2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Toys

Reading Time: 9 minutes

I’m having a difficult time getting into the Holiday spirit this year. Maybe it’s the unusually warm fall we’re having here in Texas, or maybe it’s that I’ve been hearing Christmas music in the stores since before Halloween candy went on clearance. Can we please wait until after Thanksgiving to start decorating? While I lament the early decorating, it is never too soon to start buying gifts. I’ve already bought about half the gifts I’m giving, and have picked out most of the rest, so I feel I’m ahead for the year. Time will tell if my pocketbook can keep up.

First up is a list of toys that we’ve played with, geeked out on, and raved about to our friends. Read on to see what we liked, why we liked it, and where you can pick one up!


Ezra and Chopper ready to take flight in The Ghost.Star Wars Galactic Heroes Ghost Playset
Suggested By: Will James
Mfg: Hasbro/Playskool
Price: 24.99
Purchase: Star Wars Galactic Heroes Ghost Playset

Star Wars Rebels has finally come to the Galactic Heroes line of toys in a big way–with a Ghost playset. The ship features a ton of cool features and expandability and even includes Ezra and Chopper. The rest of the crew will be making an appearance in the near future. For a full review of The Ghost along with the rest of the new additions to the Galactic Heroes line, read our full review.


DinoTrux Reptool Control Ty RuxDinotrux Reptool Control Ty Rux Toy Vehicle
Suggested By: Will James
Mfg: Mattel
Price: 49.99
Purchase: Dinotrux Reptool Control Ty Rux Toy Vehicle

The Reptool (Remote) Control Ty Rux is a great addition to any DinoTrux fan’s collection. Not only is it a great, big Ty Rux toy, but its also a great entry-level RC toy for little ones. It has very simple controls and four modes of play. For more details about the Reptool Control Ty Rux or to read more about DinoTrux toys, check out my in-depth review.


Let Dash and Dot teach your children the magic of coding.Dash and Dot
Suggested By: Robin Brooks
Mfg: Wonder Workshop
Price: $149.99
Purchase: Dash and Dot

Dash and Dot are cute robots that help children learn to code. Controlled by apps available on both iOS and Android, they are an extremely engaging duo that will help your children to learn basic programming.
The robots are durable, look great, and the software support is excellent. Wonder Workshop have created innovative apps that much the quality of their hardware. Dash and Dot are two robots that will still be running long after the holidays are over. Full Review Here.


I’m not gonna say this will be the present they remember when they’re 40 and looking back wistfully on Christmas pasts, but… (Image Credit: Anthony Karcz)Transformers Titan’s Return Fortress Maximus
Suggested By: Anthony Karcz
Mfg: Hasbro
Price: $150
Purchase: Transformers Titan’s Return Fortress Maximus

Of course, my favorite toy for the entire year has to be Fortress Maximus from Hasbro’s Titans Return line of Transformers. It’s one of those rare toys that successfully gives old-school Transformers faithful like myself a big hit of nostalgia while hooking a new generation of fans. At two feet tall, he’s the largest Transformer Hasbro has ever produced, every inch covered in wires, conduits, cables, and all kinds of sci-fi technical details. He transforms from robot, to mobile battle base, to Autobot headquarters. The Titan Master gimmick is perfectly implemented, with his two robot companions transforming into his head (and the head for his head), accompanied by electronic sounds. The smallest figure, the Titan Master for Cerebros (Max’s head) can interact with Fort Max in city and base modes. He can even become the head for other Transformers in the Titans Return line. It’s hard to quantify just how much fun my kids and I have had playing with Fort Max since he arrived on our doorstep. If you have a Transformers fan on your list, this will be the crown jewel of their holiday gift haul.


image: HasbroYo-kai Watch Model Zero
Suggested By: Z.
Mfg: Hasbro
Price: $29.99
Purchase: Yo-kai Watch Model Zero

Nintendo and LEVEL-5’s Yo-kai Watch may not yet be the phenomenon over here that it is in Japan, but with a beloved animated series and two spectacular 3DS games already released to American audiences, it’s well on its way. Your kids can relive the latest adventures of protagonist Nate Adams with help the Yo-kai Watch Model Zero, an oversized dress-up toy that, like the previous Watch model, interacts with the video games’ real-world Yo-Motion Medals. However, instead of just playing a snippet of dialog, the Model Zero additionally projects a short animated image of each Medal’s featured Yo-kai performing its signature move onto a nearby wall or other surface. Yo-kai are indeed everywhere! [Review materials provided by Hasbro.]


image: The Pokémon Company InternationalMythical Pokémon Collections
Suggested By: Z.
Mfg: TPCI
Price: $12.99-$19.99
Purchase: Mythical Pokémon Collections

The Pokémon Company International has spent all of 2016 celebrating #Pokemon20, the landmark 20th anniversary of the franchise. Part of the festivities has been a series of specially featured Pocket Monsters; each month sees a new featured Mythical Pokémon, complete with a video game distribution and special related merchandise. Chief among these are the Mythical Pokémon Collections, affordable TCG boxed sets that include never-before-seen foil promo cards of the Mythical of the month, 2 Generations TCG booster packs, a special code card for the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online, and a collector’s pin. November, for example, is all about robot-bug Genesect, while October belonged to Keldeo. [Review materials provided by The Pokémon Company International.]


Image: Seven: Twelve EngineeringCrossbeams Starter Kit
Suggested By: Rory Bristol
Mfg: Seven: Twelve Engineering
Price: $162
Purchase: Crossbeams Starter Kit

The Crossbeams Starter Kit is a great tool for advanced 3D modeling techniques in the real world. This kid, which includes 650 elements is an amazingly versatile gift for any age. With an innovative construction system, Crossbeams is great for people who don’t like LEGO or want lots of options without having to buy hundreds of specialized pieces. It comes with 15 patterns, with dozens more available online. Many of these patterns are functional, including a Ferris Wheel, a race car, and the Mars Rover.


Image: LEGOJestro’s Volcano Lair
Suggested By: Rory Bristol
Mfg: LEGO
Price: $94
Purchase: Jestro’s Volcano Lair

This stark and severe kit highlights the baddest baddie your kids will love to hate. Jestro, the failed knight, wizard, and jester has built himself a lair in an active volcano, and the LEGO NEXO Knights must defeat him. Kids and adults alike can build this 1186-piece adventure and join Macy, Axl, and Lance to defeat the nefarious Jestro and his horde of evil creations from the Book of Monsters.


Photo: Jonathan H. LiuMax Traxxx Tracer Racers
Suggested By: Jonathan H. Liu
Mfg: Skullduggery
Price: $15 to $200
Purchase: Max Traxxx Tracer Racers

Tracer Racer cars light up the glow-in-the-dark tracks as they drive past, and the latest versions are remote-controlled, so you’re no longer limited to gravity-driven tracks. With a host of different track components and cars available, you can set up your own race courses or stunts. For a more in-depth look, read this review of the Infinity Loop set.


Jenga Giant. Photo: Jonathan H. LiuJenga Giant
Suggested By: Jonathan H. Liu
Mfg: Jenga
Price: $99 to $120
Purchase: Jenga Giant

The classic stacking game comes in two jumbo sizes that are great for spectacular crashes when the blocks come tumbling down. Jenga Giant (pictured here) starts at 22″ and stacks to over 4 feet high, and Jenga Giant Family Edition is slightly smaller, starting at 18″ and stacking to over 3 feet high. Both come in a sturdy box that also serves as the base, and you can also add on a Booster Pack of 12 more blocks if it’s not enough of a challenge for you. (Hard hats not included.)


The Boogie Board Jot 8.5 eWriter. Image: Boogie BoardBoogie Board Jot 8.5 eWriter
Suggested By: Jenny Bristol
Mfg: Boogie Board
Price: About $20
Purchase: Boogie Board Jot 8.5 eWriter

Get your kids to unplug with the lo-fi Boogie Board Jot 8.5 eWriter. This Boogie Board is an LCD screen that you can write on with the included stylus. Draw whatever you like! Or perhaps make some lists, or leave a message for your partner or kids. The dark screen shows your stylus strokes as a much lighter color, and is much brighter than the previous model. When you’re done, press the reset button and the screen erases. Voila. The included battery is used only when resetting the screen, so it lasts a very long time, and the strong magnets on the back make it a great option for the fridge. See my full review.


Three from their Animal Pals line. Photo: Jenny BristolBears for Humanity
Suggested By: Jenny Bristol
Mfg: Bears for Humanity
Price: $25-45
Purchase: Bears for Humanity

Making high quality stuffed animals for a cause, the products from Bears for Humanity are made with 100% organic cotton, are hypoallergenic, hand sewn, with fill made from recycled plastic bottles and caps, making them a bit heavy for their size. While they do focus on bears, they also make cats, dogs, dinosaurs, lions, turtles, and giraffes. And for every bear sold, the company donates a bear just like it to a needy child through their network of local and national charities. A perfect gift for a child or adult. See my full review.


Ollie, BB-8, SPRK+STEAM from SpheroSphero 2.0, BB-8 with Force Band, Ollie, Ollie Darkside, and SPRK+STEAM
Suggested By: Randy Slavey
Mfg: Sphero
Price: $65 – $200
Purchase: Sphero 2.0, BB-8 with Force Band, Ollie, Ollie Darkside, and SPRK+STEAM

Play games and create light shows with the original Sphero 2.0
Ramp up your play and try out sick tricks with the high speed, two-wheeled Ollie and Ollie Darkside
Combine play and learning with the programmable Sphero SPRK+STEAM
Train to be a Jedi with the augmented reality Star Wars BB-8 and Sphero Force Band


Kent MT20 hardtail mountain bike (girls)MT20 Mountain Bike
Suggested By: Jamie Greene
Mfg: Kent
Price: $79.99
Purchase: MT20 Mountain Bike

I’m just as guilty as the next parent of buying entirely too many plastic toys for my kids. That’s why this year, we’re making a concerted effort to get the kids outdoors more. And the gifts we give will hopefully inspire them to get out and explore. When it came to my 7-year-old, it was way past time to upgrade her bike. She’s been begging for a new one to take off road (mostly on the C&O Canal towpath, which we visit a lot). So this 20″ Kent mountain bike seemed to be a sure bet. The bike comes equipped with a front shock, a Shimano 7-speed gear shift, big fat tires, and a super-affordable price tag. It’s certainly a step up from a one-speed with pedal brakes, but now that she’s on the move, there’s no looking back. For this price, the bike can’t be beat.


Ravensburger SmartscopeScience X Smartscope Science Kit
Suggested By: Jamie Greene
Mfg: Ravensburger
Price: $44.99
Purchase: Science X Smartscope Science Kit

Use the Smartscope to turn your smartphone or tablet into a microscope! Kids can magnify their own finds, including water, sand, feathers, leaves, insects, and almost anything else. With a removable light source and sliding object tray with two levels of magnification, young explorers will also be able to use the phone to take pictures of the microscopic world. Though aligning the phone just right takes some getting used to, my kids love this thing. If you’re not ready to make the jump to a “real” (i.e., expensive) microscope, the Smartscope is a great first step for young kids.


Shopkins KinstructionsShopkins Kinstructions
Suggested By: Tony Sims
Mfg: C3
Price: 9.99 – 39.99
Purchase: Shopkins Kinstructions

Shopkins Kinstructions are a welcome addition to the buildable toy line. The blocks are compatible and similar to other major block brands. The models are very sturdy and have great play features. One of the best features, however, is that they are compatible with currently offered Shopkins and the brick built one included. Any child that is a fan of the product line will love these!

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