Brant Guillory, 16 November 2023 ~ #UnboxingDay
It’s no secret I’m a sucker for RPG starter kits, and exploring and comparing the on-ramps they provide into different games and RPG systems. Monte Cook’s Numenera system has been around for a while, but this is the first time I’ve taken the plunge on one of their products.
click images to enlarge
Eye-catching cover art, plus the usual details you get on the back of the box, as this would be shrink-wrapped on the shelf at your FLGS.
Two big differences between this set, and pretty much any other game box you’ve opened recently:
First, this is a tuck box, not a two-piece lid-&-base1.
Second, there’s a heavy cardboard insert that serves absolutely no functional storage purpose at all and appears to be there only to provide some structural heft to the overall package so the box doesn’t get squished on the shelf or in transit. And it’s needs that ‘padding’, because as we’ll see, there’s not a lot in this box.
Two saddle-stitched books (neither of which are that thick), plus 5 character sheets, a small deck of cards, a d6 and d20, plus 2 half-sheets of paper. Oh, and a thick-ass piece of corrugated cardboard that could’ve at least been flattened and printed with something useful for the game, like punch-out tokens, GM’s screen, fold-up dice tray, or something.
The half-size sheets are a one-sided start sheet, and a two-sided cheat sheet for quick in-game reference. Print that cheat sheet on a large piece of heavy cardboard and you’ve got a stand-up GM’s screen.
The 5 double-sided character sheets are very attractive on a nice & heavy glossy stock that’s just short of rigid cardstock. Although there’s room to write on them, I don’t know many gamers that’ll want to sully them with their scribbles.
Detail of one of the character sheets. There’s no blank character sheet in the box, but they are available online.
The books are slim, but the contents are gorgeous. The art is among the best you’ll find in any RPG, and the headers clearly guide players through the text, even if the table of contents is alarmingly sparse, and there’s no index at all.
The GM book is really a module with some GM advice in it, rather than a “how to be a GM” book. You’ll note the parallels between the player & GM books with some of the headers, like the “GM Intrusion” header. You’ll also note a table of contents that probably couldn’t be any more cut down to the point of uselessness.
The GM book does lead off with one of the all-time best GM book intros.
There’s just enough of a poster map for them to legally say “hey, we included a poster map!” but this didn’t need to be a separate poster. If you’re printing something big like this, make it a centerpiece of what goes on the table – either a playable grid, or a much more intricate and detailed map. This is a couple of cardstock handouts that are unnecessarily stitched together. Hell, it’s not even double-sided.
The small deck of cards is useful for the limited adventure content in the book, but would be stretched if needed beyond what’s in this starter box, virtually guaranteeing that the box is good for the included adventure, and that’s pretty much it.
Overall, the execution of what’s in the box is gorgeous, well-written, and targeted at the appropriate player level (knows what an RPG is but needs some hand-holding through the Numenera rules). Comparing this starter box to recent boxes from Pendragon or Shadowrun or Runequest however, shows how incredibly limited this package is. It’s basically a one-shot adventure with a few more rules references, but almost nothing in here to play more than just that single scenario. DCC does basically the same thing in a single book2 and for about 1/5 of the cost. How ‘worth it’ this package is depends on how much you’re wanting to tackle the Numenera system, but in that case, just go grab the full book instead of this attractive-but-limited box.
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In the realm where adventures entwine,
Armchair Dragoons, with spirits to shine.
Unboxing RPGs, joy on display,
Dice rolling, imaginations at play,
New worlds unfold, in each box, a design.