Peter Piper Picked a Game: Scoville Review

Scoville is a new-ish (2014) game about hot pepper farming, and you earn the most points by planting the hottest peppers, by selling them to merchants in town, or by using them to learn award-winning chili recipes.  Talk about good clean fun!  No conquest, no violence, but in the world of hot pepper farmers, the competition is no less intense!

Overall Feeling

Scoville pretty much gets exactly what it’s going for:  an easily accessible game with unique little mini-puzzles, enough strategy to keep you interested, and quick enough to play it multiple times.  This isn’t trying to be an epic strategy game for the ages and it won’t hold up to those, but for quick games with a light, unique theme, at first glance I think this one is hard to beat.  It’s got a lot going for it in terms of unique mechanics and the components work very well for what it does.

Setup Highlights

One of the better things about this game is that the setup is fairly quick and straightforward.  The game board is simple enough, there are only a couple of sets of cards/tiles to deal with, the money is probably the hairiest thing to sort it out and it’s only in 1s, 5s and 10s.

Interesting Mechanics and Game Play

Scoville uses a number of interesting mechanics in unique ways, and the combination of them really sets the game apart.  The most interesting is the way different color peppers combine, sometimes into a completely new, unique pepper.

There are four phases and they’re all interesting and well done:  The auction, planting, harvesting, and fulfillment.

The idea is, you and the other farmers plant peppers in the pepper patch.  Then you walk through the patch, and the particular way you walk will determine which peppers you collect, sometimes unique ones.  Then you use the peppers you acquired and trade them for money, for other peppers, for victory points, or you can trade them in for unique chili recipes worth points at the end of the game.  Or, you can hang onto those peppers and plant them in the next round.

The way the peppers combine together is really unique and fun.  For example, red, yellow and blue are all basic pepper types.  Red and blue combine to make purple, red and yellow make orange, and blue and yellow make green.  Then things get interesting.  Orange and orange or green and green or purple and purple actually make black, but combing any of the two makes white.  Then if you combine black and white you get the valuable ghost pepper!

See how the pepper colors combine to form new peppers!

The mechanics around the Harvest are also interesting, with the way you can position your farmer to block opponents off from key pathways and/or key peppers.  Like on the last turn, there can be 3 farmers, and 2 of the 3 can block off the third from getting the 2 ghost peppers, like happened to me in the game we played :(.

Fulfillment is probably the most straightforward part of the game, where it’s simply an advantage to go first so you get first chance to buy any tiles or more importantly, those rare and valuable chili recipes.

Finally, the mechanics around turn order, the auction, can be the key to the game, and are yet another area each player has to balance.

Theme and Components

This is one of those games where it makes its simplicity work for itself.  The components aren’t fancy, but it wouldn’t fit the game’s theme if they were.  Still, the peppers are in nearly every color in the spectrum, including the very interesting “ghost” pepper.  The cards and tiles are simple and cartoony but also work well.  I think the 4-piece game board could hold together a little better, and the plastic farmers could have a little more heft to them.  Having neither of those things had the farmers sometimes falling over when the boards weren’t level enough to be smooth at the seams.

You keep your VPs, peppers and extra moves behind a screen.

Do-Something-Ability

It’s there, especially for a lighter, quicker game.  You’re going to pick some interesting peppers, then plant some interesting peppers and ultimately form a very colorful farm along with the other players.  Then you’ll battle for the best chili recipes.  What more could you want?  Well, I could think of a few things, but there’s definitely enough there to sink your teeth into, a bit of a story with each game.

Replay Ability

I’d play this again for sure and would consider it as a fairly routinely played warmup game.  It’s probably not the type of game I’d play all night, just maybe not quite enough there for that.

Verdict

There’s beauty in simplicity, both in game play and components, and that’s what Scoville is all about.  It’s simple but fun, unique, and subtly strategic, and something you’ll want to play again.  The colors and the way they mix together will keep you playing again and what kind of person can’t get behind picking some hot peppers?  It’s fun for everyone.

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