When KidsPost asked toy expert Stephanie Oppenheim what the trends are for 2019, some of her answers didn't surprise us. Coding kits and toys tied to children's movies seemed obvious. But a few of her answers were unexpected. Unicorns, for example, are found in several toy categories this year, including dolls and arts and crafts.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was that puzzles and games are having one of their strongest showings ever.

"Parents and kids are both looking for ways to connect in ways that do not involve screens," said Oppenheim, whose independent group reviews thousands of toys each year. "There's something very comforting about working on a puzzle – looking for strategies and completing a task together. Having some go-to games for your family is also a great way of creating memories."

From her own youth, Oppenheim remembers battling with family and friends over Monopoly and Risk boards. "Learning how to play a game – being a good winner and loser – all of those important lessons come from playing with your family," she said.

Coding kits, board games top 2019 toys list

THE TRIO: Hermione, Harry and Ron from Harry Potter are now action figures. Jeremy Lloyd/Mattel

So make sure to check out the fun games and puzzles among her gold-medal winners for 2019. You can read more about them and more toys at kidspost.com and Oppenheim's toyportfo lio.com. (Prices listed are those suggested by the manufacturer.)

Dolls

• Harry Potter dolls – Mattel, $19.99. Ages 6 to 10.

You will need a sorting hat to decide which of these cuties you want first. Most of the Hogwarts A-team is available: Harry, Hermione, Ron, Draco (boo!), Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall ... with wands, robes, hats and Quidditch-ready broomsticks. Each doll has 11 movable "joints" for action-packed fun.

• American Girl Blaire – American Girl, $115. Ages 8 and older.

This green-eyed, red-haired beauty is the latest in American Girl's superstar lineup. Blaire is a country girl who enjoys helping out at her family's farm and restaurant. She has a lot of great ideas, a bothersome allergy and, like many preteens, a BFF she doesn't always get along with.

Games

• Invasion of the Cow Snatchers – ThinkFun, $29.99. Ages 6 and older.

Be honest: Who hasn't wanted to pilot their own UFO and fly around snatching cows from fields? This magnetic game develops logic and problem-solving skills with 40 challenge cards (rated easy to super hard) and 20 genius-level cards. So get ready to "Beam 'em up, Scotty."

• Dog-Gonnit! Mudpuppy, $17.99. Ages 8 and older.

Players race around the board building two dog-care businesses. Get unlucky and your pup may cost you for grooming or other services. Get lucky and other players may land on your businesses and owe you money. Collect six tokens and you win at Doggy Monopoly.

• Pencil Nose. Fat Brain, $24.95. Ages 8 and older.

Your nose may run, but can it draw? In this team game, one player wears dorky glasses with an erasable marker attached and tries to draw objects that her teammates can guess. Can your snout draw a trout? Find out with this fun family entertainment.

Arts and crafts

• Spin and Spiral Art Station – Crayola, $19.99. Ages 6 and older.

Fans of spin art and spiral art will love that they're combined in this new Crayola product. The kit has three spin gears, six markers, three bottles of ink and 15 paper discs (when they run out, use paper plates). Do each activity separately or combine them for double the fun.

Robotics

• Artie 3000 – Educational Insights, $69.99. Four AA batteries required (not included). Ages 7 and older.

Artie draws what you tell him to, using forward, back and sideways commands given from a smartphone, tablet or computer. There are pre-coded designs for early learners, while older users will be doing their own coding in no time. Artie has a built-in WiFi server, so no internet connection is needed.

Build and play

• Mars Space Station and Mars Research Vehicle – Playmobil, $79.99 (station), $44.99 (vehicle). Batteries included. Ages 6 and older.

Coding kits, board games top 2019 toys list

Q-BA: Watch marbles zoom through the enormous Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 Colossal by MindWare. MindWare

Two astronauts and a robot call the station – far left, with its command center, sleeping area and fitness room – home. To explore Mars, they hop into their research rover, above. Both station and rover have lights and sound. Warning: An adult builder will need considerable time to assemble the station before it's ready for kid occupancy.

• Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 Colossal Stunt Set – MindWare, $199.95. Batteries included. Ages 6 and older.

If bigger is better, this year's Q-Ba-Maze marble run is the best yet, with 270 pieces. Attach the cubes, rails and tubes in various combinations to see where and how fast the marbles will race. Younger kids will need adult help to build. Also, the set has 40 steel marbles, so keep it away from any wee ones. For a smaller starter kit, check out last year's Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 Rails Extreme ($99.95).

• Andrea's Talent Show – Lego, $49.99. Ages 7 and older.

Andrea and her friend Chloe are ready for showtime. This 492-piece set includes two mini-dolls, three stage sets, speakers, backstage areas and lots of props, including drums and a rabbit for Andrea's magic act. An adult may need to play the lead role in building this, but after that the kids take center stage.

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