Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dragon Age RPG: The Box

I had sworn to myself that today would not be another Dragon Age post. Seriously. I needed a break, and I even had a whole thing on Relationship maps written up. But I'm apparently a big liar and I've bumped that off to Friday, and I'm back on Dragon Age. The good news is that this is a much smaller point and one that, I think, is less contentious.

It's about the box.

Folks might have noticed that every time I mention the box I get very worked up. There's a bit of a story to that. See, back when WOTC announced they would be releasing a boxed starter set for 4e I got really excited. It sounded great: a box set with rules, battlemap, tokens and dice all done up with the great production values WOTC had brought to 4e so far, all at a reasonable price point. This was a great idea. A boxed set that was an all-in-one product that you could just give someone and they could start playing was a great gift. And if they were interested in what was in the box, then heck, maybe they'd buy some more 4e stuff.

The problem is that the reality was terrible. The problem wasn't the rules (which were fine) or the components (which were actually fantastic) - it was the box. More specifically, it was the lack of a box. See, they had gone the cheap route of just wrapping it in a cardboard sleeve and wrapping it in a slipcase. Once you opened it, it stopped being a discrete thing and became a pile of parts.
This may sound like a trivial concern, and on paper it probably is, but in terms of actual experience this is huge. The box keeps the game together, and serves the dual purposes of providing practical organization (since it also holds your dice, pencils, character sheets, loose papers and so on) and providing a conceptual anchor of what the game is. Yes, once you've played a few games it's not too hard to start thinking about games as abstractions, but when you're getting your had around our weird little hobby, it helps a lot for it to be something concrete and specific - something you can point to.

So this is why the 4e set was such a let down for me, and why I am so obsessed about DARPG having an actual box.

Interestingly, there are also a few more boxed sets hitting the market, notably the new Warhammer RPG 3rd edition and the new Doctor Who RPG. Maybe it's something in the water, but maybe there's a bit more to it than that. Even over and above the creation of a self-contained product (because that's another big advantage of the box set: it has, or should have, everything you need to play) this is one of the few ways a company can distinguish its product any more.

Even a few years ago, there was a gap between the big and small publishers that could be seen in the quality of their books. If you wanted really gorgeous production values, you needed to go big. Today, that line is thin enough that if you depend on it, then Luke Crane or John Harper are going to come up and kick you in the junk. The little guy knows how to make really gorgeous books now, so that's not much of a differentiator.

The little guy doesn't really know how to do boxed sets yet. This won't last for too long, but the window currently exists, and I'll be curious to see how many people shoot for it.


  1. Definitely looking forward to seeing the DARPG box. I think the lure of the box set is primal in the Jungian sense. There's just something about it.

    I also agree that box sets are great for games that are intended to introduce new gamers because, for most people, games come in boxes. The idea that a simple book can be a game is a foreign one.

    For Tokyo Rain, an actual box set is not a realistic possibility. So I've decided to do something similar yet thematically appropriate. The premium version will come in a non-descript, eyes-only envelope, which will include a signed and numbered edition of the game (by me and Barry), custom dice, custom poker chips, etc.

    You guys should really look into doing a pre-order model to fund a DFRPG box set. There has to be a market for a premium version of it. I can just imagine a DFRPG box set coming with some sweet custom dice (pentacles and demonheads?), custom fate point tokens, loose character sheets in full color for the major characters, etc. You can keep the cost and effort down by focusing on bits instead of additional publications. And you should be able to fund all or most of the cost up-front.

  2. Oh, yes, I had not even considered the role of deluxe editions, but that's an entirely fruitful realm of thought all on its own.

    -Rob D.

  3. I looked into boxes for Primetime Adventures (book, cards, charsheet pad, etc) and couldn't make it work, not at the numbers I'm printing. Boxes are neat things, though. I still have boxed sets from 25+ years ago on my shelf.

  4. Good point, Matt. Boxes imbue something with a greater sense of permanence for certain.

  5. There are two other merits to the boxes. First, they look like a game. Games come in boxes, whether it is a chess set or Candyland. Even console games come in boxes. Second, and maybe more importantly, boxes provide a superior shelving opportunity. Even a nice hardback displayed spine out isn't going to provide much more information than the title and publisher. A box, though, can include a picture and some descriptive text.

    Think about the Avalon Hill games from the 70s, which in many ways were the precursors to the 80s RPG boxes. What you saw on the shelf was a yellow box with a tank on it and a blue box with a sharp guy getting off of a train. Before you reached for them, you knew they were games about panzers and railroads.

    These shelving considerations can have a significant impact on sales. A local game seller has told me that he sold five times as many copies of the Book of Erotic Fantasy when it was shelved front-out as opposed to spine-out. But, there are only a limited number of titles that can be shelved front-out.

  6. I love the box. It's a big part of why I pre-ordered DARPG. They will forever pluck at that heartstring that is connected to my 12-year old self getting that awesome red box buried in a corner of KB Toys.

    @Matt - A box for PTA would be awesome. But not any box; a double-sized DVD case would be more like it. It would drive home the theme of the game like a sledgehammer (a great TV show as well).

  7. The 4e starter set box is flimsy, but the $17 price is very nice. Having just done costing on the Ravenloft boardgame boardgame a few months back, the box gets expensive fast. I think it's the single most expensive component in the Ravenloft game (treating each mini as 1 component).

  8. Yah, I'm sympathetic to the decision to get the price point at the cost of the box. It makes a ton of sense on paper, and I would not have expected the box to be as big a deal as it turned out to be.

    -Rob D.

  9. To confirm, it is indeed an actual box. Even after you open it, you can use it to store stuff and things.

  10. I have very fond memories of my original red box, and would still love to have one. I and a friend have been talking about introducing his kids into gaming. They are consistently around our table on game days, but the group just wouldn't bear two more. So, we've been looking into this and thinking that DARPG might be it.


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