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Subject: "Hearts and Minds!" - Initial thoughts after Gen Con 2015 playtest - with pictures rss

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Brenden Johnson
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Lakeville
Minnesota
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DISCLAIMER:
1) The game played was a PROTOTYPE. The components, art, and rules may or may not be in their final form and are all subject to change.
2) My session was not a complete game. I believe we started a little late and then played as much as we could up to our event end time. There may be features of the game I don't fully appreciate having not been through a full play.

A few things first:
1) This got a lot bigger than I originally had in mind. I started out thinking I'd just talk about what I liked. But then I wanted to explain how things worked in order to further illustrate why I liked it. And after a while we finally arrive at this monstrosity. I've actually never written a review on BGG before so I don't have a personal style yet and I tried a few different things for formatting. I ended up putting my personal thoughts in quote blocks throughout. Hopefully this will all be easy to read and understand.

2) A Scythe playtest was my most anticipated event for Gen Con even before event registration opened up. When registration opened I got a nice cozy queue spot in the 8000s and was quite sad. Luckily Jamey later opened up one more session and I checked at the right time on the right day and was able to grab a ticket after the system posted it.

3) My excitement was well founded. This will be a mostly glowing report of my experience.

Bottom line/TL;DR: This is a great game that I will be backing on Kickstarter when the campaign starts. There is amazing asymmetry between factions which hints at great replayability. The interaction is interesting without being over the top or too in your face or take that. It really feels like there are a number of ways to play and multiple paths to victory.

On to my report.

We had a full game of five players:
My buddy Joe had a ticket but came down ill and couldn't play and was replaced by Steve who played Black/Saxony Empire/Gunter with Nacht & Tag
Jerry played White/Republic of Polania/Anna & Wojta
Josh played Blue/Nordic Kingdoms/Bjorn & Mox
Barry played Red/Russviet Union/Olga & Changa
I played Yellow/Crimean Khanate/Zehra & Kar
(Official Stonemaier picture of mech minis)

Here's the board at the start of the game:
(PROTOTYPE at Gen Con 2015)

Starting areas
Each faction has a set starting space. Notice the green and purple starting hexes. Jamey stated in another thread that these will be the starting hexes of expansion factions but that 5 players will still be the max in the game.

If you look closer you'll notice that each non-expansion faction starts on a little island of 3 hexes (aside from the starting hex). At the start of the game most units on the board cannot move over water. So it keeps everyone contained and focused on building up a little before venturing out and interacting.
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I really liked how this limitation gave us a smaller subset of the board to worry about at the start. Though just now I'm wondering how different the expansion factions will play since they are not really landlocked at all.

Along those lines, one of the key cool things about this game is the asymmetry between each faction/player. At this point I want to point out the symbols on each hex. Those are what each hex produces: workers, food, wood, oil, and metal/iron. Then notice that only two factions have the same starting production hexes: Red and Black. The other three factions all have access to different things. This is the first of many things that differentiate each faction.

Beyond those first three hexes people have access to different kinds and different numbers of hexes around their "home territory." I'll get in to traveling over water a little later.
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One of the first slight frustrations I found was that my faction (Yellow) essentially only had access to 3 hexes in that "next ring" of hexes because of the lakes and the mountain surrounded by rivers. Black was also limited to 3 available "next" hexes. Whereas each of the other 3 factions had 5 usable hexes beyond their first three.

Now, I must repeat: as I noted above and as I'll try to keep mentioning throughout this report, I have only played less than one game. I have no idea how different things really interact and how balanced something really is compared to how it feels after a partial game.

Other board features
A few more things about the board before I move on to how the game plays.
At the top of the board on the left is a spot for placing Stars. Basically you get to put stars up on this track for accomplishing any of the goals listed. Once someone puts their 6th and final star up there they have triggered the end of the game. From left to right the goals are: (caps are from action names I'll get to later)
1) Complete all 7 UPGRADES
2) DEPLOY all 4 mechs
3) BUILD all 4 structures
4) Make all 4 RECRUITments
5) Place all 8 workers
6) Complete an objective card
7) Win a combat
8) Win a second combat
9) Get to 18 on the popularity track
10) Get to 16 on the power track

Along the left side of the board is the Popularity Track. Not only are you trying to gain territory and defeat your enemies but you're also trying to become popular with the local populace. Who wants to rule over a bunch of people who hate you and might rise up and revolt at any moment? This track was the main deciding factor in who "won" our shortened game.
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This feels like the main feature that allows you to go after a different strategy. By being further up on the popularity track the things that score points for you (stars, territories, and groups of three resources) are worth more so you may not need as many of them as other players.

Quickly around the rest of the board (I'll explain them all in more detail later)
On the bottom left of the board is the deck of Encounter Cards. These really inject the theme into the game.

Next to those is the deck of Objective Cards. It is possible they may be moved off of the board. (They are handed out at the beginning and you never draw any more)

On the bottom right of the board is the Power Track. This is a resource you can spend in combat.

On the right side of the board are the Factory Cards. These are a big faction upgrade that gives you an extra action space.

At the top right of the board is the deck of Combat Cards. These are used to boost your power in a combat. The chart next to the deck shows the distribution of the cards.

Starting to Play
Jamey started the rules explanation with just the very basics. He told us about the hex types and production goods (iron, oil, wood, food, workers.) He told us about each unit type: workers, characters, and mechs. In the picture above the workers are meeples and start on the two hexes touching our starting hex, our characters started on the starting hex, and our mechs started on our faction boards. Jamey had 3D models printed by Shapeways for the characters and mechs and were a fantastic touch for a prototype. I can't wait to see the real models.

(Official Stonemaier picture of character minis)

Jamey took each player's first turn for them and in doing so explained each of the actions we had available to us. Each player board is made up of two parts: a faction board and an action board. The faction board determines your color and some special powers and mech abilities. The action board is handed out randomly at the beginning of the game.
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The action board is one of the many things that gives this game an amazing feeling of variability and provides differentiation between players.

(PROTOTYPE - faction board on top, structures to the top right, action board on bottom)

Basic Turn Structure
The way a turn works is pretty east. You move your action token (the yellow stone on the third box in the above picture) from the action space it is on to another space. In this way you're not allowed to do the same action twice in a row. Then you either do just the top action, just the bottom action, or the top action followed by the bottom action.
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Super simple and easy and it worked great. Our turns flowed easily and quickly from one person to the next.

Top Row of Actions
On my board the first action is MOVE. This one is pretty easy. You move two different pieces however many hexes their movement is. By default each piece can move 1 hex. One cool trick is that workers can be transported on mechs. And they can even be picked up and dropped off once your mech gets more movement.

The second action is GAIN or TRADE. You pay one coin (the symbol in the red box) and either gain two of any resource (food, wood, oil, iron) on one of your workers or move up two spots on the popularity track.

The third action is PRODUCE. You pay whatever is shown in red. In the above picture the action is free but as those workers come off the board they'll reveal costs to make production more expensive. You can't keep working the populace too hard! To produce you choose two of your hexes and produce a single good of the symbol that's there (food, wood, oil, iron, worker) for each worker on that hex.

The fourth action is BOLSTER. This is an action I really should have taken more in our game. You pay the cost (one coin) and move up two on the power track or draw one combat card.

Bottom Row of Actions
First is UPGRADE and this is one of my favorite things about the game. If you've played Hansa Teutonica you know that you can upgrade your abilities by removing the cubes from your player board. This is similar. First you pay the cost, on my board is it two oil. Then make one upgrade and gain one coin.
Here's how an upgrade works. Do you see the little yellow cubes all over the action board? Then look at all of the red "cost" squares and notice that some of them are outlined with a solid square and some are just bracketed. An upgrade means you take a cube from a green square, making the results of that action better, and cover up one of those red bracketed squares, thereby making those actions cheaper.
Quote:
I absolutely loved this. If you'll pardon the pun, if feels like an upgrade from the similar mechanism in Hansa Teutonica. It really gives you control over how you want to play your faction and what you want to focus on for the game. In the picture below I've upgraded my MOVE action to be able to move three different units and made DEPLOYING a mech cheaper by one iron.

(PROTOTYPE - Player board after one mech DEPLOYED and one UPGRADE)

The second bottom action is DEPLOY. You pay the cost (four iron for me or less after an UPGRADE) and deploy one of your mechs in a hex with one of your workers. When you deploy a mech it uncovers a power that then goes into effect. The powers only apply to mechs and characters, not workers. I wish I would have taken a picture with all of the mechs removed. I'll work backwards.
Speed lets your units move up to two hexes instead of just one.
Unfortunately I can't remember what Scout or Wayfare do.
Finally, Riverwalk gives you the ability to cross over rivers, but only to the specified terrain types. In my case (note the above picture) I could only cross rivers *into* a forest (hexes with the wood icon) or tundra (hexes with the oil icon).
Quote:
Riverwalk is a cool game feature but also led to one of my biggest frustrations in the game.
As I mentioned earlier I like having that little landlocked area to worry about at the beginning of the game. Having to build up a little bit to either be able to tunnel out (see the Mine below) or build a mech to get Riverwalk feels like you've worked a bit to be able to move in to a bigger world.
But take a closer look at the icons on my home island and the surrounding areas and remember that I could only cross to forest or tundra. I don't have forest or tundra in my home island. This means that once my mechs or character cross the river, they cannot cross back. They have to tunnel or get defeated in a combat without a viable place to retreat. I don't remember if there was another "voluntary" way to get back. Again, we played a short game so this didn't even come in to play for me. Though I worried about it and it "felt" wrong.
One of the factions (I can't remember which) had their Riverwalk power and home island hexes match up so that they could travel back and forth. I believe it was Barry who had played before and he said that was a change from before. Whether that was a change to the board or the specific Riverwalk power, I don't know. I don't think there's any thematic reason for these rules, just a kind of way to make sure that everyone isn't running into everyone else right away. If there had been some great thematic reasoning I could have probably gotten behind it. But without that it felt a little off.
Jamey said he's still playing around with this whole thing (Riverwalk and getting off of and back to your island) trying to get it exactly how he wants it.

The third bottom action is BUILD. You pay the cost in wood and build one of your four available structures in a hex that has one of your workers. Beside the faction board is the structures board and I believe all players have the same buildings with the same powers.
The Mine provides access to the underground tunnel system. It allows you to move between it and any of the hexes with the tunnel symbol on them. So this is another way to get off of and back to your island. It is a way I tried but didn't end up getting to use effectively. (remember our game was cut way short)
The Watchtower keeps a lookout on your opponents. When you take the BOLSTER action you count up every adjacent hex that is controlled by and opponent and add that to the power or combat cards you get.
The Trading House improves your trade action by adding a coin for each adjacent hex you control.
Finally, the Mill allows you to either gain one popularity or spend one popularity to make every worker on the Mill's hex produce one extra good. I can't remember for sure what the limit of units on a single hex was, or if there was one. The number 5 sticks in my head, but I could be wrong.

(PROTOTYPE - getting a few units and a structure out)

In the above picture I've built my Mine (it is right next to my mech) in the hopes that it will allow me back on to my island through a tunnel. The tunnels are marked with the red and black icon that you see next to the group of Black's units.

Last is the ENLIST action. The result of this action are a little more complicated. First you to take one of the cylinders from the bottom of your action board and move it to one of the empty circles on your faction board (right under the ENLIST icon) to gain an immediate bonus: 2 power, 2 coins, 2 popularity, or 2 combat cards. But just like upgrading you're not just covering something up, you're also uncovering something.
Unfortunately I didn't take a picture with them uncovered but I believe it is one of each of those same four items: power, coin, popularity, and combat card. Above each circle (you can see it best next to the ENLIST action) is an icon with three people. This means that you are now affected by your two neighbors. Whenever either of your neighbors takes the action that matches the spot you removed the cylinder from, you get the bonus showing.
For example, let's say that you see one of your neighbors starting to stockpile some wood and you think that they're going to build some structures. You take the ENLIST action and remove the cylinder from your BUILD action and move it to your faction board for an immediate bonus. Let's say that the symbol that was uncovered is power. Then on your neighbor's next turn they *do* take that build action. You immediately move your marker up one spot on the power track.
Quote:
I love how this works on multiple levels. I love the UPGRADE-like covering and uncovering. But I also really like how it means you have to pay attention to your neighbors. First you have to think about what they might do and then you have to constantly watch what they actually do to make sure you get your ENLIST bonus. Sadly the game didn't go on long enough to get a lot of use out of it.

Differentiation in Action Boards
Remember that I said that the player boards are split and you get a random action board each game. Each action board is different in a few ways:
First, the top actions are in a different order on each board but the bottom actions are in the same order. This has a couple of ramifications. People are going to be doing different combinations of actions even if they're trying to accomplish the same goal. And when you're deciding on which ENLIST bonus to uncover you may want to take the top action in to consideration. Remember that when you take an action you take the top, bottom, or top then bottom and that to get the ENLIST bonus your neighbor has to actually take the bottom action. So even if they take the MOVE action all of the time but don't take whichever bottom action is matched up with MOVE you don't get your bonus.
Second, the costs of each bottom action (I believe it is only the bottom actions) is different from board to board. On my board DEPLOYING a mech costs 4 iron and UPGRADING costs 2 oil. Those numbers may be reversed on my neighbor's board. This could really change how you play a faction based on what resources are available on your home island.
Last, notice that mine says "Engineering 3" on the right side. I am guessing that the "Engineering" part is thematically tied to how much things cost for that action board. But the number determines who is first player. Someone gets dealt board '1' randomly and they become the first player.
Quote:
Hopefully you've been able to tell that I love all the little things that differentiate the players' abilities from each other. Jamey has said that one of the reasons that they've done so much playtesting with this game is to try and get all of the different factors balanced. With my single not-full-game I can't really speak to how balanced everything is. But I loved how everyone's faction was really different and how you would have a different faction every game even if you played the same color.

Combat
Combat, like many other things in this game, is really simple and streamlined. Whenever one (or more) of your mechs and/or character moves into the same hex as another player's minis you have a combat (if the defender only has workers, they automatically retreat and the player loses that "battle"). Each player then takes a "combat dial" (You can see them in the Start of Game picture above. One is in the lower left of the picture and the other is near the upper right corner, between Blue's player board and the game board) and turns the wheel to any number from 0 to 7. This will be how many power you spend from the power track on the bottom of the board. You may also add a combat card for each of your miniatures in the combat. The combat cards are numbered from 2 to 5 and are just added to the power you spend. The person with the highest number wins. Ties go to the attacker.
There is no destruction of units in this game. And workers cannot fight at all. Any defeated mechs must retreat back to a friendly hex. I think they retreat to the home hex if there are no friendly hexes. A defeated character immediately goes back to the home hex. Any workers from the defeated faction must also immediately retreat.
But here is a very important and hugely thematic rule: for each worker that you force to retreat you lose 1 popularity. You're not just here to stomp around and destroy your enemies. You're here to win the love of the people and make them want you for their leader. You can't just go running through their farms with giant mechs and expect them to love you.
Finally, after winning a battle you take the Scythe token, a card that gives 10 bonus points, from the person who won it last. You can also see it in the Start of Game picture above. It is sitting right above Blue's player board. I don't remember if someone starts with this card or if it is out of the game until someone wins a combat.
Quote:
Remember how I said I should have taken the BOLSTER action more? I think I sat on 0 power for most of the game and missed out on a couple great chances to try and get some great stuff because I didn't have any power to fight with. There were only a couple fights in our game but they all seemed super easy and worked very well. And with the combat cards you never knew what might happen unless someone came in with overwhelming force.
I think I was only in one combat and I was attacked because I had no power. It isn't devastating to lose (my character got sent back home) but there is definitely incentive for you to win. You put a star up, you control territory, and you can get that bonus card.
I did like the Scythe token that gets passed around to encourage a little extra action. This is something that has been done in other games (the one that leaps to my mind is the Praefectus Magnus tile in Concordia) and is something that I think is a good touch to make sure things in a game don't stagnate. And it even works thematically in this game. You could say that the locals are most impressed with the faction that won the last victory. "What have you done for me lately?"

(PROTOTYPE - mechs are starting to meet)

Other Cards
Let me go back to a few those "other" board features.

First the Encounter Cards. Everyone was first attracted to Scythe because of the art, right? Well, these cards are when you really get to see the art in action. When your character mini enters a hex that has a yellow star in a small green hex (You can see one right below the single white mech mini in the above picture and they are covered by "gems" in the Start of Game picture) you have an encounter with the locals and draw a card.

(PROTOTYPE - Three encounter cards)

Instead of a wall of "flavor text" describing a situation like you see in so many games you have amazing pictures by the artist Jakub Rozalski. Each card has 3 choices and each choice has a thematic description of something your character can choose to do and the in-game result. Most (all?) of the cards have a "nice" option, a "neutral" option, and a "mean" option. The nice option generally gets you a couple of resources. The neutral option allows you to pay for something a little more. The mean option allows you to "spend" popularity to gain a really nice immediate benefit.
Quote:
These were awesome. Of course the art is fantastic and so evocative of the theme. I could just flip through this deck for enjoyment. These cards allow the players to describe in their own words the situation that their character has come across and get into character and the theme by using their imagination. And it also might provoke people to really think about what their character might do and why. I know it does for me. I always tend to inject a little role playing into my board gaming and this is a perfect mechanism by which to do that.

Then there were the Objective Cards. Each player was dealt two of these randomly at the beginning of the game. If you ever fulfilled the requirements on the card you would turn it over and put one of your Stars on the appropriate spot on the Star track and turn both of your cards in (you're only allowed to complete one objective.) For example the two I had were:
Live Among the Poor - Have at least 4 workers in play and $0
"Thematic Text I Can't Remember" - Control at least 3 Mountain Hexes
Looks like either I remembered incorrectly or the text changed slightly:
(Official Stonemaier picture of Objective cards)
Quote:
These were just one more simple but effective way to make every faction play and feel a little bit different. You didn't *have* to go for your objective since there are many ways to put stars out, but it gave a nice direction to head off on if you needed a little guidance. Since I was so terrible at managing money near the beginning of the game I was able to complete my first objective and get the first star of the game out.

Finally were the Factory Cards. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of any of these and even more unfortunate is the fact I didn't get to draw one. The center hex of the board does not show a production symbol but an icon that indicates that you cannot build a structure and an icon that denotes the location of the Factory.
The backstory of the game is that in the previous Great War there were factories churning out the giant mechs all over Europe. This was one of those factories and it has been shut down. Now the Great Powers are moving in and which to take control of the area and the Factory's technology.
The first time your character moves in to the Factory hex you get to choose (not draw) one of the factory cards. So getting there early has a big advantage. What the factory cards actually are are extra action spaces to put along side your action board. I don't know what any of the top actions were but I believe each one had a single MOVE as the bottom action, which would allow you to MOVE two turns in a row.
Quote:
Can you guess what I'm going to say?
I absolutely loved this idea even though I didn't get a chance to implement it. It is just one more way to make each faction different and it gives you another interesting choice to decide which direction you want to take your faction. Just awesome.
Remember when I said I stayed at 0 power for almost the entire game and I was only in one combat that sent my character back to my home hex? Well, I had dutifully marched my character out towards the Factory trying to get a factory card. Unfortunately Red (if I recall correctly) marched out there just a bit faster. We hadn't yet had any combat and didn't quite know how it worked. So I declared my move into the Factory hex and we all asked Jamey how combat worked. He explained it and I looked at my 0 power and we all agreed to let me take a different action that turn. I think someone attacked my character in the next round or two.

Faction Special Powers
In the top right corner of my faction board you'll see my unique faction power:
ENTERTAIN: When revealing 7+ power in combat, gain $5.

I did not use my power effectively, as evidenced from my comments above about never bolstering and never fighting.

Each faction has their own special power. The only one I can't recall was Red's.
Blue's was that his workers could cross over rivers (to any other terrain?) even without the Riverwalk mech power.
Black's power was that if he ever started his turn with control of the Factory he gained $2.
White had a power which let him choose 2 out of the 3 choices from an encounter card instead of just 1.
Quote:
This was my other big frustration from the game and something else that is definitely affected by the fact that I only played part of one game. I never used my special power (my own fault) and I have no idea if Red used his. I know Blue moved at least one worker over a river and Black was able to control the Factory for a few turns and collect money. And then I am pretty certain that White used his encounter power twice, maybe three times.
The encounter cards are already one of the coolest facets of the game and that power just made them cooler and more powerful. And I loved the fact that maybe the Encounters might be a tough choice, but this power made choosing easy. He could spend the popularity for a great benefit and then gain it right back by following up with the nice action.
And if you look at the map and where all of the encounter spaces are in relation to starting hexes that is something else that isn't the exact same for everyone. I know, I know I keep harping on the fact that everything is different for everyone which is great. But if you have a power that just synergizes with your starting spaces and other people's powers may only come in to play if they work towards using them (I started off with 0 power completely randomly because of a setup card draw) that is the kind of asymmetry that starts to feel a bit unfair. Again, I only played part of one game. But I will say that Jamey said that Faction Powers are relatively new and it is something that he's still tweaking. It may be the case that someone never triggers an encounter. But that seems unlikely to me because everyone always starts in the same place and the encounter hexes are always in the same place.

(PROTOTYPE - Spreading out, near the end)

Session notes
I've sprinkled a few things about what actually happened in what I wrote above. But I didn't take detailed notes about how the game unfolded or take pictures after every turn so I don't exactly recall how the game unfolded.

I originally thought I'd be going for 3 mountain spaces to fulfill my second objective card. I really wanted to get that mountainous island with an encounter space next to my home island. But after a little bit I finally understood how Riverwalk and movement worked and I had to rethink that plan. Then I ended up running out of money and was able to fulfill my first objective card for a star.

I built my Mine but never used it effectively so that was wasted wood. I did use my Trading House to great effect and made a bunch of money (which is straight points) towards the end as I was building up my popularity. If we had had another turn or two I would have built my Watchtower close to Red's forces to start gaining more power.

After figuring out that I couldn't get to that Mountain I sent my character towards the Factory but as I mentioned before Red got there first and my character was sent back home. This set me back as I also wanted to try and get to another encounter but never made it far enough.

Red won a single battle against me and Blue ended up winning a battle before we ended as well. I can't remember if he fought Red or White.

Along with the mistake of not gaining power to play to my faction's special power I also don't think I played to my action board's features. I only upgraded once even though I loved the action and it was relatively cheap for me. Unfortunately that tundra/oil space right over the river became hotly contested and I didn't have another oil spot close by. I probably should have TRADED for more oil, but also remember, I was short on gold!

As our time came to a close Jamey told us that we'd have once more around the table before stopping and doing final scoring just to see how it worked. Here was how the board looked:

(PROTOTYPE - Final situation at game "end")

The scores, such as they were, were as follows:

Steve - Black - 42
Jerry - White - 27
Josh - Blue - 41
Barry - Red - 22
Brenden - Yellow - 44

I (to everyone's shock, I believe, including my own) was the "winner"!

My victory cry was "I'm winning hearts and minds over here!" Which is part of the point of the game. The popularity track ended up being a big deal. Towards the end I really focused on that and also spreading out in to the lower right of the board to try and control a bunch of territory. That combo ended up being the majority of my scoring.

If you've read all the way through to the end here I really appreciate it. I hope you enjoyed hearing more about the game and that it whet your appetite even a bit more. Let me know if you have any questions.

I also hope some of my fellow players will pop in to give their thoughts on the game and fill in any details about either what transpired or how they thought their factions played.

EDITS:
Put in the name of the "10 point bonus card" for winning the last combat: Scythe token.
Changed Josh's final score from 31->41 to reflect the fact that he held the Scythe token at the end of the game and had forgotten to score it.

Added Stonemaier picture of Objective cards, note about the card title, and removed my "(maybe 4?)" in reference to how many mountain hexes I had to control for that Objective card.

Updated link to picture of Objective cards.
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Brandon M
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“Games give you a chance to excel, and if you're playing in good company you don't even mind if you lose because you had the enjoyment of the company during the course of the game.” ― Gary Gygax
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Wow! I will need to come back to this tomorrow, but here's some GG in appreciation of the write up.
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Jamey Stegmaier
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Brenden: I knew you were going to do a writeup, but wow! This was big and detailed! I'm very impressed.

After the Gen Con feedback, I did indeed adjust the Riverwalk abilities so players can get in and out of their home territories. Thanks for your input on that!
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Joshua R
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Worth the wait, Brenden... Great write up, and I haven't even read the whole thing yet! I'll have to revisit it tomorrow at work when I'm not trying to edit text on my iPad.

What I did want to say, and have been waiting to tell you since immediately after we went our separate ways after the game: I was in the restroom right after the game and it dawned on me... I hadn't scored the Scythe token! After my "smooth move" winning a combat in the last round and everything- I forgot to count it! So actually, my score was 41, which interestingly keeps the order the same but much closer on the top end.

More thoughts of my own based on your observations tomorrow. Great job, again, documenting the game.
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ozzy perez
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Just when I thought I had every game that I wanted (for the immediate future anyways), I read this. Do I even need to say that I just wishlisted? Probably not.
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Felix Lastname
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Pomboo. Si samaki, si mnyama. Si mzee, si kijana.
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jameystegmaier wrote:
Brenden: I knew you were going to do a writeup, but wow! This was big and detailed! I'm very impressed.

After the Gen Con feedback, I did indeed adjust the Riverwalk abilities so players can get in and out of their home territories. Thanks for your input on that!

A rule now and forever known as "Crossing Brenden Style".
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Great review! This more than just whet my appetite! Game looks and sounds fantastic and can't wait for the kickstarter...

@ Jamey: Please make this come sooner and just take my money!
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Brenden Johnson
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reitoei wrote:
What I did want to say, and have been waiting to tell you since immediately after we went our separate ways after the game: I was in the restroom right after the game and it dawned on me... I hadn't scored the Scythe token! After my "smooth move" winning a combat in the last round and everything- I forgot to count it! So actually, my score was 41, which interestingly keeps the order the same but much closer on the top end.
HA! You know, there have been a few times over the last week when I wondered whether the Scythe token was scored! But whenever I got to writing I would clearly forget to mention it. And thanks for the name of the token. I'll update my write-up.

SapoLJackson wrote:
Just when I thought I had every game that I wanted (for the immediate future anyways), I read this. Do I even need to say that I just wishlisted? Probably not.
Glad you liked the sound of the game! Looking at the games you have rated 10 and 9 it looks like we enjoy the same types of games. I personally recommend this one.

Againsto wrote:
jameystegmaier wrote:
Brenden: I knew you were going to do a writeup, but wow! This was big and detailed! I'm very impressed.

After the Gen Con feedback, I did indeed adjust the Riverwalk abilities so players can get in and out of their home territories. Thanks for your input on that!

A rule now and forever known as "Crossing Brenden Style".
I don't want to take credit where none is due. There were many other players at Gen Con and myriad blind playtests going on at the same time. I'm sure Jamey got feedback about this from multiple people. As I said above, he was in the middle to trying to get it right. (as evidenced by the fact that one of the factions had already changed) If I was the only yahoo that complained about Riverwalk and everyone else loved it I'm guessing he wouldn't be changing it.

Now, I appreciate the attempt, so even though it is against my Minnesotan nature to toot my own horn I will say that I asked a question that caused Jamey to write down in his note book to clarify the wording on the Trading House. And there was one other change (not related to how the game plays) that I suggested that might possibly happen if he doesn't make other changes elsewhere. How's that for obscure contributions to a game?

jameystegmaier wrote:
Brenden: I knew you were going to do a writeup, but wow! This was big and detailed! I'm very impressed.
Glad you liked it. What can I say? You have a great game here.
Quote:
After the Gen Con feedback, I did indeed adjust the Riverwalk abilities so players can get in and out of their home territories. Thanks for your input on that!
My pleasure. I can't wait to see how it feels with the changes.
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James Cartwright
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Would Scythe be able to be played solo?
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Rindel wrote:
Would Scythe be able to be played solo?
Out of the box it only goes down to two players.
I imagine it would take a bit of design work to get a fun solo variant out of this game. Maybe BGG's resident solo variant expert, GameRulesForOne, will add this to his geeklist (SoloPlay Variants Posted on the Geek) once it comes out.
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Amazing writeup that gives the clearest idea yet of how the game plays, how the asymmetry is implemented, and the multiple paths to victory. These were things I figured would be in the game but haven't seen much detail about to this point, so thanks again for taking such great notes and sharing them with us living vicariously through your report.
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James: That's a good question about solo play. Our solo expert, Morten Monrad Pedersen (designer of Viticulture Automa and Between Two Cities Automa) has been working on a potential solo design, but it's looking like it many not be ready for the original game (he's very busy with the Euphoria expansion). So as of now it looks like there won't be an Automa element in the core game of Scythe, but it's something I would gladly include in an expansion if Morten figures it out. His Automa system usually involves a deck of cards to simulate an AI opponent (it's not just a few notes in the rules).
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Amazing first review Brenden! Time to start writing a review a week and see where that leads...
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Brenden Johnson
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jameystegmaier wrote:
James: That's a good question about solo play. Our solo expert, Morten Monrad Pedersen (designer of Viticulture Automa and Between Two Cities Automa) has been working on a potential solo design, but it's looking like it many not be ready for the original game (he's very busy with the Euphoria expansion). So as of now it looks like there won't be an Automa element in the core game of Scythe, but it's something I would gladly include in an expansion if Morten figures it out. His Automa system usually involves a deck of cards to simulate an AI opponent (it's not just a few notes in the rules).
Ooo! I love the sound of that. Great to hear. (I'll just let Jamey answer questions like that from now on. )
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ZackStack wrote:
Amazing first review Brenden! Time to start writing a review a week and see where that leads...
Watch out Lance!
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At first I couldn't figure out why my geekbuddies were all posting a ton in the Hearts and Minds: Vietnam 1965-1975 forums, but now I see it's a terrific Scythe preview. Nice work!
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jameystegmaier wrote:
James: That's a good question about solo play. Our solo expert, Morten Monrad Pedersen (designer of Viticulture Automa and Between Two Cities Automa) has been working on a potential solo design, but it's looking like it many not be ready for the original game (he's very busy with the Euphoria expansion). So as of now it looks like there won't be an Automa element in the core game of Scythe, but it's something I would gladly include in an expansion if Morten figures it out. His Automa system usually involves a deck of cards to simulate an AI opponent (it's not just a few notes in the rules).

Hi Jamey, could the Automa deck for Scythe be a stretch goal maybe?
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Jamey Stegmaier
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James: It was the plan to have it as a stretch goal, but if it's not designed in time for the game (see my previous comment), we can't put it in the game.
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jameystegmaier wrote:
James: It was the plan to have it as a stretch goal, but if it's not designed in time for the game (see my previous comment), we can't put it in the game.

Fair enough, thanks for the reply looking forward to the game.
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Steve Dillon
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Great write up! I was in this game and it was tons of fun! I wanted to thank you, Jamey and all the other players for allowing me to join after the rules explanation. You were all fun to play with!
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dr_steve_dillon wrote:
Great write up! I was in this game and it was tons of fun! I wanted to thank you, Jamey and all the other players for allowing me to join after the rules explanation. You were all fun to play with!
We were so happy you could join (though I was bummed for my friend) and make sure we had the full compliment experience.
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justplainchips wrote:
Jamey started the rules explanation with just the very basics. He told us about the hex types and production goods (iron, oil, wood, food, workers.) He told us about each unit type: workers, characters, and mechs. In the picture above the workers are meeples and start on the two hexes touching our starting hex, our characters started on the starting hex, and our mechs started on our faction boards.
The first thing I was impressed by was that for such a complex game, we were able to start taking our own turns after just a few minutes of explanation. We certainly had questions right away, and it helped to have both the game designer and someone with a little experience playing the game at the table, but it's nice to know that with an effective gameplay summary, you can start playing without slogging through a half hour of rules first.

justplainchips wrote:
The action board is one of the many things that gives this game an amazing feeling of variability and provides differentiation between players.
True story. Here's my action board (taken from the end of the game):


justplainchips wrote:
Basic Turn Structure
Super simple and easy and it worked great. Our turns flowed easily and quickly from one person to the next.
Totally! It's an interesting blend of simplicity and complexity because your choice, fundamentally, is to select one of the three action spaces on your player board that aren't the one that you selected the previous turn. Super simple! But once you've selected it, there are the two actions associated with that space, and each of those can sort of ripple out to have a variety of effects for both you and other players.

I would describe the top row of actions as "preparation" actions, and the bottom row as "production" actions. The top row is about getting set up - moving and generating resources, mostly. The bottom has you consuming those resources in a variety of ways.

justplainchips wrote:
Here's how an upgrade works. Do you see the little yellow cubes all over the action board? Then look at all of the red "cost" squares and notice that some of them are outlined with a solid square and some are just bracketed. An upgrade means you take a cube from a green square, making the results of that action better, and cover up one of those red bracketed squares, thereby making those actions cheaper.
This is one of the things I was most impressed with, and only tangentially as it effected gameplay: it was the visual language of the game. People that have seen Viticulture and Euphoria have seen the development of this language of iconography, and Scythe really takes it to a whole other place. The squares in the top row of actions where the cubes start have little black boxes in them to aid setup. Moving/removing cubes and tokens changes the landscape of your player board. Producing a worker or a mech has a visual, meaningful change in the way your playerboard works.

I've never played Hansa Teutonica, and I know other games use this mechanic, but I feel like this is the next step in the development of a particular vocabulary that's really intuitive and interesting. Just like you can tell a Matt Leacock game immediately from the mechanics employed (generally speaking, of course), I think Jamey has really laid claim to a particular style of player action and descriptions of those actions that define his games.

Back to gameplay a little bit: what Brenden said about making these choices defining different strategies is spot-on, and I'll say a little more about this later, I think.

justplainchips wrote:
Riverwalk gives you the ability to cross over rivers, but only to the specified terrain types. In my case (note the above picture) I could only cross rivers *into* a forest (hexes with the wood icon) or tundra (hexes with the oil icon).
...
But take a closer look at the icons on my home island and the surrounding areas and remember that I could only cross to forest or tundra.
This is, I think, the only thing I still have a bit of a problem with, as it seems like complexity for complexity's sake... The revision of the abilities/hexes to make sure everyone has equal mobility is a step in the right direction, but it still seems unnecessarily wonky to me.

As the Nordic faction, I did start the game with the ability in the upper right of my player board: SWIM: Your workers may move across rivers. So my WORKERS (meeples) have free movement, which is awesome, and a big plus for the blue team. It only took one or two attempts to move a mech or my character across a river for it to finally stick with me that the rule did not apply to those units. Then I unlocked another mech, and activated Riverwalk. Now my character and mechs can cross rivers, but only into forests and mountains. So now I have a couple different sets of movement rules to keep track of, and I was never fully convinced that it was forcing me to make more interesting choices.

In short, the Riverwalk restrictions bugged me, but not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the game.

justplainchips wrote:
I love how [ENLIST] works on multiple levels. I love the UPGRADE-like covering and uncovering. But I also really like how it means you have to pay attention to your neighbors. First you have to think about what they might do and then you have to constantly watch what they actually do to make sure you get your ENLIST bonus. Sadly the game didn't go on long enough to get a lot of use out of it.
Agreed! My only gripe was that I saw both of my neighbors had not built a single structure yet, so I took my Enlist token from the Build action. This was going to give me Popularity whenever they got around to doing that (you can see the heart on my player board), and I knew high popularity was going to be critical in victory. When neither of them built anything the whole (shortened) game, that whole strategy fell apart.

So my failure was probably mostly a result of the game being shortened. I should have been able to count on at least a Mine being built on each side of me, since that helps mobility so much.

justplainchips wrote:
Last, notice that mine says "Engineering 3" on the right side. I am guessing that the "Engineering" part is thematically tied to how much things cost for that action board. But the number determines who is first player. Someone gets dealt board '1' randomly and they become the first player.
I also would have enjoyed some time to scrutinize the action boards and see how they differed to affect the theme. Mine was "Patriotic" but I'm not sure how that differed from the others.

That said, I agree that the variablity from game to game seems like it's pretty strong. I think multiple games are going to play very differently, particularly if you're not always a full table and you have a faction missing, changing the abilities in play and geography of the conflict.

justplainchips wrote:
But here is a very important and hugely thematic rule: for each worker that you force to retreat you lose 1 popularity. You're not just here to stomp around and destroy your enemies. You're here to win the love of the people and make them want you for their leader. You can't just go running through their farms with giant mechs and expect them to love you.
Finally, after winning a battle you take the Scythe token, a card that gives 10 bonus points, from the person who won it last. You can also see it in the Start of Game picture above. It is sitting right above Blue's player board. I don't remember if someone starts with this card or if it is out of the game until someone wins a combat.
This was pretty great... I don't recall if it would have made a difference in what tier of popularity I was in, but my last-round decision to attack with two mechs to get the Scythe token could have boned me for more than the 10 points the token is worth. But I was mostly doing it because it was a playtest and I wanted to experience combat. I had a lot of Power to spend!

I do recall the Scythe token was out of play until Barry (red) drew first blood. Jamey jumped in and handed over the token then.

justplainchips wrote:
[Encounter Cards] were awesome. Of course the art is fantastic and so evocative of the theme. I could just flip through this deck for enjoyment. These cards allow the players to describe in their own words the situation that their character has come across and get into character and the theme by using their imagination. And it also might provoke people to really think about what their character might do and why. I know it does for me. I always tend to inject a little role playing into my board gaming and this is a perfect mechanism by which to do that.
Amen to that. Every time we drew an encounter card, we enthusiastically showed it off to the whole table, so everyone could get a feeling of what was being represented, then we'd take a guess at what was happening in the art before digging into the text of the card (which was usually awesome and thematic and a little bit funny). It was something I haven't experienced before (maybe Dixit players can relate?).

I actually came back to the SM games room on Saturday with my wife, specifically to show her the encounter cards. She lived in Poland for a couple years, and when the first Scythe artwork started appearing, I would show her and she would enthusiastically explain to me the meaning behind things she was seeing like the Hussar wings, the symbol of the Polish resistance, and of course, Wojtek the bear. Luckily there was no playtest in progress and I got to flip through them with her. It was pretty great.

justplainchips wrote:
[Objective Cards] were just one more simple but effective way to make every faction play and feel a little bit different. You didn't *have* to go for your objective since there are many ways to put stars out, but it gave a nice direction to head off on if you needed a little guidance.
I forget what one of mine was, but I decided immediately that I wouldn't be chasing after it. The other I did end up completing to place a star, and while I forget what the title/flavor text was, the objective was to end a turn with a mech, a building, a recruit and one of each resource in play. So "get one of everything." I probably burned a couple turns going out of my way unnecessarily to complete it, but it was nice as a beginner to have something specific to accomplish.

I think they'll add a neat bit of variability to the games as well. The fact that you can only complete one makes it a bit easier on the player. Just make sure you get within striking distance of one of them in the course of play, then do whatever it takes to place that star!

justplainchips wrote:
Finally were the Factory Cards. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of any of these and even more unfortunate is the fact I didn't get to draw one.
Likewise - it took me long enough to work out my movement/resource generation stuff that I sort of wrote off the idea of getting to the factory. I was hoping to just get by with Popularity and resources. In a full game, that might work, but clearly the fifth action space is a big deal and I look forward to seeing the details of what those extra spaces do.

So maybe it was just because I never got around to it, but the only shortcoming I found in the theme of the game was that we were ostensibly all engaged in a race to take over this abandoned factory, but it really didn't actually seem all that necessary to do that. Multiple paths to victory are a great thing, though - and if one faction decides to let the others duke it out for the factory, it's a legitemate strategy (I think - again, the 5th action space may make all the difference in a full game).

justplainchips wrote:
Each faction has their own special power. The only one I can't recall was Red's.
Blue's was that his workers could cross over rivers (to any other terrain?) even without the Riverwalk mech power.
It was something to do with combat, but I also forget. My Swim power did let me move into any terrain with my workers, which was pretty cool and I'm sure could have been used more effectively.

I also need more experience to get a feeling for how all the special powers work and are balanced, but I don't think any of them were broken or overpowered.

justplainchips wrote:
Red won a single battle against me and Blue ended up winning a battle before we ended as well. I can't remember if he fought Red or White.
It was a 2-v-1 attack on Red. I mostly just wanted to see what combat was like for myself (and with multiple mechs) and as I said before, the Popularity loss didn't help me at all, since my gaining-popularity-via-the-Enlist-action strategy failed to materialize as well. Snagging the Scythe token on the last round was sort of a last-ditch effort.

SO...

Awesome game already. Shows real promise both for its final release and Jamey's development as a game designer. This 4x-Euro hybrid is something that I think will appeal to a lot of people if they sit down and give it a shot. Some tweaking of specific board elements will help the game flow, as they're already well aware, obviously.

I really, really enjoyed the game - and again, it's worth noting that I only got to sit at the table because of the generosity of another BGG user, so... Go BGG community!

Hey Brenden - play the final version with you next year, K?
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Mark Jackson
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Speaking of player counts, any early thoughts on the 2p experience? Game looks incredible, but I play mostly with my wife and thus looks like one that might be less than ideal 2p.
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We only played with 5 players at Gen Con, so I can speak a little to the 2-player experience. I've done a few things with the map to ensure that 2-player is a positive experience (blind playtesters have confirmed this). The tunnels play a big role in making the map "smaller" for 2-player games--just like in Kemet, your starting areas are always pretty close to all other starting areas.

Also, I understand that some/many couples who play games--particularly Euro games--just want to build their engine and let it run instead of interfering with each other's plans. Scythe allows for this to happen because there's plenty of room on the board to expand and plenty of non-combat goals that players can pursue. The "threat" of combat is always there to keep each other in check, but 2 players can have the full Scythe experience without fighting each other (if that's what they enjoy).
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Great post! For me, it just confirms another Insta-Back from Stonemaier Games

I hope they'll have a cool Deluxe Edition with painted minis and (hopefully) lithographs of Jakub's gorgeous art! cool

Edit: Just too many "just"
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