Scythe – First Impressions

After nine painfully long months of drooling over incredible artwork, staring wide-eyed at teasers of miniature models, and daydreaming of being the mech-lord of Eastern Europa … the wait is finally over! Scythe has arrived!

Fresh from GenCon2016, we threw this bad boy on the table, hastily tore off the shrink-wrap, took a moment to inhale the glorious aroma of plastic and cardboard, and dug into Stonemaier Games‘ newest offering: Scythe!

The Anticipation

Just in case you have been living under a cyber-rock, last October this game lit up Kickstarter and within five days enticed over 10,000 supporters to pledge a million bucks! The anticipation has been intense! The amazing artwork by Jakub Rozalski instantly transports the imagination to an alternate timeline where armies, championed by massive smog-belching mechs, fight for control of Eastern Europe shortly after the first World War. The fusion of natural scenes, such as rural farmlands and tranquil forests, roamed by colossal, industrial-age, killing machines is simply fascinating. Between the theme and artwork, I’ve been so pumped to play this game!

Quick Overview

In Scythe each player leads a faction for control of the lands and resources of a mechanized, post-WW1 Eastern Europe. The game ends when a player has achieved 6 objectives which are tracked as the game progresses. The player who has amassed the most wealth wins. In addition to coins on hand, your final wealth is bolstered by the amount of hexes and resources under your control and the number of objectives that you have completed.

The gameplay is very simple, and turns are played pretty quickly. Despite the speed, each decision carries massive, strategic weight as you attempt to maximize your situation. Each player has a player mat that is divided into four zones. Each zone has a top-row action and a bottom-row action. On your turn, you pick a zone (must be different from the zone you picked last turn) and take either/neither/both of the actions in that zone and pay the specified cost. Some examples of the different top-row actions include moving units on the map, creating resources/workers, gaining coins, and gaining military power that you spend like a currency in combat. The bottom-row actions include things like building structures onto the map, deploying mechs, and upgrading your player mat so that your future actions are more beneficial and cost less to activate.  Though each player mat has the same four top-row actions and four bottom-row actions, each mat is unique in how the actions are paired within each zone.

In the beginning, your faction is relatively secure on the edges of the map and bordered by impassible rivers. However, players will soon build a tunnel or upgrade their mechs so that they can branch out into the middle of the map. Each faction has a unique hero miniature that can traverse the map, fight alongside your mechs in combat, and discover one-time events that greatly boost your faction but typically at a cost. Heroes can also journey to the lucrative factory hex in the center of the map that offers each player a once per game factory card that adds a fifth action zone to the player’s play mat for the remainder of the game.

Board-control is extremely important in Scythe. When produced, resources stay on the map in the hex that produced them until they are used (or moved) and are vulnerable to being stolen if an opponent takes control of the hex. Also, control of the factory hex at the end of the game is highly coveted because it counts as three hexes during scoring.

Between the artwork, components, gameplay, and game length, Scythe feels very epic while still fitting into a 2-3 hour gaming window. Additionally, the game comes with an achievement sheet where players get to autograph up to two specific achievements per game for added glory and posterity.

What I love:

  • Quality The game looks absolutely incredible. Everything from the hero and mech models (which differ depending on your faction), components, and game board, looks incredible! The player mat has indents so that pieces fit snugly into place and icons are used very well across all components to allow for quick game play. This is truly a game made by gamers.
  • Mechanics As someone who appreciates both Euro and American-style games, Scythe is a mix of the best of both worlds. I think it leans closer to a Euro-game with a heavy focus on economy and efficiency but has some favorite mechanics from Ameritrash games such as being able to attack and steal resources from your opponents, deep theme, and an encounter deck that reminds me of beautifully illustrated Chance Cards from Monopoly.
  • Speed The play speed is amazing. Turn actions are straight-forward but have very deep and far-reaching effects on the game. Though each decision is very strategic, playing out a turn is extremely quick.
  • Theme I love how the artwork mixes the natural world with industrialization. It’s like Isengard meets the Shire .
  • Epicness I am amazed how epic this game feels all while offering lightning fast turns and a play time of 2ish hours.

What fell short:

  • Encounter Cards look amazing (each card has unique artwork from Rozalski). It seems like they were meant to add some sort of story and realness to the ongoing struggle playing out on the board (something like the crossroads deck in Dead of Winter). I like the idea of trying to create more depth than just wooden and plastic pieces running across a map. Unfortunately, this mechanic missed the goal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with what the encounter deck does to the game. I just think this mechanic fell a little short of being truly great.
  • Interaction Though your opponent can attack you and attempt to steal control of your hexes and resources, in our first play through there was little to no reason to worry about what your opponent is doing. Instead it seemed better to focus on maximizing and protecting your own economy. Maybe we were all too cautious. I’m very interested to play more and hear from the board-game community concerning this.
  • Storage At every turn I was amazed at the amount of gamer-friendly thought that went into this game. Everything from teaching aids and reference cards to the amazing play mats that eliminate pieces getting accidentally bumped out of position. After all that, the game was disappointing in the storage department when the game concluded. It doesn’t even have a tray or sorter for the cards or pieces. Just a diagram on the side of the box on how to lay components in an empty box.

Overall Thought:

Scythe is a beautiful looking, medium-weight strategy game that has engrossing theme and an epic feel that fits easily in a single play session. It has lived up to the hype and will have a definite place on our table for a long time!

Thoughts, opinions, questions about Scythe? Please leave us a comment!