Toys and games must balance direction with openness. The best toys are open ended, allow never-ending play cycles; but at the same time directing the fun in specific directions so it does not become aimless. Great toys and games (and tools!) permit the user to surprise themselves with the variety and diversity of what they generate. Here are some of my favorite toys and tools that encourage open-ended generation of fun, and that come in gift-sized packages.
Let me know if you have a recommendation to add to this list.
Perplexus — A physical 3D maze handheld game. Easy to do, hard to finish.
Kapla Blocks — Simplest construction set ever, plain precise wood planks. Get lots to make big things. All ages.
Orbiter — A relatively safe boomerang. Takes a bit of skill to master.
Set — Pattern recognition card game. Half math, half intuition. Fast and fun.
Fifty Dangerous Things — 50 dangerous things you should let your children do. Not so dangerous, but with some legitimate risk.
Hometown Puzzle — A jigsaw puzzle made from your local topographical map.
El Wire Kit — DYI string neon. Thin electric light thread can be used anywhere.
Virtuous Circle Giving — As always, the most powerful gift is helping someone to help themselves.
Know of a great generative toy or tool that I’ve missed? Leave a note with a link in the comments.