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Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Red Box
Reviewed by Matt Cowger, © 2010

Format: Game
By:   Wizards of the Coast
Genre:   D&D
Review Date:   November 08, 2010

Rating: First time gamers: 7/10
Experienced gamers: 5/10

I admit a weakness for the game-in-a-box. It feels very old school to me. That is what Wizards is going for with this new starter set (Red Box from here on out). One thing is for sure, boxes are a lot more sturdy then they were back in the day.

As the name suggests, this product is aimed at people that are new to Dungeons and Dragons, and more specifically the fourth edition rules in the current version. They've done a good job of making it an entry point for new, younger people that are interested in D&D.

The box contains a Players Book, a Dungeon Masters Book, sheets of counters, a large two sided battle map, cards for powers and abilities and a set of serviceable multi-sided dice. The books are glossy magazine stock. I would have liked heavier covers on them. The counters are nice and sturdy and the maps are detailed and cover a variety of encounter locations in one inch grid format.

The old timey one and the new one.

The Player's Book is interestingly done. There is an introduction to the game and then it has the player create a character and play through a choose your own adventure style scenario (Although it is not, unfortunately, Punishment: Earth, or My Grandparents Are Zombies). Depending on race and class choice the scenario teaches players the fundamental mechanics, about character, statistics and skills,combats and encounters learns how those systems work as well. It does a straightforward job of teaching how to play D&D without having the player read through pages of rules and charts.

One has to wonder if the Players Book is even needed. They could have just put a key to their website on a slip of paper in the Red Box and had the whole thing online. It would have done the same thing as the book, driven people to their site and saved on printing costs. I like the "character creation' as adventure" idea. I'm just sayin'.

The Dungeon Master's book is a much larger piece of reading. It starts with an introduction and a short multiplayer scenario that continues from where the solo adventure in the Players Book left off. After that it is more standard role play game book fare. There are rules covering actions, combat, saving throws and so forth. It is written in clear text and would be easy to understand for a beginner. The rules are still simple and straightforward, as you would expect from a starter kit, but have enough depth to keep things interesting. It's very combat oriented, though. One could easily just play the game as a tactical fantasy combat board game.

The adventure concludes the others, while leaving an open ending with room to do more. It is a fun little run with opportunities for combat, skill uses and exploration of powers in different situations. There are hints and nudges for the DM on running each encounter. Encounters are fairly short and it looks like it would move along at a fair clip with an enthusiastic group.

Following that is a brief section on building encounters, quests and dungeons. The encounter piece is useful in tailoring challengers to the abilities of party and handing out experience and treasure accordingly.

Counters are pretty.

The Red Box is level based, and only takes characters to the edge of third level. To play on from there, other products from the D&D Essentials or Core Rules set are needed. The monster section has rules for adjudicating monsters, and all the classic D&D creatures. But it has none of the setting-specific monsters, such as Beholders.

I like the Red Box. Nostalgia aside, it provides provide a nice introduction to Dungeons and Dragons and table top role playing in general. It does have the feel of an online game such as World of Warcraft and Everquest, especially in combat.

It feels like a gateway product, to entice the buying of the miniatures.

Still, the Red Box is a good value for the money with parts that could see use if the group keeps playing. For experienced gamers it might not have as much of a value. They are better served getting the books from either the essentials line or the core rule books. If you have kids or or non-gamer friends who are interested, this is an ideal set-up.

What a noob.

Matt Cowger knows beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if he looks there, he has to make a saving throw.

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