Sometimes you just need a break from work, if not from your Mac. Sure, you could watch stupid human tricks on YouTube, but why not just play a game? Although the game industry constantly pushes the boundaries of reasonable hardware requirements, yesterday's games are often still a fine way to while away some spare time, so it's worth checking out, though you may need to haunt eBay to find copies. Comments on this year's suggestions are welcome in .
Speedy Mac -- Computers enable us to do things that are dangerous or impractical in real life, such as modeling nuclear explosions or, of course, releasing your inner  by careening down the road in a muscle car at impossible speeds.
Chuck Goolsbee, who spends his days locked up at our Internet service provider, recommended Ambrosia Software's , a driving game featuring realistic physics and network play. It's also open for developers to create new tracks, cars, and add-on modes, such as the team-play Smuggler mode: each team has one slow car amid its fast cars, and the object is to let the slow car win the race. Redline is available as a 184 MB download; the unlicensed mode features two tracks and one car.
Chuck wrote, "It is also a bargain. I bought one copy for myself for $25, and each additional copy costs only $5... so I bought eight more for my staff. Now on Friday afternoons when we traditionally shut down the phones for an, um, 'tech staff meeting' (cough), we all climb behind our keyboards for some morale-boosting fun!"
Chuck's need for speed (and, we suspect, to toast his co-workers) also led him to purchase the $100, which features a steering wheel, stick shift, and foot pedals. We suspect Chuck will see real daylight again sometime next year.
Put Away the Graph Paper -- Who needs 3-D graphics acceleration when you've got a pencil and paper? Ambrosia Software has combined a spaceship shoot-'em-up with the age-old practice of drawing your own adventures in the clever $20 . John Welch said, "I've not had a game this much fun since junior high school, when I'd do it the hard way. Even if you're not an old timer, this game is fun, and if you ever did this with pen and ink, it's truly delightful."
Wowed by WoW -- Speaking of network play, a few people recommended Blizzard Entertainment's massively popular . Andy Affleck wrote, "My 14-year-old nephew talked me into it and I bought it, mostly on a lark, and soon found myself immersed in a world that was rich and deep. I quickly fell in with a good group of friends online whom I meet and play with when I have the time. The game can be addictive - I find that you either love it or can't figure out why it's worth all the money you pay for it ($40 to $50 depending on what deals you can find, plus a $15-per-month fee). I justify the cost by cutting back on my monthly Starbucks habit. Although much of the time you find yourself performing menial tasks just to advance a skill or to raise your character's level, it's the social aspect that keeps my interest. But then, I've always been a sucker for online communities and the tools making them possible so while I'm bashing the heads of various baddies, I remind myself that this is my continuing education in my own research into these spaces."
Lewis Butler pointed to the upcoming expansion. "It's not out in time for Christmas (Blizzard is releasing for the Mac and Windows simultaneously on 16-Jan-07), but you can get your favorite gamer a game card for World of Warcraft now and then get The Burning Crusade for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, can't you? Vermont's 230th birthday after declaring independence from New York? The 37th anniversary of Buckminster Fuller's Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects? Yes, you can. There's a reason over seven million people play: the game is excellent."
Lucas Mathis, who noted that the Wii is "white and small and pretty and looks good next to a Mac mini," praised its unique controller. "Instead of a traditional gamepad, it is controlled using a motion- and position-sensing remote control. Basically, you wave the controller around to play all kinds of games - golf, tennis, baseball, sword fights or bowling. The Wii is targeted at gamers and non-gamers alike, and there are games for children, adults and even for the elderly. In addition to that, traditional games like Super Mario, Zelda or Metroid can be played, too, and to top it all off, the Wii is capable of downloading old favourites - it plays NES, SNES, N64, Genesis (also known as Mega Drive) and TurboGrafx games."
He also recommends the (of Panic fame), where you can exchange your online code in order to play Wii games online against other Mac users.
The Wii isn't intended as just a gaming machine, however. Andrew McCann wrote, "There is a photo channel that can display pictures from a camera (the Wii takes SD cards, but there appears to be some internal memory as well) and a Mii channel to create avatars, which can be stored in the remote."
Sussing Out Sudoku -- Andy Affleck noted a game that can help you improve your game. He wrote, "The first part of 2006, I went through a Sudoku phase before I tired of the puzzle and went back to doing crosswords. Part of why I tired of them was that I had learned all of the advanced solving techniques making even the hardest puzzles relatively easy to complete. I have Robert Woodhead's free  to thank for that. While this Sudoku game lacks a glossy user interface, it comes loaded with every advanced solving technique on the planet (and links to a Web site that explains them in detail)." Andy also pointed out that yes, this is the same Robert Woodhead, aka "Trebor," who co-created the original classic Wizardry game back in the 1980s.
This year Broderick Bohls suggested checking out the various card games and brain teasers like Word Wits and Flower Power at: "I have really enjoyed the fun and easy group of games from GlennsGames.com, which you can purchase individually or as a group via download or on a CD. They are great for winding down or keeping busy if you are surfed out and waiting on a download."
Stephen Cochran wrote, "If you like a game that's part puzzle and a whole bunch of amazing graphics, the Enigmo games from Pangea are still some of my favorites. The original ($20) is two-dimensional, which is better for those younger ones and those who don't want lots of controls to worry about. The ability to create your own puzzles also guarantees a long lifetime for the software.  ($30) can be a little more frustrating to navigate simply because you can now circle around in a third direction. I'd compare it to the difference in learning curve between a driving game and a flight simulator."
Jochen Wolters also likes to while away his down time with the $20 by 300AD.com. He wrote, "Its graphics, sounds, and music are so well-crafted that the game is a joy to play. And since the difficulty of the game's 30 levels is well balanced between mildly challenging (so as not to become boring too soon) and not too hard (so as to keep frustration over yet-unsolved levels to a minimum), it is just perfect for those 10-minute workday escapes. Considering Phantasia's non-violent theme, cute sounds, and impressive graphics effects, though, the game should be just as enjoyable for younger players as well."
Lastly, let's hope that Jean MacDonald at SmileOnMyMac isn't looking for a change of career with her recommendation of the $20, which "is great if you know people, like me, who do not like shooting things and prefer to do something, um, 'constructive.' You wait on tables, with ever more challenging restaurant patrons, like senior citizens (patient but slow), and businesswomen (impatient but fast and good tippers), while your restaurant gets fancier and more complicated as you move through the levels. I just got Diner Dash 2, which has introduced families (you have to remember to bring them a high chair, and you have to mop up the inevitable spills) and cell-phone addicts (who annoy other patrons and cause them to leave)."
Games for Kids -- Remember, kids, the computer is not a toy. Oh wait, yes it is! Andy Affleck (who we assume also does non-game computing, but his enthusiasm and multiple gift ideas suggest otherwise) shared some of his six-year-old son's favorites. Andy wrote, "Although the graphics lack polish in some areas, the actual ride in the $30  can be a lot of fun. It's a lazy weekend morning tradition for my son to climb into our bed, me to get the laptop, and to ride roller coasters."
Other obsessions include Freeverse's $20 and the $16  from BlitWise and Cornerstone TSP Games, a modern take on the classic tank game where you adjust the angle and power of a shot and attempt to hit another tank across the screen. In this version, you have a huge number of weapons to choose from (and expansion packs, which can be downloaded for free or for fee) and terrain that can be heavily damaged in often fun ways."
The Holidays Are about Tradition -- We can't let this year's recommendations go out without Andy Affleck's annual plug for  from Semicolon Software ($25), and his continuing obsession with Austin Meyer's  ($80), which, he points out, compensates nicely for machines that aren't on the cutting edge.