Scythe can be many things to many gamers. It could be a war game, a worker placement game or an area control game. It all depends on your situations, your general strategy and the country you’re playing.
For new players it looks daunting but ends rewarding whether you win or not. That’s what makes Scythe one of the best board games in print—the accomplishment you feel is palpable even if you finish last. You know that you’ve gained a measure of intelligence and you immediately want to get back on the table and make right the mistakes you made the first time around.
And unlike another great game I reviewed for Not Part of Your Scene, 7 Wonders Duel, this game is best with a larger group even though you could play it solo.
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From before you even tear the cellophane off the the box, Scythe exudes originality. The backstory would have drawn me in despite all the hype surrounding the game. The write up on Stonemaier Games website is even better:
It is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as “The Factory,” which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.
Scythe (1-5 players, 115 minutes) is a board game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. It is a time of farming and war, broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and valor.
In Scythe, each player represents a fallen leader attempting to restore their honor and lead their faction to power in Eastern Europa. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.
The Personal Experience
All the popularity of Scythe and my group barely got it to the table a couple of months ago. At the time of this writing, we’ve played it twice. Our group consists of avid board game players, collectors who are good at board games and beginners. I’m also there but not sure where I fall.
Scythe is one of those game that is either too hyped, or so good and hyped heavily enough it has garnered some disdain. Most negative comments don’t fall into the pit of disdain but I see plenty of people across the web saying, “It’s okay I guess”.
Even as a beginner who hasn’t won yet after two plays (I took second place in a 5 player game and third place in a four player game) it’s easy to see why this game has such a huge passionate community on Facebook.
And I can see I have only touched the surface of the game. For example the lunacy and excitement I see for people who are playing the legacy expansion Rise of Fenris makes me hope I can hold together a gaming group to play through thematic chapters in the future. I might have to go two players and play with my wife but I’ll burn that bridge when I get there.
On a personal level, Scythe excites me and the gameplay has drawn me in. But the game is more than it looks if you were just to only read the back story or see a screen shot of it being played.
For the Beginner
Beginners will notice a few surprising things when playing Scythe for the first time. The first one is, despite the giant robot war machine mechs in the game and the Risk like map for a game board, there is no actual destruction of pieces or elimination of players. Everyone plays until the very end and if your pieces are defeated in combat, they simply lose control of your area.
Your main goal is to occupy as much of the map as possible, hold as much popularity as possible and finish as many objectives as possible. At the end of the game all of those (and a few other things) are translated into gold (which is spent during the game but at the end of the game are basically just points) and the player with the most gold or points wins.
It is typical in these reviews for me to offer basic strategy, but the truth is this game is much deeper than my meager two plays. You come out way ahead if you realize from the start that fighting isn’t the answer. That’s the only bit of strategy I can offer at this point. But that’s where the greatness of Scythe lives. It can be a lot of things to a lot of different people depending on the style of play desired and the situation in which you’re placed.
All of that is before you buy the expansion that adds two additional countries, the expansion that adds airships (that DO NOT expand battle or change it directly) and finally the expansion that adds a narrative and true immersive experience.
Scythe is a game to be enjoyed and played many times. It’s one that will have it’s stories and lore built around your gaming group and it’s something that is worth the price and time if want a game that is equal parts engaging, thematic and strategic.