We picked up a copy of Scharz: Part 1 at Spiel (Essen) 2021, where the designer was demonstrating beautifully produced preview copies of this impressive-looking war game that incorporates elements more often seen in 'euro games'. The designer, Jakub Kuncik described Scharz as having originated as a combination of Game of Thrones (FFG) and Agricola (Lookout Games), in that players have to build their agrarian economy while also bolstering their defences and preparing for conflict. We can see the seeds of those games in this design but in synthesising elements from an area control war game with an economic development euro game, Jakub Kuncik has come up with a distinctive and deeply satisfying game that certainly rewards the investment of learning time. Scharz was described to us as 'complex but not complicated', and that's a very fair summary.
Just to clarify, the 'Part 1' designation doesn't mean you're only getting a portion of the game: Scharz has been designed as essentially three standalone but connectable games, each with their own geographic map boards and different coloured player pieces. Individually each 'Part' is playable by up to four players but by combining the different Parts you can fit the map boards together for an even larger skirmish area and you can raise the player count to eight or (eventually with all three Parts) even to 12 players.
Part 1 incorporates maps of Britannia at 410AD and (on the reverse) Italia 290BC. The wooden pieces are lovingly produced engineered blocks - not the run-of-the-mill standard little cubes ordinarily found in games. The rules are tightly packed, tho' well illustrated, but they may be initially daunting for players coming to Scharz from a purely board game background. By contrast, grognards raised on Avalon Hill and SPI war games will consider them refreshingly light, clear and straightforward! There are some oddities of terminology tho' that may initially jar. Income generation is referred to as 'taxes' because you're collecting a tithe on the villages and land you control but you'll be reassured to know that the 'taxes' add to your resources, they don't get syphoned off to any central treasury! The rules also refer to new litters of pigs, sheep, cattle and horses as 'cubs'; a term we usually in English reserve for the offspring of carnivorous mammals.
To avoid rules overload, Scharz is designed to ease players in by offering an introductory scenario. The rules are structured so that you can layer on further complexity as you become familiar with the basic game, adding further unit types and even a second currency (prestige) to run alongside the money used for trade (selling agricultural produce) and acquisitions (recruiting cohorts and constructing buildings) in the basic game. Commendably, the rulebook incorporates a colour coding so that, for example, those rules and conditions that are only applicable in 'advanced mode' are shaded in yellow. Shading in red is reserved for 'complex mode' rules that optionally add conditions for weather, morale and more complex battle resolution.
There's a lot going on in Scharz, yet games play reasonably quickly: first plays are bound to take longer but it's possible to complete a game in a little over an hour. That's because there are no turns as such. The game is divided into phases within rounds that correspond to the four seasons of the year but players take their actions within each phase simultaneously. Ultimately, Scharz is an area control game so you'll win by settlement expansion and/or conquest. Tho' obviously it's not a practical proposition with just two players, but as you raise the player count so you introduce the prospect of negotiation and diplomacy once players have their economic engines underway. For us, this was where Scharz really shone - tho' deal making inevitably extended the playing time. We had some memorably epic four-player games - so much so that we were left aching to try the game with the addition of the Part 2 board so we could try it with up to eight players!
Scharz is expected to come to Kickstarter later this year. It's definitely one to look out for because if you miss the KS, this game could otherwise be very hard to find at retail. We'll post a link to the KS when it goes live. In the meantime, click here to visit the Scharz website where you may still be able to snap up one of the limited run of lavish pre-production preview copies that Jakub has been offering for sale at just €60!