Updated: Mar 13
We featured Scharz: Part 1 last year on Board's Eye View, having picked it up at Essen 2021 where the designer was demonstrating beautifully produced preview copies. It's an impressive-looking war game that incorporates elements more often seen in 'euro games'. Now all three editions of Scharz are about to come to Kickstarter.
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, 2 and 3' designations don't mean that you're only getting a portion of the game: Scharz has been designed as essentially three standalone but connectable games, each with their own double-sided 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 raise the player count to as many as 12 players and you can, at a push, fit the map boards together to enlarge the skirmish area.
Part 1 incorporates maps of Britannia at 410AD and (on the reverse) Italia 290BC. Part 2 gives us Vikings in 800AD and Moorish Spain in 1050AD. The map boards in Part 3 cover the Huns in 373AD and the Orient in 1550BC.
For all three parts, the wooden pieces are lovingly produced engineered blocks - not the fiddly cardboard chits found in most war games or the run-of-the-mill standard little cubes ordinarily found in board games. The rules are tightly packed, tho' reasonably 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 elaborate battle resolution.
Scharz is a heavy strategy game where there's a lot going on. Nevertheless, games play 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. As you raise the player count, as you're bound to do when you combine two or more 'Parts', you introduce the prospect of negotiation and diplomacy once players have their economic engines underway. For us, this is where Scharz really shines - tho' deal making inevitably extends the playing time. We've had some memorably epic multi-player games!
Scharz is due to come to Kickstarter on 14 March. 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. Click here to check out the KS campaign.