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TOY & GAME FAIR | Navy Pier trade show exhibits latest thrills

November 23, 2009

Last year, Shari Sopourn was trying to find a way to teach her kids about the recent government bailout of financial institutions. In the process, she and her husband, Jordy, created Bailout!, a board game that is a sort of anti-Monopoly.

"It's a comedic parody of the bailout," Sopourn, 40, said. "You have to lose all your money to win."

"Bailout!" was one of the clever new games on display Sunday at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair at Navy Pier.

A trade show open to the public, the fair was overrun with parents and children trying out the new toys and games.

One of the longest lines was for a test ride on the new Razor RipRider 360. Designed by Seth Calvin, a 13-year-old from California, it's basically a Big Wheels-like bike with casters for the two back wheels, which creates a spinning and drifting motion. A thrilling ride, by the looks of it.

"It was really fun," said an excited Donavan Noble, 7. "I almost had a heart attack."

"This is a great place to check out games and see what interests my kids," said his mother, Sanja Noble. "And they're having a great time, too."

With the state of the economy, board games have seen a resurgence in popularity, said Mary Couzin, executive director of the Chicago Toy and Game Group.

"Sales of board games are up 10 to 12 percent, which is huge," Couzin said. "People are saving money by staying home more and playing together."

Amuse Amaze is a spelling game that Chicago-based creator Graeme Thomson says has "6 billion game plays."

"It's a word race game that doesn't have all the restrictions of Scrabble," Thomson said. "It's possible for beginning spellers to beat their grandparents."

Jishaku, played with magnets, also was a popular stop for children and parents. Inventor Steve Velte was showing two boys how it works.

"It's really tricky," said Sean Weber, 14. "But it's a lot of fun to figure it out."

Hasbro's building block game Jenga has a challenging new cousin, Jenga Max, in which players hook or hang game pieces on each other, all the while trying not to make the whole contraption fall apart.

Spread out on the floor in the center of the toy fair was a space dedicated to Citiblocs. Children of all ages, including parents, built towers and castles with lightweight wooden pieces that snap together.

And another board game, Triviathon, was created by brothers Dave and Joe Herbert of Batesville, Ind., who say it differs from Trivial Pursuit in a big way.

"It's fast-paced trivia for smart and stupid people," Dave Herbert said, laughing. "You don't have to know the answers to win, but there's still a thought process involved."