The first four books have been read and reread, J. K. Rowling says she's taking her time with No. 5, and the movie hasn't been filmed yet, but don't worry -- an avalanche of Potter paraphernalia, from board games to Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, has arrived in time for the holidays. Of course, without having read the Potter books as many times as our kids have, how are we to judge which of these are worth the often hefty price tag? We assembled a panel of Potter cognoscenti -- ages 8, 8, 11, and 12 -- to render their assessments. Ratings are on a scale of 0 to 5 broomsticks.
Harry Potter Uno ($12.50). Basically the same as regular Uno, except that the cards have Harry Potter characters, creatures, and artifacts on them, and it comes in a treasure chest. The panel thought that the game's goal of 500 points was too high, and some felt it was more fun without the points. Rating: 3 brooms.
Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone: The Game ($26). The box includes six-plus games (the plus being a boardless memory game the panelists rated "very cool"). The board games range in complexity from roll-the-dice-and-move-your-piece to a chess set with Harry Potter characters for the pieces. The major complaint was that instructions, said 8-year-old Ben, were "hard to understand." "Some of the games were so stupid, they tried to make the directions confusing to cover it up," added 11-year-old Emily. Overall rating: 2 brooms.
Harry Potter: Mystery at Hogwarts Game ($20). The basic concept is "too much like Clue," but its execution is "true to the book," mused 8-year-old Nick. "It's a really good game," agreed 12-year-old Rebecca. Rating: 4 brooms.
Harry Potter Trivia Game ($24). A runaway hit: "The best of the Harry Potter board games," proclaimed Rebecca. The testers liked the flexibility of the concept, too. "You can quiz yourself with the trivia cards and not bother with the actual game," Emily pointed out. Rating: 5 brooms.
Harry Potter mug and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans ($12). Along with cherry, orange sherbet, and grape jelly are more exotic beans -- blueberry, raspberry, buttered popcorn, kiwi -- but no earwax or liver, as in the books. (Jelly Belly, the bean makers, promise a $4.99 mugless red pouch that will include sardine, black pepper, and grass, in time for the holidays.) Rating: 2 brooms.
Harry Potter calendars ($12.99 each). Both were rated "very cool" by the panel, which recognized the illustrations on the wall version as School of Harry Potter covers. "It's exciting to see what your birthday says," said Nick of the desk model (think like a wizard -- where would you go if you had an invisibility cloak? in his case). Rating: 5 brooms each.
Harry Potter: The Collector Stones (3 for $5). The panel unanimously declared this "the biggest ripoff." The plastic container conceals three plastic stones, so you can't see what you're getting, forcing the collector to keep buying duplicates in hopes of getting a complete set. Rating: 0 brooms.
Harry Potter clothing. The merchandise ranges from $16 baseball caps to $12 T-shirts to $38 sweatshirts, all emblazoned with the appropriate catchwords (Quidditch, Gryffindor, Harry Potter, a golden "H" crest for Hogwarts, and so on). The quality is good, but obviously you're paying a premium for the logos. Rating: 4 brooms.
All prices are from Warner Studio Store; select games and other Harry Potter merchandise are available at all major toy stores.