8Bit Box Base Set
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Value For Money: High
8Bit Box is both an idea that I like, a problematic thing to review and probably at this point a failed experiment. I’ll talk about the first and last of those in a minute, but the middle one I’ll explain now. 8Bit Box is intended to be a modular set of components that games can be slotted into for a range of experiences that keep costs low and provide players with a relatively familiar experience. As such the base set is technically just a bunch of components. That said it always ships with three separate games, but they are meant to be distinct as concepts and are even listed on board game geek with their own entries. What I’m going to do then is review the base set components and the concept here, along with commenting on its success and I’ll review each of the available games separately.
So, firstly those components. Production value wise they are incredibly high, the whole main box has a satisfyingly chunky weight to it and everything looks great. Everything from the main box to the cubes are high end, the main box being lipped rather than telescoping, inside the base box has all of the looks just right to refer to slightly retro consoles (it’s not my childhood wood effect Atari 2600 but if you’re of the SNES era or later it’s got it just right). The euro cubes are pleasingly rounded edged plastic and the controllers with three dials are pre-assembled things of great beauty.
The problem is how useful those components are. These are meant to be components that a range of designs can put to use, and if they’re not really multipurpose they’re great looking but sort of pointless. The cubes are mostly plain white with a small number of them in each of the six player colours, which rather limits their usefulness to represent a range of resources except by sitting in spaces on player or general boards, which is a reasonable use, but it’s the sort of thing you’d usually use a dial for, of which there are three on each controller. Then there are the dials, each of the cardboard controllers comes with one with a colour/number count, one with eight cardinal directions and one with the letters a-d in different colours. Its sort of hard to imagine how often having these in games would be a real boon to a designer, dials are good when they turn up in games, but being lumped with abstract symbols and directions really limits their purposes. Three sets of number would realistically been far more useable. Lastly there are the dice, all of them are d6, one numbered 1-6, three dice with plusses and minuses and a coin flip dice. I can’t imagine not putting in 2d6 or at least a few polyhedral dice before a dice that essentially replicates flipping the sort of pocket change you can take as a pre-existing component for most people, or for that matter putting in a nice manufactured coin, particularly when offering a range of options to designers. These just don’t feel like a range of components that are a massive convenience for designers to build on.
I'm a game designer, and I like the idea of 8bit box, so once or twice I've tried to think out a game that I might pitch to them (as time goes on that seems more and more of a pipe dream, but on the other end, it might mean that the original concept is going up for sale). Not only are those not an inspiring collection of components, they're a positively constrictive set. You've got to include those dials, they're half the contents of the game, so you've got to find a way to include directional symbols into a game in a way that's worth recording on a dial and is thematic and useful. That does not make a designer feel like they're being creatively supported, it makes them feel trapped. Constraints are good, but this is hamstringing.
8Bit Box isn’t entirely alone in attempting this sort of base set with a range of expansions, particularly T.I.M.E. Stories has tried it and in a way its the whole theory behind Cheapass games. T.I.M.E. Stories suffered a lot of the same problems though when playing I often felt that the base components could have been largely done without aside from the dice the main necessary component was the inlay that allowed saving from game to game, something that I for one never actually did. I think its pretty significant that the second cycle of T.I.M.E. stories dropped the base set concept. Its something that I’m very much in favor of, the idea of a central base set providing a range of generic components so that multiple games can use them is one that is both environmentally and financially a great idea and I think we should all support. However, the components here just don’t have a wide range of function, they feel like a designer would need to write their game to use them rather than to write a game and then have them fill the requirements.
At the moment 8Bit Box is sadly looking like a failed experiment, its been around a year since the last, first and only truly separate expansion Double Rumble was released, and there is no news of another expansion. The games chosen for inclusion in the base set are possibly a large part of this, with three games being included not one of which allows for the possibility of a two-player count taking place its hard for many people to justify picking it up when two player gaming is a very popular player count. Its actually interesting to map the number of ratings for the 8Bit Box elements on Board Game Geek, the base set has 301 ratings, the expansion Double Rumble has 19, that’s a full retail release game from the people that make King of Tokyo not getting enough votes on Board Game Geek to generate an actual rating.
The components are high end, the concept is noble, but the execution is flawed and the project largely failed.