Review: Scythe

Designer:  Jamey Stegmaier
Year: 2016
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Players: 1-5
Game Type: Area Control, Grid Movement, Variable Player Powers

It is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as “The Factory”, which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.  

Scythe is an engine-building game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. It is a time of farming and war, broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and valor. In Scythe, each player represents a character from one of five factions of Eastern Europe who are attempting to earn their fortune and claim their faction's stake in the land around the mysterious Factory. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.  

Each player begins the game with different resources (power, coins, combat acumen, and popularity), a different starting location, and a hidden goal. Starting positions are specially calibrated to contribute to each faction’s uniqueness and the asymmetrical nature of the game (each faction always starts in the same place).  

Scythe gives players almost complete control over their fate. Other than each player’s individual hidden objective card, the only elements of luck or variability are “encounter” cards that players will draw as they interact with the citizens of newly explored lands. Each encounter card provides the player with several options, allowing them to mitigate the luck of the draw through their selection. Combat is also driven by choices, not luck or randomness.  

Scythe uses a streamlined action-selection mechanism (no rounds or phases) to keep gameplay moving at a brisk pace and reduce downtime between turns. While there is plenty of direct conflict for players who seek it, there is no player elimination.  

Every part of Scythe has an aspect of engine-building to it. Players can upgrade actions to become more efficient, build structures that improve their position on the map, enlist new recruits to enhance character abilities, activate mechs to deter opponents from invading, and expand their borders to reap greater types and quantities of resources. These engine-building aspects create a sense of momentum and progress throughout the game. The order in which players improve their engine adds to the unique feel of each game, even when playing one faction multiple times.

Most of what is in the box, missing most miniatures.
As with any game that has this much content, setup and take down is going to take some time. I'd say the average I noticed was about 20 minutes, as long as you take your time taking down. For your first play you will find that setup isn't too bad, minus some minor card punching, the game comes nicely organized in the box.

I can't won't go into all the details of how to play Scythe, there is a lot, but know this, it is not that hard to learn. I suggest watching the Watch It Played Video as Rodney does an amazing job explaining how to take on Europa. I will go over the what you do on your turn though. Just know this, the object is to end up with the most currency at the end of the game. Coins are your Victory Points, and controlling territories, your popularity, and the amount of Stars (placed through game achievements) add to your total coins. Once someone places their 6th Star, the final Victory Point count starts, so it's the end game trigger.

Each player will do 3 things based on their player boards. They will choose an action (from 4 possible choices), take the top row action (Move, Bolster, Trade or Produce). Then they will take a bottom row action if possible (Upgrade, Deploy, Build and Enlist). Unless you have a special power, you can not choose the same action on consecutive turns. So you have to try and plan ahead, if I move this turn, then I produce next time, I can do this... etc. There is a great deal of strategy involved in planning ahead.

Move will allow you to move two of your faction (Character, Mech or Worker) one space, or gain coins, which are victory points in Scythe. There are special rules for each piece, but that is the basic Idea. Bolster will allow you to increase your power for possible future combat, or you can draw a combat card, which enhances your strength in a battle. Trade will allow you to place any two resource tokens on a territory you control, or you can increase your popularity. The final thing you can do is Produce, where you choose 2 territories you control with workers on them, to produce 1 Food, Oil, Metal, Wood or Worker based on the number of Workers you have on that space. Example, if I have 2 workers already on a Village and I produce on that Village, I will produce 1 worker for each worker on that territory, so I produce 2 new workers.

The Bottom Row actions (Upgrade, Deploy, Build and Enlist) are what you are trying to build up to based on your Top Row choices. Upgrading will allow you to do more and pay less on future turns, Deploying will get your Mechs out and into play. Building will allow you to place a Mill (produce), Monument (gain popularity), Mine (helps with movement) and Armory (gain power). Enlisting will help you gain things on other players turns.

Scythe comes with cards that each player will take, that explain these things, and it's so helpful. I highly praise this game because of this, and will go more into it with the Solo Play, but it seems like a lot, but your basic stuff is easy, and you really only need to dig deeper when certain things occur in the game.

Solo setup.
It is possible that this is the most helpful Solo Game I have ever player. Everything I need to know, I don't have to dig through a huge rule book to find. The game comes with 7 Solo (Automa) Version cards that break everything down, so you can reference them when things come up. So well done, I can not stress that enough.

Okay, so in Solo Play, you are taking on the game, which comes with 4 difficulty types. Having lost now to the Easiest mode twice, I need to figure a better strategy before I can move on to the Easy Mode. Your turn will follow basic gameplay, as if playing with others. The game though will play using a special deck of cards. You will not use the player mat for the game, just the faction board to place about half of their pieces on.

The game's main objective is to gain territory, they will fight you if they can, and you are to place their Stars just as you do your own. So once the 6th Star is placed, the end game is triggered. So what you need to do, and no you don't have to follow my horrible strategy, is to get your Mechs in play fast, cross those damn rivers and drive them back. Their popularity will not change like your's so they can pay out big victory points at the end of the game. Just be warned.

Here is a FANASTIC, but long, video to show Solo Play that I highly recommend watching. I found it so helpful, and trust me, I think seeing the rules in action, compared to me typing things out here is a much better way to go. Just remember this, the game is after territory and stopping you from getting it. So getting out there as fast as you can and taking control seems to me, to be the highest goal. But again, I lost to the Baby Mode twice, haha.

I have played Scythe twice solo, and I am now dying to play against other humans. This game is right now sitting at #6 on my favorite games list, and I am sure with a few more solo plays, and then playing against other people, it will move up to #2 or #3. It's so good and so much fun. As with any game the first play will take longer as you get the rules down, but by the second play I finished in about 60-70 minutes. Strategy is key, and being able to plan ahead is a must. Everything about this game just screams PUT ME ON THE TABLE... hell I just ordered the first expansion after 2 plays. It is a must own, and not just from a Solo standpoint, this game should be on all gamers shelves.

4.75 out of 5 Solo's

* Good strategy
* Great replay value
* Great artwork
* Best presentation of Solo AI I have seen

* Can take awhile to learn
* Takes up a lot of space

Game Soundtrack Sponsored by Metal Blade Records: 
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Dan Royer Dan Royer Author