Scythe - First Impressions

  • Sin

Scythe First Impressions

In this article, Sin looks at the newest board game release from Stonemaier Games, and gives us a quick overview of his thoughts.

Have you ever been playing a lovely board game about farming in Eastern Europe and thought, "This game would be much better with giant mechanical spider tanks and the option to bribe each other with gold"? Scythe has you covered.

Setting up

Scythe is a 4X game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) designed by Jamey Stegmaier with lovely artwork by Jakub Rozalski. The game is set in an alternate 20s Eastern Europe, after the mysterious 'Factory' faction, which produced high tech mechs during the war, has cut itself off from the outside world.

The game involves a mix of resource management and exploration, with a some clever upgrade systems and simple combat.

Each faction has its own skill and slightly different upgrades which can be unlocked by purchasing mechs. For each faction a player is also given a random player mat with varying costs and rewards for actions. For example the 'Mechanical' player mat features a lower steel cost for purchasing mechs.

The player also gets a nicely made mini of their character, comprising both a person representing their character, and an animal representing a cool animal friend. They also get worker meeples and mech minis.

From here, the character has 3 capabilities. They can explore the board spaces, known as territories, and enter encounters, multiple choice scenarios which give a bit of flavour to the world (and some handy bonuses!). They can also enter combat with other players if desired, although combat is not a huge part of the game.

Workers are deployed to territories, and are used to produce resources. They can also move between territories to change production type, but cannot cross water. Later in the game, mechs can be deployed which are used to transport multiple workers (over land and water) and enter skirmishes with other players.

Build your legacy

Each turn a player selects one section of his player mat and performs a selection of the two actions on that section of the board (one, none or both). The top action is generally free or costs a few coins (move, produce goods, trade or gain power) and the bottom section costs resources (build, deploy a mech, upgrade or enlist).

As you work your way through the game you achieve certain targets such as winning combat, deploying all your mechs, gaining maximum popularity with your people and so on, and once one player has achieved six of these goals, the game ends.

Finally extra coins are rewarded based on various criteria, and the winner is the one with the largest fortune once all the squabbling is finished.

This is Europa

Okay, enough rule explanation. This game has some real wow factor. The minis are lovely, and each faction has their own design for not only the mech and character minis, but even their worker meeples. The artwork sets the scene for the game perfectly. The game feels lovely to play, and the designers have created a gaming experience which runs smoothly but is also exciting.

The player boards are so well designed that after the first few rounds of our first game we barely needed the manual again, and feature dimpled spaces for each component that fits onto the boards, making it obvious where each piece sits. This goes a long way to helping new players learn the game. In addition, for the first few rounds of the game, you are restricted by your lack of resources into just performing the top row actions from your player mat. This means you can work through a few of these and get a feel for each before having to commit yourself to spending resources.

Each faction plays slightly differently, with different powers and skills to unlock, and can be played with a different player mat (5 factions and 5 player mats) giving slightly different strengths and weaknesses each time. This adds a nice level of replayability, with the possibility to tweak your tactics based on your strengths and weaknesses.

The experience points

In our first game I managed to focus on building, as my empire (Saxony) was situated near to a couple of forest tiles, and wood is the resource of choice for this action. This allowed me to get some extra bonuses each turn. I also sent my character, Gunter, off exploring, along with his wolves Nacht and Tag, for extra resources. I swiftly swindled some soldiers out of a mech which meant my popularity took a hit, but hey, free mech!

My other half playing as Rusviet faction character Olga and her tiger, Changa, tried to play a more generalist game which actually worked against her as many of the achievements are based on maxing out a specific option (build all buildings, deploy all mechs) so I ended up finishing with 6 stars to her 3. Suffice to say she was keen to try again with a new strategy!

In our second game, after befriending a samurai, an inventor and some reindeer, my wife kicked me out of the Factory territory and went on to win with a good mix of tactics.

Lastly we played a four player game, and the map felt a lot more crowded! Overall we felt the four player game was well balanced, although some faction powers seemed potentially more useful than others. Generally we all kept to our parts of the board apart from a few battles over the Factory territory and some aggressive expansion from a couple of players as the game wound up.

A few more games will be needed to determine how well balanced the factions are and whether certain strategies suit certain player board/faction combinations but I am definitely keen to give the different factions a shot and see what else the game has to offer.

Counting the victory points

Overall my first few games were thoroughly enjoyable. This game marries a fantastically realised theme with considered and evocative art, alongside strong but streamlined gameplay. I am absolutely enamored with it so far and highly recommend checking it out if you like the sound of it.

For the full game rules and a playthrough video you can visit the publisher's site.