The holiday season is almost upon us and in the spirit of giving back, we thought we’d share some ideas about how you can make shopping for your loved ones as self-serving painless as possible this year. Because hobbyists and gamers come in all shapes and sizes, we’ve broken out our recommendations into a few different categories to consider, with picks from all of us here on the Goonhammer staff.
Note that we aren’t posting any links below, and we are earning zero dollars from these recommendations. We’re merely recommending things we really like and putting this together as a helpful tool for people who would like some advice on what they can buy for the wargamers, hobbyists, future wargamers, and nerds in their lives. Because if nobody ever gets a copy of Monopoly as a gift again, it’ll be too soon.
And if you do buy these, we recommend getting them from your local brick-and-mortar store if you can. Game stores are important to the community, and need the support.
Stocking Stuffers ($20 or less)
A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King
Who to buy this for: Board game fans looking for a fast-playing and easy-to-learn game with surprising depth.
You can set this game up in 2 minutes, explain the rules within 5, and finish your first game within 20. On top of that, it’s a blast from start to finish. The rules are simple: move the Varys card over a 6×6 grid of square cards, each showing a character from Game of Thrones, then pick up all the ones that match a color you called. If you have the most cards in that suit at the end of the game, you get a point, and whoever has the most points wins. However, even the best-laid plans don’t survive contact with those other jerks at the table, and you’ll soon find yourself thinking “if I do this, they’ll do that, and then the next player will do that…”, and then your turn will come around again and the board state will be completely different from what you expected. It’s fast, fun, and dirt cheap, making it a great diversion to kill some downtime while you’re waiting for your friends to finish their game at the shop. If you’re looking to maximize the amount of fun you can squeeze out of $13 or less, this is a solid choice.
Windsor & Newton Brush Set
Who to buy this for: The miniatures painter in your life
Every wargamer and mini painter needs brushes, and when it comes to brushes, few are more highly-rated and recommended than the Windsor & Newton Series 7 line. A set of miniature sable brushes is a great boost to anyone’s hobby efforts.
MSRP: $15 – $25
Who to buy this for: Beginning players, players who test a lot of schemes, players who want to add a little variety to their units
GW’s Easy to Build models are cheap, come in a small box that fits well in a stocking, and have unique sculpts that you can’t replicate with the multipart kits without a lot of cutting and re-gluing. As a bonus, they’re all push-fit models that don’t require glue to stick together, making them more approachable for a beginning hobbyist. For more experienced players, the different poses in these units can let them fill out squads with some additional variety to shake things up. And finally, several of us here at Goonhammer swear by these models as a relatively cheap way to get models you can paint, strip, and re-paint as you’re working on test schemes before you decide to invest the time and money in the multi-part kits.
Games Workshop Painting Handles
MSRP: $10 for the standard one
Who to buy this for: Every mini painter can use these
One of those “You can never have too many of these” items, the paint handle is something we were skeptical about at first but turned out to be a quality product for painting minis without handling them directly (which risks smudging or rubbing off paint). These come in regular and large sizes, black and red, and there’s a regular-sized handel that comes with two posable arms, which is perfect for holding parts in place as glue sets.
For the Little Ones
Here Fishy Fishy!
Who to buy this for: Kids aged 2+
Here Fishy Fishy! is an excellent introduction to turn-taking, color recognition, and also helps children develop fine motor skills. Players take turns rolling a die and attempting to “catch” wooden fish with a magnetic fishing pole. Grab the correct fish and you can add the appropriately colored item to your “beach”, with the first person to complete their card declared the winner. May also be an excellent drinking game.
5 Little Fish
Who to buy this for: Kids aged 4+
Another tactile fishing one, this one includes an element of memory making it great for slightly older kids. 5 plastic fish sit on the table hiding their telescoping tails. Players take turns flipping lily pad cards, revealing a color of fish they’re supposed to catch. When a fish is lifted off the table, its tail wriggles out revealing the color! Note that this game involves stealing fish from opponents and a grump-ass frog; emotions may run high.
Hoot Owl Hoot
Who to buy this for: Kids age 4-8, although adults can play it too.
Hoot Owl Hoot is a fantastic game for small children that isn’t mind-numbingly terrible for adults to play. The players work together to get their owls home to the nest before the sun rises by jumping individual owls from square to square. This can be a very challenging experience and the game teaches color recognition, thinking ahead, and teamwork. 2-4 players.
Unicorn Glitterluck – Cloud Crystals
Who to buy this for: Kids age 3+ and anyone who wishes to find out who truly loves them.
While some may balk at a pink and purple game about unicorns jumping through clouds to collect crystals, don’t underestimate this game. It is a ruthless, no-holds barred knife-fight between the players to hoard precious gems and avoid the ominous risk of forced wealth redistribution. Family bonds will be tested when players are forced to “gift” their crystals to one another based on an arbitrary die roll; which of your children do you love more? It also teaches counting, turn-taking, and is an excellent introduction to winning and losing.
Hisss Card Game
Who to buy this for: Kids aged 3+ and anyone tripping on LSD
Hisss is a very accessible collecting game where players alternate drawing random cards in the hopes of building snakes. Every time a card is drawn the players either add them to an existing snake or create a new one; when a complete snake (head, body, tail) is formed that player gets to collect it. The game teaches color matching, motor skills, and counting.
Animal on Animal / Rhino Hero
Who to buy this for: Children 5+ and stoners.
These are two cute, simple games where you basically have to stack shit on top of other shit. Animal on Animal involves you making a pyramid out of a variety of disparate animal tokens. While Rhino Hero has you constructing a surprisingly rickety skyscraper that the Rhino Hero has to climb up.
Great Games for Family and Friends
Who to buy this for: Families, adults who know disturbing amounts of random crap.
What if Charades was actually a board game? A player draws a card that contains nine things on there, arranged in 3 groups of difficulty. (In 40k terms this would be: Easy – Horus, Medium – Craftworld Biel-Tan, Hard – The concept of going 0-3 on the first day of a tournament and not wanting to get up the next morning). They then pick one of these and have to communicate it by putting a bunch of tokens on a giant board of symbols that explain different things. Players are able to just shout out guesses as many times as they want and the scoring system is present, but not really needed.
Who to buy this for: Friends, adults who are game-curious but balk at the sight of dice
Secret Hitler admittedly may be less of a “game” and more of a “way to cause your friends to never trust you again.” In many ways it’s like the party game Mafia adapted for a modern era and with better play tools. Players take on the role of either Liberals or Fascists with the role of advancing their agenda and, for the Liberals, rooting out the fascists in their midst and preventing them from acquiring power. It’s a fun party game of bluffing and intrigue that has quickly become one of our favorite games.
And if the thought of playing a game with “Hitler” in the title isn’t for you, Goonhammer’s Raf Cordero recently wrote an article for Geek and Sundry on reskins of the game that allow you to take a different approach that’s worth checking out.
Who to buy this for: Disney fans, families, Disney+ binge watchers
Look Disney heroes are great and all but sometimes they need their smarmy smiles and feel-good songs knocked down a peg. Villainous puts you in the shoes of some classic (and underappreciated) Disney Villains. It’s a highly asymmetric game; your villain deck is packed with unique characters and events from your movie and your Hero deck will dish out enemies that behave the way you’d expect from their movie. Jafar’s games will end in a scramble as the lamp changes ownership between Aladdin, Iago, Jasimine, and back while Robin Hood will steal from the massive pile of cash Prince John is accumulating. There are currently 3 releases; the big box linked includes 6 villains while the expansion boxes each contain 3. Note that they’re all interchangeable, and each stands alone. Simply pick the the one that most speaks to you (it’s the one with Yzma, Scar, and Ratigan).
MSRP: 39.99 (or $14.99 for individual titles)
Who to buy this for: Families, Escape Room fans, puzzlers
The Unlock series numbers over 15 individual titles. Each packs all the fun of an escape room into a game that will sprawl a pile of cards over your table. Card images are full of puzzles, hidden clues, and other cryptic hints that will move you through an exciting tale. The solution to most puzzles is a number; once you think you’ve got it you’ll flip that card from the deck and continue on. They do a fantastic job of making it feel like you’re moving through rooms/submarines/The Land of Oz and most of the puzzles are more clever than frustrating. Importantly, you’re all working together which can take the sting out of gaming with family and friends who get too competitive.
Who to Buy This For: Card players, Trick taking fans, Matthew McConaughey
If you’re familiar with Spades, Hearts, or Euchre you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say Time Chase is a trick taking game. Each round – or trick – players will play 1 card trying to play a higher value card of the same suit than anyone else; if they can’t then a Trump Suit card will win if they have one of those. What makes Time Chase awesome is that players can go back in time to contest tricks that have already been won or even go all the way back to the Singularity to change the trump suit. The goal becomes to have simultaneous control of 3 tricks; difficult to do when your pals are replaying hands you think you’ve already won. Trick taking games are a little difficult to describe and time traveling trick taking games even harder, but trust me on this one. This one’s awesome.
For Warhammer Beginners
These are for people thinking about getting into warhammer or who have just started.
Who to buy this for: Space Marine players, beginning players who don’t know what to build
Intercessors may seem like kind of a boring option, but if your giftee is early on in their Warhammer journey, there’s a good chance they’re collecting (or thinking about collecting) Space Marines, and Intercessors are a core choice that find their way into a lot of lists these days. Plus, they look cool and are fun to build and paint.
Know No Fear
Who to buy this for: Brand new players
Warhammer 40,000 is more than a game; it’s a hobby. Part of that hobby includes clipping out, building, and painting these little toy soldiers we all love. “Getting into” the hobby isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but Know No Fear is a damn near perfect way of helping someone out. 14 Space Marines face off against 17 Death Guard models in a series of 6 missions, each teaching players only 1 or 2 new rules. The first is just movement and shooting. The 2nd adds melee, and so on. By the time you finish you’ll have told the story of an Ultramar siege and learned to play through a simple step-by-step process. The smaller size (compared to Dark Imperium) also lets you dabble in the hobby-side of things to help decide if this is really something you’ll be into.
For the Nerd Who Has Everything
These are bigger-ticket items or things for the brainworms crew that just buy everything they want as it comes out.
Table Top Lightbox
Who to buy this for: For hobbyists who spend a ton of time modeling and painting, but are still taking photos of their models on a table or against a pillowcase. Decent, store-able light boxes can go for as little as $25, like this 14”x16” table top light box from EMART. While you’re at it, consider throwing in a tripod for a phone as well.
An iPad with Digital Codexes
MSRP: $399 for an iPad mini
Who to buy this for: Hobbyists who are always lugging around 3 or more hardcover codexes and supplements. We’ve listed this at $399, but you can find older iPads and iPad minis for $200 or less on Amazon and other sources. An ipad loaded with a few digital codexes makes a wonderful hobby supplement and has plenty of other uses besides. Most of us know at least one luddite who clings to physical books. It’s time to ease them into the future.
A 3D Printer
Who to buy this for: The gamer in your life who is also an engineer, players who you are friends with but also kind of hate so you want them to spend all their time in a different hobby
We just wrote an introductory guide to 3D printing that covers most of the basics here, so if you’re looking for recommendations, head over there to read about it.
Have a Happy Holiday!
We always love giving gifts and bringing friends into our hobbies, and we hope this guide helps you do the same. As always, if you have any questions, comments, recommendations, or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below, or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.