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ISSUE 216 TOY NEWS

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visit us at

www.metomics.com or email us at

info@metomics.com APRIL 2020

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ISSUE 216 TOY NEWS

CONST RUCTION JUST GO T SERIOU S. visit us at

www.metomics.com or email us at

info@metomics.com APRIL 2020

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No. 216 | April 2020

As the old saying goes...

Editor Robert Hutchins robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk

Sales Manager Sarah Norwood sara.norwood@biz-media.co.uk

Designer Nikki Hargreaves nikki.hargreaves@biz-media.co.uk

Follow us @toynews online

T

here's an old saying I like to turn to in times like these that goes, 'you don't know resilience until you've put a magazine to press with a screaming five year old rolling across your laptop, while holding on to your very last nerve with fingers covered in what you hope is chocolate, as life as you know it changes around you by the minute.' Actually, there really isn't. There isn't an old saying or rule book to fall back onto for comfort or wisdom for any of what we as a collective are experiencing right now. There is nothing to tell us what is right and what is wrong apart from a moral compass and the direction it is pointing as we write these pages of history ourselves. These truly are unprecedented times. And what a privilege it is that - when all of this is over and normality is restored - I can say I stood with an industry that can look back with pride at its actions throughout this global upheaval and the manner in which it conducted itself. Of the conversations I had with retailers and industry experts through the week in which the UK took its toughest knock amid the COVID-19 pandemic, all of them were about support, community, reilience, persverance, and coming out of this unified and stronger than ever. Life will certainly be different on the other side of this, and I'm optimistic for what we can achieve. Robert Hutchins, Editor Robert.Hutchins@biz-media.co.uk

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COVER STORY GET FUNKY P18

Contents April 2020 Features

Regulars

FEATURE OPINION: A GAME OF CLONES?

Opinion 06 Steve Reece 07 Greta-Bisetto Donelan 08 Greg Lansdowne 09 Trudi Bishop

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Eclectic Games' Becky Ottery talks us through the evolution of licensed board games

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BOARDGAMING'S COMMUNITY IMPACT Ravensburger's CEO talks about the profound impact board gaming will have on us all

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THE FUTURE IS GOING TO GET WEIRD We talk to Funko Games' Jat Wheatley about where the future of board gaming is headed

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IT'S IN THE MIX Metomics has big plans for the construction toy sector, so we catch up with the team to learn more

Market Data 22 Kids Insights 25 Retail panel Sector Guides 32 Pre-school toys 43 Games and Puzzles 56 Outdoor toys

Back pages 60 Industry Moves 62 Bossing It...

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Opinion

Rock ‘n’ Roll: Board games and puzzles are trendy and this is our future now By Steve Reece

The Games & Puzzles category is not as untrendy as it once was. Board games are now both nostalgic and ‘hip’ at the same time - a long way from their historical place as one of the most dependable, but least trendy categories. One thing that is guaranteed is that at some stage - most likely preChristmas time - one or other national newspaper will run with the headline “Board Games make a comeback’ or words to that effect. This news has run in each of my 21 years in the business, despite the fact that there have only been two in which board game sales dropped. Underlying trends suggest board games will stay ‘back’ for the foreseeable future - whether tapping the demand for cardboard materials (mostly) vs plastic products, or the ever increasing need to get people of all ages off screens and back in touch with the reality of face to face human interaction, and more direct to consumer distribution facilitating further growth in the breadth of products available. Competition is stronger than it ever has been, and whether it is credited to that, or regardless of it, it’s a great time to be in the business of games and puzzles. Recently I started back designing games again, after a hiatus of a few years, and found the breadth and quality of the output of the industry has vastly improved.

One of the areas that is particularly interesting is the relationship between games and licenses. Licensed products have always featured in the board game and puzzles aisles; in fact, some of the first board games I worked on back at the start of the millennium were licensed products, and I have fond memories of working on some great versions of classic board games with licenses like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars (including a full on Avalon Hill game which took 45 minutes just to set up all of the pieces) and Pokémon. In recent times, one of the biggest changes with games and puzzles is the removal of many of the barriers to entry for this category. From reduced minimum order runs through to increased options for selling direct to the consumer (Kickstarter is now a critical pillar of the global games business), you can much more easily justify product development nowadays and as such, this has created a hugely healthy diversity of products. At the time of writing, a Kickstarter campaign is running for Anchorman: The Game based on the cult movie. This game has been successfully funded to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. You just would not have been able to get that game to market ten years ago, but today: anything goes. Opportunity is abundant in the games business today, the challenge is that competition has never been stronger, and the category has never been more accessible. All that’s left to say, is: Game On.

"The output of the board games industry has vastly improved" Steve Reece is a toy and games industry consultant and director at Kids Brands Insights and Kids Team India. A veteran in the toy and game design space, Reece has played an integral role in the development of the board game sector.

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Opinion

Social cinema: The pandemic has changed how we interact with media, but for how long? By Greta Bisetto Donelan

The COVID-19 emergency is changing the way we consume media, with cinema as the main “casualty” within the international media landscape. The question is: are these changes here to stay? Some trends observed in China are offering some interesting clues. Nobody can tell when cinemas will reopen in the UK and Europe in general, so we’re looking at China, the only country where a post COVID-19 life seems to be finally resuming, for an indication. The health emergency forced China to close its cinemas around New Year’s Eve, which translated into a loss of approximately US$2bn at Box Office. Since then, the Chinese audience has satisfied its appetite with streaming services like Baidu, Tencent, or Alibaba. Some bespoke local research indicates that, while nearly all (97 per cent) of the people surveyed have not missed out on movies while in quarantine or lockdown, they have missed the cinema experience, with more than half being keener than they were before COVID-19 to watch films again in theatres.

China was also the first place to witness the traditional movie window strategy become inverted: streaming services first, cinema (maybe?) later. In Europe we are registering similar trends, with studios releasing straight to Netflix or Amazon Prime, bypassing cinema. While this would have ticked some boxes from a financial standpoint, no streaming service can guarantee the level of exposure, the status and the experience of a theatrical release, not to mention the several retail partnerships that would have been compromised by this kind of release strategy. Several European territories are seeing streaming services capitalise on a higher viewership linked to enforced lockdowns, and we are seeing change now in consumer content consumption. But will these changes become permanent after the pandemic? Or will people be ready to return to the comfort of their previous normality and embrace experiences that will allow for social interaction? We at Generation Media are forward looking and feeling optimistic. Humans after all are social beings who crave interaction and shared experiences, and we are working with our clients on building stellar cinema, events and experiential roll outs, for when life returns.

"Cinema has become a major 'casualty' on the media stage." Greta Bisetto Donelan is the director of content at Generation Media and an experienced media professional with in-depth knowledge of broadcast, digital strategy and audience behaviour.

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Opinion

Block party: The future of collectables is here with the growth of blockchain By Greg Lansdowne

When Panini announced the launch of its first blockchain trading cards in December, it was a sign of validation for companies in that market. Panini has been at the top of the game in terms of physical collectables for nearly 60 years but, as acknowledged with this move, time and tastes move on. After launching its first wave of blockchain trading cards in January 2020, the unique one-of-one cards which also comes with a physical version that includes a player autograph, and in some cases a piece of memorabilia - have been selling for up to five figures. While this recent flurry may have caught some in the industry by surprise, a number of start-ups have been acting as missionaries to bring blockchain to mainstream users for some while - two, notably, through the most popular sport in the world of football. Fans of football have been collecting and playing with physical cards and stickers for decades, but when it came to the digital world, it was impossible for them to collect in the same way. Previous digital collectables were neither scarce nor tradeable; they were not really owned by gamers. Blockchain cards are limited edition digital items that gamers can freely trade and use.

The history of trading cards has been riddled with instances of forgeries and false claims; even the internet had not been able to ensure the scarcity of digital assets, until the recent development of crypto-goods. Sorare, for example, has devised a format with its non-fungible token (NFT) digital collectables whereby they combine the best of two staples of football fan culture - fantasy football and trading cards/collectables. The game features a weekly fantasy football experience where managers can compose teams of five blockchain cards - made up of players from more than 40 major European clubs including Roma, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, West Ham United and Schalke 04 - and earn rewards. Another established company in the sector in Fantastec, who works closely with a few clubs (Real Madrid, Arsenal, and Borussia Dortmund to date) in order to build a community for each club, while Animoca Brands recently auctioned off more than $200,000-worth of digital collectables cars for their Formula One Delta Time game - one of the cars, the Azure Dragon, selling for $16,000. Clearly this is a far cry from the days of children pestering their parents for enough money to buy a couple of packets of stickers at a time. Physical and digital collectables are increasingly the domain of adults reliving their youth, but with considerably greater funds at their disposal. The future has certainly already begun.

"Yet, Blockchain is a far cry from kids pestering their parents." Greg Lansdowne is a freelance writer and communications professional, specialising in the collectables and nostalgia sectors. He wrote Stuck On You - The Rise & Fall‌ & Rise of Panini Stickers.

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After the fog has cleared: How should we now adapt to a post-corona economy? By Trudi Bishop

By the time this goes to print the state of the Covid-19 pandemic will be in a very different place than it is now, so bear with me. We are experiencing unprecedented times. The pandemic is not just affecting the health of the global population, but it's having an effect on the health and wellbeing of the planet as a whole. Following various lockdowns we've seen a significant reduction in air pollution over these countries. For context (without downplaying its significance), according to WHO, air pollution kills almost 7m people every year. This barely gets a mention in conversation. Every day our children walk to school they breathe in the poisons from our commuters’ cars (it’s worth recognising children in buggies are at the same height as a car exhaust) yet we don’t find social media memes saying ‘stay safe’ for our kids. With the sudden and exponential onset of Covid-19 we are seeing businesses having to rethink their whole way of operating. Working from home has become the ‘right and safe thing to do’. Amazon has stopped all ‘non-essential’ deliveries. With these small changes we will see an immediate positive effect on kids' wellbeing. Beyond this, as public events, sports and schools close we will be ‘forced’ to spend more time with each

other as families. Yes, this may be a little daunting, but it can also be an opportunity. We have the chance to reconnect with our children and allow life to slow down to really think on what is important. As the UK is not in full lock down it also allows us to reconnect with, notice, and appreciate nature. The ‘business as usual’ mentality has had to change in light of this tragedy. Attitudes to our consumption behaviour have changed whether through necessity or due to focusing on our health and wellbeing. And despite the selfish act of stockpiling by many people, it has also brought out the good in humanity: We have neighbourhoods looking out for the elderly and housebound by buying and delivering goods for them. Behaviour has changed and it is the more positive results of the pandemic that I hope we can show children on how society really can be. But what happens once the pandemic passes and business as usual returns? The economic scars could be long and deep. There will be the temptation (as we see in China already loosening rules on pollution) to ramp up production and put the long-term negative effects on the environment aside for short term monetary gain to get us all ‘back on track’. Surely as we all rethink how we work, live and shop, it presents us the chance to make the systematic shift toward a better future, giving us a very real chance of saving humanity.

"We've had to rethink how we work; it could save humanity." Trudi Bishop is the founder of Bee Licensing and a toy and games industry expert who has taken on the mission of passing on insight around sustainability within the industry. Bishop is a co-founder of the Products of Change group.

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Feature opinion

A GAME OF CLONES? NOT ANY MORE IT ISN’T… As the relationship between licensing and board gaming continues to evolve and we begin to see tabletop games make more and better use of the rich world of IP, Eclectic Games managing director, Becky Ottery offers up her take on this bountiful sector

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Feature opinion

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arry Potter Cluedo, Pokémon Monopoly, Game of Thrones Risk. How many of you automatically flash to these sorts of titles when you hear the words ‘licensed board game’? There was a time when almost all of the tie-in, licensed IP board games were in the simple model of ‘change the names and images on an established classic and call it good’. Well, I'd like to tell you that things have certainly moved on somewhat from those days, and we can all take pleasure and comfort in that. I suppose many of you would be asking the question - why should we care about licensed board games at all? Were it a few years ago, I'd have understood where you'd be coming from. There’s a veritable avalanche of games coming out all of the time. There’s a game on every topic under the sun, and in so many different forms. You want a game that takes a deeply scientific approach to colonising the planet Mars? You’ve got one in Terraforming Mars by FryxGames,

Licensed Monopoly will always be with us, but more and more games based on strong IP are being designed to fit with it; conceptually, mechanically, and thematically. Becky Ottery, Eclectic Games

you want something about commanding factions of savage cats in a bid to control a woodland hierarchy, yep - take a look at Root by Leadergames. The point being, there is many a title out there, and the quality is higher than ever, too. So, amongst all of this, why should a games store care about a segment that has historically been regarded by hobby gamers as ‘not very good’? Well, for two main reasons, as far as I can see.

Firstly, as games, they are actually and surprisingly good. What's immediately noticeable is the change in design and development effort spent by publishers on these games. Licensed Monopoly editions will always be with us, but more and more games based on strong IP are being designed to fit with that particular IP; conceptually, mechanicially, and thematically. My poster child for this is Villainous and its expansions, published by Ravensburger. This is a game that takes asymmetric roles, with differing goals, and marries the goal and mechanics of each role to the story arc of the particular villain. The level of design and effort that’s gone into each one means that if you are a player that doesn’t have a strong emotional connection with a specific Disney villain (although who doesn’t have at least one Disney bad guy they can identify with?) there is still enough to engage with, and a clear variety to try to pick your favourite from. For a Disney fan, it’s fantastic. From the card in Captain Hook’s fate deck with the April 2020 | toy news | 11

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Crocodile that forces him to 'discard his hand', to the fact that Peter in the latest expansion has all of his cards in black and white, there is so much to connect with. The design team has gone to great length to evoke the films, and make them matter in terms of gameplay. In fact, Villainous was in our top ten games sold in 2019, as our highest placed board game with 100 copies sold, beating Pandemic at 87. (Our best-selling game for 2019 - The Mind, sold 190 units, while in second place was Dobble with 116). Another major hit for us has been the Harry Potter Co-operative Deckbuilder Hogwarts Battle, and later the two player, head-to-head duel using the same mechanics, Defense against the Dark Arts, both from USAopoly/The OP. The Hogwarts Battle co-op has a lot going for it, being an introduction to the deck building genre of games that most new gamers won’t have encountered. The first three ‘years’ of Hogwarts function to explain the mechanics of the game in easy steps, and then Year Four steps up the difficulty quite noticeably.

This ‘teaching functionality’ brings me to the second reason games stores should be excited by the new and improved wave of licensed games, and that is that they are

Selling games is about the players making a connection with the experience. How much easier is it to sell a game where your customer already has a positive connection with it. Becky Ottery, Eclectic Games

simply an easy introduction to modern board gaming for new audiences. Selling games is about the players making a connection with the experience. How much easier is it to sell a game where your customer already has a positive connection with the theme?

When an average member of the public walks into a specialist store, it’s important that they can find something that they recognise, that makes them feel that they aren’t in the wrong place. Walking into somewhere and looking around thinking “I don’t recognise anything here, I don’t know what to ask for, I’m afraid of looking stupid” usually means turning around and leaving. This is something that licensed games can help with no end. Jaws, Game of Thrones, Scott Pilgrim, Power Rangers, Pokémon, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, The Thing, Villainous, Firefly, Star Trek Fluxx, Batman Fluxx, Kingdom Hearts Talisman... popular culture and board games are becoming more and more intertwined. Where hobby stores have perhaps been perceived as a ‘geek’ haven, full of complicated things like Dungeons and Dragons, a strong IP can overcome this possible barrier. It also helps with getting good, modern board games into more mass market and non-specialist retailers, and increasing exposure of the hobby to the general public.

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While ‘geek’ in general is becoming more mainstream, and the perennial British perception that ‘games are for children and possibly Christmas’ is finally beginning to die out; there’s still cause to celebrate anything that gets more people to consider picking up and trying a board game. Good licensed games are now available at all levels of the gaming ecosystem. From Dobble (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Disney Princesses) and Fluxx (Batman, Star Trek, Monty Python, Jumanji, Firefly), through to family games such as Jurassic Park, Codenames (Disney, Marvel, X-Men), up to effectively ‘gamer’ titles such as Villainous, Hogwarts Battle, and Horrified. Once people have played one of these, there is a frame of reference to discuss other games. Enjoyed Hogwarts Battle and Defence against the Dark Arts? Have you seen Star Realms? How about Century Spice Road? Was the ‘one vs many’ aspect of Jaws or Jurassic Park a great feature for you? Here’s Castle Panic or Fury of Dracula to scratch that itch. Gamers have always had options for licensed play, from various Star Wars games, superheroes in all forms (minis, cards, RPG books), video game adaptations from the venerable Civ to X-Com, Fallout, Minecraft... There’s also the tabletop gaming based IP that have expanded into the broader popular culture - Dungeons and Dragons and Games Workshop’s Warhammer are probably the two most obvious examples. What tended to unite those options were a level of complexity, quite a hefty learning curve and time investment requirement, and a feeling of mild elitism. That was good for players, but didn’t lend itself quite as well to broad appeal and new customers from a retail perspective. What the current landscape has as a beneficial evolution, is the addition of good, intermediate steps between the (sometimes insultingly) simplistic licensed Monopoly and the like, and the intimidatingly more complex ‘gamer’ licenses. So, what's the takeaway from all of this? It has to be the delight of more accessible games, reaching more new customers, who can easily step into a new hobby. We can celebrate the long awaited death of a negative stereotype - “Licensed games? Aren’t they usually rubbish?” Not any more.

FEATURED GAMES Here’s a quick run through of just some of the mentioned games to be lighting up the gloomy prospect of a month of indoors entertainment Jaws Published by: Ravensburger Jaws sees one player take on the role of the Great White Shark off Amity Island, while the other one to three players adopt the roles of Brody, Hooper, and Quint to hunt the merciless killer. Gameplay is divided into two acts, Amity Island and The Orca and is played on a double-sided board to replicate the film’s story. In Amity Island phase, the shark menaces swimmers and avoids capture and players attempts to save swimmers from shark attacks. In Orca phase, Brody, Hooper, and Quint are aboard a sinking ship engaging in a climactic battle against the shark.

Villainous Published by: Ravensburger Villainous has each player take control of one of six Disney characters, each a villain from a different Disney movie. Each player has their own villain deck, fate deck, player board, and 3D character. Players move their character to a different location on their player board and takes one or more of the actions visible on that space by playing cards from their hand. Cards are allies, items, effects, conditions, and (for some characters) curses. You need to use your cards to fulfill your unique win condition. Your aim is to complete the evil machinations of your villainous character first to win the game, while trying to scupper the plans of others around the table. The Gruffalo: Games from the Deep Dark Wood Published by: Cartamundi Games from the Deep, Dark, Wood is a box of four family friendly games inspired by The Gruffalo. The games themselves are simple to learn, take around ten minutes to play, and, offer a good deal of fun for players of all ages. Each game features The Gruffalo, Mouse, Fox, Owl, and Snake. The box includes The Deep, Dark, Wood Game, What’s a Gruffalo?, His eyes are orange, and Oh Help, Oh No! Games from the Deep, Dark, Wood has been an exciting project developed by three top UK game designers Brett J Gilbert, Tony Boydell, and Andrew Harman working together on this charming new compendium.

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Interview

We hope extra playfulness will spill over into people's daily life - we all need more downtime to escape. Filip Francke, Ravensburger

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Interview

“BOARD GAMING CAN HAVE SUCH A PROFOUND IMPACT ON OUR COMMUNITIES” Ravensburger North America has just seen one of its strongest years in boardgaming to date, with a growth of 21 per cent year on year. Robert Hutchins talks to CEO Filip Francke about the genre’s evolving audience and where the company is taking the sector from here

The world needs more playfulness,” Ravensburger North America’s CEO, Filip Francke tells me during a week in which sifting through the deluge of latest news updates is as disheartening as discovering that at the most critical moment, you’ve run out of toiletpaper. It’s a sentiment I can immediately take on board. We’ve kept our correspondence to email this time around, not for the benefit of social distancing, but simply because Francke, as is ever the case, is a man with a packed schedule. That, I suppose, is what comes of having some of the most in-demand products of the moment across a division of the business that has just experienced a 21 per cent year on year growth. Whatever ailments the wider toy market has seen in recent months and years, the board game market is still a place of resurgence, and Ravensburger is having a thrilling time riding that wave. “2019 was Ravensburger’s best year yet, and we anticipate 2020 to be even better,” Francke explains. “We think board games are hot, but this could be so much bigger and have such a profound impact on our communities.

“We hope extra playfulness will spill over into people’s daily life - we all need more downtime to escape a bit and have fun together. The world needs more playfulness.”

2019 was Ravensburger's best year yet, and we anticipate 2020 to be even better. We think boardgames are hot, but this could be so much bigger and have such a profound impact on our communities. Filip Francke, Ravensburger

It’s the silver-lining that so many have been holding on to in these hugely unprecedented times, that as talk of selfisolation rumbles across the globe, from Europe to North America, community and

togetherness are words that continue to fuel an optimism, popping up like an SEO pictorial of humanity’s drive to prevail. Board games haven’t faired too badly throughout this crisis, either. In the UK, a visible push to put more board games into the hands of families entering into selfisolation has been noticed not just across the online sellers, but through local toy shops and hobby retailers. On anecdotal evidence alone, it appears that there’s an innate desire to own that something analogue; not least at a time we are so reliant on digital to keep connected to the outside world. “In many ways our digital-focused world is creating a growing need for togetherness, and board games are a great way to give purpose to gathering,” continues Francke. “We love that games bring people together and help facilitate social interaction while bringing a bit of fun into people’s lives.” But of late, Ravensburger is doing more than just that. You’d have noticed in the past months that Ravensburger has taken its approach to board gaming to a new level, helping to forge a new relationship between board gaming and the mainstream media. And it’s done this through the continued April 2020 | toy news | 15

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innovation of licensed board games. It was Ravensburger, after all, who brought us all the Vilainous board game, a title that took the best of the most dastardly Disney villains and watched their respective worlds collide as players appropriated each one’s desire to achieve their wicked intentions. It was also Ravensburger who brought us the Jaws board game, in which tension becomes the very fabric of the game’s narrative. And it is Ravensburger once again who this year is to launch a new collection that exemplify wonderfully the evolving relationship between the gaming medium and IP manipulation to bring us some wonderful new launches. “For 2020, Ravensburger will be inviting players to immerse themselves in new experiences within the Marvel Universe, Wonder Woman, Back to the Future, Disney’s Hocus Pocus and more,” says Francke. But what is it that has changed exactly? Licensed board games have been around pretty much since colour has been transposed to card. But, it’s arguable that Ravensburger has been a part of a recent seismic shift in the depth at which gaming narrative can take players into the IP itself. “Whether engaging with a silly and relatable character for kids, a retro classic for adults, or a new fan favourite, players

For 2020, Ravensburger will be inviting players to immerse themselves in new experiences within the Marvel Universe, Wonder Woman, Back to the Future, Disney's Hocus Pocus and more. Filip Francke, Ravensburger

love the ability to enter into a world where they can interact with their favourite stories,” explains Francke. “We continue to see more unique IP coming to tabletop games, and that is definitely expanding the audience. “The last few years, Ravensburger has focused on offering more crossover games that invite people into their favourite world and introduce them to deeper strategy gameplay. These games make it less imposing to try strategy games by centering around characters that mass consumers know well. In the past, strategy games have been a bit intimidating for some, so this

approach has opened up the playing field.” But to deliver something that works, that’s the skill, and it’s something that takes what Francke calls “true partnership,” in order to hone and get right. “It also takes a joint commitment to deliver an authentic and original interpretation of the IP that also has a high re-play factor,” he continues. “The consumer should feel like they live the characters and the story. To achieve this result takes time and dedication, and the willingness to go beyond normal licensing playbooks also on the licensor’s side. “Moreover, just putting the product on the shelf and hoping that it will sell just because it has a license does not seem to have the same effect anymore. As we partner with a licensor, we always make sure to partner closely on the marketing and launch of the game, so that we can connect with fans in meaningful ways.” It’s moving into the ten year territory now, since boardgaming - moreover the tabletop gaming hobby - came lurking from out of the shadows and into the mainstream consciousness, but only in the most recent years that it has stepped into the frame of a supercategory itself. Today, board gaming is in fact, increasingly viewed as mainstream a medium of entertainment as video gaming or cinema. It’s small wonder

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that board gaming audiences consistently outpace video gaming on platforms such as Kickstarter, as the wealth of creativity it kicks up grows annually. It’s certainly the key component to boardgaming that Francke is keeping a watchful eye on. “One of the trends we are seeing is deeper play experiences for broader audiences,” he says. “Our goal is to transport casual players and core tabletop gamers alike into immersive worlds that let people unplug from their everyday life and fully connect with one another. “This connection is key - gamers are looking for ways to create stronger bonds with friends and family, something that board games happily provide. Personally, I find that after I’ve played a board game with my kids, I feel a stronger connection.” On top of this, Francke insists that much of today’s increased interest in board gaming is arriving courtesy of the guidance of core gamers themselves; bringing new players into the fold - and then keeping them there ‘with an experience not as passive as watching a film.’ “You watch a movie once; two hours and it’s over,” says Francke. “It’s often a great experience but to some extent a rather passive one. Boardgames, when done well, get better when you play a second or third

One of the key trends we are seeing is deeper play experiences for broader audiences. Our goal is to transport casual players and core tabletop gamers alike into immersive worlds that let people unplug from everyday life. Filip Francke, Ravensburger

time, and you are an active part of changing the narrative. Tabletop is a growing choice of entertainment worldwide as people are looking for rich engagement that they can enjoy together.” It’s with thanks to Ravensburger’s team of in-house developers, of course, that the firm can credit much of its success in the ever-growing tabletop gaming space, with the occasional call on the outside game developer or designer for a collaborative process that can often take up to a full year of development on one title. All of whom, it should go without saying, are passionate

tabletop gamers. “Our favourite part is seeing the way consumers react to the extra details we put into each game,” says Francke. “For instance, with Jaws, we lined the inside of the box with the pattern of Mayor Vaughn’s anchor jacket. It’s these extra details that really connect the player to the game and transport them into its world.” It’s with touches like this that Ravensburger’s relationship with its audience is most obvious. This is a company that recognises the value in the small things, the details, that help make up the most immersive narrative. And it is only just paving the path towards a new future for boardgaming still to come. “From here, we will talk about how board games are such an amazing way for people to come together, and how we can further support that in our new releases an development going forward; not just in the classic hobby game way, or the Monopoly way, but in a way that suits so many more people and more occasions,” says Francke. “We think games are hot, but this could be so much bigger and have such a profound impact on our communities. We hope extra playfulness will spill over into people’s daily life - we all need more downtime to escape a bit and have fun together,” he concludes. April 2020 | toy news | 17

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Interview

“THE FUTURE OF GAMING? THINGS ARE GOING TO GET WEIRD”

If there’s one thing that Jay Wheatley, general manager of Funko Games, the recently acquired games arm to the pop culture specialist, is certain of, it’s that tabletop gaming is ‘going to get weird’ in the years to come. Robert Hutchins catches up with the man to find out just what he means by this

J

ay Wheatley, general manager of Funko Games has a simple vision of the future of tabletop gaming as it continues to push boundaries and draw in new audiences, and that’s that things are going to ‘get weird.’ It’s an idea that strikes a particularly sweet chord with the man now heading up Funko’s recently

acquired games division. It was, after all, in a former life that Wheatley once took particular pleasure in imposing ‘weird and uncomfortable’ scenarios upon diners back in the days of his experiential restaurant business Entros. He recounts to ToyNews a time he instigated a game between two players who were given the roles of a car salesman and a car buyer, each with

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their own backstory and specified amount they had to sell and buy a car for. The pair would then spend the evening negotiating, in a back and forth game play. This all took place in the middle of his packedout Seattle restaurant; subverting social constructs like awkwardness to turn it into entertainment. This is the kind of ‘weird future’ Wheatley envisions for tabletop gaming hobby. And this is the kind of man now presiding over Funko’s boldest move for the board gaming space today. It should come as no surprise, of course. Wheatley - and the team of creative thinkers, game designers, and all-round play creators around him - has made quite the career out of tinkering with gaming mechanics to develop and innovate the tabletop gaming genre for some 20 odd years now. In doing so, he has also led a team that has produced and licensed games to some of the biggest names in the space today, the likes of Spin Master, Mattel, Asmodee, Hasbro, and Goliath included. “In fact,” he recalls, “we have probably made around 400 to 500 games.” And that

To us, joining the Funko team just sounded like heaven. This company was the embodiment of what we love: telling stories with characters and brands and bringing those all to life. Jay Wheatley, Funko Games even extends to some of the most recent New York Toy Fair launches in Disney’s Villainous, Jaws, and Universal Monster’s Horrified, all of which were licensed to Ravensburger back before his team was acquired by Funko at the end of 2018. If there’s one man who knows the business

of board gaming - and how to continue to push the boundaries within it - it’s going to be Wheatley. The move came just a couple of months into a commissioned project to develop a strategy game that used the Funko Pop! figures by bringing them into a common universe, or Funkoverse, for tabletop gameplay. Having taken a shine to the output, ethics, and methodology of this team of game creators, and with an eye on making a concerted move into the board gaming arena, Funko’s Andrew Perlmutter and Brian Mariotti tabled a deal to acquire this unit of creatives. “To us, it sounded like heaven,” Wheatley tells ToyNews. “Funko was the embodiment of what we love. We were making non-licensed games, but we were also making a lot of licensed games, and we love all of that kind of stuff. This April 2020 | toy news | 19

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was a deal that was about like-mindedness and culture, and we immediately saw that synergy with Funko. This is a company that is extraordinarily passionate about pop culture and properties, brands, stories, and characters, and bringing those to life and celebrating all of the touchstones that we have grown up with.” By 2019, the team had been acquired and Funko Games had been established, and Wheatley had been given a new remit to explore a world of pop culture IP - a library literally in its thousands - and what it could mean for the tabletop gaming space. “It’s wonderful to be with Funko,” Wheatley continues. “As great as our relationships have always been with Ravensburger, Asmodee etc, the companies we highly respect, deeply, there is a certain distance that creates between us and the consumer. If they are doing the marketing, or making the decision around customer service or they’re between the creation of the items and the retailers that they are presenting it to, all those elements of distance are things that we can close now, as we are able to have that direct relationship with the consumers - we are able to present the games directly as we intended them in the creation of them, and we are able to develop a brand that is recognised by everyone.” For Wheatley, it means making decisions on what licenses the unit develops games

App gaming in the 2000s only whetted the appetite and made game playing more of a constant part of people's worlds. Jay Wheatley, Funko Games

for, from what he calls Funko’s “playground of licensed properties that it is working with.” It also means being able to have a real conversation with the end user, the gaming audience itself, as well as licensors - an asset that, he realises, is integral in pushing the envelope in gaming today. “Funko does a lot of business with licensors, and it allows a certain amount of partnership that we haven’t experienced in the past that the licensors see what Funko has done in terms of licensing and product categories,” says Wheatley. “I can’t think of any company other than Funko who could come up with a game system of multiple different licenses that you can place within one kind of universe, I think that would have been a hard sell for most publishers.” Of course, Funko Games’ boardgaming output may start with Funkoverse, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Wheatley

tells ToyNews of the excitement around New York Toy Fair earlier this year, when it finally got to reveal a raft of signature games, including Back to the Future, Godzilla, Yacht Rock, and a Pan Am licensed title, all of which go a very long well to not only establish Funko’s credentials in the tabletop gaming arena, but reflect the fascinating relationship that tabletop gaming now has with society today. “And that really is a fascinating subject,” says Wheatley. “There was a time in the mid 2000s when we thought we were going to go out of business because of the rise of app games. It was an existential time for board games. People began playing games everywhere and all of the time, whether in mass transit or before they went to bed. “But actually, we think it whetted the appetite and made game playing more of a constant part of people’s worlds and lifestyle, and so today, boardgaming has never been stronger. “In the last year or two, we have seen the adoption of more complex or interesting games (what we used to call Eurostyle games, but now days are coming from all corners of the world), we are seeing game nights become a standard part of people’s social behaviour, and there is a robust world of gaming happening. “It reminds me of the quote from [Canadian philosopher] Marshall McLuhan that ‘the medium is the message.’ For me, I

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think of ‘what does the medium say here?’ What does game playing say about society and our culture, irrespective of the content? What does this medium say about us in this time and place of human existence?” What it says, Wheatley answers is that people want to spend time together. “They want to sit across a table and share experiences, laugh, have fun in a big shared space together, and how great is that?” he says. “Tabletop gaming is one of the healthiest things people can be doing - spending social time together, engaging their intellect, their imagination, and sharing all of these wonderful things.” Then there is what this newest ilk of board game developers are bringing to the space by exploring an IP’s narrative to its fullest and bringing it to life on the board and in game play. Wheatley continues: “We love diving deep into the content and the licenses. It is one thing to have a game that is filled with imagery and words, and ideas and characters that people recognise, but that is not enough. It’s very important that the actual structural experience of the game, the mechanics of the game, support the message or theme, or principals of the property itself.” Wheatley takes the work he and his team put into Jaws prior to the Funko acquisition as an example. Jaws is a hidden movement game which builds up a lot of tension

through its cat and mouse gameplay. “And that’s great, because that is what the movie is about. You could take a game and put a shark on it, and a few touchstones from the movie, but it is not good enough unless you’re putting players into something evocative of the emotional and psychological experience that the property offers,” the game designer explains. Wheatley breaks it down into three elements; digetic, extra-digetic, and nondigetic, these being elements from the property itself - many of which you will find in Funko Games’ Back to the Future board game; elements not from the property but built into the game’s narrative in order to enhance the gaming experience and still rooted in that world; and elements such as randomisers (like dice) and point scoring systems, respectively. According to Wheatley, a successful game knows how to strike the right balance or cook up the right recipe with the correct quantities of each of these elements. “It can be challenging, editorially, to make all of these components work together in order to keep players immersed in the IP’s narrative and not distracted by those elements that are necessary, yet have the ability to take them out of the narrative if the balance isn’t right.” The technicalities in this regard can run deep, and it is obvious that this is a favoured topic of talk for Wheatley, a man

who self-professes ‘feels like he has studied a Phd in board games’ simply through the number of hours he has dedicated to the craft. We, however, stop short, to tackle the topic of where tabletop gaming is heading from here. “The bar is constantly being raised, and everyone in this industry is super energised about delivering for gamers these incredible experiences that are authentic and feel immersive,” he explains. “It is a great time to be a gamer because everyone is trying to deliver that deeper and better exprience. “I think we are going to see more innovative and interesting ideas, and I don’t just mean what’s happening with the variables and equipment at the table, but things that produce unique behaviours; things where the gameplay is taking place not just in the same room, not just in the same time space, but taking place over longer periods of time, or connecting people in different ways. “I think we are going to see more experimentation and the’yre not all going to work, but that is the way it is when you try new things. We are going to see more exotic, meta experiences happening. We have a couple of things in the works - things we started before we became Funko Games that will come out through other channels, but that is an area to keep your eye out for because there is going to be some weird games, in the very best of ways.” April 2020 | toy news | 21

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Kids Insights

Event Horizon: With a new decade comes time for a new approach 2020 marks the start of another new year, another new decade, and - as The Insights People founder and managing director, Nick Richardson puts it - the time for a whole new approach to the children’s market. Here, he outlines his plan on how to navigate this new era

S

tarting a new decade always provides a chance to reflect; to try and consider what we were doing at the start of the last decade and to contemplate how things have changed. When we kicked off 2010, the world was a very different place - we had Mothercare, Toys R Us and even Blockbuster. We didn’t have Brexit, GDPR, and Netflix, while TikTok hadn’t even been dreamed up yet! The world has changed, and kids' ecosystems have changed forever; they will not go back to how they were and the speed of change as we move forward will only intensify. Quite simply the old strategies are redundant, and as an industry, as organisations and as individuals we need to reconsider our approach, and furthermore we must do this quickly. The breadth of companies and individuals we work with, across multiple sectors and multiple functions provides us with a fortunate and distinctive view. The comforting news for you all is no matter if you are in Entertainment, FMCG, Policy, Publishing, Retail, Sports or even our beloved Toy industry, the feedback is the same “we are in a state of flux, we need to do things differently but we don’t know how to do it”.

We hear continually that brand owners recognise that their advertising and media strategies are not working and are unsure of how to evaluate the impact of their ad spend, and ultimately measure their ROI. We are also increasingly hearing of organisations who are quite simply terrified of what to do, and in some cases are even questioning whether they should be creating products or campaigns specifically for kids in fear of the repercussions. We also see how business opportunities come, go, and ultimately resurface remodelled, leaving some of us to no doubt think: is it all worth it? Well what we can tell you, from what we are seeing, it absolutely is. We all know that this generation of children are like no other; being constantly connected and increasingly financially empowered and enabled. Technology is fuelling these rapid changes and children are becoming more connected at a younger age than they ever were. In fact, our data shows us that 92 per cent of three to six year olds in the UK own an internet enabled mobile device, and this has increased by 10 per cent from last year. They have far greater spending power than any

previous generation, and their influence power goes well beyond toys and entertainment, to holidays. We’ve actually discovered that two thirds of kids influence their parents on their holiday choice. Even purchasing new cars - 36 per cent of kids say they influence their parents’ choice. To put it into numbers according to our data, yearly expenditure on food/drinks/ snacks by kids’ totals £2bn, on fashion (clothes, shoes and accessories) - £1.9bn, on new technology - £1.2bn and video games £1.1bn. These figures are huge and will have a massive impact on the industry as a whole. Failure to understand and engage with today’s children, does not affect your business today, but will ultimately affect your businesses destiny, and your ability to cultivate your next generation of consumer. SO HOW DO I DO THIS, HOW DO I PREPARE MYSELF AND MY BUSINESS FOR THIS NEXT GENERATION?

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Kids Insights Well, the first stage has to be developing an understanding; quite frankly how can you even start to head in a certain direction, if you don’t understand the terrain, the opportunities, the challenges and ultimately what children’s attitudes, behaviour and consumption are? And what I mean by understanding is not as simple as what they bought yesterday, or what they watched last week; it's how their collective and individual ecosystems are made up. That may sound too jargonistic, but our view, which is backed up time and time again, on a daily basis, is that everything is connected. If children are spending less time watching TV, they have more time to do something else, if they are spending less money on sweets, they have more money to spend on something else. Furthermore, what children are doing today will have an impact on the choices they make in the future. Important links between play and child development are also visible in our data. Based on our UK data, kids aged six to nine who play with construction toys the most are 38 pr cent more likely than average to want to become an engineer when they’re older. Likewise, kids who play with electronic and digital toys the most are 50 per cent more likely to want an IT/ Computer related career. We know that where adults are concerned there is almost a never-ending supply of real-time data, providing detailed analytics based on consumers behaviours and consumption. But this is simply not the case for kids with the recent and welcomed changes to legislation. Gathering this intel, this data, these behaviours is much harder to do for children and this means for intent and purpose the industry is flying blind.

There are companies that offer kids research, data and insights and from what I see, there were traditionally two types - the ones that are simply doing research, to sell their agenda - be it, social media influencer campaigns, encouraging organisations to invest in apps or their own IP. And those who are employed on a reactive basis to help a client understand a very specific detail, at a very specific time, providing data on historical activities.

“Quote” Barry Hughes, Golden Bear

make it easier for our clients to be able to understand the kid’s ecosystem and their intended audiences’ attitudes, behaviour and consumption. We will help you make informed decisions before ploughing millions into advertising, content, licensing, marketing or new product initiatives which may not work. The data is also there to help you drive revenue and efficiencies to impact your bottom line; dozens of our clients use our data to build a narrative to engage and influence buyers into listing and investing in their products, and we are increasingly providing data and insights for clients to add to their sell sheets. Surely you must agree that is the time to start looking at things from a different perspective and to ultimately get ahead of the trends?

And that’s where we come in and what sets us apart. As a start we can provide you with high quality, statistically significant, data agnostic and independent data with no agenda. Furthermore, we can provide you the ability to track and evaluate data in realtime; give you the opportunity to view, filter and interrogate the data to build specific insights to meet your needs. This approach enables us to provide our clients with a solution which is completely unique and from what I have observed, the only genuine solution to help you define and understand your audience and ultimately enable you to become on the front foot. Our development plans are not just focused on launching into new markets, but to improve everything we do, and

Please do get in touch and let us show you what we do, explain how our data, insights and strategic capabilities help inform clients advertising, content, licensing, marketing, product and retail strategies. Ultimately, what we want to ensure that when we enter 2030, you are here, your business is prospering, and we

KIDS INSIGHTS Kids Insights, the global leader in kids’ market intelligence, surveys more than 2,500 children every week, across 4 continents and 8 countries, and more than 125,000 children a year. Our latest UK reports are predominantly based on the results of surveying 5,325 children between 1st October and 31st December 2019, though it also utilises data we have collected since May 2017. Our research and strategy team works with clients from across the sector, using data from surveying 125,000 kids across the globe. We provide insight to help clients develop their advertising, content, licensing, marketing, product and sales strategies. To download a complimentary Kids Insights report visit kidsinsights. co.uk/toynews, or to organise a meeting please call 0330 159 6631.

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Retail Panel

FINDING THE COMMUNITY IN ISOLATION

Advocating that people of the UK simply need to #stayathome to beat the current pandemic, the UK’s toy retail scene has been beating the drum of community, support, and resources. ToyNews tackles the issue in this month’s Retail Advisory Board April 2020 | toy news | 25

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Retail Panel THE RETAIL PANNEL...

IAN EDMUNDS

BHAV PATEL

I

t’s always worth remembering that in times like these, for every anxt-inducing headline churned out to cook up one social narrative, there’s an equal and opposite act of positivity happening somewhere and being carried out by someone to counter it. It is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that such acts have - but are often overlooked in favour of the bigger and brasher headlines - arisen. And nowhere has it been more prevalent than across the toy space. Up and down the UK, toy retailers have taken up arms in the fight against coronavirus to help families, parents and children take on the necessary imposition of self-isolation, whether that is

AMANDA GUMMER Director, Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide We are living in crazy times, there's no doubt, but I think it will just be about providing trusted sources of advice for parents in difficult times. Anything that they can do via their Facebook output and their social media channel - newsletters or anything like that, to A keep themselves front of mind, and to B - support parents while they are going through all of this will do wonders in terms of loyalty and everything that comes with it. If they have online facilities, they will be wanting to ramp those up and communicating the benefits of those to parents and families. If you don’t have an online platform, you could be offering to do deliveries for the local families by teaming up with a local shop that does, and work off the back of that - like a local clothes shop, or someone local with an online presence. More than ever, this is going to be about community and rallying together. There are positives to look for in all of this, this could be a chance for local communities to come together, for social

AMANDA GUMMER

PETER ALLINSON

through door step or curbside delivery services of toys, games, and craft kits to keep kids and families entertained over the coming months, or the generation of ideas and offer of support to locals. Perhaps the idea of community has never been as important as it is now, and perhaps the local, independent toy shop is best suited to rally the message; afterall, it’s the drum this secor has been beating loud and rhythmically for many a year. This month, ToyNews puts the topic to its Retail Advisory Board of experts: What positives can be drawn from the situation the UK, and the rest of the world, finds itself in right now, and what can the independent toy retailer do to overcome?

division to be repaired, and of course, for the environment to recover. IAN EDMUNDS Managing director, Toymaster There are two things that we are telling our members, and first to that - which is paramount - is that they stay safe. Listen to the guidelines of the Government and all the rest of it, that is common sense whether you are in retail, or whatever you are doing. The second thing is cash. Cash is king. Make sure you have cash. If that means not paying your landlord, HMRC, the rates are gone, not paying your bank or whoever. Talk to your bank and get it sorted. It’s all well and good the Government saying that there is help and that there is going to be help, but you need help now, don’t you. It’s alright with people proposing things, but where’s the wonga? It takes time, we understand that; but what we are saying is that don’t pay your rates in the hope that it comes back to you at some point in the future. That’s all the advice at the moment, and if that is the right advice for our members, it’s

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Retail Panel

THE RETAIL PANNEL...

STUART GRANT

ROB TRUP

probably the right advice for all those retailers who aren’t our members as well. If you are being particularly cut-throat about all of this, the big positive about this is that it is happening now, and that it didn’t happen in November or December. That would have been disastrous. One of the good things that our members have got is that they all talk to each other; share experiences and share ideas and share what’s working. I think, it’s early to say now of course, but there are a lot of issues out there that - once this does all go - will all become clearer because of this period, and this will certainly highlight what is really important to us and what is really important in life. I will say that a lot of our Toymaster members are good with dealing with adversity and coming out strong, they have had a number of things thrown at them to deal with over the years, and have always known what to do and how to behave in a crisis before now, and will know how to handle the next crisis after now. They are a resilient and hardy stock.

PETER ALLINSON Manager, Whirligig Toys This is clearly a difficult time for us all. As a specialist in 'things to make and do', our customers are very keen to talk to us at the moment with the prospect of a number of weeks with children stuck at home. They, and we, are aware that the internet will only sustain them for some of the time, so we are seeing people picking up arts and crafts kits, investigative toys and family games that everyone can do together. There are also a number of adults buying themselves kits to build whilst they are off. Meanwhile, we are supporting customers by providing free delivery on all orders and putting additional lines onto our website so that they have the greatest choice possible. As a small online retailer, we do not have the massive warehouses but can also be more responsive as we don't

MILES PENHALLOW

CHARLOTTE KHAN

have to maintain a huge team to ensure delivery. As long as Royal Mail are operating, we can get toys to our customers. The biggest issue for us is that our team members are all safe and happy. Ensuring business continuity is the priority for us so that we can keep our experience in house. Meantime, it is a great time to explore some of our toys in more detail and I'm personally looking forward to having some time to play with all the games we discovered at Toy Fair this year and some time to make up all the samples. CHARLOTTE KHAN Director, Moo Like A Monkey We've spent a week dealing with this being re-active, desperately trying to navigate in a space no one recognises but it's now time to switch gears and start being pro-active; taking control of our business as best we can in this situation by adapting to meet our customers changing needs. Moo Like a Monkey is predominantly a brick and mortar shop with an online presence but we are working flat-out to ramp up our online business while shutting down the physical shop (not for good, I hope). We very quickly started offering free delivery and delivered all local orders by (wellsanitised) hand. We are pushing products on social media which will benefit people stuck at home with their kids, activities and educational books etc. The local community especially have shown overwhelming support for our business, people genuinely don't want to lose the independent businesses which are part of the identity of the town they live in. They are rooting for us and we are determined to cling on until this is over. We will take the support the government is offering and we will continue to be up beat and positive through our social media channels, because everyone is sick of bad news. I genuinely believe good will come of this, if we survive it, customer loyalty, appreciation of small independent business and a genuine strengthened community. April 2020 | toy news | 27

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Interview

ALL IN THE MIX After some five years in development, Metomics - the new interlockling toy brick system from WiST Group - is ready to hit shelves, bringing with it new innovation in the construction toy category. What is it, you ask? We talk to WiST Group’s director Sean Miles and marketing director, Ed Butler to find out‌

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aunch an interlocking brick toy system today and it’s inevitable you’re going to run up against one or two, or actually, just the one, name that dominates the construction toy space today; or at the least, face the inevitable comparisons to them. So dominant of the market has LEGO become, that even the Best Construction Toy category in the UK’s annual Toy Awards ceremony has been unofficially dubbed ‘the LEGO category,’ in a tradition dating back to way beyond the almost decade that I have been within the industry and referring to the simple fact that no one ever wins the category award. No one ever. Bar LEGO. But despite the share of the sumptuous pie that the Danish toymaker has managed to wrangle from the oven mits of today’s consumer audience, it certainly hasn’t discouraged the creatively-minded from pursuing innovation in a space flooded with little plastic bricks. And among them, is this month's cover star and creators of the strikingly wonderful robotic construct that stands opposite these words, Metomics. Metomics may be the fresh-faced youth of the construction toy market that for the past five years of its existence has been gradually building up a portfolio of products and awareness around its own take on the interlocking brick system, but it is as deep-rooted within the industry as many of its longest standing members. As its name suggests, Metomics’ unique selling point within a space so dominated by plastic trees, plastic watering cans, plastic wizards, or plastic - just about anything really, is that this is a building brick made from metal. Aluminium to be precise, in a move that has been championed by a number of those across the industry, to introduce differentiation into the plastic brick world. Its inception dates back some 20 years, when Joe Ip, the founder of WiST Group - a name that has been working within the toy industry since the 1980s - decided to switch the direction of his business from traditional plastic and metal toy manufacture to high-precision

machined accessories for the car, computer, and mobile phone industries. In 2006 he was back in toys, and applying his manufacturing technology to kids’ products with the invention of the first 3D metal model kit, launched as Piececool in 2009. Development on Metomics began in 2014 and most recently the brand has returned from Shanghai and Hong Kong toy shows at the back end of 2019 all a buzz with the excitement surrounding its growing Metomics portfolio. ToyNews talks with the team at Metomics about its plans from here.

We're not trying to be another 'me too' kind of brand, and that's why we're not compatible with other blocks. We want to consolidate our position as the only metal construction block system. Metomics is different, plays different, and has different benefits to provide a new choice. Ed Butler, Metomics

Hi Metomics, it seems like things are hotting up for you guys. How has the past year of business been for you? It’s been great. We took prototypes of Metomics to Nuremberg in 2019 to test the trade’s response, which was incredibly positive. From there, we went back to the factory and really pushed the development forwards. It’s amazing that in under a year we have gone from CNC machined prototype parts to production kits, and a fully defined product range, with solid plans to develop the range further in late 2020 and 2021. We were able to attend shows in Shanghai and Hong Kong in October 2019 with the basic product range ready to ship,

and by this year’s Spielwarenmesse we had added the Pocket Pets, Pocket Wild Animals and Mind3 products to the range, and we were taking orders from day one. So what is that Metomics brings to the construction toy space? We are bringing a new construction system made from metal. It looks and feels great and is full of innovative components. Plastic is the most common material for toys, but it brings environmental and sustainability concerns, which has seen an increase in the use of alternative materials such as wood, bamboo, and metal. Wood and bamboo materials are eco-friendly, but it’s not possible to manufacture in very fine details that can be made in plastic or metal. There’s an impression that metal toys are complicated, unsafe and expensive. Metomics shows that’s not the case. Metomics is made from aluminium - it’s lightweight and very recyclable. We anodise the surface instead of powder coat painting, and this means we don’t have concerns with toxicity or paint flaking. Finally, there’s the reality of cost - metal isn’t cheap. So we believe that a purchaser’s investment should be long lasting and be sustainable. The starting point of a pack of Metomics (Pocket and Element series) is $9.99 but all parts can be reused. So, the actual value is much more than “one-time” toys. We believe cognitive development is critical to cope with an increasingly digital world. Over the past few years, research studies regarding child psychology and cognitive development have been emphasising the role of construction toys in improving children’s cognitive flexibility. Metomics appeals to youngsters just like plastic bricks, but we’ve had great feedback from older age groups as well; people who are more creatively focussed - artists, architects, designers, for example. This has even led to us working on a jewellery range with the support of Swarovski. The construction toys market is a popular spot - dominated by some large names - how is Metomics innovating in this area to deliver something new? The design team’s approach to April 2020 | toy news | 29

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Interview

components has been great: a real focus on only working on the essentials. So we have a small component range, but with innovation around hinges, pivoting elements and brackets all of which are totally unique to us. These allow people to build posable models which will hold their positions, or to change direction in a build, so with relatively few different pieces, you can build really complex structures that would be impossible in other systems. There’s the look and feel of Metomics: the metallic finish, the sound – the blocks “tinkle” – the feel and weight of pieces and finished models. The finish we’ve achieved by anodising the blocks is a stand-out feature – finished models / builds look amazing in any environment, and mean that we’ve really widened the appeal of “bricks” beyond the usual market. Top of the list for a lot of people is the eco-aspect. Our product is made from aluminium, which is a very sustainable material and globally recycled unlike many plastics used in the toy industry. We want to make designing very accessible, which is why we’ve invested in our 3D design tool – M:STDIO – which is free to use, runs in a web browser, and

allows people to build virtual models from Metomics. Very soon that will be developed further so that users can share designs, and perhaps even build collaboratively. Alongside this, we’re working hard to build a community online. It’s hard work, but the end game is to have a self-

Metomics has a look and feel: the metallic finish, the sound - the blocks 'tinkle' - the feel, and the weight while the finished models look good in any environment. We have really widened the appeal of bricks beyond the usual market." Ed Butler, Metomics

supporting group of users around the world. That’s got to be great for the brand, and also for retailers – the vision is to build organic awareness for the brand to drive footfall and demand instore and online throughout the year. We’re absolutely not trying to be a “me-too” – that’s why we’re not compatible with other blocks. We want to consolidate our position as the only metal construction block system. We’ve done a lot of solid product and manufacturing planning to support the Metomics brand, so now it’s about increasing brand awareness. Due to the appearance of our basic block shape, inevitably we are already encountering comparisons with some big brands. However, Metomics is

different, plays differently, and has different benefits. The construction toy market is huge and keeps expanding; we provide another great choice. It would be great to think that in years to come we’re seen in the same light [as the biggest players] but right now it’s all about getting the products out and into the hands of consumers. What audience are you guys tapping in to? Interest has come from all quarters, so it’s difficult to single one audience out. Metomics appeals to youngsters just like plastic bricks, but we’ve had great feedback from older age groups as well; people who are more creatively focused - artists, architects, designers, for example. We’ve put a lot of effort into identifying the obvious “builder” markets – and we’ve seen responses from modellers, gamers, AFOLs, vloggers and all sorts. One area that’s really interesting is the puzzle market. Our Mind3 (Mind Cube) won the Toy Design / Construction Toy category in the 2019 International Design Award, and it’s proving popular with people who might normally prefer puzzles to construction toys. There’s even a mindfulness attraction here - in this busy world, there’s a lot of buzz around that. OK, so what’s in the Metomics portfolio for 2020 - you have various collections, what do these collections deliver? The current range has something for pretty much every age and budget. At the top end are our Collector 3 in 1 sets. These are 290 and 150 piece boxes, each of which builds three models (one at a time) from instructions provided in pack, online and in our app. Plus, of course, you can build anything you can imagine if you’re feeling creative. The target with these Collector Series products is to provide a product with a great build experience and an end result which you want to display, and looks great anywhere. Our testing showed that there’s great appeal across a very wide age range for these sets. The Mind3 is a puzzle and mini-kit. As with the Collector Series, we have instructions for three small models, but there’s also the challenge of being able to

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reconstruct the cube without instructions. It’s a great gift for the “hard to buy for”, as a stocking filler and so on. Then we have the Pocket Wild Animals and Pocket Pets ranges. These are small kits - around 75 and 55 pieces each - aimed at the pocket money shopper. There are six collectable models in each range. Last but not least is the Element series for anyone looking for particular blocks to create their own models without buying a specific set. What's early reception been like to the products and the brand? It’s been very positive: both from the trade and consumers. Reaction to the basic components is fantastic - having a non-plastic option is a big deal for a lot of people, and then with our look and feel, the fact that the three in one sets ship in a storage box, it’s all adding up to a great experience. The trade in Europe and USA fed back very positively on the current range of products at the shows – orders don’t lie. What retailers are you now working with? In the UK, we’re currently only available through our website and Amazon. So far, Metomics is stocked by retailers in the

USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Hong Kong and Taiwan. What retailers would you like to be working with? Naturally, we’re looking for the widest distribution we can achieve. We are very focused on growing in the existing markets we’re in, especially the USA and China as the world’s two biggest toy markets, but we’re also open to speaking to distributors and retailers in the UK and some other European markets. National chains would be great, but we can and will service independents with low order volumes. There are conversations happening, but I can’t disclose who they are with. The toy industry has had a rocky couple of years, yet the level of innovation and creativity is in a seemingly healthy space. How important is it that innovation and new creativity is encouraged from across the industry? It’s critical that this happens. Innovation means new products and continued demand from consumers. Without it, the market could become stale. As manufacturers, we’re in a unique position to leverage all the skills, experience and

machinery we have to come up with new ideas. If these result in new products that excite consumers, then that’s great for us and the rest of the industry. We’ve been here before, with the development of colour printing on the Piececool kits, where we are now able to print in full colour on metal sheet kits. Even in the development of Metomics we have come up with new processes which have applications in other industries. We believe everyone has a creative side – they just discover and express it in different ways. We intend to provide a platform to encourage people sharing their creation by using our building system with no limit. What's the next big step for Metomics? The big step is getting all the work done. We’re a small team, but that means we’re also really agile. Our focus is on driving consumer awareness so that there’s interest and demand for the trade. We’ve got a lot of activity planned for the middle of the year, all around our current portfolio, and alongside that we’re looking at developing and expanding the ranges into 2021. We’re also developing some really exciting digital tools which will feature on the website www.metomics.com and our companion mobile apps.

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Pre-school toys

EARLY YEARNING Ever popular, the pre-school sector is a trove of innovation, licensed lines and exciting new launches. Here, ToyNews rounds up the latest new releases in the field, and all those most desirable products for little ones this year

Flair 0208 643 0320

Kicking off our pre-school proceedings this month, and it’s the PJ Masks who will be the heroes of a packed portfolio for Flair in 2020, which now includes collectable brand Trudi. In autumn the PJ Masks will be on a quest to Save the Sky and with this new theme comes a whole new wave of playsets and accessories. For the perfect villain hangout, there is a new flying base for the PJ Mask’s anti-hero with Romeo’s Flying Factory Playset. This detailed set includes both Catboy and Romeo plus lights and sounds and many accessories including Romeo’s allimportant missile launcher. The heroes can also take to the sky with the PJ Masks Air Jet that features expanding wings, an opening cockpit plus lights and sounds, while completing the theme will be both core vehicles and Save the Sky gliders, plus all new

figures and roleplay accessories. From the core collection, the hero of the range has to be the PJ Masks 2-in-1 Mobile HQ. This impressive Seeker vehicle transforms into a multistorey HQ from which the heroes can launch their missions. At over three-feet tall, there are many features to discover including ramps, vehicle lift, control board and multiple lights and sounds plus Catboy and Cat Car. There’s plenty to discover for spring too with the PJ Masks Night Time Micros. There are Blind Bag Micro Figures to collect plus the Trap and Escape playset assortment; character- based playsets, each with two micro figures; a hero and a villain. Alternatively, kids can discover the multiple features within the Night Time Micros Romeo’s Lair Playset such as shrink chamber and launcher pad to eject figures out of the lair. New for Flair in 2020 and perfect for the softer side of pre-school play is Trudi. Renowned for its quality soft toys with refined designs, Trudi recreates the animals of the world in the finest of plush. Flair's 2020 Trudi line up will include the classic range which comes in families of animals with adults and little ones for each, and Fluffies, super cute characters with longer plush; their extra-long fur enhances their chubby bodies and tender baby face impressions. The Trudi Charms collection is packed with fun fluffy ball animal characters, these collectable charms are perfect for hanging from bags and backpacks, while the Trudi Love Box assortments introduces loveable long eared plush, presented in its own heart mailbox and makes for the perfect special occasion gift. Add to this Trudi Puppets and animated characters from Trudini and the plush perfection is complete.

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Gibsons 020 8661 8866 As a family business, Gibsons strives to entertain all generations and last year the team launched a brand-new children’s collection, Little Gibsons. There are now 15 children’s puzzles and games available, many of which have been tailor-made for inquisitive pre-schoolers thanks to their bright, quirky packaging and on-trend themes. Wheels and Jigsasawrus are some of the latest additions to the range. Both are boxes of eight puzzles ranging from four to 16 pieces, making them suitable for children aged three and upwards. Meanwhile, Crunch Bunch and Woodland Friends are also new and both contain eight bold two-piece puzzles. Children can discover amazing avocado, brilliant broccoli and all their vitamin-packed friends in Crunch Bunch, while Woodland Friends features furry and feathered animals who can be found living in the British countryside. These jigsaws are suitable for children 18 months and over. All the puzzles in the range are made from the same high-quality materials as Gibsons’ award-winning adult jigsaw range, guaranteeing durability and resilience. Each jigsaw has been designed by a British artist and many of the puzzles are presented in an innovative box that link to the artwork theme. For example, the Sweet Dreams puzzle is presented in a striking crystal-ball shaped box to portray the mystical dream-world jigsaw that’s filled with unicorns and llamas.

Ravensburger 01869 363800 With the latest NPD data revealing a fantastic growth of 24 per cent for BRIO in February this year, the brand is continuing to build on the strong success seen in 2019. Following the launch of Smart Tech additions to the BRIO World collection, the brand is set to break new ground in the category with the autumn launch of Smart Tech Sound. Children can record their own voice into the new Smart Tech Sound Engine with the push of a button, then, as the engine drives under the ‘play sound’ tunnel they will hear the play back. The Smart Tech Sound Engine can be connected to the Smart Tech Sound app, from which children can choose a new sound for an action tunnel or destination, or record their own and upload them to the Smart Tech Sound accessories. Next up from Brio is the Code & Go Bumblebee which can be programmed by preschoolers to complete a sequence of moves using the buttons. Adding to Brio’s popular pull-along collection in the second half, the Pull Along Firefly, designed for children aged 12 months and up, features blinking lights, buzzing sounds and cute wobbly antenna movements as children pull it along. A year-round marketing campaign will continue to keep Brio top of mind, while extensive merchandising materials are available to ensure stand-out at retail.

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Spin Master 01628 535000 Spin Master’s global brand and number one pre-school property in the UK, PAW Patrol is set for another exciting year with new content and toy innovation that will continue to push the boundaries and delight fans. Launching this month in parallel with new broadcast content for the Nick Jr hit pre-school TV show from Spin Master Entertainment, the new Charged Up range promises to bring more action. Mighty Chase is on the case in his Charged Up Transforming Vehicle. This PAW Patrol deluxe vehicle features translucent light up details, sound effects, a projectile launcher and rescue net, and it can drive in vehicle or hover mode. Load the exclusive Charged Up Chase collectable figure (included) into the vehicle and head off on your supercharged rescue missions. Patrol the Adventure Bay by pushing the vehicle and when it’s time for a rescue, press the button on top to see the exciting transformation. The vehicle lifts up, wheels retract, and caster wheels are revealed; lights and sounds are activated and the projectile launcher pops up from behind the driver’s seat. Meanwhile, in hover mode, the caster wheels make it so easy to drift in any direction, just like in the TV show. Launch the projectiles (three included) and deploy the rescue net with the push of a button. To reset into vehicle mode, simply push the vehicle down and once again activate

the lights and sounds to bring all the action of the show and your mission to life. With the Mighty Pups Charged Up Hero Pups, Chase trades his police uniform for a Charged Up one. To bring Chase’s glowing energy to life, press the button on his backpack and watch his translucent uniform really light up. Charged Up Chase brings all the excitement of the hit TV show into your home. For even more supercharged adventures, kids can collect the set of six Charged Up Pups. The Mighty Pups can also be collected as Charged Up 1.5” Mini Rescue Figures, and a Plush collection of Core and Mighty Pups is also available. Mighty Skye is charged up and ready for action in her Charged Up Deluxe Vehicle. With the included Skye figure behind the wheel of her jet, it’s time for action-packed mighty rescues. Skye’s Charged Up Deluxe Vehicle is equipped with lights and sounds and real working caster wheels that make it possible to drift 360 degrees in any direction. Elsewhere in the portfolio and Spin Master’s GUND brand continues to delight with its premium quality plush toys, offering unparalleled softness. Meet the Baby Toothpick collection of baby's first friends by Baby GUND, inspired by one of the brand's most-loved personality bears, Toothpick. GUND's Baby Toothpick 12” Fox is made from premium soft baby plush in light orange and cream with embroidered accents. The super-soft design makes this funny fox irresistible to cuddles and the perfect addition to décor in a modern nursery. The Baby Toothpick collection is machine washable for easy cleaning. Also available in Llama, Koala, Alligator, Owl and Panda designs. Next up, youngsters will fall in love with Luvabella Newborn. With realistic expressions, a dynamic moving mouth and sweet newborn sounds, Luvabella Newborn is truly lifelike. Care for Luvabella Newborn with her interactive accessories, a bottle and soother. Rock soft and snuggly Luvabella Newborn to sleep in your arms, and she’ll doze off. When she’s sleeping, her tummy actually rises and falls and you can listen for her heartbeat. Spin Master will support all these new lines with a strong mix of TV advertising, digital, PR and social campaigns driving excitement around the brands.

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Toynamics UK 0116 478 5230 New for 2020, Hape - now operating under the Toynamics UK name - has released a selection of new food and kitchen lines geared towards the pre-school market, and ready to tackle 2020 and beyond. Leading the line up is the Fun Fan Fryer which works with an inbuilt fan to make the food turn in the pan like it's bubbling, sizzling or frying. It includes six recipes on three felt discs, one metal spatula and a set of salt and pepper shakers which click when the tops are turned. To Target a younger 18 month age range, Hape has unveiled a range of soft food baskets. The range features a basket for vegetables, fruit and bread. The vegetable basket comes with a knife with a chunky, wooden handle to easily hold. Children can pop the peas from their pod, peel the cabbage leaves and cut the carrot and eggplant in half. The fruit basket comes with a selection of popular fruit including a banana and orange that can be peeled. Also new to the Hape 18 months and upwards range is the Toddler Kitchen Set which comes with a pot, frying pan, spoon and spatula to cook with. The double wooden stove features clicking knobs and storage underneath for your pot and pan. Toynamics UK & Ireland is now offering full marketing to support retailers both online and in-store including full displays, one of which features a gondola with a kitchen for children to play with to help promote the kitchen lines.

Posh Paws 01268 567317 Posh Paws has plush toys for pre-schooler’s to suit every occasion from traditional heirloom soft toys to quirky TV characters. The British designed Ragtales collection is new to the Posh Paws Portfolio for 2020 and offers a unique quality toy to be treasured for the very youngest of children. From baby ranges to ragdolls, teddy bears to wooden toys, little ones can discover these cute and friendly animal characters. Each toy has been crafted using hand-picked fabrics and prints, the softest velour, handknitted clothing and are all presented in quality packaging, making them the perfect heirloom. From YouTube and TV comes the giggling sensation, Sunny Bunnies; the brightest of characters that spread fun and laughter wherever they go. Posh Paws' collection of soft and fluffy toys includes a variety of sizes and features all five fluffy Sunny Bunnies: Turbo, Big Boo, Shiny, Iris, and Hopper, either as small slammers that when thrown give out their infectious laugh, medium sized which giggle and wiggle, and as the large bunnies. Also perfect for a premium baby gift is Bailey Bear, a premium teddy bear from Posh Paws’ brand new Chic & Love collection. Bailey Bear has been lovingly made from head to paw from the highest quality materials and presented in a hand finished gift box. Adorned with Swarovski Crystals, this Bailey Bear offers a unique gift giving opportunity for those wishing to spread a special message. Complete with an exclusive Swarovski hologram, lucky recipients are able to register its authenticity online. April 2020 | toy news | 35

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Vivid 01483 449944 Ryan's World reached the number one spot in the UK's Top New Properties Chart last year, and Vivid promises to deliver great new products for 2020 and beyond. “The 2020 range continues to innovate and will delight Ryan fans,” said head of UK marketing, Darrell Jones. "The Build a Ryan Toolbox offers hours of role play fun as Ryan fans unlock all the mystery compartments to play with figures, hand tools, vehicles and putty. “We are also launching two new scales; the first under Ryan’s Microverse with new blind bag figure packs, five packs and a Micro Figure Egg Playset; the second new scale is a six-inch Mega Mystery Figure in unique packaging. The full range was at London Toy Fair this year." Elsewhere in the portfolio, and tapping into the love that every parent harbours to see their little Picasso’s artwork but not the mess that often comes along with it, comes Vivid’s iconic Crayola brand and the latest Crayola Color Wonder colouring kits. All the magic of colour, without the mess, the kit comes with specially designed markers, each filled with special ink that comes out clear, unless applied to the magic Color Wonder paper. No mess colouring means no more stains on walls, furniture, carpets or any other surfaces not meant to be used as a canvas. Including kids favourite characters like Peppa Pig and PAW Patrol, they are ideal for colouring on the road or at home.

Schleich 01279 870000 After another record-breaking year, Schleich’s growth in the UK market has been hugely impressive and with even more ambitious growth targets in sight, 2020 promises to see the success continue. With a Golden Lion to celebrate this year’s 85th anniversary and #Schleicharoundtheworld being a core global message, the Wild Life collection is high on the agenda. Animal Rescue is the main theme, both on land and in the skies. An icon featuring a globe and an aircraft has been specially developed for Tom and Ted’s journey around the world and appears on all the packaging and advertising materials. At the heart of all the action is the Large Animal Rescue Truck complete with a rotating crane, flexible cable winch, ranger and animals and the Animal Rescue Helicopter with movable rotor blades, cable winch and all important pilot ranger to lead the way. Schleich is adding the topic of vets and cute pets to its Farm World collection. The Veterinarian Practice with Pets set is equipped with everything the vet needs to take good care of all the animals. Or, if a patient is unable to make it into the practice, the Veterinarian Visit at the Farm set comes complete with a vet, his Labrador retriever and his cute kitten. His case contains all the instruments he needs to examine and treat the animals and the truck’s fold-out loading ramp provides plenty of space for animal transportation.

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Funrise Salesuk@funrise.com The Funrise team will add some fun new faces to its Cat line up with a Junior Crew of construction vehicles this season, adding to its exciting role-play collection for pre-schoolers for 2020 and beyond. Launching later this year and ensuring continual innovation for the Cat product is the Junior Crew which will bring construction vehicle play to the littlest of fans. These fun characterised vehicles are ideal for younger builders with a choice of Construction Pals and Buddies plus Lil Movers; each with its own fun features to discover. Alternatively, for projects of a grander scale and a touch of educational play there’s Fix It Philip, the construction truck that opens out into a lights and sounds tool bench complete with screws, tools and accessories which all have a specific purpose. Also perfect for pre-schoolers, HeroDrive is an innovative, one-of-a-kind collection that combines kids' favourite entertainment characters with fun play features to deliver the coolest vehicles for youngsters. Part of the collection is the HeroDrive Marvel Mod Squad. This assortment of three vehicles, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Hulk come apart and can be reconnected within the range to create a mix and match range of superhero wheels. Each set comes with three character pieces that form a full vehicle, plus an additional fourth bonus piece to start customising right away. By collecting all three vehicles pre-schoolers will be able to complete a fourth Captain America car to add to their Mod Squad collection.

Character Options 0161 633 9800 Big news for the pre-school aisle and with a positive sustainability message behind it, is the development of a whole new wooden world for Peppa Pig, as Character Options introduces Peppa Wood Play. This excellent quality, durable and sustainable wooden toy range follows on from last years’ successful launch of Peppa’s Wooden Playhouse, and will now include standalone figures, classic vehicles and fun playsets with eye catching and colourful designs. The range is made from FSC wood, and features minimal packaging, made from recyclable cardboard. Staying true to the classic and recognisable Peppa styling, favourites will include Wooden Red Car, Wooden Family home; a fold out play set with furniture and figures, and a delightful Wooden School Bus, a shape sorter ideal for the youngest of hands.

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Interview

THE SHOW THAT WILL GO ON Over the past nearly 15 years now, UK Games Expo has been growing year on year, reflecting a growing demand for the country’s tabletop gaming hobby, welcoming some 25,700 visitors to Birmingham’s NEC in 2019. This year, ticket sales were 20 per cent up on that. Until the coronavirus reared its ugly head, of course. ToyNews talks with Richard Denning and Tony Hyams, the directors behind the UK’s largest hobby gaming convention…

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Hi both, hope you’re keeping safe and well and thanks for taking the chance to chat with us about UK Games Expo, usually held of course in May, but moved to August this year, given everything that is going on across the world right now...

Yes, we have made the decision to move the Expo from May into August to give more time for the current pandemic to die down. This is to give us the best chance to run a UK Games Expo this year, give our exhibitors the chance to plan with the extra time and keep them, our volunteers, guests and our attendees as safe and healthy as possible. We will continue to monitor the situation and will adapt the plans in accordance with official guidance. A tough decision, but the only one. So, what can we all expect from UK Games Expo when it does make its return?

Each year, we aim to have more to do at the show than you can get around in three days. Each year we add more demos, live events, seminars, more and larger tournaments, two huge open gaming areas, more roleplaying games, new exhibitors come to the show, old favourites return, and gaming as a hobby is represented from all over the world.

It's humbling and amazing to see this show grow every year, and it is testament to the whole gaming community that it has become so loved.

we can produce the best possible Expo. The show has grown because we have a wonderful gaming community of exhibitors, volunteers, guests, and attendees. We want to continue to foster the community spirit and friendly feel of the show which we have had since 2007, even though we have grown from 800 to 25,704 unique visitors over the last 14 years.

Richard Denning, UK Games Expo

Wow, that is some incredible growth for the show. Over that time, how have you seen UK Games Expo evolve and how is this reflective of the way in which the tabletop gaming space has evolved?

We have seen great success stories both as fledgling companies grow into major properties, and also as new designers come to playtest, take part in publisher/designer workshops, or crowdfund games which then go on to become companies in their own right. Each year we add in more events to support these fledgling designers and we have a publisher/designer zone this year sponsored by Cartamundi. Prior to the pandemic appearing, we had seen a 20 per cent increase in ticket sales this year, which is a terrific position in which to be. Our success comes from collaborating with our sponsors, exhibitors, seminar guests, and live show acts as partners and being honest and transparent in all our dealings together to make sure

Well, in 2007 we would have been happy with 400 attendees; the fact that 800 turned up was mind blowing. At each stage the gaming community has astonished us with its loyalty, friendliness, and pure, unadulterated passion for the hobby. We remember having the debate about moving to the Hilton and worrying that we’d never get more than 5000 gamers at the show‌ Last year, we got 5000 more come along than in 2018. It is humbling and amazing to see this grow and we feel that this is a testament to the gaming community. Each year, our sponsors, exhibitors, guests, attendees, and April 2020 | toy news | 39

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Interview

volunteers have suggestions and ideas all of which are considered to see how we can make a better and more engaging Expo. Tabletop gaming has evolved into a UK and worldwide pastime where people regularly get together with friends and family to play games. Word of mouth is no longer the only way to find gaming. There has been an increase in the number of podcasts and online shows about gaming available, either as live play of games, reviews of games, or how to play them on YouTube, Twitch, or Podcast apps. The internet allows folk at home to see what’s happening in gaming, whether you are streaming tournaments and games, watching interviews with game designers, or even the live stream that On Table Top provides of the UK Games Expo, available to watch live online during the show. The internet also allows people to play with friends across long distances. The Expo usually plays Pathfinder on a Thursday evening. This week, while all working from home, we played using online software. So what is the current strength of the UK's tabletop gaming space, and

how is this reflected in the strength of UK Games Expo?

The UK hobby games market was valued at £350 million in 2018, a rise from £250 million in 2014. This has been a steady increase since 2008, the year after UK Games Expo started and has allowed many start-ups to become successful companies

COVID-19 will impact on tabletop gaming this year, but the industry is starting from a position of strength that will allow recovery and continued growth. Tony Hyam, UK Games Expo while continuing to encourage new designers and publishers to try their hand alongside existing gaming giants. It is probable that the COVID-19 virus will have an impact on tabletop gaming this year, but we feel that the industry is starting from a position of strength that will allow recovery and continued growth.

What are the latest developments to take place in the tabletop gaming space, how important is it that UK Games Expo is representative of the latest changes in the market or the sensibilities shared by the UK's gaming audience?

Geek and Nerd culture becoming mainstream is something which, ten years ago would have seemed unlikely and yet, you no longer have to explain what a Hobbit is, or who Captain America or Thor are. Tabletop games have entered into the consciousness of the general public as TV shows like Big Bang Theory and Stranger Things champion traditionally nerdy pastimes. This means that “non-nerds’ and an increasingly family orientated audience, are looking for great value for money and quality time spent face to face; hobby games are ideal for this. We have seen an increase in this family audience attending the Expo. Since the very beginning we have worked to make UK Games Expo accessible both to the families and the established hobby gamer and it’s important for us to continue to evolve in this way. For 2020 we have expanded our Family Zone and now have two sponsors both of whom specialise

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in family and children’s games: HABA and Coiledspring Games with Imagination Gaming running the family demos. We pride our show on being accessible, terrific fun and welcoming to all and we and our gaming audience value this. How many exhibitors have you got lined up for UK Games Expo this year?

We have as many exhibitors booked currently as we had last year and we still have a bit of space left. This is over 435 stands at the show. Last year, a third of our exhibitors came from overseas keen to appeal to the UK audience. At UK Games Expo we have a huge range of companies from starter stand first timers to Gibson Games who celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, Catan who is 25 this year, and exhibitors who have grown over the years gradually employing more staff as well as some pretty big global players. In terms of actual games and titles what are the key trends we're seeing in the market place this year?

There’s been a push for skirmish style wargames and miniature games like Frostgrave, Gaslands and Warcry which

Geek and nerd culture becoming mainstream culture would simply never have happened 10 years ago. Richard Denning, UK Games Expo bridge the gap between board games and miniature wargaming. There are even collaborative skirmish games such as Rangers of Shadow Deep where players work together to find clues and resolve the fight. Card games are trending towards living style card games where a player’s action affects the story and outcome of the game on a global level, while roleplaying games are increasingly promoting the collaborative/improvisational feel to their story telling with Tales from the Loop (apparently soon to be a TV show), Kids on Bikes or Ten Candles allowing players to narratively affect the universe and work together to build a scene, solve or hinder a situation. Narrative storytelling using game

mechanics such as Oh Captain My Captain, answering questions to build the plot are also seeing an increase. Meanwhile, classic game titles have been updated to a young and modern audience, while still appealing to die hard veterans. The popularity of Dungeons & Dragons has seen an unprecedented rise, again appearing on TV shows, but also available on YouTube and Twitch as actual play of games allowing new players and dungeon masters to learn to play or improve their games. Celebrity gamers are better known; from Vin Diesel and Joe Manganiello to Dame Judi Dench as well as the cast of Downton Abbey, who apparently were very keen on Bananagrams in between takes. Board game demos are available to the general public in stores like John Lewis and Waterstones with Asmodee having had a demo team in John Lewis London for the whole of the Christmas period last year. A vast majority of the exhibitors at UK Games Expo will have a demo team to show off their games and give people a taster, explanation or a full on game or tournament at the show. There are huge areas of UK Games Expo set aside just for playing games April 2020 | toy news | 41

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Interview

Once the world returns

with a demonstrator on hand to help to normal after the start you playing and answer questions and recommend more games. More often pandemic, we expect an than not if people like the game they will enthusiastic find a retailer from whom buy it. It’s the easiest way to explain, engage and give re-engagement with your audience a terrific experience of your tabletop gaming. product and we see more people doing this each year. Tony Hyams, UK Games Expo There is a lot of collaboration between online and offline. Games which use apps as mechanics for timing, content or atmosphere are increasingly available. Big as part of boardgames is also present from names in online gaming are coming offline Stuffed Fables to Time Stories where games with titles like Fallout and X-com as cochange subtly and are thus increasingly reoperatives played against the game itself. At playable with different outcomes. the same time classic hobby games such as What do you think the future has in Ticket To Ride and Catan have app versions store for the tabletop gaming space? allowing both solo and multiplayer games Once the world returns to normal after and increasing accessibility to play hobby the pandemic recedes we expect to see games anywhere. enthusiastic re-engagement with tabletop Legacy and campaign style games gaming worldwide. are increasingly popular with epics like People are seeing increasing value Gloomhaven or Pandemic allowing groups in face to face personal interactions and to ‘save’ their game and continue again TN-APR20-GIBSONS.qxp_183 24/02/2020 14:13 Pagetime 1 quality spent. Folk are looking more giving an episodic feel to play. Storytelling

at meeting up in person. The rise of the boardgame café increases the reach of tabletop games to a wider audience and this gentle, stealthy growth could well continue. Afterall, everyone in the world knows what a collectible card game is, whether they realise it or not, as Pokémon has not only a massive outdoor PokémonGo! following worldwide but is also a major motion picture. And a vastly successful one at that. Again, this shows the acceptance of gaming as a fun and social pastime. Many local games stores are delivering to people who are self-isolating and even recommending both single player as well as two player hobby games to help during this time of isolation. We would hope this worthwhile, social and fun hobby would continue to be shared and valued for years to come. And if you want to see this in action come the UK Games Expo, running from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd August 2020 at the NEC, and Hilton Metropole Hotel, Birmingham:www. ukgamesexpo.co.uk to witness first hand the UK's fascination with the hobby.

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HOME ENTERTAINMENT Reports have already come in that the games and puzzles sector has seen a surge in demand in recent weeks, while experts believe it will be pipped for further growth across the coming year. ToyNews rounds up the latest titles to land on the scene

Coiledspring 020 3301 1160 | www.coiledspring.co.uk Coiledspring Games is launching into the year with a wealth of titles to play and entertain, including The Mind, which has now sold over one million copies worldwide, and its follow up launch, The Mind Extreme. With two decks, one ascending and one descending, and some levels having to be played blind, The Mind Extreme requires some next level telepathy. Not to be missed in Q2 is the exclusive, limited edition, King of Tokyo Dark. With the return of fan-favourites Kraken and Cyber Bunny plus new mechanics, the setting is more wicked than ever in the fight to become King. A new addition to the Scorpion Masque party game range, to sit alongside the awardwinning Decrypto is Stay Cool. In this true test of multitasking, two players bombard you with questions, some you answer out loud and some you answer with dice.

Flyin’ Goblin and Break the Code are the latest to join from IELLO. In Flyin’ Goblin, catapult your goblin soldiers and loot the riches of the castle. Each room is full of surprises, not all of which are pleasant. Break the Code sees players attempt to guess the numbers and colours of the cipher tiles. Meanwhile, and new in the firm’s puzzles range is Hogsmeade: The Three Broomsticks. A cosy snow-capped depiction of the famous inn lands courtesy Wrebbit 3D, while joining the 14 strong Thomas Kinkade Disney line up is Alice in Wonderland. The Painter of Light captures the timeless magic of classic Disney stories. It’s not just new releases that retailers should be considering. There's an array of games not to be missed, including Sushi Roll, the dice game version of the perennial best-seller Sushi Go, Forbidden Sky, the third instalment in the popular Forbidden series from board game designer Matt Leacock and Anomia, another title that has just reached over one million worldwide sales. April 2020 | toy news |43

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Asmodee UK 01420 593593 .Asmodee's newly introduced Family Games range highlights products ideal for brightening up indoor days, with easily understood rules that put kids and adults on a level playing field. The range includes the BrainBox collection of educational games, which offer fun, quickplaying challenges on topics from English and maths to science and football. They represent great opportunities to keep kids learning and stimulated while enjoying bonding time. Ticket to Ride London is a bite-sized version of the millions-selling Ticket to Ride, in which players race to claim bus routes around the capital city. This striking game can be played in 15 minutes, and is the ideal way to introduce children to the joys of board games. Picture Show is a shadow-puppet take on charades, while Bermuda Pirates, Crazy Eggz, and Dobble 360 complete the Family Games range. Dobble 360 offers a 360-degree twist on the UK’s No.1-selling game by introducing a rotating, mechanical card display that means you’ll have to use your memory as well as your keen eye to spot the matching images. Meanwhile, the likes of Rory’s Story Cubes – in which players roll dice with images instead of letters in order to generate prompts for storytelling -are ideal for encouraging creativity, alongside the likes of Bananagrams which helps develop grammatical and spatial thinking.

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The Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2019 winner Rex London is a design-led giftware company offering toys and games for children of all ages. Having begun on Portobello Road in 1981, Rex is now an internationally renowned wholesaler with a collection of cute treats for boys and girls. Kicking off proceedings, Rex London has a selection of gifts for kids, all of which retail at under £5, tapping into that popular pocket money market. Ranging from mini games to quirky stationery and party bag fillers, they’ve created a selection of affordable gifts for children aged three years old and upwards. Alongside that, this season Rex London is introducing boredom busting tilt puzzles and travel colouring games in three different designs, all of which managed to catch the eye of buyers at London Toy Fair this year. Nigel Biggs, sales director at Rex London, said: “My favourite is the Space Age design, it’s part of a range which also includes stationery, party bag fillers and puzzles." With an eye for stylish design, Rex London’s creative packaging means its products look great in and on display. Everything is created by its award-winning in-house team of designers who bring out hundreds of new lines throughout the year, all of which boast a distinctive style. 26/03/2020 12:15

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Vivid/Goliath Games 01483 449944 Vivid and Goliath Games has a portfolio of pre-school, kids, family, party, and licensed games for the autumn/winter season this year. Building on a strong first year in 2019, there are several new introductions, including Burping Bobby (£22.99) the stinkin’ hippo. Players must take it in turns to feed Bobby treats, while trying to avoid making him burp. The second Bobby releases his green gas, you are out of the game. Next up, Johnny the Skull (£29.99) is the electronic ghost blasting, treasure chasing game. Use the electronic blaster to zap the ghosts projected from the ship, but shoot quickly or you’ll miss. Joining Johnny the Skull are other family favourites Foxy Pants, Shark Bite, Wordsearch, and Googly Eyes as well as the classics; Don’t Wake Dad!, Gator Golf and Magic Tooth Fairy. Feel the thrill and enjoy the mystery of an escape room with Escape Room The Game (£29.99), use the clues to find the code to stop the decoder counting down, before it’s too late. Goliath is also excited to be launching Life on Earth (£24.99), the interactive trivia game based on hit BBC Series Planet Earth and Blue Planet. Challenge your friends and family to answer questions from clips from the show. The game is produced using materials that are either FSC approved or from recycled items.

Gibsons 020 8661 8866 Gibsons is releasing six new jigsaw puzzles this month, tapping into the sector’s resurgence with some artwork from inspirational designers. The new launches this season include two Steve Crips designs, Market Day Norwich and the Albert Dock, a new design from Steve Read who has created Abbey’s Antique Shop featuring some furry friends taking some well needed rest amongst the items in Abbey’s shop, and a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle designed by David Noble and tapping into the train enthusiast’s market with Kestrel at Hartlepool. Following record sales of its London Underground inspired card game, Mind the Gap, Gibsons has expanded its partnership with Transport for London, who will now produce a raft of new branded products. The firm will be releasing four jigsaw puzzles available in 500 and 1000 pieces featuring the iconic Underground maps and roundels, as well as a selection of the most popular posters from Transport for London’s poster collection. Additionally, Gibsons has partnered with Rebel Girls, the award-winning brand behind the internationally bestselling book series, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, which has sold 4.5 million copies and been translated into nearly 50 languages. Under the license, Gibsons will release two jigsaw puzzles this month that will be available in 100 pieces and 500 pieces, appealing to girls, teens and young women.

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Spin Master 01628 535000 Spin Master has a raft of TV and film-inspired games and puzzles this season. The hilarious game ‘Friends: The One with the Ball’, sees players compete to see how long they can last through five ball-tossing, balancing, challenging rounds. Inspired by the Friends episode with the same name, there are 50 challenges - plus the ball - so the game builds momentum until you’re incorporating multiple challenges into your throws. Elsewhere, ‘Friends: Wheel of Mayhem’ features the original gameplay from the TV series and comes with new ways to confuse players. This game tests you on your Friends trivia in ways you didn’t think were possible. With Trolls Musical Journey, players must travel musical lands like Rock, Classical, Techno and Country, and work with teammates to collect tokens from each land before Barb hits a sour note and takes them. Spin Master has a new range of Blockbuster Puzzles; retro puzzles in a high-quality, plastic VHS case. These puzzles feature vibrant art that pops, with three Blockbuster Puzzles to choose from: The Breakfast Club, E.T. and Jaws, making each puzzle perfect for framing and challenge your problem-solving skills.

Orchard Toys antonia.munday@orchardtoys.com Orchard Toys’ new times tables games First Times Tables and Times Tables Heroes have already seen a fantastic response following their launch at the start of the year. First Times Tables is a fun introduction to two, five, and 10 times tables. Not only can it be used as a learning resource to introduce young children to multiplication, but it also gives parents the tools to help teach their child. Once children have become familiar with the concept of multiplication they can play the fun pancake flippin’ themed game to put their new skills to the test. Designed for six to nine year olds, Times Tables Heroes is jam-packed with two games in one box offering maximum play value. In the Hero City board game players battle it out to save the city, moving around the board by solving multiplication problems for their two to 12 times tables. If players land on a shield they have to use their imagination to create a story to help their superhero character defeat the disaster and save the city. Players can then turn over the boards for a fast-paced game of Multiplication Bingo where they will race to get three in a row. Both games have been designed to help parents and children prepare for the new multiplication tables check (MTC), which is a new compulsory test in primary schools for children in Year 4 from June 2020. Orchard Toys believe that both games will be popular with parents looking to help their children practise multiplication.

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Games & Puzzles

Big Potato 07472 824 526 Colourbrain is a super-simple family trivia game where all the answers are colours. Players split into teams, and each team is given 11 different coloured cards. The game begins with a colour-related question. Teams choose which card (or cards) to play and put them face down on the table. The first team to do so shouts “Colourbrain”. The other teams now have 10 seconds to follow suit. All teams flip over their cards and the Question Card is turned over to reveal the answer. Questions cover a mixture of topics and vary in difficulty. For ages 14 and upwards, it’s the perfect easy-to-join-in quiz for the whole family. The Colourbrain expansion pack contains 120 brand new question cards. Be prepared to scrub up on your Disney knowledge with Disney Colourbrain. The game features 300 different questions that cover over 20 different Disney classics, from Peter Pan and Hercules, all the way through to Monster's University, Cars, and more. This is the ultimate game to flex those memory muscles and recall all of your favourite Disney characters and moments from years past. And finally, brand new for 2020 is Junior Colourbrain. Whilst the original Colourbrain is for ages 14 and upwards, Colourbrain Junior is suitable for kids above the age of six. It’s only fair that they get to have a go too. There are 120 questions suitable for youngsters and they cover a range of topics like Mario Kart, Harry Potter and wild animals. If any of these games from the Colourbrain range take your fancy, simply get in touch with Emily Bond at emily@bigpotato.co.uk or on 07472 824 526.

Ravensburger 01869 363800 Strong results in the games category in 2019 pave the way for a number of major new launches for the coming year. Toy Fair saw Big Money named a Toy Fair Hero Toy ahead of its launch this summer, while the classic game Labyrinth is joined by 3D Labyrinth in which players are challenged to find their way through the 3D style maze. For younger children, the action game Slimey Joe combines edge-of-the-seat fun with kids’ favourite, slime as they take turns to pick flutterbies from inside the plant’s mouth. Meanwhile, Minecraft: Builders & Biomes offers an authentic tabletop translation of the hit video game, while the recently launched Horrified showcases Universal Studios’ classic monsters in a co-operative strategy game. A fourth title in the ever-popular Disney Villainous range, Perfectly Wretched, introduces three new characters to the line-up including Cruella De Vil. Played as a stand-alone or in combination with other Disney Villainous titles this game will be available from late spring. The company will expand its presence at events throughout 2020, offering more opportunity than ever for games fans to get hands-on with new launches including recently announced Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power, the next chapter in the Villainous line. This game will see players take on the role of an iconic comic book villain. Five Villains feature in total, with the three already announced being Thanos, Hela and Ultron.

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John Adams 01480 414361 John Adams is expanding its successful games portfolio for 2020, The forecast looks a little stormy, so granny’s grip will be tested to the limit in Windy Knickers! Don’t let granny get her knickers in a twist help her hang out her washing, but if you roll a storm the washing line spins in a tornado and she may lose her clothes. Do you have what it takes to steal precious jewels from a snake? Now is your chance in Don’t Get Rattled… you’ll need a steady hand and nerves of steel to strike it rich before you wake the snake. Also joining the kids’ action games range is Munchin’ Monkey - the eating, swinging, monkey game. Following on from the success of Shake Off, you can now keep active with Pose Off - a new family game that gets players to complete challenges while holding a yoga pose. If you stumble or repeat, you’re out of the game. Pencil Nose is a party game where players use their noses to sketch words against the clock for their teammates to guess, while FartBuster is the fun, farting reaction game. Watch carefully as his arms light up and he makes silly fart sounds in sequence. Lock the doors, close the blinds and get ready to play Nightmare Horror Adventures. Designed for players aged 16 years and over, this dark, story-based game is full of plot twists, surprises and jump-scares that will send real shivers down your spine.

Flair 0208 643 0320 The Euros may have been postponed until 2021 amid the recent global shake-up, and outdoor play may be limited to the back garden for the next month, but that doesn’t mean there’s any need to not have fun, and Flair appears to have just the ticket for any footfball fan looking for their extra fix this season. The toy firm is all set to launch the football inspired card game, Goal 10; a game of strategy and team building that will be right on target whether played at home or away… well, home. For the time being. Designed for two to five players, or more if combining packs, Goal 10 has everything you need for a fast action game packed full of challenges. The 65 high quality cards include playing staff, match highlights and the soughtafter bonus cards. To play, draw one card from the pile and attack the opponent with super moves. The first to score five goals will win the match, but be careful as players can be thrown into a postgame spat on TV or find themselves taking a nerve-wracking penalty. Launching in May with a football focused marketing campaign behind it, Goal 10 is the perfect game for football fans looking to get into the gaming genre, and the ideal way to while away those months waiting for the European Championship to kick off in 2021.

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The Expansion One, 2019-present, Age 12+

The Disney One, 2019-present, Age 8+

The Original One, 20 17-present, Age 14+

The Junior One, 2020-pre

All four games in the Colourbrain family are super-simple quizzes that give you all the answers before you start. And they’re all colours! For more information about our colourful family, or to order, contact emily@bigpotato.co.uk or call 07472 824 526.

sent, Age 6+

BiG

PoTaTo gAmEs


Games & Puzzles

Character Options 0161 633 9800 Character Options is all set to shake things up this summer with a brand-new name for its family games portfolio plus a triumph in trivia for Pokémon fans. PenSilly is a raucous new drawing and guessing game for all the family. At the center of each game is the crazy shaking pen, PenSilly. To play, choose one of the 75 description cards and 75 subject cards, switch on your PenSilly and try to draw the image. There’s two levels of play and over 5,500 drawing combinations but whether a wobbly giraffe or a frightened spider, the skill is in controlling this super shaky pen. Pokémon fans will be scratching their heads as they test their knowledge of Pikachu and his pals with the Pokémon Trainer Trivia Game. Designed for up to four players and with over 1,000 facts to be tested on, would-be-trainers must be quick and know their stuff if they are to succeed in this game. With three levels of play; beginner, advanced or expert, the virtual games master takes care of everything; reading the rules, asking the questions and keeping score. PenSilly and Pokémon Trainer Trivia will launch in the summer and will join other fun games in the Character Options portfolio including Tap It! and the What’s in the Box Challenge.

Jumbo Games 01707 260436 Jumbo Games is heading into summer, ready to capitalize on the increasing demand for Adult Puzzles as part of the flourishing mindfulness trend, releasing more than 30 topquality puzzles. April sees Falcon introduce 10 new puzzles, in 500, 500XL, 1000, and two 1000-piece formats, each featuring Falcon’s quintessentially British illustrations. Seasonal Garden Birds, Parcel for Canal Cottage, and The Car Show, are among the latest additions to the range, as well as the 10 beautiful 1000-piece puzzles released earlier this year including, Newquay Harbour, and Owls in the Wood. Wasgij, Jumbo’s leading puzzle brand, is the original brainteasing jigsaw and the number one adult puzzle brand in the UK. The unique concept challenges puzzlers to use the humorous illustrations, and their imagination, to piece together the ‘solution’. Jumbo’s popular Jan van Haasteren brand, the leading puzzle brand in The Netherlands with a growing UK fanbase, has introduced two new 1,000-piece puzzles with Cruise Ship and The Art Market. There will be seven further new and distinctive Jan van Haasteren puzzles released throughout 2020. The Disney Classic Collection continues to bring the magic to adult puzzles with stunning 1000-piece designs. Or for family fun, the Disney Guess the Film game is suitable for ages four years and upwards and recommended by the Good Toy Guide. Throw the dice, open the door and guess which famous Disney film is behind it.

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CONQUERING THE GREAT OUTDOORS It’s seldom realised that after pre-school toys, the outdoor toys sector is the largest category within the industry. Within that space, MV Sports has become a name synonymous with success, and, having seen another year of significant growth, is poised to become a category leader once more. Robert Hutchins talks to MD, Phil Ratcliffe

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ne of the bigger questions to float about the MV Sports headquarters, presumably alongside ‘Where’s Phil, and has anyone seen my scooter?’ ponders on how an outdoor toy company can engage with a generation of “device-obsessed, sedentary kids.” It’s certainly one of the largest challenges that the company currently faces; along with, of course, the usual clamour around ever-declining margins and the vagaries of British weather to which a business like MV Sports, one that deals with the great outdoors as its playground, is thrown year in year out. Despite those challenges though, MV Sports stands a bastion of strength against the prevailing maelstrom of economic factors driven by Brexit, a toy sector in year on year decline for the second year running, and a High Street that is barely keeping its head above the water. In fact, just as the overall toy sector took a six per cent hit in sales last year, MV Sports enjoyed ‘significant growth,’ that even saw the Birmingham business take a share of the market from its competitors. And, what with the outdoor toys category being the second biggest of them all - second only to pre-school toys - that in itself is no small piece of the pie. Not that you’d know it, suggests Phil Ratcliffe, MD of MV Sports, who laments that, for some reason inexplicable for many, the outdoor toys category is often overlooked by the toy industry as a whole. “For example,” he asks ToyNews, “how many awards have been given for outdoor toy of the year?” With a portfolio that spans all manner of outdoor products, from Disney Princess horse-drawn carriages and three-in-one scootin’ suitcases, to Batmobile’s, hoverboards and Glide Skates, there’s no doubt that MV Sports would be a seriuos contender were there such an award.

2019 was a good year for MV Sports, everything seemed to come together for us. Phil Ratcliffe, MV Sports But Ratcliffe wouldn’t strike you as a man in need of the media plauditry, and MV Sports certainly isn’t a business to have suffered from the lack of media and marketing attention that graces category award-winners each year. For that matter, 2019, of its own accord, says Ratcliffe, was a very good year for MV Sports. “Everything seemed to come together last year,” he explains. “We worked closely with our customers, had all the right licenses, and our own brands did exceptionally well.” Yes, do not fall into the trap of thinking that MV Sports is a licensing business. Sure, the company carries a good number of some of the best performing licenses on the scene, and has turned quite the number on a portfolio that spans bikes, go-karts, and ride-ons covering IP from Peppa Pig and PAW Patrol to the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, Minions, and LOL Surprise. But that is less than 50 per cent of the MV Sports business. The other half of the business; the larger half, is MV Sports’ own branded products. And that is a portfolio that Ratcliffe, the MV Sports team, and its network of retailers share great confidence in. It’s one that spans the likes of its premium uMoVe brand, and Li-Fe range of roadworthy electric scooters. “The key for us this year will be to grow our own brands, specifically our premium uMoVe brand where we have several key

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first to market innovations incorporating sequin and sparkles, plus our new Li-Fe range of roadworthy electric scooters developed in anticipation of a change in the legislation for them to be permitted on British roads.” MV Sports’ Li-Fe scooters, just as a by the way, really do go some. With a quick push-off as on a traditional scooter, you can give the throttle a pull and find yourself travelling at speeds of up to 30mph. When the British government’s legislation comes in at some point this year to deem this range roadworthy, Li-Fe is going to be big business for the company. It’s undeniably part of a current trend with the youngsters not glued to their screens all hours, suggests Ratcliffe, who has seen and serviced the recent youth trends relating to stunt scooters, electric scooters, hoverboards, and pemium scooter brands alike. There’s a very real scene developing around scooters like this, and MV Sports has the depth of range covered. “In scooters, we have seen a move towards premium product, hence why we launched our own uMoVe range last year,” says Ratcliffe. “So, yes, we are feeling confident as regards to our product portfolio.” And at the same time, MV Sports’ licensed portfolio hasn’t done too badly, either. “We saw huge growth in licensed sales last year, and for 2020 we feel that we have all the key properties that customers and consumers are looking for,” says Ratcliffe. “We are always confident in the licensing space, and believe that in

Trolls, Minions, Bing, and Ricky Zoom, we have strengthened our licensed portfolio for the year ahead. “With that said, in licenses, LOL Surprise continues to be the hottest around, alongside several classic properties such as Peppa Pig, PAW Patrol, Spider-Man, Batman, and Disney Princess.” With a rich history in the outdoor sector, and a vision to push the boundaries of innovation within the space - MV Sports was afterall one of the first companies to successfuly introduce the hoverboard to the UK market, lest we forget - this is a company never shy of offering its own view on the state of the market. Ask Ratcliffe for his assessment of the health of innovation in the outdoor market and that making its way to retail, and he’ll give you a clear answer. “I think retail has become a little too obsessed with price,” he tells us. “Sometimes at the expense of innovation. There is so much exciting product available, however, in the current competitive climate and macro economic climate, many customers have become somewhat risk averse.” They can’t be blamed, of course. It’s common practice to fall back on what one knows when times appear tricky. Which is just as well that MV Sports has its arsenal of big hitting licenses - a gateway to the wider portfolio of outdoor toys that continue to push boundaries, all ready to strike. And the secret to MV’s success over the years? “It’s a combination of having a great team of experienced staff, market knowledeg, category focus, and strength in depth,” concludes Ratcliffe. March 2020 | toy news | 55

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INTO THE WILD Perhaps now more than ever, we're in need of a vibrant outdoor toys sector, so it's just as well the sector is in rude health and teeming with new launches from some of the biggest names in the category. Here, ToyNews rounds up the latest products to get our kids out and into the wilds

Spin Master 01628 535000 Since its acquisition in 2017 of Aerobie, the leading brand of outdoor flying disks, Spin Master has continued its legacy of high-quality products loved by fans around the world. It’s according to the firm that the proprietary designs and exceptional performance of Aerobie products are widely recognised and the core range includes favourites such as the Pro Ring and the more compact Sprint Ring. For exhilarating games of catch, nothing compares to the Aerobie Pro flying ring, which holds the Guinness World Record for the furthest throw - an incredible 406 metres. The thin design of this flying ring allows the disc to travel longer distances and it features soft edges for comfortable catches. The open centre enables each player to personalise their throwing and catching style – catch the edge with your hand or use the centre to catch it with your arm or foot. Suitable for ages 12 and upwards.

Hippychick Hippychick.com/trybike Trybike is the latest and most cutting edge development in the balance bike market, the dream invention of two Dutch cycling enthusiasts. The steel range offers a two–in-one experience for toddlers, adapting from a threewheeler to a two wheeler. As well as being hugely stylish in terms of design, these bikes are also highly functional, teaching young children the art of balance and co-ordination - setting them firmly and confidently on the cycle path to a healthy, active lifestyle. The new white vintage steel balance bike is the latest edition to the successful Trybike collection, for which Hippychick is the exclusive UK distributor. Balance bikes continue to remain a key trend in toys for toddlers, with experts supporting a no pedals learning experience as the most effective way to teach young children the art of balance.

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EOLO Toys sales@eolohk.com Yummy Style is EOLO’s new line of swimming masks, snorkel sets and swimming goggles, all made in silicone material with the latest ontrend designs. The rubber designs are inspired by the global inflatable trend which is loved by kids, so Yummy Style water accessories are sure to be a best-seller this summer .With different touch points in the marketing mix, including influencer and PR, Yummy Style launch will have 360 coverage. Joining EOLO Toys’ portolio of popular outdoor lines is the award-winning Slider Disc, an engaging outdoor game that leads the way with EOLO’s eye for innovation within some of the most classic categories. Slider Disc is the first transforming flying disc that fits in your pocket. Catch, reset and throw it back before it transforms, or you’re going to lose the game. The built-in timer converts your flying disc into a time game experience for endless fun at the beach, park or backyard. The Slider Disc boasts three modes of play: Compact Mode: pocket size, ready any time and easy to carry; Free Flight Mode: lock it and use it as a regular flying disc any time. Game Mode: set the timer and when the time runs out the blades slide back and it’s game over. The product has soft edges which makes the toy easy-to-play with. Slider Disc won the Hot Diggity Award for outdoor and ground play.

Hasbro 020 8569 1234 No outdoor toys sector guide would be complete without a bit of Hasbro and its leading blaster brand, NERF, to challenge kids to get acive for outdoors play this year. This season, Hasbro is introducing its NERF Ultra One Blaster. NERF-Ultra blasters have advanced design and performance to deliver extreme distance, accuracy, and speed. The range includes the ground-breaking NERF-Ultra darts, boasting the ability to fly further than any NERF dart has flown before. NERF Ultra blasters work only with NERF Ultra darts.The NERF Ultra One motorized blaster has a high-capacity 25-dart dart drum and comes with 25 NERF Ultra darts. Fire more than two dozen darts with the high-performance advantages of this NERF Ultra blaster. Kids can send darts flying through the air up to 120 feet (36 meters), and there's on-board dart storage for quick reloading. Next up is the NERF Ultra Two Blaster aimed at kids aged eight years old and upwards and launching this spring. The NERF Ultra Two Motorised Blaster features fast-back reloading. The six-dart cylinder is open in the back meaning you can look inside to see how many darts are left to know when to reload. To use, hold down the acceleration button to power up the motor and press the trigger to fire. It includes six NERF Ultra darts that are compatible only with NERF Ultra blasters.

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Outdoor toys

MV Sports 0121 748 8000 Within its licenced products category, MV Sports has a wide variety of must have properties, including LOL Surprise!, Peppa Pig, PAW Patrol, Disney Princess, Batman, Spiderman and Frozen II. New licences Bing and Ricky Zoom will strengthen the portfolio for 2020. Innovation comes in the shape of MV Sports’ Dream Den tent to sleepover pod concept and new Roll-a-Cases which combines a travel case with a sturdy ride on, while MV will be expanding the uMoVe range in 2020 to include sparkle, sequin and camo print models. The new uMoVe camo range is emblazoned with camouflage prints in a range of colours. uMoVe Sequin scooters are bedecked with reversible sequin stem wraps and glitter finishes on the grip tape and wheels. Last but not least is MV Sports’ brand new Trike2Bike concept; a sturdy trike which converts to a mini balance bike in seconds. Hedstrom continues to hold strong in the outdoor arena with an array of metal play equipment including slides, swings, trampolines and multi-plays. The 3 in 1 Swing is a unique versatile swing which grows with the child, starting form six months to 10 years, the swing seat is easily converted from toddler to child to junior seat modes.

Wilton Bradley 01626 835400 First up for Wilton Bradley it’s the award-winning Typhoon Power Drifter. This new lauch features a striking design and an impressive run time of 40 minutes that guarantees kids an adrenaline ride and array of drifting stunts. As well as a max speed of 16km/h, caster wheels complete with LED lights and a twist grip thumb throttle, this impressive, unique drifter provides endless outdoor fun. Then comes the Electro & Evader electric scooters, both of which boast high spec and always ensure a high-performance ride. With an impressive running time of 80 minutes, a max speed of 18km/h, and thumb throttle complete with an eye-catching, foldable design, these electric scooters provide ultimate speeding fun and are perfect for teenagers. Finally, with demand in the market for more electric scooters available for younger riders, this award-winning scooter has been designed for children aged six plus with a smaller, lighter frame and child-friendly features. The combination of eye-catching colourways, foldable design and impressive spec including a 60-minute run time, maximum speed of 8km/h and thumb throttle have already caught the attention of many. The Wilton Bradley team has focused on developing unique, innovative newness for Xootz through in-house CAD development and 3D sample printing. Look no further than the Xootz Typhoon as an example of WB’s obsession with product development.

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Outdoor toys

Zuru www.zuru.com ZURU, remains committed to the outdoor toy market during 2020 with a refresh for the popular Bunch-O-Balloons, and extensive growth plans for its X-SHOT range. Bunch-O-Balloons is a global brand that has been awarded Top Outdoor Selling Toy for the last four years. The innovative design allows users to fill and tie 100 water balloons in less than 60 seconds. ZURU has rejuvenated the brand for the 2020 summer season with refreshed packaging and merchandise displays, and a Terracycle recycling partnership. The range consists of balloon packs including the new Crazy Bunch-O-Balloons, where each Bunch-O-Balloons stem comes with a mix of multi-coloured balloons – water blasters, and accessories. ZURU is implementing a campaign that encourages families to ‘take back summer’ which it will be rolling out across all planned marketing channels. Since the brand’s launch, Zuru’s X-Shot has experienced huge success and growth. Most recent figures report that the X-Shot brand has grown globally by 35 per cent y-o-y (2018:2019) and enters 2020 with two additional SKUs. Joining the Fast Fill stable, the Micro and Epic Fast-Fill lines will be available in the UK market from March 2020 and further boosts this robust range within the water blaster category. Due to its speed and ease of use, the Fast-Fill range offers consumers maximum performance. With a fill-time of just one second, children can refill their blasters quickly, thereby increasing valuable play time by getting back to the action long before their opponents.

H Grossmans Ozbozz from H.Grossman Ltd is renowned for its outdoor products. Unicorns are still the magical creature of the moment and the sell out Ozbozz Unicorn scooter is set to continue as a best selling line for this year. It’s just as well then, that HGL has a whole range of outdoor products with a Unicorn theme, from skateboards to pogo sticks. For 2020 there are two brand new balance bikes with adjustable handles. Perfect for pre-schoolers the bikes come in two themes, dinosaur and unicorn. Sturdy and safe these colourful balance bikes will be popular with parents and kids. Scooters have always been the mainstay of the Ozbozz range and this year sees a brand new light up scooter. The Poop Scoot has images of, you guessed it, poo. The colourful scooter has wheels which light up when moving. Toilet themed toys have been really popular especially in pocket money items and this is a creative extension on the theme. The revamped Light Burst scooter has also rolled away with more than one consumer award again last year, with its great light up deck in flashing multi colours, just the thing to make sure you are seen! Both sides of the age spectrum are catered for with My First Scooter, the Ozbozz classic for pre-schoolers – three scooters in one – taking centre stage again for the youngsters. This unique design evolves from being a sturdy four wheeler to a trike and then to a two wheeler. The Nebulus scooter is still popular with a choice of colours and with trendy spoked wheels this cost effective scooter will retail at around £10, a design led choice and a great gift. Scissor scooters are another best selling item.

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Appointments

Industry moves Plenty of activity across the industry has seen Spin Master bid farewell to two C level execs, Rainbow bolster its regional sales division, Flair strengthen its Just Play marketing team, and Hexbug welcome an industry veteran to the ranks

RAINBOW DESIGNS NICOLA DALE has been brought on board to further strengthen the firm’s sales division, taking up the role of regional sales manager for the Midlands. As well as managing the Midlands region, Dale will manage a number of key accounts within her role. She brings with her five years’ experience in the gift sector, having previously worked at MPW Gifting and Sophie Allport. Dale will be managed by Mark Standen, the Home of Classic Characters’ sales manager for independents and online accounts.

ASMODEE ENTERTAINMENT

SPIN MASTER Global president, chief operating officer, and board director, BEN GADBOIS has stepped down from his role at the Canadian toymaker. He is joined by BILL HESS, executive vice president, global operations and chief information officer. The pair have led a series of leadership changes that the company has said is ‘designed to optimise the company for growth.’ During their tenure, both Gadbois and Hess played instrumental roles in establishing Spin Master as a diversified global business. In conjunction with these changes, PAUL BLOM has been appointed as the interim executive vice president, global operations and technology. Blom will be responsible for leading the company’s operations and IT teams across Asia, Canada, the US, Europe and Mexico. Spin Master also announced that TARA DEAKIN, SVP Talent Management, will become executive vice president, human resources and chief people officer of Spin Master.

The firm has bolstered its booming licensing division with the appointment of the 20-year marketing and licensing veteran of the games industry, ALEXANDER THIEME to the role of licensing manager. He joins from Games Workshop and will be focusing on European licensing opportunities across Asmodee game brands such as Catan, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Keyforge and Legend of the Five Rings. The appointment follows an impactful 2019 for Asmodee Entertainmnet, the licensing, entertainment and publishing arm of the global games publisher Asmodee.

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Appointments

KIDICRAFT The UK puzzles specialist has strengthened its management team with the appointment of PEITR CUTLER to the role of business development manager for the north of England. Cutler boasts 15 years’ experience as a key accounts manager, working with licensed, branded products in toys, textiles, luggage, stationery and housewares. His experience has seen him work with a broad spectrum of retailers, from independents to multiples and beyond. Roy Greenwood, director at Kidicraft, said: “We are really pleased to have secured the services of Peitr, he is a welcome addition to our growing team.”

STEAMFORGED GAMES

While at Games Workshop, Davies was instrumental in the development and launch of the Space Marine Adventures and Blitz Bowl, new lower barrier to entry product ranges into new broader channels previously not considered. In his role as commercial director for Steamforged Games, Davies will join the board alongside Ian Livingstone CBE, cofounder of Games Workshop.

FLAIR/JUST PLAY Flair/Just Play has welcomed a new member to the marketing team in the form of CHARLOTTE RODGERS who is taking up the role of marketing manager for the Just Play brands portfolio. Under her remit will be Just Play portfolio brands such as PJ Masks, Hairdorables, and Spirit Riding Free. Rodgers brings with her a wealth of toys marketing experience, having previously been with Mattel UK as brand manager for Fisher Price Licensed brands, Imaginext and Mega Bloks. Previous experience also includes two years at Vivid Imaginations working on toys, games and Crayola.

Games Workshop’s former head of sales, global distribution and partners, TOBY DAVIES, has taken up a new post as commercial director at the tabletop games developer and retailer, Steamforged Games. Before joining the team, Davies had spent three years at Games Workshop and seven years at Trunki, where, in both roles, he forged new distribution channels and handled distributor and retailer relations on TN-MAR20-AARDVARK.qxp_Layout 1 14/02/2020 13:50 Page 1 a global scale.

MGA ENTERTAINMENT The firm has promoted MARTIN J. ELLIOTT to the role of chief financial officer

effective immediately, succeeding STEPHEN SCHULTZ who is stepping down but will maintain an advisory role at MGA until the end of the year. In his new position, Elliott will report directly to CEO and founder Isaac Larian. “Martin is a solid financial leader who understands our business and how to maintain its profitability and debt-free status,” said Larian. “Since his time at MGAE, Martin has brought forth a keen sense of market awareness and insights related to financial analysis and driving profitable growth. “I am confident that under Martin’s leadership and Steve’s mentorship MGAE will continue to maintain its position and will grow high double digits this year.”

HEXBUG GARETH JONES has joined Hexbug as the firm’s new UK sales manager, bringing with him some 30 years of experience in the toy and gift sector, as Hexbug continues to push forwards it plans to reinvigorate the brand with new product ranges. Prior to his appointment, Jones has most recently worked at Interplay, following roles at Character Options, Aromahome and Mattel during his career. He said: “I had the pleasure of working with Ross Ainsworth and Nancy Davies at Interplay. Their culture and philosophy is something that the team at Hexbug shares. While it’s a difficult time for everyone at the moment, we have far-reaching plans in place for the Hexbug brand.

Specialist Toys & Licensing Recruitment Contact our award-winning team to discuss your hiring plans

+44 (0)1709 834777 • jordan.h@aswift.com • aswift.com April 2020 | toy news | 61

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Bossing it

Bossing It… with the BTHA and TRA’s Natasha Crookes Each month, ToyNews finds an industry bigwig to put through the paces with a series of prying questions. This month, it’s BTHA’s director of public affiars and comms, Natasha Crookes

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F

irstly, well done on the recent half marathon and money raising (over £2,000) for the ToyTrust. What compelled you to do it? I needed a challenge to get me started as I’m better with a goal in mind so when the BTHA mentioned they had places for the Toy Trust I thought it might be what I need. The only issue was that I hadn’t run, at all, for about 20 years. I started with the couch to 5K app and worked my way up from there. The longest I had run before the day was about eight miles, so I felt a bit sore but actually not too bad. What's your next planned challenge then? I won’t do anything sponsored as the generosity of everyone for this challenge was really amazing and I don’t want to ask again for a while. I would like to join an open water swimming club as a personal challenge though. You're a name synonymous with the BTHA but how did it all begin for you? That’s very nice of you to say. I joined the BTHA in 2002 to help organise the Toy Fair as I came from an events background. I took over from the then organiser, Wendy Pluckrose after the 2003 fair and worked on Toy Fair until 2007 when I also became involved with PR and public affairs and issues-led agenda on behalf of the members. I have been working in that capacity ever since and really enjoy it, even though it is challenging often. How have you seen the industry evolve over your time within it - and is it all for the better?

The past three years have been the most challenging. Brexit and all the changes that will come with that have been, and will be, difficult for the industry. The UK government needs to put systems in place to govern and the number and breadth of consultations that could impact the industry seem endless at times. I think the industry will have to start thinking about allocating people within their companies to monitor and measure the impact on their businesses of the various changes coming. For the industry more generally, I worry about the unsafe toys we are finding on online platforms, how the reputable companies can compete with companies not making the right investment concerns me. It sounds a bit doom and gloom but my job is to monitor the issues for the industry. Growing up, a young Natasha's go to toy would have been.... ? I had a Mattel talk up doll – who thought to have a doll that you pulled the head off and as it rejoined its body it had sayings like “I lost my head over you”, I loved it! What's been the proudest moment of your career so far? It is hard to say when you work in public affairs as the greatest achievements are often the ones you can’t talk about, the things you managed to change or managed to make more workable for the industry but that are based on work behind the scenes. The work to tackle the rise of unsafe toys before a child gets seriously hurt is the most challenging but would be the most rewarding if we can get the changes needed.

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T HE

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.co.uk* ir a f y o t t a now open e r a 1 2 0 Fair 2

1 2 0 2 y r a nu a J 1 2 9 1 n o d n o L a i Olymp for Toy s n io t a ic l app Exhibitor

A huge thank you to all our exhibitors and visitors for making Toy Fair 2020 a great success. We're looking forward to welcoming you back next year. New Layout

Next year Toy Fair will take place in the Grand, Grand Gallery, National and National Gallery at Olympia, London. @ToyFairUK

For further information on exhibiting & sponsorship opportunities please contact +44 (0)20 7701 7127 or email Majen@btha.co.uk * Unfortunately members of the public are unable to attend


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Toy News April 2020  

Toy News April 2020