This seems to be the week to freak out about the awesomeness of the Mouse Guard Box Set, and it is awesome, so I don’t want to be late in my freaking out about it lest I seem either unenthusiastic or unfashionable. In fact, I’ll go so far as to admit that I drove five hours to pick up my set when one of my players found out that it was available at a not-so-local friendly gaming store. It was worth it. (Thanks to DH for giving me the heads-up the second this came into view!)

I played the Mouse Guard RPG a little over a year ago at a convention and loved it immediately. Seldom had I seen a convention game with premade characters pull such thoughtful and deep roleplaying out of participants, and I was impressed by how easy it was to use the rules in innovative ways without knowing the whole system well. I’d picked up the rulebook then, and I loved its lush illustrations and clear, welcoming, and intelligent instructions. Mouse Guard’s streamlined Burning Wheel rules have removed everything extraneous about the parent system and left GMs with the perfect toolkit for running adventures that feel as though they’re straight from the pages of Petersen’s comic. Given the comic’s “It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for” tagline and Burning Wheel’s “Fight for what you believe” motto, the two are a perfect thematic match for one another.

When I heard that there was going to be a Box Set, I was pleased, as you can imagine. Stuff for a game for a game I like? Really pretty stuff for a game I like?! Let’s do it! NOW!

One of the first things I noticed is that Crane and Petersen haven’t included a lot of extraneous stuff. There’s beautiful, well-made, useful stuff, and a bit of fun fluff, but not a whole overwhelming host of table-filling junk that you don’t really need. (And here, I’m looking at you, my beloved WFRP3e. You might have overdone it just the slightest shade of a notch on your stuff quotient.) For instance, the Mouse Guard Box Set comes with a bunch of cards, but instead of the overwhelming array of skill cards you get in WFRP, you have a set of condition cards that remind you of each condition’s effects, a set of weapon cards to remind you of how a particular weapon changes each scripted volley of a fight, and set of common action cards to play instead of scripting your volleys on paper. That’s it. Players won’t sit behind a towering stack of skill cards, and they won’t spend twenty minutes shuffling through their deck to find the right skill for the job.

Beautiful design marks everything about this set, from the shiny box to the illustrated individual cards. Rules on the card are easy to read and understand, and each one includes just the right amount of information. Instead of regular d6s, the themed dice in the set now include snakes, swords, and axes. Although there are only a handful of dice, the basic dice mechanic hasn’t changed, so players (or the GM) can continue to use their own d6s if there aren’t enough themed dice at the table.

Perhaps most charming are the “carved” mouse pawns that look like those that Gwendolyn uses to mark the Guard Patrols on her own map. You get five (red, blue, yellow, green, and purple) and a map of the Mouse Territories with your game. I swooned over these when I saw them in the MTV unboxing post, but that picture didn’t indicate the heft and size of the pawns. I thought they were the size of a regular RPG miniature, but one easily fills the palm of my hand:

Still, you haven’t really lived until you’ve placed them on your own map of the territories:

I particularly like the map/pawn addition; even though it doesn’t technically add much to the gameplay, it does visually represent the role of the GM (who plays Gwendolyn and assigns missions) as an integral part of the game.

One last thing about the set: the included sheets keep up the high production value and thoughtful design of the rest of the materials. The GM sheets let the GM record all the pertinent information about a whole host of NPCs on one handy page. The character sheets do what character sheets usually do, but in a much more stylish way than usual. Petersen even includes a delightful pencil sketch of a bare-bones mouse that you can “fill in” with visual details to represent your own character.

Although the theme of Mouse Guard may not appeal to everyone, the Mouse Guard RPG makes great use of the BW rules for an exciting and interesting gaming experience evocative of the comic. The Box Set enhances that play with visually appealing gaming aids that will streamline your session and will allow your players to focus on the story and its puzzles rather than on the system. I do hope that the publisher will issue extra sets of themed dice, because my players love to have their own sets of dice. We spend 15 minutes at the end of each session trying to figure out which dice belong to whom; it’s our exit ritual, and I’m hoping it can be preserved.

Now get out there, Guards, and ride a rabbit across the snow in search of a dangerous snake! (Although you’re going to have to get a whole heap of successes to do those things, you know.)