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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is just what any gamer needs for an introduction to tactical strategy games. On the strategy side, you’ll build your base from the ground up … or down rather, since it’s subterranean, and watch the panic levels rise across the globe, as you respond to various governments’ pleas for help. When the aliens attack, you deploy your soldiers into a turn-based tactical squad combat environment, where you must meticulously plan each move, sniping aliens and avoiding ambushes. XCOM is a huge amount of fun crammed into bite-sized chunks of play, assuming you can actually put it down.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
You should probably make sure whoever you’re buying this for doesn’t already have it, as it broke Amazon’s pre-order record, but this is a sure bet for anybody that likes shooters, zombies, or both. The campaign may leave a bit to be desired, but the expanded Zombies mode easily makes up for it with Tranzit, where you ride through town on a fortified bus, taking out zombies by the score. Of course, there is also multiplayer to keep in mind for those PVP-oriented gamers out there, which also serves as the focal point of the experience. But for me, it’s all about the Zombies.
Magic: the Gathering – Return to Ravnica
Easily the most exciting set release in recent memory, Return to Ravnica brings the multi-colored and hybrid spells en masse. In addition, “shocklands” have made a triumphant return in this set, which should help lower the barrier of entry for larger formats, like Modern, by making these staple lands more readily accessible. If your friend or loved one plays Magic at all, some Return to Ravnica boosters will certainly make for a lovely stocking stuffer.
Half the fun of these little guys is trying to get them back into the cube shape they come in. 216 miniature magnetic spheres in each package allow you to design and create all kinds of neat structures in 2D or 3D. They’re not for the young, however, and you should never, ever leave them where a child or pet can find them. They’ve also been discontinued, so it may well be the last chance you ever get to obtain the world’s greatest desk toy.
Red Dwarf X
My earliest memories of Red Dwarf involve staying up until midnight and faithfully taping the reruns broadcast on late-night PBS. The show’s ruthlessly clever wordplay had me captivated from the start, and the genuinely flawed characters’ attempts to make sense of their uncertain fate were thoroughly relatable. Never in a million years did I expect to hear that more than a decade later the series had returned in full force, especially after that whole Back to Earth fiasco. What’s more, the show is good again, getting back to everything we love about watching a ragtag band of misfits wander lost through space and time.
The Hole of Tank Girl
Most people know Tank Girl for its quirky but loveable 90s film incarnation, following the story’s female protagonist through a rampage of violent shenanigans and cementing Lori Petty’s place as a punk rocking feminist icon. What you might not know is that the film is based on a prolific comic series, now available for the first time in a complete hardcover collection including background material and previously unpublished parts of the story. The series is beautifully drawn and its fun, goofy, and often sexy storyline reminds us just how hard women can rock.
Boba Fett’s Last Stand Dress
Being a chic geek is no easy task, requiring a great deal of consideration of both subject and form. Fortunately, the folks at Black Milk Clothing seem to get both, making it the perfect place to pick up that pair of Beetlejuice Leggings you’ve been coveting. Say goodbye to the little black dress and say hello to its TARDIS blue counterpart. Gone are the days of spending hours bent over that rusty old sewing machine! Although a bit on the costly side, the quality of these pieces is astounding, making it well worth the asking price. Not only will you be incredibly sexy, you’ll be incredibly you.
The Avengers Blu-Ray/DVD
The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon, is by far one of the best films to hit theaters this year, and a definite must-have movie for any comic book fan or aspiring superhero. Nick Fury of SHIELD works to bring together a team of popular Marvel superheroes like Iron Man, Captain America, The Black Widow and The Hulk to save the Earth from the treacherous Loki and his alien army. It’s chock full of action, drama, and comedy, and the two disc DVD/Blu-Ray combo comes with tons of extra behind-the-scenes material about The Avengers‘ creation – the blooper reel is almost worth the price on its own!
Sentinels of the Multiverse: Rook City / Infernal Relics
Sentinels of the Multiverse is a super-hero themed, cooperative card game that I recommended last year that lets you and up to 4 of your friends create your own version of the Avengers to do battle against a wide variety of dastardly evil doers. This past year, Sentinels creators Greater Than Games released two brand new expansions, titled Rook City and Infernal Relics, which introduce several new heroes and a whole new host of super villans! Take on an immortal crime lord as a kung-fu master/automechanic, or wield dark magic as supernatural investigator while battling against a drug-fueled serial killer. And if you don’t happen to own the original Sentinels of the Multiverse, you’re in luck! Greater Than Games also released the Enhanced Edition of the core game, featuring updated art and card stock for all the original characters plus new gameplay tokens and a larger, sturdier box to help carry all of the various hero, environment and villain decks.
Dear Esther Soundtrack
Dear Esther was one of the most interesting and unique games I’ve played this year, and its hauntingly beautiful soundtrack is no different. Composed by sound artist Jessica Curry, the Dear Esther soundtrack stands apart from other game soundtracks with its somber yet powerful and moving piano and violin pieces that are just as moving and immersive as the game itself. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoyed the experimental indie title or for those who like emotionally-driven music.
Since its creation just a couple of years ago Minecraft has quickly made its way into the pantheon of gaming, and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate Christmas than playing it. Now, I know that at least 8 million people out there play Minecraft,and those 8 million people would likely consider this to be the best gift given since gifts were invented by Santa J. Claus in 1825. There may be some people in the world that aren’t exactly what you would call fans of Minecraft and the fine people at FigurePrints have taken that into account, offering models of your World of Warcraft character or Xbox Live Avatar as well.
I am a huge Bond nerd, and I know that some of you are also in the same boat. If that’s the case, this would be a perfect holiday present or just a great addition to your life. Whenever a new Bond movie comes out, there’s a vast deluge of James Bond paraphernalia that follows. This just happens to be the holy grail of Bond stuff, and it doesn’t matter who your favorite Bond is because they’re all here! Even George Lazenby, to satisfy even the most obscure Bond fan on your Christmas list. Heck it’s also on Blu-Ray if that tickles your fancy.
If you’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey then you know who HAL 9000 is. Some would say that he’s a villain but some, myself included, would consider him the real hero of the film. Now you can hear that ever so reassuring voice in your own home. Although not cheap, I can promise that this is worth every penny, just for the ability to speak to HAL and have HAL actually speak back. It’s a great gift for those of us with the not so active social life.