The window of time in which young people are particularly fond of wooden toys has decreased in the last two decades. Children are growing up quicker and increasingly determining what gets played with. This is posing new challenges, and not just for the likes of BRIO, Haba and Hape. Long-term industry observers say once children reach five or six years of age now they are almost a lost cause when it comes to wooden toys. This is one reason why marble runs are getting ever “younger”.
Marble runs are another way, besides railway sets, for manufacturers to create a construction toy system as embodied by Lego, for example, with its blocks. Construction toy systems are expandable, variable and flexible. Starter sets can be built up into complex structures using expansion packs. Marble runs and ball tracks foster imagination and require patience, concentration, care and, when several kids play together, interaction. Construction toy systems have educational value, even if that may be an overused expression.
A wealth of tracks and expansion sets were displayed at the Spielwarenmesse 2016. Right in time to mark the 30th anniversary of its marble run system, Swiss manufacturer cuboro presented its cuboro cugolino start for children aged 3 and older. This starter kit opens the door to the cuboro world. The sturdy track and construction elements are used to create initial simple runs. Established fans can also delight in new elements.
Wonderworld has also been keeping the ball rolling for years. Design, safety, quality, sustainability and environmental awareness are cornerstones of the company’s philosophy. The Thai family business launched Trix Trax in 2012. Boasting lots of construction possibilities, this marble run received the Good Toy Award from the Japanese Good Toy Association last year. At the Spielwarenmesse 2016, Wonderworld presented a variety of products, including the new Flipping Bridge set, which helps children understand the link between cause and effect.
The Quadrilla marble run construction set originated in Germany in the late nineties. There is no end in sight to the development of this technical- and design-focused run for children aged 4 and older. Hape has owned the manufacturing and brand rights to Quadrilla since 2012. The range is continuously growing, with “Space City” having been added this year. The model has a 180-degree level shift, which is also included in the Highway and Cyclone sets. As a special highlight, it features a glow-in-the-dark effect. Enveloped in darkness, the luminous blocks, tracks and domes look like something from another planet.
Besides Kaden & Kaden Holzgestaltung, a pioneering workshop for wood design, hardly any other company is as persistent in this area as Haba. Haba brought its first ball track to the market in 1982. It has since been modernised, extended and upgraded with expansions and connecting pieces. The track is considered a classic today. The slogan “Discover, explore and more!” is launching the current generation into the trend.
Haba needed 30 years for its next “rolling” success, the Kullerbü ball track aimed at younger target groups. Thanks to its click system, special effects and size, it makes building a ball track all the more colourful and versatile. The track represents a reinterpretation, having a broader appeal than just to master builders and fans of marble runs. Speedsters with momentum motors or a train can also whizz through the tracks. Of course, the “newbie” also got attractive expansions in 2016.
Gollnest & Kiesel is not sitting back either and is revamping its current model. Plantoys is also working on a “Ramp Racer”, which will probably be showcased at the Spielwarenmesse 2017.
So is this a matter of more of the same all of the time? Once a marble run, always a marble run? Michael Hopf, Director of Marketing and Sales at Haba, believes playing habits have changed and this must also be reflected in ball tracks and marble runs. “Ball tracks are still considered a top product, but they have to be more visually striking nowadays, and have less of a technical and design focus. Ideally, each expansion must be capable of being played with in its own right.” It appears the time that is available for people to play with marble runs and ball tracks is becoming ever more precious as well.