I put myself in such a mood yesterday blogging about how there are more important things than gaming that I didn't actually OPEN my Red Box until about 2130. I grocery shopped, made dinner (Atkins-friendly salad with carnitas, boiled eggs and cheese), shared the couch with my lovely wife for three episodes of Babylon 5 season two ensuring that she got her "us time", scrubbed the pans I've been avoiding, vacuumed the floor in the Ogre, cleaned the catbox, cut my hair, showered, shaved, and once I had my chores done and felt nice and clean and human I FINALLY took the shrink wrap off the Dungeons and Dragons Fantasy Role-Playing Game Starter Set and snuggled up in bed with the wife to begin reading.
And of course, Misa decided to curl up in the boxtop as soon as it hit the bed, but that's what keetooms are for, isn't it? First impressions - SHINY. However, the booklets lack the nice cardstock covers the originals had, that's my first quibbble. Reading through the Player's Book, the choose-your-own adventure style of character creation is actually kind of brilliant. Yes, yes, I know there's already errata, but still - it's a VERY nifty way to take a player through character creation. Reminds me of the same concept in the Mentzer boxed set, save that you can end up any of the four classes, and you can be any race or gender. Having said that, I would have really liked a more convetional character generation summary for the more experienced of us to whip up Red Box characters. I know this is coming in Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, but it would have been nice to have out of the box.
The introductory adventure is suitably old-school in feel. There's a villain, and some goblins, and caves... Now, before anyone says anything about 4e not having support for Roleplay - I will agree that there isn't much RULES wise, true. But in the BECMI sets, there weren't a lot of rules for it, either. We made it up. We RP'd it out. We made a CHA check, or a WIS check... So I am going to have to wait to bitch about this until I've given Essentials a test-drive and determined wether or not it's an actual issue. It wasn't back in '85. We used rules for combat, and freeformed everything else with ability checks or saving throws. Much like The Keep on the Borderlands, which everyone considers to be a classic, a LOT of this module is hack-and-slash. It's Old School, but for some reason it feels Old School this time. Maybe it's because the Rogue is more Theif-y. The Fighter more Fighter-y and not so 'Defender'-y. I dunno. I'm going to take it for a spin this weekend and see if it plays like it looks.
The cards... Well, I like the cards, to be honest. I have a player who I love dearly who hated the cards in 4e, but then proceeded to use the Wizard Spell Cards I provided for a 2e campaign without batting an eye. I think the cards - when used properly - can help keep track of things. That said, I *love* the introductory character cards for Worldwide D&D Game Day with the powers explained on the back and checkboxes to use with Vis-a-Vis pens. I think I may emulate this approach when creating custom sheets for my Essentials campaigns, albeit on full letter-sized paper. Anyway, for new players and old alike, they're useful. Wish they were on playing card material, maybe even coated or laminated, but WoTC was wise to keep the price point of the boxed set at $19.99. The maps and tokens are awesome as well, as 4e does require them for play. I like that the DM Kit and Monster Vault will likewise have tons o tokens for use. I think minis LOOK better, but they are more expensive and a lot bulkier to transport.
The character sheets are nice and clean, and I like that the skills are listed under the abilities. All the math has been taken off she sheet, and that makes it a much less cluttered affair. Unfortunately, they missed a spot for passive perception and insight. Oops. Not that terrible a mistake, save that you are instructed to write both down during the choose-your-own... I might just tinker with a retro version for my own campaigns... Or maybe we'll get lucky and this version will be an optional output from the Character Builder in DDI.
All in all, I'm loving this box. The Dungeon Master book sums up the rules succinctly, has a few less monsters than I would like (being biased by the Moldvay and Mentzer boxed sets) but is adequate for levels 1-2. Level 3 would have been very nice, to hold to the same standard as the original boxed sets...
This weekend, I shall attempt to run this puppy. Will speak more on this after I've taken some players through some Red Box goodness.