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This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2020, CNET’s gift picks with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest tech gifts for you and your family.

The toughest ticket of the year may be getting your hands on a new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Initial preorders sold out in seconds, and subsequent restocks at stores from Walmart to Best Buy to Amazon vanished just as quickly, only to turn up on the resale market thanks to an exploding population of shopbots. 

Even if you’re online at the appointed date and time, finger on the trigger, you’re likely to end up disappointed, and no kid wants to unwrap a box that contains a sad letter you printed out yourself, reading: “Good for one PS5 console, when they’re actually available in stores.”

So, adjust everyone’s expectations (really almost all the same big games are available on other older consoles, just with slightly fewer reflective effects) and try some of these other genuinely interesting gaming gifts instead. 

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Nintendo Switch, Oculus Quest: these are my next-gen consoles.


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Nintendo Switch and Oculus Quest 2 ($500)

For the same price as a PS5 or Xbox Series X, you can buy two of the best pieces of gaming hardware ever released. The Nintendo Switch Lite is a genius handheld, playing some of the world’s most popular games, and the new Oculus Quest 2 is the VR device that finally makes virtual reality fun, easy and affordable. For living room TV action, throw in an extra $100 and get the full TV-connected version of the Switch. 

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Cloud and streaming game services ($5-$15)

The future of consoles is no consoles at all. Trust me on this. I was a little ahead of the game back in the early 2010s, but cloud gaming actually works now, and every major tech company is pouring tons of money and resources into it, including Google’s Stadia; Amazon’s Luna, Microsoft’s xCloud and Nvidia’s GeForce Now. Most allow you to buy and play individual games a la carte, and also offer monthly subscriptions, from $5-$15, that give you more games, better connections and other perks. Read more about them below:

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Retro game machines 

If you don’t already have a PS4 or Xbox One (yes, the PlayStation system names make a lot more sense), they’re still available for $299 and up, although I’d consider holding out for an Xbox Series S for the same $299. 

Instead, consider a shot of nostalgia for yourself, or an interactive history lesson for the younglings, with the Sega Genesis Mini, Turbografix-16 Mini or the SNES Classic Edition (aka, the Super Nintendo Mini). All three pack a bunch of classic games into a tiny ’80s console reproduction, and cost around $100 or less. A last-minute entry in this category, the $50 Nintendo Game and Watch reproduction, plays a couple of classic Super Mario games in something the size of a credit card. 

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The Razer Blade Advanced


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Gaming PCs

The uncomfortable truth of video games is that even a brand-new $500 PlayStation 5 can’t really compete with even a modest dedicated gaming PC. Almost every new game looks and plays better on PC, and the steady progress of PC graphics cards means that gaming laptops and desktops will continue to evolve, while the Xbox Series X and PS5 will be stuck with their current hardware configurations. We have recommendations for the best overall gaming laptops here; and the best gaming laptops under $1,000 here.

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Board games (and yes, chess sets)

Go bold, go analog! Traditional tabletop games are having a cultural moment right now, and board games can offer complex gameplay, deep storytelling, and, yes, lots of cool little miniatures chasing each other around map tiles. Sci-fi, fantasy and prohibition-era Lovecraftian horror seem to be the major genres right now, and if you want my top picks to start with — from Gloomhaven to Mansions of Madness — I’ve collected them here. My colleague David Priest also has suggestions for great two-player board games here

The hit Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit has led to renewed interest in the most classic board game of all, chess (I’d also accept Go as a correct answer). This Harry Potter chess set is the second-best-selling one on Amazon right now, but it has plastic pieces, so I’d instead suggest this solid-looking wood set for under $30.

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