About this time last year I had no idea how in-depth tabletop gaming was. I had been playing Munchkin for years, was just getting interested in The Settlers of Catan, and was vaguely aware that Byron Campbell was posting on this site about games, but I soon learned how the independent tabletop gaming industry was as vibrant as the indie lit scene that I adore so much. Really, it was Byron Campbell’s post “The Allure of Allegory; or, a Case for Cardboard” that started to give me deeper insight into the hobby. Now a year filled with gaming has past and it’s International TableTop Day again.
Like Record Store Day or Free Comic Book Day, TableTop Day is a great time to introduce your uninitiated friends to tabletop gaming. Make sure to visit your friendly local game store (FLGS) and play a round of Batman Love Letter or Marvel Legendary, but remember that, like in any branch of the entertainment industry, the independent publishers need love, too. In fact, indie titles like Ed Marriott’s Scoville encompass the very best elements of tabletop gaming.
Scoville is a farming board game for two to six players. Players control a farmer trying to plant and harvest different pepper hybrids in a race to breed the hottest peppers, which earn players points through selling at the farmer’s market, winning chili cook-off contests, and receiving gardening prizes. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Normally I would find the premise of growing peppers to be incredibly underwhelming, but that’s the magic of tabletop gaming. Themes ranging from brewing beer or running a strip club to giving a love letter to a princess or thwarting the rise of Cthulhu are all up for grabs. In a board game I can pretend to be someone I’m not and, unlike in a video game or during a reading experience, there’s a tactile element reinforcing my imagination. I can never hope to grow a successful garden–let alone a whole pepper farm in real life–but I can in Scoville. And by adding an element of strategy, I’m intrigued by subjects that I wouldn’t normally have any interest in, too.
I don’t wish to dump all of the rules out in this article, but suffice it to say the game is satisfyingly complex. As a kid, I never was good at sticking with a single strategy in a board game. My flag was all over the place in Stratego and don’t get me started on Monopoly. Tabletop games like Scoville are so exciting to me because there isn’t just one strategy or skill needed to play these games well. Scoville has a bidding element, a set collecting strategy, and a spacial factor when you’re moving farmers across the field to cross-pollinate pepper plants. If one element isn’t a player’s strong suit there’s plenty of other areas to master. There’s nothing worse than feeling like a game has been lost in the second turn, but because Scoville incorporates player screens and waits until the end of the game to tally scores it stays fun for all parties throughout the duration of the game.
Unequivocally, the best part of any game are the bits! The lovely, brightly colored wooden bits, and the thick cardboard mats, and playing cards all illustrated with a fun, whimsical way bring a smile to my face every time I play a tabletop game, and Scoville is no different. The game’s aesthetics and design are breathtaking, and scores of tabletop games look as bright and fun as the above image. It’s this artisanal attention to detail that really elevates tabletop gaming above other board games. The attention to detail shows that games can be labors of love. They can be works of art, not just injection-molded plastic and rickety paperboard.
If you haven’t given tabletop gaming in public a shot yet, get out and find an event in your town, and make sure to seek out the indie gems while you’re at it. After all, games like Scoville embody the tabletop gaming ethos best of all.