The Best Introductory Hobby Gaming Gifts - or, Rather, How to Convert Your Friends [2011 Geek Gift Guide]

Admit it, board games and pen-and-paper RPGs are niche hobbies, yet this slight obscurity causes the ranks of their fandom to be filled with passionate people. So what's a player to do when the larger geek community fails to recognize the analog side of gaming? The only option is to take matters into their own hands.

The board game evangelist is a common sight, turning friends and family members into card-carrying, dice-toting gaming geeks. No time is he more active than during the holiday season, where a well thought out gift can easily spread the love of hobby gaming. However, a dud can solidify a permanent distaste for the hobby, so follow me and I'll provide the perfect gift ideas for the future gaming converts in your life.

The Potential Roleplayer: Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game Box Set

The Mouse Guard RPG may be a simplified version of the Burning Wheel system, applied to a setting filled with small furry creatures, but don't call it a kid's game. Based on the comic series of the same name, the Mouse Guard RPG is a game that bucks the trend of most roleplaying games where success is typically measured in levels and loot.

Instead, Mouse Guard has meaningful character creation (where even the slightest background details directly tie into your character's stats) and you will be rewarded for playing your character according to a list of their beliefs and instincts.

This deluxe boxed set includes plenty of newbie-friendly tools, such as a rule book that coaches the player through running a game, and equipment and status cards that simplify the process of character management. This is the only game where I would feel comfortable telling a player who had absolutely zero roleplaying experience that they could run the game, making it the perfect gift for groups with no veteran guide.

Runners-up: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box, Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game: The Essential Starter (Red Box)

The Retired Card Gamer: Magic: The Gathering Commander Decks

Odds are that if you're even thinking of getting someone a card game gift, they have some long-abandoned love for the hobby. Is there anyone who didn't play Magic in the '90s? While the game is still going strong, many players don't go back because they have grown too intimidated by the game's ever-expanding card roster and evolving strategies.

Pre-constructed Commander decks are perfect for this crowd, as the package contains a read-to-play 100-card deck for this popular variant. The Commander rules are more encouraging of casual play, since no duplicate cards are allowed, multiplayer is strongly encouraged, and each player has one legendary creature (their commander) that they can cast on any turn.

Runner-up: War of Honor (Legend of the Five Rings)

The Potential Board Game Player: The "gateway game" trifecta of Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne. Pick one or more.

Seriously, you could pick any of these three. They've been tried and tested by the board gaming community and the verdict is that they make the best introductory offerings. If your gift recipient is ever going to enjoy the strategy side of board gaming, they will enjoy one of the above titles. A word to the wise though, don't jump at the chance to purchase expansion-laden bundles such as the Carcassonne Big Box. You're better off going with variety in this situation.

Runners-up: Pandemic, PitchCar, Bohnanza

The Video Gaming Convert: Yomi

This person already spends their time playing games, so the road is paved for you! Take a hint and go with a video game-inspired title such as Yomi, which draws heavy inspiration from the Street Fighter series. Designed by David Sirlin, the man responsible for balancing the combat in Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, Sirlin took deep knowledge of Street Fighter mechanics and injected it into his own Fantasy Strike universe.

The end result is tournament-ready card combat that takes all the mental skill of playing a video game fighter but strips out all of the knuckle-cracking dexterity. All you need is the 2-deck pack, but there are a total of 10 characters to choose from. If you really want to give the gift of gaming, spring for the $100 complete set and receive some extra goodies such as player mats, score beads, and an expanded rulebook w/ FAQ.

Runners-up: Puzzle Strike, Gears of War, Civilization

The Potential Miniatures Gamer: Warmachine 2-Player Battle Box

Warmachine has been nipping at the heels of decades-long industry leader Warhammer 40k for a few years now, and is finally poised to overtake the beast (it's already pass Warhammer Fantasy in popularity). Fans of this miniatures combat system have been itching for an easy way to introduce new players, and it wasn't until the Two-Player Battle Box launched in September that they had a way.

If your target is an older disenfranchised miniatures gamers, reassure them that Warmachine has lighter and faster gameplay than what most gamers are used to (there are typically less than 20 miniatures per side). They can also look forward to a tighter rules set and less expensive models than those British imports.

For the completely brand-new player, you may want to pick up some paints and brushes while you're at it too, as the crafting side of the hobby is really half of the appeal for most miniatures gamers. Just don't expect those first few models to come out looking like the pros'.

A look at some fully-painted Khador models, one of two armies included in the Battle Box

Runners-up: Battletech Introductory Boxed Set