The Best Gifts For the Young Hobby Gamer [2011 Geek Gift Guide]

A good chunk of December is behind us and you’re still contemplating gift guides? Of course, there’s nothing that screams holiday spirit like procrastination, but of all the people who will get gifts this season, its the kids who deserve the most thought.

Now that time is of the essence, consider getting them a game. Trust me, nobody ever got pepper sprayed while jockeying for a copy of Trivial Pursuit. Save yourself the hassle and head straight for the game aisle.

Consumers should proceed carefully, though: the game aisles in most stores are rife with horrible games. The mere fact that you are reading this post means it is now your duty to buy the cool game this season. So get out there and use my advise and heed my words of caution, but most of all, put a smile on some kid’s face this year. Here are the games that can help you do just that.

Card Games:Redakai Trading Card Game
Ages 6+, $5-30

Spin Master is positioning Redakai to be the next big white-hot kid’s property with its combination of Cartoon Network show, action figure line, and of course, the above-pictured card game. The only risk here is that you’ll create a mini-hipster who was into Redakai before it was cool, but regardless, you’re still the cool adult.

We first looked at Redakai earlier this year at Toy Fair 2011, and the recommendation still stands. While older kids may look past the flashy visuals and the game’s collectible nature, both of these factors play right into Redakai’s 6-and-up target audience.

Runners-up: Pokémon Black & White, Magic: The Gathering Innistrad

Board Games: Splish Splash
Ages 4+, $15

With the youngest recommended age range on this list, Splish Splash is built for the pre-school crowd and knocks it out of the park. Players each get a wheel of colors, and must fill all spaces on it with matching water drop pieces. How those pieces are earned is the fun part.

Players get to take the pebble (large black piece in the picture above) and throw it down into the pool of small pieces. Expect a splash, with players earning all of the pieces that are ejected from pool. In a nutshell, Splish Splash is Angry Birds for four-year-olds, only they’ll wind up enjoying it more than the Angry Birds board game.

LEGO Heroica
Ages 8+, $30

You might not immediately think board games when you hear LEGO, but trust me, it’s a concept that’s got legs. Heroica in particular is a game system built around LEGO sets, where players will construct and then fight their way through brick dungeons. This is going to be the Hero Quest of a new generation.

LEGO is going all-in on board games, though, so Heroica is just the tip of the iceberg. For a more left-brained child, I highly recommend Creationary, which is a take on Pictionary-esque guessing games only with (you guessed it) a pool of LEGO pieces instead of a drawing pad.

Role-playing Games: Faery’s Tale

Ages 6+, $10

It can be hard to find a roleplaying game that’s not all about slashing your way through a dungeon or surviving a dystopian sci-fi future. These go-to themes are not the most palatable for small children, nor do their dense gameplay rules lend themselves to be enjoyed by those with short attention spans. Kids need a universal setting and a rules set that’s easy to digest. Enter Faery’s Tale.

Soar into adventure as a pixie, brownie, sprite, or pooka in Faery’s Tale Deluxe, the storytelling game of imagination and wonder for ages 6 & up. A perfect introduction to adventure games for young and old, Faery’s Tale Deluxe contains everything you need to create and play your own faery heroes, plus three ready-to-run adventures. The realm of Brightwood awaits!

Available as a $10 PDF from the Green Ronin store, the strategy here is not to toss some printed-out document under the tree with a bow on it. What you want to do is give the experience. Put your GM skills to the test by rounding up a table full of tykes and craft a story they’ll never forget.

Runners-up: Happy Birthday, Robot (young children); Mouse Guard (teens)

On-the-Go Game:Simon Flash/Yahtzee Flash
Ages 8+, $30 each

Nothing makes me groan more than tired efforts at game design where old classics are trotted out with some pasted-on movie theme that is expected to buoy the product. Simon Flash and Yahtzee Flash could not be further from that stereotype. Following in the footsteps of last year’s Scrabble Flash, these two little games are just downright cool.

The entire Flash series uses near field communication (NFC) enabled Sifteo cubes to open up new possibilities for reinventing these classic games. Aside from their extreme portability (each comes with a carrying case), the appeal here is that Hasbro’s designers went all out with each Flash product. Both Simon and Yahtzee have four unique modes to play, which goes along way with keeping these classic games fresh.

Runners-up: Jungle Speed, Bananagrams Zip-It