,” and passing products off as educational. It’s a constant gripe for Costas Sisamos, the managing director and head of STEM research at Engino, who - for as long as the category has been enjoying pick-up among the toy space - has been rallying for better accreditation of what makes a toy or product truly STEM. It’s while on the phone to ToyNews from his home in Cyprus, that Sisamos explains the lengths he - and a group of like-minded developers in the space - are going to, to lobby for an official accreditation system for the sector. To date, Sisamos has taken this conversation to the likes of The British Toy and Hobby Association and Toy Retailers Association, in order to kickstart a movement to better educate retailers and the public over what truly makes a STEM toy or product. “It’s going to be a slow process, but it’s an important one for us to keep pushing and presenting to people in the industry,” Sisamos explains. “The number of companies spotting this as an opportunity to piggyback off the success of real STEM products, by slapping their products with a popular label without any accreditation is potentially damaging to th strength that this category has built up and what this sector has achieved to date.”

For now, Sisamos and the Engino team will continue to educate the consumer on the topic by any and all means available to them. Here in the UK, this includes presence at consumer facing events like the recent Big Bang Science and Engineering Fair in Birmingham’s NEC, where the brand took a showcase stand to present to around 80,000 UK school kids. This is familiar stomping ground for Sisamos, who himself, spent ten years teaching design and technology. It's this background that went on to shape his now flourishing career in STEM toys.

"I saw need for a toy that helped students become better problem solvers, so I built one." Costas Sisamos, Engino

“STEM has been at the core of the creation of our building system since its conception,” says Sisamos. “This dedication to introducing children to the basic principles of mechanics, sciences, maths and technology is deep rooted in our DNA; and our attention to detail in this regard sets us aside from other brands.” It’s an attention that flows throughout the breadth of Engino’s product portfolio. Its STEM Heroes range of products, for instance, offers additional content such as experiments and quizzes to encourage exploration around each central theme, while all products are complemented with extensive online content and its KidCAD app.

From his career in teaching and STEM research, Sisamos has taken the Engino brand through 15 years of evolution within the toy space. “I felt there was a need for a system that would encourage students to become better problem solvers by building fully functional technical models quickly, easily, accurately and without any need for tools and glues,” Sisamos explains. ‘This was the start of my Engino journey. I was awarded research capital by the European Union which supported three years of development of the product, which evolved to a complete building system with solar power and programmable robots.” By 2007, the first Engino sets were launched and garnering interest from international buyers. Today, 15 years later, Engino is available in 50 countries, with several international awards under its belt. “We’re one of the fastest growing companies in the field, pioneering the STEM category and setting the standards on what STEM really is.” Subsequently, growth for Engino is a vibrantly coloured picture. The brand is continuing to expand into new markets, tapping Re:creation to ‘unlock the full potential of the brand here in the UK.’

April 2019 | toy news | 57


And the company is now reaping the benefits of its own manufacturing facility - one that recently expanded into a fully automated factory in Cyprus - proving that Europe can be a site for manufacturing. “And there is so much to look forward to in the coming year,” continues Sisamos. “There is undeniably huge and growing interest in the STEM market, and this is set to continue, particularly given the EU’s plan to incorporate STEM into all aspects of educational development.” Whether the UK will see the benefit of that process hinges on whatever emerges from the current monstrosity that government and the maligned Brexit process has become. It’s probably just as well that brands like Engino see the real value of the UK market, and likewise Re:creation sees of this European brand, as a means of delivering this same level of STEM learning to children in coming years. “Given that our focus has always been in this area, and most products fall into that category, we are in an advantageous position by already having the expertise to not only create STEM enabled toys, but to further innovate and drive the segment.” But simply because the STEM sector is a thriving one, it doesn’t come without its own challenges, and competition for shelf space is just as fierce as anywhere else. “We compete with not only other toy categories but, perhaps even more so, tech products such as the latest RC or gaming product,” says Sisamos. “Our challenge is to bring toys to shelf that will intrigue children into STEM products for this reason our line has evolved over the years from basic construction to incorporate mechanical and programmable robotic units. “We have also recently introduced a JCB licensed line, attracting

58 | toy news | April 2019

young fans of this iconic machinery to explore their interest through STEM play.” It’s a partnership that Engino holds in very high regard, given the parallels that

"You will see AR, VR and 3D printing tech coming through in our range for the future." Costas Sisamos, Engino

can be drawn between the Engino product and the JCB brand itself, and one that has ignited a curiosity in Sisamos to explore potential for further brand partnerships. However, that’s all we are getting from the MD on that topic for the meantime, the tantalising hint that Engino is looking at growing this licensed portfolio further in the months and years to come. But it's not the only future Sisamos sees for the brand, this is a product that has one foot firmly in futurism, after all. “You can expect to see AR, VR and 3D printing technologies coming through in our range in the future but again, we’ll keep details of these under wraps...” What Sisamos can talk about, however, is this year’s introduction of its Academy of STEAM range, taking into

account the growing interest in the Art element as a ‘creative force within STEM.’ “These themed sets will include the learning aspects of Engino, but incorporate sketching and colouring elements, enabling kids to design panels and features to attach to their models,” he says. “We will continue our dedication to developing genuine learning experiences through play, designing and developing ranges that meet the interests of children, parents and educationalists - that will never change. "And we are looking forward to working with Re:creation to expand the brand’s presence in the UK. We had a great response all round at London Toy Fair, with our STEM Heroes Greenhouse highlighted as a Toy Fair Hero Toy, and we hope this has set the tone for the coming year.” He concludes: “We'll be working with retailers to make the most of the brand at a store level, as well as rolling out activity in media to inspire the next generation into the world of STEM.” Whatever form that will take.

construction toys

STEM AT WORK There’s no better way to build your own sales this season than by donning your hard hats and inspecting this year’s construction toys offering. ToyNews takes a site visit to this impressive sector…

LEGO 01753 495 000

‘What kind of construction toy guide wouldn’t feature the latest from LEGO?’ we hear you ask. To which our response is, not ours. Because LEGO has just announced the launch of its LEGO Avengers: Endgame range, ahead of the film’s launch this April 25th. Fan favourites including Iron Man, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Hulk and the villain Thanos feature across the five new sets - with new vehicles such as the War Machine Buster, a new attack bike for Captain America and the Avengers’ Ultimate Quinjet. Children aged six and upwards will be able to recreate scenes from the film, or build their own endgame. With the Captain America: Outriders Attack - rrp £19.99 - kids can take on three outriders with Captain America’s bike, fight back with the Captain America shield shooters and then jump out of the cockpit, detach the blasters and battle the enemy one on one. Meanwhile, for £29.99, fans can get their hands on the War Machine Buster. Ant-Man is under attack from Outriders, so fly to the rescue with the War Machine

Buster and fire the six-stud rapid shooter and flick missiles. Kids can grab an Outrider with the machine’s powerful hands or detach the stud-shooting cannons and battle the enemy on the ground. Next up is the Iron Man Hall of Armour - rrp £54.99. Conduct experiments with Tony Stark and capture the Outrider with the LEGO Marvel Avengers Iron Man Hall of Armour. It can be built in a multitude of ways. It includes five Marvel Universe Minifigures: Iron Man MK 1, Iron Man MK 5, Iron Man MK 41, Iron Man MK 50 and an Outrider. The Avengers Ultimate Quinjet comes in at £74.99. Get set for battle against the Chitauri with the Avengers Ultimate Quinjet. Prepare the weapons with Rocket and Thor in the passenger compartment, jump in the cockpit with Black Widow and fire the stud shooters and the six-stud rapid shooter. Finally, with the Avengers Compound Battle - priced at £89.99 - you can team up with Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Hulk, Nebula and Ant-Man to defend the Avengers’ compound. Make plans in the office and grab weapons from the table’s secret compartment. Monitor Thanos and the Outrider’s approach to the Avengers HQ with the radar, then speed into action. April 2019 | toy news |59

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construction toys

Jumbo Games 01707 260 436 Jumbo Games is seizing upon a market filled with opportunity this season as the company’s Goula brand makes a play for the construction sector with its own Construction Toy range, designed to help children develop manual and hand-eye coordination skills. And, in true Goula style, it does all of this by using eyecatching and engaging construction toys for kids to build, play, learn and grow with. The two most popular Construction Packs in the range consist of 26 and 41 brightly coloured, chunky shaped wooden pieces that are extremely durable and easy to balance and play with. Each pack contains bright geometric wooden shapes to help build hand-eye coordination, and assist children in learning about geometrical shapes.

Next in line for the brand is the Goula Screw In and Play toy range, a collection that consists of two box sets of fun and brightly coloured animal construction packs. Children can piece together recognisable Zoo Animals and Farm Animals, simply by assembling the body, head and legs and screwing the different pieces together, using the wooden bolts included in the building sets. These construction toys help children develop coordination and hand-eye movement skills while exploring their imaginations and creativity. So it's a real double-whammy. Finally, but by no means least of all, there is the Goula Stack and Screw toy that allows children to create different animal shapes by following the double-sided activity cards. Children can follow the activity cards by matching the different wooden pieces to the pictures shown, and then screwing the pieces down and into position on the wooden frame. There's all this and more from Jumbo this year. April 2019 | toy news | 61

construction toys

K'NEX Basic Fun! is building on last year’s K’NEX success with new additions to its 2019 portfolio, including sets with a focus on new colours and action play features. The award-winning Dragon Revenge Coaster Building Set (RRP £49.99) is already one of the top 25 toys of the year, and features a moving dragon battling to catch the coaster car looping around a castle themed thrill ride. Available from June 2019. Trail Rider (RRP £49.99) is a beach buggy replica with grill and seats. Movements are motorised with a steering column and there’s a fifth wheel tailgate to load up the vehicle. It's available from July 2019. The Construction Crane (RRP £49.99) stands over three feet tall and has motorised movement, while the Motorcycle Building Set (RRP £24.99) comes with the option to build in support wheels. It will be available from August 2019. Next up, it’s the Kid K’NEX range of preschool building sets (RRP from £12.99), a line that has seen huge sales growth over the past 12 months: Wings and Wheels (RRP £24.99) building set is perfect for little hands, while the Dino Dudes Building Set (RRP £34.99 each) inspires young dinosaur fans to build moving models using easy to assemble parts. There are 40 building ideas included in each set. Finally there’s something for all those builders with little hands, but big imaginations, as they'll love the Budding Builders Tub (RRP £34.99), which provides opportunities to build from imagination.

62 | toy news | April 2019

Spin Master 01628 535 000 2019 sees Meccano support a host of educational initiatives, building on its role within STEM and STEAM categories. The brand has its sights on opportunities to get kids building through partnerships and events. Meccano continued to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers at the largest celebration of STEM for young people, the Big Bang Fair UK last month, where it showcased products as well as offered hands on play and free building with Meccano construction kits. Meccano’s partnership with STEMWorks continues after a successful year in 2018, with the brand offering helpful resources teaching key STEM skills in the classroom, as well as launching a school’s competition to encourage hands-on building with Meccano. The competition will result in a ‘grand finale’ workshop at the Royal International Air Tattoo in the summer, offering experiential activities. Meccano is incorporating new materials and advanced technologies into its building sets, this year, wioth a focus on two in particular. The Meccano 5 Model Set Pull Back Car encourages kids to use tools and real metal nuts, bolts, and wheels for an authentic building experience. As they assemble the kit, kids learn how principles from science, technology, engineering, and math are practically applied. Meanwhile, the Meccano 10 Models Set Motorized Car sees builders use real tools to assemble pieces using nuts and bolts. With 10 builds packed into one set, young minds after a challenge can build again and again.

construction toys

Re:creation 0118 973 6220 Re:creation is getting in on the construction scene this year with the globally established name in the world of STEM play, Engino. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a savvy move for the firm who has signed as the UK distributor for the construction brand that continues to deliver learning experiences with a range of engaging and high-quality themed sets. Re:creation will support the relaunch of Engino with a high impact marketing programme throughout the year. Enginoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s STEM Heroes collection has already made its mark with the Greenhouse set scooping a Toy Fair Hero Product accolade earlier this year as well as recognition in the Madeformums awards, making for quite the head start for the brand as it builds its UK presence.

The range of themed sets includes Engino parts to construct multiple models as well as added value content in the full colour supporting booklet such as quizzes, challenges and experiments encouraging further discoveries to be made on the theme. Sets include Space Exploration, Sea Exploration, motorised Jurassic Earth and Aeronautics. The exclusively licensed Engino JCB collection enables children to build models of iconic JCB machines. A launch range of four JCB sets at a range of price points each contains parts needed to construct three different models. Among the sets are the motorised Tall Crane set and Back Hoe Loader. Coming soon, Engino Academy of STEAM introduces creative elements enabling children to customise their creations by drawing on attachable panels. Learning themes include Buoyant Forces and Solar Helicopter. April 2019 | toy news | 63


Industry moves This month, Bandai UK has welcomed two industry stalwarts to its senior sales and operations teams, LEGO’s former CEO steps down from the board and Winning Moves secures itself a new licensing manager LEGO


The former chief executive of LEGO, KJELD KIRK KRISTIANSEN is stepping down from his position on the Danish toymaker’s board of directors. The longtime chief executive will quit this month, leaving his son as deputy chairman and the representative of the fourth generation of the family that started the business almost 90 years ago. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen is the grandson of LEGO’s founder Ole and was chief executive from 1979 until 2004.

The UK arm of this international toy firm has expanded its senior team with a pair of new hires, taking the form of NIGEL KAY and GARETH MITCHELL. Kay will lead the UK sales team across all Bandai UK brands, including Robozuna, Thunderbirds Are Go, Bananas, Pomsies and Rescue Runts. MAGIC BOX UK Meanwhile, Mitchell has been hired as The firm behind operations manager for the firm. the hit collectables, Kay (left) comes equipped with SuperZings has over 16 years’ experience in the toy appointed GREG BASS industry, having held roles with the UK and Ireland national likes of Hasbro, where he managed the account manager. Toy Specialist channel and the growth Bass is now responsible for managing channel, as well as at Mattel. the national and key accounts in the toy Meanwhile, Mitchell (right) has spent channel, brining six years of industry 14 years in home entertainment retail. experience to the position. He has Bandai UK’s managing director, Nic previously worked at Schleich Epoch. Aldridge said: “Nigel and Gareth join at He has been welcomed to the team a key period of evolution for Bandai, by Julia Cake, commercial director, who strengthening the team as our portfolio said the firm is delighted to welcome Bass continues to grow. I am delighted to to Magic Box. “His sales and operational welcome them both to the team.” TN-MAR19-AARDVARK.qxp_Layout 1 25/02/2019experience 10:40 Page will1 be a great asset."

TOY INDUSTRIES OF EUROPE Mattel’s managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, SANJAY LUTHRA has been named the new chairman of the board. Luthra was elected to the position for his wealth of experience in the sector, having worked in several global positions for Mattel since 2003. WINNING MOVES The company has tapped JACK ALLEN, formerly of The Point. 1888, as its new licensing manager. Allen has joined the toy firm’s growing licensing division where he will manage the accounts of a range of brands within the sports and entertainment categories. ROLLPLAY Goodbaby Int, has named JEFFREY POPPER as its chief executive officer of Rollplay, the kids' e-vehicle firm spanning more than 40 countries around the globe. The ex-Hasbro exec boasts more than 14 years' experience in the toy industry.

We can help. Whether you’re in Sales, Account Management, Design or Marketing, we’ve got the experience and toy industry know-how to find your perfect role.

01709 834777 • • 64 | toy news | April 2019

Getting to know you


JUNKO’S CREATOR PETER ROPE With the issues around the impact of single use plastics on the world around us growing ever prevalent in the consumer consciousness, Rope – the sole creator of the construction toy line, Junko – and his launch into the toy industry couldn’t be more timely. How did you get into toy designing and wind up in the toy industry? It began a few years ago when I managed to have a heart attack (my wife thought I was just attention seeking at the time...) which meant I spent a month at home with our kids. I co-owned a little creative agency in London at the time, which kept me away from home way too much. During that period, we were making a junk model car and came up short when we got to the wheels…I thought hmmm, there’s an idea in there. Luckily my life assurance paid out enough to fund starting the business. So, thanks to my dodgy genes, about nine months later I packed up the day job and became a toy designer. What has your journey in the toy industry been like so far? Very exciting and rather expensive. Luckily I piled in blind, not really knowing just what a huge task lay ahead - R&D, prototyping, patents, design for manufacture, tooling, packaging, packing, accounting, pricing, marketing, PR… Toy Fair 2019 was massive for us and a brilliant introduction, where we thankfully met a great mixture of people, retailers, bloggers, and media, all who really liked that we’re trying do something creative, reusing junk and making the Junko product in an eco-friendly way… That was the first time that we really felt like part of the toy industry.

you can reuse and reinvent it - then it’s no longer junk. The benefits of thinking like are that it’s an exciting thing to do, most kids really enjoy it and it gets them problem solving and thinking about the environment. We hope it's a scalable idea to take into adult life so kids grow up better than my generation. I hope parents will get that there’s a secondary message, which we share with all eco-friendly products, consumers can influence manufacturers to change if they choose to spend their money on responsible products. It’s time to make toys more responsibly… now… not five or 10 years in the future.

"It's time to make toys responsibly now. Not in five or ten year time."

Peter Rope, Junko

Do you think there is enough to encourage newcomers to it? I’ve never felt encouraged from the outside, but the more people we meet, the more welcoming it seems. Entering any industry is extremely challenging and it’s all the more daunting when you first visit Toy Fair and see the clout of the big players. What is the message behind Junko, where did this idea come from? I think the main one is that junk is only a label we have for things we have no further use for, but if you use your imagination

What plans have you got for the Junko brand? Our ambition is to become a household name, then we can influence more people. I heard of one retailer who said they were 'sick of eco-toys,' I’m sure they’re not alone. We’d like Junko to help turn that opinion around - to be known as a good construction toy which is eco-friendly. You're trapped in a lift with one other person - how do you pass the time? I guess rock paper scissors would get a bit samey. Maybe a coin flipping game where you sit against one wall and take turns to flip coins with your thumb to hit the lift button numbers. Also, I’m English and would hate to come over as rude, so I’d feel compelled to chat until my jaw seized.

April 2019 | toy news | 65

Bossing it

Bossing it… with Asmodee UK’s Alex Green


EDITORIAL Editor: Robert Hutchins +44 (0)203 143 8780 Designer: Nikki Hargreaves

Each month, ToyNews catches up with an industry bigwig to ask a series of personal and prying questions. This month, it’s Asmodee UK’s managing director Alex Green’s turn for a grilling.

Production Manager: Claire Noe

ADVERTISING SALES Advertising & Commercial Partnerships: Rob Baker +44 (0)774 240 7223


hat was it like taking charge at Asmodee UK, having been with the team for as long as you have now? You know, it was an absolute honour to be named managing director and take on the position from Steve [Buckmaster], who has, for the past four years, done a fantastic job in steering the UK company, under Esdevium and then with Asmodee. It's such a rewarding feeling taking on this position and taking Asmodee UK to its next stage of life here in the UK games market.


So, where is that future heading? What does the future of board gaming look like for Asmodee UK? That’s a very big question. In its literal sense as to where innovation is going, we are beginning to see analogue and digital gaming finding a cross-over in some of the titles that are being developed; whether that is bringing tech elements into physical board gaming or card gaming like the newest Warhammer developments, or whether we are seeing physical games making that move into digital - which is a growing space for board gamers to always be able to connect with the titles that they love. Other ways the space is evolving is through the distribution and retail network that we see at the moment. We see what's going on on the High Street, and we see that retail will have to adapt through delivering in-store experiences, demos and the like. Board gaming is a very good fit for this model of retailing - look at something like Dobble: largely driven by its appeal in store and playability in shops. 66 | toy news | April 2019

Asmodee will always be supporting innovation in store in this sense, delivering the proven titles to specialists and toy stores, while building up our online and department portfolio and continuing to move with the shifting space. Is gaming is moving in the right direction? Where would you like to see it go? I would love to see a future where this market - the UK market - is reflective of just how big board games are in Europe, places like Germany for instance. You go to shows like Essen in Germany and it's mind-blowing the size of the space and the breadth of the titles. Here in the UK, we are getting there; we are seeing it grow and recognise the variety of games out there, but there’s a way to go. I think of the people I grew up with who wouldn’t and don’t have a clue today what the board gaming market can offer to them. To them, it’s all Monopoly and Scrabble. Of course, we know it’s not like that at all, but it’s a dream of mine to see everyone in recognition of that. We can’t let you go without asking you, what's your favourite game at the moment…? Ah, this will show you just how much things have changed over the years, but Steve and I and a group of mates, we used to play a bit of Magic [The Gathering] every week. I am a Magic player, so these meet ups were always a good chance for me to exercise the card playing skills… We actually managed to play the other month. I've recently got into the Arkham Horror series, too. It's co-op and I advise anyone to check it out.

Media Director: Colin Wilkinson +44 (0)203 143 8777

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