The Duo Thomas & Friends Steam Team Station is an app and coordinating accessory that works with the iPad. The toy in the box is a colorful version of Thomas the Tank Engine's roundhouse, or Tidmouth Sheds, that holds the iPad. The set also includes six two-sided engine cards that interact with the app when placed in the slot on the left side of the unit. To play, download the free app from the Apple App Store. Open the app and you'll find yourself at the game screen with two apps that you can play right away. From the settings menu, select if you want to play the games with one player or multiple players, and you can also select one of two difficulty levels.
The first game is Steam Engine Relay. Players are directed to place the engine cards 10 giant steps away from the unit, and then are asked to retrieve the engine cards and place them into the slot. The game tells kids the order and asks for different cards at different times. Play continues until all the engines are found.
In the second game, Sodor Spot-It, turn the other side of the cards face up, and you're asked to find the items on the cards and place them in the slot.
The third game, Seek and Find Adventure, is a version of the Steam Engine Relay, except kids are encouraged to move the cards around the room and to do other actions, such as spinning, jumping, and skipping as they find the engine cards and return them to Tidmouth Sheds. This game is only available as an in-app purchase for $1.99.
When play is done, the engine cards fit inside the unit, which folds up for easy storage.
For kids who love Thomas and in homes where there is already an iPad, this may be a good choice. The brief animations between each round of play are engaging, and for real Thomas fans, that will be a lot of fun.
Duo Thomas & Friends Steam Team Station is for ages 3 and up. Co-play with a parent or caregiver will enhance and reinforce the games' teaching potential.
We did have a few issues with this toy. First, the games are somewhat limited as games themselves. In the multi-player versions, for example, the play just alternates between players. And in the relay, for example, it can't keep track of which player took more or less time to find the engines. The whole point of having a multiplayer game is to see who wins. In the second game, when asked to find an object by color, a 3-year-old may find that somewhat confusing because some of the colors are really similar and the images are small, particularly if you're not in a well-lighted room. There's also a bit of a learning curve for placing the cards, and small hands may have a little difficulty getting them to fit correctly in the slot—at least at first.
Three AA batteries are required and included.
Steam Team Station is a big app that took us about 15 minutes to download on a reasonably fast connection, so be patient.
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