16 min read

2023 Holiday Gift Guide for Geeks!

A gift for every nerd on your list! Books! Video Games! D&D! A... basketball?
2023 Holiday Gift Guide for Geeks!

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

… capitalist frenzy season! We’re all tapped out, but, it’s nearly December, and those record profits need a little boost, so we’re all obligated to drown our existential crises in gift receipts and the latest have-to-have doo-dads. So, Astrolabe’s here with the latest and greatest gift ideas for the geeks in your life—and a few not-so-geeky ideas, too.

This year, I’ve broken down the categories into gifts you can enjoy with your friends/family, gifts to enjoy solo, and gifts you can enjoy with kids. So, a little something for everybody, I hope, and ideas all along the price spectrum.

For consistency (despite how much it pains this Canadian) all prices below are in USD. Some links are Amazon affiliate links, which may earn Astrolabe a small commission with a purchase.

Previous Gift Guides for Geeks:

So, let’s go!

Gifts to Share with Family and Friends

The holidays are a great time to hunker down and connect with friends and family—these gift ideas will be fun to give and you get to enjoy them once the wrapper’s been torn off.

Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins ($27, Hasbro)

What they’re saying


Step into the exciting world of D&D with the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins board game! Choose your character and work together along the journey through the lands of Neverwinter, facing fantastic obstacles, battling monsters, and defeating the boss monster terrorizing the realm. The role of Dungeon Master passes from player to player with each turn, so everyone gets to be part of the storytelling.

  • QUICK ENTRY TO DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: Step into the exciting world of D&D with the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins board game. Designed for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up.
  • COOPERATIVE FANTASY GAME: This fantasy board game is a portal to the monsters, magic, and heroes of Dungeons & Dragons. Players work together as they journey through the lands of Neverwinter.
  • QUICK GAMEPLAY: Players can choose and customize their heroes, battle iconic D&D monsters, and experience a new adventure every time. So, step forward, brave heroes; adventure awaits!
  • CHOOSE A JOURNEY FOR YOUR PARTY: Choose a journey and which Boss your party of heroes will fight in the end. Choose from Felbris (Beholder), Orn (Fire Giant), Deathsleep (Green Dragon), and the Kraken.
  • D&D MINIATURE FIGURES: The game includes 4 plastic mini figures that correspond with the heroes featured in gameplay.

What I’m saying

Getting into Dungeons & Dragons can be daunting, especially if you don’t have an experienced friend or two to lead a playgroup, so this all-in-one board game presents a great way easy into D&D without all the set up and commitment. Scratch that roleplaying itch, convert some of your skeptical friends or family members, and pretty soon you’ll be hosting D&D night every Saturday and slingin’ fireballs with the best of them.

» Buy Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins

HeroQuest ($135, Avalon Hill)

What they’re saying

In the HeroQuest dungeon crawl board game, heroes work together to complete epic quests, find treasures and defeat the forces of evil. This semi-cooperative board game has one player taking on the role of Zargon, the Game Master, while 4 mythical heroes--Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf, and Wizard--team up in their quest for adventure in a maze of monsters and eerie dark dungeons. Players can immerse themselves in the fantasy with the stunning artwork, and 65+ detailed miniatures. The game comes with 14 quests, and has limitless replayability because players can also build their own quests and create their own stories. Gather friends together for an exciting night of tabletop gameplay in an epic battle of good and evil. The game is for 2-5 players, ages 14 and up.

What I’m saying

Back in the stone ages when I was a kid, me and my family used to plumb dungeons, fight orcs and skeletons, and other generally adventurous things. While Dungeons & Dragons would come later, my introduction to dungeon crawling was through Milton Bradley’s classic all-in-one game system, HeroQuest. Focused more on combat and exploration than character building and roleplaying, this box set is perfect for newcomers to tabletop gaming, those looking for one-off games nights, or an ongoing family campaign. Rereleased by Avalon Hill in 2020, it’s never been a better time to get into HeroQuest.

» Get HeroQuest

Super Mario Wonder ($70, Nintendo)

What they’re saying

Welcome to the Flower Kingdom

Mario and friends have been invited to visit the colorful Flower Kingdom, just a short hop away from the Mushroom Kingdom. Unfortunately, King Bowser has transformed into a flying castle and is causing chaos across their peaceful land. Now our heroes must save the day—and the Flower Kingdom—in this wonderous new adventure!

What I’m saying

Back in the day, multiplayer Mario meant swapping the controller back-and-forth with your friend every time you died. Nowadays, it’s a full-fledged, multiplayer experience, and it’s never been better than with Super Mario Wonder. With a newfound level of visual polish, creativity, and impeccable design, Super Mario Wonder is the best game in the series since 1995’s Yoshi’s Island, and is at its best when you’re sharing the fun with three other friends—either side-by-side on the couch, or over the internet with online play.

» Get Super Mario Wonder

Quick Hits

  • Always wanted to get your play group into Magic: The Gathering, but didn’t know where to start? Give out copies of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan commander decks to your friends, and start jamming some four player games.
  • A basketball. Seriously, get out and hit the hoops with some friends. It’s just as much fun now as when you were 17.
  • Tickets to a local sports team. You don’t need to drop hundreds on an NHL or NBA game to have fun—plus, the hot dogs are far cheaper.
  • Hand out a few copies of a book, and force your friends to start a book club. It doesn’t even matter if you all read it, book clubs are a great excuse to get together and nobody can say no because you’re in a book club.

Gifts to enjoy solo

Some gifts are best enjoyed alone, so hand these out and skedaddle before the wrapping’s hit the floor.

A Handheld History ($40, Lost in Cult)

What they’re saying

Businessmen fiddling with calculators inspired Gunpei Yokoi to conceptualise the Game & Watch. A Handheld History is inspired by the forty-year portable gaming empire that spawned from those LCD screens.

Brought to you in partnership with Retro Dodo—the internet’s leading retro gaming site—A Handheld History is an explorative jaunt through the systems and games that defined the legacy of portable systems. Less of a historical account and more of a poignant, introspective adventure across decades of gaming memories, this book will reconnect you to that long car trip full of Tetriminos, Mewtwos, and discarded AA batteries before speeding ahead to our contemporary days of OLED screens and blockbusters in your backpack.

Handheld gaming is a cornerstone tenet of the industry, one that has spawned communities who exchange Miis on the subway and Pokemon on the playground. Friendships were made in this pocket of the medium, and it ought to be celebrated loudly, proudly, and across hundreds of beautifully-assembled pages of art and essays. Featuring words from Jason Bradbury, Janet Garcia, Jeff Grubb, Mike Diver, Larry Bundy Jr., Ashens and many more incredible voices, this is an unmissable ode to the gaming device that you keep close to your heart—right in your jacket pocket.

What I’m saying

Since debuting just a few years ago, UK prestige press Lost in Cult has impressed with its content-packed [lock-on] series (which, full disclosure, I’m contributing to in its sixth volume), and history-focused books like A Handheld History. From the early days of the Game & Watch, through the heights of the Game Boy and beyond, A Handheld History examines the important role portable gaming has played on the industry’s impact around the world. Accompanied by gorgeous illustrations and photographs, and jammed full of great content, it’s a wonderful book to sink into for an evening or page through slowly over the course of months. A mainstay on my night side table, A Handheld History is a love letter to gaming history, and a book I return to time and time again.

» Get A Handheld History

Analogue Pocket ($250, Analogue)

What they’re saying

Meet Analogue Pocket.

A multi-video-game-system portable handheld. A digital audio workstation with a built-in synthesizer and sequencer. A tribute to portable gaming. Out of the box, Pocket is compatible with the 2,780+ Game Boy, Game Boy Color & Game Boy Advance game cartridge library. Pocket works with cartridge adapters for other handheld systems, too. Like Game Gear. Neo Geo Pocket Color. Atari Lynx & more. Completely engineered in *two FPGAs.

No emulation.

What I’m saying

Does a perfect piece of technology exist? Yes, yes, it does, and it’s called the Analogue Pocket. Though they can be difficult to purchase due to instant sell outs and low stock, this handheld device from Analogue plays all your old Game Boy and GBA carts, and offers top-of-class retro gaming experiences for pretty much ever console (handheld and otherwise) through the 16-bit era thanks to OpenFPGA. I got one earlier this year, and it’s given life to my old Game Boy collection, and, with the optional Dock accessory, is a legitimately great retro gaming solution for my big screen in the living room. Read my full impressions of the Analogue Pocket in Astrolabe 35.

» Get Analogue Pocket

Video Game of the Year by Jordan Minor ($28, Abrams)

What they’re saying

Breaking down the 40-year history of the world's most popular art form, one video game at a time

Pong. The Legend of Zelda. Final Fantasy VII. Rock Band. Fortnite. Animal Crossing: New Horizons. For each of the 40 years of video game history, there is a defining game, a game that captured the zeitgeist and left a legacy for all games that followed. Through a series of entertaining, informative, and opinionated critical essays, author and tech journalist Jordan Minor investigates, in chronological order, the innovative, genre-bending, and earth-shattering games from 1977 through 2022. Minor explores development stories, critical reception, and legacy, and also looks at how gaming intersects with and eventually influences society at large while reveling in how uniquely and delightfully bizarre even the most famous games tend to be.

What I’m saying

Oh, what a glorious book. Jordan Minor is one of my favourite games writers, so as soon as I saw he was writing a book chronicling the best games every year from 1997 to 2022, I knew I needed a copy. Minor’s an astute and careful historian, valianlty arguing why he’s chosen each specific game as the “video game of the year” (even when I disagree with him), making this a compulsive and easygoing trip down memory lane. Minor’s choices tend toward mainstream hits, which is fair, but he’s also pulled in a who’s-who of video game-adjacent folk—Jason Schreier, Rebekah Valentine, Devindra Hardawar, Mike Drucker, Nadia Oxford, Alex Moukala, and more—to fill in the gaps with a bevy of other notable games from each year. Video Game of the Year is a gorgeous, endlessly entertaining love letter to gaming’s past.

» Get Video Game of the Year by Jordan Minor

RetroTINK-4K ($750, RetroTINK)

What they’re saying

The RetroTINK 4K supports a wide range of AV inputs and will be capable of sending a crisp, 4K/60 signal to your modern-day television. It's designed to be a next-generation upscaler / line-doubler and will allow for a wide selection of filters to be applied, giving you the chance to convincingly create the screen image you remember from the past.

- Time Extension

What I’m saying

Not everyone needs a retro game console scaling solution, but for those that do? The RetroTINK-4K is far and away the best solution. Not only does it scale up your old game consoles so they look crisp and clean on the 4K OLED in your living room, but it’s also supported by a customizable firmware LOADED with shaders that emulate (to a startling degree) the look and feel of many classic CRT TVs and monitors. I love my old tube TVs, but the RetroTINK-4K is the first device that has me pondering whether we’re reaching a point where you can get just as good a retro experience on modern TVs as old CRTs—and I *never* thought I’d say that.

At that price point, though, be sure you really like the person you’re gifting.

» Get RetroTINK-4K

Fight, Magic, Items by Aidan Moher ($18, Running Press)

What they’re saying

Take a journey through the history of Japanese role-playing games—from the creators who built it, the games that defined it, and the stories that transformed pop culture and continue to capture the imaginations of millions of fans to this day.

The Japanese roleplaying game (JRPG) genre is one that is known for bold, unforgettable characters; rich stories, and some of the most iconic and beloved games in the industry. Inspired by early western RPGs and introducing technology and artistic styles that pushed the boundaries of what video games could be, this genre is responsible for creating some of the most complex, bold, and beloved games in history—and it has the fanbase to prove it. In Fight, Magic, Items, Aidan Moher guides readers through the fascinating history of JRPGs, exploring the technical challenges, distinct narrative and artistic visions, and creative rivalries that fueled the creation of countless iconic games and their quest to become the best, not only in Japan, but in North America, too.

Moher starts with the origin stories of two classic Nintendo titles, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, and immerses readers in the world of JRPGs, following the interconnected history from through the lens of their creators and their stories full of hope, risk, and pixels, from the tiny teams and almost impossible schedules that built the foundations of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises; Reiko Kodama pushing the narrative and genre boundaries with Phantasy Star; the unexpected team up between Horii and Sakaguchi to create Chrono Trigger; or the unique mashup of classic Disney with Final Fantasy coolness in Kingdom Hearts. Filled with firsthand interviews and behind-the-scenes looks into the development, reception, and influence of JRPGs, Fight, Magic, Items captures the evolution of the genre and why it continues to grab us, decades after those first iconic pixelated games released.

What I’m saying

Hey, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.

» Get Fight, Magic, Items by Aidan Moher

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree ($18, Tor Books)

What they’re saying

When an injury throws a young, battle-hungry orc off her chosen path, she may find that what we need isn't always what we seek.

Set in the world of New York Times bestselling Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree's Bookshops & Bonedust takes us on a journey of high fantasy, first loves, and secondhand books.

Viv's career with the notorious mercenary company Rackam's Ravens isn't going as planned.

Wounded during the hunt for a powerful necromancer, she's packed off against her will to recuperate in the sleepy beach town of Murk―so far from the action that she worries she'll never be able to return to it.

What's a thwarted soldier of fortune to do?

Spending her hours at a beleaguered bookshop in the company of its foul-mouthed proprietor is the last thing Viv would have predicted, but it may be both exactly what she needs and the seed of changes she couldn't possibly imagine.

Still, adventure isn't all that far away. A suspicious traveler in gray, a gnome with a chip on her shoulder, a summer fling, and an improbable number of skeletons prove Murk to be more eventful than Viv could have ever expected.

What I’m saying

Set many years before Legends & Lattes, Bookshops & Bonedust is a polished follow-up that delivers exactly what I expected, needed, and wanted—with a clear understanding of how a prequel can stand on its own while also making its predecessor stronger in retrospect. Baldree’s got this cozy fantasy thing down, and the settings he creates, the people he populates them with, and the low stakes conflicts that arise are the perfect antidote to our world gone crazy. I didn’t know if a prequel story about protagonist Viv’s younger days would appeal—I liked that she was older and weary, broken and needing healing in Legends & Lattes; I didn’t know if I’d be able to leave my favourite characters behind. I didn’t know if trading Thimble’s cinnamon buns for literally anything (even books) would work. But, it does. Brilliantly. I would die for Potroast.

» Get Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

Quick Hits

Gifts to enjoy with kids

Sure, it’s fun to get the kids in your life the next Furby, but what if you could hook them up with a great present that you’ll also enjoy?

Disney Illusion Island ($40, Disney)

What they’re saying

Join Mickey and Friends on a brand-new adventure in Disney Illusion Island

Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy embark on a new adventure to find three magical books and save the mysterious island of Monoth. You’ll meet unusual allies and dangerous foes as you play solo or with up to three friends as the Fab Four in local co-op*. Work together as you run, jump, swim, and swing your way to victory!

Experience a brand-new Mickey & Friends adventure with hand-drawn animation, a fully orchestrated original score, and featuring performances from the authentic voice talents.

What I’m saying

Playing games with my kids is a joy, but my youngest is 5yo, and basically refuses to play any games with “bad buys.” She loves games like Alba, Animal Crossing, and A Short Hike, but platformers, even family-friendly ones like Super Mario Wonder, are a hard sell. Illusion Island being a Metroidvania with a focus on exploration and platforming, with no traditional combat, is a lovely surprise, making it a perfect opportunity to introduce my little one to a new style of game that I think she’ll dig.

» Get Disney Illusion Island

Pokémon Trading Card Game Battle Academy ($20, The Pokémon Company International)

What they’re saying

Everything you need to play in one box.

Even if you've never played the Pokémon Trading Card Game before, Pokémon TCG Battle Academy has everything you need to get started.

Inside each box, you'll find three 60-card Pokémon TCG decks, a game board, tutorial guides for beginners and a rulebook for advanced players, and accessories to enhance your game.

What I’m saying

Compared to my go-to trading card game, Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon’s entry-level ruleset is fairly straight forward (not to say it doesn’t have depth once you get more serious, though), and this Battle Academy box is the perfect introduction to the game. It comes with three decks, a game board, and step-by-step instructions walking you through your first game. My 9yo picked it up right away, and was soon winning games, and it’s robust enough that my 5yo, who understands just the barest surface level rules, has fun setting up the board and playing through, um, totally legit and not at all unbalanced games against me. It’s fun to pull out once in a while, or the perfect jumping off point for getting more serious about the game.

» Get Pokémon Trading Card Game Battle Academy

Colouring Books

What they’re saying

They’re colouring books. You colour them.

What I’m saying

During the early pandemic doldrums, me and my kids discovered the joy of sitting down at the kitchen table and spending a couple of hours doing colouring sheets together. Now that they’re older, we even tackle some of the same colouring sheets, and it’s a ton of fun seeing how we all add our own personal touches to the same images.

» Get The Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy Coloring Book

Quick Hits

  • A CrunchLabs Build Box subscription is a little on the pricey end, but monthly builds are the perfect way to connect with your kid, have fun, and learn something along the way.
  • A Pikachu Squishmallow. Sure, they’ll never let you near it during the day, but you can sneak in some cuddles after they’ve gone to bed.
  • Touch grass with your kid, and then see the world through their eyes with a kid-friendly digital camera.
  • Some Robux. Because, let’s be honest, this is what they really want.
  • A science kit was cool when my parents were kids, cool when I was a kid, and still cool now that my kids are kids, right?
  • Some LEGO Gingerbread Ornaments will spruce up your tree, and keep your kid quiet for about eight minutes.

Stocking Stuffers

Looking for something to top off the perfect stocking?

What’s on your list this year? Let me know in the comments!


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