I bought some DnD Essentials stuff on Amazon. I'm paging through it with no prior experience and kind of writing it as I go, so these are just my gut reactions as they happen. If more develops and I actually test any of this out, I'll post again. Or maybe not. Whatever.
I feel I should tell you that I want to like these products, so perhaps that implies a bias. You've been warned or something.
The Red Box
-It is red and retro looking and that makes me happy inside.
-There is a code for a free adventure, awesome, I like codes for free stuff.
-There is a battle mat map, I like battle mats and maps, they are cool.
-Ads for other shit, meh. I expect ads in my game boxes at this point. I still have some in my old Mystara box. Most of the stuff that is being advertised on the ads that came with The Red Box came in my Amazon box, heh. Perhaps I'll check out the Essentials Dungeon Master's Kit and the Bestiary at a later date. Probably won't ever pick up the Dungeon Tiles though.
-Stripped down character sheets, there are four of them and there isn't much that goes on them or much that can be filled in on them. They're stripped down but I guess they work, I tend to like robust character sheets though so these leave something to be desired for me. You should see Jeremy's fantastical Pathfinder character sheets, five pages of glorious black and white retro looking deliciousness.
-Power card sheets, there are seven sheets of nine power cards. I'm not sure if they are random or what, but there seems to be an odd/random assortment of them. There are power cards for Halflings, Elves, and Humans to show their racial powers, but nothing for Eladrin or any of the other races. I'm not sure what that means yet. (Interlude) Ok, now I do, those three races are the only race options available in the Player's Book. Regardless, the cards are kind of flimsy and they take some work to get out of the sheets without damaging them. Meh, just print stuff off of the Character Builder on tougher paper, that is what I did when I wanted to print out some maneuvers from 3.5 Edition's Tome of Battle - Book of Nine Swords, which in my opinion is the early version of the power system.
-A Player's Book. Oh fuck yes! This thing brings the power cards and the stripped down character sheet together. This isn't just basic rules on how to play, those are there, but they're not what has me excited. I've told my wife and various others that I love DnD because it is like a truly interactive version of those Choose Your Own Adventure books they used to have. That is exactly what this book is. It guides you through character creation including skills and power selection and filling out your character sheet in a sort of one player adventure to guide you into the madness that is DnD. I think it is swell and a pretty thorough document for a starter set designed as a gateway into DnD. My only issue is that it is limited to the contents of the box to select from and I'm wondering if a compiled and updated version of this that includes options from Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms might be a nice option for them to come out with, perhaps even as a pdf or a system to add into the Character Builder down the road.
-A Dungeon Master's Book. How many of these have I read? A side note, I am now twenty-eight and it occurred to me that I have been playing DnD in some form or another longer than half my life. Seventeen years my friends. When I can say it has been twenty I think I'll throw myself a little party. Or kill a player character, been a while since I did that. Anyway, it is a bit thicker than the Player's Book, which makes sense. It gives some solid advice on the role of the DM and some basics of DMing and running things. The latter half is a continuation of the adventure begun in the Player's Book. All seems pretty straightforward and is pretty much what it needs to be.
-Dice. They are black with white numbers. I love dice.
That is The Red Box. It is pretty cool.
Next up on the agenda is The Rules Compendium. Forward! Into the FUTURE!!1!