Happy thursday everyone, today we’re finally looking at something that I promised was incoming way back in february.
Scoville, from Tasty Minstrel Games and first time designer, Ed Marriot.
It’s a board game with an excellently designed front cover that immediately shows off both its artistic style and the three main points of its theming. The first of those, already obvious from the name (at least to those of us with an interest in hot food), being chillies.
But its the other two that really tell us what’s going on with this game.
The most prominent image on the box isn’t so much the chilli but the trophy that it’s attached to, held tight by a rather muddied gardening glove.
Because this game is about competing and its about chilli growing. It’s about sharing a farm with your friends and competing to gather peppers. And its a lot more nuanced than that sounds.
Which is why it has taken me so long to review.
Not all my friends are lovers of hot food like I am and pepper growing is, realistically, a fairly specific interest to base a board game around.
I could get a group together easily enough but, when I found out how much the game had going on, I realised that wasn’t enough. I had to try it with board game veterans and newcomers alike, some genuinely interested and some just open minded enough to give it a go.
Now, I finally feel like I can talk about it properly.
But the first thing I have to mention is the price. I don’t actually know how much Scoville cost, given that it was a christmas present, but I do know that it’s one of the more expensive games out there. Which made it quite the gamble on an industry newcomer.
You do, however, get your money’s worth in the quantity of contents, at the very least.
That’s a four piece game board, three packs of cards that total over a hundred and forty, thirty thicker tiles, twelve wooden player pieces, one hundred and eighteen coins, six chilli breeding charts, over a hundred and sixty wooden chillies (in assorted colours), fifty chilli tiles, ten special plastic chillies, a rulebook and six screens to hide your possessions from the other players.
If you could judge the quality of a game based sheerly on the quantity of stuff it comes with, there would be few better than Ed Marriott’s Scoville. Unfortunately for him, though, things aren’t that simple and, if anything, all that stuff could easily clutter up the experience.
Yet, it doesn’t. Despite the vast number of things involved, Scoville’s gameplay didn’t seem too hard to follow at all, once we got going. In fact, most of it was written on the board if you knew where to look, in amongst art depicting the combination of a farm, a rural market, an outdoor auction and a con carne tasting site.
Features that are, themselves, quite representative of the gameplay.
Each round but the first began with a blind bid of in game currency for the choice of turn order, in which we would then claim peppers from the auction deck, planted ones from our collection and complete the various market trades and chilli recipes available to us. Or simply sell our collection for more cash to spend on future turns.
Before that last phase, however, we would send our (surprisingly detailed) wooden farmers around our shared allotment in reverse turn order. A twist that gave the last player first access to the newest crossbreeds and meant that bidding for last was as viable an option as bidding for first.
Because, while selling, trading and cooking with your chillies was most of how points were scored, the game still revolved heavily around its breeding system. A system based more upon the red, yellow and blue colour wheel than actual genetics but one that still felt real enough for the purposes of the game.
Having your farmer walk between red and yellow chillies would make an orange one, yellow and blue made a green, a secondary colour and a primary one would create a brown, while two secondaries would make either black or white. But the most exciting moment was always when a black and a white got planted next to each other, allowing for the birth of a glittering, transparent “phantom pepper”.
These obvious ghost pepper parodies don’t sell for any more but they do look stunningly different to the solid colour of the wooden chilli pieces and they will give you a tonne of points if you plant them first or use them in a recipe.
Yet they were only one way to win.
Depending on how long the game went on, it could be just as good a strategy to flood the board with a single primary coloured pepper to raise its value and then sell in bulk. Coins don’t convert into points one to one but they can still make all the difference at the end of the game.
And getting the specific chillies needed to meet recipes can also work out to be more or less rewarding than simply aiming to be first to plant the best peppers. It all depends on what cards come up at the start and what everyone else is doing.
Yes, while there is no real interaction with the possessions of other players in this game, the placement of peppers and farmer tokens can really get in the way of any plans those players might have. There is definitely room for counter play and grudges should you want it.
But, even if you’re totally altruistic in your gaming, this still leads to a lot of planning and replanning as the state of the board changes.
Scoville can be played quite simply and light-heartedly but it’s also one of those board games where serious players can spend minutes agonising over a single action should they get that into it. There is definitely a lot of complexity beneath the surface.
It’s not a simple game in the slightest but it has been designed to make it as easy to understand as possible, with reminders of things like the number of cards to be put out and the order of phases in a round worked into the board itself, as well as breeding charts available to each player in case the crossing gets too confusing. All without harming the game’s great art.
This makes it simple to get to grips with but it does still require a fair bit of mental involvement, which can be hard for many young kids or if you’re playing with six people due to the time between turns. The box claims, therefore, that Scoville is for ages fourteen and up but I think that it could actually get away with an
rating, since it lacks any mature themes and most highschool children should be able to muster the required level of attention to enjoy it.
However, just as I don’t recommend playing this game with six people, two also seems like it would be a problem, placing far too big of a focus on getting in the other player’s way. Three to five seems a far better fit if you ask me.
And I also have to point out that the in game economy seems a little light on uses for the coins. They’re great for points in the end game but, aside from that, the auction is their only function. When your friends are all as frugal as mine, they do very little besides pile up in one’s inventory.
So it’s not a perfect game and it’s not for everyone but it definitely is a lot more fun than I was expecting. If you’re a board gamer yourself and know people who’d be open to trying something with such a niche target audience, Scoville is not a bad choice at all.
And, to finish this review off, I’ll leave you with this. One last picture that shows the game in progress: