Review: My Little Scythe
Designer: Hoby & Vienna Chou
Artist: Noah Adelman, Katie Khau
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Category: Family Game
Price: $40.00 Amazon.com
My Little Scythe is a simplified, family-friendly reworking of Stonemaier Games’ smash hit Scythe. Whittling down the complexities of its big brother, My Little Scythe preserves the spirit of the original, while making it easily accessible for kids and adults.
Before Scythe even came out, gamers everywhere knew that it would be a big deal. It was easily one of the most-anticipated games of all time, an epic strategy affair with amazing production quality and staggering depth of play. (Check out our full review here.)
When I first heard about My Little Scythe, I thought it was some kind of April Fools’ joke. “There’s no way this is real,” I said to myself. “And even if someone did try to make mini-Scythe, there’s no way it could be good.“
Well, I was wrong on both counts. 1) It exists, and 2) it’s really good.
(Note: If you’re not familiar with Scythe, I encourage you to read/watch a review first, to get a feel for what it is and how it works.)
In My Little Scythe, one to six players adventure into the magical Kingdom of Pomme, where they will find delicious food, beautiful gems, and most importantly, friendship. (Awwwwww.)
The goal is to complete four out of eight possible objectives. To set up the game, players’ base camp tiles are placed in one of the designated spots around the outside of the Kingdom, and their two Seeker figures are placed at base camp. An assortment of quest markers, gems, and apples (the game’s three main collectibles) begin near each camp. When everything is set up, the main play area will look like this:
Each player also has her own tableau board, where she selects what she would like do each turn. A pawn is used to indicate which action she has chosen, and it must be moved each turn (i.e. a player may not take the same action on two successive turns, but must choose a new action every round).
Each player board also holds four trophy tokens, used to record completion of objectives. The game end is triggered when someone places her last trophy on the board.
The actions are pretty straightforward, with intuitive iconography. Each turn, a player may:
– Move both her characters one or two spaces. If she moves a character one space, she may take all gems and apples with her into the new space.
– Roll a set of dice to populate the board with new collectibles.
– Trade apples and/or gems for combat cards, combat strength, or action upgrades
It’s worth noting that apple and gem tokens are never placed in a player’s tableau. A player only “owns” resources as long as they are in her space(s). If she were to leave resources behind in a space, they would be up for grabs for anyone. (Normally, players wouldn’t want to do this, of course, but if a player loses a pie fight, she gets kicked out of the space and must move back to her base camp, sans resources.)
The game’s objectives include:
- Deliver four gems to the castle space
- Deliver four apples to the castle space
- Upgrade two actions
- Bake eight pies
- Reach eight popularity
- Complete two quests
- Win a pie fight
- Collect three magic spell cards
I’ll illustrate how the first one might look:
Here, the blue player has collected four gems and wishes to deliver them to castle. Since he will need to move with resources, this character’s movement is limited to one space. (Thankfully, that’s all he needs to move, though.)
On his turn, blue uses the “Move” action, to reach the castle. Immediately upon doing this…
…he takes one of his trophy tokens and adds it to the appropriate space, to show he has completed an objective. Similarly to regular Scythe, just about every mechanism in My Little Scythe has a trophy associated with it. As such, players have lots of goals they can work toward.
I mentioned pie fights briefly, but I’d like to elaborate on this combat system a bit more. Basically, combat in this game works just like it does in Scythe: if a player enters a space with an opponent’s figure, they engage in a pie fight. To do this, both player’s take a combat dial with the numbers 0-7. Player’s can choose how many pies they wish to throw at their opponent, up to the total number they have on the track. Additionally, both players involved may secretly assign a Magic Spell card to increase their side’s strength.
Both players then reveal their dials, adding the number they chose to the number on their card. Whoever has the higher total wins the pie fight. (Ties go to the attacker.) as an example:
Here, blue and yellow are fighting (I have placed a pawn on each dial to indicate who is who). They both chose to spend two pies, but blue played a higher card. Thus, even though blue has less pies total, he still wins the fight. Both players move down two spaces on the pie track, and yellow must return to her base camp tile. Assuming this was the first combat encounter blue had won (and that he hadn’t already earned a trophy this turn), he would get a pie fight trophy.
When a player has placed her last trophy, all other players get one last turn. If no one else is able to earn their final trophy, the player who triggered the end-game wins. Otherwise, a series of tiebreakers can decide the victor.
My Little Scythe does exactly what it sets out to do: it encapsulates the feel of Scythe, while simplifying its gameplay to fit squarely into the family game genre. Those who have played Scythe will understand the rules in about ten seconds, and for kids and/or newcomers, this game provides a great entry-point. I won’t lie, the original can be quite intimidating, even for experienced gamers, but this follow-up distills its essence into a palatable introduction. If, like me, you sometimes struggle to understand games with lots of moving parts, My Little Scythe is a great way to get a feel for the larger game. Once you have played it, the original should be much easier to grasp.
The production quality is top-notch. Between the detailed figures, chunky apples/gems, and awesome GameTrayz inserts, My Little Scythe looks and feels like a well-made product (no surprise, since Stonemaier Games’ track record is amazing).
The rules are simple and well-written. With one readthrough, I felt confident that I could teach the game with no problem. Gameplay moves along at a nice pace, as well. The assortment of gems, apples, and quests in front of each player’s starting location provides some strategic guidance as they begin. To use a video-game-y term, this design choice offers a sort of “first order optimal strategy,” where the game guides new players to discover its strategy piecemeal, starting with the most basic functions like collecting items. By having resources in immediate reach, younger gamers will quickly feel like they are making progress. As an example, if a player collects two apples on the first turn, she is already halfway to completing an objective! Whereas Scythe can sometimes take a few turns to really get moving, this game does so right out of the gate.
To this point, My Little Scythe is a strong tool for teaching basic “gamer” strategy to kids. It introduces a number of complex mechanisms, but does so in an accessible way; gameplay is simplified, but not dumbed-down, if that makes sense.
This is a very enjoyable, lightweight game experience. Contrary to what its “kiddie” look might make you think, My Little Scythe is a very robust design. I highly recommend it for families—children will love it—but I also recommend it for those who are interested in exploring the heavier side of gaming, but aren’t ready to dive right in. I’m not sure it will have much longevity in an all-adult group of experienced gamers (for that, I would recommend regular Scythe), but it is a good stepping stone for those in between. I think a lot of people will like it.
A review copy was provided by Stonemaier Games.
The Bottom Line
My Little Scythe is an exceptional game for kids and families. It strikes a balance between strategy and simplicity, offering depth that is rarely seen in games for younger players.