Moontower Gift Guide for 2019

It’s the official start of holiday season. I thought this would be a good time to share some of my favorite finds from 2019 including a gift guide in advance of Cyber Monday.

Moontower Gift Guide

Everything in this list is something I have gotten great use out of and found to be reliable. Several of them have been secret Santa gifts I’ve been given. You can’t go wrong buying them for your white elephant exchange or jumping on them if someone else brings it to the party.

1. A car jump starter. I have a VicTsing model (link)

  • Doubles as a high capacity power bank
  • I keep this in my car and have used it many times to give myself a jump without anyone’s help as well as used it to help other motorists. It’s a quicker, easier process than putting 2 cars nose to nose.

2. A 12v/120v power inflator. There are many types to choose from. I have this Bonaire model (link)

  • Set target tire pressure and hit ‘go’. It auto shuts off when the tire is filled. The best part — a digital guage.
  • Comes with regular 120v power cord and the 12v that plugs into your car’s ashtray. I had to use that one on Friday actually.
  • Comes with multiple needles for filling basketballs or bike tires.

3. Asus ZenScreen. My laptop has a 13″ screen but the ZenScreen connect via USB to give you another monitor. (Link)

  • Draws power from your laptop so no need for a separate power supply
  • The included case acts as a stand allowing you position the monitor horizontally or vertically

4. Youtube Premium (Link)

  • I watch more Youtube than I do TV. If you have the same habit, it’s worth the monthly subscription to get rid of the ads. I started paying for it this year and I’m happier for it.

5. Youtube TV (Link)

  • If you are thinking about cutting the cord, I just wanted to share our solution. We switched to Youtube TV in January and we have been happy. It has all the channels we want and there is no lag when you change channel. The lag was always a pet peeve from our Comcast setup. The quality is good and we are saving a little bit of money.

6. Shady Rays Sunglasses (Link)

  • I like their aviator styles. I wrote this summer: I ordered some Aviator style sunglasses from Shady Rays. They are about $60 bucks. If you break or LOSE the glasses up to 2 times they will send you a new pair for the cost of shipping. 

7. A massage gun. I got a Hypervolt (Link)

  • For the person who likes when the masseuse karate chops their back rapidly Street Fighter II- style. They are pricey but if that therapy is your jam, these guns are pretty awesome. Get your kids or partner to do your back. You can do your legs, IT band, etc yourself. There’s 3 intensity settings and it lasts several hours from a single charge.
  • I actually got a knockoff from China for a fraction of the price and it works perfectly. If you are interested and in the Bay Area hit me up and I might be able to help.

8. “Demonslayer” sake (Link)

  • At $50 a bottle this is a treat but it’s very smooth junmai daiginjo. I mentioned a bit about sake from my trip to Japan. (Link)

9. Most practical stocking stuffer

  • White Wizard Spot Remover (Link). We give this to everyone. Takes blood out of white sheets. If you have kids you keep this stuff in a holster. I have no idea if it’s destroying the environment but it’s so good I assume I’m being evil.

10. Games

Boardgames I started playing this year with my 6-year old:

  • Evolution — The Beginning: I wrote about it here
  • Forbidden Island (Link): Simple and fun coop game by the same game designer who brought you Pandemic. The game gets kids to work together and while the replayability for adults is limited there is enough variation in board layout and characters to keep kids engaged. Take about 30 minutes to play and requires no more reading than identifying the names of regions.
  • The Magic Labyrinth (Link): By far the best version of a memory game our household has ever played, No reading required and adults and kids are on equal footing since the game is about trying to remember you and others’ footsteps through a maze with invisible walls. This game was a big hit around here and is one of our favorites to gift since its fun and has few rules to learn.

Boardgames for 10 and up:

  • Settlers of Catan (Link): This was the gateway game that got us into European boardgames 11 years ago. Putting it here because we recently re-discovered it when I took a chance and taught it to Zak. Honestly, unless you are used to playing games for hours it might be a reach for age 6 but I’d feel very comfortable teaching it to an 8-year-old. Teaching someone the rules is the most painful part, but I have yet to meet anyone who did not enjoy playing. Even non-gamers. It’s a gateway game for a reason. While its conflict is economic like Monopoly, it feels less punitive and the entire design is one of the most elegant I’ve seen. Dusting it off was like seeing an old friend and wondering why you let it take so long to connect.
  • Decrypto (Link): A party game like Codenames. Both games are great for teams and so many ages. As word games go Codenames and Balderdash are hall of famers but Decrypto is an instant classic we started playing last Christmas.
  • Acquire (Link): I’m putting this game here even though it’s several generations old. It’s a classic game of M&A and stock ownership using the hotel industry as the theme. Many Moontower readers are finance pros so might appreciate the rec if they didn’t know about it already. It’s in a sweet spot of complexity and has clever market-driven dynamics.
  • A general tip: normal people don’t like reading rule books. Learning rules is best done via Youtube videos. Just search for a tutorial of the game you are interested and use the rulebook as a reference. If you need even deeper rule clarifications I’m 99% confident any question you can think of is covered in relevant BGG forum.

Video Game

  • We just discovered Portal : Bridge Constructor (Link). Available on many platforms including iOS and Android. We are playing it via Xbox Game Pass which has 3 months for a $1 intro rate which gives you access to tons of free games. If you liked Lemmings growing up you will dig this game. The whole house is addicted to structural engineering principles now.

11. Finally, a rec I received from Twitter — Storyworth memoirs (Link)

  • Our knowledge of our parents before we are born is very limited. If you have ever asked them to recount their stories, you may have left the conversation wishing it was written down. And that’s just for the stuff they thought of when they were on the spot or during that evening around the table. Storyworth is a service which prompts them every day with a question that they answer and at the end of the year you can get physical and/or digital copies. I’m sure the efficacy of this depends a lot on your parent’s bandwidth, willingness, and literacy but I thought the concept was worth surfacing here. I actually think they should have a version for family recipes!

An elegant game which will give kids (and adults) intuition for how competition shapes evolution

A lot of you know I had only had kids so that I would have future boardgame companions. I’d go as far as saying it was imperative to have an even number of family members to balance teams. Tragically, we have nobody to break voting ties (we have a history of crowdtexting friends to settle debates). The point remains — we like games in our household. A fun game I started playing with Zak this week is Evolution: The Beginning which is a junior version of a more complex game.

In Evolution: The Beginning, you’ll adapt your species to succeed in a dynamic ecosystem where food is scarce and predators roam. Traits like Flight and Horns will protect your species from Carnivores while a Long Neck will help them get food that others cannot reach. With hundreds of ways to evolve your species, every game unfolds in a beautifully unique way.

It’s a card game where you must manage populations of carnivores and herbivores as you try to eat the most food. The punch-counterpunch dynamic of the game maps faithfully to how predator-prey games in nature balance themselves. Concentrate too much on defensive traits and competing populations grow quickly. Modify a species to be an aggressive carnivore and more scavengers appear in the ecosystem. React and adapt. It imparts a beautiful sense of how evolution favors adaptation to the prevailing competitive landscape as opposed towards some march towards a higher form. An organism’s fitness is a purely relative concept. The game’s elegance mirrors nature well. And you can scoop it at Target.

Between the artwork and some memorizing, Zak (turning 6 this week) could play without being able to read fully. His interest and energy were bursting as the game started to ‘click’. I felt the same. Playing a game that is slightly out of reach is an avenue for learning that speeds downhill using his own enthusiasm as fuel. “Sit down and do workbook” is all uphill in molasses. I’m pretty excited to have passed the Candyland phase since a much richer world of learning lies within complex games.

The gaming world likes to point to the benefits of using games to practice computational thinking. Google for Education has an entire portal dedicated to the formal reasoning processes that you will be familiar with if you have coded, managed a project, or even planned a trip.

To explore Computational Thinking with Google read more…

When playing games with kids, Evolution game designer Nick Bentley has great tips...

And if you want to connect IQ, its broader cousin “successful intelligence”, and gaming then read about “gameschooling“.