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 fuelled the war with heavily armoured mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.
Scythe is a 4X board 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 Europa 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.
- 1-5 Players
- 90-115 Minute Playing Time
- Ages 14+
We were fortunate enough this week to interview Jamey Stegmaier, the creator of the hugely successful board game Scythe! We spoke to him about the unparalleled success of the original game, as well as the (was upcoming) Invaders From Afar expansion.
Here is what Jamey had to say to Zatu Games:
First of all congratulations on the overwhelming success of Scythe. What is your reaction to the amount of success the game had had?
"Thank you! It’s been an exciting couple of years, really—it started with people being excited/curious about Scythe, then the resulting $1.8 million Kickstarter campaign, then the reception after backers (and some retail customers) received their copies. At each state I’ve been elated that people have found joy in Scythe—that’s what’s important to me."
Scythe is quite a big game. How many people were involved in the development of the game?
"In total, somewhere between 600 and 700 people, ranging from the lead designer (me) and the illustrator/worldbuilder (Jakub Rozalski) to lead playtesters to all of the other playtesters and proofreaders who helped both with the multiplayer and solo versions of the game."
How many changes were made during the blind playtesting stage of the development? Can you share some examples with Zatu Games?
"A lot of little things changed during the three waves of blind playtesting, but here are the big three:
- Combat: The balance of combat was really hard to figure out, especially since Scythe is an engine-building Euro game. The rules for combat need to give players a reason to attack sometimes, but not all of the time, and there are complementary rules/abilities (like Riverwalk) that factor into that balance. Blind playtesting really helped us figure out the right balance through a series of small changes.
- Structures: The role of structures changed a lot over the course of blind playtesting. Originally, each structure had a spatially-driven ability, but they required a separate reference card, and it was hard to keep track of their abilities (yours and other players). They were often forgotten or unused So eventually I moved structures to the player mats and got rid of any spatial aspects to them - other than end-game territorial control. But playtesters kept asking for some sort of spatial aspect to them and although I resisted at first I then came up with the end-game structure bonus tile system which places value on exactly where you build your structures.
- Faction abilities: For the first wave of blind playtesting, factions had mech abilities but no overarching, faction specific, asymmetric abilities. Playtesters kept asking for them so eventually I came up with some ideas. We tested them and tweaked them and I'm very glad we added them.
In Invaders From Afar we welcome the Togawa and Albion factions to the game. Can you explain a little bit more about these new additions?
" Thematically, Albion and Togawa have heard about all of this activity happening in the lands surrounding the Factory, so they send some heroes to check it out. Albion comes from the north (England/Scotland) and Togawa comes from the far east (Japan/China). Each comes with a unique set of mech abilities as well as completely new faction abilities. Albion’s character has these Flag tokens they place that are worth a territory for end-game scoring and that allow them (when combined with a specific mech ability) to jump across the board to rally their troops.
"Togawa’s character has Trap tokens to place face down on various territories. When an opponent’s unit moves onto a Trap, the trap triggers, causing that player to incur a penalty. All unarmed Traps grant control of the territory they’re on to Togawa at the end of the game."
Aside from the new factions, what other new features can Scythe fans expect to see in Invaders From Afar?
"The main focus of the expansion is on the two new factions, but we also included two new player mats. Originally we intended for Scythe to be played with no more than 5 players, but I realised that with the new mats, some people would inevitably play with 6-7 players. So I included two tokens to replace Crimea’s Wayfare ability and Polania’s faction ability, as both of them would have been significantly less useful with higher player counts.
"Also, one of the Automa designers, David Studley, designed a few cards to ensure the expansion integrates well with the original solo variant."
Invaders From Afar is an interesting title. Where did this name come from?
" I wish I had an interesting answer, but the name just came from a brainstorming session with Jakub!"
You mention Jakub Rozalski. We are huge fans of Scythe's artwork here at Zatu Game, what has it been like working with him?
"It’s a real pleasure. He has such a vivid imagination, and he pairs that with his incredible artist talent. Working with him has made me (a) want to work with him more in the future and (b) work with more world-building artists."
Going forward, can we expect to see any more expansions of the Scythe universe?
"We’re in the process of brainstorming a new expansion. As a company, my typical strategy isn’t to plan ahead for expansions—I like to put everything in the original game box if it’ll fit. But if I get excited by a new idea and it turns out to be fun, I’ll give it a try."