Last night I had the pleasure of playing Scythe for the second time. It was at a great store called Player’s Wanted in Vancouver. Every Thursday a group of gamer’s meets to play games from 6:30 to about 9:00 when the store closes. Last week a group played Scythe and half-way through the game one of the players got up and bought the store’s last copy. So last night there was two games of Scythe going. Nine players all playing the same board game. So does Scythe live up to the hype?
As I look through the pictures I took of the game, I am tempted to not even write a review, but just show pictures. This game is probably one of the coolest looking board games I have ever seen. Each faction has different mechs and a cool leader figure which has an animal. The art is early 20th century steampunk. Even the workers from each faction are different shaped meeples! All the resources are correctly shaped, the oil drums look amazing. And there is something magical about playing a game with really cool pieces. It transports you to a time when you were a child, playing with toys and imagining epic battles in your bedroom. Just the aesthetics of the game make it so that I feel like I will rarely turn down an offer to play Scythe.
“For a game with so many mechs, you’d think there would be more fighting?”
This was a comment during our game last night and likely a common thing to be heard from people playing Scythe. The game is, at it’s heart, a medium-weight resource management game that looks like a skirmish game. Play is fairly fast and easy as players only do one or two actions each turn. Scaffolding the actions is fairly straight forward; produce resources, upgrade you actions to be more efficient, build mechs.
Only near the halfway point of the game do players begin to even have the ability to attack each other. The movement system is structured that each faction crosses rivers in a different manner, and the ability to move needs to be unlocked. So all players have a safe time at the start of the game to get their engine going.
Victory is achieved by placing stars on an objective track. Players gain stars for upgrading their ‘army’, hiring all their workers, building all their mechs, etc. Players also have two objective cards that they can choose one of to complete. The game is not really a point salad, more of several paths to victory that each player must focus on. Once the achievement occurs, players can disregard that specific objective.
As an example, each player can only get two stars for winning battles. This means that during the end game, situations occur where people simply lose battles on purpose, because they cannot get any more points from winning and it is not advantageous to lose strength. There are clever mechanics in terms of battles which I haven’t seen before, such as losing points if you kill an opponents workers. This means players can protect spots on the board not with mechs, but rather with innocent workers.
If I liked this type of game, this would be my favorite board game ever. It looks amazing, it sets up fast, it has decks of cards, a good pace, arc and makes players want to play again. So what’s missing? While playing Scythe I always wonder what I would think about the game if the components didn’t mesmerize me. Did I mention the art of the encounter cards is insane? It makes you want to get the objectives just to see the pictures. But, like I said before, Scythe is just a resource management where players are encouraged near the end of the game to mess with other people’s puzzles. I have heard this game described as a ‘hybrid’, which is to say a euro game with fighting. My favorite kind of game, after card games like Race for the Galaxy with huge decks and combos to explore, are really good euro games. So in terms of it’s euro elements, Scythe comes out a bit weak. It is not that entertaining a puzzle to engage in.
And another comment on the fighting. The first time I played the game, I lost two battles where I had little piles of resources. In Scythe, resources stay on the board, which can encourage other players to come and steal them by winning a battle. At first I thought this was interesting, but it really just amounts to taking a spot from someone in a classic worker placement game with some extra steps added. So I used an action to produce those resources, you came and used some power you were building up to take them from me.
Like I said, I will likely accept a few more matches of Scythe. One thing about the variable faction powers, each faction having three totally different powers that ‘break’ the game rules, makes players want to play again. Somebody wins, or abuses some power and player’s say “ooh, I want to try that faction next time.” Yet I can’t help but feel that Scythe is a bit of a false advertisement. It looks like a skirmish game, but really isn’t. And it’s not quite a very good medium weight euro. Who knows, maybe it’s just so revolutionary I can’t appreciate it yet?
I love the blue mechs! They are spider leg mechs that are also boats and the faction has a power where it can walk on and occupy the lake spots on the board that are off limits to every other player.