Better than socks

6th December 1996 at 00:00
Software makes present buying easy. Roger Frost finds something for everyone.

Prices vary depending on the retailer. It's always best to shop around


Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit PC Pounds 39.99

Othello, Yahtzee PC Pounds 19.99 (Hambros)

Family Gathering PC Pounds 39.99 (Palladium)

Boticelli, Michaelangelo PC Pounds 39.99 (KochEmme)

The Unexplained PC Pounds 20 (Flagtower)

Kids Age 2-8

Jump Ahead series for PCMac. From Pounds 19.99 (Random House) Age 4+

Toy Story Animated Storybook PCMac. Pounds 39.99 (Disney).

Sesame Street series: Elmo's Pre School PCMac

Numbers, Letters, Words, Art Workshop PC Pounds 29.99 (Creative Wonders)

Fisher Price' Pirate Ship PCMac. Pounds 29.99 (Ablac Tel: 01626 332233. Age 5-10

Darby the Dragon, Gregory and the Hot Air Balloon PCMac. Pounds 19.99 (Broderbund) Age 6+

Greetings Workshop PC Pounds 22.99 (Microsoft)

The best news this Christmas is that the computer has present shopping sorted. There is now a CD-Rom to suit every interest from astronomy to genealogy and from gardening to games. There is no excuse for giving socks anymore. Looking at it another way, if you have a hobby as well as a computer, you can guess what you ought to be getting for Christmas.

If you're fascinated by UFO's, you might get The Unexplained - where monster sightings and ghost stories are told with spooky film clips. If you're growing family trees, Family Gathering offers a way of organising the detail. If you're madly into Michelangelo or bonkers about Botticelli, you just might get these two CD-Roms. But hey, this is the time for giving and occupying the kids. So as a first shot try something creative, such as Microsoft Greetings Work-shop, where they can make cards, signs, banners, and invitations in great variety. This good quality, good value title is aimed at beginners, and begs for a colour printer.

Sesame Street Art Workshop is in the same genre and it prints stickers, masks and fingers puppets that children can colour and cut out. Again, this is easy, well aimed at those who can just steer a mouse. For the harder stuff - the software that can do parents' newsletters and school flyers - computer dealers have plenty for you to choose from.

If board games are top sellers at Christmas, it is no surprise that they are now on CD-Rom. In the new Monopoly, you can not only play alone, but by using the Internet, you could spend Christmas playing with the family abroad. Shame that the computer plays banker so well that there is none of that family fun from raiding the bank and hiding money down the sofa.

There is more: Trivial Pursuit on CD has film newsreel clips to brighten up the questions, and Yatsee helps keep score in a classic dice game but a favourite could be Othello (or Reversi). Here you can play against a mocking Einstein or an impatient Leonardo and watch them wince as you make your move. It has games to finish and tips which help turn luck into strategy. And that irreverent Leonardo ensures you don't think too long, by yawning or framing a picture with his thumbs and fingers.

For the kids there is Toy Story Animated Story Book, based on Disney's most enjoyable film where jealousy between toys leads to one of them literally being "bumped off". The story is retold here in words and pictures, and like the movie the animation and humour is excellent.

Two animated adventures in this excellent bracket are Br?derbund's Darby the Dragon and Gregory and the Hot Air Balloon. In Darby, children gather magic ingredients to undo the spell that shrunk his big sister. The graphics here are lovely, the characters are all sweetness, and they help young ones to collect the things they need to solve a puzzle. Like Gregory, which is set in a fairground, both develop reasoning and counting skills, but they are mostly fun and engaging.

When you think about what pirates do for a living, you wonder why Fisher Price glorify them in Pirate Ship, a CD-Rom based on the toy. But this too will be liked: children find the pieces to make treasure maps, they sing along with pirate songs, print pictures to colour in and fire all sorts of animals from the ship's cannon. Hmm, still it's compulsive play so you get your money's worth.

As you explore the computer shops, you soon realise that CD-Roms, like Christmas, happen at home. Just a few titles, such as the story books from Living Books find a comfortable place in school. Many others just scrape in. So nurseries and after-school clubs might consider Elmo's Pre-school where the enchanting Sesame Street muppet guides children through numbers and letters.

For my Brummie friend who can't stand American accents, I'd suggest a serious look at Jump Ahead, another series of CDs for toddlers upwards. It has songs and number activities - nothing unusual here except that there's a rare display of computer intelligence as each game adapts to the child and pushes them on to a harder level as necessary.

The other last piece of good news this year is that CD prices are falling. So publisher Dorling Kindersley now sells many of its previously Pounds 50 titles for around Pounds 20. But if for some people - and you can't like everyone - that is still too much to spend, never mind, I think it's back to socks.

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