I love board games. I love big complex games. I love games with mature and difficult themes. I love games that play quickly, and I love games that take dozens to hundreds of hours. What I play is important, but more important is why I play. I love board games because, unlike most forms of passive entertainment such as movies and TV, and even unlike most multiplayer videogames, board games require you to be physically present with the people you are playing with. They encourage you to interact with those people in various ways, to look at each other, communicate with each other, and enjoy the time you spend together. I love board games because I love the people that I play board games with, and up until now the what and the why were always a bit at odds when I wanted to play with my kids, because in order to play with my youngest there was always a sacrifice in what we played. My Little Scythe changes that.
As the name suggests, My Little Scythe is an iteration of the incredible game Scythe. This game is more than a simple re-skin though, and it only takes one play to realize that a lot more went in to making the game than putting a cute coat of paint on Scythe while dumbing-down of the rules. I'd actually argue that the rules weren't dumbed-down at all; rather, they were iterated on to such a point that the complexity of the rules, and the tweaks and changes therein, perfectly match the tone that the game is aiming for. Obviously, some of the more complex mechanisms from Scythe were cut, and there is an element of randomness added that Scythe doesn't contain, but My Little Scythe takes those cuts and changes and absolutely shines.
In Scythe, the most skilled player is going to win the game the vast majority of the time. The mechanics are incredibly tight, and every single choice you make matters. In My Little Scythe, things were loosened up quite a bit, but not in such a way where the game feels rickety or unbalanced. Instead, it trades the competitive-edge for family fun. Resources are placed randomly on the board in My Little Scythe, which can indeed mean that some players have to travel further or work harder to get them, but the game also rewards players with Friendship, one of the game's most valuable currencies, for placing those randomized resources on spaces controlled by their opponents. That randomness also means that no particular strategy is going to be effective every single time, and the board is easy enough to traverse that a horde of resources is only ever a short trip away from any player.
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Instead of making the game feel random, the elements of randomness present in the game serve as a brilliant balance mechanism. It's hard to even describe exactly why it works so well, but it subtly shifts the balance of the game in favor of everyone, not simply the most skilled player. If you are an ultra competitive player, then the random resource distribution might get on your nerves. If you need to win at any cost, then this isn't the game for you to begin with. Any small feelings of annoyance by the dice not going my way have been squashed by the fact that my 4 year old daughter legitimately has a chance to win against her 11 year old brother, my wife, and myself, and when she wins it feels like she legitimately earned it.
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That's the most beautiful thing about My Little Scythe. The game is fun enough to keep my wife and I interested, and it is balanced to the point that my daughter can win on her own, without us pulling punches, being bored, or coaching her every step of the way. My kids love this game because it makes them feel independent, and it makes them feel like equals, and it doesn't require any sort of hand-waving or sacrifice on the part of the adults that play with them. My Little Scythe is a beautiful game, both in the physicality of the various components, and in the feelings of fun and inclusion it imparts as we sit around the table playing it.
A note on hand-holding: I've played My Little Scythe with a range of players as young as 4 years old. The game's concepts are easy to grasp and even the youngest player (my daughter) that I've played with can win on their own. It took a few games for her to come up to speed, and she makes some less than optimal moves, but the game's structure and balance are such that she remains competitive, and even wins games, even after we quit giving her advice on optimizing her moves. Don't be afraid that your kids will get lost playing this game, or that the adults at the table will win every time. With a little hand-holding through the first few games, and the occasional suggestion, even the youngest player at the table can win.
A note on player count: My Little Scythe plays up to six players, and even includes an Automountie mode that gives a solo player a basic AI to play against. The game plays relatively quickly, but the time between turns if played with a full 6 players may be a bit much for the youngest players in your group. Most of the games we've played have been between the 2 and 5 player count, and at those player counts we haven't had a single session where we didn't play at least two games back to back.
A note on play time: Games of My Little Scythe usually clock in around 30-45 minutes for my group (which exclusively includes my 4 year old as she always wants to play). The game lasts long enough to feel satisfying, but not so long that younger players will get bored before the end.
A note on “chrome”: My Little Scythe is one of the best produced board games in my collection. The components are incredible, beautiful and thematic, the miniatures are very high quality, and the rules are well laid out, easy to learn and even easier to teach. The game is even shipped with a special insert that stores everything perfectly. As soon as you open the lid on this box you can tell that this game was a labor of love.
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The bottom line:
My Little Scythe is a triumph. Hoby Chao and his daughter Vienna took the incredible foundation of Scythe and tuned and tweaked it into a game that is the perfect fit for families that are looking for a game that truly is fun for the whole family. The core mechanics of Scythe remain in My Little Scythe, but the game hums at its own pace with its own intricacies and balance. This game isn't simply 'Scythe for kids' although it will directly appeal to kids, and there is enough of Scythe left to keep it interesting for adults. Instead, My Little Scythe is a brilliant iteration of one of the best games ever made designed specifically to be playable by an audience whose normal game choices are oversimplified, boring or both. Kudos to Jamey Stegmaier for recognizing the potential in My Little Scythe and creating such a wonderful product, and kudos to Hoby and Vienna Chao for having the drive, determination and creativity to take the base mechanisms of Scythe and design a game that accomplishes what it set out to do without feeling derivative.
Get this game if:
You want a great entry-level board game that remains fun even for veteran gamers.
You have a family who enjoys gaming, but prefers to keep things light-hearted.
You have players, whether young or old, that you'd like to play with who may have been excluded from playing other hobby board games due to complexity, theme or length.
Avoid this game if:
You only play games gritty, adult, or violent themes.
You are an ultra competitive player who feels the need to win at all times.
The copy of My Little Scythe used for this review was purchased by the reviewer.