All chores and no play make Jack a dull boy. Kids love games, and parents love games that are smart — or at least engage kids constructively for a spell. For more suggestions look for our list of gift guides on the right, accentuated by tasteful holiday art. Also check out Michael Harrison’s 10 Gifts for Under $10 list.
LEGO Star Wars Republic Gunship
This model is a beast. Over a thousand pieces and extremely dense and heavy (for a LEGO model!) this puppy took me several evenings to complete — plus, part-bags aren’t numbered so you have to sort elements yourself. Probably best for more sophisticated builders. Everyone loves Star Wars! Buy it from Amazon.
Star Wars RPG
Speaking of Star Wars: this roleplaying game, using the d20 system that’s the backbone of D&D, helps bring George Lucas’s milieu to life. Focusing on the core six films, the rules allow players to assume the roles of bounty hunters, Jedi, and other tough guys. Buy it from Amazon.
Milton-Bradley’s two-player addictive spin on the game of capture the flag. Play the classic version, or maybe a Pirates of the Caribbean version, or maybe a Transformers version. The pieces and names may be different, but the object is the same – scout out the strength of the opposing forces, find and diffuse bombs, see if the spy can capture the Marshal as you work to locate the other team’s flag before they capture yours. Recommended for ages 8 and older.
Monty Python Fluxx
At last! A Monty Python card game for geeks to enjoy. Monty Python Fluxx is a Pythoned version of the card game Fluxx. As in all other versions of Fluxx, you get to change the rules of the game as you go… much like Monty Python’s Flying Circus. You can force players to speak in silly accents, change the number three on cards to the number five, and bring out your dead (cards). Most cards make reference to the Holy Grail movie, with a few thrown in from Flying Circus. But any Python fan will find it enjoyable. Buy it from Amazon or from maker Looney Labs.
Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide
Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms campaign setting brought Dungeons & Dragons to a whole new level of storytelling. Learn about how this magnificent world has changed with the magical transformations coinciding with D&D’s newly minted 4th Edition. Read our review or Buy it from Amazon.
KenKen is a logic puzzle invented by Japanese math teacher Tetsuya Miyamoto as a fun way for kids to learn in his classroom. The goal of KenKen is to fill a certain sized grid and have only one number in each row, very much like Sudoku. However, for each box there’s a math equation to solve. Be warned that it’s very addictive! I’ve nearly finished all the books that they sent us. There are easy to hard three different levels of difficulty for all ages, and books just for kids. For a sample, check out the daily Kenken puzzle at the New York Times.
LEGO Batman Video Game
Many gamers consider this one of the titles of the year. A fun game that appeals to a broad range of fans. Help the masked duo (in minifig form) defeat the Joker and his legions of green-clad goons, while collecting LEGO bricks. I enjoyed it, and so did my nearly-13-year-old stepdaughter. Available in Wii, DS, PS3, PS2, PSP and 360. Read our review or buy it from Amazon.
LEGO Mindstorms NXT
The very best robot building set. Not only great for teaching kids about robotic principles, but it’s also a great inventors’ aid — everything from knitting machines to plotters and autopilots have been made with this set. Buy it from Amazon.
Apples to Apples Kids
Apples to Apples Kids is the award-winning party game the entire family can play. Each player has five red cards with names of people, places, or things. All players take turns being the judge who draws from another deck of green cards. Players select the card from their five that best match the card the judge holds. If the judge picks your card as the best match, you keep the judges card. The first player to have five green cards wins. The rules are easy and the game is never the same twice in a row. Recommended for ages 7 and older. Also available: the original Apples to Apples.
Magic the Gathering Duel Deck
Interested in Magic the Gathering but not sure how to begin? This handy pack contains everything you need to play: two 60-count decks of Magic cards as well as the game rules. Assume the role of either Jace or Chandra, two archmages packing awesome arsenals of spells. Buy it from Amazon.
Mad Scientist University
A party game where each player takes the role of a teacher’s assistant, trying to stump his or her class with absurdly unlikely assignments. Build a perpetual motion machine out of lawn gnomes and marshmallows! Buy it from Amazon or from Warehouse 23.
D&D Deluxe Edition Player’s Handbook
For D&D fanatics, or possible contenders for that role: a deluxe copy of this core rulebook. There aren’t any new rules, there’s more art and color. Put simply, it’s a very beautiful book. Don’t forget the value-adds like Post-it page markers and a lovely foil-embossed cover. Buy it from Amazon, and add the Monster Manual and DMG.