Toys as Games? Or not? Commentary on the 2018 Toy of the Year – Game of the Year

Is a game a toy? Or can a toy be a game? Last night I finally realized the difference.

In the past few months, I started following The Toy Association on Twitter (@TheToy Assoc). As they identify themselves:

Founded in 1916, The Toy Association™, Inc. is the not-for-profit trade association representing all businesses that design, produce, license, and deliver toys and youth entertainment products for kids of all ages. Our 950+ members drive the annual $27 billion U.S. domestic toy market, and our organization has a long history of propelling the health and growth of the toy industry, which has an annual U.S. economic impact of $107.5 billion.

Of interest to me is their Toy of the Year Awards:

Known as the “Oscars” of the toy industry, the Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards are presented annually to the top toys, games, and properties of the year. Administered by The Toy Association, the awards program supports the philanthropic work of the Toy Industry Foundation, which delivers new toys to children in need.

The toy, game, and license finalists were unveiled Friday, November 3. One winner in each category, as well as the coveted “Toy of the Year” award winner and the “People’s Choice” winner (based solely on consumer votes), were announced at a dazzling TOTY Awards gala on February 16, 2018. The celebration kicked-off the 115th North American International Toy Fair, and included the induction of toy industry trailblazers into the esteemed Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

So last night was their Awards gala with winners announced. Of particular interest to me  was the category Game of the Year which covers, “Children’s board, card, electronic or other physical game formats and puzzles.” There were seven nominees in this category.

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Courtesy North Star Games

The ones that personally interest me are Happy Salmon by North Star Games and Roller Coaster Challenge by Thinkfun. Happy Salmon is rated a solid 7.0 on BoardGameGeek (with 1.8K ratings) and ranked the #53 Party Game. Roller Coaster Challenge is not currently on BoardGameGeek but, as a solo logic puzzle, these games don’t always appear there. Games like Roller Coaster Challenge are beloved by the RockyMountainNavy household because they are easy, yet challenging, thinking games. I cannot even start to count how many times the RMN family has given away Thinkfun games as presents. Personally, we use them as filler games, games for teaching kids, and even with adult family members with Alzheimers or the like.

Of the other five games, I kinda like Ultra Dash by PlayMonster because it’s at least a physical activity game that promotes a healthy, non-couch potato lifestyle. Beasts of Balance looks to me like an augmented reality version of Animal Upon Animal. At $99.99 retail I am sure that buying Animal Upon Animal or any of its variants is a much better bargain!

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Courtesy toyawards.org

The absolute last game I payed any attention to was the winner; Soggy Doggy from Spin Master, Inc. The game actually is on BGG with a provisional 5.3 rating (after 3 ratings). The publisher’s blurb sums it all up:

Players roll the die and move their playing pieces around the game board, taking turns washing Soggy Doggy. But watch out! You never know when he will shake to dry off… and you’ll get a little wet! First one around the board and back to the doggy basket wins.

To me, Soggy Doggy is not a game but a toy. This toy offers no useful gaming actions that will help kids (ok, maybe taking turns, roll a die, count spaces is helpful for very little kids). Learning value? Very minimal. Replay value? Meh.

I should not be surprised Soggy Doggy was the winner. Last year, the Toy Association Game of the Year was Yeti in My Spaghetti. Check out the Tom Vasel review; it won’t take long as its only 4:32.

Compare this to the list of the top Children’s Games on BoardGameGeek. A fairly new arrival at the RockyMountainNavy domicile is the current #1; Rhino Hero: Super Battle. Now, I don’t want to sound elitist or the like (I shake my head at the old Ameritrash vs Eurogame arguments) but there is just no comparison between Rhino Hero: Super Battle and Soggy Doggy. One is a game and the other a toy.

After this experience, I am going to unfollow @TheToyAssoc on Twitter because, as much as I admire their mission, their awards just don’t align with the interests of the RockyMountainNavy family. It’s not only in the Game of the Year category; in other categories I see a dominance of Star Wars (License of the Year) and Lego (winner in multiple categories like Construction Toy of the Year). I like Lego, but view the over abundance of Star Wars licensed toys as a negative. We should be nurturing creativity in our kids, not making them slavishly beholden to one form of entertainment (from Di$ney no less). Games area a category of toys, but this year’s Game of the Year shows me that not all toys are games.

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