Stuff We Loved: What are the industry’s favourite toy and game launches of 2023?
We asked figures in the industry for their favourite toy and game launches of the year. The only caveat… They couldn’t choose a product they were involved in!
Here’s what they said…
Naomi Brugnatelli, Inventor Relations Manager, Games, Hasbro
I’m a big fan of FRIENDS and thought my friends at Mattel did an amazing job capturing so many details from the show in a tiny compact Central Perk mug. I especially loved Monica’s turkey head, Phoebe playing the guitar and Joey and Chandler’s pet chickens. Could this collectible Polly Pocket play-set BE ANY CUTER? Now if only I could get my hands on one!
Rob Ames, Creative Director, Triclops Studio
The top slot for me is Zuru’s Mega Gross Minis; part of their popular 5 Surprise line. 36 minis, brilliantly executed and parodying all your favourite brands – but with a rad gross-out filter. I’m a huge Garbage Pail Kids fan – as well as Madballs, Mad Scientist and anything else with a gross twist from the Eighties and Nineties… The minute I clocked these, I was in! The little shopping bag is a nice touch, as is the mouldy, stinky-scented rarities – especially as most collectibles rely on glow-in-the-dark or metallic variants to drive collectability. My personal faves include Poo-Kemon, Sick Tacs, the ‘Just Spew It’ Puke sneakers and the Santa Ooze skate deck. Great job!
Dianne Lauble, Director of Inventor Relations, PlayMonster
For me this year, it’s Barbie. This amazing toy/icon/empire reinvents itself over and over again with themes, forms and – as is the case this year – an oh-so-relevant blockbuster movie. The good news for the inventing community is that Mattel has historically relied on new features to keep her going. It has to be said… She’s got legs.
Sam Unsicker, Partner, Big Monster Toys
One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen is the Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Transforming Rhinomite RC. Not only is it two amazing toys in one, it was created by two amazing people: Peter Williams and Robert Schwartzman of Pace Development. When I first saw this at Toy Fair last year, I thought: ‘Here it is, innovation is finally making a comeback in the toy industry!’ I was excited for Mattel, I was excited for Robert and Peter, and I was excited for the tons of young kids who will now have a favourite toy in their lives! Congratulations to all!
Tony Serebriany, Senior Director, Inventor Relations & International Sales, The Op
Another year with so many great games being released, but two amazing small box games are the ones I’d like to highlight. The first is Sides from Captain Games. I had the good fortune of being introduced to this co-op word mystery game earlier in the year at a small convention. This simple and clever game was one that regularly was finding its way to the table with groups of all sizes – and well into the night with bigger groups too. It seemed to by flying off the shelves at Essen this year!
The next one is a clever bluffing memory game from Ravensburger called That’s Not A Hat. This game is so simple and elegant in its execution… And fast becomes hilarious as you try and track which gifts are in which location around the table as players are passing cards left and right.
David Snow, Owner, The Fantastic Factory
The game I loved this year for its simplicity and multi-generational play is Smash Down by Ideal/John Adams. It’s a simple concept with great repeatable gameplay that will be a hit – or smash – this Christmas.
Dougal Grimes, VP Innovation & Inventor Relations, Spin Master
For me, it’s Elmer’s Squishies by Elmer’s – part of Newell Brands. Elmer’s Glue, for those who didn’t grow up in the USA, is a brand of PVA glue that’s used in schools… It’s kind of the ‘Kleenex’ in terms of a brand for kid’s glue and school supplies. With the social media boom in slime around 2015 – then amplified over the pandemic – Elmer’s glue became hugely popular as an ingredient in making homemade slime. Having released a line of slime-focused Elmer’s products, it’s cool to see the brand extend out into other types of compound play, such as their Squishies that launched this year. It’s one of those great situations where consumers really dictate the usage of products and then innovation can grow from there. Kudos to the Elmer’s team for listening to the trends and building on it with fun new play patterns.
Fi Murray, Founder, Making Things
I’ve loved seeing all the activations surrounding Biggies. It’s always great to see a new brand make it through in this retail climate. From the origin creation through to the 360 brand launch, you can see how much effort has gone into it from Eolo and Fun-Damental.
My second pick is Pretentables from Fat Brain. It’s an awesome twist on an evergreen category. Intuitive, considered and creative – with a stylistic design-led twist on pretend play.
Gavin Ucko, Founder, The Happy Puzzle Company
Screwball Scramble: Level Up. I mean seriously… Screwball Scramble gone vertical! What’s not to love?
Boaz Coster, Partner, Theora Concept
My first pick is Foosbots by Fat Brain. An all-round addictive product and perfect game. Toyetic, collectible, compact, playful – fun!
I’d also choose Reel Big Catch by Educational Insights. The cute surprise – a very ‘stretchful’ feature – that makes all the difference and adds so much fun to that game.
Finally, I’d say Clixo by Toyish Labs. Flexible creative construction, unique designs, easy and very colorful – truly imaginative play.
Alex Prieto, Head of Fun, Eolo Toys
Choosing one is not an easy task… But I must say I’m impressed with execution of Beast Lab from Moose! The boys space is tough – and taking the magic of a girls toy and passing it into a boys toy is even more complicated… But Beast Lab nails it. It takes the best parts of Magic Mixies and transforms it into a strong boys property and toy.
But I can’t just say one! So my second pick is Real FX T-Rex – another super execution by the Wow! Stuff team.
Jim Harrison, Director, Butcher & Harrison
My first pick is Trio – designed by Kaya Miyano and published in Europe by Cocktail Games. It’s a great little pick up and play card game that’s perfect as an icebreaker! I picked this up in Essen and my three grand-daughters are obsessed with it, endlessly wanting another game. A deck of 36 cards – numbering from two to 12 – is dealt out between the players with a number of cards face down on the table. On their turn, a player can ask any player – including themselves – to reveal either their highest or their lowest card, or flip over one of the face down cards. They do this a second time, and if the two cards match, they can do it a third time. If all three cards match – a Trio – the player takes them and places them face down in front of them. Win three Trios to win the game.
My second pick is Ticket to Ride: Legends of the West – designed by Alan Moon, Rob Daviau and Matt Leacock and published by Days of Wonder. This one is Ticket to Ride meets legacy games at the gates of the Wild West. An enormous box contains twelve separate Ticket to Ride adventures that are played in sequence, with each game adding new board sections, components and rules which will make permanent changes to the way the game is played. Although the basic gameplay will be essentially familiar to anyone who has played a Ticket to Ride game, this is definitely a re-invention and re-imagining which breathes new life into an old favourite!
Andrew Hajithemistou, Head of Innovation & Inventor Relations, tms
My top pick this year has to be the ingenious Build Your Own Wallace and Gromit Rocket Kit from the creative powerhouse team at Paper Engine. Their collaboration with Aardman to bring to life the iconic characters, machines and widgets from the Wallace and Gromit animations is just magic! The kits re-introduce a late Eighties classic animated short to kids of today, giving children – and ahem, kidults too – the freedom to build these fully interactive cardboard kits, with no glue and just a little time and patience. I love how simple sliders, tabs and flaps are pulled and opened to move and reveal hidden features… And with zero plastic in sight, Paper Engine have truly set the bar high with a focus on delivering a great play experience with sustainable materials. Wallace would totally agree… “Cracking good job!”
Gary Pope, Co-Founder, Kids Industries
Without the slightest shadow of a doubt it has to be Piñata Smashlings as my favourite launch of the year. Digital first, brave, start-up-scrappy with super high quality. It’s their eggs that have done it for me… On the face of it simple – but actually, anything but. The play value is built in versus other eggs and Toikido has taken the time to really understand what they are making and who they are making it for. Two Smashings, a game code and playable egg? Yes please… Joined up thinking and dedication to the development of the IP that rivals any of the big boys – and this a teeny team of 10.
Sen-Foong Lim, Game Designer, Developer & Writer
My family loved Robot Quest Arena from Wise Wizard Games in conjunction with Perfect Day Games. Not only are the miniatures super cute, but the gameplay features quick and snappy deckbuilding in a PvP Arena setting. We really enjoyed the combinations that the robots and cards provided, but my personal favourite bit of design magic was how robot destruction is handled is such a way that there’s no player elimination – and no runaway leader. While getting your robot wrecked obviously doesn’t feel great, it’s not the soul-crushing experience it often is in similar games. Robot Quest Arena has a wonderful, family-friendly vibe and that’s reflected in its mechanisms – just reboot and respawn!
Robert Yusim, President, Product Counsel
My choice would be Clixo! Clixo is brilliant because of the 3D end results you can create from the innovative 2D shapes. And pieces click together with a pleasing ‘click’ sound! Clixo is fun and educational at the same time… The possibilities are endless.
Christian Castro, Director of Product Development, Relatable
I’d like to recognize the team at Tragos Games for their newest game, Get Loud: the Bilingual Guessing Word Game. As a Colombian-American who grew up in a Spanish speaking home, it was always hard to find a card game that would resonate with both my Spanish-speaking family and my English-speaking mentality. The team at Tragos Games have mastered solving that issue with Get Loud. While many continue to say that toys and games targeting the Latino community – or any under-represented group – are too niche to have mass market appeal, Tragos Games founder Carolina Acosta has proven them all wrong. How? By getting the bilingual Get Loud – as well as her OG game Tragos – placed in Target stores across the United States in 2023!
Leila Nosrati, Licensing & Inventor Relations Advisor
My favourite product this year – “hands down” – is the Make It Real Party Nails Glitter Nail Studio. Who doesn’t love a glitter vortex? Seriously though, this thing is not just for tweens! If you like sparkly nails, this kit makes it incredibly easy to give yourself or a friend a lovely and long-lasting manicure. I love that the glitter is biodegradable and the pods really do cut down on the mess. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go pick a colour…
Danielle Reynolds, Project Director, Wacky Wizard Games
I’d pick Runaway Parade Game’s Smug Owls. It’s a riddle generating party game that’s small, cute and clever. My friends really enjoyed playing it when I brought it back from Origins this year.
Scott Rogers, Game Designer & Author
2023 was such a great year for toys and games, it’s hard to choose just one! At the top of my list is Mars Toys’ Prank Villain 12″ figure. Based on the villain from the classic Batman TV show, this figure is amazing! The likeness is eerily perfect – it’s like having a miniature Cesar Romero on my shelf. He comes with lots of great accessories straight from the show and is the perfect companion piece to Hot Toys figures that came out a few years ago.
Next is Mezco’s One:12 Collective Golden Age Batman and Two Face figures. They are exactly what I’ve wanted since childhood! They come with so many additional hands and heads and accessories, it’s crazy. They are gorgeously made, have great articulation and look fantastic!
Hasbro has done a great job with these playsets in the past – especially the Jabba’s Throne Room and Tantive IV adventure sets – but the Star Wars: The Vintage Collection Boba Fett’s Throne Room kicks it up a notch! It’s chock-full of super-detailed accessories and furniture – and even comes with a fat Bib Fortuna to sit on the throne… At least until Boba Fett shows up! It’s so fun to display figures in and even photograph. I hope Hasbro makes the Tatooine Cantina next!
And because I love board games, I would remiss not to mention Septima from Mindclash games. This game is a gorgeous production with beautiful art by Villo Farkas. It’s a strategy worker placement game about witches helping out a village while competing to be the next Septima. It even includes an amazingly helpful guide to put all the pieces back into the box! Highly recommended!
Alex Murty, International Growth Manager, Joking Hazard
I’m obsessed with Japanese games publisher Oink. When I go to a convention, the first thing I do is go to the Oink booth and grab myself a bargain before things start to sell out. This year at Essen was no exception and one of my many purchases from their stand was their new game Tiger & Dragon. I’m all about small box games and Oink have perfected this corner of the market with their cute box sizes and cool art style. Tiger and Dragon is based on the traditional Japanese game Goita and is described as being ‘the ultimate kung fu showdown between martial arts masters’. Essentially you are attacking and defending using numbered tiles and the first person to get rid of all their tiles is the winner. It’s a very simple game to play, but has a real strategic depth to it… And like all of Oink’s games, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The tiles especially are weighty and look and feel beautiful. It’s soooo good – go get yourself a copy!
Tyler Turk, Owner, Crated with Love
This last year I met the founders and inventors at Womple Studios and fell in love with their DinoGlows collections. These prehistoric and pulchritudinous plushies are not only reversible – showing both their cute outward appearance and their skeleton within – but also glow in the dark! I brought one home for my daughter, which quickly became her go-to plushie for nap time. This product is a perfect example of inventors looking at trends and adding their own beautiful design and innovation to bring something to life!
To stay in the loop with the latest news, interviews and features from the world of toy and game design, sign up to our weekly newsletter here