Jason Theodor
Jul 7 · 6 min read
190707 All-Day Breakfast — Death Rides a Combine — #267

Let me explain how a board game obsession works, and I don’t mean Monopoly or Candyland. If you don’t suffer from this affliction, then it might seem as absurd to you as keeping the sticker on your snapback does to me. The last twenty years have seen an explosion of heavy cardboard games, called such because of their weight and complexity (plus all the compressed paper components). The perfect poster child of a heavy cardboard game is Scythe (pictured above).

Back Story

In Grade Four I bought my first Dungeons & Dragons box set, and was in awe that someone could compile the fantasy universe into a set of rules played with dice and an imagination. For the next five years, I collected a wide variety of role-playing games (RPGs as they were called) that featured everything from aliens to mutant superheroes, from vampires to mechs.

I read hundreds of pages of rules. I even started writing my own RPG called Subway Dragons which blended fantasy with the modern world (Imagine a mythical creature, like Death, riding a combine tractor instead of carrying a scythe). My game had a ridiculously complex combat system where you kept track of damage dealt to over twenty-five different parts of the body (and each part affected your abilities in different ways). It’s not hard to imagine how long it took to complete a battle…

The Rules and Rules and Rules

You have to love rules. Big complicated games have tonnes of juicy, detailed rules. Not only do you need to read scores of pages and remember the gist of them (and where to go back to look them up again) you also need to watch hours of explainers and playthroughs on YouTube.

And all of these rules have different categories. Scythe, the game pictured above, is called an area control game. This means that you move your pieces around the board and station them in areas you need to protect and maintain. It also contains an engine-building mechanic because you strategically set up triggers to collect resources, which gets more and more efficient as your engine progresses. None of this really matters, but I feel like I’ve discovered a secret world of gameology because all these labels and categories feel like a new science. (I bet you didn’t know that Monopoly is an economic negotiation game with auction bidding, player elimination, set collection, trading, and roll, spin and move mechanics. Fun!)

Reviews and Weird Cosplay

After checking out the rules and the gameplay, it’s time to listen to the gameboard übernerds discuss their opinions on where the game fits into their top 1000 games (and how it might fit into your top ten). At first, I was shocked and appalled by how weird these videos are. But as I got acclimated to (and eventually assimilated by) them, I began to get to know the hosts and actually look forward to their opining and strange theatrics.

Does every single micro-niche have their own YouTubers and influencers? If board games (BOARD GAMES!) can support a Top 30 influencers list, then anything is possible.

Expansions & Add-ons To Break the Bank

Smart, successful games know how to keep you interested and open up your wallet. Scythe might be one of the best examples of this. There is an expansion that lets you go from a maximum of 5 players to 7 players (got it). There’s an expansion that adds airships to the mix (and mess) of different pieces (got it). There are extra Encounter Cards you can buy that make the story more diverse (got it). There’s an expansion so instead of one-off games, you play through an ever-changing campaign with a full backstory (got it). And then there are board game element up-grades: realistic plastic mold resources instead of wooden pieces (got it), and metal coins instead of cardboard. There are even limited-edition metal casts to replace the plastic mechs in the original set (which could set you back over $200). Insane right?

But wait! There’s more! There’s a board expansion (got it) that creates a larger playing area for all the extra stuff now on the board, as well as brand-new modular playing tiles so that you can randomize the landscape in case you are starting to get complacent. If you still need more Scythe, you can always purchase the coffee table book of artwork, or buy the digital version (got it) so that you don’t have to commandeer your dining room table for days at a time.

And if you didn’t already think this was insane, how about an official larger, bigger box (got it) to store all of this extra crap in, as well as a third-party organizer (got it) that you need to spend three hours assembling and gluing together? Yes, this is an obsession.

Automa Is The Loneliest Number

The ultimate irony (and here’s where my story takes a dark turn) is that most of the time I have no one to play with. After spending one child’s university tuition on Scythe, the rest of my family has no interest in investing two hours in a 1930s steampunk engine-building Eastern Europe area control game. Board game geeks can be a very lonely bunch when they are not in close proximity to each other. My family prefers the simple ruthlessness of Monopoly and the even-simpler raunchiness of Cards Against Humanity to any of my heavy cardboard games.

Luckily, these absurd obsessions now come with the smartest innovation of them all: a one player mode. Scythe knows its audience, and understands that I am a career professional without the time for frivolous pursuits such as friends. The Automa mode allows me to set up and play Scythe completely by myself (as long as it’s in the middle of the night and doesn’t disrupt the communal living space of my home). This increases the fun factor and also ensures that I understand the rules on the off chance that I meet some kindred spirits who like complicated games as much as I do.

Kickstarter Postscript

If any of this resonates with you, the most complicated, the most insane, the most audacious games usually begin on Kickstarter. It has become the launching pad of not only Scythe, but just about every massive complicated heavy cardboard game since: Gloomhaven, Batman: Gotham City Chronicles, Wingspan, Midarra, The 7th Continent, and many many more. It has become its own cottage industry. If Kickstarter only did boardgames, it would probably still be one of the most successful crowdfunding sites of all time.


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All-Day Breakfast is a daily reflection on creativity and the human condition in the modern age — sometimes satirical in nature. This is issue #267 of 555.

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All-Day Breakfast

A quest for creative momentum; a daily reflection on our modern age and the human condition. Plus, you can order an omelette any time. #createmore

Jason Theodor

Written by

is a Director of Imagination/Speaker/Writer/Geek who is trying to comprehend his surroundings. He’s also writing a book:

All-Day Breakfast

A quest for creative momentum; a daily reflection on our modern age and the human condition. Plus, you can order an omelette any time. #createmore

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