Holiday Buyers Guide
Holiday Buyer's Guide 2012

The Escapist Staff | 28 Nov 2012 20:00
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It's the most wonderful time of the year ... unless you're trying to get the perfect gift for your favorite geek and are fresh out of ideas. The holidays are stressful enough without forcing your way through the crowds (or scouring the interwebs) in search of just the right thingamabob for your boyfriend/best friend/cousin/professor/mom/secret crush/sidekick/self. No worries - we've done the hard part for you, tracking down a sackful of nifty nerdery sure to suit at least some of your holiday shopping needs.

So read on, and get your wish lists ready!

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Zombies, Run!
Exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, and running is a particularly effective way to cram a lot of healthy cardio into a relatively short period of time. There's just one small drawback: It can be really boring, especially if you're forced to use a treadmill. To the rescue comes the ingenious Zombies, Run! app, which casts you in the role of a plucky survivor during the zombiepocalypse. It's kind of like radio theater as your comrades give you directions, send you on missions, and describe the scenery around you. (Hint: It usually involves a bunch of zombies that want to eat your face.) It's brilliant motivation to push yourself that little bit further and has a great sense of humor, too. Don't forget Rule #1: Cardio.

TARDIS Mini Set
Let's be honest: It wasn't really a question of if I would have something Doctor Who-related on my list, just a question of what. There are plenty of Whovian geegaws and trinkets out there, but what makes this one special - for me, anyway - is that you get to build the TARDIS yourself. It's not overly complicated and will likely only take you a few minutes, but there's something immensely satisfying about using your own hands to recreate such an iconic and familiar structure. This little mini TARDIS is perfect for every Doctor Who fan that's ever dreamed of running away with the Doctor - which is all of them. Feel free to call it sexy, but only when you're alone.

Persona 4: The Golden
Ok, yes, you're going to need a PlayStation Vita for this one, and yes, Persona 4 was originally released as a PS2 game back in 2008. You probably didn't play it then, and even if you did, this version is so vastly improved that it's worth picking up again. It still has a surprisingly deep story, with characters that go far beyond the typical tropes of bland hero, angelic love interest and jerky best pal, and some of the most entertainingly-designed monsters to ever grace a dungeon. But it's more than just a good dungeon-crawler. Persona 4 raises the kinds of questions of sexuality, identity, responsibility, and familial expectations that people really ask themselves, and the characters' confrontation of (literal) inner demons is an ingenious backdrop for monster-slaying action. An added emphasis on social interaction makes Persona 4: The Golden insanely addictive, as mundane tasks like going to class, taking care of family, and hanging out with friends are just as enjoyable as leveling up your combat skills.

PlayStation 3
I don't normally make recommendations about gaming hardware, because so many personal factors - like budget, game preference, and living space - ultimately go into the decision. This year, however, I'm going to urge you to pick up a PS3 if you don't already have one, because of the unique gaming experiences it would allow you to have. Journey, Tokyo Jungle, Unfinished Swan and Papo & Yo are wondrous, strange, inventive, creative, innovative - and only playable on a PS3. I can't guarantee you'll wind up loving all of those games, but I can guarantee they're not like anything else you've played this year. And, hey, the PS3's a Blu-ray player, too.

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Sundial Ring
How many times have been walking around and your cell phone dies on you? What time is it? Am I missing the Next Generation rerun on SyFy? If only I could tell time by the sun! Well, now you can with this nifty portable sundial. All you have to do is move the ring to the month of the year, and vertically suspend the ring with the hole facing the sun. A tiny speck of sunlight will illuminate on the inner surface what time it is. Neat, right? It's like you're harnessing the power of the sun to further your own devices. And if you give it to a loved one this holiday season, you'll be sure they have no excuse to miss your gaming session. Note: I don't know if the sundial ring corrects for daylight savings time. If not, you'll have to subtract/add an hour. I trust you'll be able to do so on your own.

Lords of Waterdeep
I have a soft spot for well-designed board games and Wizards of the Coast's entry into the "German" style is a great example of why. Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game in which you take turns placing your agents across the famous Forgotten Realms city to gain resources you need to complete quests. You can play dastardly intrigue cards to thwart your opponents, and construct buildings that others will use, netting you benefits in the process. There's a lot of replay value because every time you play feels different based on the objectives of what random Lord card you draw. The components are well-crafted, making the hefty $50 price tag well worth it. If you have an analog gamer on your list or just want to splurge on a board game for your group, Lords of Waterdeep is a great addition to anyone's library.

World's Greatest Screen
Playing tabletop roleplaying games involves a bit of duplicity. Every self-respecting gamemaster knows you sometimes have to roll your dice in secret, only cluing your players into the consequences if they happen to sneak past that guard or find that secret door. There's many products out there that block the player's view of your dice and notes, but none are as versatile as this screen from Hammerdog Games. The simple cardboard and vinyl construction lets you fold it up nicely to travel, but the best part of the design is the clear plastic sleeves on both sides. You can fill the outward-facing panels with maps or illustrations for the players, while keeping the inside for the dungeon and reference sheets you need to access during play. The World's Greatest Screen lives up its hyperbolic name, making a great gift for a serious old-school gamemaster, or for yourself if you know no one's going to buy it for you. Full disclosure: I don't actually own one of these screens yet for myself, but I've seen it in play both in home games and at many a convention. As soon as I get some scratch, I'm going to get me one this December. Unless one of you fine readers wants to send something my way. Hint, hint.

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Twilight Imperium
This game hits all the right notes for me: It's a grand strategy board game in space. Fans of Axis and Allies will recognize some of the basic mechanics, like how Dreadnoughts take two hits to destroy, but the comparisons end quickly after that. The board itself is set up both randomly and dynamically as players place tiles, so the rivalries start early as you block off someone's easy route to the capital with a wormhole. Each turn begins with players selecting their action for the round; seizing the Initiative lets you launch your planned surprise attack first, but grabbing the slower in turn Politics lets you pass new victory goals and shape how the game progresses. Often the real joy in Twilight Imperium is running up the technology tree for some crazy doomsday-esque technology to rain destruction down on your opponents' planets.

BattleTech 25th Anniversary Introductory Box Set
"Back in my day, mechs were built like walking tanks and didn't bounce around like that Gundam crap, also we hiked to school 40 miles in the snow." Ok, actually I rather like Japanese mecha too, but BattleTech will always have a special place in my hardcore and nostalgic heart. This introductory box is a great way to jump into the BattleTech tabletop game, whether you're an old fan getting back in or have been enjoying one of the latest Mechwarrior titles and wanted to see what they were all based on. Besides, you never know when a BattleMech might be in your next history lesson.

A Playset of Geist of Saint Traft, Thragtusk, Overgrown Tomb and Such
If you're ever ready to take the plunge from playing Magic the Gathering casually at the kitchen table to being competitive there's one word to consider over almost everything: consistency. Magic blends skill and luck, but players have some degree of control over the later during deck construction. Having four of a card, the maximum allowed except for basic lands, ensures a higher probability of drawing it. Rather than playing roulette with your deck of one-offs you can craft plans around likely future cards. Dual lands like Overgrown Tomb are also important when running multiple colors by giving you greater odds and flexibility in your land drops. And let's face it; it never hurts to cram a playset of the most powerful block defining cards into your deck.

Guild Wars 2
For me, Guild Wars 2 was the best MMO to come out this year. ArenaNet instilled their setting and game mechanics with a sense of adventure, teamwork and exploration that we haven't seen in other MMOs lately, which often feel like amusement parks where you queue up for the next ride instead of a living world. I especially appreciated their approach to groups: You don't need them. If I see another player in a fight for their life against a monster I can jump in and still get the rewards for defeating it. It might not be a complete reinvention, but Guild Wars 2 is peppered with plenty of little brilliant refinements.

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