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Subject: First impressions on Scythe by someone unaware of the hype rss

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Severijn De Wilde
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Just yesterday, I had a game of Scythe for the first time at a local board gaming night. I did not follow this games apparently impressive kickstarter and never knew it existed or was coming until I saw the box at the gaming night. Always a fan of mechs and light wargames, I immediately solicited to play this game.
Scythe then ramped up the excitement by dropping us in an alternative history 1920's. The war had come and gone, and we were now in Eastern Europe, only with slightly more advanced tech than we had expected. There are mechs now. I played with the Nordic kingdoms, sending out my burly vikingman and his Ox, whilst preparing my longboatwalkers to sprawl out over the map.

Here is a brief overview of how the game plays:
The game takes place on a hexogonal-tiled map of Eastern Europe, most of the action however, takes place on a smaller two-part player board. This board has a top half called the leader, and a bottom one that details what kind of society you have. Your leader board presents you with a starting location, your special powers, mech upgrades and that is it. As an example, I started in the frozen tundra in the North, had a civilization that had mastered how to swim across rivers and my mechs could convert into boats and sail the lakes.
The bottom half detailed the actions you could take. These exist out of moving, trading, production and arming your forces. Every time one of these actions were selected, you could also do a second action detailed on the bottom, which is either upgrading your actions, building a building, build a mech or recruit a meeple. All four of these bottom actions upgrade your player board in one or another way and add a building or a mech to the main board. A game is played by selecting one of the top actions that affect the main game board, and ideally also do whichever bottom action is provided on the player board. The goal of the game is to perform these four actions to earn more coins and achievements. Achievements are simple items like having a fully upgraded mech, or getting all the top action upgrades done or winning one fight as the attacker. The game ends when a player claims six achievements, after which coins are awarded for achievements, territory, popularity and resources. These are added to your coin supply, and the player with the most coins wins.

With that out of the way, let us talk about what this game is and is not, and my thoughts on the merits of this game.

1. This game is not a combat game, nor a 4X game.
While the game presents itself with beautiful mechs, a detailed board and all these points to get through combat, the actual combat in the game is more of an optional thing. You are actively discouraged to go after another player's workers, but there is not a lot to gain in doing so anyway. Combat is useful to gain up to 2 of the achievements and perhaps gain the Mecatol Rex-esque central factory. Combat itself is pretty deterministic and feels rather flat. It is often a foregone conclusion on how a battle will play out.
The game is also not really a 4X game. Sure, it has some minor exploration in some events, but it is lacking in the other X-s. There is not a lot of expanding in the game. You can only field 8 workers and 4 buildings over the game, and you will not need that in most games. There is some exploiting in upgrading your player board, but the last X, exterminating, never happens.
The bottom line here being that I did not really find what I was expecting in this game. It looks like Kemet, acts like it is Twilight imperium or Space Empires 4X while being none of these things. In reality, it is a game about optimizing a victory point engine.

2. Scythe is beautiful.
Credit where it is due. The art in this game is very nice. The components look and feel as cool as they should. A very minor and not serious gripe that I would like to make is that my workers all looked like leprechauns, which made me feel like I was arranging my front garden more than expanding my mighty viking empire. Other than that, expect a lush board with tons of details and great production values across the board.

3. Scythe is a solitary experience.
Perhaps my biggest issue with this game was how limited the player interaction is in this game. Rarely are we planning around another player's actions. Rarely are you changing your move based upon what someone else did. Most of the game takes place on your own player board, away from opposition. The most interaction you have in the game seemed to be limited to a couple of player action upgrades that would trigger whenever anyone performed that action, granting you a resource of one kind. Riveting stuff. Beyond that, our game saw two combat encounters. One for the middle, and one for an objective. Beyond that, there was not really any player interaction. This also leads into the next item...

4. In Scythe, when you get ahead, you stay ahead.
Scythe is in many respects more a racing game, one with all the points in the open. While I only have had one game of it, there didn't really seemed to be anything to stop a runaway leader. There are also no hidden VPs, so it is pretty clear who is going to win the game pretty quickly. Fortunately, the game is done rather quickly for a game of its size, finishing a three player game in about 90 minutes. This brings it closer to Race for the galaxy, which shares this to a lesser degree. In Race for the galaxy, there are still a couple of ways to try and get even again unless for a couple of extreme situations. In Scythe, I am not sure whether there really is a way to get back in the game when you start falling behind. Then again, I only played it once, so there definitely could be.

5. Scythe does not have an arc.
Perhaps my worst gripe with this game is how there were only very little changes over the game between the start and the finish of the game. My mighty Nords set out to explore the landscape. I opted to go for one of the arbitrary objectives that I received straight off the bat. Machines over people. I built a couple of landships and crewed them with a skeleton crew while taking the Mecatol Rex of the map. This granted me my objective, which was one of the six points I needed. I then started deploying additional personnel and started my victory point engine. Right before I would get my final objectives out of the way, the game abruptly ended. It was then that I realized that my ending position is not that far away from the start. I did not have a struggle with other players, nor did I build a civilization out of the two survivors that I started with. Nor did I achieve anything beyond some abstract player board upgrades and my objective. When I looked at the other players, the same applied to them too. Nobody had really done a lot, accomplished something remarkable or had a story to tell. There was no sense of progression. No sense of achievement. It is as if a game of civilization would end when you explore a new tile. So much is still left to tell. Even the encounters one could have throughout the game did not add a lot more than a set of three different options with little context.

Conclusions:
I came in the game with the wrong expectations. I was hoping for a game like Kemet, and got a functional victory point generator game like Seasons. The art is stunning, but the experience itself was not on par. Every time something was explained, I felt like I had seen this somewhere else before, and often better executed. I really missed having a story to tell about my Nords. Overall, I think despite its flaws, this game is still pretty good. It is competent, but somewhat bland and overshadowed by similar, better games. If you are new to boardgaming and want to try a more complicated game, this could be a good starting point.
For everyone else, I would recommend leaving this one in the stores unless if you are really enamoured by the theme and the art. There are just better games in its genre out there. For 4X, try Space empires 4x or FF's Civilization. For area control and better combat, go play Kemet, Forbidden stars or Chaos in the old world. Or if you want something not quite like all of the above, but probably the most similar to to Scythe, but better, go play Eclipse and its expansion.

Based on the rating system of this site, to me this game ends up as a 5-6.
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Dundy O
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Excellent, detailed review. Love the suggestions at the end. Great job. I'd like to read more of your stuff.
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Alexandre P.
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Severijndw wrote:
Combat is useful to gain up to 2 of the achievements and perhaps gain the Mecatol Rex-esque central factory. Combat itself is pretty deterministic and feels rather flat. It is often a foregone conclusion on how a battle will play out.


Combat is also a way to steal resources, to deny a position and/or to mess with the engine of someone else.

For me the game is cold war-like: you have a military force but yu will likely use it only on a few but, if correctly planned, very significant occasions: ideally you win a battle (why go to the battle otherwise), get a star, force your adversary to retreat (and so to spend time to come back), make him lose a territory (which can be his "landing hex" on the centre area) and so potential points, win one and so potential points, get resources you haven't spent time to produce/trade, and then spend them for your bottom-row action.

Of course you will maybe do only one so profitable battle in the whole game but, to me, it's worth it.
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Francois
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I couldn't disagree more, I find threat of combat is what can throw a monkey wrench into the other players pristine production engine.

From reading the boards, I get the feeling that many euro players who like engine building games, hate to take a "sub-optimal" turn and attack the lead player. But, if you don't attack the leader and disrupt his production, you'll never catch up.

The more players the more threats are out there. To make threats real, you'll need to strike once in a while and if you can strike deep in a players home territory, it'll mess with his mind.

Just my 2 pennies
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Dundy O
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Warwolf42 wrote:
I couldn't disagree more, I find threat of combat is what can throw a monkey wrench into the other players pristine production engine.

From reading the boards, I get the feeling that many euro players who like engine building games, hate to take a "sub-optimal" turn and attack the lead player. But, if you don't attack the leader and disrupt his production, you'll never catch up.

The more players the more threats are out there. To make threats real, you'll need to strike once in a while and if you can strike deep in a players home territory, it'll mess with his mind.

Just my 2 pennies


In today's economy, it's a loonies worth.

I agree with you and this element is one of the more misunderstood aspects of the game.
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Alexandre P.
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Warwolf42 wrote:
if you can strike deep in a players home territory, it'll mess with his mind.


In the other hand, he will have less move to do to come back while a defeat in the "central island" will require more moves.
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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I am always amazed that people play this without paying attention to the other players, and then claim that there is no player interaction! They also don't mess with other players and then claim a runaway leader problem. I am 22 plays into Scythe and our final scores are usually within 5 points of each other (solo, 2, 3 and 4 player games). The interaction is not forced until one player starts messing with another players plans, then the whole game changes. To be fair, it often takes a few plays to realize this and the OP only played one game. I couldn't disagree more with the conclusions though. Our games involve paying close attention to other players, whether it is whether to enlist or not, where to place your mechs/workers, which mech abilities to unlock to make the other players nervous, etc. There are tons of ways to interact with other players, they are just styled more after a "cold war" vibe, so the threat is often as much, or more, a part of strategy as actual combat.
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Barry Miller
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That was a well-written review. I don't agree with all of it, but hey, that's why we all have our own boardgaming opinions and are entitled to them.

Probably where I disagree the most is, when considering your five points...

If you believe point #3 to be true, then point #4 always will be, as well!

OTOH, if you stay engaged and watch your opponents, and interdict their actions and plans (nothing solitary about that), then both points #3 and #4 prove to be false.


EDIT: Ah! Was ninja'd by the Reverend as he expressed the exact same opinion that I was typing!

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Pas L
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How can someone unaware of the hype mention they are unaware of the hype? Surely if you're not aware of the hype you wouldn't be referring to it in any way...

Be honest, you know all about the hype.
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David Taranto
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Thank you so much for this review!! I appreciate and respect your point of view and the way you handled the topic.

It seems that most others have already made the counterpoints I would, so I won't belabor them here. I just find it refreshing to be able to read your words and say to myself "Yes, that criticism is true, but that's also exactly why I like it." Different strokes for different folks!
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Phil Campeau
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bgm1961 wrote:

That was a well-written review. I don't agree with all of it, but hey, that's why we all have our own boardgaming opinions and are entitled to them.

Probably where I disagree the most is, when considering your five points...

If you believe point #3 to be true, then point #4 always will be, as well!

OTOH, if you stay engaged and watch your opponents, and interdict their actions and plans (nothing solitary about that), then both points #3 and #4 prove to be false.


Very true. It's anything but a solitaire game. Keeping track of where your opponents are, what they're aiming for, where they might want to build a structure, which resources you can steal for cheap... There are so many reasons this isn't remotely multiplayer solitaire.

To address another point, combat is far from deterministic. If you're always going all-in on battle, you're guaranteeing me an easy win when I swing in after you're done.

I've seen people with 16 power only play 4 on their dial, hoping to conserve some for a later struggle. Beyond that, sometimes it's worth it to deliberately lose a fight, only to come back and reclaim victory in a later turn.

I appreciate the first play analysis, but to me, your complaints tell me that you've only just scratched the surface of the strategy.
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Klaus Kristiansen
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Interesting how different opinions are on this game. Several people have said that one of the things they enjoy is that the game tells a story. Try reading Chris Laudermilk's session reports to see some of these stories. E.g. https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1629523/man-ox-fast
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Alexandre P.
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Klaus O K wrote:
Interesting how different opinions are on this game.


Most of the negative comments I have read are based on "it's not what I was expecting" (especially because of the use of the "4X" label).

Last time I played this game, the 3 others players seemed to say "well, it's not bad but on point 1 the game A is better, on point 2 the game B is better ...".
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Paul Ferguson
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Good review, with some very valid points. I found the overall experience with Scythe to be flat, watered done and a bit to simple. Maybe Scythe could be classed as a 4X for a generation without any attention span. It really needs more interaction, even if it was just the encounter cards that interacted with your neighbors, just something to detract from the solo nature of the game. You point about not really caring about what others do on their turn is so true, this is more so in a 4 or 5 player game.
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Barry Miller
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itmo wrote:
You point about not really caring about what others do on their turn is so true, this is more so in a 4 or 5 player game.

My experience has been, this is how you lose.

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Kris Van Beurden
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bgm1961 wrote:

itmo wrote:
You point about not really caring about what others do on their turn is so true, this is more so in a 4 or 5 player game.

My experience has been, this is how you lose.



... hopefully lose quickly, so the experience is over faster ...
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Severijn De Wilde
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This is all based upon one play, but I will elaborate on why I think this to be the case. The issue is why exactly you would not want to attack. Attacking costs resources. Every attack will take up at least one movement action, some military spent to win it, and one combat card. If you win and push back some workers, it will cost you morale as well. This in turn will take at least one extra action to recoup these losses. Now, assuming that this game is a race to 6 achievements and the most coins, this is a loss of tempo. Add to that that at least in my game, we were with more than 2 players. You would lose tempo against all opponents, meaning you drop behind the non-leader players as well. It is a classic example of the volunteer's dilemma. Things might work out for the better for all non-leaders if one of them spends those resources in an attempt to slow down the leader. On the other hand, it is better to wait and get the free ride if someone else does this first. I guess there is a consolation price for winning a combat, but wouldn't you rather wait and save up your military first to gain a free achievement first? That would deter aggressors as well, killing two birds with one stone.

Now, all of the above is assuming you would even win that attack! What if you would lose? That would be a disaster, having spent 3 different resources for no gain at all. To make things worse, the map is actually big enough that there is no real struggle for resources. This isn't like kemet where there only are 3-6 temples and 1-4 cities to fight over. Our game was played with 3 players, and there was plenty of space for everyone. Maybe this would change with 4 or 5 players, though even then everyone already starts out with 3 resource tiles pretty much exclusive to them, and there are 25 other tiles to contest. I was actually surprised to learn that the game didn't restrict the map depending on the number of players. This even changed how powerful certain factions would be. The Polish player's special ability would only grow more powerful with less players on the board for instance.

No, I do not think that combat would have resolved matters. Even as I was always threatening an attack throughout the game, my opponents could just as easily play around this by defending his workers and hoping that I do not throw away my own game just to play kingmaker in the long run. Also, the combat system is reminiscent of the excellent Dune board game, but that combat system works because that game has high stakes resting on it. Here, a loss in combat as the defender is a minor setback. You often do not even need all the territory you own anyway as you can only gather on 2-3 tiles, and those resources drop in value over the game. Spreading out for a territory grab for final scoring coins can be done in your final moves.

Speaking about the player boards by the way, due to the bottom board being vastly different for each player, it was not easy at all to track what anyone was really doing without interrupting them and go over their board for all the little changes on it. And there was enough to keep me occupied with just my own board in that first game. You could say that this becomes easier with time, but that is not the strongest of rebuttals. Many other games, games with equally lots of information being displayed such as Kemet or food chain magnate, do this in a more easy to read way. Why can't this one do that?

As for "not aware of the hype": I played this at a board gaming night. I was not aware of this game's hype when I decided to give it a go. When it was set up and ready to be played, others would comment in glee about how pretty it looked and how the owners should sell his kickstarter copy because of the prices it was fetching. It became apparent that there was a lot of hype for this game after those occurrences.
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Thaddeus MacTaggart
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I can agree on a lot of points.

Player interaction is rather minimal. Even mech fights are hard to execute as (except as a Rusviet player) you can not move 2 times in a row. Investing in battles takes a lot of turns so the player(s) not involved get an efficiency advantage if two others spenmd a lot of their power and battle cards. If you could optionally do combat next to your upgrading and stuff it would be far more attractive.

What I also find very limiting is the riverwalk abilities. This makes the game very slow and limiting and creates artificial walls. All the detours you have to make to expand cost you way too many turns, which decreases your efficiency a lot.

In the games I played (only 3 thus far) the most efficient player wins the game. Those wandering around fall behind. Blocking the entrance to your area with a big pack of mechs/characters (3+) can in many cases shield off the only entrance to your "territory".

As you can only move (and thus attack) with 3 mechs, a stack of 4 or 5 is very risky to attack, especially when you have acquired lots of battle cards. And in my case (Saxony), them standing on a tunnel. Battles are often done at the end of the game for that last star.

I must admit, I had higher expectations for Scythe.
Even if the game is GORGEOUS.
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Anton Nieuwkoop
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Severijndw wrote:
This is all based upon one play, but I will elaborate on why I think this to be the case. The issue is why exactly you would not want to attack. Attacking costs resources. Every attack will take up at least one movement action, some military spent to win it, and one combat card. If you win and push back some workers, it will cost you morale as well. This in turn will take at least one extra action to recoup these losses. Now, assuming that this game is a race to 6 achievements and the most coins, this is a loss of tempo. Add to that that at least in my game, we were with more than 2 players. You would lose tempo against all opponents, meaning you drop behind the non-leader players as well. It is a classic example of the volunteer's dilemma. Things might work out for the better for all non-leaders if one of them spends those resources in an attempt to slow down the leader. On the other hand, it is better to wait and get the free ride if someone else does this first. I guess there is a consolation price for winning a combat, but wouldn't you rather wait and save up your military first to gain a free achievement first? That would deter aggressors as well, killing two birds with one stone.


Winning a attack also gives you a star (two at max) so brings you closer in ending the game. a draw also means a win, so you can calculate your battle
Also, don't forget that the move action gives you the option to take a bottom row action with could give you and advantage (or even a star)
This way, you could earn 4/5 medals in on turn. 2 for winning a battle, 1 for a bottom row action, one for a objective and one for the last power/popularity. this wil not happen very often, but attacking can work out nicely. Besides that you can intervene in the "engine" of another player, especially it he's ahead (make other people pay you for an attack also makes it more profitable for you)

I agree with you though that with 2-3 players battle/interaction is less tense and necessary. In some of our games with 2-3 players the battle is at the end of the game just to get the last stars.
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Thaddeus MacTaggart
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antoi wrote:
Winning a attack also gives you a star (two at max) so brings you closer in ending the game. a draw also means a win, so you can calculate your battle

Well it's not always 100% certain, depending on battle cards. Does the opponent have 5s or just 2s? I lost a battle with just 5s on my side where the oponent (Nordic) had that -2 bonus. It cost me a lot, I gained nothing and he had a free star at my expense.

Quote:
Also, don't forget that the move action gives you the option to take a bottom row action with could give you and advantage (or even a star)
This way, you could earn 4/5 medals in on turn. 2 for winning a battle, 1 for a bottom row action, one for a objective and one for the last power/popularity.

That's .. extremely optimistic. If you play it well, after 4 movement and bottom row actions you could as well have done all the bottom row upgrades and moving has just become a wasted action.

Quote:
I agree with you though that with 2-3 players battle/interaction is less tense and necessary. In some of our games with 2-3 players the battle is at the end of the game just to get the last stars.

Yup. Exactly my experience.
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reverendunclebastard wrote:
I am always amazed that people play this without paying attention to the other players, and then claim that there is no player interaction! They also don't mess with other players and then claim a runaway leader problem. I am 22 plays into Scythe and our final scores are usually within 5 points of each other (solo, 2, 3 and 4 player games). The interaction is not forced until one player starts messing with another players plans, then the whole game changes. To be fair, it often takes a few plays to realize this and the OP only played one game. I couldn't disagree more with the conclusions though. Our games involve paying close attention to other players, whether it is whether to enlist or not, where to place your mechs/workers, which mech abilities to unlock to make the other players nervous, etc. There are tons of ways to interact with other players, they are just styled more after a "cold war" vibe, so the threat is often as much, or more, a part of strategy as actual combat.


I agree...we played a 5p game and there were LOTs of combat. Real estate was hard to come by!
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Anton Nieuwkoop
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Teowulff wrote:

Well it's not always 100% certain, depending on battle cards. Does the opponent have 5s or just 2s? I lost a battle with just 5s on my side where the oponent (Nordic) had that -2 bonus. It cost me a lot, I gained nothing and he had a free star at my expense.


From the rules:
Quote:
ARTILLERY: Before you engage in combat, you may pay 1 power
to force the combating opponent to lose 2 power. This loss of power is reflected on the Power Track. You may do this once per combat, not once per unit.


As long as you have more then 7 power and have a 5 combatcard you always win as a attacker in a one vs one battle.
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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Severijndw wrote:
This is all based upon one play, but I will elaborate on why I think this to be the case...


Except winning combat gets you a star (worth up to 6 points at end game) plus it can net you significant resources if you time it right. I understand that people have first impressions of a game, and they are entitled to them, but first impressions are not necessarily accurate. I have played 22 games of Scythe and combat has been a part of all but one game. In fact, it is often the person who initiates combat first who is the winner. Timed well, a late game double combat move can bring you two stars and end the game, bringing you significant points and reducing your opponents chances to spread out for more territory before scoring.

The other thing people who are new to the game don't really notice is how each faction eventually gains an ability to travel very quickly to remote locations. Just building up the threat of combat can force your opponents to limit their choices to defend against a potential attack.
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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antoi wrote:
Teowulff wrote:

Well it's not always 100% certain, depending on battle cards. Does the opponent have 5s or just 2s? I lost a battle with just 5s on my side where the oponent (Nordic) had that -2 bonus. It cost me a lot, I gained nothing and he had a free star at my expense.


From the rules:
Quote:
ARTILLERY: Before you engage in combat, you may pay 1 power
to force the combating opponent to lose 2 power. This loss of power is reflected on the Power Track. You may do this once per combat, not once per unit.


As long as you have more then 7 power and have a 5 combatcard you always win as a attacker in a one vs one battle.


But that power is then gone and you leave yourself vulnerable to attack from another player. A single battle may be "predictable" if you spend enough power, but the option to spend 7 power takes a lot of preparation, and then spending it leaves you extremely vulnerable for several turns.
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Phil Campeau
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reverendunclebastard wrote:
antoi wrote:
Teowulff wrote:

Well it's not always 100% certain, depending on battle cards. Does the opponent have 5s or just 2s? I lost a battle with just 5s on my side where the oponent (Nordic) had that -2 bonus. It cost me a lot, I gained nothing and he had a free star at my expense.


From the rules:
Quote:
ARTILLERY: Before you engage in combat, you may pay 1 power
to force the combating opponent to lose 2 power. This loss of power is reflected on the Power Track. You may do this once per combat, not once per unit.


As long as you have more then 7 power and have a 5 combatcard you always win as a attacker in a one vs one battle.


But that power is then gone and you leave yourself vulnerable to attack from another player. A single battle may be "predictable" if you spend enough power, but the option to spend 7 power takes a lot of preparation, and then spending it leaves you extremely vulnerable for several turns.


Exactly. Spending 7 power and a 5 card on combat is a huge gamble unless it nets you your final star. I've seen people do this mid-game and it's basically putting a sign up saying "free stars here!"
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