Scythe

I’d set a trap, and he wasn’t very happy about it. The end was nigh, and I had spread myself in anticipation, but even so, there was no way I could end the game on my turn… or was there!

It had to be him, sitting there all smug, knowing that next turn he would spread his units far and wide, place his last structure, and with that star, end the game – he had winner written all over his face.

I’d taken a move action last turn and used it wisely to be in as many territories as possible. I already had a decent stock of resources, and plenty of coin in hand; by my reckoning I was in front, but only just, as I only had four stars down.

I placed my token on my Factory card, and as the top action wouldn’t benefit me, I just chose to make a move; one unit up to two times. I picked up a mech and moved it casually into one of his territories; he glanced up at me and frowned.

I hardly had any power, but I did have a power card, which I chose to play. He, on the other hand, had plenty of power, he also had a couple of resources to protect, and he added a power card to his dial.

The big reveal – I had nothing to show on my dial, a big fat zero, and my power card was a lowly number two. He buried me. His face held that annoying half grin that had been there the entire game, that is until I pointed out that he’d just earned a star for that… his sixth star. His final, game ending star!

After much haranguing, rule consulting, and finally adding up of the scores, I sat back, taking a little pride in that final manoeuver. I had finished a close second, someone had more money in the bank than I realised, but at least Mr Smug over there didn’t win!

(Just to clarify… the above is a fictitious account, and the characters bare no resemblance to anyone I have ever played Scythe with, in the past, present, and hopefully, the future!)

Scythe - Box Art
  • Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
  • Publisher: Stonemaier Games
  • Artist: Jakub Rozalski
  • Year Released: 2016
  • Players: 1-5
  • Playing Time: 90-115 minutes
  • Ages: 14+
  • Recommended Retail Price: £66.99

Scythe, the multi-award-winning board game featuring the amazing art of Jakub Rozalski. After owning the game for a few years now, I though it about time I put pen to paper… or at least fingers to keyboard!

Be prepared, this is going to be lengthy!


What’s in the box?

Scythe - What's in the box?
A fair example of what’s in the box!
  • 1 Quick-reference guide
  • 2 Rulebooks (Main rulebook and Automa rulebook)
  • 1 Achievement sheet
  • 1 Game board
  • 5 Player mats
  • 5 Faction mats
  • 42 Combat cards
  • 28 Encounter cards
  • 23 Objective cards
  • 12 Factory cards
  • 5 Riverwalk cards
  • 5 Quick-start cards
  • 19 Automa cards
  • 4 Automa star tracker cards
  • 8 Automa reference cards
  • 6 Structure bonus tiles
  • 2 Power dials
  • 80 Cardboard coins
  • 12 Multiplier tokens
  • 12 Encounter tokens
  • 80 Wooden resource tokens (20 each of food, metal, oil, and wood)
  • 5 Character miniatures
  • 20 Mech miniatures
  • 155 wooden player tokens (action, popularity, power, star, structure, recruit, worker, and technology tokens)

How does it play?

If you’re familiar with how the game plays, then feel free to take the bottom action and upgrade yourself straight to, ‘So, what do I think?’

I think the best way to show how the game plays is through an example turn or two, so here goes…

After randomly taking a Faction and a Player Mat, the player sets out his two workers on the territories next to his home base and places his character at home.

Scythe -Example turn
The Crimean Faction starting position

The Mats are set up by placing the mechs, stars, cubes, structures, and workers in their starting positions, like so…

Scythe -Example turn

… and the player draws his starting money, places his popularity marker, and draws objective cards, as indicated on the Player Mat, as well as placing his Power Marker and drawing an amount of Combat cards as shown on the Faction Mat.

Scythe - Example turn
The Faction and Player Mats detail starting cards etc…

The moves carried out below are not necessarily the best available, but are done to show how the game works.

On the very first turn, the player has the option of choosing any of the top row actions: Trade, Bolster, Move, Produce, and then may, if possible, choose to do the associated bottom row action too – Upgrade, Deploy, Build, or Enlist.

Playing the Crimean Faction, I see that my two workers are on territories that would produce food (Farm) and a worker (Village). I place my action token on the produce section of the Player Mat. I can now produce one resource per worker in up to two territories, so I place one food resource in the Farm, and take the left most worker from the Player Mat and place it in the Village. If this worker uncovered a cost symbol on the Mat, then the next time I took this action I would have to pay the indicated additional cost (all accumulative) – Power, Popularity, Coins.

Scythe - Example turn
I’ve taken the worker to place in the Village…
Scythe - Example turn
…and I’ve added a food resource to the Farm.

The associated bottom row action is Enlist, but I haven’t enough resources to cover the cost. If I had, then I would remove four food from my territories (they don’t all have to be on the same one) and carry out the action. Enlist enables me to remove one of the recruit markers from the Player Mat and place it on the Faction Mat, claiming one of the four one-time bonuses – 2 Power, 2 Coins, 2 Popularity, or 2 Combat cards.

Scythe - Example turn
You can claim one of these one-time bonuses.

Removing the recruit token uncovers one of the four on-going bonuses – Power, a Coin, Popularity, or a Combat card. Whenever either I, or the player to the immediate left and right, take that bottom row action in the future, then the player gains the indicated bonus. Taking the Enlist action also gains me two coins..

Scythe - Example turn
If I used this recruit, then I would gain 1 popularity when the build action is carried out.

Whilst pondering over the bottom row action, the next player can be begin their turn, thus speeding up the gameplay.

On my next turn it helps to have been thinking ahead, and what I wish to achieve. I would really like to deploy a Mech, but to do this I need 3 Steel, so I need to work towards that aim. I can’t take the same action twice, and so I place my token in the Move section.

Scythe - Example turn

This currently allows me to either, move two different units to an adjacent territory, or to gain a coin. I move one worker from the Village territory, into the one that produces Steel (Mountain). I then move my Character from its home base into the Farm. Again, I haven’t the current resources on the board to take the bottom row action, which in this case is Build.

Build allows me to take one of the four structures – Monument, Mill, Mine, Armoury – from the Player Mat, and place it in one of my territories containing a worker. Once placed, I will gain the buildings benefit: Monument gains me 1 popularity when I take the Bolster action; Mill works as an extra territory when I take the produce action, producing one of whatever resource that territory provides; Mine acts as a tunnel that only my Faction can use; Armoury gains me 1 Power whenever I take the trade action.

Scythe - Example turn
If I built the Monument, then I would gain 1 popularity every time I used the Bolster action.

It pays to take note of the in-play Structure Bonus Tile, which was drawn at the start of the game, as you can gain a bonus at the end of the game for where your structures are placed.

The following turn I took the produce action again, gaining another worker and 1 Steel. I still haven’t the resources to take the Enlist bottom row action.

Scythe - Example turn
How things look so far.

Next time round I take the Trade action. I must pay a coin to gain any two resources, which I place on territories containing a worker (workers are not a resource and cannot be gained by taking the trade action). I take 2 Steel and place them on the Mountain territory.

Scythe - Example turn

The bottom row action for Trade is Upgrade (the bottom actions may be under different top row ones on the various Player Mats, and their costs may vary). To take this I would need 3 Oil, so again, I’m currently unable to do this. If I could, thought, I would pay the cost and then take one cube from a top row action, thus increasing its capability, and place it in one of the available slots of the bottom row actions. This reduces the cost of that action.

Scythe - Example turn
To upgrade I would take any top action cube, in this case increasing the number of popularity I could gain…
Scythe - Example turn
…and place it in a bottom action, thus reducing the cost.

Finally, I get to place my Mech. For this I place my token in the Bolster section and gain 2 Power on the power track. If I’d upgraded this previously, then I would have been able to gain 3 Power, and If I’d built the monument, I would also have gained 1 Popularity. I can now take the bottom row action, Deploy.

Scythe - Example turn

I remove 3 Steel from my territories, then take one of the Mechs from my Faction Mat and place it where I have at least 1 worker. Removing a Mech from the Mat uncovers a special ability. Of the included Factions, one of these is always Riverwalk, which enables your Character and Mech to cross rivers, though only to the specified territory types, and another is Speed, which increases the movement range of your Character and Mechs by an extra hex. The other two abilities are specific to their Faction.

Scythe - Example turn
Deploying a Mech uncovers a special ability – you can choose any Mech to deploy.

Mechs have some useful abilities of their own. If Riverwalk is uncovered, then along with the Character they can cross rivers, and they can also carry workers and resources. They can pick up and put down workers/resources at any point during their move. They are also capable of combat.

If a Character or Mech moves into a territory with another Factions unit in, then Combat may ensue. If the territory only contains another’s workers, then they will automatically be sent to their home base and you lose 1 popularity for each worker, and you gain control of any resources left behind. But, if the territory contains other Mechs or a Character, then combat is to be carried out.

Each involved player takes a Power Dial, on which they will secretly select the number of power points they wish to spend. They must have the available Power to spend on the Power Track, with the maximum being 7. To this they can then add 1 Power cards per combat unit within the disputed territory. These cards vary in value from 2 to 5. The players then reveal their totals simultaneously, with the highest declared the winner.

Scythe - Power dials
The Power dials

The loser moves all units back to their home base and gains a Combat card if they spent at least 1 Power. The winner gains control of the territory, along with any resources left behind by the loser. They also get to place 1 Star on the Triumph track if they haven’t already claimed 2 victories.

Stars can also be placed for the following:

  • Complete all 6 Upgrades.
  • Deploy all 4 Mechs.
  • Build all 4 Structures.
  • Enlist all 4 Recruits.
  • Have all 8workers on the board.
  • Reveal 1 objective card.
  • Have 18 Popularity.
  • Have 16 Power.
Scythe - Triumph Track
The Triumph Track.

When a Faction places their sixth star the game ends immediately, and end game scoring is carried out.

The winner is the player with the greatest number of coins. These are accumulated throughout the game and from end-game scoring.

The player’s final position on the Popularity track indicates a multiplier for working out the gain in coins within in each of three categories.

Scythe - Popularity Track
The Popularity Track.
  1. Stars placed – Gain the indicated number of coins for each star your Faction placed.
  2. Territories – Gain the indicated number of coins for every territory your faction controls.
  3. Resources – Gain the indicated number of coins for every 2 resources your Faction controls.

The player also gains any Structure bonus that they may have gained by the positioning of their Structures.

The Player with the greatest number of coins wins.

The Factory

The Factory is a special territory located at the centre of the board. It does not produce any resources, but it does count as 3 controlled territories for final scoring. It also provides a unique benefit to any Faction that visits it for the first time, in the form of a Factory card.

Scythe - The Factory
The Factory sits in the centre of the board.

These cards add an extra section to the Player Mat, providing the player with an additional action they can take. The number of cards are limited to the number of players plus one, and on controlling the Factory for the first time the player gets to one and adds it to the end of the Player Mat, thus reducing the options for the next player who arrives there.

Scythe - Factory cards
An example of the Factory cards.

I certainly haven’t covered everything in the above, but hopefully I’ve provided enough to give you a feel for the game.


So, what do I think?

There’s a lot going on here, so I won’t be covering everything; this post is likely to be long enough as it is!

Components

This, as one has come to expect from Stonemaier Games, is a quality production. The cards, player and Faction mats, and the power dials, all have a lovely linen finish, with stunning artwork cropping up everywhere.

The miniatures, whilst not the most detailed in the world, are more than acceptable for a board game in which they are by no means the main focus. Even then, each faction’s Mechs are different when they could easily have just made them differing colours. The same applies to the wooden worker meeples, each faction having their own unique pose.

It’s this attention to detail that makes the production stand out. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make us smile the most: the inclusion of more than enough plastic Ziploc bags, complete with a thoughtful hole; The two plastic resource containers; storage trays for the minis; and the little storage diagram on the side of the box, which is a big help when trying to cram everything back in!

Scythe - How to put it away!
How handy is this!

As I mentioned, the artwork is superb, and every bit of it tells its own story. You pick up a Faction mat, and just by looking at the character and their surrounding environment enables you get a feel for just who they and what they represent. But it’s the encounter deck where the art really shines, but more of that shortly.

Scythe - Faction Mats
Faction Mats.

The box art is good enough to frame and hang on your wall – there’s a depth to the image, and the artist cleverly draws your eye from the peasant farmers in the foreground to the battling ground forces in the rear, complete with menacing, giant mechs.

The graphic design is also excellent throughout; everything is easy to read and the symbology obvious.

The player mats are double depth, and the cubes fit the recesses nice and snug, so you haven’t got to be mindful of knocking the mat and sending things sliding out of position. The recesses also make it obvious what goes where, which makes upgrading nice and easy, as you move a cube from one recess to another.

Scythe - Player Mats
Player Mats

I’d say my only criticism of the components, and it is a very minor one, is the colour of the encounter tokens. You can guarantee that, every time I pack the game away, I end up leaving one or two on the board, as they just don’t stand out – as I say, very, very minor!

Oh! Yes, the board, that reminds me. The board is big, which it needs to be, and double sided – the reverse has enlarged hexes for use with the expansion board – ideal when playing with the increased player count that the Invaders From a Far expansion gives you – but its size means you have to be careful when unfolding it. It is all too easy to be holding it in the wrong place and have it flap open on you, which slowly degrades the folds, and over time you may need to give it a little TLC.

Other than that, the board is excellent. The Triumph, Popularity, and Power tracks are large and clear enough for everyone to see, and the background landscape doesn’t distract you from what’s going on around the board.

Theme

Set in an alternate-history 1920’s, the provided backstory is short, allowing the pervading artwork to add embellishments.

The ashes from the Great War still darken the snow in 1920’s Europa. 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 Rulebook

There is also a paragraph dedicated to each character, which provides a little of their background, and a section giving a thematic reason why each Faction has the ability they have.

All this sets the scene quite nicely and undoubtedly, before your first game, you’ll be imagining yourself carrying out great deeds as the leader of such and such Faction, and valiantly leading them into battle or pushing them towards greatness through clever economic play.

But, once you get into your third or fourth turn, you will inevitably have forgotten all about the theme, and be busy concentrating on just what it is you want to be doing three turns ahead! Then, though, you draw an encounter card, and suddenly, you’re thinking about how good it would be to share some of those coins you’ve been hoarding with those farmers over there!

Scythe - Encounter cards

Without the encounter cards the theme would be lost, as the gameplay itself has no narrative drive, but these cards cleverly bring a pause to the head scratching and engine building. The frequency they crop up is just enough to bring the theme back to the surface without slowing the game, and again, it’s the brilliant artwork that must take the credit.

Rather than reading out situational text, and giving the player a choice of options, the card art depicting a scene, with a choice of options for the player to then choose from. ‘A picture paints a thousand words,’ and that’s certainly true here; more often than not I found myself telling a simple tale of what was happening within the scene, and I thought it was a good way to keep the theme alive.

Rules

The rulebook is 31-pages of glossy loveliness. It really is well written and presented, with pictured examples and easy to understand explanations. I did have to refer to it a fair amount for the first game or two, but that wasn’t because things were difficult to grasp; there is quite bit to take in, and it didn’t help with me having the memory of a goldfish!

I don’t recall ever having to take to the Internet to clarify a rule, which is always a refreshing feeling these days!

There are a couple of things that do stand out: The rulebook is littered with designer notes and strategy tips, and then there are the quick-start cards. The designer notes give an interesting insight into why certain things are as they are, and what the thinking was behind some of the rulings. The strategy tips are great help when first starting out in the game, as are the quick-start cards. These give the beginner an idea about what to try and achieve with their first few moves, which helps prevent a new player feeling overwhelmed at the beginning.

Gameplay

When you set out on your first game of Scythe, it is easy to form certain impressions: it’s very ‘heads down’ and lacks player interaction; it’s a race to get six stars; there’s not actually a lot for you to do. But, half-way through the game, the proverbial penny will drop, and you realise just what this game is all about.

Let’s start at the beginning with the Faction and Player Mats.

The random selection of these is right where the game really begins. You must consider your basic Faction’s strengths and weaknesses, based upon their abilities, and then work out an initial strategy based upon your Player Mat.

The Player Mats may all have the same top and bottom row actions, but they are paired up differently, and the bottom row costs will also vary. For example: On the Patriotic Mat you may do a Trade top row action, and then pay to do a Build bottom row action, whilst on the Mechanical Mat, Upgrade is the bottom action.

It is this variance of the bottom actions and their cost that forms the heart of Scythe’s strategy, and its utterly absorbing. There are lots of different ways you can make things work, but trying to find the ideal path to victory is a challenge – it’s all about working the resources you have available to improve your ability to gain territories, popularity, and even more resources, all of which, combined with the coins in your hand, will win you the game.

Working your Player Mat to its best does require a certain amount of thought, and you need to be able to think a few moves ahead to get a feel on what you need to do now. The fact that you can’t take the same action on consecutive turns (unless you’re playing the Rusviet faction), means you’re limited to a choice of three top row actions, which doesn’t sound likely to require too much thought, but you’d be surprised…

Let me give you an example: here’s the Mechanical Player Mat

Scythe -Mechanical Player Mat

My current aim is to build a structure, which happens to be the bottom action of move. I have 2 food and 2 oil, but I haven’t currently got any wood, in fact I haven’t got any workers on a territory that produces wood, so I need to work out how to get some more. I could trade, which would give me 2 wood, but that would waste the upgrade bottom row ability, as I only have 2 oil. So, I choose Produce, and gain 1 oil and 2 food.

I now have 4 food and take the bottom row Enlist action. Next turn I take Trade, gaining 2 wood, and take the Upgrade action, using it to free up an extra unit move, and then reduce the cost to build.

So, on my third turn I can now take a move action, and then follow it up with the bottom row Build ability.

As you can see, you want to maximise each turn, not wasting a bottom row action if you can help it. Of course, other things will have to be considered, such as board position, and proximity to the end of the game.

As you can gather, working this out is going to mean fair amount of time staring at your Player Mat, and this can lead to people thinking that player interaction is quite limited, but that isn’t wholly true. You have to keep an eye on the progress of the other players at all times, at least if you don’t want to be caught napping (more of this a little later), and it’s good to get involved when characters have encounters, but there are also opportunities to form alliances, or even bribe others with coin to do your bidding, and there’s also the Enlist action – pay attention to the players either side of you, and what you’re doing that may benefit them, equally, can you turn their strategy into your good fortune? And then, there’s combat.

Whilst not a necessity for winning the game, combat can be used to gain a tactical advantage, especially stealing resources!

I found this an exciting part of the game, and one where you have to keep your wits about you. Creating or placing resources in a vulnerable location is just asking for someone to pounce, especially if they can spend those resources on their move bottom row action. But vulnerable locations aren’t always obvious, especially to inexperienced players.

The more obvious is a location with a tunnel, place some resources here and you’ll suddenly become the focus of certain players’ attention – those who could really use those barrels of oil you’ve just enticingly placed!

To gauge other vulnerable locations, you have to be aware of the other Factions’ abilities, such as the Nordic ability to cross lakes, which can take you by surprise.

Once in a combat situation you better be prepared to put your poker face on, because it’s often a case of trying to second guess what your opponent is going to do. There’s a lot to weigh up here, the basics being: is the territory important to them, how badly will it hurt them to have the units returned to home, where are they on the power track, and how many combat cards are in their hand? Ideally, you want to win the combat spending the minimum amount power, which is a skill all of its own!

Combat doesn’t happen as much as one may think, as conflict takes it out of both the involved parties, and this helps to avoid any one Faction being picked on, at least not too much! Also, unless you’re playing the Saxony Empire, you can only place two stars maximum from combat.

A race for stars? As I alluded to earlier, initially you may see the game as a race to get the six stars, after all, the more stars you have, the more coins you’ll gain from the multiplier, but, and this is the important bit, it also ends the game.

If the Faction and Player Mats are where it all begins, it’s most certainly the placing of that sixth star where it all ends, but it isn’t the aim of the game. This is what you learnt when that penny dropped!

The winner of the game is the one with the most coins, so this is where your focus needs to be; what gets you coins?

Scythe - Money!
It’s all about the money!

When someone places that sixth star, you want to be in the best position possible to rake those coins in: lots of territories, lots of resources, have those structures in the right place, and, of course, have as much cash in the bank as possible.

When it’s you who places that final star to end the game, you’d better be sure you timed it right, and if you did then it’s a great feeling, as everyone else groans, ‘I only needed another couple or so turns!’

But get your timing wrong, and mister smug over there, with only two stars but resources coming out of his ears and a whole pocket full of cash, will smile sweetly, as you crawl back into your hole!

Hopefully, I’ve been able to give an idea of the game, and how, on first impression it may appear like your options are limited, when there is, in fact, a great depth to this game that I for one just loved.

Every game I played felt different to the last, as the combination of Faction and Player Mats varied, and there was always something new to try. I thoroughly enjoyed grinding my brain, trying to work out how to get my engine running in a direction suitable to my starting location, which often meant adapting on the fly as I made mistakes.

How to use the Faction abilities? Which Mech ability should I uncover first? How will this mats Structure abilities tie in with the uncovered Enlist bonuses? There were so many ways to approach strategy that it could easily overwhelm, but the limited number of actual actions I could take made it manageable, and when it all came together, it was great!


Balance and scaling

In terms of balance, I have to say that, so far, I’ve found things to be pretty even, no matter what combination of Faction and Player Mat I started with. However, that might not be how an inexperienced player would see it.

Some combinations are definitely more difficult to play than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbalanced, just that it’s harder to see how to get the best from them. Usually, this is dependent on the resources that are immediately available to you – the ones that your workers start on – meaning that some combinations require you to first figure out how to get the resources you require to get the engine started, but it is possible and I don’t think it leaves you at a disadvantage.

The only time I found a slight niggle with the balance, was when two Factions were right next to each other, and another Faction was well out of the way. This is more of a perception of imbalance than a reality, and it depends upon how the players develop the game. It was easy for adjacent players to be perceived as a threat, and as they were puffing their chests out, the other Faction quietly got on with the business of winning the game!

This feeds nicely into scaling. The game felt a lot tighter as we went up the player count. Expansion became more difficult as other players were all vying for the same territories, and the instances of combat increased, though only slightly.

I found I had to be more cautious, and ensure I didn’t leave any valuable resources unprotected, but I really enjoyed the game when playing at the higher player counts, and I preferred the added pressure it put on me not to make any mistakes.

That doesn’t mean the game isn’t as good with just 2, it’s just that you’re allowed more freedom, and the game can develop into something more like a race, where you try to develop your engine to hit the sweet-spot before the other player, and then expand your territories and resources before placing the final star.

The 2-player game definitely allows you to hone your skills, and in one way reminded me of chess – the best way to improve, is to play people who are good at the game, and learn from them.


Replayability

I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I found the game somewhat addictive.

As soon as a game ended, and scoring complete, I really wanted to crack-on and play again. I think it was because I could see where I went wrong, or maybe because I had an idea on how to improve my strategy, or was it simply a thirst for revenge (or to prove it wasn’t a fluke!)? When the game was out of the box, I didn’t want to put it away!

The multiple combinations of Faction and Player Mat means that, for the first half-dozen or so games, you’ll still be figuring out the best way to go about things. Once you’ve achieved this enlightenment, then you move on to refining your strategy and experimenting.

Once you’re a dab hand, you then try to get your name on the achievement sheet, particularly those hard to do ones, like trying to win without any Mechs!

All of this makes for game that has longevity; a game that will keep you coming back for more, time and time again.


Fun?

I had a wonderful time playing this: discussing those close-run games, relishing the momentous victories, and drowning my sorrows over disastrous defeats.

The great thing is that, even when you lose big, the game doesn’t make you feel stupid, as you can see why and where you went wrong, and know that you won’t make the same mistakes twice (hopefully!). It always feels like you were almost there – that all you needed was another turn or two – and when it does all come together, and your engine purrs along, the feeling you get is so satisfying, and a little bit addictive!


Can I play it… all on my own?

Scythe comes with its own ‘Automa’ deck and rulebook that allows for solo play, and it works very well indeed… once you get the hang of it, that is!

Scythe - Automa
A few cards from the Automa deck

You draw a card from the Automa deck and follow the active scheme displayed, which is basically a set of instructions – a move action, gain stuff, recruit bonus – but there’s a certain amount of fiddliness involved. This stems from the way you select a unit to move, and where it will move to, which involves working out a unit’s ‘neighbourhood’. There’s nothing difficult about it, it just takes some getting used to.

Scythe
Working out neighbourhoods can be fiddly at first.

When first using the system you will have your nose constantly in the rulebook, but it doesn’t take too long before it becomes second nature, and then things flow surprisingly quickly – I found a game against an Automa opponent was much, much quicker than against another player.

The Automa uses a card called the Star Tracker and choosing one of these at the start of the game determines the difficulty. The Automa card points out when the counter is to be moved along the track, and this indicates when a star is to be earned. It also tells the player when it gains the ability to cross rivers and lakes.

Scythe - Automa
Star Tracker cards

It’s such a simple system, but it works really well, and certainly presents a challenge, especially at the highest levels.

Whilst the Automa works very well, I did feel that the games I played changed somewhat and became a concentrated effort of efficiency. The Automa AI works in such a way that it tries to concentrate its units around the factory, and you can use this to your advantage. By initially steering clear of Automa units, you can concentrate solely on your own strategy, and in particular getting that engine running as fast as you can.

The Automa advances along that star track pretty quickly at the higher levels, so you have to be working at optimum to be able to outscore it at the end, and I thought it was a great way to learn various Faction/Player Mat combinations.

Overall, the solo derivative of the game is one that I kept returning to, whether to work on my strategy for a certain combo of mats, or just to enjoy the experience. Either way, it stood up extremely well to repeat play, and, as I could rattle a few games off in quick succession, it made the setup and put away time worthwhile.


Recommended?

As you have probably already made out, I really, really enjoy this game. It floats all my boats, both competitively and solo.

There’s a lovely flow to it; you can see exactly where you will be in three or four turns time – unless someone throws a spanner in the works, that is – and working it all out is thoroughly absorbing. And yet it rarely stutters due to analysis paralysis, as limiting the choice of actions works to keep the pace up, and being able to start your turn whilst the previous player carries out a bottom action also helps.

Glancing inside the box, at all those components, one could easily think it would be a nightmare to set up, but it isn’t, as each player is responsible for their own bits and pieces, and there’s really very little else to think about. Packing away takes a little longer, but the handy diagram on the side of the box helps tremendously in fitting it all back in, nice and neat.

It does take up a lot of table space, though, but it looks good whilst doing it!

The indicated game time isn’t far off, and in most instances, it played a fair bit quicker – about an hour for 2-players and an extra 15-20 minutes per player from there. Solo games can be knocked out in 20 minutes!

Scythe is a medium to medium-light Euro-style game, which does see some player conflict, though that certainly isn’t what the game centres around. It has just enough player interaction to stop you feeling like you’re playing on your own, whilst not too much that it distracts you from the real meat of the game. It will certainly appeal to those who like to think and plan ahead, and, despite being easy to teach and learn, it definitely has a depth that takes some mastering.


My Experiences

Players: 1-5 and plays well at all counts. The solo game is an excellent way to refine your strategy, as is the 2-player game, whilst at the higher player count the game is tight and sees an increase in player conflict but rewards bold play.

Playing time: Solo games can be as quick as 20-minutes, and 2-player games often come in under an hour. Add 15-20 minutes per player after that.

Ages: If they can cope with the medium weight complexity, then there’s no reason for kids not to join in.

Expect to pay: Around £52 (£51.99 on Chaos Cards at time of writing) and worth every penny, as the production is superb.


Extras

Official site – Stonemaier Games

Recommended video review – Tom Vasel

BoardGameGeek page – HERE


In pictures…

5 thoughts on “Scythe

  1. Very much enjoyed this post Justin! 🙂 I’m late to the party because I wanted to take my time reading through it! It sounds quite complicated to start off, but I’m assuming it’s not bad once you pick it up. It also looks as though it’s well suited to solo play, giving you the time to ponder your strategy and actions. On a related note, I think if someone brought out some nice larger scale 1920s mech models based around this game I’d be getting some!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Late to the party? I’m so far behind I haven’t even received the invite!
      Thanks, John. It is actually quite easy to teach and learn, so you can get into it pretty quickly, but there is a depth in strategy that does take some mastering and learning to play the game well takes time.
      Yes, very good solo and you can even play 2-players with the AI playing a third, or even multiple Automa opponents – it’s reasonably flexible.
      The Mechs would look great in a larger scale, obviously they’d require additional detailing as they’re pretty basic, but the just look at the card art and you can get a feel of how these things would look on the tabletop.
      You can upgrade to metal Mechs, but I imagine they are the same scale.

      Liked by 1 person

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