- Probably the best all-around gift game this year (and last year, since it was out last Christmas) is the party game Wits & Wagers. You can get points for getting the trivia questions right - but it's more important to bet on the right answer. The system for doing this is clean, easy to explain, and sucks people in like one of those Dyson vaccumn cleaners that the British guy keeps yammering about while I'm trying to watch my TV shows. I've seen this work well with families of non-gamers & with groups of people who are just as game-obsessed as I am - this is a resilient & enjoyable game system that would be welcome just about anywhere.
- For the computer gamer with gaming tendencies on your gift list, you can splurge & pick them up a copy of Starcraft: The Board Game. It's a battle game set in the popular Starcraft universe, complete with tech development & research, but it plays quickly & cleanly (once you get past your first trip through the rules.) Unlike many multiplayer combat games, this one does not encourage "turtling" (standing still & building up a massive force, waiting for other players to go at it). It also includes a bunch of cool plastic minis. (While I haven't experienced this myself, according to other gamers it scales well from 2-6 players, which is always nice.)
- Finally, my personal favorite from this last year is the gorgeous archaeology game, Thebes. This is somewhere between a family game & a gamer game, but the mechanics of the game are so perfectly married with the theme that it's very easy to teach & learn. (Braeden can play it - and he's 6 years old!) There's lots of luck involved - which is no surprise, since you're digging up treasures at the turn of the century - but there are a number of interesting tactical decisions, particularly when playing with 4 players. Finally, the game is stunning: the artwork & production are top-notch.
- The one for the kids is Andrew Peterson's Slugs, Bugs & Lullabies... and let's get one thing out of the way right now. This is NOT a "go to sleep" album - the lullabies (haunting & beautiful) don't kick in until cut 14 on this CD. Up to that point, this album is packed with songs about boredom, bears who don't wear underwear, beans & farting (without using the word "fart"), and a play-by-play description of a rousing game of "get the guy with the ball." Braeden's favorite song is "Tractor, Tractor", which takes those insipid repeating songs you hear on most children's records (do NOT get me started on how much I hate Discovery Toys Sounds Like Fun which I have renamed Sounds Like A Frontal Lobotomy) and turns it into a playful argument between the two performers (Andrew & his buddy, Randall Goodgame.) I can't recommend this album highly enough.
- My other favorite album that I discovered this year (and when are you going to give it back, Isaac?!) is the self-titled debut of Decemberadio. A bunch of young guys who obviously had older siblings and/or parents who listened to King's X, the Eagles & a passel of other quality bands have joined forces to make some of the best "classic rock" with spiritual sensibilities... that isn't classic rock. (It can't be - these guys are young pups. Sigh... I'm getting old.)
- If you can pry them away from the TV, the best kid's book we read this year (thanks to our homeschool curriculum, Sonlight), was written 60 years ago. My Father's Dragon is a wonderful & whimsical story of rescue, wit & derring-do that had all of us (kids & adults alike) longing to read the next chapter to find out what happened. It reminded me in feel (not content) of one of my long-time favorite books, The Twenty-One Balloons, which I'd also recommend to you without reservations.
- And, for the adults in the crowd, if you have any enjoyment of "science fantasy" (that weird blend of the two genres), you need to read Ted Dekker's The Circle. There's actually two ways to enjoy this epic trilogy: the three books were recently published in a one-book compilation... and for those who like their comic books, it's also been released in graphic novel format.
Well, good luck on that shopping... remember, I like board games & Legos, just like when I was a kid. (Grin.)