SCYTHE LEGENDARY BOX and the Often Weird Perception of Value
For it's popularity and acclaim, Scythe still seems like a polarizing game. I've heard many who dive in thinking it's an all-out war game like Risk or Axis & Allies and end up disappointed. In some regards, I don't blame them. Once this game is set up on a table, it certainly looks the part: with detailed plastic mechs tromping all over a post-WW1 alternate-history Europe, claiming land and gathering resources. In reality, Scythe is a game about balance of power; the threat and uncertainty of combat drives players decisions way more than actual combat. Being a eurogame, victory is achieved by doing a lot of little strategic things for points that add up, instead of merely building an empire to blast opponents into oblivion and taking their stuff. I really like the "cold war" aspect of the game, making Scythe stand out from a lot of other great area-control games like Kemet, Cry Havoc, and 4X staples Twilight Imperium and Eclipse. Scythe is one of my favorites, and it is simply gorgeous.
Out of the box, Scythe comes with 5 factions for players to choose from. The first expansion, Invaders From Afar, added a 6th and 7th faction which was part of the original game design, but packaged separately, presumably to keep the retail price on the base game reasonable. The second expansion, The Wind Gambit, offers huge floating airships for each faction and some alternate ending rules. The final expansion, The Rise of Fenris, will be in stores the latter half of 2018, adding a story-based campaign book and other yet-to-be revealed goodies.
When games start getting big like this, storage and trying to reduce setup time starts becoming a little tricky, not to mention traveling with the game. You can invest in an expensive custom organizer to better store and organize things, but wouldn't it be nice to have a box that can just hold everything? This idea comes up often from gamers.
Other companies, like Rio Grande Games, have tackled this in the past by releasing "Big Box" editions of their popular games, combining the base game with essential or popular expansions all in one neat organized box. This is great if you don't already own the game, and think you are going to enjoy it enough that you'll want the extra stuff, but for those who have it already, it's probably not worth a rebuy.
In the case of Scythe, a hypothetical "big box" edition after The Rise of Fenris would be quite large, have a massive price tag, and be poor form to vendors who have already invested shelf space for the regular game package and expansions.
However, game designer and publisher Jeremy Stagmaier solicited interest in offering an empty box that could store all the current and future components, still support third-party organizers, and even optionally use the lid from the original box. He essentially would be creating and shipping a box with no content. It would be send to a select few online retailers interested in carrying it to reduce distribution costs. And, as a thank you to Scythe aficionados, offer it at cost for $25.
It's important to point out that we are talking about a luxury item here. A big box to rule them all is not necessary to enjoy the game or even store the game. It's what I call a "NTH", a nice-to-have. NTHs can be metal coins replacing tokens, custom wooden organizers, card sleeves, just about anything that adds a little sparkle, increases the life or value of the game, or makes setup and storage easier and more attractive. Here Jeremy was offering a luxury item at cost to those who wanted it; customers were only paying the cost of manufacturing, materials, and shipping. Incidentally, it is interesting to see how much just a nice box costs to make and ship from China, and put that in perspective to retail game prices.
However, good will was derailed with the issue of the tuck boxes. The tuck boxes were going to be plain white paperboard filler boxes, but Jeremy printed artwork on them to add a little pizazz to the presentation.
It's interesting to me how I assign value to items like this. If it's a plain white insert, I'll toss or repurpose and modify the item for storage. I won't be terribly concerned about its condition. However, if there is artwork printed on it or customized in some way, I care a lot more. It's part of the experience now; no longer a mere utilitarian device, but a component of the game experience. So I do understand the reaction to what happened next.
Threads started popping up on BoardGameGeek about damaged tuck boxes; people were not happy. It was confirmed to not be a manufacturing error, so it is likely that the tuck boxes, which were packaged snugly in the box to keep them from getting knocked around, absorbed handling shocks during shipping and some warped. With the artwork, value perception had shifted. People complained, and some wanted replacement tuck boxes shipped to them, which, if Stonemaier Games were to do, they'd be eating a lot of costs on a product they are not making a dime on. If Jeremy hadn't printed art on the spacer boxes, I seriously think there would not have been an issue. No good deed goes unpunished, for sure.
Complaints from purchasers (and issues with sustainability of the product as a SKU) were high enough that Jeremy has said future print runs are unlikely. The Legendary Box is mostly sold out at the time I'm writing this, although, there still is a interest survey up on Stonemaier's website. He's frequently stated before that if there is a second print, MSRP would have to be $40 to make it a sustainable product. I find it unlikely that many would purchase the box at that price point. So if you have a Legendary Box, good for you, it's probably a collectors item at this point.
Scythe's Legendary Box certainly was an interesting experiment and some great, ahem, out-of-the-box thinking. In the end, it came down to the quirky aspect of value perception and expectations consumers demand of luxury items, no matter how they are offered.