Like a lot of others, I finally got my Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox boxed set from Brave Halfling Publishing.
I’ll start with my review summary: I like it.
The design is simple but elegant. The fact that it comes in a box is very cool, and the horizontal artwork along the sides (reminiscent of the series along the bottom of the pages in the random dungeon section of the 1e DMG) is very very cool. It’s clear that a lot of thought, work, and care went into this and I’m glad I ordered one.
There has been a lot of good written about this set, and I do not think I disagree with much of anything. This is something to be proud of and I’m honored to have my name included in the “Additional Editing” list on the front piece of this edition of these rules.
The artwork, both the pieces from earlier versions of the set and the new, are excellent.
The single column layout is excellent and very readable. As many know, I’m a bit of a fan of digest-sized books and usually print up my pdfs in this format. This “shrinks” the typical two-column layout down to half size and is sometimes a bit hard on the eyes. Being designed for digest size, the page width layout was the right call here and it looks great.
I was pleasantly surprised by the color rendering of the index card character “sheet” in Book I. Unless I missed something, this is the only color printing in the entire set. And, though it’s a small thing and probably wasn’t cheap to include, I do think it adds a bit of something or other and I appreciate it.
The back of the spells book and monsters book each include a few pages of blank entries for user-created content. That’s a very nice touch.
Though I haven’t checked thoroughly, I believe this text is identical to the standard WhiteBox, and the simplicity, particularly in spell and monster descriptions, is “just right.” For those looking for a game very close to the original three books, this is a solid option.
As anyone should expect, the quality is not 100% perfect. Before anyone gets all excited, none of the issues are serious at all and none of them would have any impact on play. I’m not going to be complaining to Brave Halfling and know all too well the the quality of product published by the big boys is often lacking.
The printing on the cover of the box has a few minor blemishes. It’s only noticeable upon close inspection, and is in the text and not in the excellent image. Also, while the lid of the box appears to be quite solid and looks like it would hold up fairly well, the same cannot be said about the bottom; maybe it’s the fact that the lid is covered with the printed “wrapper.” If I was planning to actually use the box, I’d make sure the first thing I did was reinforce the bottom with heavy tape. I only mention these because the box itself is a huge part of the novelty of this set.
The printing inside the booklets is mostly very good, with dark blacks and even grays in the tables. Unfortunately, most tables and gray houserule boxes suffer from narrow white lines from the printing process. Again, not a big deal and I only mention it because this is a review of sorts and I aim for honesty and completeness.
My last quality issue involves the construction of the booklets themselves. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that they were machine assembled and stapled. They aren’t all quite “lined up” and my Book I is slightly smaller than the other three, and it’s trimmed very close to the page numbers. I’ve got a heavy-duty paper cutter and could trim them all down a bit, evening them out and making them all the exact same size, but there isn’t a lot of room to work with at the bottom of Book I. One of my books appears to be from a different production run, with glossier ink; I wish all the of the books were like this.
I want to be clear that all of the above criticisms on quality are nit-picking. None of this impacts play in any way and relates more to the boxed set as a novelty collector’s item than as the rule set of a working game. In actual use, I’d be making notes and changes in the books from session one and these would quickly overshadow any of the very minor imperfections I point out.
The point about looking at this as “novelty collector’s item” brings me to my last few points. While this is an excellent set and a very exciting product, I’m not quite sure who it’s targeted for beyond old school collector types. The contents of the package, which includes a set of dice, a small pad of graph paper, and a #2 pencil, seem to point toward first-timers looking to learn a game. But I don’t envision any first-timers buying this, and if they did, the rule set is not at all one which promotes “teach yourself and your friends how to play.” In fact, I’d argue that the S&W WhiteBox rules practically REQUIRE tinkering. Though I know not everyone will agree, I see these rules as more of a toolkit for custom-built games than a complete system.
Including Matt Finch’s “A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming” was a great idea, but, again, this is not really for neophytes. It’s directed at those who already play “new school” games and tries to explain and demonstrate how “old school” games are different. Maybe a primer-type introduction to this type of gaming would have been more appropriate.
So, if mostly collector types and experienced gamers are going to be buying this boxed set, I’m not really sure what good a basic set of basic dice really does. Simply a nice touch, maybe? A nod to the boxed sets of yesterday? As for the pencil, I have no idea.
At this point I’d like to remind readers of my review summary: I like it.
Overall this is a solid presentation of a solid set of rules. I’m glad I bought it and I’m glad that the lengthy delays are past and that it finally arrived. Brave Halfling deserves the praise that it’s getting for this.