A review by
Scythe is set in the alternate history 1920’s region known as Europa. The great war leaves scars on the memories of all who survived. The War was fuelled by the mysterious city-state known as “The Factory”. It supplied huge heavily armoured mechs to all of the surrounding faction states. Now it has closed its doors leaving the land uncontrolled and resource rich. You have been given the task of asserting your factions dominance in the region. A word to the wise however. The native farmers while peaceful will not support you if you try to be tyrannical. Show them a better way and they will follow you happily to victory.
To start with you will discover a beautiful box. Seriously stop and take a little while to admires the scene your faced with. Quite simply sumptuous artwork from Jakub Rozalski . Lifting the lid of this heavy box (yes it is heavy) you will discover.
- 1 Game board.
- 20 Custom “wood” tokens.
- 20 Custom “oil” tokens.
- 20 Custom “metal” tokens.
- 20 Custom “food” tokens.
- 42 Combat cards.
- 28 Encounter cards.
- 23 Objective cards.
- 12 Factory cards.
- 5 “Riverwalk” reference cards (1 per player).
- 5 “Quick-start” cards (1 per player).
- 23 “Solo-play” automa cards.
- 2 Rulebooks (1 normal and 1 solo play version).
- 1 Quick reference guide.
- 1 Achievement sheet.
- 2 Power dials.
- 80 Cardboard coins.
- 8 Resource multiplier tokens.
- 11 Encounter tokens.
- 6 Structure Bonus tiles
- Plastic bags and plastic containers.
- Insert for the miniatures.
Phew quite a haul. But wait we are not finished yet we now come to the components for the players themselves.
- 20 Mech miniatures (4 per player).
- 5 Character miniatures (1 per player).
- 5 Wood action tokens (1 per player).
- 30 Wood stars (6 per player).
- 40 Custom wood Meeples (8 per player).
- 5 wood popularity hearts (1 per player).
- 5 Wood power tokens (1 per player).
- 20 Custom wood structures (4 per player).
- 20 Wood recruit tokens (4 per player).
- 30 Wood tech cubes (4 per player).
- 5 Player mats (1 per player).
- 5 Faction mats (1 per player).
Now you can see why the box is so flipping heavy. What is nice to note is that where some designers might have chosen to just use cubes, hexes and circles for their player pieces. Here we have Popularity tokens shaped as hearts and Buildings that look like buildings. The players worker meeples are each faction specific styled as well as different colours. The players characters are each beautifully realised with their companion animal and the factions mechs are each differently designed to give that sense of ownership.
Note. There are special, premium and collector editions of Scythe where some of the components have been upgraded even further. Metal coins, more cards, more containers and realistic resources are all available.
When you first look at the artwork from Scythe you are presented with an interesting contrast. On the one hand you have farmers toiling in the fields for the harvest. Meanwhile soldiers ride into battle on horseback foot and inside huge steam powered battle machines. So is it a game of conflict? Well yes it can be. But that is not the only way to play. You can just as easily play with zero conflict and win comfortably. Here we have an Engine building, strategy game with many different elements and many paths to victory. If you want all out war and conflict I suggest you look elsewhere.
In a game of Scythe you will take on the role of one of five factions each with a unique leader and his/her own special backstory and a faction specific set of abilities. You will start of in your “home” territory and only a couple of workers to assist you (very reminiscent of the old school civilisation builders). You will need to produce resources allowing you to develop and grow. This will in turn allow you to produce your mechs these will allow you to cross water to the central land. Gaining access to more resources and eventually reaching the gates of “The Factory”. Along the way you will achieve milestones which will grant you stars. These can be awarded for winning battles, completing objectives, building, upgrading, recruiting, employing all the workers, becoming super popular (18 points) or super powerful (16 points). These last two are harder than you might think. As soon as a player has received their sixth star the game ends. No “finish the round” here. But getting your sixth star will not guarantee you the win. The aim of the game is money! Richest power wins. It is quite possible to be in control of over half the board with mechs and buildings everywhere. Only to find that Humble Howard in the corner is so popular he is showered with bonuses by his adoring people and you are confined to a footnote on the page of history as a tyrannical upstart with ideas above your station.
Let the dust settle.
So how does this all come together as a whole? Surprisingly well actually. Each turn you have a set of four options available. Well except you don’t you have three. This is because the option you used in the previous round is unavailable for the current round. You also have a series of secondary options available as well (more in a moment). Your main options consist of Moving units from one territory to another. Increase Power or number of combat cards. Production of resources or workers and increasing popularity or trading of resources with the central supply. When selecting a main action you also have access to the four secondary actions (these are set out in a different order on each players board). These secondary actions will give you the chance to build structures, Enlist recruits, upgrade abilities and deploy your mechs. You are allowed to do both the main and secondary action or you can choose to do one and not the other. The differing layout of these boards when combined with each factions different base ability adds a lot of replay-ability to a game of Scythe. Once you start to deploy your mechs you will then activate further abilities to assist you in your strategy be that by using riverwalk (you can cross a river to a certain land type), more movement, extra combat ability or special movement/turn rules. It is how you choose to utilise these abilities that will make the difference between first and last.
You will have noticed that several times I have mentioned combat, but I have not waxed lyrical about huge armoured machines grinding into each other with machine guns blazing send hot molten death in all directions. There is a good reason for that. It is because combat is well a sort of non-combat really. If you move into a territory controlled by an opponents units combat happens. If it is just their workers they run home and tell the world how nasty you are and your popularity drops. “Boo hiss you big meany”. If however you encounter the mechs or character of an opponent you need to make some serious decisions. How much power will you spend to try to win the battle? Remembering of course that if you max out your power you get to play a valuable star, so every unit of power spent is an extra one you need to regain. You can supplement your combat with the use of a single (normally) combat card to assist you. Once both players have secretly chosen their totals you both reveal and highest number wins. Loser goes home Winner gets access tot he resources on the space and if it is the first or second battle they have won they get to place a star as well. Yes honestly it is as simple as that no random dice roll no massive stats charts needed.
In summary then.
Scythe is a multilayered game. When it was first released there was quite a lot of people disappointed because they were expecting big mech battle warfare with resource management to fund it. That is just not what Scythe is. If you want big battles look somewhere else. What Scythe is however, is a beautiful theme heavy area control, engine building, resource management, game and to be honest when you look at the style of games that Stonemaier Games normally produce you get more of that but bigger better and more beautifully realised. The mechs are fantastically detailed as are the characters. Each of them have their own backstory which is well worth reading. The rulebook is one of the easiest to understand I have come across. I really like the designer’s notes that they have thoughtfully included in the main rulebook. This gives us an insight on the philosophy of the game design and the reason certain design choices were made. It would be nice to see more developers do this. Jamey Stegmaier and his team have been very clever with the way victory is decided. It is almost impossible to keep track of how each player is doing during the game. You can even get penalised for trying to do so. Timing when to make your dash to place that sixth star to try and give you the win is such a knife edged balance. It is only when the dust settles and the money is counted that you will know if you picked rightly or wrongly. Warning though this is a big game you will need to use the dinner table if you want to appreciate the beauty on offer with this feast. I for one like to bring my appetite when playing.
- Beautiful Artwork.
- Deceptively simple but challenging gameplay.
- Many paths to victory.
- Brilliant miniatures.
- Challenging Solo mode.
- Easy rules but with hidden depth.
- Theme everywhere.
I received a copy of Scythe to review through BGE. This in no way affects my review or my final thoughts on the game.