Scythe

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Scythe is a game by Stonemaier Games, designed by renowned auteur Jamey Stegmaier. Set in an alternate reality 1920’s Europe, the game focuses on expanding your faction’s dominance across territory whilst harvesting resources, creating upgrades and battling your enemies. Whilst not exclusively a game about conflict, Scythe rewards players for conducting many different types of e…
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Category Tags , , , , , , SKU ZBG-STM600 Availability 5+ in stock
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Awards

Golden Geek
Exceptional Components
Stunning Artwork
Dice Tower

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • A great theme.
  • Lots of choices in engine building.
  • Superb production quality.

Might Not Like

  • Playtime increases with player count.
  • Amount of choices count induce analysis paralysis.
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Description

Scythe is a game by Stonemaier Games, designed by renowned auteur Jamey Stegmaier. Set in an alternate reality 1920’s Europe, the game focuses on expanding your faction’s dominance across territory whilst harvesting resources, creating upgrades and battling your enemies. Whilst not exclusively a game about conflict, Scythe rewards players for conducting many different types of engine-building, leading to a great variety in play styles.

Each of the five factions in the box has different special abilities and these are paired each game with a different economic player board. During the turn, each player chooses one of four unique actions from the player board, which also gives a secondary bonus action. These actions move the faction workers, launch mechs and leader across the board, adding buildings and even upgrade their own options by manipulating the player board. The game is surprisingly swift, even at higher play counts due to the pairing down of actions per turn.

As players complete goals, such as bringing all four of their mechs onto the board, they begin to collect stars. After a faction has laid down their sixth star, this triggers the end game. The winner of the game is the faction with the most coins.

Scythe also contains a fully realised single-player module, where the player competes against an ‘Automa’ A.I. In a single-player game, a deck of cards controls the A.I. player faction and offers a compelling experience as an alternative to the multiplayer game.

Visually, Scythe looks stunning on the table. From the sweeping lands on the board to the faction leaders design, all the artwork is dramatically evocative. The leaders and mechs are all unique sculpts for each faction. Workers and materials are made up of wooden markers.

Whilst this is a complete game, Scythe is upgradable with expansions that increase the player count, add more game modules, event cards and most recently a legacy campaign mechanic.

Player count: 1-5
Time: 115 minutes
Age rating: 14+

 

A game that raised over $1.8 million on Kickstarter emphasises the sheer hype and hysteria surrounding Scythe. If you haven’t played it before, you almost certainly have heard of it in one way or another. Scythe sees players enter an alternate history where they are attempting to create an empire of monstrous mechs and industrious workers that will prove stronger and more efficient than the other players.

The aim of this 4x game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) is to control areas of the board, gather resources, earn coins and build an efficient engine. Once a player completes six achievements, the game end is triggered and final scoring is calculated.

Scythe is designed by Jamey Stegmaier, published by Stonemaier Games and plays 1-5 players in around two hours. There is an expansion available which extends the player count to 6-7, but that will add to the play time (you’ve been warned). I’ve played the game with 2-5 players and from my experience the game takes around thirty minutes per player.

Don’t let the potential length of a higher player count deter you though! Scythe immerses you into its world delightfully through it’s beautiful artwork from Jakub Rozalski.

Scythe Gameplay

At the start of the game, each player chooses a faction and player mat. Each of these mats is completely unique, and can be combined in many different ways! The faction mats provide players with a special ability, four mechs (that also add a unique special ability once built) and their starting power and combat cards.

On your player mat is where your engine-building plans take shape. Each board is separated into four sections, each with a top row action and a bottom row action. The actions are mixed and matched on each player board, making play styles varied each time you play. Players have a leader miniature at their home base to start, with a worker on each of the two adjacent spaces.

On a turn, you may select one of the four sections on your player mat and execute the top row action, followed by the bottom row action. Top row actions include:

  • Move - where players move any of their pieces around the board following movement rules.
  • Produce - where workers on particular hexes may gain a resource of that respective hex.
  • Trade - pay a coin to gain two resources of the player’s choice.
  • Bolster - pay a coin to gain power.

After completing a top row action, players may activate the bottom row action of the same section. This is where the real engine building begins. The upgrade action allows players to move a cube that is covering a benefit on a top row action, and place it on a red payment space on a bottom row action. Thus making the top row action more beneficial and the bottom row action cheaper next time. Lovely.

The deploy action allows players to build a mech and place it with a worker on the board. The mechs can be built in any order from their faction board and add a special ability to every mech currently out there in the world, as well as your leader.

When activating the build action, players chose a building from their player mat to place out onto the board with a worker. Once a building is removed from the player mat, it will uncover a new benefit for that action.

Taking the enlist action allows the player to pick up a recruit token from any section of the player mat and place it in any available one-time bonus space on your faction mat, immediately gaining that depicted bonus. When the Recruit token is moved it will show an ongoing bonus. For the rest of the game, whenever you or a player immediately on your right or left uses this bottom row action you gain the specified bonus. The management of the player mats is key to success and enjoyment in a game of Scythe.

As players take their actions and move around the board, they will be having encounters with the locals, visiting the factory and taking part in combat to determine control of a territory. Encounters cause players to draw a card from the encounter deck, which contains a visual scene of what can be seen in that hex. The player then decides what to do in that situation, which could influence their popularity with the locals. Some of the encounters do seem a bit unbalanced, but the excellent imagery and humour used in some of the choices just adds to the theme of the game.

Visiting the factory allows players to acquire a whole new action which can only be used by them and is unique from every other action. Each game has one more factory card than the player count to choose from. The actions can be very powerful and can reward the player who gets to the factory first. However, upgraded actions on your player mat can prove more beneficial as time goes by.

Combat occurs when two players have their pieces in the same hex. Players choose how much power they would like to use in the battle (using the power dial) as well as any combat cards that they choose to use. The player with the highest total power wins and forces the opposing player to retreat to the home base.

In my experience, combat can be few and far between, particularly with lower player counts (2-3 players). It’s the intimidation factor of seeing how much power a player has, the number of combat cards and the amount of mechs nearby that can force players to simply stay out of each other's way!

Players who win their first two battles acquire an achievement star for doing so. This is two of the 10 possible ways to achieve an achievement star. They are also awarded for players who deploy all their mechs, build all of their structures, upgrade all of their actions, activate all of their enlist actions, max out the popularity or power tracks, or complete an objective card.

The game continues until one player completes six achievements. The achievement stars are worth many points at the end of the game, but are not the be all and end all. If your engine is efficient, you’ve got decent control of the board and a high popularity you should be in with a shout of winning, even if you didn’t get six achievement stars out.

Components

Stonemaier Games have an ever-growing reputation for producing some very beautiful games and Scythe is no exception. In fact it can be argued it is the pick of the bunch. The artwork is second to none and does a fantastic job of immersing players into the world.

The board is extremely detailed and well thought out, but can be overwhelming upon first glance. However, after a few rounds players can see the necessity for each track, deck and hex. Players are never too far away from one another either. The board implements a tunnel system which all players are free to use. This allows players to move quickly about the board to gain territory and head for the factory hex in the center of the board if they choose.

Scythe’s wooden tokens, card stock and plastic miniatures are great. Each faction has its own mould for its leader, mechs and workers, which is a nice touch that most game publishers don’t tend to do. It adds another differing factor between the factions on the board (as well as aiding colour blind players).

I was fortunate enough to back the Kickstarter and chose to go with the Collector’s Edition as it added the metal coins, Stonemaier realistic resource tokens and larger board. All of which are available as add-ons to the game if you’re that way inclined like I am!

Final Thoughts

Scythe is an excellent game that smashes together great euro-style mechanisms and superb thematic gameplay. I was worried when I heard the 4x game label being attached to this one and I think it does a good job of doing so, but it’s not the best 4x game out there. Labels aside, this is an outstanding engine building game that keeps players engaged, throws up some interesting choices and memorable moments.

It’s the management of the player mat that dragged me into the game. The choices and decisions a player needs to make are interesting and important. There are so many avenues to explore and so many combinations of faction and player mats to combine, that tactics and strategies need to adapt for different combinations.

However, I will stress the importance of the popularity track. A low popularity can prove damaging as it acts as a multiplier for end game scoring. In my plays of Scythe, that seems to be the only consistent strategy that I use.

I’ve read in forums online that the game can suffer from players taking too long on turns, which has disengaged and distracted players. I’m lucky enough to be in an analysis paralysis-free game group so I haven’t been a victim of this, but I can see how this can be a problem. If you or a member of your game group has a tendency to overthink a game when too many choices are offered, then the playtime can take a bit longer than previously mentioned.

I have not played the solo game of Scythe so I can’t comment on how it plays or if it’s any good. The two player game is fine, but is a lot less confrontational. In fact, there is rarely a combat situation at all! I think the sweet spot for the game is at four players. Having five or more players would result in too many combats in my opinion, and if you’re looking for combat in an area control game I suggest taking a look at Kemet.

All in all Scythe’s ability to drag me into it’s theme and core mechanisms has seen it become my favourite game I’ve ever played. I enjoy the engine building, intimidation before the war and the sheer amount of choices available to players. The production value is through the roof and it’s a game that will be in my collection for a very long time.

The Great War is over, but the consequences are still there, even during the 1920's. In Scythe, created by Stonemaier Games, it's up to you to lead your faction, earn resources, gain fame and fortune, establish a new empire, and become a new leader of the devastated Eastern Europa.

Board Set-Up

Before you can call yourself a leader, you’ll need to know the rules for Scythe (designed by Jamey Stegmaier). First of all, go ahead and get information about the game board. The map is divided into territories, and each one has its own resources and/or objects you can use if you have Mechs and/or Workers there.

You’ll notice a bunch of other things all over the map, and here are some basic instructions:

  • Encounter Tokens (Green compass) - There are 11 tokens, and each of them should be placed on the designated place in the map.
  • Resources and Coins - There are four different resources available (food, oil, wood, and metal), there are coins and multipliers tokens. Take all of them and place them near the board in a supply area.
  • Combat Cards (Yellow) - Shuffle these cards and put them on the board. Once you’re out of combat cards, reshuffle the deck and start over.
  • Factory Cards (Purple) - Shuffle these cards and place them face-down on the board. You should place one card more than there are players in the game (if there are three players, put down four cards). Put the rest of the cards back to the box.
  • Objective Cards (Beige) - Shuffle the deck and put it on the board.
  • Encounter Cards (Green) - Shuffle the deck an put it on the board.
  • Structure Bonus Tile: Randomly pick one of the structure bonus tiles and face it up below Popularity Track.

Faction Selection

Every player in Scythe will randomly receive a Faction mat and Player mat, and sit near their home base. These mats will indicate their starting cards and track positions on the far right of each mat.

Faction Mat

  • Power Token - Put your power token on the indicated level of the Power Track. You spend power during the combat.
  • Combat Cards - Draw the indicated number of combat cards. Their number is public information, but the content should be kept as a secret.

Player Mat

  • Objective Cards - Draw the indicated number of these cards and keep their content secret. Once everyone took their card, put the deck back in the box.
  • Popularity Token - Place this token on the indicated level of Popularity Track.
  • Coins - Gain the indicated number of coins and put them on your Faction Mat. These will be important at the end of the game, so keep earning them.

Continue the set-up by placing your Character on your faction’s home base, and two workers on the territories that are connected to your base by land. Workers can’t move across the river, only Mechs that are carrying them can.

You’ll notice there is more information on your Faction and Player mats, so go ahead and read the Quick-start Card, so you can finally begin your conquest.

How to Win?

Your goal in Scythe is to make your faction the wealthiest and most powerful in Eastern Europa. You’ll do this by exploring and conquering new territories, producing workers and resources, deploying Mechs and engaging in combats with other players.

Once you manage to accomplish an achievement, go ahead and place the star on the designated space. The game will end when a player places the sixth star on the Triumph Track. One star will be earned for any of the following:

  1. Have 16 power.
  2. Have 18 popularity.
  3. Win two different combats (earn start for each).
  4. Reveal one completed objective card.
  5. Engage all four recruits.
  6. Build all four structures.
  7. Deploy all four Mechs.
  8. Complete all six upgrades.

The main goal in Scythe is to generate the greatest wealth at the end of the game. Coins can be accumulated during the game, but the majority of them will be received once the game ends, during the end-game scoring.

There are three scoring categories:

  • For every star token placed.
  • For every territory controlled.
  • For every two resources controlled area.

Keep in mind that the number of coins will depend on your level on the Popularity Track, so try and be nice to your workers.

Closing Comments on Scythe

If you think that this is complex, wait until you open the box and start reading the rulebook. Luckily, it is well written and illustrated, so you’ll be playing Scythe in no time. This game is probably one of the best board games ever made, and you and your friends will enjoy it for a long time.

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."

Don't forget that you can get Invaders From Afar right now at Zatu Games as well as the original game and the brand new, The Wind Gambit!

*Credit for the images go to Jakub Rozalski

There are many types of democracy. Jacksonian. Westminster. Liberal. And now Zatu. To exercise it like a well-toned pair of thighs, we asked gamers on the web for their opinions on Scythe, arguably this year's most successful and sought-after title.

Here's what they had to say, divvied by tone of response:

The Positive

Codeshark says:

Scythe is a masterpiece. It combines beautiful artwork and great mechanics. I enjoy the tense anticipation of combat that is missing from a lot of Euros. It strikes that perfect balance between a dice chucking luck fest and a low conflict Euro. Combat is possible, but potentially expensive.

nucleomancer says:

Despite its intimidating appearance, Scythe is VERY easy to learn. After your first game you will have a firm grasp of the things you can do, and you are ready to try different strategies for your next game.

It allows for a great deal of flexibility in achieving victory. Combat is certainly not a requirement for that.

The game is well balanced and victory usually hinges on a difference of less than 10 points (about 10% of the winner's final score.)

automator3000 says:

It's a smooth, accessible game. I do like that it rewards a balanced style of play - it'd be difficult to have a win by focusing on a single goal and chasing that to the end. You need some popularity, you need some territory. You need to at least present the threat of military strength. But of course you can't do everything - so you need, but not too much, and focus, but not too much.

Visually it's the greatest game (especially with the upgraded resource bits and coins). Gorgeous art on the cards, nice minis, beautiful map that is also clear in presentation.

It's light. Compared to its looks, it's light. With all the various decks of cards and minis and map hexes, you can forgive folks for expecting a deep deep game. That's not a bad thing, it's just as neutral as saying "this thai food is not very spicy."

The Negative

Zugare says:

I'll be a dissenter and say it's not great. I don't find the decisions in the game very interesting. It plays longer than it feels satisfying. There are a lot of neat mechanics that end up feeling like you aren't doing anything exciting. The star system means everyone kind of does the same thing every game. The combat is pretty rare and boring.

beatspores is on board:

I agree. I really, really, wanted to love Scythe but it felt absolutely dead to me. I love upgrades in games and while the top-bottom upgrade mechanism is kind of cool and novel, to me at least, the action doesn't change the game at all really.

In my opinion, Scythe lacks any kind of satisfaction found in other games from say making a really powerful move yourself or correctly anticipating an opponent's move. People were saying that there is a kind of Cold War suspense in the looming possibility of war breaking out, which I very much looked forward to. In reality there is little to nothing to carefully consider ahead of or during the fights.

The experience of playing Scythe has neither colour nor contrast.

dispatch134711 has brought some nails for this coffin:

And the relatively neutral

dispatch134711 (again) says:

The factions require different strategies and therefore a few games are required before this is truly possible. I'm only three games in, in my second game I was confused but ultimately relatively successful with Germany but I struggled badly knowing what to do with the Nords in my third game. The clearest path to even starting the game is pretty opaque sometimes.

So there you have it: beautiful artwork, masterpiece, mild thai cuisine, absolutely dead. A comprehensive overview of Scythe.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • A great theme.
  • Lots of choices in engine building.
  • Superb production quality.

Might not like

  • Playtime increases with player count.
  • Amount of choices count induce analysis paralysis.