Last Minute Holiday 2020 Gamer Gift Guide

It’s one week to the big day, but maybe you haven’t found the right thing for the gamer (or the would-be gamer) in your life. We’re here with some suggestions that can still get the job done – everything on this list is currently available online, at a ‘normal’ (or better) price, with free shipping that will (they say) arrive before Christmas (as of our publication time of the morning of December 18, 2020).

For the D&D player: One of the challenges of buying for the gamer in your life is knowing what they do or don’t have. If you’re in tune enough with the gamer to know exactly what they need and what they already bought, then you probably don’t need this guide. But if you don’t know, there’s a risk of getting them something they already picked up. For example, the most recent D&D book – Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything – is great and something I would recommend for any D&D. But a lot of of D&D players will already have it (also, it’s out of stock on Amazon). Luckily, D&D has a lot of accessories, and that’s the sort of thing that most players don’t just go around buying the moment it’s released.

    • Niftiest Official Dice: No matter how many dice we need, we always seem to need more. That’s why D&D basically publishes a new set of dice for every campaign. The dice (and other stuff) product I’d recommend is Laeral Silverhand’s Explorer’s Kit. It has two things going for it over other, similar offerings. First, it isn’t campaign-specific – the non-dice parts of the kit are of general interest to fans of the Forgotten Realms, rather than being specifically aimed at DM’s for a particular campaign. Second, it has slightly oversized D20s, which look and roll great. Currently selling for $15, it’s priced and sized to make a good stocking stuffer.

  • Most Handy Official DM Aid: OK, really this would be the Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated, but if your gamer has already run games of D&D, they probably already have that. But another aid that will help any DM is the Monster Cards Challenge 0-5. Monster Cards speed up play at the table, and the most games of D&D spend most of their time at lower levels. Like the Explorer’s Kit, the current $17 price point and small size let the cards be used as a stocking stuffer.
  • Art: Or, more specifically, Art & Arcana: A Visual History. This lavish, loving presentation of the early art and history of Dungeons & Dragons runs a massive 448 pages. Right now there’s even a coupon on offer, reducing the price to about $23, which is an enormous value for one of the most nostalgia-inducing D&D products ever made.
  • For The Little Kids: D&D players with smaller children may be enamored by two D&D picture books, The ABCs of D&D and The 123s of D&D.

For The Tabletop RPG Player (non-D&D Edition): Dungeons & Dragons isn’t the only tabletop roleplaying game. Here are some other games worth trying out:

  • Powered by the Apocalypse: Powered by the Apocalypse is probably the most popular freely available, freely modifiable RPG system, with hundreds of games out there. A rules-light system, PbtA can be adjusted to suit a variety of themes. One of the best PbtA games is Masks: A New Generation (feel free to insert your own 2020 joke about masks and the apocalypse). Masks: A New Generation is a game about younger super heroes (think the Teen Titans or Young Justice) grappling with being superheroes, growing up, and how those two things relate. With a cool theme and a great fit of mechanics to theme, it’s my go-to family-friendly PbtA game. Another PbtA option is Monster of the Week, which features paranormal investigators.
  • Pathfinder: Essentially the same theme as Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder exists in its own well-developed world. The game has a much more extensive and precise set of rules than D&D, which can appeal to those wanting an experience that has a more old-school vibe while still using modern mechanics.
  • Vampire: The Masquerde: Another giant of tabletop roleplaying history, Vampire: The Masquerade is (like D&D) on its fifth edition. Vampire puts the characters in less-than-noble role of predators on humanity, exploring concepts of personal horror and the slow loss of what’s left of one’s humanity.

Magic: The Gathering: Similar to Dungeons & Dragons, Magic players range from those who have only a handful of cards to players who buy a bunch of every new release. I’ve seen some gift guides that recommend buying booster boxes for Magic players, but that’s an awful lot of money if you don’t know exactly what they want, and if you know that, you don’t need this guide. Plus, booster boxes aren’t really the best value in Magic products (singles can be a lot better, but those are really hard to buy as gifts). So for Magic players – if you think they don’t have it – I would instead recommend smaller boutique products.

  • Commander Decks: 2020 saw the release of three different sets of Commander decks (fixed 100-card decks with no more than 1 copy of any card). The big release was Commander 2020, which featured five different decks, which have the best array of cards included. A full set of these might well be to expensive, however – $125 may be a good deal in the Magic world, but the Magic world isn’t cheap. A more affordable alternative is the Zendikar Rising Commander Decks – there are two(Sneak Attack and Land’s Wrath), and they run about $20 each (I’m linking the two decks separately here because if you order the two-pack it will not arrive in time). Finally, there are the two decks from Commander Legends. Despite the name, they are the generally less appealing than the Zendikar option, at about the same price point. However, they are the  most recent thing, increasing the chances that your giftee doesn’t already have them. And that’s important here, because these are entirely fixed products.
  • Zendikar Rising Bundle: Gift Edition: The best non-fixed boutique product is, somewhat surprisingly, the ‘official’ Magic gift product. There are some fixed elements, but it’s mostly random, containing ten normal booster packs and an extra-fancy collector’s edition pack. Plus, some of the fixed elements (the box, art sleeve, and oversized die) are only available in the bundle, and the bundle didn’t release at the same time the set did, making it less likely that your Magic gamer picked one up even if they tend to buy everything that comes out.

Board and Card Games for the Experienced Gamer: Tabletop board gamers may play a variety of games, but they may still buy a lot, so when shopping for an experienced gamer, it’s best to focus on releases from the last couple of years. Note that this is just about likelihood of the gamer already having the game – experienced gamers still run the taste gamut from long brain-burning games to lighter palette cleansers.

  • The Crew – The Quest for Planet Nine: A stocking-stuffer size and price point ($15) ad to the attraction of this cooperative trick-taking game. With variations of known mechanics and a short play time, The Crew is good for getting some games in around other holiday activities.
  • Big Thematic Games: Fantasy Flight Games has a lot of cool licensed games, and in 2019 that included both of our Game of the Year runners-up – Star Wars: Outer Rim and The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth (our winning game, Wingspan, is not going to arrive before Christmas). In Outer Rim, the players are scoundrels and bounty hunters at the fringes of the Star Wars galaxy, engaged in smuggling, bounty hunting, destroying other ships for fun and profit, and even legitimate cargo hauling. In Journey in Middle-Earth, players work together in an epic campaign to discover and defeat the forces of darkness. An app (which is required to play) allows the game to keep information hidden from the players until the time is right, and also directs enemy movement.
  • Homebrewers: I’m not a beer drinker, but there are a couple of really good games out there about making beer, and Homebrewers is one of them. Players microbrew in their garages, trying to use their limited funds and their personal style to make the best beers – at least, according to those competition judges. The game ends with an Oktoberfest competition, where the best regards beers will take home prizes and the victory points that go with them.

Board and Card Games for the Newer Gamer: What if your gift recipient is just getting into tabletop board and card games. Alas, my go-to option here (Ticket to Ride) is not going to arrive in time, but there are other options:

  • Sushi Go Party: Sushi Go is a card-drafting game. Each player gets a hand of cards (depicting types of sushi, of course). Players take one card from the hand, then pass it on to the next player. When the hands are depleted, players will have an array of cards in from of them, which are worth points depending on the combinations assembled. It’s easy to learn and plays very quickly, but is still entertaining for ‘serious’ gamers. Plus, the ‘party’ version plays up to 8 players, making sure that everyone can participate even with larger families.
  • Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin: There are several series of escape room style tabletop experiences, and Exit is my favorite, with lots of clever puzzles and innovative use of components. The Abandoned Cabin is the one I would recommend trying out first, because it’s really good in general while still having a lower difficulty level for your first try. Also, it’s another $15 stocking stuffer.
  • Splendor: A smooth, straightforward engine-building game, Splendor involves collecting gems (poker chips) to then acquire gem mines (cards), with mine cards reducing the cost of acquiring even more mines, until you’re able to accumulate ones worth real points.
  • Viticulture Essential Edition: Just because someone is a newer gamer doesn’t mean they don’t want a game with some heft to it. Viticulture is one of the best worker placement games out there, and the essential edition is the game in its best form. Players manage a vineyard, building structures, planting fields, and selling wine to have the best reputation by the end of the game.

Of course, there are digital gift options as well, but maybe we’ll save that for a Christmas Eve post. Happy shopping!

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