Commence the commerce!
It’s that time of year where we express to one another how much we care by buying creative gifts.
If you have a puzzler in your life (or you’re looking to treat yourself), we’ve done the creativity for you.
In each category we’ve included gifts spanning a range of prices. We even included a couple of aspirationally priced items. This year’s holiday buyer’s guide is unique from the previous guides we published in 2017 & 2016.
Tabletop Escape Games
$165 (ships internationally)
If you’re looking for a big puzzle game that requires commitment, Tale of Ord is one of our favorite tabletop puzzle games. The puzzles are challenging and numerous. The writing is about as good as we’ve seen from the play-at-home puzzle game genre. (Full Review)
£7.50 per single issue, £20.00 per seasonal (three issues) subscription, £70.00 per annual (twelve issues) subscription (ships internationally)
These monthly puzzle mailings are loaded with gorgeous art and unusual puzzles. Buy them for the challenges. Keep them because they are freaking beautiful. (Full Review)
Over the course of many installments, Unlock! has shifted from a card-based re-creation of escape rooms to a narrative-driven puzzle adventure series. In our opinion, The Adventures of Oz is the pinnacle of this series. This shouldn’t be your first Unlock! game (that honor should go to Squeek & Sausage), but if you’re comfortable with the series and its mechanics, you should head off to see the wizard. (Full Review)
We’ve played a whole bunch of new installments in the Exit: The Game series of destructible tabletop escape games. Of the batch, The Sunken Treasure has been one of our favorites. It’s by far the best installment for players new to the series. (Full Review)
We’re fans of Deckscape’s card-based play-at-home escape games. Test Time was our favorite. (Full Review)
This magnetic key and mail organizer has been a fantastic addition to our home. It looks great and it’s highly functional.
If you give this re-creation of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Holy Grail to someone and they respond with anything other than “You chose wisely,” then you should just end that relationship.
This handblown hourglass is filled with 1,249,996 tiny ball bearings and measures 10 minutes. It’s beautiful and expensive. We can’t afford it, but if you buy it, we’d love to see it in person.
This is a collaborative treasure hunt where 2 to 4 players with unique abilities attempt to obtain 4 sacred items from a sinking item. Each game takes about 30 minutes to play and it feels like a constantly shifting group puzzle. It’s easy to learn and easy to teach. I’ve been playing it fairly regularly for over 5 years.
$30 (46 CAD)
This is a recent find for us and we’re pretty obsessed with it.
Gizmos is a competitive game for 2 to 4 players, where everyone is trying to build more effective chain reaction machines that earn points and resources. It’s competitive, but not in-your-face competitive. Plus, it has a super fun marble dispenser.
This hour-long game for 3 to 6 players starts out collaborative until someone triggers the haunting… and then a defector is revealed and the game changes profoundly.
With more than 50 different defector scenarios and a procedurally generated game map, there is a ton of replay crammed into this box.
While it pulls from horror tropes, it’s not a scary game. If you’d prefer a different theme, however, you can play the equally great Dungeons & Dragons-themed Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate. Finally… if you already know and love this game, Betrayal Legacy looks amazing.
Gloomhaven is a collaborative tactical combat adventuring game in a persistent world with more than 100 missions for 1 to 4 players. Each mission takes 60 to 120 minutes to complete. The game is loaded with hidden content. It’s like Dungeons & Dragons, but more boardgamey. This is a big game for people who like tabletop gaming.
If you’re springing for Gloomhaven, you may also want to consider the Broken Token organizers. I’m not really into custom box organization, but this is one of the few games that warrants it.
This elegant-looking chess board moves your opponent’s pieces using magic (or a computer-controlled electromagnet). It’s crazy how smooth it is. You can play against the game’s AI or against any other Square Off owner in the world.
Use the code ARTIST20 to receive 20% off.
I keep this little tool in easy reach. This has been another great upgrade to our home. More often than not, if I need a screwdriver for a casual repair, this thing can handle the job. It can also fit into tight spaces.
My Dremel is one of my go-to tools. I use it for everything. If you like to make things, you can almost certainly find an attachment that will improve your process.
There is no tool that I would love to own more than a good laser cutter. The Glowforge is the one that I’d buy if we had the space, ventilation, and money.
DIY Crafty Puzzles
$38 (71 CAD)
These things are just nifty looking. There’s something about the geometry of them that has stuck with me from the first time I encountered one over a year ago. Plus… dinosaur!
U Gears models combine puzzle, art, and engineering in one project. We built the Treasure Box, but they have a ton of amazing products. Read our review first to make sure that you have the right tools on-hand. (You don’t need many, but you really need them.) (Full Review)
These cat and dog packing puzzles are adorable. They start you off easy, slowly ramping up the difficulty. Whether you’re looking to learn packing puzzles, already enjoy them… or just want the cute dog and cat figures, these are a good buy. (Full Review)
Purchased as a pair, each well-crafted bolt hides a different trick. The goal is to remove the nut, but you’ll find it isn’t trivial. Small, sturdy, and easy to carry around, you’ll always have a puzzle handy.
This looks like a normal Rubik’s Cube with cute headphones, right? The “headphones” are actually a removable charging connector. Why do you need to charge a Rubik’s Cube? This one can transmit the entire state of the cube via Bluetooth to your phone, allowing it to show you how to solve it, or play several different cube-based games. It also has a pleasant clicky-but-smooth feel.
Heart CaseSold out 💔
Pluredo makes some terrific hand-crafted wooden puzzles. This one, a “sequential discovery” puzzle, reveals tools as you progress. You’ll need to use the tools to open the final compartment. It’s not too difficult, but it’s satisfying nonetheless.
This is another sequential discovery puzzle, where each bolt reveals new tools that you can use to get further into the puzzle. It’s a little more expensive and a lot harder. Don’t expect to solve this in a single sitting.
The New York Puzzle Company makes beautiful traditional cardboard jigsaw puzzles. Their pieces have unusual shapes and their print quality is great. Their Harry Potter puzzle line is a perfect choice for the puzzling Potterhead in your life. Our favorite is the 1,000 piece Flying Keys puzzle… naturally.
Small but mighty. This intricate little laser-cut wooden puzzle was far more complex and interesting than its piece count suggested. (Full Review)
Gorogoa is a novel, gorgeous, and innovative puzzle game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It may be a short game, but it’s mighty. (Full Review)
The Witness is one of the great puzzle games of our time. It’s a deep exploration of one puzzle type that sublimely guides you from novice to master with a difficulty curve that teaches you, while still making you be smart. (Full Review)
We’re big fans of Atlas Obscura. Whenever we travel, we try to sneak in some strange sites. This book is made to help kids feel more connected to the world and more comfortable traveling. It’s fun and quirky.
This 5-volume graphic novel series from 2002 by Brian K. Vaughan is still one of my favorite stories. It explores a world where only two animals with a Y chromosome survive a sudden calamity. It’s the kind of setup that could have turned gross or terrible quickly, but is heartfelt and intriguing. It’s also one of those rare series that stuck the landing. That last issue was haunting.
Whether you’re an escape room designer already or you’re aspiring to be one, if you are designing games, this is a must-read.
These heat-activated erasable pens are amazing! We use them whenever we’re puzzling. They erase well and don’t leave any eraser dust behind. (Full Review)
All hail the king of the fidget toys. This thing is just cool. It has no practical purpose or challenge to it. It’s just immensely satisfying to fiddle with.
Set fire to a Nazi to relive one of the more satisfying villain deaths in cinematic history from the comfort of your own home.
Here’s your annual reminder to purchase a gift certificate from a local escape room company. It’s the perfect gift.
You either grew up with this and think these shirts are awesome… or you have no idea what I’m talking about. (More Details)
I love this creepy mobile escape room-style video game series. It has long deserved a post… stay tuned. If you or your loved ones are Rusties… may I suggest the Cube shirt? You know what to do.
Coding is fun and a critical literacy now and in the future.
Scratch is a free programming language for children to create stories, animations, and games. It’s a straightforward, unintimidating way to learn how to create with code. To kickstart your kid, check out the book, Coding Games in Scratch: A Step-by-Step Visual Guide to Building Your Own Computer Games.
Free/$3 per month
This is an email subscription from Eric Berlin, the creator of the wonderful Winston Breen book series. He delivers a weekly paper puzzle (in PDF format) designed for younger puzzlers (but often still interesting for adults). It has both free and paid tiers.
Perplexus is a dexterity puzzle where a player attempts to navigate a silver ball through 100+ obstacles. It’s fun and challenging.
I’ve seen these things in quite a few escape room lobbies, but it turns out that they are huge with kids.
Lisa grew up with Playmobil. She had an entire town of people. They provided her with an endless outlet for creativity in play (and inadvertently, a career). Today, Playmobil offers Explorers of the Hidden Temple and Haunted House play sets, among many others. They are so escape room-y, it’s not even funny. Get your kids hooked on adventure while they’re young.
It’s like air hockey, but with magnets and a few added obstacles. Plus, it doesn’t take up an entire room.
From $49.90 per quarter for a quarterly plan to $45.90 per quarter for an annual plan
This box is delivered quarterly with 9 science toys, puzzles, books, and games designed to entertain and educate a knowledge-hungry kid.
“Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.”
Give & Give Smart
Regardless of the organization you plan to donate to, please take a few minutes to research the way that the non-profit operates. Charity Navigator evaluates non-profits based on their financial responsibility and transparency.
I’m not going to name names, but I can guarantee that Charity Navigator will change the way you look at some of the best known non-profits.
Past Buyers Guides
Our past guides still have great stuff in them…
Thank you to our friends Brett, Max, Paula, and John for their wonderful suggestions for this holiday buyer’s guide.
If you purchase via our Amazon links or use our discount codes, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We truly appreciate your support.