The holidays are approaching at warp speed. Are your phasers set to stun the ones you love — with joy?
Each week through December, we’ll give you a few ideas for the nerd in your life who seems to have everything. Think of it like an advent calendar of geekiness. Only less chocolatey and not as punctual.
Note: The prices below are manufacturer’s suggested retail prices. Most of the items in this list are available for substantially less with just a little digging on the consumer’s part. It’s part of the fun!
Ender’s Game is the story of a brilliant boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, who is sent to Battle School with a bunch of other young geniuses to save the human race from aliens who have already attacked Earth and are certain to be coming back for more. Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece is beloved by adults and children alike. I received it as a Christmas present from my older brother, and I’ve since given that copy away as a gift and bought several others for friends. And my current copy is on loan to a colleague’s daughter. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to — no, need to — share it almost as soon as you’ve put it down.
In true epic sci-fi fashion, there is a host of sequels: the newly released Ender in Exile, plus Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow of the Giant, Shadow Puppets, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide and Children of the Mind.
Star Wars — The Clone Wars Visual Guide ($20)
This companion to the movie and animated series from DK Publishing uses striking images and quick-hit facts to guide fans of all ages through the familiar yet new universe of the CGI series. It teases episodes that haven’t aired yet without giving too many secrets away. The best action and scenery from the movie and the new series leap off the sweeping layout of its colorful coffee-table-book pages. For a full-color hardcover book, it’s a great value at $19.99. Read more about it, including an interview with author Jason Fry.
The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange ($25)
British journalist Mark Barrowcliffe chronicles his youth as one of the first boys to fall under the spell of Dungeons & Dragons back when it was new and mysterious.
Often brutal and always honest, the book is more about the players than the game, a study in how relationships can change and die — and how it’s not always a bad thing.
Young Mark’s friends will be familiar to anyone who’s been part of any clique of shared obsessions. In his case, as he puts it, it was either D&D or sniffing glue. No virgins were sacrificed — just many, many hours which could have been spent pursuing the opposite sex.
The handsome hardcover will not look out of place on a D&D collector’s shelf of rulebooks — it’s wrapped in a dust jacket that mimics the character record sheets of old, filled in with esoteric details, sketches and statistics and yellowed perfectly as if the sheet had been soaked in tea and dried before it was filled out to make it look like parchment. Not that I know anyone who’s ever done that…
Game Night is a novel by British humorist Jonny Nexus about six gods whose roleplaying game is played out in a second narrative depicting the lives of mere mortals under their power. And for $10, it’s a steal.
From the publisher: “The gods don’t play dice with the universe… unless it’s game night.
A twelve-thousand-year quest is about to be completed, prophecies will be fulfilled, ancient riddles answered, legendary evils bested, and the nature of the universe revealed. All that’s needed is a band of mighty heroes to do the completing.
Unfortunately for the locals, some of the gods have taken a personal interest in the chronicle of these heroes’ adventures. Now they are each guiding one of the characters towards the conclusion of their epic journey. That is, when they’re not squabbling, backstabbing each other, blowing things up by accident, refusing to play by the rules, and turning the AllFather’s creation into a mess of petty arguments, fantasy cliché, gratuitous combat and unnecessary dice rolls.
If you thought your games group couldn’t be any worse, Game Night shows just how bad things can get when a bunch of unruly deities decide they want to play. And may the heavens help us all.”
Confessions of a Part Time Sorceress: A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game ($13)
A few months back I saw this interesting title at the library and gave it a thumb-through; I was hooked. Shelly Mazzanoble writes the true first-person tale of an RPG industry insider (the author works in marketing for Wizards of the Coast) who at first knew nothing about RPGs.
“A smart, humorous examination of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game from a female gamer’s point of view. The book delves into the myths and realities of gamer stereotypes. It explains how to build a character for a D&D game, how to shop for gear, how to play, and how to find the perfect gaming group, all the while exploring the things that make the D&D game a rewarding and recurring social experience for both men and women.”
The film adaptation of Watchmen is easily the most anticipated event of early 2009 after the inauguration. That is, provided an 11th-hour legal challenge from Fox over the motion picture rights doesn’t derail the whole thing.
Wanting to see what all the fuss is about, I recently read Watchmen for the first time and I wasn’t disappointed. The groundbreaking late ’80s graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons belongs on any self-respecting geek’s bookshelf. A new softcover copy will set you back $20, while the hardcover “Absolute Edition” retails for $75.
For the first time ever, Card’s novel has been adapted into another medium: comics. Marvel Comics started publishing the limited series Ender’s Game: Battle School in October. A free preview is available online through November. A follow-up, Ender’s Shadow: Battle School starts in December.
A movie has been in the words for years but has yet to get off the ground, but a Battle School video game is progressing. Speaking of games …
I’ve read a lot of negative reviews of this third direct-to-DVD Futurama movie. But I enjoyed it immensely. Despite the play on words, there is really no relation to Ender’s Game. In typical Planet Express style, Bender’s Game presents a scenario that’s not so alien — a widespread fuel crisis — and puts a distinctive Matt Groening spin on it. We also see Bender exploring his newfound imagination via Dungeons & Dragons, with fantasy references that go far beyond that venerable roleplaying game to lampoon even the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars movies.
The entire Star Wars saga has been repackaged in separate boxed sets containing the prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) and the classics (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). For $50 each, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been released on DVD in the last few years, but it’s the first time the prequels have had a box of their own, and it’s the new slim packaging. You know how collectors can be — they have to have it all. (Sorry, no Blu-ray yet. Next Christmas, Uncle George?)
Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series ($100)
British comedian Catherine Tate joins the cast of Doctor Who after appearing ever so briefly in the 2006 Christmas special “The Runaway Bride.” Her character, Donna Noble, is crass and common as they come, but she quickly teaches the Doctor (David Tennant) that he needs someone by his side as he travels through space and time in his TARDIS — even if only to hold him back when he goes too far. This season sees a visit to Pompeii, a memorable meeting with Agatha Christie, the return of the misunderstood, tentacle-faced Ood from season two and a star-studded season finale that changes everything. Oh, and the Doctor gives birth!
Monty Python Fluxx ($19.99)
And now for something completely different. This product — a Monty Python-flavored version of Fluxx, the long-running card game where every card changes the rules — is jam-packed with references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail and a healthy smattering of material from the British comedy troupe’s other movies and the television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It’s all there, from the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to the Spanish Inquisition. The game, for 2-6 players ages 8 and older, takes 10-40 minutes to play and goes for $20.
The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons has streamlined the venerable tabletop roleplaying game’s labyrinthine rules, making it easier for former players who have “grown up” and now have jobs and families to get their old buddies together once in a while to slay a dragon or two.
The three core rulebooks — the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide — are also available separately, and the gift set presents no greater value — aside from the handsome slipcase, that is. Also, new for the holidays are deluxe editions of each book, sold separately for $75 apiece, with foil covers and recently updated corrections to the new rules.
D&D Insider (prices vary)
Along with the new edition comes D&D Insider, a subscription-based online service that includes a rules database, character builder and visualizer and the digital evolution of the old Dragon and Dungeon magazines. The cost is $4.95 per month at a 12-month rate, $6.65 per month for three months and $7.95 on a month-by-month basis.
Incidentally, the character builder just went public in an open beta. For free, users can download the tool and create, print and advance characters up to Level 3.
Go old-school (prices vary)
Progress be damned! Now is the time to buy up old D&D books on the cheap. Many gamers or former gamers have jettisoned much or all of their collection over the years. Give the gift of nostalgia and confront them with a piece of their geeky past! Bookmans (locations in Mesa, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson) and Half Price Books (Mesa and Paradise Valley) always have an impressive selection of old D&D books — especially now with the change in editions — and they carry dozens of other RPGs as well.
Now, this system sucks … down batteries like they’re going out of style. So why not get with the program and kick them to the curb? There are many choices on the market when it comes to rechargeable battery packs, like Nyko’s Wii Charge Station ($30), which juices up 2 Wii Remotes at a time, and CTA’s 6 in 1 Wii Fit Kit ($55) for the Wii Balance Board, which includes not only a battery pack but also a Yoga mat and other accessories for the exercise peripheral that came packed with Wii Fit. Finally, a simple battery charger with an ample supply of rechargeable AAs is always a good idea.
As for games, new releases include Wii Music, which lets players rock out with 50 instruments and record and edit their own music videos. It also incorporates the Wii Balance Board for use in percussion, for example. Animal Crossing: City Folk brings back the popular shared world that has already been on Nintendo’s GameCube and DS systems. ($50 each)
If you’re looking to get a Wii system for someone, they aren’t in as short supply as they have been in the recent past. But you’ll still pay $250 for the hardware and the Wii Sports game (the only game some owners say they need.
Hold off on the DS carrying cases and screen protectors — they’re getting old. But here’s a recently released accessory that is both practical and cool: Nintendo DS Lite Nerf Armor. For $15 you get a soft Nerf shell that keeps your DS safe even when dropped on a hard surface … repeatedly. Trust me, this is great for homes with young children who are drawn to their siblings’ (and parents’) favorite gaming gadget. And this protective peripheral is available in many different colors.
Do you know someone who is obsessed with puzzles and mysteries? Then why not give them a whole village of companions? Professor Layton and the Curious Village ($30) is essentially a collection of minigames and puzzles — brain teasers, if you will, like you’d find in Brain Age or a dozen of its imitators — but they are linked by an overarching mystery right out of an Agatha Christie plot. And, like so many of Christie’s whodunits, Curious Village is nearly impossible to put down.
Guitar Hero: On Tour captures the fun of the console games and lets you rock out with the “Guitar Grip”, a four-fret controller that fits into the Game Boy Advance slot on the DS. ($50) A sequel, Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades, is also available.
Buyer beware! If you’re thinking of giving a Nintendo DS Lite system itself as a gift ($130 without a game), you should know that popular handheld is about to be rendered obsolete. Don’t expect to see the Nintendo DSi in the U.S. until sometime before fall of 2009 — but it’s coming. It includes a camera and memory card slot, but drops the Game Boy Advance slot that has endeared the DS to so many aging gamers with vast Game Boy collections.
Wii and Nintendo DS owners are largely casual gamers. Xbox 360 fans are a more hardcore segment of the population, and accessories and cutesy games like Wii Music and Animal Crossing: City Folk just won’t cut it.
One of the most stunning and visually impressive games of the year, Gears of War 2 is a tactical third-person shooter that is a must-own title. The original game is still one of the Xbox 360’s best and now Epic Games has fixed any problems it might have had and added a bunch of exciting extras like new weapons, “meat shield” and “dueling chainsaw” features, five-vs.-five online multiplayer and a more elaborate single-player campaign with lots of gameplay variety. ($60, rated M)
If your gamer already has it and wants more action, then he will want to check out Call of Duty: World at War, a first-person shooter that focuses on the waning days of World War II in the Pacific and Eastern European theaters. This fifth entry in the series is more mature and open-ended than its predecessors, and introduces a co-op mode. ($60, rated M)
Another option, Left 4 Dead is a straight-up mutant-grinding FPS in the survival horror genre. It boasts some killer AI. ($60, rated M) If they’re not really into shooters, find out whether they have Mirror’s Edge — it’s an innovative and immersive gaming experience in which you play a foot messenger in a world where the government has clamped down on all communication. Weapons are a part of the game, but the real focus is on stealth and strategy. ($60, rated T)
The real must-have PS3 title this season is LittleBigPlanet. This exclusive title offers players the ability to build their own environments and make their own video games, then share their creations on the PlayStation Network. The game’s incredible physics engine, intuitive content-creation tools and seemingly endless number of ways to color, decorate and build environments makes it a sure-fire hit. ($60, rated E)
If your gamer wants more action, then he will want to check out Call of Duty: World at War, a first-person shooter that focuses on the waning days of World War II in the Pacific and Eastern European theaters. This fifth entry in the series is more mature and open-ended than its predecessors, and introduces a co-op mode. ($60, rated M)
If they’re not really into shooters, find out whether they have Mirror’s Edge — it’s an innovative and immersive gaming experience in which you play a foot messenger in a world where the government has clamped down on all communication. Weapons are a part of the game, but the real focus is on stealth and strategy. ($60, rated T)
Shaun White Snowboarding lets you explore mountains in Alaska, Park City, Europe and Japan while performing different tricks on the ground, in the air and on rails. There’s no unlocking — all tricks and actions are available right from the get-go. ($40, rated E10+)
But in my personal opinion? Do them a favor and buy them a Nintendo DS ($130) and Guitar Hero: On Tour ($50), which includes a specialized peripheral.
PC AND MAC
Two of the biggest computer games out there right now are the innovative life-creation game Spore ($50) from Sims creator Will Wright and the World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King ($40). But if your gamer is hardcore, they already have these.
But wait! There’s hope! Your WoW addict might be drooling over the limited edition Alliance (pictured) and Horde beer steins — they just might not know how to put the desire into words. (Blame it on all that powergaming.)
Why not give them something they can use to toast their favorite character, out of game? It doesn’t hurt that they’re really, really cool to look at. For $80, they’d better be …
Portal ($9.99) is an innovative title that a casual PC gamer might have missed. It blends platforming and first-person-shooting with one of the best-paced and most emotionally compelling storylines in recent video game history. In this single player game, you’ll solve puzzles and challenges by opening portals to maneuver objects and yourself through space. Introduced last year in “The Orange Box” collection of games for Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Portal is now available separately and is an inexpensive choice.