Pepper farming... What else is there to say? If you're looking for unique. This is unique.
Style of Game: Strategy
Play Time: 60 to 90 minutes
Theme: Pepper Farming
Number of Players: 2-6
Main Mechanics: Auction/Bidding, Grid Movement, and Set Collection
Weight: High End of Medium Weight
THEME AND MECHANISMS:
First, Scoville is a unique theme so it has that going for it. Second, for a game that doesn't categorize itself as a thematic game, you can become very engaged by the theme. Especially for a euro game. I find this to be associated more with the vibrant appearance of the game than anything else but the mechanisms certainly don't work against the theme too much. There are small things like clear peppers and not being able to turn around when walking on your turn that seem strange but they are not so off-putting that they impact the game negatively. After that this is one of those games that everything you do is just "cute", for lack of a better term. Meaning, there is a chili cook-off, there is a local high school auction, there are little peppers that are physically planted into the board. It is just a fun experience that isn't always as amplified in many euro games.
The game plays over a number of rounds. During the course of this undetermined number of rounds their will be a morning phase and an afternoon phase. The number of rounds is technically random but there is a trigger for each phase of the game that will designate the end of the first phase or the game. Each round of the game plays in five steps.
During the first step of each round (excluding the first round, when turn order was determined randomly during setup) players will bid for turn order. This is done by having each player secretly place a desired amount of money in their hand. All players will reveal their bid simultaneously. The player that has bid the most money will be given the opportunity to place their "disc" on their turn order track. Players will also receive a card from the auction that tells them which peppers they may take from the supply. These cards are chosen based on the new turn order.
The turn order track is two rows of six circles (disc size) on the board. The rows are directly aligned vertically and there are thee arrows designated which direction turn order will unfold during the middle three steps (Planting, Harvesting, Fulfillment). This is to say that during the planting step turn order will move from left to right. During Harvesting turn order will move right to left. During Fulfillment turn order will move from left to right again.
Example of 3 player game:
Player 1 / Player 2 / Player 3
Player 3 / Player 2 / Player 1
Player 1 / Player 2 / Player 3
During the second step of the round, planting, each player must take one of their pepper tokens and place it into the board. The pepper must be planted adjacently to existing peppers and players should consider which pepper they are planting next to because this will determine which pepper players will be able to crossbreed and harvest.
During the third step, harvesting, players will be allowed to move their farm up to three steps on the grid (farm area on the board). During these moves players may cross breed the two colors of peppers that their farmer steps between. Players will utilize a breeding chart to determine which pepper they receive when crossbreeding two colors.
During the fourth step, fulfillment, players will use their peppers to fulfill orders at the market place or recipes at the cook-off. Players may do one of each type of fulfillment on their turn but do not have to fulfill anything.
The last step of each round is time check. During this step players will check to see if there fewer market cards than players in the game. If there are fewer market cards than players then the phase ends. If it was morning, then play transitions to the afternoon phase. The afternoon phase plays much like the morning but with different market place and auction cards. If it was the afternoon phase and there were fewer cards than players in either the market or recipe areas then the game will end after one more round. If there are fewer cards than players in both areas then the game will end immediately.
When the game does end players will look at multiple things to determine their final score.
- Points on market cards
- Points on recipe cards
- Points on award plaques
- Points on unplayed bonus action tiles
- Every $3 = 1 point
*There are some areas of scoring that were not covered in the overview but they are very simple to understand and are adequately covered in the rule book.
My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Depth of Strategy, Replayability, and Quality of Design.
Scoville offers choices galore. I wouldn't say there are a multitude of differentiated choices but because there are so many colors of peppers and so many recipes and market cards and auction cards available, there are a lot of things to consider on your turn. However, I think it could easily be stated that the most important thing for you to consider on your turn is the turn order. It is more than enough to have to think about the order you want to do everything in. Meaning I want to harvest first this round because I see that if I don't another player will take the space I want (farmers may not move through one another so this really emphasizes planning your movements). Like I said, your own moves demand your attention but after one round you realize, not only do I have to plan my rounds, turn order/movement/planting/fulfillment, I have to make sure the other players aren't going to completely disrupt my plans. I suppose you don't have to do that part to enjoy yourself but just wait until everything you thought you were going to do is nixed by a farmer stopping in or blocking the space your whole turn was based on.
I don't want to overstate the depth of strategy because you can definitely see the goal of your game: plant peppers you know will help you score points (the plaques mentioned in the scoring area of the overview) and harvest the types of peppers you need to fulfill the recipes and market cards you want. That may be a little simplified but there really isn't a variety of approaches to winning the game. You have to do those two things. The game just does a nice job of forcing each player to do this most efficiently and effectively. There are enough areas of the game to score in that it is difficult for one player to dominate all areas so players will gravitate toward a means of scoring points that seems to be uncontested in smaller player counts (2 and 3). However, there is more competition in the 4 player game to be as effective as possible in all areas of the game. At that point you are not really dominating specific colors of peppers or the market place or recipes, you are trying to organize your turns in a way that will let you hit different areas for solid points and then get to the next available point grab. I have not played with more than 4 and I'm not sure I would want to.
Scoville seems to be a mixture of strategy and tactics because most ways of scoring require you to do a few things before you can score but the game isn't really all that strategical because you are simply trying to fulfill specific collections of sets that are not that differentiated. My best description of my mentality going into Scoville is that I know what I have to do, I just have to be ready to adjust on the fly.
Depth of Strategy:
2.5 = The game appears strategical but typically just grabbing points is just as important.
The first time I played Scoville I was a little skeptical of it. If I am being honest, it may have had to do with how poorly I did, but I was also really concerned with the turn order mechanism. I know it isn't the only game to do it the way it does, but my intrigue was peaked by the fact that it is pretty fair for all players, yet unbelievably punishing if you do not get the position you need. The magnitude of this punishment progresses with the game's progression so at the beginning of the game if I don't get the position I want it's not so bad, I will grab some other low-end peppers that I will likely need early in the game. Late in the game though, if there is only one way to get a high-end pepper (black, white, clear) and I am not the first to it. I can be set back an entire round of progression. Heaven forbid you allow one player to get a strangle hold on the high-end peppers because then you're in big trouble. The game offsets this a tad because the opponent will have to leave a space available for you when they move next round but in higher player counts a string of lost bids will definitely put you behind. It was this turn order issue that concerned me the first time I played and I wasn't really sold on the game. However, the game seemed to stick with me after playing it. I started thinking of the turn order mechanism as more of an opportunity to be strategical (otherwise you have to be tactical) than a reason to whine about the game. It is because of this that I personally want to play the game more and more. If you manage to play this game strategically and force the other players to have to be tactical you will have an advantage.
The game has no shortage of replayability in terms of mechanisms and the way they can change from play to play but the mechanisms sometimes seem daunting because they require you to remember so many small details to execute nothing more than planting the correct pepper or harvesting the correct pepper. A lot of times you hear people talk about what it is you have to do to get the enjoyment out of a game. This is where I think Scoville suffers and will not be a game that hits the table a lot for some groups. For other groups that just go with the flow of the game, I think it is a good weight. You have to think your way through the game, but you do not have to follow a step by step strategy from start to finish that, if disrupted, ruins your enjoyment of the game. I realize I said this somewhat happened to me my first play but everyone else enjoyed themselves a lot and I didn't have a horrible time. I was just skeptical about wanting to play it again in the future when there are SO many games available.
3.0 = A simple strategy will give you an advantage but you do not have to have one to enjoy the game.
Auction/Bidding: There are two elements of this mechanism. First, you bid for turn order. This has been discussed and I want to stress, it is a HUGE area of the game that is designed nicely and requires you to be good at it. The second is the auction cards. I don't want to discredit these because sometimes they can be a big help for fulfilling or planting but for the most part they seem to be overlooked because of all the other forces vying for your attention.
Grid Movement: Whew... I can't tell you how important this mechanism is because until you have experienced the game yourself you can't truly grasp what it feels like to make a misstep (pun intended) or come to realize that you messed up in the turn order and your opponent is going to block your most efficient path of movement. It is a complex mechanism? No. Is it a brilliant design? Yes. If you don't handle this area of the game well, which requires you to plant and move in harmony, you will no doubt lose this game.
Set Collection: I like this implementation of set collection because it offers you an opportunity to manage your peppers at times but you can also spend your individual peppers to acquire points or progress your harvesting plans without needing a "set". In other words, the peppers have a dual purpose and I enjoy that because they are the only really useful resource in the game and without a dual purpose I think the game would greatly suffer.
Chart Checking:The crossbreeding chart is something I feel people are familiar with because of activities in school and even if they aren't everyone does the checking together anyway if necessary. Do not be alarmed by this chart. It is perfectly manageable.
Quality of Design:
3.5 = A good design that can engage the player for more than a few plays.
Unfortunately, I think there are some obstacles for this game. I don't know who this game is perfect for... It isn't exactly a strategy game that can double as a family game because it requires a lot of thought and it is unforgiving in a way that really isn't laugh it off material. It obviously isn't a filler. It isn't a thematic game, even though the theme is there. So it ends up in the competitive genre of strategic euros. A genre in which the individuals that prefer it are looking for a game that offers more depth of strategy and a game that feels a little different than Scoville. So, still looking for an ideal group for this game to shine with I turn to those gamers that are definitely further along than new gamers, but not really die-hard eurogamers. Is this a large target audience? Possibly, but then we have another problem. Scoville is... well, Scoville. It just doesn't have that name recognition that is necessary to become a big hit, even within a specific genre. So at the end of the day, I think this game will eventually fade away with few noticing. If you think you and your group will fit into that niche that will find this game valuable, I would suggest trying it out and getting it before it disappears. I can't guarantee that and the game seems to be selling right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't stick around for a long time.
My assessment of the game is meant to give others a fair idea of what the game is going to bring to their collection. This is a try before you buy game. I played this game before I bought it (about a month later) and I had to put a lot of thought into buying it before I did. I am no stranger to pulling the trigger on a game that I haven't played and I am usually okay with just living with the outcome, but this is a game I want to stress that you should try before you buy because the mechanisms come together in a polarizing way. Not polarizing to the extremes of love it or hate it, but polarizing in a way that you could be disappointed with your purchase or be happy you have it for certain situations. I personally like the challenge the game presents and feel that my group fits the niche of players that can enjoy this kind of game regularly. It also has that intangible aspect of what I like games to have that makes them feel like "board game" when it is on the table. Sometimes games feel so modern that they are a little unfamiliar on the table.
My overall rating for Scoville is going to factor in some areas that I don't always mention because they typically align with my ratings more closely in other games. Scoville's depth of strategy, replayability, and quality of design are definitely not off the charts. Where the game receives some "brownie points" with me is it's ability to entertain. This ability of the game may fade with time but your first few plays of this game will bring smiles to your face (assuming you are playing for enjoyment). The theme is unique and fresh, the components are cute, the areas of the board are thematic and perfect for the game, and the overall atmosphere created is simply enjoyable. The first time I played Scoville I made the mistake of ignoring these elements of the game. I recognized them as they were occurring but walking away from the table I put more emphasis on if the game was good enough for me to like and forgot to stop and see how much fun the game was for everyone. During that time period when I was debating buying the game, I came to realize that this is the kind of the game I want to have available for the people I typically play games with.
Overall Rating -
Scoville is a 7.5 for me... try before you buy though because it isn't an instant hit across the community.
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