Updated: Dec 3, 2019
If you have enough games, you’ve probably got one to cover any theme anyone might imagine. Indeed, I’ve often played a game with friends where they try to think of a theme that isn’t dealt with in a board game. They try to come up with implausible concepts but I can almost always show them a game that is build around the unlikely theme they suggest. Case in point: Scoville.
Scoville is named for the scale used to measure and compare the strength (spicy heat) of chilli peppers. That’s a real thing - not made up for the game. Scoville the game, therefore, is about cultivating chilli peppers, breeding different varieties and either selling the peppers or using them to complete recipes.
Players bid for turn order, with the first player getting first pick of the auction cards which will each award one or more peppers. In the same turn order, players each plant one pepper, which they take from their (hidden) supply. Bonus award plaques can be earned for planting particular colours of pepper. Also in turn order, players can sell peppers or use them to complete recipes.
At the spicy centre of this game, however, is the harvest action. This is taken in reverse turn order. Players move their farmer meeple up to three steps along the paths in the pepper field. For every step that takes the farmer between two planted peppers, the player harvests (collects) peppers as shown on a breeding chart. So, for example, players passing between a blue and a yellow pepper harvest (add to their supply) one green pepper. This is the part of the game that can involve some clever tactics, particularly as farmers cannot share a space with or pass each other: so players are not only trying to carve out the most profitable path for themselves but will also try to block their opponents.
The fact that the harvest phase is in reverse turn order serves to counter the turn order advantages of the other phases. It’s a neat way of balancing the game and adds to the dilemma players face when they plan their bids: it’s usually good to take your turn ahead of others but you may want to accept last place in turn order so that you can be the first to move and harvest.
With coloured wooden peppers that slot into pepper shapes on the pepper field, Scoville is a game that looks good and it’s fun to play. You just need to take a bit of care not to damage the pepper field board when removing the peppers at the end of the game.
Players have a lot of choices open to them: do they sell peppers to fulfil demand at the market, for example, or save them for planting or for completing a recipe, which is likely to score more points? Tho’ players may try to block each other’s farmers, in the main this is a game where players will be individually agonising over the best way to maximise their own score rather than one where they will be at each other’s throats.
Scoville is a light to medium weight euro game that is relatively quick to teach and learn but which offers scope for both strategy and tactics. It plays with up to six and you can expect to complete a game in not much more than an hour. For best results, invite your friends over for a game and round the evening off with a hot chilli con carne. Just don’t use Ghost Peppers in the recipe: they will earn you lots of points in the Scoville game but on the actual Scoville scale they are about 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce!