Recommend
43 
 Thumb up
 Hide
10 Posts

Scythe» Forums » Reviews

Subject: How I Learned to Love the Mech, a Scythe Review by Iron Syndicate rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Itai Rosenbaum
Israel
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
We've played a bunch of games of Scythe on Tabletopia, and I wrote up this review for a board-gaming FB group I run - so I figured I might as well translate it and put it up here as well. Here we go...

---------------------

Scythe (1-5 players, ~90-120 minutes), takes place in a geographical area that's meant to be a facsimile of Eastern Europe circa 1920 (albeit with some Dieselpunk overtones). The Great War is over, and the various nations surrounding the once-bustling factory are trying to recuperate and prove themselves worthy of leading the world into a glorious new era. Each player begins with 2 player boards, the first is their Faction Board which will describe the factions unique powers and abilities, and the second is their Action Board. Each Action board is divided into 4 columns, with each column having a "top row" (these actions typically help you acquire resources and move your units around) action and a "bottom row" action (these actions focus on improving your empire, and deploying your units onto the board). While each Player Board has the same actions, their order is different - so different top row actions are paired up with different bottom row actions. On their turn, each player will select one column and may preform the top action, the bottom action, or both. You may not select the same column on two consecutive turns and... that's pretty much it. That's the game.

Obviously, there's more to it than that - what each action does, etc. But by and large - Scythe is not a complicated game. There's not much sub-clauses, exceptions or edge cases (and the ones that exist are few and far between). On your turn - pick a column, do one or both actions, and pass the turn to the next player.

The goal of the game is to collect the most money. The game end conditions are dependent on star tokens the players place on the board when achieving certain conditions (winning battle, constructing all your buildings, reaching the top of the popularity track, and more). Each player has 6 of these star tokens, and once a player has placed his 6th star, the game immediately ends. Each player then totals up their money, receives extra coins for territory under their control, the amount of stars they placed and their remaining resources - and the richest player wins the game.

I'd like to talk for a minute about what Scythe is not. First and formost, I don't believe Scythe is a 4X game. I think defining it as a 4X game is doing it a dis-service, and may be setting it up for expectations it's not going to meet. It's possibly a 1.5X game, and even that is being generous. The game has no real Extermination - defeated units return to the faction's home-base but are never removed or destroyed. The Exploration, too, doesn't really exist - the map is predefined, with the players knowing exactly where everything is. The Expansion exists, in a limited capacity. You do take control of territories, but the map is very tight - and those looking for sprawling empires will not find them in Scythe. Finally, only Exploit is fully represented in the game - as the main reason you'd want to expand your empire and take over new territories is for the resources they produce. In an interesting twist, produced resources stay on the map - you don't stockpile them next to your board. As long as you control a territory, you can use the resources that's on it. But there's nothing stopping an opponent from attacking your territory, taking it over - and then spending your hard-earned resources to expand their own empire.

Scythe is also not a war game. If you approach the game expecting epic Mech armies clashing against one another in a rain of sulfur and gunpowder - you will be disappointed. If anything, Scythe is a game of cold war. Battles will be few throughout the game (one of our games had only 1 battle for the entire game). This stems from the sample fact that (just like in real life), war just isn't worth it. It makes sense thematically as well, the world of Scythe just survived a large and devistating war - the last thing the people want is another one. There's this overall feeling of exhaustion (from the in-game world, not the player) and it seems like no one actually wants to attack one another, but everyone knows it's inevitable - so battle becomes a last resort. In one of my games I played the Saxon Empire, arguably the most "aggressive" one and the one that's "supposed" to fight, and still felt like going out to battle was not worth it, would spend too many resources, and decided to focus on other areas.

In the second paragraph I said that Scythe is not a complicated game. While that's true - it is a complex game. Grasping the rules is very simple. The problem is - once you're sitting in front of your board, while it's very clear what you can do it's not at all clear what you should do. That, in my opinion, is the most important quality in a board game. You don't need convoluted rules systems with elaborate mechanisms and a 70 page rulebook. A game with simple rules, but one that lets you use those rules in a diverse and interesting array of ways will stand head and shoulder above the rest. Scythe is definitely one of these games. It will take me a long, long time until I feel comfortable with my level of control of the game, where I reach the point where I can feel confident in my strategies and lead my empire with a sense of purpose. Right now, even after several games under my belt, I'm still poking and prodding at the game - trying to unravel it's systems. Then, you switch faction - and have to do the whole process all over again.

It's gonna be a blast.
72 
 Thumb up
1.27
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Joe Pilkus
United States
South Riding
Virginia
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Itai,

Very well written and perfectly describes the not-so-4X nature of Scythe. It absolutely shines as a game without applying a genre-moniker to it. In short, it defines itself as unique through the great interplay on the board among the factions and the myriad ways in which one garners VPs.

Cheers,
Joe
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jamey Stegmaier
United States
St. Louis
Missouri
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Itai: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Scythe. I see what you're saying about 4x. My intent isn't to wedge Scythe into that category or mislabel it, but rather to expand what seems to be a narrow definition. Below are the Wikipedia definitions of each of the Xs:

Explore means players send scouts across a map to reveal surrounding territories.
Expand means players claim new territory by creating new settlements, or sometimes by extending the influence of existing settlements.
Exploit means players gather and use resources in areas they control, and improve the efficiency of that usage.
Exterminate means attacking and eliminating rival players. Since in some games all territory is eventually claimed, eliminating a rival's presence may be the only way to achieve further expansion.

Here's why I chose to apply the label to Scythe:

Explore: In Scythe, characters are moving from their homeland onto a patch of land surrounding the mysterious Factory. The landscape itself is known--you can look across the horizon and see there's a mountain there. What you don't know is (a) the encounters you'll have along the way and (b) what you'll find when you get to the Factory. It's in those elements of discovery that you are exploring in Scythe.

Expand: In Scythe, players claim new territories with their units and buildings. At the end of the game, territory control is a big part of scoring.

Exploit: In Scythe, players gather and use resources (food, metal, oil, and wood) and improve the efficiency of that usage through upgrades, building, and enlisting.

Exterminate: In Scythe, players can use mechs and characters attack other players and eliminate opposing units from territories. It's true that you're not permanently killing units, though in any game it's tough to kill an inanimate plastic token (maybe melt it?). It's also true that Scythe is more often about the threat of combat than combat itself.

All of that said, I don't want people thinking that Scythe is a game about flipping over hexes and constantly killing opponents' troops. Rather, I hope people see Scythe as a different take on 4x.
40 
 Thumb up
0.30
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Itai Rosenbaum
Israel
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Jamey,

I hope you didn't take me saying that Scythe isn't a 4X as any form of criticism against the game, far from it. I love this game. More so than I do most "regular" 4X games.

The reason I decided to address this point is exactly because of what you said - this game tries to push the definition of a 4X to a new direction, but if players are picking this up in the hopes of a similar experience to Twilight Imperium - they won't find it here (they'll find something better, that doesn't take a lifetime to play). Redefining the genre is a fantastic ambition - but we're not going to re-educate the gaming community overnight.
29 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jamey Stegmaier
United States
St. Louis
Missouri
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Well said!
14 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Phil Triest
Australia
Sydney
NSW
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
jameystegmaier wrote:


Explore means players send scouts across a map to reveal surrounding territories.

Exterminate means attacking and eliminating rival players. Since in some games all territory is eventually claimed, eliminating a rival's presence may be the only way to achieve further expansion.

Here's why I chose to apply the label to Scythe:

Explore: In Scythe, characters are moving from their homeland onto a patch of land surrounding the mysterious Factory. The landscape itself is known--you can look across the horizon and see there's a mountain there. What you don't know is (a) the encounters you'll have along the way and (b) what you'll find when you get to the Factory. It's in those elements of discovery that you are exploring in Scythe.

Exterminate: In Scythe, players can use mechs and characters attack other players and eliminate opposing units from territories. It's true that you're not permanently killing units, though in any game it's tough to kill an inanimate plastic token (maybe melt it?). It's also true that Scythe is more often about the threat of combat than combat itself.

All of that said, I don't want people thinking that Scythe is a game about flipping over hexes and constantly killing opponents' troops. Rather, I hope people see Scythe as a different take on 4x.

Sounds to me that it is more like 2 or 2.5 X. Don't ya think.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kyle Nelstead
Canada
Langley
BC
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
IronSyndicate wrote:
a similar experience to Twilight Imperium - they won't find it here (they'll find something better, that doesn't take a lifetime to play).

Gasp! Not my beloved TI!

Great review! I've been avoiding playing this game until I get my copy, so I can enjoy the raw excitement of playing it for the first time with all those gorgeous little bits. Reviews like this make it so hard to wait.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ian Liddle
United States
Sandpoint
Idaho
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
philtrees wrote:
jameystegmaier wrote:

Exterminate means attacking and eliminating rival players. Since in some games all territory is eventually claimed, eliminating a rival's presence may be the only way to achieve further expansion.

Here's why I chose to apply the label to Scythe:

...

Exterminate: In Scythe, players can use mechs and characters attack other players and eliminate opposing units from territories. It's true that you're not permanently killing units, though in any game it's tough to kill an inanimate plastic token (maybe melt it?). It's also true that Scythe is more often about the threat of combat than combat itself.

Sounds to me that it is more like 2 or 2.5 X. Don't ya think.

I don't think Jamey really likes to frame it this way, but it really depends on how you look at it, because there actually could be a terrifying frequency of violent massacres happening in Scythe. It's always seemed to me the "power" meter / cards are a sanitary abstraction for standing armies, hidden forces, supply lines, munitions and other costs of war. I imagine hordes of horse-mounted cavalry slamming into invincible metal behemoths, while swaths of hapless, ill-equipped infantry are left trampled in their wake. Any fleeing laborers witness to these horrors of war spread the news on their way home, sewing ill will among the countryside, resulting in a loss of popularity for the aggressor. Nearly every conflict results in significant "casualties" for both sides (even if the mechs / characters aren't removed from the board, they do suffer setback) and that's a significant factor in why conflict happens so infrequently.

Additionally, on a crunchier level, everything that ends up on the board is not just a unit, but an irrevocable technological advancement / infrastructure development; I don't know of any 4X game where a player's "tech tree" can be dismantled through combat.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Phil Triest
Australia
Sydney
NSW
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
razordaze wrote:
philtrees wrote:
jameystegmaier wrote:

Exterminate means attacking and eliminating rival players. Since in some games all territory is eventually claimed, eliminating a rival's presence may be the only way to achieve further expansion.

Here's why I chose to apply the label to Scythe:

...

Exterminate: In Scythe, players can use mechs and characters attack other players and eliminate opposing units from territories. It's true that you're not permanently killing units, though in any game it's tough to kill an inanimate plastic token (maybe melt it?). It's also true that Scythe is more often about the threat of combat than combat itself.

Sounds to me that it is more like 2 or 2.5 X. Don't ya think.

I don't think Jamey really likes to frame it this way, but it really depends on how you look at it, because there actually could be a terrifying frequency of violent massacres happening in Scythe. It's always seemed to me the "power" meter / cards are a sanitary abstraction for standing armies, hidden forces, supply lines, munitions and other costs of war. I imagine hordes of horse-mounted cavalry slamming into invincible metal behemoths, while swaths of hapless, ill-equipped infantry are left trampled in their wake. Any fleeing laborers witness to these horrors of war spread the news on their way home, sewing ill will among the countryside, resulting in a loss of popularity for the aggressor. Nearly every conflict results in significant "casualties" for both sides (even if the mechs / characters aren't removed from the board, they do suffer setback) and that's a significant factor in why conflict happens so infrequently.

Additionally, on a crunchier level, everything that ends up on the board is not just a unit, but an irrevocable technological advancement / infrastructure development; I don't know of any 4X game where a player's "tech tree" can be dismantled through combat.

The units simply go back to their spawn point. So no not mechanically. In 4X games there is a bigger cost than that.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Frank Branham
United States
Duluth
Georgia
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
New Dia die Los Muertos. Lighter, sillier, and Stickers.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
jameystegmaier wrote:

Exterminate: In Scythe, players can use mechs and characters attack other players and eliminate opposing units from territories. It's true that you're not permanently killing units, though in any game it's tough to kill an inanimate plastic token (maybe melt it?). It's also true that Scythe is more often about the threat of combat than combat itself.



It sounds like Scythe fails on the particular "Exterminate X". That's not at all a bad thing. There is a modern trend toward insuring that players stay in the game.

It also gets rid of turtling strategies and makes the game overall more fluid. I wonder if we should just call the modern ones 3X games, because....screw that last X. We don't miss it.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls