It’s not a secret that tabletop gaming has been experiencing tremendous growth for a number of years now, and whether you like it or hate it, Kickstarter has definitely been a large source of this. From allowing new designers to come out of the woodwork, to acting as something of a pre-order system for established companies, opinions on Kickstarter games tend to be a very mixed bag. Today, we’re going to be looking a little deeper at two of the hottest upcoming games, Scythe from Stonemaier Games and Cry Havoc from Portal games, both of which fall into the broad category of area control games, and both of which have garnered huge attention this year.
Before we get into that, let’s take a brief look at the genre as a whole. As the name would imply, area control games are about just that. That being said, it’s difficult to think of the secret bidding game Revolution, the very Euro style El Grande and the mythical creature combat heavy Kemet as being part of the same genre. And yet, they all share the same basic idea; controlling areas yields you victory points (or other helpful benefits. Generally speaking, you want the most (or only) pieces in a space on the board. The diversity of the genre is leaps and bounds greater than games in other genres which tend to fall into tropes, but that is not to say that there aren’t dangers and pitfalls which certain area control games, particularly those involving combat, can fall victim to.
Scythe is economic at heart, with combat still relevant but taking a back seat. The importance of area control comes from accessing resources on the board; area control is the means to the end, not the ends itself, as it is in other games. In fact, combat loses you popularity in the game, with low popularity limiting the amount of points you are able to score at the end of the game. This tension is of a truly different flavour to many other games, which promote constant conflict and invasions, and instead places much more weight onto the decision of which areas are important to control and whether they are worth the sacrifice.
Cry Havoc falls into the category of games which promote constant combat, but don’t be fooled into dismissing it as too simple; clever implementation of deckbuilding and hand management had me intrigued (deck building games where deck building is not the whole game, such as Mage Knight or A Study in Emerald, are some of my favourites) but what I cannot wait to try out is the innovative combat system contained in Cry Havoc. In fact, from the sounds of it, it could be one of the simplest yet deepest combat systems in a game ever. Like Kemet, destroying all of your opponent’s units doesn’t necessarily win you the area, and in the same vein, it is not necessary to destroy all of your opponent’s units to win the battle. It’s no secret that one of the common pitfalls of area control games with combat related themes is the tedious, bogged down combat. As Kemet (and likely other games) before them, both Scythe and Cry Havoc have quick, simple yet rewarding systems of combat.
While many games tend to offer small helpings of differing player powers (such as the aforementioned Kemet, where you slowly acquire unique powers over the course of the game, or Blood Rage, where the powers afforded to you each round change), Scythe and Cry Havoc begin ambitiously, with wildly varied player setups, powers and even ways to achieve victory. Scythe goes a step further than Cry Havoc in this sense, with twenty-five possible combinations of player power combinations in the base game (though my understanding, having not played the game, is that it’s the faction differences that are the largest, and there are five of those). Cry Havoc comes in with a modest four factions, though the differences between them are, again, vast.
I for one am incredibly eager to try out both of these hot new area control games, but for entirely different reasons. With Scythe, the novel upgrade system and interesting mesh of area control and resource management, coupled with ever present threat of combat certainly entice me. Cry Havoc, on the other hand, offers a much more focused and what you may call “traditional” area control experience, but the impression I have leads me to think that they’ve merged the best of the old with some new twists; a combination with the potential to become a new golden standard for the area control genre.
Check out some of the games that I mentioned in this blog!