My Little Scythe review
How can a board game transform from a 1920s alternative universe of rusty mechs and high strategy into a game about throwing pies and friendship without losing the essence of what makes it great? Let me introduce you to My Little Scythe.
Designed by Hoby Chou with his daughter Vienna Chou, My Little Scythe aims for younger and family audiences; gritty eastern Europe is replaced by a sunny animal kingdom with monkeys, warthogs, tigers and other animals. Mech battles turn into pie fights and popularity becomes friendships.
However, My Little Scythe doesn’t simply change terminology and throw away some of its namesake’s more obtuse mechanics to make the game more approachable. It intelligently examines what made Scythe such a compelling game and recaptures its core feeling, while at the same time adding mechanics that are relevant to the new theme and a message that any young player will benefit from learning: there is a great value in helping others and building friendships.
From its older sibling, My Little Scythe keeps the area-control mechanics, the versatility in the use of resources, base upgrades – albeit in a much simpler form – and the same goal: complete a certain number of objectives to win the game.
While, for the sake of simplicity, some of more layered original elements, like engine-building, have been distilled to their bare essentials, they never feel like sacrifices. There are still so many decisions to make, moves to plan and strategies to test that there is never time to think about what you could be potentially missing.
As for the new additions, My Little Scythe ups the luck element of the game by tying the generation of resources to a dice roll. Yet players retain a significant amount of control over exactly where resources go by choosing the exact location, and that decision carries a strategic importance; they could put resources on their own square to spend next turn, place a resource far from everyone or put it on an opponent’s space, essentially gifting it to them. For that good deed they rise on the friendship track, propelling them towards completing one of the objectives. Once gifted, however, the opponent can do whatever they wish with the resource – even using it to get more pies and attack you next turn. But for that, they will go down on the friendship track – because no-one likes being hit in the face with a pie.
The objectives are cleverly interconnected, which makes chasing all eight of them at the same time a losing strategy. Players need to examine the board and evaluate which actions will get them closer and faster to completing the four goals necessary to win. Going up on the pie track is one of them, but pies are easily spent in a fight. On the other hand, winning a fight is another objective, but your opponent could have more pies and win instead, handing them an advantage. So, to raise your chances, you could spend some apples to get more pies. Or you could save that resource and deliver them instead to the castle to complete a different objective.
The number of things to consider may seem overwhelming, especially for a game aimed at younger players, but all are linked by a simple thread of logic and theme, making My Little Scythe instantly understandable.
The presentation of the game is impeccably done. While some players might think of the cutesy theme as too ‘kiddy’, the component quality is incredibly impressive. From tiny apple and gem tokens to detailed miniatures and a custom box inlay, My Little Scythe has thought of absolutely everything, making it a joy to unpack and pack again.
My Little Scythe may target itself towards younger audiences, but in doing so it doesn’t become a lesser experience to Scythe. This is a game that manages to put players on even ground, no matter their age or experience, making it fun and challenging for all. It is truly a shining example of how to adapt an existing game without sacrificing its identity, while at the same time bringing its own excellent character and ideas to the table.
Sceptics can bury their scythe because this intelligent, charming game is an absolute must-have!
Designer: Hoby Chou, Vienna Chou
Artist: Katie Khau
Time: 60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.