Ever since the action figure category took a nosedive in 2000 – sales dropped 26% that year – industry players have been looking for the magic formula to reinvigorate the once-mighty sector. At least two toycos are hoping to coax tween boys back to the action figure fold with the addition of role-play gaming apps. Riding the success of collectible card games (CCGs) like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bellevue, Washington-based WizKids has pioneered a new angle that combines the collectibility and strategy of a CCG with action figure play value. ‘Kids still enjoy action figures as they get older, but their minds are expanding beyond the purely imaginary, and they’re starting to play games with more complex rules,’ says company founder and CEO Jordan Weisman.
Last year, WizKids introduced HeroClix, a miniature role-playing game based on Marvel and DC comic book characters that generated sales of 1.3 million units in its first month at retail. WizKids is hoping to fan that momentum with two new games this year. The first offering is Shadowrun: Duels, a role-playing game set in a futuristic world run by mega-corporations and populated by creatures, cyborgs and humans. The game features 5.5-inch, fully-articulated action figures that come with a variety of weapons, spells, medical kits and rations – all of which are interchangeable with other characters. The figures (US$15) will hit shelves this month, bundled with dice, rules and other necessary gaming accoutrements.
Skewing a bit younger is Creepy Freaks, which will roll out in September. This game consists of 56 one- to two-inch figures, including: Frosty the Snotman, with a special Chunky Sneeze attack; the hairball-spitting Spitty Kat; and Headley, who has a sling-shotting skull that splatters brains and eyeballs all over his tabletop victims. The object of the game is to win Freak Out contests by rolling the highest number on a dice, thereby scaring off your opponent. The game is played on a chess-like board, and each figure has a dial on its base that keeps track of lost points. Characters that lose too many points are tossed out of the game. Starter sets (US$12.99) will contain a Kid Freak Leader figure, three Creepy Freak figures and everything needed to play, including a DVD cartoon explaining the world of the Creepy Freaks and the rules of the game. Booster packs (US$4.99) include two figures and stickers.
At the heart of Japanese toyco Bandai’s latest grab for the tween boy game market is Jagun Fighters, a game line that centers around small, mystical-looking cube figures called stone fighters that have a symbol on two of their six sides. Each of the 50 stone fighters has a different symbol with a different value, and its own character and history.
The basic level of play involves casting three stone fighters and two special die called spell casters – how they land determines who will attack. In battle, who-ever casts the highest-valued symbol with their stone fighters wins. In the game’s more advanced mode, three- and six-inch action figures – which have a spinning eye in their chests – come into play if one of the spell casters turns up a special eye symbol. The spinning eye and the spell casters can both alter the outcome of the battle.
Last month, Bandai launched a website with game info and a detailed back story. The fighters themselves will follow in a limited release later this month, and they should be in wide distribution by September. Starter packs with five stone fighters, a playmat and a trading card retail for US$9.99, and booster sets of three fighters are US$2.99. The three-inch figures (US$4.99) are packaged with a bonus stone fighter, and the 6.5-inch figures retail separately for US$9.99.