Sunday, November 26, 2017

CHITAG 2017: Highlights!

One of my favorite events of the year, CHITAG (Chicago Toy and Game Expo) has come and gone again.  It was fun while it lasted, and I already can't wait until next year.

This year I had a limited window to attend due to a bunch of family/holiday mishegas, including a giant Friendsgiving party that we attended and cooked several dishes for.  I could have probably spent a full day at the event or even longer, talking to vendors, trying out new games and toys, and talking to

In selecting what to feature in this post, I am trying  to focus on the stuff that seemed innovative and wonderful.  If possible, I also like to focus on smaller game and toy companies and local people if I can.  Not that I don't love me some big games too, but it's the little guys that make this super interesting.  Many of them are risking their IRA's and their kids college accounts on a game or toy that wouldn't get out of their head, and they had to follow it through.  My leading question to them is often, "So, what made you decide that you had $15,000 you didn't need?"

(Although to be fair, a lot of them also used kickstarter or other crowdfunding as methods to finance their ideas. Nevertheless, the point is they have significant time energy and money invested in what may be a foolhardy idea.)

Here's a few of the vendors/toys/games that I found most interesting this time around.

The Sphero people (they of the robotic programmable balls) have introduced a tiny version of Sphero, deemed Mini-Sphero.  It operates separately from the regular Sphero, with its own app, and one of the most interesting aspects of this is that they've designed methods of controlling the sphero using your face.  Yes, as you make faces into your camera, the sphero moves around!  You can also program it using javascript, use it as a game controller, and lots of other stuff.


I took a couple of videos of it working, but they aren't nearly as succinct or as well done as the promo for the sphero.  Here's that promo:

I think one of my favorite booths/new products of the year was  PINBOX 3000's cardboard pinball machines.  They've combined cardboard techology with the maker movement to make cardboard pinball machine kits that you can make on your own and then modify.  They have three or four readymade pinball kits (along with art, such as SwampQuest featured)  But you can also build your own, swap it out, decorate it yourself.

What I loved about it is how it is low-tech STEM.  Here's an easy way for kids to learn about engineering and technology and solving problems without turning on a computer.  They've also got an online community to help share solutions and problems.

The cardboard games and constructions are surprisingly sturdy and easy to fix. BUY ON AMAZON

It's a centuries-old practice to try to make meaning of your life by throwing stones (I Ching) or bones (Throwing the Bones).  An Evanston game maker has gamified this idea. You ask a question and throw the charms (each signifying a different aspect of your life) onto a board (which has as its map different spheres of your life.)

 Players write a 2-minute interpretation of what this could mean and the questioner decides who is the winner.  Then that person gets to throw the charms and ask their question.  I'm not 100% sure I'd want to play this game with any but my closest friends (and maybe not even them) but I think it's fascinating how they've turned a spiritual and religious practice into a thoughtful game with actual meaning for your life.



This is a clever add-on game to any other game.  It's a way to up the stakes for a game, or decide what happens to the Loser of a bet.  The Loser has to draw a card of consequence, and do whatever the card says they have to.  They are not all bad, but they are all family friendly (unless you are playing with the adult deck, which could have some romantic consequences. )  They do have a number of expansion decks.

You can also play the game on its own.


Part of the day that I was there they had YoYo Trick competitions as part of the Illinois State Yoyo Contest.  Kids from all over the country competed with some amazing tricks.  You could stay the whole day and just watch some of these amazing yoyo competitors.  As well, (sponsor of the contest) was on hand with a large amount of different styles of yoyos, strings, trick videos and books.  BUY A YOYO ON AMAZON

Here's a video I took of one of the competitors 1 minute performance, posted from my Instagram account.   Please note this is NOT speeded up.  This guy is just moving that fast!

A post shared by Adam G (@kafclown) on

The last few years I've been attending, I've watched Ben of Ben's Bubble Shows entertain the crowds.  He's an Evanston based artist, and he's great at showing off bubbles and doing the tricks.

He's not selling anything other than his show, and it's really really good.

Here's a video of Ben doing his magic.  (I didn't take this video, this is from YouTube)

Find out more at

Each year as part of ChiTAG, young inventors come and display their games or toys.  The stakes are high, including over $10,000 in scholarship prizes and potential monetization of the game. Last year's winners have a contract and were at the show this year selling their game!

I love meeting those inventors, not necessarily because the games are so great, but because of the great verve and inventiveness that these young game entrepreneurs show. It's invigorating!

One game I saw this year was actually really great!  It should be a commercial product.  It's called Digit-Dash, and it's got great game play, useful math learning, and can even be tweaked or adapted by teachers for their own uses.  The creator is 12 years old, from a local suburb of Chicago.  (I redacted his name on the photo for privacy reasons.)

The game is played like this:  Players draw 10 random number tiles from a bag.  They could be repeated numbers.  Each player has a couple of each operand tiles: +, -, x, ÷  and some parentheses.

The teacher pulls another number tile and says go. The players have to create an equation that creates the teachers number tile using their random numbers and their operands.   Player who wins gets new number tiles and a point.  First person to win five rounds wins.

You can't buy this game yet, but I hope someday you will!

Here's an interview I did with the young inventor.

There was a lot more that I really loved at the show, including a few more kids I interviewed about their games, and a lot of fun games, but I might save those for a different post.


JesseHanson said...
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Unknown said...

Loved your recap of the Fair, Adam! Thank you!