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.
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.
The Kingston HyperX Cloud headset sounds great, feels comfy, and is less expensive than many of its competitors. Our go-to recommendation for more than a year now, and still the headset to beat.
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Treat yourself, or a friend with an outdated rig, to the best price/performance graphics card around.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.
You can find a slightly cheaper GTX 970 than this MSI model, but it has great power circuitry and cooling to support an overclock that will rival the performance of a GTX 980.
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.
That’s where the cheap, fast, powerful Crucial BX100 SSD comes in. For just $85, you can get a 250GB drive big enough to hold an entire Steam library. The speed improvement makes a big difference in graphics-intensive games, and this will cost way less than a brand new graphics card. Give someone the gift of dramatically shortened load times this holiday.
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.
Note: the adapter does only work with Windows 10, so take that into consideration. It also unfortunately doesn't support Xbox 360 controllers, but it can connect to up to eight Xbox One controllers wirelessly.
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.
For those without a bit of desk space to spare, there's a creative alternative. Give them the Hengja headphone desk hanger which can clamp onto the edge of the desk and let their headphones hang somewhere out of the way.
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.
Some of our best features show up in the magazine first, and they're stylishly laid out with real professional graphic design. The less-burnable digital edition still looks great on a tablet, but the print edition really says "I like you enough to give you a physical thing, rather than the ethereal experience of digital goods."
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.
The posters are a fairly small 12.6x17.7 inches, so a couple would look excellent paired together. Bonus: you don't need to spend extra money on a frame, really, because they're made of metal. Everyone's going to want to touch them, and they come with a magnetic mounting solution.
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!
The lamp includes seven total pieces, but you can combine multiple lamp sets if you want to get crazy or play actual Tetris. We hear the I Block is always in demand.
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.*
*Not valid if you play the game with your spoiled, 12-year-old cousin
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.
We recognize this is a completely unnecessary accessory and everyone already owns a million USB charging cables. But it lights up, which means it could also double as a supremely rad night light. That's just too cool.
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.
Also available as a Men's Tee, for all you brothers out there.
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.
If Blizzard gear is what you're looking for, in general, there's a ton more on Blizzard's store.
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!
The figures are, of course, very cool too. Anyone who's as big a Klei fan as we are will like having some of their characters as little figures on your desk. My favorite touch is the Mark of the Ninja figure, which features different masks based on the changing masks in the game. Marketing!
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.
Pour some drinks, gather some friends around, and have a good time without looking at screens and chat windows. It’ll do you good.
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.
It's a neat mix of digital and physical with a companion smartphone app, but our favorite thing about the X-COM board game is its cooperative nature. Each player takes on a distinct role (each of which plays differently) and does their part to combat the alien threat.
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."
Not only do they look great, but the site describes them as “sumptuous,” which is very bold. Self-confidence looks great on you, Bitmap.
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.
From near the end of Ellison's journey, via the Embed blog: "It seems only fair that here comes the rush of adrenaline now that I know what I’m doing. The destination is Australia: I’m stuck in LAX, the world’s second worst airport, Christmas is coming, a woman has been taken off the plane with an allergic reaction to something she ate in the tinsel-draped choo-choo train lined terminal. I am flung into my final month to a burst of sugary pop music.
I look down at my hands and they are shaking with anticipation."
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!
If there's no Minecraft mega-fan in your life, gift this book to a random 14-year-old. They'll probably appreciate it.
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.
A great way to learn about the history of your favorite hobby. Pairs well with David Kushner's Masters of Doom, which tells the story of John Carmack, John Romero, and the glory days of id.
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.
This is the type of game that can be played casually with a loved one or family looking on, or you can dive into the details and travel the globe over and over. Easy to play on a laptop or on a long flight.
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.
Since 2012 FTL has gotten a big free update with new gameplay systems and stories, and it's regularly discounted in sales down to $5 or less. Buy a few copies and give them out like gaming candy.
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.
Based on the world’s most popular sport (but with flying cars), Rocket League is instantly understandable by anyone. It’s fast, dramatic, and a lot of fun to play with friends. It even allows for local multiplayer, which makes it perfect for playing with family.
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.
Their first prison will be small and humble; their last will be a monstrously sprawling and ruthlessly efficient machine. And when they get bored, they can take the role of a prisoner and try to break out of their own creation.
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.
It really shines as a cooperative game: adding more people cranks up the complexity as you work together to fight through endless waves of aliens and balance building towers, exploring, and upgrading your own character's abilities and equipment.
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?
A must-have for fans of the podcast Serial, this murder mystery pushes all the same buttons. If you don't buy it as a gift, consider bringing it to a gathering or family or friends and playing through it together, unraveling the mystery as a team.