Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas List Ideas For the Chronically Uncreative

I haven't done a Christmas gift guide in a while (in fact, I think the last one I did was for the church @ hickory hollow in the "e-thing" - my silly name for our e-mail newsletter). But I've actually finished almost all of my Christmas shopping this year (woo hoo) and that frees up some time to share some gift ideas with those of you who are headed towards picking up one of those "special gifts" that department stores load up on their endcaps at this time of year. (You know what I'm talking about - tie & suspender sets, bath product baskets, and the like - generic gifts that say, loud & clear, "I know I had to get you something but my shopping exhaustion overtook my desire to be creative & personal so I just picked this thing up because the store was kind enough to wrap it so I could JUST BE DONE with the whole thing." And, he says sarcastically, isn't that what Christmas is all about?)

So, without further ado, here's some suggestions that you can pick up via some very nice web stores that mean you can both find something nifty & shop unshaven & unbathed.

Games

Of course, we must start with the really important stuff, right?
  • 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.

You can find all of these games at Game Surplus or Boards & Bits.

Music

One for the kiddies (that won't make the adults crazy), one for the adults (that my 2 year old likes)...
  • 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.)
Books

Well, you've got to find something to do while your kids are watching "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Claymation Puppet" for the umpteenth time, right?!
  • 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.)

5 comments:

ironcates said...

Starcraft is an interesting recommendation. Love the game but I don't think any video gamers in my family is ready for it.

My recommendation would be to pick up Vegas Showdown and Nexus Ops for around 30 bucks shipped from eToys.com (AMAZING deal).

Nexus Ops is slightly more accessible and WAY cheaper.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Steve is correct... Nexus Ops is cheaper & probably more accessible. However, I recommended Starcraft because brand recognition can often get a game to the table that otherwise might end up stuffed in a closet.

BTW, the way to introduce Starcraft is to take folks who know the Starcraft system & tell 'em "it's kind of like Risk, only cooler." And, most importantly, it's probably easiest to teach to one or two people, not to a full table.

matt said...

Dekker sounds interesting. I've been reading Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books off and on. Not books you'd find in a Christian bookstore, but fun hard boiled detective pulp, where the detective is a wizard. I just bookmooched Dekker's Three and added Black to my wish list. (Because I need more books in the pile on my bedside table.)

Dave Vander Ark Family said...

If anyone goes to Amazon (or a brick and mortar bookstore) to get "My Father's Dragon," make sure you pick up the next two books of the trilogy while you're at it. The second book is called "Elmer and the Dragon," and the third book is "The Dragons of Blueland."

I first read the series when I was in third grade, I tracked down copies for my kids when we home schooled, and I've read them for myself as recently as this past summer. Fantastic stuff!

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

We didn't enjoy the 2nd two Dragon books as much as the first - but they are very good.

Nice tip, Dave.