Play away

Test hundreds of new games at Navy Pier’s toy fair

It’s tough for a parent to pick out the perfect birthday or holiday gift, but a festival at Navy Pier offers a solution—let kids try it themselves.

Parents and children can sample and buy hundreds of the newest products from around the world—or simply have a game-filled family outing—at the third annual Chicago International Toy and Game Fair, which runs Sept. 2-4 at Navy Pier.

Lincolnwood mom Laureen Karini, who attended the fair its first two years and plans to return this year, says it has given her great ideas for holiday shopping.

"In advertisements, games sometimes sound more fun than they actually are," Karini says. "You can try toys out and see if kids actually like them."

The offerings are meant to appeal to a wide audience, says festival founder Mary Couzin. Some products, such as board games, will work for kids of many ages; others target specific ages. Toddlers can crawl through play houses, for example, while teenagers sample the newest video games.

"You can take your whole family, and everybody will find something they want," Couzin says. "We’ve even got the Arnold Palmer golf game for dads."

Some of the most family-friendly attractions combine several games. In the "Amazing Tournament," kids and parents can form teams of two and play games that test trivia knowledge, motor skills, problem solving and teamwork. Families can also join in a treasure hunt. Kids can pick up nautical-themed treasure maps, find the marked booths and answer questions about the toys they see.

Many of the toys’ inventors will be on hand to explain their creations, a feature that appeals to Karini. "Going through directions can be grueling," she says. "It makes all the difference when the person who made the game is there explaining it."

Karini and her daughter, Catherine, 11, also enjoyed another attraction that will return this year—life-size board games. Kids and parents can become the game pieces in classics such as chess and checkers.

When you need a break from the games, there is also face painting, a moonwalk, food and live entertainment.

Or you can watch a game show version of "Apples to Apples," a card game that requires players to come up with interesting—and often laughable—word combinations.

And in the 15 minutes between stage acts, families can play Jenga--an eight-foot-tall version of it. "It’s made out of cardboard," Gessner says. "No one will get hurt."

The fair runs from 4-10 p.m. Sept. 2; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 3 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. in Exhibit Hall A at Navy Pier. One-day admission is $5 per person or $10 for families. Admission for the whole weekend is $10 per person, $20 for families. For more information, call (847) 677-8277 or visit

Ryan Wenzel


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