When the Netflix show Stranger Things came upon the scene in late 2016, nostalgia washed over the Gen X and younger masses as they revisited the glorious 1980s, where we feared the Satanic Panic and nuclear annihilation. (Spoiler: they don’t get to that plot point until season 3).
One of the chief places where that nostalgia reigned was in the playing of Dungeons and Dragons, where even the big bad of season 1 is lifted from D&D. Of course, a lot of things from that era embraced the opportunity to re-invent and re-introduce themselves to the new modern audience.
As Stranger Things played on Netflix, D&D was in the midst of the current golden era of its 5th edition, having released a fantastic rule set that both moved the game forward AND proved easy for new players to jump in. New players were jumping in, and coming from lots of directions, most notably livestreams of the game.
All of which is to say that it seems like smart marketing for Hasbro, the parent company of Dungeons and Dragons company Wizards of the Coast, to want to create an opportunity of synergy and welcome new players into the world of D&D. That process is how the Hasbro Gaming Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set came to be both a long-titled product while also a chance to cash in on the nostalgia of Stranger Things through bringing in new players.
And it is 50% successful.
So, let’s start where it fails…this is a poor starter set. On paper it does some of the things that you want a good starter set to do.
- It has pre-generated characters in nearly every class.
- The character sheets for each of those pre-gens is pretty easy to follow.
- The set comes with a relatively nice set of blue polyhedral dice.
- There is a good, solid adventure that has a little of everything: some roleplay, some traps, some creatures, some lore and more.
Whoever the product manager was for this was given a list and checked off each box. They even made sure that you get a Demogorgon miniature. And, to be fair, none of that is bad. It just isn’t great.
Wizards has made a fantastic starter set already, with an adventure–The Lost Mine of Phandelver–that is consistently ranked in the top 2-3 of all of the 5e adventures released so far. Plus, that starter set checks off all the same boxes in a more elegantly designed and created product. The existing Starter Kit is nearly flawless, so it isn’t a wonder to me that the Stranger Things kit carries not the Wizard of the Coast logo but the Hasbro one.
That said, where the Stranger Things set and the Hunt for the Thessalhydra adventure within it excels is if you are an old D&D player looking for nostalgia. It is rich in it!
Sure there are things like art of the characters that feel like something your cool friend Bryan made during lunch in 8th grade. But it goes beyond that. The maps are old school grid paper dungeons just like the ones that you loved. As someone who was DMing this adventure, I really loved it and had fond memories. There is something awesome about a map where something happens in every single room!
The modern game and style, if that is what you are used to, is a strong harsh contrast to this nostalgic set. (The younger folks in my group basically were like, “Thank the gods the game survived long enough to advance to our new evolved version,” while the older crowd was “Yes! A secret passage! And it was marked with an S on the grid map!”
So, is it worth it? Here is what I would say: if you have friends who have never played Dungeons and Dragons and who want to get started playing, get the similarly priced Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set or even the new Essentials Kit that adds a few things like creature cards. Those have more long term bank for your buck and have been proven over the last few years as a great investment. (Also, they make a stellar go-to birthday gift for any teenagers you are trying to do more than hand them a gift card.)
If you are an old school player or know some who might want to play again, it is a fun trip down nostalgia lane. That said, if the goal was to convert watchers of the show into players of the game, the D&D Stranger Things box set fails to deliver.