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PC Gamer 2015 Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are getting nearer, but shopping for friends and family isn’t getting any easier. What do you buy for the gamer who has a massive Steam library? What cool stuff are you missing out on, yourself?

If you love games—or you’re shopping for someone who does—point your wallet at this, our 2015 Holiday Gift Guide. We publish one every year, but this year’s list is bigger and more thought-out than ever. We've tried to avoid the most obvious suggestions like Fallout 4; chances are, if you or a friend want it, you're already 30 hours deep. Instead, you’ll find all the stuff we love to give and get: affordable games to play alone or co-op with friends, books and board games, great PC hardware and accessories. And, somewhere near the middle, even a table lamp. It's a really cool lamp.

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HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset

  • Great sound quality
  • Cheaper than many competitors with inferior sound
  • The sound quality can't compare to a good pair of audiophile-grade headphones.

Who will love it: Anyone with ears, basically

Every PC gamer needs a good headset. Having great sound that doesn’t rattle the windows and annoy the neighbors is part of it, but even more important is a high-quality, built-in microphone. Many of our favorite games these days are played online with friends, and nothing brings a party down like pausing to type messages to a chat box.

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MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G graphics card

  • A massive step up from mid-range graphics cards
  • Price/performance champion
  • You have to really like someone to buy them a $300 graphics card.

Who will love it: any PC gamer who doesn't own a GTX 980 or better

Treat yourself, or a friend with an outdated rig, to the best price/performance graphics card around. The GTX 970 is our favorite go-to graphics card right now, prized for its mix of power and affordability. There are bigger, more powerful cards, sure, but the GTX 970 beats everything else in its price range. It's also massively overclockable, keeping it relevant for a few years to come.

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Crucial BX100 SSD (250GB)

  • Cheap and fast
  • Doesn't sacrifice reliability for price
  • Games are so big these days, you might want to spring for a larger SSD.

Who will love it: PC gamers who don't already have multiple SSDs in their PC.

Solid State Disks, or SSDs, aren’t exactly hot new tech anymore, but it’s amazing how many PC gamers haven’t made this simple upgrade yet. SSDs are a huge speed improvement over conventional hard drives, but two things hold them back: speed doesn’t matter much with documents and music files, and they’re too expensive to store terabytes of family photos on them.

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Xbox Wireless Controller Receiver

  • Easy wireless connection with Xbox One controllers
  • Windows 10 only

Who will love it: Xbox One owners

Mouse and keyboard will always rule our hearts, but some games do work better on a controller. Our favorite controller for PC play is actually a PlayStation controller (or an Xbox 360 controller), but Xbox One owners can now use a wireless controller they already own with their PC, thanks to this adapter. Of course, you could plug in a USB cable and save the money, but going cable-free is just the kind of luxury that makes for a nice gift.

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Wooden Omega Headphone Stand

  • Keeps headphones safe
  • Looks classy on a desk
  • Not the flashiest gift, but surprisingly useful.

Who will love it: Audiophiles, clumsy folks

You've seen it happen: a great pair of headphones left on a messy desk will inevitably get knocked to the floor or yanked by its cable. Help someone take care of their headphones (and look classy in the process) by giving their cans a proper home.

The Omega headphone stand curves in ways that wood probably wasn’t meant to, but it has a handsome walnut finish that looks great and should limit the wear and tear on a nice headset.

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Subscription to PC Gamer Magazine

  • Quite a good magazine about personal computer games
  • You have to carry it!

Who will love it: Everyone. C'mon!

Did you know we make a magazine? It's pretty cool! Not only does it crinkle and fold just like real paper, but you can roll it up and swat spiders with it. Burning it could even keep you alive if you survive a plane crash in remote Alaska during the winter and have to hold out for rescue. It may be ineffective against wolves.

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Displate Metal Posters

  • Your favorite characters
  • Made of metal
  • That's pretty sweet
  • - not-a-haiku

Who will love it: people who aced shop class, metal bands?

Posters are great, but an un-framed bit of shiny paper on the wall feels bit weak outside of a college dorm room. Solution: slice it out of steel.

Displate makes lovely game character posters featuring Gordon Freeman, GlaDOS, Geralt, and others. They’re colorful, nicely designed, and, once again, etched into a giant sheet of metal.

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Stackable Tetris LED Desk Lamp

  • Tetris lamps are cool
  • Lamps are boring

Who will love it: People who cannot see in the dark

A bit of gaming history can also tastefully light up a small room with this Tetris lamp, and it's hard to find anyone who doesn't like Tetris. And even if they don't like Tetris, they probably like cool lamps.

Through some dark sorcery, each puzzle piece can be moved and rearranged. Once connected to the overall structure, the pieces light back up. Striking!

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Team Fortress 2 Chess Set

  • Makes chess more inviting for TF2 fans
  • Your friend who's really good at chess will still destroy you

Who will love it: Intellectuals who can still appreciate a good uber

Sometimes—very occasionally, mind you—we play things other than video games around here. Don’t freak out! We found a chess set that still smells strongly of video games: the Team Fortress 2 chess set from Valve.

Red and Blue continue to face off, but it’s 90% less likely that a child will scream at you while you play.*

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Starcraft Protoss Pylon USB Charger

  • A USB charger for Aiur is much cheaper than your life
  • Endless pylon joke potential
  • ...endless pylon joke potential

Who will love it: YOU MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL

Bask in it. Bask in the pretty lights as you annoy your friends and spouse with a large, unwieldy USB charger. Tiny, form-fitting USB plugs popped into a run-of-the-mill power strip? Bah! Who needs it. You’re a gamer, damn it, and you’ll charge your phone on Protoss Pylon and laugh while you do it.

Or, you know, give it to your friend or loved one who plays Starcraft. It's not always about you, you know. So selfish. Give your Protoss friend a real gift this holiday: don't Zerg rush them. You know it's annoying.

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Hearthstone Cupcake Tee

  • Delicious-looking body covering
  • Not edible

Who will love it: Hearthstone fans, anyone who is hungry

Sometimes there’s no helping it: you’ve got to put on clothing and leave the house. Give a Hearthstone lover in your life this t-shirt featuring the Hearthstone cupcake to cover their mortal husk for those trying outdoor excursions. Warning: do not try to eat it. This is for wearing only.

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Tempo Storm Zip Up Hoodie

  • Has a zipper AND a hood
  • What more do you want from a hoodie?

Who will love it: Mark Zuckerberg

Does your family watch big sporting events during the holidays? Show up sporting the Tempo Storm team colors and go on and on about druids and monks to add some new flavor to the holiday small talk.

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Klei Entertainment Figures

  • Cool figures for your desk
  • Cute plushies for cuddling
  • You may have to gift them a Klei game, too

Who will love it: There's something for everyone here

Klei has made a number of great games, including Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve, and Invisible, Inc. But they also sell some figures and plushies that are so adorable, they're hard to resist even if you've never played the games they come from.

Don't miss the Beefalo plush, for example. It is devilishly cute. What's a beefalo? Who cares? Look at it!

Ahem.

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Pandemic Legacy

  • Evolving board game shapes a unique storyline as you play
  • Finite number of plays on the board

Who will love it: You. Trust us.

One of our favorite new board games, Pandemic Legacy is the story of a disease control team keeping hideous viruses from making humanity extinct. It’s gross, fun, and a little bit horrible, with a great twist: the game evolves as you play it, much like the fantastic Risk Legacy.

Pandemic Legacy is currently one of the top 10 best-rated board games of all time on Board Game Geek, and its predecessor was a popular choice for the board game of 2012.

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XCOM The Board Game

  • Smartly translates the PC game into board form
  • Extremely replayable thanks to different player roles
  • Quite an involved set-up, and best with four players

Who will love it: Strategy fans and those who thrive under pressure.

The XCOM board game is every bit as brutal as its inspiration: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which continues to top our lists of best games years after release. Every bit of drama you from the game is here as well: the long-shot miracle, the crushing permadeath, the devastation of utter defeat.

But this time, you get to do it with your friends.

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Bitmap Books: visual compendiums of PC history

  • Gorgeous trip back through the annals of early PC games
  • May make you want to buy an old computer

Who will love it: Anyone who loved games in the 80s.

Readers with more advanced levels of chronological experience will appreciate Bitmap’s lovely art books. They cover the art of games found on the proto-PCs: Commodore 64, Amiga, ZX Spectrum, and others, with a bit of history mixed in. Can't ask for a better coffee table book.

If you're stuck trying to choose just one, might as well start with Bitmap's first production, the Commodore 64 compendium. Bitmap describes it thusly: "Celebrating one the most popular home computers of all time, the first in the Bitmap Books’ Visual Compendium series takes you on a journey through the C64’s varied and colourful gaming library."

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Embed with Games by Cara Ellison

  • A handsome compilation of beautiful writing about people and games
  • Get ready to feel some emotions

Who will love it: Anyone with a heart.

Cara Ellison, one of the finest games writers out there, spent a year crashing on the couch with game developers to tell their stories. She blogged about it along the way, and the final product has turned into this excellent book, a mix of gonzo diary and insight into the lives and passions of game developers across the world.

People who care about game developers, tech culture, and great writing will be happy to spot it in a suspiciously book-shaped package this winter.

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Minecraft: Blockopedia

  • A dense collection of useful research made fun to flip through
  • Your giftee may prefer playing Minecraft over reading

Who will love it: This kid.

An extensive guide to Minecraft doesn’t have to reside on wiki pages alone: why not a book? Alex Wiltshire has poured a ton of knowledge into the Blockopedia, and new players and die-hard fans will find a lot of great details inside. Best of all, with advanced Book technology you can move it from shelf to shelf without taking an axe and destroying the entire piece of furniture.

As some reviewers point out, despite the density of information online, a book can still be the handiest resource. It's easy to flip to the page you want and get exactly the information you need in a glance. Plus it's shaped like a block!

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Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

  • A captivating history of how the personal computer came to be
  • An older story, but recently updated

Who will love it: The scholarly, the curious, the budding programmers and entrepreneurs.

This new book is actually an old book. The 25th anniversary re-release of Levy’s book has added chapters on greats like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Hackers is a history of the birth of the computer systems we use everyday. It takes us back to a time when someone had to pop the case open, break something in half, and put it back together to make something new.

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80 Days

  • One of the best-written games ever
  • Immensely replayable, with dozens of paths and stories to discover
  • Great even for infrequent gamers
  • May inspire you to spend all your money traveling the world

Release date: 2015 | Review score: 91%

Who will love it: Readers, history lovers, romantics

80 Days is the story of an English gentleman and a wager. As the gentleman’s valet, you must help your employer circumnavigate the world before 80 days is up. It's a digital choose-your-own adventure that you'll spend most of your time reading, but every line of text is a delight, not a chore. It's easy to fall in love with 80 Days' alternate history of the 19th century, which has a sci-fi flavor befitting Jules Verne.

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FTL: Faster Than Light

  • Challenging sci-fi strategy that's never the same twice
  • You can teleport your crew to an enemy ship to fight their crew...
  • ...and you can blow up an enemy ship with your crew still on it. Oops.

Release date: 2012 | Review score: 89%

Who will love it: Sci-fi and strategy fans, anyone who gets hooked on "just one more"

If you’re buying for a fan of Star Trek or Firefly and they somehow don’t already have this classic, it’s a sure thing. Command a scout ship through dangerous territory, controlling and upgrading ship systems and praying for a kind hand from Lady Fate. FTL consistently lands near the top of our Top 100 lists, and it features one of our favorite soundtracks ever.

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Rocket League

  • Rocket cars
  • Immediately intuitive, but allows for deeply skilled play
  • There's always someone better than you, and they will make you mad

Release date: 2015 | Review score: 87%

Who will love it: Anyone with a competitive bone in their body

Here’s the short version: rocket cars play football. You are a rocket car. It's a blast. Some sports games have impenetrable rules and weird meta-fiction, but Rocket League sidesteps all that.

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Prison Architect

  • Years of depth honed through an Early Access release
  • As silly or serious as you want it to be
  • Prisons are actually kind of a bummer

Release date: 2015 | Review score: 87%

Who will love it: Strategy fiends, sim players. Dad?

Playing Prison Architect is a bit like deciding that all of your Playmobil toys have been very, very naughty. This simulation lets you build and manage a modern-day, maximum security prison for little sim people. Give it to someone who loves fully immersing themselves in the depth of a PC game with complex systems to learn and master. Keep the peace, stay under budget, and prevent escapes.

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Dungeon of the Endless

  • 1-4 player online co-op
  • A unique mix of roguelike and tower defense
  • Everything can be going great one moment, and you're wiped out the next.

Release date: 2014 | Review score: 77%

Who will love it: Your co-op buddies. Tower defense, roguelike and RPG fans.

There’s a lot going on in this engaging, budget roguelike. There’s a mix of tower defense, XCOM squad management and FTL brutality, all stirred up in a top-down, pixel-graphics cocktail. All the pieces here may be familiar, but the game itself is something special.

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Her Story

  • A detective game unlike anything else
  • Engaging even for non-gamers
  • Short enough not to wear out its welcome, but you'll likely want more.

Release date: 2015 | Review score: 90%

Who will love it: Serial podcast fans, mystery lovers, whoever you play it with.

This one’s a little bit different. Combing through police records, you’re challenged to piece together the story of a woman in trouble. Dozens of chunks of interviews are all jumbled up, some are missing, and over the course of the game you wonder: did she do it?

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That's it for our 2015 holiday gift guide

If you need more ideas, be sure to check out the rest of our hardware buying guides. You can find more advice from our reviews section, and for more general tech advice, check out our sister site TechRadar's holiday buying guide.

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