Category Archives: Toys

First Blocks by Haba: Quality Trumps Quantity


When in comes to consumer goods, we live in a Mega-Sized society. Everything seems to be super-sized, as if a product isn’t worth purchasing unless there is a lot of stuff in the box. Where we once had Small, Medium and Large for sizes, we now have Giant, Jumbo and Mega. You can go into a toy store and easily find children’s blocks in sets with hundreds of blocks.

First Blocks by Haba has only 8. That wasn’t a typo, it has exactly 8 incredibly wonderful blocks. The set contains: a car, a driver and 6 building blocks. So what makes First Blocks so special? It’s the quality of both the design and construction. The set is designed to stimulate a wide range of senses. One of the blocks has a mirror on one side, another has wooden beads inset and a third has a bell. The designs that are printed on the blocks are embossed giving some nice tactile feedback. Haba uses only water-based paints and varnishes. Safety matter to them and it shows. Unlike a lot of other painted blocks that I’ve seen, the paint doesn’t start to chip off when the blocks are banged around or chewed on.

The colors are bright and the shapes simple. It’s a product that is made to foster creative play. Each of the blocks engages a child’s brain in a different way. And best of all, did I mention that it has only 8 blocks? For those of us that often say “We’re gonna need a bigger house” when we cast our eyes out over the sea of mega-sized toys our children have accumulated it’s nice to have something that’s both compact and engaging.

My son Josiah never seems to get bored with this set. It’s almost always the first toy he reaches for.

Highly Recommended

You can get First Blocks locally at:

The Play House Toy Store

702 9th Street


It’s a great store, they even have a lending library, so you can try an item first.

Tumba: More than just a dexterity game


Tumba is a block stacking game from Poof-Slinky designed by the team of Noel Donegan & Luz Java. Before I tell you my thoughts on the game, a little disclosure. Noel and Luz are friends of mine and Poof-Slinky will be releasing one of my games this summer. If you’re saying, “Ah, he’s just shilling for a friend and a business partner” feel free to click the next button and pass on Tumba. If you do, you might just miss out on a great game.

The heart of the game is 50 rectangular blocks that players take turns stacking on top of each other. The blocks are made up of five cubes, each one being one of five colors (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green and Orange). At first you might be tempted to dismiss the game as a Jenga clone with lots of pretty colors. Well, remember that old adage about not judging a book by its cover? Tumba offers a lot more strategy while keeping the tension of not wanting the tower to fall.

Game Play:

The game play is quite simple. Take all 50 blocks and place them in the cloth bag. Then take the plinth and set it on the table. The plinth is just a wood block that you use as the starting pedestal for your tower. Noel and Luz came up with a clever opening, as the plinth has three slots, two parallel to each other and the third perpendicular to the other two. If the starting player wants to make a more challenging game they can use the single slot. For a more stable tower, use the two parallel slots. On their turn, players draw a block from the bag and add it to the tower.

Building rules:

Here is where things get interesting. When adding a block you can only build color on color. With five colors and 50 blocks, each color appears in each position exactly ten times. Part of the strategy is knowing what blocks have been played and what blocks are left. If the tower falls on your turn then you are out.


If you draw a block that you think can’t be played, either because you don’t have a color match available or because you think the tower will fall if you placed it on any available color match, you can declare “No Play”. The other players can decide to accept this, in which case you draw a replacement block. However, if another player does not accept this, they can challenge you. The player challenging then must place the block on the tower. If the tower falls then the challenger is out, otherwise you’re out.

Game End:

After the tower falls, the remaining players start a new tower. This continues until only one player is left.

Going Solo:

It’s not really a game with only one player, but it’s a nice challenge to try and use all 50 blocks without the tower falling.

More Strategy:

The game involves a mix of strategy and dexterity. If you want more strategy I have a nice variant for you. Get rid of the cloth bag and just place all 50 blocks on the table. Then, when it’s someone’s turn they can choose any block they wish. Don’t allow a No Play declaration. You’ll now have a game where players can try and leave their opponents with no legal play.


If you hate dexterity games, Tumba probably isn’t for you. However, if you like dexterity games then you really need to check out Tumba. It’s available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target and lot of other stores.

9 Tips to help you survive the New York Toy Fair


The 112th American International Toy Fair is less than a week away. This will be my 14th Toy fair and I thought I’d share some tips on how to survive it.

Where and When:

Toy Fair 2015 will take place February 14-17, 2015 (Sunday-Wednesday) at the Jacob K. Javits ConventionCenter and showroom locations. The show hours are 10:00am-6:00pm on Saturday, 9:00am-6:00pm Sunday & Monday and 9:00am-4:00pm on Tuesday.

The Javits Center is located at 11th Avenue between 34th and 38th Streets, New York, NY 10001.


  1. You can’t have it all – With over 1000 exhibitors at the Javits Center plus showrooms across midtown there is no way you can see everything. The show is open for 33 hours so plan things out. I make a list of exhibitors that I want to see and prioritize them as either A, B, or C. A is for must see. This year I have 31 A’s. B is for really want to see and C is for would be nice to see.
  2. There’s an App for this – The folks that run the Toy Fair have a really neat app. If you have an IPhone, IPad, IPod Touch or Android device you need to get the app.
  3. The Agony of “Da Feet” – Javits Center concrete might just be the hardest substance known to modern science. Walking up and down those aisles can be murder on your feet. Wear the most comfortable shoes you have. Don’t worry, if you are buying they won’t care what your footwear looks like as long as your check doesn’t bounce.
  4. Do you have a reservation? – Most exhibitors love walk up traffic. However, some require an appointment to get in. The bigger the company the more likely you will need an appointment. The folks at Griddly Games and Playroom Entertainment won’t turn you away but you aren’t getting into Lego, Hasbro, Mattel or Spin Master without an appointment. If you didn’t make any appointment for the big guys ahead of time make sure to stop at their booth first thing and try and book one.
  5. Can you sent that to me? Those might be the most important words you’ll use at the show, especially, if you want to avoid neck and shoulder problems. Vendors will offer you catalogs, samples and all sorts of other stuff. The weight adds up. If it is heavy I try and get them to send it to me after the show. If that doesn’t work then ask if you can return at the end of the day to get it.
  6. Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow NOT – Global warming aside, Toy Fair is known for snow. It has snowed during eight of the 14 shows that I’ve been to and five of those were blizzards. Now you have been officially notified.
  7. The lines for the bus go round the block, round the block, round the block – If you will be taking the shuttle bus back after the show make sure you get to the bus a few minutes before the show closes. The minute the show closes all the exhibitors race to the buses and the lines seem like they never end. If you must be on the show floor at closing try and plan to be near the exits so you can beat the rush. And one more thing, if you checked your coat, get that at least 30 minutes before closing otherwise that line might make you wish you were on the bus line instead.
  8. Sock it to me – Back in 2005 one of the press giveaways was a pair of green organic socks. It might have been the best giveaway in the history of Javits. At first I thought it was a lame giveaway until someone mentioned that they would retire to the restroom and change their socks at about 3pm. It is a truly wonderful thing for the feet to be able to put on a fresh pair of socks after all that pounding on Javits Concrete ( please scroll up to tip number three). The math is simple 4 days times 2 pair per day equals 8 pairs of socks.
  9. It’s all about the fun – Yes, toy fair is big business for the exhibitors, but it’s still an industry that revolves around fun and games. Make sure you let yourself enjoy the fun. Be silly, clown around with the costume characters, try out the toys and imagine you were a kid again.
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