Games that will last: Top Picks from the 2013 Chicago Toy & Game Fair

Chicago Toy & Game FairOur family loves to test toys and games. We buy new games, get them as gifts and (more often than I’d like) try them out at every toy store we stop by. With two kids under 8, we have our limitations but it’s fun to see how differently each approaches the game or toy and how tastes differ. Growing up with weekly game nights at my house, I was certainly in my element at the latest Chicago Toy & Game Fair this past weekend. I was overwhelmed with the talent and imagination of toy and game inventors and was thrilled to see how actively kids got involved in games that didn’t include a digital device. So here is the list of my favorites from the show with selections for every age and links to buy.

The Presidential Game

Ideal age: 11+

the Presidential Game

I have never seen a game like this one. And going into a big election year, I think it would be wonderful for kids to learn about the real meaning of electoral college, what it takes to win an election and voting in general. I find politics fun and would love my kids to share in that passion. Learning about campaigning and fundraising is great for their understanding of the social sciences, getting the votes and percentages – great for math and building a strategy above all. This is educational and yet lots of fun for the kids. Add in a webmap calculator and you can see the progress of your team on the live election map. I love that this game can unite multiple generations – from your grandma to your 12-year old. I think my kids are still too young for the concept but anyone in 5th grade and up will love it. Plus, it doesn’t have to be the big election year to enjoy the game, and I see potential for school election games in the future as well. Cast your vote for this one!

Buy now from The Presidential


Ideal Age: 8+


If you’ve ever played Pictionary, you’ll get this concept very quickly. Except, instead of drawing a picture, you’ll have to create it with the help of little objects that are in the game – a string, beads, wooden people, blocks, circles, cubes and more. The opposing team then has to guess the word. The words are pre-printed on the game cards and you get to choose easy or hard, and I think my 1st grader can easily play the easy words and even try his hand at the hard, so even those younger than 8 will be able to try it. As your team is guessing the word, each correct guess pushes you further on the game board. And there are many other interesting twists in this creative word game. I love how it allows kids to use their imagination and lets everyone have fun in the process. This game is definitely on everyone’s wish list.

Buy now from Morphology Game

Boom Boom Balloon

Ideal Age: 8+

Spin Master Boom Boom Balloon Game

Can you show me a kid who doesn’t love balloons? This game allows the players to slowly try to pop a balloon, taking turns with the dice and pushing in the sticks that come with the game (you get 12 balloons and 10 sticks). My kids loved the combination of slow concentration to get the balloon to pop and the hilarity of expecting the pop. Balloon volleyball is already one of our favorites, so a game with a balloon as a hero is always welcome here. I like that this game teaches kids to plan and strategize and the ease of setup and play.

boom boom balloon

Buy now from Spin Master Boom Boom Balloon Game at

Word Winder

Ideal Age: 8+

Word Winder

Floor size Word Winder

It seems more and more games are exploring the idea of 2 objectives at once and Word Winder is a great example. You have to take turns forming words but you also have to make sure you build your tiles into one continuous line. You are able to spell the words in any direction – left to right or right to left, up or down, diagonally or any pattern of your choice. Teachers love playing the giant Word Winder, since it’s a greet spelling tool and makes spelling fun for kids. If you like Scrabble, you’ll enjoy the flexibility of spelling direction in the Word Winder but will also be challenged by having to form the line with your tiles.

Buy now from Word Winder – 2 Incredibly Addictive Games in 1 for the whole family

Show me the Kwan

Ideal Age: 7+

show me the kwan

Here’s another word game that I loved, because it’s so easy to take with you on the go and for how quickly it gets the party going. There is a little less pressure to spell and more incentive to be creative with the words you come up with. You start by selecting the category (Disney characters, snacks, gadgets and song titles are a few examples), and there is a choice or easy or hard. Next, roll the order dice which tells you what letter you need to start the word – 1st, 2nd or last. Next, players roll the letter dice. You will then have 1 minute to produce a word with the letter you got in the right order – grab the letter as you yell the words. Since each die has a value on it, that’s how you get the score. A way to outplay everyone is to name 3 words in all positions with one letter, then you get to shout “Show me the Kwan!” and end the game with a big score. I have to add this is one of the Griddly Games and I was truly impressed with the ingenuity of Reisa Schwartzman (co-founder of the company) and her enthusiastic daughter.

Buy now from Kwan

Wise Alec Junior

Ideal Age: 4+

wise alec

This game, also from Griddly Games, caught my attention because I’m always looking for ways to expand my kids’ vocabulary. You can play each of the 3 games separately (300 questions in each pack) – Memory, Matching, Charades. You can then make a story in the Storytelling boards pack, based on the cards collected. Or try any combination of the 4. I think, combining the three games and then putting the cards into a story carries the most educational punch, as it challenges kids to think back to the cards and use the words in a story. I loved the fact that the Wise Alec Junior game has no game board and the case is small enough, so you can easily take it on the road, or even to a dinner out.



Ideal Age: 8+


Based on the original German word game “Pim Pam Pet” that’s been around in Europe for 100+ years, Tapple will get everyone in on the fun. You basically have 10 seconds to name a word on the category card using one of the letters on the wheel. You tap the letter, name the word in the category and reset the 10 second timer in the middle. Once the letter is tapped, you can’t press it again. You keep tapping, naming and passing until everyone runs out of letters and cards. This is a fast paced game and the categories are broad enough, so you can think of a number of words, yet challenging enough, so you will eventually run out of choices. This is a perfect game for a family game night, but it’s also great for practicing thinking on your feet.

Buy now from Tapple Game

Raccoon Rumpus

Ideal Age: 3+

Educational Insights Raccoon Rumpus Game

We already own the “Sneaky Snacky Squirrel” game and “Raccoon Rumpus” is another creation from Educational Insights. Both are perfect for your preschooler. While the Sneaky Squirrel teaches your kids to identify colors, Raccoon Rumpus is great for building memory. Players simply roll the color dice and look for a matching costume card to dress the raccoon – there are 20 potential costumes. Kids have to watch out for the underwear or they might lose all their costumes (need 5 costumes to win). Of course, underwear always generates a lot of laughs among this age group. The game is very simple to play and the cards are sturdy and beautifully designed. I think girls will have more fun with it, just seeing how much my daughter and her friends like to play dress up with their dolls.

Buy now from Raccoon Rumpus Game

Drop Shot

Ideal Age: 6+

drop shot

I know my 1st grader is going to love this game because it’s such a great reminder of all the fun we have at carnivals. It’s as simple as rolling the dice and then moving your colored marble (up to 4 players) the desired number of spaces in any direction. If you roll the yellow, you get a chance to drop in the scary yellow ball to knock down your opponents. The die includes a side with a blue bar, which gives you a chance to place a blue barrier in front of your ball, so it won’t get knocked down. Kids love to knock something down, it will definitely generate a lot of giggles in this house.

Buy now from Drop Shot game

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