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THE BEST OF 2012 FROM TOYS BULLETIN

This task has not gotten any easier since we published our “Best of 2011” 12 months ago.  We see so many quality and exciting new products during the year, making it especially difficult to single out just a few standouts.  Plus, as mentioned last year, we cannot possibly test and review every toy and game released by every manufacturer in the past 12 months, so there is no doubt that we may have missed some good ones.

Here are the guidelines we follow in making our selections.  “The Best of 2012” is based solely on the toys and games that we have reviewed on our website from November 2011 through October 2012.  We have purposely excluded some older items, which may have been reviewed during that period, because that toy or game has been around for a number of years.  However, in some circumstances, we have also included an item that was new to us at Toys Bulletin, even though it may have been available for purchase prior to November 2011.

 

And most importantly, we kept with our mission statement of providing a list of the “Best Toys and Games You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Posted in Apps and Video Games, Baby and Toddler, Board Games, Building, Christmas, Doll, Electronics, Figures, Games, Girls, Information, Learning, Nostalgic, Outdoor, Remote Control, Riding, Sports, Vehicles

Bits ‘n’ Bobs – Kids Can Build it Their Way

It is always nice to see a new building toy for kids as young as 3 years old. Build It-"Bits 'n' Bobs" is a 44 piece construction set from the "Early Learning Centre," a UK toy company, distributed in the USA by International Playthings. The set includes various plastic nuts, bolts and construction pieces. There is even a handy tool for ease in tightening the pieces together.

The unusual thing about "Bits 'n' Bobs" is that there are no specific assembly instructions. The idea is for kids to design their own creations, with the pieces included. There are some photos, showing a robot and several trucks, but for the most part, the youngster is on his own to connect the pieces using his imagination.
Posted in Building

Loog Guitars – Creating a strong musical bond with kids



Every once in a while you encounter a product that is so spot on for certain demographic that you know instantly that it could only have been created by a group of passionate enthusiasts.  Loog Guitars fits in that category.  Every detail of the experience seems as though it's been thought out and rethoughout a hundred times in order to hit it just right.  Here's how it goes down. 
 The Loog Guitar is unlike any other kid's guitar on the market today.  But it's more of a philosophical difference that carries on to the product itself.  The Loog comes unassembled as you can see here.  It is designed for kids to have a part in creating their instrument by having the experience of putting it together.  This creates a bond with the instrument that is hard to come by any other way (kind of like the bond you feel with an old classic hand me down instrument).  And it's a lot of fun to watch it come together.

We first met up with the Loog Guitars folks at Toy Fair this past February and couldn't wait to get our hands on one of these after seeing them demonstrated at the show.  I put mine together with my four year old son.  The target age is six and up, but being a music lover who has already started to buy instruments for my son, I couldn't resist.

The packaging was great right out of the box.  Quality all around, simple and cool.  Reminiscent in ways of Apple packaging.  Out of the box you will find the guitar body, guitar neck, tuning keys, string bridge, three nylon strings and assembly screws.  The instructions followed suit with the packaging and were simple, super easy to follow, and effective in assembling everything correctly. You really only need a phillips screwdriver. The entire process took me about an hour but I was going really slow, describing how everything worked to my son.  If you wanted to hurry through it, assembly could take as little as 15 minutes.

Once it was up and running, and tuned correctly, we were off.  Another guide that accompanies the instrument describes multiple ways to tune the guitar and provides simple chord diagrams and progressions.  I chose to tune it to G-B-E so it would replicate the three bottom strings on a standard-tuned 6 string guitar. 

Probably the neatest part is the first time you strum a few chords.  That is when the assembly part of this really shines for the kids.  Their eyes light up as they hear the instrument that they just built start to come to life. 

The guitar sounds great, following suit with the type of quality you would come to expect.  The designers clearly chose not to skimp on the pieces or wood.  They used real materials and the result is a real guitar, something that will stay with you for quite a while, as any musical instrument should.

Loog Guitars can be purchased through their website and select stores around the NYC area.  And they are growing quickly.  It seems to be one of those products that spreads fast by word of mouth.  I know I'll be telling people about it, and it will be a conversation topic around our house for guests who will not have seen anything quite like it.

Retail price is around $215, which is well worth it given the quality and thoughtfulness that has gone into every aspect of the experience.  This is the neatest kid's musical item we have ever seen.
-- Andrew Joseph

Also, it's worth noting that Loog Guitars has what I consider to be one of the most enjoyable presences on Twitter.  Their posts are always compelling and one that I look forward to every day.  Follow them here.

Here is our completed Loog Guitar

Posted in Building, Learning

Campfire Kids – Youngsters Can Camp Indoors







Parents are usually a bit apprehensive about letting their kids sleep unsupervised outdoors in a tent. In many cases, dad might have to join them just to make sure everything is safe and sound. Well, a company called "Insect Lore" may have solved the problem, and even added some fun to the equation.

"Insect Lore" is well known for selling live caterpillars, in the form of a "Butterfly Garden," to schools and homes all over the country. The kit provides food, resulting in the development of real painted lady butterflies. Now, the folks at "Insect Lore" have developed a new line of toys, called "Campfire Kids." "Toys Bulletin" is going to take a closer look at three of the items available in this new line of indoor camping gear, intended for youngsters ages 3 and up.

First of all, there is the "Wilderness Tent." Young campers must, of course, have a place to sleep, and this does fit the bill very nicely. The tent measures 32"W x 68"L x 33"H, and the quality fabric is fitted with plastic poles to complete the setup. It sets nicely on the floor or bed, and even includes mesh windows. Adult assembly would be required.

The second item was a great looking "Lantern." It included 3 AA batteries, gave off a very bright light, and included some realistic animal sounds at the push of a button. The lantern stands 7 inches high, and fits nicely inside or outside the tent.

The third accessory was the "Wood Chopping Set." It comes with a two-piece snap together log, and an axe to cut the wood. The log can easily be snapped back together, so youngsters can chop wood over and over again.

We gathered a group of four pre-school kids, ages 3 and 4 years old. We had set up the tent, put the lantern at the entrance and the axe and wood off to the side of the tent. This was a very easy group to work with. Two of the kids ran to the tent, went inside, and peered through the mesh windows. The other two stopped and played with the lantern, laughing at the animal sounds. We called the kids over and showed them how to chop the wood and how to snap it back together. They all tried it and had a great time. The kids wanted to spend the night at the pre-school, but the parents had other ideas.

We explained to the inquiring parents that there were many additional accessories available for the "Campfire Kids" collection, including a "campfire," "stump stool," "fish fry," "bearskin rug," "log cabin tent," "roasting sticks," "raccoon hat," "hiking stick," "canteen," and "telescoping net." The selection was amazing, and the prices were also reasonable. The "Wilderness Tent" retailed for $39.99, while the "Lantern," and "Wood Chopping Set" retailed for $19.99 each. Prices do vary from time to time. Most, if not all, of the items included in the "Campfire Kids" collection can be purchased at Amazon.com.
-- RJ Cullen
Posted in Building

Pirate Ship Playhouse – Build it and Play in it

We recently had a chance to take a look at the award winning "Pirate Ship Playhouse" from "Box Creations LLC." The "Pirate Ship Playhouse" is basically made of heavy duty cardboard. Once assembled, it stands about 6 feet long, 2.5 feet wide and 3 feet high. The outer side is white and ready to be colored with crayons or markers. It takes one adult about 30 minutes to put it together, and the instructions include helpful pictures to makes things a bit easier.

A pop open entry door is located to the rear of the ship, and several portholes can be found along the sides for kids to peek through. There is even a make believe wheel to steer the craft, which can easily fit 2 toddlers inside. As mentioned by the folks at "Box Creations LLC," "Kids love to play in the box."

We tested that theory with 7 toddlers, 4 boys and 3 girls, ranging in age from 3 to 6 years old. We had already assembled the "Pirate Ship Playhouse," and did provide a set of colored markers at a table adjacent to the ship. We told the kids only two were allowed inside the ship at a time.

The youngsters seemed to enjoy the playhouse for about 15-20 minutes, including time to color the exterior. After that, the "Pirate Ship Playhouse" was subject to some abuse. Pieces began to fall off, especially the steering wheel and bow. The entire structure toppled to the ground on several occasions, although each time it was quickly reassembled, with minimal damage.

Overall, the "Pirate Ship Playhouse" seemed a much better toy for a smaller group of kids, maybe two at most. Parents need to emphasize that some care needs to be taken when playing with the playhouse.

At the end of the evening, parents had to admit that a plastic or wood playhouse of this size would cost several hundred dollars, whereas the "Pirate Ship Playhouse," made of cardboard, can be purchased for just $30-$40. It could be a good option to consider, and can be found at Amazon.com.
-- Lance Manion
Posted in Building

Nanoblock from Ohio Art Company


"Nanoblock" is basically a very unique building block set that is very similar to Lego blocks except much much smaller. In fact, one of the premier building sets offered by "Nanoblock" is a replica of the Tokyo Sky Tree, a tower in Japan, which will reach a height of 634 meters.  That particular "Nanoblock" set is approximately 1/1200 of scale to the actual building, and boasts a staggering 1,700 pieces.  The smallest piece in a typical "Nanoblock" set is approximately 4x4x5 mm.  Five millimeters is around 3/16".  "Nanoblock" was designed by Kawada Co. Ltd. in Japan, and is distributed by the Ohio Art Company in the USA.

We are reviewing the "Eiffel Tower" set of 200 pieces, and a starter set, the "Blue Parakeet," containing just over 80 pieces. Both sets came with detailed instructions, including step by step photos of how to proceed.  The pieces are included in individually wrapped plastic bags, sorted by type, to make it easier to locate the pieces needed to complete a particular step.  Once the pieces are removed from the bags, it is best to place them on a light surface, or maybe white letter-sized paper so that none are lost.  In addition, the Company has thoughtfully provided extra Nanoblocks, in case a few are misplaced.

We tested each "Nanoblock" set on an age appropriate focus group.  Because this product is appealing to those from ages 8 to adult, we included the parents of the youngsters in the actual test group.  Half of the group worked on the "Eiffel Tower" and half on the "Blue Parakeet."  We divided up the responsibilities for each project, between sorting, identifying, placing and checking.  It took about 1 1/2 hours to complete the "Eiffel Tower," and less than 30 minutes for the "Blue Parakeet."  A photo is below of the finished construction.

There is no doubt that this was challenging for one and all.  The pieces are tiny and we did keep a magnifying glass handy for use when needed.  And yes, the younger kids did drop a few pieces on the floor despite our precautions.  But, when each project had been completed, everyone, without exception, was enthused and proud of their creation.  The detail, because of the size of the individual pieces, was extraordinary.  The finished product genuinely resembled the actual "Eiffel Tower" and a cute little "Blue Parakeet."  This is not the case with the much larger Lego sets, where you might have to ask "What is that exactly?"

The consensus opinion was that this was an amazing building toy, perfect for older kids and adults.  There was a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the day that is hard to describe.  This was just a fun challenge and a sensational experience.

Cameras were flashing as everyone wanted a photo of their finished product.  There was enormous enthusiasm among the participants, as questions about price and availability came up before leaving.  The "Eiffel Tower" set retails for $19.99 and the smaller "Blue Parakeet" is less at just $7.99.  Check them out at Amazon.com.

-- RJ Cullen


Our Completed Nanoblocks
Posted in Building

ToysBulletin.com Announces its Best Toys and Games List for 2011

THE BEST OF 2011 FROM TOYS BULLETIN

It is a difficult task to compile a list of the year's best toys and games, since it is absolutely impossible to have played with every toy and game released in 2011. So, we have prepared our "Best of the Year" list based on toys and games that we have reviewed on our website from November 2010 through October 2011.

We have excluded some older items which we reviewed this year, because the toy or game had been around for years, but at the same time we have included some toys and games that were new to us here at Toys Bulletin, but may have been available prior to 2011. And most importantly, we kept with our mission statement of providing a list of the "Best Toys and Games You've Never Heard Of."

Here we go........

TOP TOYS AND GAMES OF 2011 (in Alphabetical Order)

Automoblox- from Automoblox Company, LLC

The best wood building toy we have ever seen (see review on 11-19-10)

Flip Six Card Game- from US Games Systems, Inc.

Easy to play card game, and so addictive (see review on 6-18-11)
Jukem- from Flying Pig Games

A simple, fun and fast football card game (see review on 3-14-11)
Khet 2.0- from Innovention Toys

A chess type game with laser beams, and simply amazing to play (see review on 3-25-11)
Kid's Safety Trampoline- from One Step Ahead

Sturdy, high quality and a focus group favorite (see review on 7-30-11)
Main Event Boxing- from Downey Games

An amazing Boxing simulation that can be played in just 5 minutes (see review on 10-1-11)
Puzzle Pyramid- from Ravensburger

An astonishing 3D jigsaw puzzle (see review on 7-26-11)
Redakai- from Spin Master Ltd

The new standard in trading card games (see review on 7-9-11)
Revomaze- from Ashton Pitt Ltd

The most fascinating, yet difficult, puzzle ever created (see review on 9-24-11)




Sword and Shield Set- from Rubbabu

Soft, flexible and unbreakable, young boys loved it (see review on 5-25-11)



The Wacky Whiddles- from Wacky Whiddles and More LLC

A truly fun word game, that is witty and clever (see review on 4-30-11)
Word on the Street- from Out of the Box Publishing, Inc.

So simple and easy to play, yet so rewarding (see review on 9-17-11)

-- List by Toys Bulletin Staff

Posted in Apps and Video Games, Board Games, Building, Christmas, Electronics, Figures, Games, Girls, Information, Learning, Nostalgic, Outdoor, Remote Control, Riding, Sports, Vehicles

Take-a-Part-Roadster by Battat – A Fun Challenge for LIttle Mechanics

If your toddler wants to change his first tire, and use a drill at the same time, then this realistic building toy is a perfect match. The "Take-a-Part-Roadster" was designed and manufactured by Battat Inc. out of Plattsburgh, NY.  The Company has been in business for 110 years, and has been making fine quality
toys for the past 40 years.

The "Take-a-Part-Roadster" comes with 18 removable parts, plus a battery operated drill, and 3 bits. The pieces are all made of plastic, so it is very safe for kids 3 years and older, but because of the small parts, there is a choking hazard warning for those younger.

The 18 parts include 2 chassis pieces, front and rear bumpers, a seat, a windshield, 4 wheels, 4 nuts and 4 bolts.

The drill has a forward and reverse button and takes 2 AA batteries, which are not included.  The drill bits include a phillips head, flat head and a special 5 sided head for the wheels.

We brought in an age appropriate focus group, and split the youngsters into 4 teams of two.  Everyone was first shown an unassembled "Take-a-Part-Roadster," and told that each 2 man team would get a chance to assemble it. We next explained the workings of the drill and even demonstrated how to put the roadster together and take it apart.

Now it was time for the kids to give it a try.  Remember, we decided to limit each group to 2 kids, so that both could help with the assembly.  An adult was nearby to offer quick assistance if needed.  Most of the groups had no problem with the basic assembly, although it was more of a challenge to the 3 year olds than those a year or two older.  The clear windshield was the most troublesome piece to assemble properly, as it took a bit of twisting and turning to get it into the proper position.  Some of the kids simply ignored that piece.

Putting the 4 wheels on and taking them off was the most fun for all.  The drill was realistic and the battery power provided sufficient power for our entire session.  The quality of the parts was clearly noticeable.  Overall, the kids and parents were thrilled with the "Take-a-Part-Roadster."  It retails for a very reasonable $24.99, and can be found at Amazon.com.  Battat makes several other "Take-a-Part" Toys, including an Airplane, 4 x4 and a crane.  They are all worth checking out.
-- RJ Cullen
Posted in Building








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