From the For Toys fair to Deskohraní 2012

Photo: Deskohraní

Last weekend saw the third annual For Toys fair held at Prague’s Letňany featuring children’s products. One of the focuses was highlighting creative and safe toys, from simple building block systems for toddlers to more complex games for kids. Teens also were included with the very latest in electronic consoles and interactive games.

Illustrative photo: Raven3k,  stock.XCHNG
What are some of the latest trends? Ever more realistic video games in which players can take part playing their favorite striker in the football World Cup or the Champions League with little left to the imagination when it comes to graphics: one young man, who attended the fair, said this:

“The graphics today are really great, I like it. They are more realistic than ever: for example, if you are fouled during a football game it looks natural, you never do a flip over your head.”

One of the most anticipated games this year is a new tablet/console that will only hit the Czech market in late November:

“The cool thing about this console is that it shows something completely different than what is going on, on the big screen; you can view both at the same time: you can cycle through a list or choose options without having to click between the two.”

For smaller children, there are building systems using simple patents which prove easy to connect as well as all manners of toys encouraging creative approaches. By contrast, battery-operated toys have reportedly taken a big dip, far from the attractions they used to be.

Photo: For Toys fair
One of the big questions for toy sellers this year was the guaranteed safety of materials, proof, if possible, that plastic toys, for example, did not contain substances, which could prove harmful especially for younger children under some circumstances. The only 100% solution, at the moment experts maintain is to buy domestic: products that come with one of two official Czech certifications showing they have been stringently tested and checked. As of next year, all toy products in the Czech Republic will have to come with at least minimal verification that they are chemically-safe. That doesn’t mean other problems won’t routinely be uncovered especially when it comes to imports, which are the toughest to attest. Jana Jelínková is the spokeswoman for the Czech Commercial Inspection agency:

“Faulty products are often imports from China, where it can be difficult to track down either the distributor or the producer.”

Now, if your kids are older and want a break from their computer screens, there is another solution: board games which have surged in popularity over the last five years on the Czech market. Families and other fans in Prague will want to mark down this Saturday which will see the opening of the 12th annual Mind Games Olympiad (Deskohraní) held at Prague’s Tyršův dum. Libor Pešl is Games Product Manager at popular games publisher Albi; when we spoke I asked him what board games offered compared to other entertainment:

Photo: Deskohraní
“It is simply a change, an alternative to just sitting in front of a TV or playing video games. You have to think about what is going on, choose a strategy and apply it. Also, you play with friends: it’s a form of socializing, face-to-face.”

How difficult is it to get new people involved? I know many people who know classics like Scrabble or Monopoly but don’t know much about hobby games…

“Actually, I think it has become easier and easier: the number of people interested in newer games has grown bigger and bigger and there are also clubs now and Czech websites dedicated to the hobby, so that has gotten the word out. This is the best way to spread new games. Primary and secondary schools also use some games for teaching purposes in classes, so that also helps.”

One of your newest products is the Czech edition of a game called Legends of Andor: what kind of a game is it?

“It is part of a genre known as cooperative games, this time set in a fantasy setting. There’s a lot of material inside and it is for 2 – 4 players and basically you are a band of heroes who must work together to defend a fantasy realm from invaders. You have to work together on an adventure to reach your goal; if you don’t fulfill the legends presented in the game, you will fail.”

Legends of Andor
That is a genre that has really become popular over the last few years: ten years ago there was only one such design by Reiner Knizia but now it is much more common, correct?

“That’s right. Cooperation is crucial and you have to think about common strategy. We had another very popular release in the Czech Republic called Pandemic, where players had to fight breakouts worldwide, this is similar. People who are playing for the first time may be a little put off by the fact that they are playing against the game but they soon get used to it. It really works.”

The basic principle is that games like this, is that they are like a pressure cooker: they keep piling on tasks and increasing difficulty which inversely lessens chances for success: the window of opportunity doesn’t last for long. How hard is this game to beat?

“Actually, it offers different levels: in the beginning there are starter levels, a kind of tutorial level that teaches you the basics. As you continue, the difficulty increases. But that’s the point. It’s up to you, which level you choose.”

Deskohraní is just around the corner: how important is this annual event for Czech gamers, do you think?

Photo: Deskohraní
“It’s one of the most important of its kind in Prague: Albi, as one of the leaders on the market, is involved every year and it’s a good chance for visitors to see and try new products and have them explained to them. All kinds of exhibitors are there and they can teach what they are selling which you can then try in one of the halls. Learning rules, especially for heavier games, can be tough sometimes, so this is a real advantage. It’s a great opportunity to learn some new titles easily.”