Aaron Matthews is NUPSA President and a PhD candidate in the School of Electrical Engineering.
Tuesday, November 15th, 2016. This was the day it all changed. I was invited over by a friend for the evening. The moment I first saw her, I was taken by her beauty. As I delved into her throughout the night, I was more amazed by the minute. The feel of her was something I had never experienced before – and as I left, I knew I couldn’t live without her.
And now, years on, our relationship has never wavered. There are few things I enjoy more than having friends around and playing with her for hours. Obviously, I am talking about my favourite board game, Scythe.
Board games are my biggest passion. I love them. Now, perhaps some of you are thinking about Monopoly or Scrabble or The Game of Life. I am not. There was a whole new world of board games that started in the 1990s (thanks to The Settlers of Catan) and these are termed ‘modern board games’.
The biggest difference between modern board games and traditional board games is that players have agency and can make meaningful and fun decisions. Currently, the industry is huge, with hundreds (if not thousands) of board games being released every year. And with the growth of Kickstarter and crowd funding platforms, anybody can design and publish a board game.
The majority of my board game collection.
Board games hold nostalgia for me. For as long as I can remember, I have played board games together with my family. As a child, I looked forward to when my aunty and grandparents visited, because we would always talk about, “What game to play next?” During school holidays, my mum, my sister and I would play games nearly every day and sometimes have a running competition. This was always an enjoyable time and it created not only wonderful memories, but it gave me a passion.
This time spent with other people whilst playing board games is the most powerful aspect of the hobby. Board games facilitate social interactions, and this is a basic need. A game is happening on the table but there is something else happening above the table within the group. It is magic when you experience that.
Of course, board games also present a competitive challenge and some people gravitate to this. Every player starts on even ground, so the winner will be the person who makes the better choices throughout the game. Even though I say competitive, this does not necessarily mean head-to-head combat, which deters some people. Board games can maintain player interactions (one player’s action impacts the other player’s choices) while not having direct fighting between players.
This competitive nature of particular board games can be exhilarating, but for some, cooperative games are more appealing. In cooperative games, all players are working together to achieve a goal. These games are always fun and create nice memories and moments when played in the right spirit. A few months ago, I was playing a game of Mansions of Madness with some friends. The game took place in a church that was being overrun by zombies. To be honest, I didn’t really help that much during the game as I was stuck outside with a seemingly never-ending supply of zombies to fight.
Some other players managed to sneak inside and start making their way to the altar where the boss was. Our goal was to take it down. I eventually had a break and was able to make it inside. I caught up to the rest of the team, but instead of helping them fight the beast, I ran straight past them into another room to search for something I could fight it with. (I didn’t have much of a weapon.) In my searching, all I found sensible shoes. I kid you not. Not the most useful weapon.
Now, back to Scythe. The game is set in 1920’s Europa: the land is still in ruins from the first great war and the factions are still rebuilding. You take on the role of one of these factions in the hope that you can lead them into prosperity and gain control of Europa. The coolest aspect of Scythe (in my view) is the player boards. Each player has a board that dictates what actions they can take. At the start of the game those actions will be very basic, but when you move into the middle stage of the game, those actions will have become stronger based on how you upgraded them. By the last stage of the game, you can do a lot with just one action.
Becoming stronger is a nice feeling when playing a game. It may sound weird, but even just moving pieces about your player board is a ton of fun. Whilst you have strength, you are also restricted. Players can never perform the same action twice on subsequent turns. This means it is important to strategise and plan a few turns in advance.
There is also a lot happening on the main game board. Players are managing their characters, workers, mechs, buildings, power rating and resources, trying to achieve an objective. There are ten objectives players can achieve during the game. The game ends once a player has claimed six objectives (different players can achieve the same objective). Therefore, you have freedom in the objectives you choose and how you want to play.
The main Scythe game board in action.
Another decision players get to make in how they play has to do with the popularity track. The actions you take during the game can increase or decrease your popularity. Generally, actions that increase your popularity will give you small immediate rewards, but actions that decrease your popularity will give you large immediate rewards. The kicker is that popularity acts as a multiplier at the end of the game, meaning the higher your popularity, the higher your score is likely to be.
The reason I love Scythe so much is that there are decisions at every turn. When you get it right, you feel great. When you get it wrong, you learn ways to improve for next time. My first game of Scythe was a train wreck. I had no idea what to do and I made horrible decisions. But as soon as I finished playing, I wanted to play again. That is the sign of a perfect board game.
An example player board mid-game.
I cannot do the game justice just by talking about it. As with all board games, they are best experienced by playing. I hope the pictures give you some indication of the depth and strategy, but also the fun of the game. There are so many nuances in the game that blow my mind.
Scythe is not a game I would recommend as an introduction to board games, but once you’re feeling more comfortable, you should definitely give it a look to see if it’s right for you. Some introductory board games I would recommend are Just One, Onitama, Railroad Ink and Tiny Towns.
Always a fun evening.
The best way to experience a board game is to play one. I hope that there is some motivation for you here. Remember that there is a game for every occasion, so it can be a matter of finding what works for you. I think board games are perfectly suited to postgraduate students as they are a mental challenge, creative by design and a facilitator of social gatherings. Why not play a game within your office or have some friends around for a game this weekend?
“I shall rule!”