Living in a box

It’s 1983 all over again as the Red Box returns to game store shelves. Roland Rat, shoulder pads, Spandau Ballet, My Little Pony, The Great Egg Race, Return of the Jedi. And competing for space, Dungeons & Dragons.

Things have changed since then, but this blog isn’t about CD players, its about gaming, so I’ll focus on that.

First up, the new red box is sturdier, thicker and different in so many subtle ways from the classic 1983 edition. First the text on the box front. The original was;

 This game requires no gameboard because the action takes place in the players imagination with dungeon adventures that include monsters treasure and magic.

Ideal for 3 or more beginning to intermediate players, ages 10 and up.

Compare and contrast with the 21st century version;

The ultimate game of your imagination, complete with monsters, magic, and treasure.

For 1 or more beginning to intermediate players.

Top right of the new box states AGE 12+. I’m not particularly precious about the recommended starting age, but I do find it interesting that there’s been an upwards change of 2 years. I started at 11, so half way between the two (although not with a starter set to be fair). When I was at GW I was part of an awful lot of discussions about custoner age and when would be best to introduce them to hobby gaming. We eventually settled on 11+ as the pool of friends would include secondary school. We also felt that younger kids were potentially damaging the brand and making it look like a game for kids. I imagine WotC have had similar discussions.

The other differences are that the absence of a gameboard which was a key selling point 30 years ago, has now been cast aside. The back cover makes it pretty cear that this isn’t a game just for the imagination any more. You’ll have your own, probably unchangable opinion on that. 

Then there’s the difference in the amount of players needed. The new red box is for one person intitially. Your character is generated via a solo adventure. You won’t need the services of a DM for your first session, but by the time the second or third rolls around you will. Also, unlike full 4e, this game is set up for one DM and four players, not five. Makes sense with the four roles. They’ve included four character sheets just to make the point clear. By the way, the sheets are lovely. Simple, uncluttered, and with room for whatever floats your players boats. They’re available for download now.

There’s one thing I don’t like, the use of the old style logo. Why’s that being used exactly? As a sop to the old schoolers? If that’s the case I think they’ll need more than a font to change their minds. The new logo is used throughout the rest of the book, so I think it’s a shame WotC couldn’t be braver and stamp the box with the fresh brand.

Cracking open the cellophane cover and there’s a rush of nostalgia and excitement of the new all rolled together. It’s undeniably powerful. The box is stacked with cool stuff. There’s a bag of black dice. They’re nice enough. There’s a coupon for a free adventure download. A good touch, it gets the casual purchaser straight onto the website. Let’s hope they keep the front page newbie friendly.

Then there’s the two books. They have exactly the same cover image which is a shame, but the image itself is really strong. It’s by Ralph Horsley and it riffs off the classic Elmore image on the box front. The players book say Read Me First.

But I won’t. I still want to look at the bits and pieces. I’ll save the books for another time when I can sit down with a coffee and some decent time.

What else? Cards. Slim cardstock, 7 sheets of nine cards, all semi punched out. I like them. They’re prettier than the CB cards, yet functional too. The design incorporates colour and key text in a way that makes the powers look and feel simple to use in play. Suffice to say, I’d pay for decks of these that covered the 30 level spread of a class.

A flyer. I love flyers. No, really I do. This one is double sided, one for players, one for DMs. It directs you to the other Essentials products you might need. Much like the books, you find yourself thinking, “which will I be be, a player, or a DM?”  That decision point is huge, and will last years. I applaud WotC for this, as the hobby needs DMs, and I believe this box will make some.

Counters. Awesome. About half the thickness  of a dungeon tile, there’s one sheet. There’s 3 large, and a passel of mediums. There’s 12 PC counters, with a bloodied side on the reverse. The monsters don’t share this trait, instead, the reverse has a different monster on it. A compromise, but an understandable one. There’s also 5 action point counters, one for each player, one for the DM. Clever.

Finally, a big old poster map. One side is split into two ‘wilderness’ sites; a crossroads and a cave like lair. These have been seen before, but that’s fine. They’re just right for the starter set and will see repeated use. The other side is covered in one big dungeon compiled out of tiles. It looks room heavy on first glance, and very crowded. Don’t be fooled though. When you get to the DMs book you’ll appreciate the thinking behind this, and if you’re like me, you’ll be seriously impressed.

The last thing in the box is a retaining piece of card that props up the contents at a slight angle. If you pull this out you’ll get spare room in the box for any other bits and pieces you might want to add. That’s a good piece of foresight as it allows people to add to the game, yet keep it all in one box. I guess that in six months time the new player will have minis, notes and pencils etc. all cluttering up their box set.

Next time I’ll dive into the books in detail. For now, I have to say I’m impressed. This box has a mission, and it sets about the execution of that mission with panache. It’s a brave move, one that I hope pays off, both for D&D and for roleplaying games as a whole.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Living in a box

  1. I saw the new and improved Red Box on the new releases shelf in my local gaming shop and I had to give it a double-take. I had the original many moons ago (regrettably it slipped through my fingers and found a new home far away) and the new edition is suddenly something I have my beady wee eyes on.

    You gave it a good review. It looks like WotC have given it their all. Based on the expected nostalgia and your review I may have to get my grubby fingers on a copy…

  2. Etherrider

    Good review of the box set! I do like how they describe cutting up the map in a way to have the dungeon side be able to set up differently. Thank goodness I have another copy of the monster lair map from D&D minis! Now where are those scissors?

  3. Mosby

    I just picked this up earlier today, and I think it is a neat little thing. I had most of the books already, but this brings out a hint of a sense of the unknown, much like that when I first picked up a copy of the player’s handbook back in 2003.

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