Before our first session of playing D&D, my wife and I felt it necessary to read all sorts of books about D&D. No, these weren't D&D handbooks. These were tangential books like the previously mentioned 30 Years of Adventure, the Waterdeep novel series, and D&D for Dummies. We didn't want to be the bozos with no clue about what was going on, right? I mean, heaven save us if we appear foolish in the presence of our nerdly brethren!
After a while we finally made the plunge and got the D&D Starter Set. To us, this was "buying the game." We knew it was a trimmed down version, but we figured that it would give us somewhere to start. This product has since been replaced by the much better "New Red Box," but the original 4th edition starter set prompted from us the same reaction we had been getting all along as we read about his game: This game sounds awesome. I wish I knew what it was about.
I had gotten the starter set, unpacked it, and studied it for an hour or two before picking up Cassandra from work. This is what the subsequent conversation sounded like:
Me: "Hey! So I finally picked up a D&D Starter Set. It's simple and geared towards new players. We can finally give this game a shot."
Cass: "Oh cool! So you have an idea of how to play now?"
Me: "I have no earthly clue how to play, but it looks awesome! It involves these funky dice and everything. Just as the books promised!"
When we got home we stared at the pretty dice and the monster tokens and chits and things... they were colorful and my wife and I enjoy colors.
But teach us to play Dungeons and Dragons? Well... no. I'm not going to fault Wizards of the Coast on this one though. From what I've heard from other folks and Wizard's own D&D Podcast, this reaction is pretty typical.
I'm not going to do too serious of a review of this product, because it has been since replaced by the Red Box. Nevertheless, I'm going to point out that it is probably a great starter set for people starting 4th Edition, but not necessarily starting D&D. I get the feeling that, although Wizards gave us everything we needed, we had no clue on how to absorb this material. Someone who was familiar with tabletop RPGs would probably have an easier time of it. While trying to learn this game on our own, I felt that explanations were either very technical or very fluffy without the in-between that I really wanted. It was the switches between these two extremes that frustrated me.
One moment I would be reading how D&D was a game of adventure and whimsy, and the next I would be told all the technical details of the hunter's quarry feature (when I had no clue what a "class feature" even was.) For me, things only really came together in my head after bumbling through a few sessions with experienced players and after being able to hear/see how the game is played.
If you're a new player, I would very seriously suggest listening to the PvP and Penny Arcade Podcasts to get an idea of what play is like. For me, the ideal starter set would not only include what is included in the Red Box, but also a tiny DVD or a link to a youtube video or podcast of someone actually doing it with you while you followed along.
As for Cass and me, we eventually found some people on the forums of our local game shop. Thus we set up our first gaming session with excitement for the future, and fear of making complete fools of ourselves in front of people who casually discuss their "1000 point space ork armies."