Bright Lights, Big Shows - Toyfest & GTS April 06 2016

Hundreds or maybe thousands of vendors, manufacturers, publishers, distributors, sales representatives and designers, all in a big room, all of them vying for the attention of retailers and each other, hoping to make sales, deals, partnerships, relationships, or just a great big splash ...

Waiting for the GTS exhibition floor to open with a few hundred of our best friends.

That's a trade show, and pretty much every industry has them. The toy, hobby and game industries are no different, and there are two of these shows that Games of Berkeley regularly attends every March: TOYFEST WEST and the GAMA TRADE SHOW (GTS). For the past several years these shows have taken place about a week apart from each other, in the big, bold, brassy town of Las Vegas. This year may have seen the Evil Overlord's third outing to each, but it was the first trip to GTS for our chief buyer, Wailin' Walter and event coordinator Angel (who doesn't yet have a nickname -- check out her personal thoughts on GTS, "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," at the bottom of this page).


How did we fare? Who did we meet? What will you be seeing soon here at the store?



Toyfest West is produced each year by the Western Toy & Hobby Representatives Association (WTHRA), and currently takes place at the South Point Casino, Hotel & Spa (home to one of the premier equestrian centers in the nation). The show includes three days of a huge exhibit hall full of sales organizations and the toy/hobby publishers or manufacturers they represent, as well as booths occupied by companies without outside sales representation, or those offering services meant to help make a business run more smoothly.

Not everything we see or like makes it to the store.

Everyone brings a range of samples of the toys, games and activities that they produce, including prototypes or production copies of any brand-new items not yet on the market.


We may or may not carry things like this in the future.

Individual retailers such as GoB walk the floor and chat with sales reps, try out products, place orders, and compare notes with each other.

The first morning of GTS typically includes a marketing seminar (this year's was about the importance of social media), but most everyone wants to get onto the floor right away. TO SEE THE COOLNESS!

Metal Earth models have been one of our bestselling items over the past couple of years.

We usually prepare plenty of orders ahead of time (often 50 or more), but there will always be things added when we see what's coming up, or when we meet new manufacturers.

Finally: high-quality Harry Potter jigsaw puzzles!

And there's always something new that we're not allowed to show you right away, no matter how exciting it looks.


Other functions include the Award Banquet (celebrating excellence in the retail toy industry) and the ever-popular Game Night (a kind of speed dating -- 16 publishers with 20 minutes each to show off however many games they can).

Dinner and drinks are provided, there's a raffle drawing, and by the end of the evening everyone's gotten raucous AND exhausted.

Blue Orange, Games Workshop, Haba, Endless Games, Smart Toys ... it was an eclectic bunch!

It's a Games Workshop paint, play & take!

Above all else, though, Toyfest can be a place to build relationships.

Soldier boy ... Oh my little soldier boy ...



GTS is produced annually by the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA, a non-profit organization serving the tabletop game industry). It currently takes place at Bally's Hotel & Casino, smack dab in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip. This show is a monster, with a two-day exhibition hall similar to the one at Toyfest, but also three days jammed full of seminars and presentations on separate tracks for retailers, publishers, and designers, as well as sponsored meals featuring Big Announcements.


It was nice seeing friendly faces from the get-go -- like being on a plane with Ben from D20 Games in Alameda!

Two bearded dudes.

The trip began and ended for us with retailer seminars on things like inventory management, store design, community outreach, and figuring out one's bottom line.

Travis of Millenium Games (Rochester, NY) tells it like it is.

The publisher presentations were next, an opportunity for them to give updates on current product, get us hyped up for new items, and gather feedback from retailers.

Steve Jackson Games had some interesting announcements.


A new game and a new edition from Fireside Games.



Most nights there were also sponsored functions by publishers or service providers.

Designers' Happy Hour!

Steve Jackson's loud, beer-filled party.

Hangin' with Mikaela of Seattle's Math 'n' Stuff.

The exhibit floor is similar to Toyfest, a place to check out new product, write orders, and make deals.

Pending Heroclix items.

 ZOMBIES!!! (Also, post-apocalyptic Chuck E Brown)

Early mock-up. Coming soonish?

The Overlord with TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman and game designer Kevin Wilson.

GAME. NIGHT. (DUN DUN DUN!!!) Game Night at GTS is the stuff of legends. 4+ hours of approximately 65 tables, each with one or more games to try. The ultimate beer & pizza game party.

Also White Russian night.

Evil Hat's "Dresden Files" co-op game.

"It's not Jaws!"

Star Trek Panic looks amazing.

Star Wars Rebellion is already on our shelves.

The Overlord's favorite game of the night.

The next day, it was back to the exhibit floor for more previews, promos and meetin' up!

Fancy leather dice bags are on the way!

Smirk & Dagger's new "social collusion" games.





A quick reunion with Geek & Sundry's Ivan Van Norman.


Above all else, though, GTS can be a place to test relationships. ;-P


All too soon, it was time to head back home. But we'll be back next year, with more to show off, and plenty to bring back home!



It’s a little late but not forgotten. Time for a Good, Bad, Ugly review of this year’s GAMA Trade Show 2016.
This was my first time at GAMA, I have been to plenty of other seminars and conventions but I still didn’t really know what to expect at this one.

Good: Firstly I had a great time meeting lots of people, game company representatives, designers and other stores. I saw that there is really a strong sense of store community which was really nice to be a part of. I know here in the bay there is a lot communication between stores since we are all so close together, but seeing that it’s common practice everywhere was really cool . The panels that I sat in on were all interesting and informative. I learned a lot about which areas I should be focusing on for making our events even better. Additionally I really liked how easy it was to get around, staying in the same hotel made it very convenient to leave any extra items picked up that day in the room. When I was initially planning which panels I wanted to go to I was concerned about the timing of them starting one after another and needing to run to the next room thinking they would be much further away, but having all the panels right in the same hall made getting to each really easy!
Bad: Still on the topic of panels I thought some of the panels should have been longer and others shorter. There was a panel I went to on running demos in a store and how to make your store as welcoming as possible which was really fun and helped me gain more confidence in my own ability to demo but I felt it went way too fast. Similarly I was a little disappointed in Wizards of the Coast’s panels, which was all about interviewing stores about what they do to stand out, I would have liked to have had them talk more about their recent changes to D&D OP and Magic’s event software.  In the exhibit hall I would have liked for game companies to have had more games available to look at and play. A lot of the games represented felt more like judging it from the box art alone or waiting to try and get a table at the game night in the evening.
Ugly: Being from the Bay Area I am not a fan of dry weather and excessive smoking, which is exactly what Vegas has to offer. So although I loved the scale of the event and that the hotel had a nice layout. I wished the hotel itself wasn’t in Vegas…
That being said, it was a great experience and chance to see another side of the board game industry. I definitely hope to have a chance to return next year (and take more pictures…). Also look for our upcoming article on our top favorite games from GAMA Trade Show 2016!