Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review - The White Box Boxed Set

Title: The White Box
Production Team: Jeremy Holcomb, Jeff Tidball, Renee Knipe,
Rule Set: all your own
Year: 2017
Pages: 102
Rating: ★★★★★

This is an interesting title. When I am in the classroom or attending classes, the word pedagogy comes up a lot. I never thought I would be using it on a gaming website. 

Yet, that is where we are. Playing a game requires some level of learning. Mostly, this comes up when there is a high learning curve in the rules. Starfleet Battles comes to mind as a game with a rather high learning curve. D&D on the other hand feels more free flowing, therefore has a smaller learning curve. Uno has a quick, as you go vibe, so it doesn't seem like you're learning at all. But all require some pedagogy to teach the game. 

What is The White Box is answered with the sub-title: "A Game Design Workshop in a Box". Its purpose is to teach one how to make games. Or alternatively, to teach players what design elements have what effect on the user. As a teacher, the idea of deconstructing a game rule by rule is more interesting than designing my own. The White Box is very similar to many educational packs teachers can order for their classroom. It comes with the following: 

  • The White Box Essays, the textbook if you will. 
  • 3 counter sheets. 71 pre-printed counters and 49 blank counters.
  • 150 small wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 36 wooden meeples in six colors.
  • 6 giant wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 12 six-sided dice in six colors.
  • 110 plastic discs in eight colors. 

All you need is to add some creativity. The book is excellently written. It is a compilation of 25 essays on game design. The tactile learning tokens or "feelies", if you are old like me, harkens back to the old Infocom games. But they are clearly well thought out and have high production values. Tokens and counters are black, white and gold to match the box, while the various other items in the box are green, white, blue, red, yellow, and black. Despite the fact that these parts are in different media, plastics and wood the bold colors match well, unlike some of the lesson plan sets teachers have to throw together. The meeples are generic and cute. 

While intended to teach game design, the 102 page book tends to dance the subject a bit when it comes to ideation and leans heavily on design and production. It does answer to some important questions as to where a game designer's energy should go. It also gets into elements like adding random numbers and how a game should flow. It's very clear that the authors have written and designed games, so the essays are very useful, despite not having specifics on brainstorming or what makes a great game. If everyone knew those things, then there would be no need for this product. At least 4 different essays are addressed to non-gameplay situations such as theft, rule laywering, copyrights, game breakers, min-maxing and other situations a designer needs to know about to a have shot at fame and fortune in game design. 

As I understand it, this came out as a Kickstart project a few years ago, this is not a review of KS and since I missed that step, I cannot comment on how easily this boxed set came to fruition. 

What I do know is that this is a good product for getting started on the topic of game design, having seen many games come together in my time at Mattel. All and all I give it 5 stars. 

On a side note, I want to get my hands on another copy of this as it makes an excellent tabletop piece for a variety of games. The tokens, counters and chits are so generic as to be unobtrusive on the table for tracking various things in games that tend to be more "theater of the mind", but could use a little diagram or reminder here or there.  

You can pick up a physical copy at Atlas-Games and an electronic file DriveThruRPG which is missing the tangible pieces. Interestly, there is an audio book and a bundle with both. I didn't know that until this review. The pdf is well worth the $7.99 price tag, but if you want to full experience, I would buy the physical boxed set and the audio book. 

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