Tobold's Blog
Sunday, January 09, 2022

Friends of mine got the board game Scythe for Christmas, and we are planning to play it together. Scythe is highly rated on BoardGameGeek, but I never played it, and I don't have a physical copy. I did however have Scythe: Digital Edition in my large library on unplayed Steam games. So I installed that one and played a few games, in order to understand the rules and basic strategies.

It turns out that Scythe is very different from what it appears to be on first sight. If you look at the artwork and the board, you could think that this is a game in which you build giant mechs and conquer a hex-based board in a kind of 4X gameplay. In reality a game of Scythe has about 20 turns, and in only about 2 of them you get involved in any combat. You mostly use your mechs to transport your workers, and only the first two combat wins actually count for victory points. If you fight more, you lose victory points, and potentially the game. Also you lose the power and cards you need for fighting when fighting, so every battle makes you weaker and a potential target for others. In the end you learn to avoid battle unless absolutely necessary.

What Scythe is at its heart is an engine-building Euro game (cleverly disguised with American game style thematic elements). Every turn you need to select one of four columns on your player board. Each column has a top action and a bottom action, but the top action is relatively cheap, while the bottom action costs more resources. The basic strategy is to plan your moves in a way that you can do both, which would be the most efficient way to progress. Every bottom action, when done a certain number of times, gives you one star and the game ends when a player has 6 stars. There are enough different possibilities to gain stars that you could win a game without the 2 stars you could potentially gain by winning a fight. And you could even win without having 6 stars, you just need the most victory points at the end and another player ending the game by reaching his 6th star somewhere.

The base game has 5 starting nations and 5 player boards for a possible 25 combinations. An expansion increases that to 7 nations and 7 player boards, for 49 combinations. That produces quite some replay value for the average player. Hardcore players know the winning strategies for all of these combinations, and at least the first moves happen without any interaction with other players, making these known openings a sure bet. Later in the game you can have some attacks, and thus unpredictable outcomes, although there are very few random elements in the game other than what cards you draw. Ultimately there is a lot less player interaction than one might think. Depending on your preferred board game style, that might be a positive point or a negative one. At the very least the game is pretty, has a good table presence, and works well, sometimes even elegantly. It's a good compromise if you don't want to play purely abstract complex Euro games, but don't want to play fully thematic and somewhat random American style games either.


I played it once with some friends, I don't remember much except that you keep repeating the same actions over and over. If there was combat, I don't remember anything about it. I wasn't impressed and I ranked it in the class of "high on boardgamegeek because it costs a ton of money, and after spending a lot you overevaluate stuff". If I have the chance I may try it again, but I will not go out of my way to do so.
I should try increasing the end condition to 8 stars because it's one of those games where you finally get your resource engine built and are ready for some battles when the game usually just abruptly ends. Sometimes no one has even claimed the factory yet because we've been just content in our own little corners of the map and not wanting to spend resources for river crossing.
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