Great Gifts for the Game Player You Adore

What can I get her? What does she need?" Ah, there it is — the questions that ring loudly from house after house during the holiday season each year. You know that your gamer plays [insert name of trading card game here], but you don't know how to translate that information into something for under $50 that you can wrap.

Finding that perfect game-oriented something takes a little bit of extra effort, but it pays huge dividends. The gift ideas below apply to anybody that plays any sort of trading card or collectible miniatures game because, regardless of which game your gift recipient enjoys, all game players need certain things.

Expanding the collection with booster packs

From a gift-buying perspective, one very nice thing about collectible games is that players always need more cards and pieces. If you ever feel stuck about what to give, you can't go too awfully wrong by purchasing booster packs — or even a whole booster display, a package you can buy from your Friendly Local Game Store that includes all of the booster packs available for an expansion of your gamer's favorite game.

When purchasing boosters for someone, make sure you know precisely what game he plays and which set he wants. Every collectible game on the market includes multiple releases of cards or figures. Knowing that your friend plays Vs. or Mage Knight gives you about half the information that you actually need to make a purchase. From there, find out which specific sets he wants. Buying the wrong release of the right game takes a lot of the luster off an otherwise thoughtful gift.

As a general rule, all players can use more of the newest cards or pieces. Ask your friendly local game store to guide you toward the newest stuff for whatever game your player loves and then pick out some packs.

Newer players might want a starter and some packs, or perhaps a handful of packs from the last few sets. A new player's collection always needs more of everything, so you can't really go wrong. More experienced players generally want the latest stuff.

Adding more (and cooler) card sleeves

When trading card games first arrived on the scene, players didn't view their decks as anything special. They rubber-banded decks together, shuffled them during games, and generally treated them like, well, cards. As the resale market for cards grew, players quickly realized that their cards had actual monetary value in addition to playing value.

This left players in a conundrum. The most valuable cards from a monetary perspective were also the most powerful cards, which they really wanted to put into their decks. But to protect the monetary value of the card, they couldn't really play with it.

That's why deck protectors (also known as card sleeves) came into the world. Suddenly, players could use any card in their collections without fear that every shuffle costs them a little bit of money.

Players almost always need more deck protectors. Before picking up some as a gift, find out what brand of protectors your player prefers, and whether she needs normal-size protectors or the slightly narrower "mini" size. Yu-Gi-Oh! players, for instance, need the mini protectors, but Pokémon players use full-size protectors.

Organizing the world with pages and binders

Card binders and 9-card pages (for use with regular three-ring binders) keep cards from getting damaged or lost. They let you see the cards quickly and easily while still protecting them from all manner of nastiness. You can also throw a binder or two into your backpack and take the whole thing to a tournament for easy trading.

One-piece binders (also known as portfolios) do a great job for trading stock or storing the current set that's under study. The binder wraps a heavy cover around a bunch of built-in card storage pages.

Instead of getting regular round-ring binders, look for the new-style D-ring binders. They add a surprising 25 to 40 percent more storage capacity to each binder.

Traveling with a tournament bag

Serious game players require serious gaming luggage, so a game bag makes a great gift opportunity. Dedicated gaming carriers come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. Visit your friendly local game store for the best selection of gaming gear. Remember that most stores happily special-order products if your game player wants something specific.

Start with a look at one of the dedicated card bags. These cases include soft foam inserts that fit either loose stacks of cards or standard-sized card boxes, plus space for dice, markers, rule books, and the other necessities of the gaming life. The cases usually cost around $25.

Subscribing to a favorite game magazine

Players love reading about their favorite games and learning strategies to help them squash their opponents during the next tournament. Because of that love, the trading card game hobby spawned a pair of monthly magazines that focus almost exclusively on collectible and trading card games.

Both InQuest Gamer and Scrye feature reviews, strategy articles, and tournament reports. InQuest Gamer approaches gaming with a lighter touch, often poking fun at itself and the game hobby with a combination of deep devotion and sometimes taste-challenged humor that appeals to teenaged boys. Scrye aims for a reader who wants solid information and strategies without a goofy soundtrack. Both magazines include reviews of non-collectible games, as well as occasional coverage of new computer games (particularly if they tie in to a collectible game of some kind).

From time to time, the magazines feature special mail-in promotions. By sending in a form from the magazine (along with a check or money order in your favorite local currency), you get some special limited-edition figure or card. These pieces make a subscription well worth the price because you can usually buy several of the pieces and then trade them to your friends.

Check with your local game store or bookstore for subscription information. Many game stores can set up a subscription plan through the store, which saves some money over buying individual copies.

Giving a big convention trip

The Holy Grail of gaming is playing (and winning!) your favorite game at one of the big summer conventions. These multi-day events bring together competitors from all over the world, making for one of the most fun and challenging playing environments you can find. Add to that the sheer excitement of assembling thousands of game players in one place, and you get the recipe for an unforgettable game-playing experience.

Gift possibilities abound with conventions. The simplest and most basic gift, a convention admission badge, costs between $45 and $80, depending on the convention and the time of year that you purchase it (badges cost a lot less early in the season). You might also toss in some money toward tickets for specific events at the convention. Money to spend on the exhibit floor makes a nice addition, too.

Visit the convention Web sites for more details about each show, including registration times and badge prices. Also look at the Web sites for your player's favorite games to see if the game manufacturer plans any super-special events for one convention or another.

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