15 games that will keep the fun going all year round

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This is part of the LA Times 2021 gift guide. View the complete guide here. If you make a purchase through one of our links, the LA Times may be compensated.

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Sports has become one of the defining mediums of our lives in the last one and a half years.

Games, after all, provided the ability to connect, share and bond during limited times of travel and gatherings. Although the video game industry has long been big business, many were incensed to remember the joy that comes with simply playing a game with a friend or loved one. Our list includes tech old and new, as well as some face-to-face options to celebrate the power of interactivity.

‘an improvement’

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“A Mending” from Shing Yin Khor is what the developer calls a “keepsake” game.
(Shing Yin Khor)

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“A Reformation,” from local developer, writer and artist Shing Yin Khor, is a game that shows how games can inspire contemplation and conversation. Designed to be played alone or with another person, “A Mending” is partly a story about two friends who have long gone their separate ways and partly a work that whose purpose is to provoke intimate thoughts.

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It’s also a beautiful scene, which comes with a fabric map and some basic sewing materials that allow the player to create what is essentially a handmade item while playing. Using a mix of role-playing game techniques as well as playing cards, “A Mending” celebrates our memories—the ones we haven’t made up yet and the ones we’ve forgotten.

$50 , I shop here

The box for the Move 38's game blinks and separates hexagonal pieces.
Move 38 Blinks offers a wide variety of games.
(move 38)

“Blinks” is downright enchanting. A self-contained game that consists of multiple experiences, the main set of “Blinks” consists of nine hexagonal cubes, each filled with lights that respond to our touch, and each containing a color-driven strategy game. We snap cubes together, create patterns with lights and think of new and surprising ways to play. Many can be played alone for a quiet night at home (hint: dim the lights), but “Blinks” is great for travel, too. Play it under the stars during a weekend getaway. “Blinks” will be as bright as the sky above.

$149 , I shop here

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Date or Family Night at Two Bit Circus

Hanging lights in an outdoor area complete with tables and chairs and a bar.
Downtown LA. in two bit circus
(Two Bit Circus)

Thankfully, Two Bit Circus in Downtown LA survived the pandemic, allowing this spin on the arcade to show locals what happens when earlier carnival games are augmented with modern, experimental technology. Even more exciting is what Two Bit Circus calls “story rooms”, where small groups can work to make candy or stage a random surgery. In the latter two experiences no puppets are harmed – and no candy is made, but there is a lot of chaos and laughter. Buy a package that starts at $70 for two and comes with $70 worth of games.

$70 , I shop here

More Gift Guides

‘Hades’ (Physical Version)

The cover of "Hades" features a terrifying mythological figure.
“Hades” is one of the most beloved games of recent years.
(Supergiant Games)

“Hades,” released in 2020 but given a physical version this year, is already one of the most beloved games of the last decade. This intricately designed hack-and-slash game uses death in inventive ways. We die often in this action game exploring Greek mythology – it’s embedded in the design of the genre that the game belongs to – but in “Hades” the death is reduced to a point of despair and goes back to the beginning. One way to know more is through Greek mythological characters. Before it’s too late, it’s a reminder to really get to know the people we care about.

However, the main reason to buy the physical version is the 32-page art book that comes with it. “Hades”, for all its death and spells, is beautiful, and full of characters we want to get to know better. Now we can trace both its form and its inhabitants.

$29.99 , I shop here

‘flower’

(Scrollcat Studio)

Don’t overlook this gem of a free game. “Hoa” is an interactive children’s novel, a fairy tale set in a lush, beautifully conceived forest world inhabited by luminescent creatures. It is best not to rush through “HOA”. It’s a work that inspires patience, asking us to be on each of its carefully drawn screens. This is acceptable to both young and old alike, as our spirit character may never “die” in the traditional video game sense. We just run, jump, swim, fly and explore a world we wish we could go to. “HOA” is available digitally for home computers and all major home video game consoles and has physical versions for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.

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$39.88 , I shop here

‘Infinite Playground’

"The Infinite Playground" package has people biking, walking, playing, juggling and more.
“Infinite Playground” celebrates play in everyday spaces.
(MIT Press)

“Infinite Playground” is a guide to how we can think about play in our daily lives. A dedication to the surface for Bernard de Cowen—an influential game theorist who advocated games as a way of looking at the world—the “infinite playground” is an accepted celebration of his work filled with light game ideas, minimal With regulations and often zero equipment needed. Want to play a sport while walking down the street? He’s here, as are the games we can play as icebreakers. Mostly, it is a collection of games that ask us to use our imagination.

$29.95 , I shop here

Lab Rat Escape Room

The words "Lab Rat" on a yellow background, with figures of a little man and a large rat.
The “Lab Rat” is one of LA’s most famous escape rooms.
(hatch escape)

One of LA’s wildest, weirdest, and most famous escape rooms has reopened. “Lab Rat” is a sad, cartoon-like twist on mad-scientist tropes. Here, humans are the subjects, and rats are out for revenge after decades of being subjected to experimentation. Gather friends, solve puzzles and don’t get fake-murdered by an evil mouse.

$148-$156 for a group of four , I shop here

‘The Legend of Zelda’ (Game and Watch version)

Nintendo
A gift for a fan of retro games.
(Nintendo)

“The Legend of Zelda” has been re-released for several Nintendo game systems, but the retro style on the company’s early Game and Watch systems is one of our favorites. Why? Because it includes a clock and a timer with vintage “Zelda” graphics, and it looks lovely on a shelf.

Yes, you can play it, but it’s also a great way to watch the seconds tick by.

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$49.99 , I shop here

Nintendo Switch (OLED Module)

One hand pulls a Nintendo Switch out of its dock.
The Nintendo Switch OLED module appears on many Switch games.
(Nintendo)

Nintendo stopped competing with the Sonys and Microsofts of the world when it comes to pure technical prowess. Instead the Switch has excelled in versatility—a handheld machine as well as one that can dock and play on a television like a more traditional console. It’s also a tool that specializes in accessible game experiences. For those who haven’t picked up a Switch yet, which was initially released in 2017, the OLED version makes a compelling case to pick one up now, offering a better screen so every game looks a little sharper .

$349.99 , I shop here

Oculus Quest 2 (128-Gig Version)

An Oculus Quest 2 headset and two controllers.
Virtual reality gets a little more real with Oculus Quest 2.
(oculus)

Yes, for years you’ve read that virtual reality is “the next big thing.” We know. We are tired too. But here’s the thing: Oculus Quest 2, at long last, makes the case that virtual reality is indeed the future, because it’s easy to use (cordless!) games that feel like a fast transportation experience rather than a tech demo. We do. A recent update to the system increases the storage capacity and makes the overall home VR system a more attractive purchase.

$299 , I shop here

‘Erie and the Blind Forest’ (Collector’s Edition)

The packaging for two "ori" games glows in the dark.
Two “ori” games for the Nintendo Switch in one fancy set.
(iam8bit)

The two “ori” games – “Ori and the Blind Forest” and “Ori and the Will of the Wisps” – could be considered living pictures if they weren’t as challenging as they are. The games are so beautiful indeed, with mysterious, twilight forests full of warm lights, cool colors and strange creatures. Some of those critters are foreboding, causing Ori to glow in pain when encountering them. Every time you hear that little scream, it’s hard not to feel a single tone of sadness.

These are games that could be animated movies, and local galleries and stores treat iam8bit Nintendo Switch versions with the respect they deserve. This glow-in-the-dark box comes with a host of “ori” items, but most of them are designed to celebrate the excellence that is the art of the game.

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$149 , I shop here

‘An Agile Production Process’

Richard Lemarchand book cover
(MIT Press)

In this textbook that doesn’t read like one, Richard Lemarchand discusses game design in a way that can give us a better appreciation of the medium and level of work that goes into bringing an interactive story to life. . A game design professor at USC, Lemarchand has written a book that makes a perfect gift for the budding game designer in your life – whether it’s a teen looking to study game design or an entertainment professional who wants a better… .

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