Scythe takes place in an alternate history in the 1920s in Europa. After the conclusion of the first Great War, all that’s left in the war torn Europa is “The Factory,” which was used heavily during the war to manufacture war machines. “The Factory” has now been abandoned and ripe for the picking from nearby countries. In Scythe, players will take control of one of the five different factions competing to gain a control of “The Factory” and the surrounding land.
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Genre: Area Control, Worker Placement, Resource Management
Play time: 115 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 2 ( 2 players , Playtime: 120 minutes and 5 players, Playtime: 210 minutes)
Scythe is labeled as a 4x game which allows players to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Players explore the land around the factory with their character. They’ll run into random encounters with the locals and have to decide what the best course of action. They’ll also be expanding their territories with units and buildings, exploiting the land for it’s resources, and exterminating their enemies through the use of their mechs and main character figure. The enemies won’t actually be killed, but will be forced to retreat back to their factions capital.
At the beginning of the game, each player receives a faction board that tells them their special ability, abilities their mechs unlock, starting power, and number of combat cards they start with. Each player will also receive a player mat that will identify what kind of faction they are (industrial, mechanical, agricultural, engineering, or patriotic) which is just a unique way to determine your starting popularity and gold. The unique thing about this setup is that the player mats can go with any faction, which creates a lot of different combinations for players to try. The player with the lowest number on their player mat will be the first player and play will proceed in a clockwise direction.
On a player’s turn, they will choose a column on their player mat and can do either the top action, bottom action, both (top action will need to be performed before the bottom one), or neither.
- Move/Gain – Move two units one space on the board or gain a gold
- Trade – Pay one coin to gain any two resources or gain one popularity
- Bolster – Pay one coin to gain two power or one combat card
- Produce – Pay any resources required and select two hexes you own to produce resources
- Build – Pay the required amount of wood to build any one of your buildings onto a territory you own. Some buildings will provide you a bonus once built.
- Monument – Gain one popularity when the Bolster top action is taken.
- Mill – When a Produce top action is taken, the hex that the mill is located on can also produce resources. The mill counts as one worker if the player decides to activate the mill’s hex. This hex does not count as one of the two/three hexes you can select to produce.
- Mine – The mine will act as a tunnel for the player that created it. This allows players to move from their mine to any other tunnel space.
- Armory – Gain one power when the Trade top action is taken
- Enlist – Pay the required amount of food to select a recruit from a bottom action on your player mat and gain a one time bonus. In future turns, if you or either person to your left or right perform the bottom action that you recruited from, you will gain the reward shown on your board.
- Build Bonus – Gain one popularity
- Enlist Bonus – Gain one combat card
- Upgrade Bonus – Gain one power
- Deploy Bonus – Gain one coin
- Upgrade – Pay the required amount of oil to move a cube from any top action to any bottom action. This increases the power of a top action and reduces the cost of a bottom action.
- Deploy – Pay the required amount of steel to place one of your four mechs onto a territory that you own. Each one gives a special ability that any of your mechs or character can utilize.
- Riverwalk – This ability allows mechs/character to cross rivers onto specific type of terrains.
- Speed – Allows mechs/characters to move one additional hex with a move action.
- The last two mechs’ abilities are unique to each faction
Each player mat will have different pairings of top actions and bottom actions in their columns. A player cannot select the same column that they had selected on the previous turn (unless you’re playing as the Rusviets faction).
Combat will happen when two players have their characters/mechs on the same hex. Combat is resolved by secretly selecting the amount of power you’d like to spend on your power dial. Cards can also be added to the power dial value based on the number of mechs/character you have on the hex with each unit allowing you to attach an additional card to your power dial value. Both players will simultaneously reveal their power dials and power cards and the player with the highest power value is the winner.
The winner gains control of the hex and any resources that are currently on it. If this is the first or second battle that player has won they can place one of their star tokens onto the triumph track. The winner will also lose one popularity for each worker that they forced out of the hex.
The loser returns all of their units back to their home base and will gain one combat card if they revealed at least one power during the battle.
If a player moves a character onto a hex with an encounter token, they will remove the token and draw an encounter card. This card will set up a scenario that the player and allow them to choose one of three different options on how they’ll react. Each option will show the cost and reward the player will gain if they choose that option. If any resources are gained from the encounter, they are placed on the same tile from which the encounter token was taken.
The Factory hex is located at the center of the board and allows players to gain a unique fifth action slot. If the a player’s character controls the factory for the first time they can add one of the factory cards to their player mat as a fifth column. Faction cards provide players with a powerful top action and a double movement bottom action. Each player is only allowed one factory card. Actions from this card do not provide any bonuses for players that enlisted a recruit from a similar bottom action.
Once any player places their sixth star onto the triumph track the game will immediately end. Players will then get coins for the amount of stars they have on the triumph track, number of hex’s they have control of, and coins for every two resources they have on the hex’s they own. The amount of coins each player receives is based on what level your popularity is at. The player with the most amount of coins is the new leader of Eastern Europa and the winner of the game!
After backing the collector’s edition on Kickstarter back in October, I had pretty high expectations on what to expect when the game finally arrived this summer. I figured Mandee and I would enjoy this game because we’ve liked previous games from Stonemaier Games. Unlike Mandee I also enjoy playing Agricola, so what more could I ask for from a game that has both farming and gigantic mechs lumbering through the land?
I was pleasantly surprised by just how awesome the upgraded resource tokens and metal coins were, especially the steel resources. We’ve never really splurged for things that would bling our games out like that, but this game might make me reconsider.
The art on the game board is really nice, with easily identifiable details for each of the different types of terrains. Playing with the normal board is an okay experience, but you’re truly able to see all the little details when you use the extended board. It increases the size of every hex by 50%, which increases from its original 24.56″ x 32.2″ all the way up to 32.2″ x 36.85.” Needless to say, you need to have quite a bit of table space to use that board, but it’s totally worth it if you have a big enough table to do it.
I was really impressed with all the components in this game from the wooden workers that were uniquely shaped for each faction and buildings to the great looking character figures with their companion pets and mechs.
With all these awesome components and different things that get incorporated into the game, it does take a little bit of time to set everything up. When we played the first time, I had set up a two player game by myself so that Mandee and I could play it later that evening and it took a good twenty minutes or so. It could be in part because that was our first time playing and I had to refer to the manual a couple times. The second time we played with five people, it went a little quicker since everyone was able to setup their boards themselves and the main board took about ten minutes or so to setup. So you’ll probably want to have this game setup in advance for a game night or give everyone one or two things to do to help setup the board.
With how intimidating those mechs are and the giant deck of combat cards, you’d think that there would be a lot of combat in Scythe, but that isn’t the case. Since players will lose popularity for driving workers away, there isn’t very much incentive for players to attack other players except for accomplishing the combat stars on the triumph track. I found the potential of being attacked created a bit of tension as you had to figure out if you were leaving a space too vulnerable or not. This created some interesting decisions as you had to figure out the best way to position your mechs, how to distribute your workers on hexes so there wouldn’t be a huge surplus of resources on them, and making sure you spent resources as they were produced.
I had a round where I figured I’d load up an oil terrain and produce enough oil to complete my last four upgrade actions I needed to place my star. The only problem was that I only had one mech on that spot to defend my five workers and pile of oil resources. Once I had realized I created a great opportunity for the Polania faction to come in and take all my resources, it was too late.
There was also another situation where the Saxony faction had decided to attack the Rusviet player and it set him back a few rounds, which might have contributed to him losing the game by four coins.Even though combat isn’t a huge focal point in the game, there are times where a well-timed combat could slow down someone’s plan and set them back a couple rounds. This is significant because, depending on when this happens, they might not have enough rounds left to recover the setback.
One of These Things is Not Like the Other
It took me both games to finally figure out that the top and bottom actions on the player mats were randomized across the five different mats. After the first game, I thought the top actions and bottom actions were the same on all the boards, but in different positions. It wasn’t until the second game when I was teaching the game to five people that things got pretty confusing as I went through the actions. The different combinations are really cool for game play purposes, but does make it a little more difficult to teach the game as you’ll typically go through the actions as they’re shown on your board.
Regardless, I really enjoyed the unique player mats since they create a good amount of replayability. You’ll have to tweak your strategy a little bit because the top and bottom actions are combined in different ways. The unique faction ability and mech abilities helped to differentiate the different factions, although some faction abilities didn’t feel as strong depending on the number of players.
Playing as Polania in a two player game, I was able to take advantage of their faction ability to choose two options on the card pretty frequently with less competition for encounter tokens. In the five player game we played, the Polania player was only able to utilize that ability two or three times. This still resulted in them getting the equivalent to twice the amount of encounter rewards as all the other players, but their ability was only useful up until the encounter tokens were gone, which in a five player game was pretty quick. Whereas the Rusviets, Crimea, and Saxony’s faction abilities are ones that can use throughout the entire game. Maybe this is made up for by their Camaraderie mech ability which could allow them to disrupt other player’s plans without any loss of popularity after combat.
With more plays it’ll be more apparent how to best utilize a factions special ability. I’m guessing if the Polania player was more experienced, they could have made getting those encounter tokens more of a priority to fully take advantage of their faction power. Overall, I felt like the variability between the factions and the different configurations of the player mat actions really make it so each game felt unique.
Over in a Blink of an Eye
One complaint that one of our friends had was that the game seems to end very abruptly and it could result in some players having one less turn than the person who placed the sixth star. At first I agreed with him since it’s only fair that everyone gets an equal amount of turns, right? The more I thought about it though, the more I compared it to an actual race where it will be over once the first person crosses the finish line. If there wasn’t an incentive to finish the race of putting out all six stars, why wouldn’t you just want to sit back and build up more coins?
This also forces you to keep an eye out on how many stars other players have left and what possible conditions they can complete on a given turn. Once you see that a player only has one or two stars left, you’ll have to start making some sacrifices to your plans and optimize your turns to get as many coins as possible. Although the ending does seem a bit abrupt, I didn’t really have a problem with it. But I could see it being an issue for some people that might make it feel like the game ends on a sour note.
Overall, I felt like Scythe met my expectations. The components for the game were some of the best I’ve seen, which is a major plus for me. At first, it was a bit overwhelming to see how everything laid out on the board and player mats, but I found that explaining the game to our game group wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I do feel like Scythe is a game that you’d appreciate more with additional plays to allow you to figure out how best to play to each factions strengths. I look forward to playing more Scythe with our game group in the near future.
I have to be honest, I am not a fan of combat games and I’ve been a bit turned off from farming games ever since Agricola. That game hurts my brain when I play it. So I was a little hesitant at first about the game Scythe. It had a lot of hype surrounding it, and Calvin backed it on Kickstarter, and sometimes hyped games are not as good as they seem. But once we played it a few times, I have to say that it really does live up to that hype.
This game does have a theme, something I look for in a game, but I really wasn’t aware of what it was until after we had played a few times. For me, this game lives up to the stereotype of Euro games being more about mechanics than theme. Many of the actions don’t really tie back to the theme, like upgrading your board for example. While I usually love a strong theme, this game’s lack of theme doesn’t ruin it for me at all. In fact, I think any more theme would have complicated this game way too much.
The only aspect that I think could have benefited the theme is with the encounter cards. Although the artwork on the encounter cards give you a pretty good picture of what you’ve encountered, I wish there was a little one sentence blurb that described what was going on so you could read it for other players. It made it a little hard in a five player game to describe what was going on when you’re trying to figure out what option you want to pick.
Part of the reason I don’t like combat games is because I think they’re too mean. I’m not a fan of games where the goal is to just screw over the other player. I don’t get enjoyment out of making others feel bad. However, Scythe manages to do combat in a nice way.
The most ideal situation that can happen in combat during a board game is that it doesn’t completely mess up your plans for the rest of the game. As Calvin said, this game is more about the tension of waiting for someone to strike than it is about actual combat. Most of the time when I played, I made sure to not have a stockpile of resources sitting on the board, thus making me a target to other players. While combat does play a role in the game, it’s such a minor one that its effect is also minor. Very rarely does your entire strategy need to be rethought just because someone attacked you.
In a two-player game, combat is essentially pointless, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing to me. More often than not, you would only attack the other player to complete an objective. And even then, I’m not sure that you would. Because the board is so large, you can each build out comfortably on one side of the board and never have to interact with one another.
Variety, Variety, Variety
One complaint we’ve noticed in reading other reviews of this game is that there is a limited number of options for combinations of the faction player boards and the randomized action boards. I disagree with this though.
There are enough combinations available for you to play this game dozens of times before it gets old. And then you can play a previous combination again because it’s doubtful you’d remember what you did. This games replayability is something to be commended, rarely do games account for this as much as Scythe does.
When I first was taught this game, it was a little difficult for me to grasp the mechanics. As an experienced gamer, I have never encountered a game that uses the top action/bottom action mechanic (at least not effectively). And this concept took me a bit to fully understand. I definitely would not say this is good for a newer gamer, and would suggest it not be one of the first heavy games you play. In fact, it probably shouldn’t even be one of the first 10 or 20 ones you play.
The learning curve on this game is there, but it’s not too intense that the game is impossible to play. There are enough things going on to keep it interesting, but not too much that you can’t remember all the actions you can take.
In addition to the unique top/bottom action mechanic, this game accounts for replayability much more than other games I’ve played. Each of the factions have a unique ability that gives a bonus or a boost to the player. Some of these are a little less powerful than others because they may only be used for a short period of time in the game. I think the game designers balanced it out by including more powerful mech actions for those players, like being able to walk on lake tiles. This provides the game with more balance and enables all players an equal chance to win.
Who’s the winner?
One mechanic that I really enjoy in most games is the idea of not knowing who wins the game until the very end. Once one player completes six objectives, the game immediately ends. But that doesn’t mean that person won.
In one game we played, another player completed six objectives first and the game ended. We then went around and did end-game scoring, and I ended up winning by a few points, even though I had only completed four objectives and I wasn’t at the highest tier of popularity. This is something I really enjoy because you just never know who will win and it makes it a little more exciting.
It also forces you to really pay attention to when someone is going to end the game so you get in as many actions as possible to gain you more points.
Like Calvin said, the components and artwork in the game are enough of a selling point, but when you add in the incredibly well-balanced game play and a game that effectively combines farming and combat into one game. Something I haven’t seen any other game do effectively. I would highly recommend this game to more experienced gamers or to people who are looking to get into more heavy games.
- Great components (I also really liked the diagram on the side of the box that shows how things should be placed back in the box)
- Replayability (Lots of different potential combinations of factions and player mats)
- Combat only sets someone back, but doesn’t completely ruin someones plan
- Lots of different paths for you to complete your six star goal
- End-game scoring
- New game mechanics
- Faction abilities add variability
- Some faction powers seem a little more situational than others
- Setup can take a little bit long
- Can be difficult to teach
- Weak theme
He gives this game 9 Factories out of 10.
She gives this game 9 Popularity out of 10.