When Santa packs his sleigh on Christmas Eve, you can bet the load will include plenty of board games this year. But don't expect any one game to hog all the room in his pack.
Game sales are very strong this year, despite the failure of manufacturers to come up with a blockbuster hit, said Frank Reyser, editor of Playthings magazine."We don't see an outstanding super hit, like a Pictionary, this year, " he said. "It's more of a spread among a lot of different games, including those for adults as well as for children.
"The whole adult segment of the market has come on really strong, and that's been going on for the past few years, going back to Trivial Pursuit."
Industry figures indicate that children's, adult and family games generated sales of $282 million last year, virtually unchanged from 1988 but way ahead of totals from a decade ago.
"Our sales have been great so far this year," said Jeanie Perryman, owner of Playfair, an upscale toy and game store in Birmingham, Ala. "We've seen a lot of interest in some new games, as well as some of the more familiar ones."
Game sales slumped through much of the '70s, but improved dramatically when Trivial Pursuit was introduced in the mid-'80s. The interest generated by Trivial Pursuit and other games for adults helped revitalize the industry, Reysen said.
Among the games Reysen thinks show promise this season are Hugamugger, Anybody's Guess, Read My Lips and a "Vintage Years" edition of Trivial Pursuit. Games based on comic book crimefighter "Dick Tracy" and "The Simpsons," the hit Fox series, also should fare well, he said.
"The Simpsons Mystery of Life Game looks like a winner this year. If that doesn't catch on this year while `The Simpsons' is a really big hit, then it'll never make it, but I think it will do very well."
Abalone, a game that actually came out more than a year ago, also is enjoying strong sales this year, he said.
Other games attracting interest include Sniglets, based on the popular segment from Home Box Office's "Not Necessarily the News" series; Claim to Fame, in which players pantomime and draw pictures to help teammates identify celebrities; Balderdash, a bluffing game involving the meanings of obscure words; and Mississippi Marbles, a dice game in which players compete to accumulate points.
Interest in mystery party games, such as the popular "How to Host a Murder" series, continues to grow, she said. The creators of that game recently introduced a similar series, "How to Host a Scavenger Hunt," and Perryman thinks it will duplicate the success of its predecessor.
A large chunk of the games market still belongs to a handful of classics that perform well year after year, Reysen said.
"The classics - Monopoly, Clue, The Game of Life and things like that - are where a lot of the action is. A company is really lucky to get a standard like that. Once you have a hit, people play it over and over for years, sometimes generations."
Reysen thinks Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary are on their way to becoming bona fide classics.
"They won't reach the level of sales they hit during their peak years, but they'll continue to do well year after year."
The makers of Pictionary have introduced a party edition of the game, though, which should trigger even more sales, Perryman said.
"That's really going to be great because it makes it a lot easier to play the game with a large group of people."