I’m going to talk about the Numenera Boxed Set Edition but not with an unboxing video or the usual number of superlatives associated with it. I’m going to talk about why it’s an important product for the industry.
Over roughly the last decade there’s been a marked shift in the quality of RPGs and the rise of them as an art form. While in decades past—as you watched the industry struggle around how to handle other forms of media and stay relevant in the three tier distribution model—self-publishing, POD, and boutique publishers have carved out their own niche in our already niche cottage industry. Unfettered by the necessity of of a big-name publisher and controls, more voices made themselves heard.
in the art form continues to be addressed. The form
, less so.
Small-house publishing—or even self-publishing—brings rapid development and freedom, but the output varies wildly. I’m painting in broad strokes certainly, and while there are outliers like, say, Artesia, most small press offerings are fairly unremarkable in their presentation. And, to be fair, while development continues to be something of a soft cost (time), actual product creation (printing, if there’s a physical edition at all!) has a very real hard cost.
Which is to say in another way, presentation matters.
Interestingly, during this time there’s also been a rise in “limited” or “exclusive” versions of games. A marked uptick in targeting the collectable nature of RPGs and highlighting them as a luxury good. Take the content, put it on 80 lb. paper, give it a faux leather cover and double its price. That addresses a different area but doesn’t improve the form
; if you take something of “X” quality and put it on better paper and give it a leather cover you still have “X” quality, just more expensive.
That’s where the Numenera Boxed Set Edition comes into play. It’s taking something that was already successful (Numenera) and re-envisioning it for a new medium. Taking that medium—the boxed form—and maximizing its potential. Hell, turing the dial all the way to 11.
It makes the form
of the art form actually useful and meaningful.
The boxed set isn’t new, although in this case it’s very much so. I’m hard pressed to think of any RPG presented in such a manner where the form—the presentation—received as much care and feeding as the actual content inside the pages
. I look at the special editions of Fantasy Flight Game’s RPG books (steel case Deathwatch comes to mind) and while decadent in their presentation, it doesn’t add any value to the equation. The Numenera Boxed Set Edition does.
Why did the boxed set go away for starters? They’ve been around since the dawn of RPGs. Back when dice and crayons were included or, in my most favorite examples, the James Bond RPG adventure modules by Victory Games. Boxes crammed with inserts, screens, handouts, glossy color prints, maps and more. All very expensive to print, ship, and store. Longer to produce, harder to create, and retailers didn’t like them much. The boxes had to be shrink-wrapped, so buyers couldn’t look through them.
Fast forward to today and we have the merging of two ideas: the exclusivity of a luxury good combined with the utility and reimagining of the form
of the product to create a presentation
of the product that matters.
Instead of selling through the retail channel, now direct from the publisher. That assuages retailer concerns because publishers can’t sell discounted SKUs directly, lest they anger their retailers and distributors. Making the boxed set a publisher exclusive avoids that headache and improves the margin; no distributor discount taking a percentage right off the top. Plus, marketed as a luxury item—it’s not necessary, you don’t “need” it, although you damn well “want” it—offsets the pricing issue. Exclusivity also ties into production volume; only a limited number available so no sunk costs beyond a small inventory that will be sold through quickly.
But all this really glosses over why I love the Numenera Boxed Set Edition so much. It’s the RPG form
taken to the extreme. It questions the status quo and asks “why the hell not?” Why not put a magnetic latch on the box? Why not use the box to split the book contents into player and GM components? Why not include cards and a mess of play aides? Why not include a cloth map, a homage to the video game industry and their increasingly ridiculous collector editions?
Does any of this make Numenera a better game? I honestly can’t say as I haven’t parsed through my copy yet. Maybe the game isn’t all that. I don’t know. I do know that I appreciate the level of effort involved to make the product. Make no mistake, +Monte Cook
didn’t lose money on this venture, but it was a risk. And when someone stands up, shakes the status quo, and legitimately tries to raise the bar?
Well, that really excites me. And when you open your copy and that smell
of the freshly printed contents wafts up at you…yes, it’s pretty damn special.
(Full, but-probably-meanginless disclosure, Monte was the editor on a book I wrote for Iron Crown some 20 years ago.)