Maker Faire New York 2018 shows the play's the thing

This year's version of the annual event for makers shows that imaginative play can come from 15-foot tall robots or humans using no gadgets at all.
Topic: Innovation
1 of 12 Ross Rubin/ZDNet

Games at Maker Faire New York 2018

World Maker Faire New York is smaller and less corporate-dominated than its Bay Area cousin. (That said, the Google-sponsored soldering classes are a perennial crowd favorite.) It's also a magnet for kids, with an area of the event dedicated just to products and projects catering to them. Beyond that, though, there were a focus on imaginative play that extended throughout the show, available in several games available for purchase, and some that just embody the show's spirit of offbeat experimentation.

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Game of Fire

One could not miss the Game of Fire exhibit, a kid-friendly exercise with a look heavily inspired by a decidedly kid-unfriendly TV show. When participants hit three separate targets at the same time, the elements of fire come together to cause the flames at the top of the castle structure to intensify. It's a small tribute to Westeros on the eastern coast, but no dragons made cameos.

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Aimed at kids, Doodlematic was one of the few games at Maker Faire New York that dove into the world of (iOS-only) apps, but it takes an unusual route there. Aspiring game designers use paper to draw out the elements of their game, using different colors to specify elements such as the hero, enemies and prizes. After the drawing is captured using the phone or tablet's camera, the app turns it into a playable game. Turning physical assets into animated digital ones seems like the reverse of augmented reality, but kids still enjoy the level of personalization.

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Electric Scrapeboard

Electronic Scrapeboard was one of the few video games shown at Maker Faire New York, where software generally stayed behind the scenes of a Raspberry Pi. Of course, though, the game is unique even though the mechanics are clearly inspired by the one-time arcade phenomenon Dance Dance Revolution. As in that title, on-screen images change to show you which squares your feet should cover. The difference here is that those feet also have to navigate via a skateboard-like controller that must be lifted and landed via strategic jumps. The game is in the project stage for now.

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Take a classic board game, mix in some artificial intelligence and robotics, and add one terrible acronym. That's the recipe for MARVIN, the Mono-Purpose Automated Robot Versed In CoNnect Four. Standing 15 feet and in development for a year, the Arduino-based project can take on opponents at a grand scale. However, don't expect it to tell humans that Connect Four is a solved game in which the player going first is always capable of forcing a win.

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DIY Robocars

One of the most fun attractions at the show are go-cart races in which drivers navigate a range of silly-themed rides around laps. Adjacent to that exhibit, this year's show featured DIY robot cars that take the huge phenomenon of self-driving cars and zap it through the shrink ray. The cars are then sent on their way to stay on track using only their robot wits and the occasional human hand when they went off course.

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Maze Racers

A lot of the focus at Maker Faire is about man versus machine, but there's something to be said for a good old two-player game. Maze Racers from FoxMind Games fits the bill. Each player uses the magnetic sticks to design a maze. When time is up, they switch boards and the race begins to run a marble through the other player's twisted path. The game is available for $24 on many leading retailers and maintains a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.

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Pinbox 3000

Who says Nintendo has the monopoly on cardboard toys? The Pinbox 3000 is a kit that allows makers to build their own miniature, playable pinball machines. The Gamechanger series is available with three themes -- Glorkian Warrior, Swamp Quest, and Monster Sweets -- and have been designed by artists such as one that has done background work for Adventure Time The kits maintain a five-star rating on Amazon, but that's based on only 11 reviews. At $50 and up, that's a lot of quarters to satisfy a pinball wizard.

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If you can't decide whether you want to go bowling or play Skee-Ball, why not do both at once? That's the idea behind Skee-Bowl, a supersized Skee-Ball-like fixture that uses bowling balls instead of the smaller, handheld ones. The resulting hybrid ups the ante on the strength needed to hit the center of the board and takes up less room than a full bowling lane. That said, it's likely not the home activity of choice for apartment dwellers.

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Midnight Riders

Not all things at Maker Faire rely on a Raspberry Pi or Arduino, even if it has its own entry in GitHub. Midnight Riders, a pen-and-paper role-playing diversion from Ghost City Games that claims a vibe somewhere between Sons of Anarchy and Monster Mash. Those interested in supporting its two-dimensional development can pay a suggested price of $3 at Drivethru RPG.

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Micro Theater Game Room

What's more low-tech than a paper-based game? One that uses no equipment at all. That was the idea behind the Adventure Society Micro Theater Game Room. While its gateways were styled out of two life-sized arcade cabinets, any pretext of electronics vanished as a human storyteller narrated one of two available adventures, detailing scenarios and decision opportunities dungeon-master style.

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Balloon Warriors

Games at Maker Faire New York often include a physical movement component; that's the case for the cosplay-friendly Balloon Warriors. Intended as a complement to swordplay gaming, Balloon Warriors turns the kind of long thin balloons often used by balloon animal makers into a safe-as-they-come light saber. However, when it makes contact with a sensor worn on the chest of opponents, their "blades" pop. It all makes for a satisfying victory and heartbreaking defeat, although it seems pretty easy to foil (get it?) your opponent by turning sideways.

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