- Designer: Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc
- Publisher: Blue Orange
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 8+
- Time: 15-20 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Blue Orange (USA) and 6 solo games
Scarabya was a game that kind of flew under my radar – and I don’t say that in a disparaging sense, but one meant to reflect the large number of games that have come out this summer combined with the huge distraction of moving to a new house this summer that has severely cut down on my time available to keep abreast of all the new games…
When I arrived at Gencon, having done almost no research, Scarabya was one of the games that was constantly on the lips of the convention goers. When I arrived at the Blue Orange stand, it was mobbed. I’m sure that some of this was due to the excitement over the two main releases – this game as well as Blue Lagoon – but there was also a long line wrapped around the stand as folks waited to meet Bruno Cathala and have him sign their new Scarabya box!
Scarabya is a simultaneous tile laying game – in the vein of Take it Easy – where players compete as archaeologists trying to find the most scarab artifacts in the sandy excavation site. Each player has an identical set of game equipment: a matching set of 12 tiles, four 5×5 terrain squares (each with two cut outs for rocks), eight plastic rocks which will be placed in the holes in the terrain tiles, and a frame to hold everything in place.
One player is designated as the start player, and that player arranges the four terrain squares within the frame in any arrangement. The other players in the game each look at this player’s board and make an identical set up with their own frame and tiles. All players put their rocks into the eight holes in their board. The start player then picks up the deck of twelve cards (one each for the twelve different player tiles), shuffles them, and the reveals the first card.
The game will be played over twelve rounds – each started by flipping over the top card of the deck. All players find the tile depicted on the card and then must place it legally on their board. So – the board area is a 10×10 grid which will be different in each game based on the “random” setup created by the start player. There are 6 scarab icons scattered on each of the four square tiles. As the tiles are played, the goal is to surround the scarabs with tiles, rocks and the outside border frame.
The initial tile must be placed so that part of it covers one of the four central squares of the grid. All later played tiles must be orthogonally adjacent in some way to at least one previously played tile. The tile may not extend beyond the grid onto the outside frame. The tile mat not be placed in any part over any other tile. Obviously, the tile cannot be played on top of a rock. If a tile can be played legally in any way, it must be played. Only if there is no legal place anywhere on the board to be played, then the tile is discarded.
Once the tile is played, players now check if they can collect any scarabs. If a scarab icon is contained in a valid excavation area, that is one of FOUR squares or less – with the borders of the area being made up of frame, tiles and rocks – then the scarab is collected. The scarab is worth a number of points equal to the size of the excavation area that it is found in. Find a scoring token of the appropriate number and place it on top of the scarab icon. Check the entire board as it is possible that multiple valid excavation areas could be created by a single tile placement. If you cannot find the right sized number (the game often runs out of “4” tokens) – make up the right number by summing lower numbered scoring markers and place them on top of the scarab icon.
The game then moves to the next round with the top card of the deck being flipped over and the players all placing the next tile and then scoring scarabs if possible. After the twelfth tile, the game ends. All players then sum up their collected scoring markers, and the player with the most points wins. There is no tiebreaker.
There is also a solo game which is a little different than the multiplayer game. In this version, rather than trying to collect the scarabs, the goal here is to cover all of the scarabs with tiles. You win if you are able to achieve this goal. Gameplay is otherwise fairly similar, as the placement rules are unchanged from the main version of the game. You simply must cover all the scarabs within the twelve card deck. If you are unsuccessful, you can keep the cards in the same order and try again to try to improve your score.
My thoughts on the game
I have generally liked the genre of simultaneous tile laying games as well as similar roll-and-write games. I very much enjoy the challenge of working with an identical game setup to try to achieve the best result. To me, it is one the fairest types of games because the playing field is entirely level – usually there is no effect of luck on the game – or at least the effect is minimized. Sometimes, this can cause the game to be a bit dry and abstract, but I find that I really like that level of abstractness.
One of the issues with this style of game is that could be entirely possible that players could create an identical board at the end of the game – but in Scarabya, as with most other games in this genre, the number of possible choices makes this only a theoretical issue as I rarely see it happen in practice. In any event, the idea of tie isn’t really a big deal here, as realistically, the players are playing simultaneous solitaire. There isn’t any real interaction between players in the game – but again, this is not something unique to this game as it is how the entire genre generally works.
The components are nice with thick boards and tiles. At first, I thought that the rocks were superfluous as they are always placed in the same eight holes in the terrain boards. However, they do make it impossible to mistakenly place a tile over the hole… AND the rocks are easier to be seen, and this really helps players quickly make their initial identical board setup.
As far as strategy goes, players do best when they are able to create excavation areas of four spaces; as this gives the highest value to the collected scarabs. This happens to such a degree that the “4 point” markers often run out. The rules recognize this and tell you to combine smaller value tokens to get to 4. I find this to be the most frustrating thing about the game.
If the designers/developers/publisher knew that they would run short of these 4 point markers, I strongly feel that the punchboards should have been designed to provide more of the markers in the box – or an extra punchboard included. It is an unnecessary fiddly step to force players to hunt around for the needed point markers. I would have also liked to have seen a color gradient across the tokens so that you could quickly gauge how your opponents were doing in the game – the markers do tend to look alike from across the table.
But, this complaint of fiddliness is really not a big deal. The game moves quickly and I have enjoyed my games of it. Each game starts with a different setup, and this helps inject some variety and a different challenge in each game. And, though the rules only suggest the alternate placement rules for the solo game; I have found that it also can be used in multiplayer games and gives a second way to play the game with a group – though this version is more likely to end up in a tie (at least in my experience).
This has been one of the hits of GenCon 2018 thus far, and one that will stay in my permanent collection. Combined with Blue Lagoon, Blue Orange has had a banner year in my eyes, and I look forward to seeing what else they will be releasing in the years to come.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Chris Wray (5 Plays): I agree with Dale that Blue Orange has had a banner year. I’ve adored Blue Lagoon, and I like Scarabya, which fits nicely into that we-all-play-the-same-polyomino genre. Scarabya is very well-produced, and it is very easy to teach, but it hard to play well, and I’ve struggled to get my score to cross 30 points. I think NMBR 9 is still my favorite in the genre, but I’ve been requesting Scarabya at our game local game days.
Joe Huber (1 play): I was looking forward to trying Scarabya, but it fell quite flat for me. It’s not bad – I could play it again if others wished – but while I’m generally a fan of multiplayer solitaire games, this one really didn’t stand out. In particular, the problem felt too constrained – limiting players to size four areas with large, irregularly shaped tiles is far more frustrating than fun. For a game of this type, I’d recommend Das Labyrinth des Pharao; I think it’s a far more interesting game. I did enjoy it more than Blue Lagoon, at least…
Nathan Beeler (2 plays): Nothing really wrong with this, but there was also no sense of “gotta play it again to try something different”. The choices I made at each point were either the (seemingly) obvious best for my position or the best if tiles came up in a certain order later. Neither felt compelling.
Lorna: I love polyomino games. This one works well. Reminds me of Fits which is better, but still this one was fun.
Steph Hodge (3 plays)- Totally a game for me! One to stay in the collection for sure as I love Multi-player Solitaire games. Will happily always play this one.
Dan Blum (2 plays):This is the sort of game I like, and I’m perfectly happy to play it, but I have to agree with Lorna and Joe that it isn’t as good as either Fits or Das Labyrinth des Pharao. It still gets to “I like it” because I’m a sucker for this kind of game.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Steph Hodge
- I like it. Dale Y, Chris Wray, Lorna, Dan Blum
- Neutral. Joe H., Nathan Beeler, James Nathan
- Not for me…