Spielwarenmesse: Books and games are a part of our cultural heritage

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Books and games are a part of our cultural heritage

from Harald Hemmerlein

Saying that something is a part of one's "cultural heritage" always goes down well. Many people regard the stories presented to us in printed form between the two covers of a book or as marks on some screen as literature and thus as a natural part of the elitist ranks of so-called cultural assets. Many recognised thinkers have already awarded this cultural status to playing, too, and thus also to toys. What is happening in this product group – also significant in terms of sales – and not just in terms of culture? Let's start by looking at games. Game publishers and designers have recently launched some surprising product ideas onto the market.

Board games with integrated digital elements

Board games continue to learn a lot from the video game industry and are now taking advantage of opportunities to incorporate digital elements. Lots of games come with a QR code that directs users to a tutorial video on YouTube.

Games with a random algorithm

Fantasy Flight Games is breaking new ground with its game "Discover: Lands Unknown" and its deck game "KeyForge". For the first time ever, random algorithms are being used on a grand scale in the production of these games. As a result, every copy of Discover and the KeyForge deck is unique. You could call this new type of game "Unique Games", since the way the components are selected and combined ensures that each game is different from every other one.

Games with social networks

Social networks affect our lives in a myriad of ways. One billion people already have an Instagram account. Every day, around 500 million – mostly young – people use the app. With "#hashtag - the game", the Jumbo publishing house is combining people's fascination of Instagram with a classic party game for the very first time.

Two teams compete against each other to prove how creative they are and how well they know Instagram. If a topic card is drawn, each team has to think up a suitable hashtag, which has to start with a certain letter – and all against the clock. Song titles or cartoon characters are just as popular as fashion brands or desserts. The rating is done via Instagram: if you have chosen the hashtag which has more posts than the others, you win the round. It is a similar procedure with the picture cards, which have very different images from cooking to nails, from pyramids to wallets. Before the posts are ranked, though, there is a check to see whether the hashtag on Instagram really does lead to a picture with a similar image.

Naturally, "#hashtag - the game" is not about points, it's about followers. If you have got more than other players after 10 rounds, you win the game. "The fascination of "#hashtag - the game" lies in the fact that online and offline don't co-exist here, but are integrated into a single common game," says Romina Schwark, Marketing Specialist at Jumbo. Having a good sense of the trends on Instagram is, of course, an advantage with this party game.

Games with a language assistant

Ravensburger has picked up on another trend from the digital world: language assistants. "kNOW!" requires players in four categories to ask the Google Assistant the right question so that they can come up with the right answer. The answers to many questions change from time to time, sometimes even every day. And they depend on where you play, too – as is clear with questions such as "When will the sun go up tomorrow?", "How far is it from here to Honolulu?" or "Did Barcelona win its last match?" The Google Assistant makes all this possible as Google's digital voice assistant has the answers to these and many other questions. It is available for Android and iOS devices for free, or on compatible smart speakers such the Google Home Mini.

If you don't feel like studying the game instructions, you can let the language assistant and "Professor kNOW!" explain them to you. The game takes as long as the players want it to. A digital timer ends the game after a pre-set time. kNOW! is suitable for three to six players and can be played offline from the age of 10 and online from the age of 16.

Box and game set up of kNOW.
Smart gaming: The digital voice assistent Google Assistant plays a mayor role in the Ravensburger quiz and fun game „kNOW“.

Games with a licence to cheat

The chance to cheat is an integral part of many games. Even at an extraordinarily young age, children can recognise the benefits of cheating – the advantage you can get if you don't put your piece on the square that you actually should put it on.

While such cheating is frowned upon with most games (by politically correct players anyway), the new Cheaters Edition of Monopoly from Hasbro actually rewards you for it.

The game board has special cheat cards on it. Five cards are drawn from the stacks and placed face up on the board. During the game, each player can try to do one of these "cheat tasks". For example, if they get the 'bank robbery' card, they have to steal money from the bank without anyone noticing. Since each player takes turns at being the bank, this is one of the easier tasks. Things are more difficult, however, if you are supposed to swap one unfavourable real estate card for another unobserved. The first person who manages to cheat will be rewarded. If you do get caught, you go to jail and are "chained" to the board with handcuffs.

Games that call for cooperation

Yes, cooperative games do still exist. Together, as natural spirits on Spirit Island (Pegasus Games), players have to drive a horde of invaders away from their island before they can inflict too much damage

In lots of games of strategy, players compete to explore unknown territory with their own nation, to spread out, exploit the available resources and to eliminate players. Spirit Island, a game for experts, reverses this concept: yes, it also has settlers who want to colonise an unknown island. But their actions are not decided by the players, but by the game itself.

In every round, the invaders explore new areas that they colonise and where they later build villages and towns. In the meantime, up to four players slip into the roles of powerful natural spirits, all of which have different abilities. While one builds a defensive bastion, another razes cities to the ground. Only together and in constant negotiation with each other can the players come up with a strategy to defeat the invaders. But as in many cooperative games, a lot more ways lead to defeat than to victory.

Amazing STEM experiments

Monster Maker game box
Children can explore their own environment box, with the KOSMOS Monster Maker experiment.

The fine line between playing and learning is always fluid: with the KOSMOS Monster Maker experiment box, children from the age of eight can explore their own environment and reproduce it in a digital game. Various sensor spheres for temperature, sound and light record different physical measurements from the players' environment and transfer them into an app game. Based on the measurements, you get monsters with different characteristics. Children can thus develop a concrete idea of the physical units of measurement.

Books in dialogue with toys

Books are a particularly exciting product group at the Spielwarenmesse® – not just because publishers are presenting novelties from the categories of picture books and children's books, but also because the book trade is increasingly establishing itself as an additional distribution channel for toys. The special area called "Toys meet Books" at the entrance to the Spielwarenmesse® focuses on the synergy effects that this combination can generate.

Lingufino from Linguwerk GmbH, which is marketed under the Dialog Toys brand, combines toys and books in a striking way.

The Lingufino voice recognition toy in the form of a plush goblin allows children to enjoy lively dialogues with a cuddly toy. Together with the toy, they can enjoy adventures with the accompanying books. The little goblin is just waiting for a child to speak to and play with him. The child has to verbally interact with the goblin in order to unlock the mystery of each story. The toy uses and can recognise more than 1,500 words and phrases per adventure book. Everything works completely offline. With Lingufino, children can now go on an adventure trip in English-speaking countries, too.

Take it out on books!

Another nice example of successful cross-over products is the Grolltroll concept from the aprilkind design team. The Grolltroll combines a picture book and a cuddly toy and is marketed together with Coppenrath and its “Die Spiegelburg” edition.

The picture book tells how the Grolltroll feels when a big storm of rage comes and how it fades. The Grolltroll soft toy transforms from a loving cuddly friend into an angry plush doll and back again. The toy lets children imitate emotions and practise how to handle difficult situations – and all in a playful way.

A whole series of merchandising products from “Die Spiegelburg” will be issued to support the topic that the book and the cuddly toy deal with: a stress ball, tattoos and stamps.

Books in a media mix

These days, entertainment content is no longer a one-channel thing on a single platform, not even when it comes to stuff for children and adolescents. Content is now conveyed to the recipient in a cross-media way.

Kosmos, Sony Music Entertainment and Boxine are releasing toys, audio plays and e-books featuring the cult detectives from The Three Investigators.

In October, KOSMOS launched various detective gadgets with the cult detectives onto the UK market. Licensing partner Sony Music Entertainment launched the English version of the audio plays on the well-known streaming platforms at the same time, and Boxine is also offering stories with the three cult detectives for its Tonie boxes. In addition, there will be multilingual toys with the three investigators in another 14 European countries.

The circle of cultural goods mentioned above closes with a reference to an award-winning children's book.

German author Kirsten Boie was awarded the Zurich Children's Book Prize 2018 for her book Ein Sommer in Sommerby (A Summer in Sommerby), published by Oetinger. In the story – available as audio book, too – twelve-year-old Martha and her younger brothers Mats and Mikkel spend their holidays with their grandmother in the countryside. And this grandma is a little bit strange. She lives all alone in an out-of-the-way cottage, sells home-made jam, has no phone and certainly no Internet connection. But she does live with chickens, a motorboat and a rifle to keep uninvited guests at bay. When this idyllic place is threatened, the children and their grandmother stick together and learn what really matters in life.

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Author of this article:

Harald Hemmerlein

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