Hard at Play

2016 FamilyFun Toys of the Year

Introducing the 2016 Toys of the Year! These 20 kid-approved picks are squeal-inducing, happy-dance-launching hits that left our testers begging for more. Talk about holiday must-haves!

By Liz Schnabolk
Photos by Aaron Dyer Additional reporting by Hannah Lavine

1. NHL Hockey Arena

A pint-size hockey rink comes to life thanks to built-in levers that let players shoot (and score!) on the goalie. Ages 5 and up, $60; playmobil.com

2. Survive the Quake Engineering Kit

They can build it, but will it sustain the earthquake test? Kids construct a house and then crank up the quake simulator to see how much force it can withstand. Totally addictive! Ages 4 to 11, $30; lakeshorelearning.com

3. Hyper Toss

Quick thinking and fast feet are all you need for this crazy game of catch that has four modes of play. “It's challenging and really fun,” said an 8-year-old tester. Ages 8 and up, $20; Toys “R” Us

4. Air Marker Sprayer

Say it with spray art: Crayola has upgraded its airbrush offerings to this fully automated machine that works with your regular markers but has awesome results! Don't forget to try it with your fabric markers too. Ages 8 and up, $30; crayola.com

5. Turnado

Got a need for speed? NASCAR trainees twist, drift, and spin on this sleek go-kart that reaches 12 miles per hour! Ages 8 and up, $300; toysrus.com

6. Nexo Knights Axl's Tower Carrier

Kids can build evil Burnzie, shown here, and then get to work on the included battle car so they can fight him off. Extended play available with a new app and TV show for the same characters! Ages 8 and up, $70; shop.lego.com

7. Mattel Minecraft RC Ghast

This Minecraft creature floats into the real world with a drone-like flyer that can hover and bounce off the ground. Ages 8 and up, $80; amazon.com

8. Tyco Terra Climber

You can run, but you can't hide from this remote-control creature. Measuring two feet long, it can actually climb stairs and rock piles! Ages 8 and up, $100; amazon.com

9. Invention Mansion

Help friends Ruby and Goldie deck out their new digs with trapdoors, ladders, pop-out furniture, self-flipping pancake machines, and more. Ages 6 and up, $60; goldieblox.com

10. Thomas & Friends Sky-High Bridge Jump

Thomas makes his way through the eight-foot-long, three-foot-high course and then leaps over a two-foot section of “missing” track, sticking his landing every single time. Every. Single. Time! Ages 3 and up, $100; fisher-price.com

11. Shrinky Dinks 3D Butterfly Lights

Yup, the '80s called and Shrinky Dinks are back in a big way. This set lets kids color in 12 butterflies and shrink them down in the oven. Attach them to the included string of LED lights for a pretty feature in any little crafter's room. Ages 8 and up, $25; amazon.com

12. Mega Tracks Corkscrew Chaos

This train's got moves! It's all thanks to flexible tracks that can bend into corkscrews, drops, barrel rolls, and more. Then watch the car fly at top speeds. Ages 8 and up, $100; lionel.com

13. Janod Fantastic Castle Puzzle Playset

There are so many ways to play with this truly beautiful toy! Open the castle doors and there are knights that ride their horses, archers fighting off dragons, and even a prince defending his territory. Also awesome: Double-sided puzzle pieces let kids create a moat or yard around the dwelling. Plus, all the pieces pack away inside the castle! Ages 4 to 8, $61; amazon.com

14. Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set

This little rodent is looking for his cheese! To help him find it, kids have to build out a green maze and use basic coding skills (and the buttons on his back) to tell him which direction to roll next. Ages 5 and up, $60; learningresources.com

15. Limbo Hop

How low can you go? Kids duck, bend, and squeal as the limbo stick swirls round and round toward the floor. Don't forget to keep score up top: Each player gets a point when he avoids the sweeper. Ages 6 and up, $40; digginactive.com

16. Ravensburger Smartscope

Curious kids can get close-up with tiny toys or outdoor finds thanks to this easy-to-use portable microscope. Just switch a tablet or smartphone to camera mode, choose a light setting, and they'll see that there's so much more to the world than what meets the naked eye. Ages 8 and up, $45; amazon.com

17. SkyPaper Paper Plane Launcher

Let 'em rip! Paper planes fly up to 100 feet high with this launcher. “My son asked on the spot if I would get it for him,” said one toy-tester's mom. Ages 8 and up, $20; toysrus.com

18. WellieWishers

These boots are made for…fun! Each 14.5-inch doll in this new line for younger American Girl fans is decked out in galoshes. That way, she's always ready for outdoor adventures with her friends! Check out the books about their explorations too. (The parents we talked to also loved that they come in several different ethnicities.) Ages 5 to 7, $60; americangirl.com

19. Brackitz Inventor Set

Building ideas get higher, stronger, and cooler thanks to this unique snap-together construction set. The most innovative part: rotating pieces that allow inventions to move. Ages 3 and up, 44-piece set, $30; brackitz.com

20. Our Generation Sweet Stop Ice Cream Truck

Snow cones! Soft-serve swirls! Sundaes! Your kids—and their 18-inch dolls—can dish up sugary treats galore with this candy-colored food truck. More than 100 adorable accessories included! “It's good to play with friends,” said one little fan. Ages 3 and up, $110; Target