This is not a list of the year's best or the latest releases (although it includes at least one of each of those). Rather, if you're trying to find a gift for the gamer who probably already has a bunch of games, these are some suggestions for great titles they may not have thought to ask for.
Helios is a fairly abstract game, but with a beautiful fantasy design. Players build a world and try to score points through a variety of mechanics. Should you build temples? Acquire more land? Recruit new characters? What makes Helios feel very different is the tight timeline - each player only has 4 rounds of 4 actions each, so every decision is very important. If you want the feel of a "big" game in a short time (under an hour) this is a good pick.
Designer Ted Alspach's last game Suburbia had players building cities out of orderly rows of hexagons. In "Castles" players are still building with tiles, but now they are forced to cobble together a castle out of whatever shapes are available, and it makes for a much more thematic and entertaining experience.
The grand-daddy of modern co-op games has an entirely new sibling: The Cure, a dice-based re-imagining of Pandemic. Objectives are the same, but setup and play-time has been reduced and if your group is prone to getting bossed around by an "alpha player" this version makes it less likely to happy. Fantastic components, too.
One of the games with the biggest buzz on this year's convention circuit, Five Tribes has tons of replayability and many paths to victory. Another year, another solid release from Days of Wonder.
An older title that had a long-awaited reprint this year, M&M is the biggest, most elaborate pirate game out there. Players begin as merchants and must decide whether to play it safe and try to earn enough off "legitimate" trade, or turn pirate and risk getting sunk in pursuit of greater rewards. The game comes with tons of missions, captains, ship upgrades, and great miniatures. A typical game can easily take over three hours, so it's not for the faint of heart!