This was an impulse purchase, as I already have the core rulebooks.
In a Nutshell: Introductory set for D&D 4th Edition. New players start here. If you’re an experienced player or DM, move along, there’s nothing to see here.
What’s in the Box? One set of polyhedral dice; double-sided battlemat, 22” x 34”; sheet of diecut counters, 12 for PCs, 38 for monsters (3 of them large), 5 for action points; advertising flyer for other products; code to download another solo adventure from the WotC website; pad of four blank character sheets (why only four? I guess you can download others or photocopy them); 63 power cards; 32-page players’ book; 64-page Dungeon Master’s book.
The battlemat has a dungeon layout on one side, and a wilderness layout on the other.
The monster pogs are double-sided, with a different monster on each side. There 28 different types of monster. The PC pogs have a bloodied side and a healthy side.
Players’ Book: This takes the form of a programmed solo adventure. You start knowing nothing about your character, but as you choose your path through the scenario, the race, class, characteristics, skills and powers are gradually revealed. I’m not a fan of this approach; I would have preferred some pre-generated characters with which to leap straight into the action, and a much terser guide to creating new ones. I am hardly the target audience, since it’s clearly aimed at people who have never played before; but as DM, I wince at the thought of guiding 4-6 new players through this booklet one after the other.
The character classes are different from those in the Players’ Handbook, essentially being streamlined versions of the classic fighter, thief, cleric and wizard.
DM’s Book: This is composed of an introduction, 16 pages of combat rules condensed from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook, 8 encounters which advance the story of the solo adventure, 6 pages of advice and guidance on creating your own adventures, 14 pages of monsters selected from the Monster Manual, and a couple of pages each on rewards (treasure and experience points) and the Nentir Vale setting. This all gives you enough to advance some beginning characters to second level, after which you’d need either more products from the Essentials line, or the main core rulebooks.
Conclusions: Production values are good, but this has nothing for me, really, and even if I were the newbie DM it’s clearly aimed at, it would only last me for 2-3 game sessions, unless I were prepared to make up my own level advancements and powers (which I might well be).