Unplugged: A gaming gift guide for non-gamers

November 30, 2012

As you might have noticed, we here at Snackbar Games have been running a Holiday Gift Guide to let you know which of this year’s titles are worth picking up on each platform. Which is fine, but what if the people to whom you want to give gifts aren’t gamers? Despite the massive gaming advances of various mobile devices and more general-appeal nature of the Wii and Kinect, there are probably still quite a few people on your list who couldn’t tell a PS3 from a 3DS. If you still want to give the gift of gaming, here are some unplugged suggestions to inspire you.

Holiday Cards

Many excellent card games can be picked up for about $10 or less, making them ideal for informal Secret Santas, stocking stuffers, or other budget-friendly presents.

If you have relatives that enjoy traditional trick-taking games like Hearts, try mixing things up a little with Chronicle. The varying nature of each round’s goals combine with the special powers of each type of card to put a new twist on familiar mechanics. It has a bit of a learning curve, but the unique experience is worth the effort.

For a more general audience, No Thanks! is always a good time. With simple rules, fast play, and surprising strategic decisions, No Thanks! is a game that can quickly dominate the family table. As a bonus, with no reading and little math it makes a decent choice for families with preteen children.

Is there a Solitaire enthusiast on your list? See if they can navigate the labyrinth of Onirim. Finding the right sequence of chambers and doors while avoiding nightmares can be challenging, and the three expansions included in the box will keep it that way. And if they feel like they need some assistance, you can lend a hand in the two-player variant.

Party Time

Holiday get-togethers are really what define this time of year, but a get-together without some sort of gaming is just an exercise in tedious conversation… if not outright arguments. Bring these good-natured party games to the table and help keep the family away from each others’ throats for another year.

Groups that enjoy wordplay should explore the options provided by the Apples to Apples family of games. Each round one person is the referee and draws a Description card, and each other player plays a Thing card from their hand that they feel fits that Description. The referee then shuffles the submitted cards and judges which one, in their opinion, best fits and awards the player who submitted it the Description card. The goal is to win a set number of Descriptions. If the group in question is more M-rated in nature, then you might want to opt for Cards Against Humanity for the same basic gameplay but more outrageous sessions.

If the gathering skews towards the artistic, give Identik (also known as Portrayal and a couple of other names) a try. Each round one player (“art director”) has a limited amount of time to describe a cartoony sketch to the other players, who have to try to recreate that sketch as best as they can. But Identik isn’t a game of artistic skill as much as it is a game about following (and giving!) the description. Each sketch has ten specific elements that are hidden from everyone until it is time to score, at which point the art director reveals them one at a time. Anyone who included a given element scores a point for both themselves and the art director.

Somewhere in between the literary and the illustrative lies one of my all-time favorite party games, and a game I will recommend to anyone interested until everyone I know owns it: Dixit. Specifically Dixit: Odyssey for the purposes of this list, as it can support up to a dozen players (or teams), but any entry in the Dixit family is a solid choice that will keep groups entertained for a long time.

For the Fanboys

If you’re reading this site, you probably have some number of friends with traditionally “geeky” interests. Here are just a few games that capitalize on those interests for great gaming.

For traditional comic book fans, or maybe just people who got really hooked on all of the Avengers hype this summer, there is perhaps no better gaming gift than Sentinels of the Universe: Enhanced Edition. Perfectly capturing the feel of an epic struggle between superheroes and villains, this Kickstarter sensation is heading into its third expansion and continues to be amazing. I’ve already gushed about Sentinels several times this year, and I can assure you that it’s going to happen at least once more before 2012 is out, so for now I’ll just move on.

Know some Star Wars fans who are anxious and/or excited about the sale of LucasFilms to Disney? Let them create their own dogfights between Rebel and Imperial fleets with the X-Wing Miniatures game. Detailed pre-painted ship models, streamlined gameplay, and the ability to customize your fleets with pilots and equipment drawn from the extensive Star Wars mythos all make this game an authentic Star Wars experience like few others.

Role-players, and specifically D&D fans, should enjoy a chance to rub elbows with the Lords of Waterdeep. Collecting warriors, rogues, clerics, and wizards in order to complete various quests has all the flavor of D&D with the mechanics of a traditional worker-placement Eurogame. The combination works seamlessly, and the love that Wizards of the Coast has for both types of game shows.

Speaking of Wizards of the Coast, if you have a fan of Magic: the Gathering or other collectible card games on your list, consider giving them the gift of Android: Netrunner. Designed by MTG designer Richard Garfield, this update to his original asynchronous offering remains one of the most brilliant and elegant games I’ve played in some time. The Living Card Game model will even let them experience the game to the fullest without anyone needing to spend a ton of cash tracking down chase singles.

Finally, in what is perhaps one the most perfect overlaps between this site’s general audience and the readers of this column, there’s Penny Arcade: the Card Game — Gamers vs. Evil. Similar to many deck-building games like Dominion or Ascension (either of which would make fine gifts in their own right), this offering plumbs the archives of the iconic webcomic to provide both entertaining gameplay and hilarious fanservice.