They call it the “Red Box” but its real title is “Starter Set.” It’s the upcoming first release in the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials line. The Starter Set will be a boxed game product including all the components necessary for both new players to learn the game and returning players to understand how D&D’s latest edition has evolved from previous versions. The Starter Set will present new character classes inspired by the originals but not replacing them.

Follow-on products in the Essentials line will include a Dungeon Master’s Kit, two Player’s Books (Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms and Heroes of the Fallen Lands) and a Monster Vault.

Clearly Wizards of the Coast is making a strong play for the nostalgia purchase with Red Box D&D. Package design replicates a Basic Dungeons & Dragons game from the 1980s. And company representatives are very up-front about trying to capture the interest of lapsed gamers and their families.

But more than just homage to the past, Essentials, it seems to me, is WOTC’s attempt to recapture the spirit of Dungeons & Dragons’ earlier days. It’s about creating the opportunity for kids to discover the game, learn to play it on their own, and spread it with excitement among their friends. D&D Essentials will be sold in Target stores and the Starter Set box will include two solo adventures. The solo adventures will allow a player to make choices and create a character during the course of play, minimizing the time spent reading before discovering what’s fun about the game.

The launch of Essentials is also about making Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition even friendlier to casual players. The Essentials line will include a set of introductory products always in print—the aforementioned box and books, as well as three Dungeon Tile sets (city, wilderness, and dungeon), and eventually a Rules Compendium. WOTC is not dropping the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide series familiar to gamers, but D&D Essentials will be promoted as a game that can be acquired for oneself or as a gift without necessarily investing in it as a hobby. Wizards is planning a broader advertising campaign, to include commercials on Hulu.

I know that many hobby gamers are still concerned about rules compatibility and the possibility of Wizards of the Coast abandoning the existing product line. In my conversation with the developers on Thursday, I didn’t get a clear answer on how the Compendium will work with the Player’s Handbook. However, I was assured that the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide will remain part of the D&D family, and in the end I’m not that bothered by this bit of uncertainty. I think that Essentials has tremendous potential in the marketplace and will be well positioned to inspire the general consumer with the possibilities of games of the imagination.