My Little Sickle
Kid games don’t need to be awful.
That’s the design ethos behind My Little Scythe, the father/daughter collaboration of Hoby and Vienna Chou, and a streamlining of Jamey Stegmaier’s Scythe. It’s cute, but there’s still some tension to be found. Lighthearted, but you can still end up with pie on your face. Simple, but not dumb simple. It’s a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Scythe, for one thing.
In fact, one of My Little Scythe’s first surprises is that it could pass for Scythe if you squint hard enough. While the lights are dim. Without touching the pieces. Gone are the mechanized terrors and smog-choked countryside, the pastiche of interwar nationalism, and the focus on leveraging a dozen different bits into a workable strategy. In their place is a candy-colored kingdom, vibrant creatures who’d be right at home in a crib — minus the occasional literal scythe, unless your child is unusually interested in pre-mechanized agriculture — and a focus on leveraging maybe three bits into a strategy.
Yet the whole thing is delightfully familiar. As a duo of animal adventurers, it’s your task to gather apples and gems, undertake quests, and gradually earn trophies. And the whole thing is governed by pretty much the same system that underpinned Scythe’s expansionism.
The gist is this. Each turn, you take a different action than the turn before. In Scythe this prompted players to bounce between actions and occasionally stumble when they found themselves unable to make full use of their current pair of options. My Little Scythe’s touch is gentler: moving always allows a move, seeking always spills new resources onto the map, and making takes your raw materials and transforms them into something rarer, like pies or magic spells or upgrades.
Similar to Scythe, but without the periodic downsides and bottlenecks. Which is perfect for younger players who may not grasp how to plan more than a step or two ahead, and could become frustrated by suboptimal moves — or an adult using stuffy words like “suboptimal.” More than that, this keeps the proceedings varied. Moving is the flashy option, and could easily become a young’un’s favorite. After all, it’s how you pick up apples and uncover quests and get into food fights. But by restricting its use to every other turn, players are prompted to consider, in the oh-so-slightest fashion, how to use those apples and food fights.
It certainly helps that each option boasts a few surprises. The seek action, for example, sees you rolling dice to add resources and quests to the map, their sector selected by luck. Place an apple in the mountains and a gem in the desert, as the dice instruct. Within those randomly-chosen sectors, however, the placement of resources is entirely up to you. Sure, you could squirrel everything in the remotest corner, or place them within easy reach of a portal to nab on your next turn. Or you could lay them right at the feet of an opponent for a friendship point — useful both for earning the friendship trophy and atoning for starting one too many food fights.
Like its granddaddy, pretty much everything offers a route to victory, a far cry from the Chutes & Ladders garbage that befouls too many early cardboard diets. If your kid wants to hoard magic spells, pies, and then blow them all on food fights, that’s three trophies right there. If they want to deliver gems to the castle and giggle at some of the quests’ ruder implications (cheating on a test! gasp!), then why not? Feel free to experiment. Feel free to just play.
The whole thing has been tailor-made to appeal to a child’s sensibilities. It’s even the first game that managed to capture my daughter’s attention. At four years young, she was punching cardboard and nudging plastic creatures against each other and asking what all these colorful symbols and pieces were for. She hasn’t grasped any of the game’s other elements, but she sure asks to look at it a lot.
And ultimately, that’s the real appeal of My Little Scythe. More than a children’s game, it’s a game for younger players that isn’t absolute skull-scraping hell for anyone older than twelve. It’s breezy, but that doesn’t mean it’s numbing. Quick enough that I’ve seen it beaten in seven turns, but also unlikely to outlast its stay.
On the other hand, it isn’t the sort of thing I intend to play until my daughter requests it. Not that there’s any particular reason for that. But its simplicity occupies a space that’s clearly intended for the young. When it comes to deeper experiences, there are plenty of games about racing to fulfill a certain number of objectives. One of the best happens to be this title’s inspiration.
But don’t let that reservation overshadow my appreciation for My Little Scythe. As a reinvention, it’s surprisingly faithful. As a game meant to bridge the divide between generations, it’s nearly without parallel. Certainly it’s morning manna for anyone who’s had to sit through more than one session of Candy Land. And not by a slender margin, but by an entire canyon. It’s lovingly crafted, offers clever design decisions at nearly every turn, and manages to merge the free-form play of childhood with the structure of board games — without succumbing too far in either direction.
In short, My Little Scythe is one of the best offerings for parents (and non-creepy aunts and uncles) looking to break their kids into the joys of the hobby.
(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign. As I mentioned in this review, I have a child. She needs food and clothes and all the other necessities of life. And while your contributions don’t have anything to do with that, you’re free to pretend they do.)