It’s easy to buy video games for the people on your Christmas list, but you can get a lot more for a lot less if you look beyond the television.
Christmas is more than just video games
Christmas is only a week away and if you’re like me, you haven’t done much shopping yet. Thankfully Amazon makes it incredibly easy to find the popular toys and get them to your doorstep practically overnight. I don’t advocate just picking out random toys for your kids and loved ones, but if you must, you must. Amazon has a list of “best selling” toys so for all the parents and grandparents that don’t know exactly what to buy, here’s my take on a few select items from Amazon’s list.
Flying Shark R/C Blimp
Okay, this is just awesome. C’mon, a flying shark! What kid (or adult) wouldn’t want a giant flying great white shark? So what if it’s just a remote control balloon…it’s a shark! There’s also a clown fish version of this wonderful R/C blimp but I feel sorry for the kid that gets the clown fish only to find out his friend down the street got Jaws. Of course, for every unit of awesome there is usually a unit of suck and this floating predator is no different. You’ll need to stock up on AAA batteries, which might not be an issue, but I’m guessing most people don’t have an extra tank of helium hanging around the house. Yes, this bad boy needs some gas to get into the air and that ain’t cheap. The toy itself will run you $30 and from the looks of things a helium tank runs anywhere from $50 – $75, so this cheap-looking toy quickly becomes uncheap. Still, it’s a flying shark.
Perplexus is an aptly named puzzle game that seems to put the old fashion labyrinth game into a plastic sphere. Perplexus looks confusing at first glance but I see a lot of fun trying to move your marble up, down and around all the twisting pathways. The toy suggests ages 6 – 12 but looking at this thing I’m not sure folks 12+ could easily solve this one. If nothing else, Perplexus would even look cool standing still. I can see one of these on my office desk at work as just an interesting object but then also as the “I can’t stare at my computer screen anymore” break toy. Perplexus comes in several flavors and skill levels, each of which goes for about $20. If you’re looking for something different but still somewhat educational, this would be a good choice.
Electricity is one those things I wish I had learned more about when I was little. I loved learning about circuits and switches in elementary school but that’s where it stopped. Today I’m not sure I would know how to turn on a light bulb but having Snap Circuits would certainly help. There are several Snap Circuits kits, the larger models coming with buzzers, lights, sensors and then some. I can’t draw a schematic to save my life but the 8-year-old that has this certainly can. This is the type of toy I wish I had gotten when I was younger if only to re-discover it as an adult. One of the best feelings in the world is outgrowing a toy and then finding out later as an adult that it’s still a lot of fun and that you never really outgrow some toys, especially ones that teach you something. This is the type of toy I look forward to giving my own child and watching their excitement when they make that buzzer go off. Considering there are a ton of projects within Snap Circuits, there’s a lot of bang for your $35 in this one.
Settlers of Catan
Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a board game, right? Sure, you can take the easy way out with the latest licensed Star Wars game or one of the 124 varieties of Uno, but if you want a real game that will last forever, Settlers of Catan is a good choice. Catan is a strategy and resource management game that pits you against up to four of your friends. Every time you play, the board gets shuffled around so you have to adjust your buying, spending and trading accordingly. Work to conquer the land and kick out your opponents to take over their settlements! Catan has more complex rules than some other board games but this is truly a game you can enjoy at the age of 40 as much as you can at the age of 14. Buy this for your pre-teen and they’ll have a game for life. Battleship and Trouble will come and go, but Catan is forever. I admit, $30 seems steep for a board when you can nab Monopoly for less than $10, but I guarantee this will not be money wasted.
You can’t go wrong LEGO. There’s a LEGO set for every budget and every size. Need a few stocking stuffers? No problem. Need something that will last more than 10 minutes? No problem. Need something that will be interesting forever? Also, not a problem…if you go with the LEGO Mindstorms. The Mindstorm sets are something I want right now as a 30-something but just can’t justify the $200 price tag. Yes, $200 for a LEGO set. But before you scoff and scroll on, these Mindstorm LEGO sets turn your regular LEGO bricks into moving robotic creations. Packed in with all the LEGO bricks is software that lets you program them to do your bidding. Want your LEGO robot to spin and dance when someone turns on the light? You can make it do so. How about a LEGO dinosaur that will pick up and crush Hot Wheels? Again, not a problem. When you were young and in your LEGO prime you always dreamed of making your creations actually move and do stuff, and now with Mindstorms you can make that happen! It might be cliche but in the case of Mindstorms, your imagination really is the limit…well, that and your bank account.
I know I’m the first person to poo-poo modern incarnations of classic toys (and I have every right to) but Simon Flash caught my eye as an interesting spin on an old favorite. The original Simon is still one of my favorite puzzle games and I wish I still had mine. Between the lights, sounds and speed, Simon is a toy that still challenges me to this day. Simon Flash sounds like it follows the same formula but instead of beating on a UFO-shaped piece of plastic you have to arrange colored blocks that magically know when you’re right and wrong. Classic Simon had you hitting colors in order but they always stayed in the same spot. Simon Flash looks to challenge you a little bit more by making you actually move the colors around. This might be another reinvention of the wheel that is all bark and no bite, but I’ll give it a try for less than $15…it certainly beats the Uno robot.
Educational gifts don’t have to suck
I just realized that all of these toys are more or less educational…well, maybe not the flying shark. From learning electronic circuits and programming to challenging your spacial reasoning to learning how to divide and conquer a small island of villages, there’s something that will be great fun for the kids (and adults) on your Christmas list. The best part is many of these toys are timeless and will last a lifetime. Why not give them a shot?