Geek Holiday Shopping List for 2009

Looking for ideas for the geek on your Christmas List? Are you a geek looking for ideas about what to ask for? Nuketown has you covered (albiet, a bit late in the shopping cycle but hey, there’s still nearly two weeks until Christmas).

Two quick notes: 1) all of the items on this list link to; Nuketown gets a small (very small) affiliate credit if you buy something. 2) Some of these recommendations are based on review copies of games I’ve received. These are noted with a [RC] designation.


Star Wars: The Essential Atlas by Jason Fry, Daniel Wallace I’m not usually one for these big coffee table-style books, but the Essential Atlas lives up to its name. It is a huge book that chronicles the entire Star Wars universe. Fans should enjoy it, but the reason why I want it is because of my Star Wars campaign. Wookipedia is good as a quick reference, especially if you know what you’re looking for, but this book is far more browseable. Even better, it includes a history of the Mandalorian War, which will be essential for my upcoming Mandalorian story arc.

The New Space Opera 2: A second anthology of space opera short stories, including contributions by Mike Resnick, John Meaney, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Elizabeth Moon, John Scalzi, John Wright and Cory Doctorow. I read the first anthology and while I enjoyed it, I did find that many of the stories tended to hew closer to transhumanism than pure space opera. That said, I like a lot of the names on this list and as I wrote this blurb I bumped the book to the top of my book list (well, near the top; the Essential Atlas still rules that position).

Board & Card Games

Arkham Horror: One of my gaming group’s all-time-favorite games, Arkham Horror is a cooperative board game in which you attempt to prevent insane, monstrous Great Old Ones from invading a small New England town. Crazy complicated, but in a good way, Arkham is not for casual gamers nor for those who don’t understand (or at least appreciate) H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Still, if you’re a geek (or shopping for a geek) that fits those criteria, you must own this game.

Arkham Horror: The Innsmouth Horror: The latest expansion for Arkham Horror sees Deep Ones rising from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to overrun the seaside village of Innsmouth. The expansion adds a new side board (the village of Innsmouth), a bunch of new characters, and two new Great Old Ones to battle again. My group’s gotten pretty good at playing the base Arkham game; we’re looking at this one to ratchet up the difficulty level a few notches.

Race for the Galaxy: My gaming group discovered this galactic exploration/colonization/exploitation game at Origins 2009, and its quickly become one of our favorites. In it, players attempt to colonize the galaxy before others at the table. The game’s unique (at least for us) in that there’s no direct contact between players, meaning there’s no trading or invasions. Instead, you need to build your strategy based on the cards you’re dealt, and on the objectives that other players are following. The game’s got an excellent space opera vibe, and I found it to be a good way to unwind after a long week.

Ticket to Ride: A family friendly board game in which players try to complete different railroad routes around the United States in order to win a turn-of-the-20th-century travel contest. I had great fun with the Xbox 360 version of this game, and I’m looking forward to getting the real-world version.

Computer Games

Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360/Windows PC/Playstation 3): Love pen and paper RPGs but never have time (or the local gamers) to play them? Then get Dragon Age: Origins, a worthwhile successor to Bioware’s earlier computer RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Knights of the Old Republic. It tells a familiar fantasy story — an ancient evil has arisen, and our hero must gather allies to confront it — but its deep narrative options make it an immersive play (indeed, it’s reminicient of a Robert Jordan novel in that regard, but in a good way). That decision engine isn’t one that pulls punches; there are lots of morale choices to make, often with no “best choice” but only a “least worst” choice. The game itself also offers plenty of opportunities to kick ass, all of which makes it a great way to unwind at the end of a long day. [RC]

Scribblenauts (Nintendo DS): A quirky little puzzle game in which you’re given a situation, a clue and you have to solve it by adding objects to the play area via a text interface. So you might have to save a princess from pirates; you type “sword” to arm your character, use to to slay the pirates, and then type “rope” to swing across a ravine to rescue the princess. Half the fun comes from seeing what the game will allow you to summon; for example, you could just as easily have typed “vampire” to summon Dracula to kill the pirates (which then turn into zombies). Or perhaps “Cthulhu” to devour their souls. The choice is yours. For other DS game ideas, check out Radio Active #82. [RC]

Borderlands (Xbox 360/Windows PC) A crazy fun first-person-shooter/role-playing game that let’s you team up with friends in a quest for ever bigger guns on an alien world. It’s designed for multiplayer, with the game getting tougher (and the cool weapons getting cooler) as you add more players. It’s become my gaming group’s go to game for multiplayer … assuming we stop playing Dragon Age long enough to venture online again. Read the Nuketown review.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: This is one of those times when the movie turns out to be better than the book; while I enjoyed the Half-Blood Prince when I read it, the book did get bogged down with too many flashbacks. The movie version focuses on character relationships, and includes just enough flashbacks to tell what needs to be told.

Star Trek (2009): The prequel re-boot of the Star Trek franchise is exactly the sort of space opera movie I’ve been craving. Yes, there’s not a lot of science in this science fiction, and all of Star Trek’s technobabble has collapsed in upon itself to form red matter … but I still enjoyed this film. It had a good mix of action, humor, and homages to the original series, and ultimately forms a good foundation for a new run of Star Trek.

Role-Playing Games

Savage Worlds Explorers Edition: The perfect geek stocking stuffer, Savage Worlds is a light-weight, generic RPG that’s great at high octane, pulpy adventures. Stuff you can easily run with it: Pulp Cthulhu, Space Opera, Sword’n’Sorcery (a la Conan the Barbarian), Pulp Heroes. While it’s not for everyone — D&D veterans may not find it crunchy enough, others may be disappointed by its emphasis on fast/fun/furious action, but it’s become one of my gaming group’s favorites.

The Day After Ragnarok: Ken Hite’s campaign setting for Savage Worlds and HERO 6th Edition envisions an alternate history in which the Nazis awoke the Midgard serpent in the waning days of World War II … and America killed it with an atomic bomb).

The death of the Serpent causes a planet-wide apocalypse, and gives rise to a new world in which the Soviet Union faces off against a resurgent British Empire, while America is a shattered ruin save for the newly independent Republic of Texas and a handful of states on the West Coast. Awesome book. Read the Nuketown review.

Savage Worlds: Fantasy Companion:This supplement for Savage Worlds brings 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons sensibilities to the “fast, fun, furious” RPG. More spells, more races, more monsters, more magic items, more curses … in short, a gamer would want to run a sword-and-sorcery style game.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook: Paizo’s opus to D&D 3rd Edition is a huge, heavy book that retails for $50. D&D 4th Edition is hugely different from its predecessor, making Pathfinder the heir apparent to 3rd Edition (yes, this is important to geeks… trust me). If you’re shopping for your geek, check to see if they have the book before buying; it’ll be the one that’s causing the entire bookshelf to sag.

Eberron Campaign Guide: A 4th Edition D&D Supplement: A faithful update to the one of D&D 3rd Edition’s definitive campaign settings. Eberron retains many of the traditional fantasy tropes, but mixes it with steampunk, noir and pulp to create a world where elementals are chained to power lightning railroads, great airships move between the skyscrapers of the city of Sharn, and an ancient Dragon Prophecy waits to be unravelled.

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader RPG: The Warhammer 40k universe is a brutal horrific place … but they still need commerce. Rogue Trader takes your 40K heroes (or more likely, antiheroes) to the stars aboard immense trading vessels. This is a stand-alone RPG that’s nonetheless compatible with the earlier Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy RPG.

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