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Subject: Would You Like To Build an Empire? - A 2P Review of Scythe rss

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Would You Like To Build an Empire?
A 2P Review of the Scythe (Collector’s Edition)


Preface

I enjoy medium-heavy eurogames with relatively simple mechanisms that hide a wide expanse of depth and difficult decisions. Games with variable player powers and setup simply sing to me, and I can never resist a game with good production quality and well-integrated theme. My favorite games are The Gallerist and Kanban: Driver's Edition. This should give you a good idea of what my possible biases are going into this review.

Win Conditions

The end goal is simple – have the most money. How you achieve that goal depends on your focuses for the game. In general, all players will be striving to accomplish six of ten goals in the game. You can choose to lean more towards internal infrastructure and stability by focusing on upgrades, buildings, workers, and popularity. Or you might choose to develop a warmongering dictatorship by focusing on deploying your mechs, winning battles, and elevating your power. Accomplishing any of these goals will allow you to place a star, which is worth money at the end of the game. When a player places their sixth and final star, the game immediately ends.



It’s worth noting that this is not a racing game to see who can place stars the fastest. While placing all six stars does get you a bit more money at the end of the game, it is not the only determining factor. Players are also scored based on numbers of territories and resources controlled. The reward for these is based on your current popularity. I lost one game after placing the sixth star because my opponent’s higher popularity tier gave her so many more coins. As such, the timing of end game is crucial.



You’d think that this would cause AP in spades, but it doesn’t. We found that it was just too much work to sit there and try to calculate the actual board state, so we ended up trying to evaluate it more by general feel. The game almost pushes you to play more intuitively. Scythe takes this one step further by introducing a variant that actually punishes players who delay the game more than 10 seconds while trying to tally their scores.

Gameplay


I won’t go into specific mechanics here, rather electing to give you more of a general impression. Rodney Smith’s Watch It Played summarizes it way more eloquently and succinctly than I can write any case.

The number of variable components really make each game play differently. For a two player setup, each game will only see:
• 2 of 5 Factions (with differing mech abilities, faction powers, and starting location / popularity / battle cards / power)
• 2 of 5 Player Action Mats
• 1 of 6 Structure Bonus Tiles
• 4 of 23 Objective Cards
• 3 of 12 Factory Cards
• Maybe 6 of 28 Encounter Cards

Factions

A lot of games have variable setup and player powers, but don’t feel different. In scythe, every faction forces you in a different direction. The abilities you gain sometimes seem ridiculous and overpowered, but the game remains well balanced (one thing I loved about Marco Polo). As an example, the Crimean Khanate (yellow) is able to use Coercion to spend a combat card as a resource once per turn. This doesn’t seem like much until you pair it with the Scout ability, letting you steal combat cards.



Near the end of my first game, Saxony (black) had just claimed the factory and was one turn away from placing their sixth star. All she needed to do was control one more forest space to satisfy an objective. She confident with her larger military presence and higher power (12 versus Crimea’s 4). However, Crimea was able to use his advanced movement abilities to position two mechs and his character into three separate battles. He resolves the two combats on the tunnel spaces first, stealing a combat card each time and forcing her to overcommit combat cards and power. By the time the factory battle came around, Saxony no longer had combat cards to spend. Crimea was able to claim the factory and use his bottom row action to enlist his last recruit (using one of the stolen combat cards as the last food needed), ultimately winning the game. Discovering these interactions is really one of the highlights of Scythe.



Player Mats

Although the actions themselves are mostly the same across the player mats, what changes are the combinations of top row vs. bottom row actions and their relative cost vs. rewards. Again, this doesn’t seem like much variation, but it really does change the way you strategize. In the below example, we see significant coin rewards on the Upgrade and Build bottom row actions. Since the upgrade action is paired with the Produce top row action, the mat is well suited towards jump starting their economy by making actions more efficient with upgrades and building abilities.



However, this strategy may not work so well for the Crimean player who’s starting territory does not have either wood or oil. They may need to work on developing mechs early to gain access or utilize the Trade action more often.




Compared to the matt above, the matt below incentivizes enlistments and mech deployments, while making building and upgrading less lucrative. This would work much better for the Crimean player, who has native access to both resources. As such, luck does play a bit of a factor in setup.



The Review

Times Played Before Review: 6 times at two player
Average Play Time: 45 minutes at two player, 60 minutes for learning game
Times Won: 3
Version: Collector’s Edition (Kickstarter)

The format here was borrowed from
Milena Guberinic
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Pros
1. Absolutely beautiful art.
The board has amazing levels of detail, with each hex having its own unique personality. Look closely and you’ll see active volcanoes, frigid wastelands, and bustling cities. The factory cards, player boards, and faction mats, and encounter cards are all uniquely evocative.

2. Great Production Value.
I really enjoy deluxe versions of games, but Scythe takes the cake. You can see how much care was put into every aspect of the game, from the different worker meeples that each faction has to the box organization chart printed on the side. The miniatures are beautifully detailed, rivaling anything from CMoN and the dual layer player mats are a delight to use. I was also rather surprised by just how heavy the realistic resources were. Very little prepared me for how massive the extended board is. And the sheer weight of the box literally makes it the heaviest game I own. I believe shipping estimates said it was around 10 pounds!




3. HUGE amounts of variation make for lots of replayability.
The different combinations of factions / player mats and variable setup all make for vastly different experiences.

4. Simple gameplay with deep strategy.
When it comes down to it, you only have 4 (or 5 with the factory) spots you can place your worker each turn. However, each spot has a lot of implications. If you produce now, can you get enough oil to utilize the bottom row action and upgrade? If you do upgrade, do you upgrade the enlistment space so you can get more recruits out next turn or the deployment spot so you can work on expanding earlier?

5. Quick turns with very little downtime.
The rules actually encourage to have overlapping turns, where the next player begins their top row action while the previous player finishes their bottom row action. In a two player game, this means almost continuous turns!

6. Well integrated theme.
There are a lot of great mechanics that work well thematically. When you drive workers off of a space, you lose popularity with the masses for becoming a warmonger. You often see a type of push-pull with popularity and power, as many times you’ll need to sacrifice one for the other. This happens most often in prominently in encounter cards. There was one game where I felt so entrenched as a warlord dictator that I continuously took the “evil” third option, even if other options were more lucrative for my situation. A couple of games after, I thought myself a “liberator” due to the Camaraderie ability of the Polania, where you do not lose popularity for forcing workers to retreat.

7. Great sense of development and building.
You start in relatively constricted in your home area with only three resources at your disposal. As you upgrade and deploy, you gain more mobility and are able to spread out, conquer and build an empire of your design. And the beautiful thing is that your territory is constantly changing, as you’re always moving workers to different areas, trying to maximize your production in a given turn.

Cons
soblue 1. The fixed positions on the map can sometimes set you back.
Some faction starting locations may make it difficult to get your economy going, since they don’t always have the best native resources for your player board. It’s not game breaking, but it may be enough to set you back a turn compared to other players. I keep wondering how a variant where we choose starting position after getting our player boards would work out.

soblue 2. It’s often easy to forget to claim recruit bonuses.
While the recruit bonus works in theory to make all players engaged at all times, it can become difficult to track. In a two player game, the turns come so fast that you’re more often focused on what your next move will be than on what bottom row action your opponent is taking.

soblue 3. Some games don’t have much conflict.
It’s entirely possible to play a game without a single combat. Don’t get me wrong, the tension is still there, but sometimes it feels anticlimactic to develop an army and massive hand of combat cards and not use any of them. In this way, Scythe is more about posturing than actual combat.

The Bottom Line

Immediately after our first game, my girlfriend excitedly exclaimed that Scythe was a mash up of the best parts of her favorite games. It took economy and asymmetry from Terra Mystica, combat from Blood Rage, and "cool parts" from Viticulture. She then immediately asked to play again, even though it was already late. And on a weekday. She never asks for more games on a weekday. surprise

Her reaction aside, I really do enjoy Scythe. It hits all of my high points described in the Preface, and is one of the most worthwhile purchases I’ve made in a while.



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A J
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Sounds like she's a keeper!

And the girlfriend, too.
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Chris Laudermilk
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Excellent review. I agree on almost everything. But, I'll have to disagree on con #3; I find the way Scythe makes the threat of combat almost more tense than the actual fight very interesting & more a feature than a bug.

Be sure to take a close look at the map art. Jakub commented a while ago that he threw in a LOT of Easter eggs. I know we found one of the more obvious ones soon after the first larger images of the map were released ("Ho! Ho! Ho!"); he said keep looking, there was more.
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Mark Palframan
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I enjoyed the review, thanks!
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Tyler DeLisle
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What a really great review, thanks for posting! This has possibly gotten me more excited than any rap far. As I wait impatiently for my own copy, I keep wondering how much I'll end up liking the game. One thing I've been wondering, you really hit one, is if it might be a game that I could play with my girlfriend. She loves Terra Mystica and Agricola, I tend to prefer confrontational games, but don't think she'd be keen on Kemet, his might be a perfect mix for us.
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Lawrence
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claudermilk wrote:
Excellent review. I agree on almost everything. But, I'll have to disagree on con #3; I find the way Scythe makes the threat of combat almost more tense than the actual fight very interesting & more a feature than a bug.

Be sure to take a close look at the map art. Jakub commented a while ago that he threw in a LOT of Easter eggs. I know we found one of the more obvious ones soon after the first larger images of the map were released ("Ho! Ho! Ho!"); he said keep looking, there was more.


We spent a good while looking for easter eggs after today's game. I really appreciated the Marvelous surprise!
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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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Thank you for the review and for taking the time to post it.
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Thomas Schwarz
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Thanks for the review! I can't wait to get my own copy of Scythe and try the game myself!

Even if I won't be able to play it with my wife, but have to take it to my weekly gaming group...
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Michael T. Probst
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claudermilk wrote:
Excellent review. I agree on almost everything. But, I'll have to disagree on con #3; I find the way Scythe makes the threat of combat almost more tense than the actual fight very interesting & more a feature than a bug.

Be sure to take a close look at the map art. Jakub commented a while ago that he threw in a LOT of Easter eggs. I know we found one of the more obvious ones soon after the first larger images of the map were released ("Ho! Ho! Ho!"); he said keep looking, there was more.



Nice review, thanks a lot, but on CON #3 you have to consider: "You played only two player games...". Think about 4 or 5 fraction on the (same) board and you have to "visit" your neighbour more often...
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Chris Laudermilk
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Yes you do. I've played mostly 2p myself, but have gotten 3p and 4p games in. It does get more crowded with more players--and quickly. The combat--or threat thereof--becomes an ever larger factor as player count increases. With more players, you also have to consider the post-combat state even more. You are more likely to have a neighboring mech watching the battle with interest...who is hoping to waltz in to a spent victor and snatch the spoils away himself.

So, for 2p, there isn't much combat as compared to more. Many of my 2p games completed with a single fight, or maybe two. But there was plenty of posturing, maneuvering, and threatening.
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Mary Grace Domantay
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Great review! Will you be updating this after we play our first 4 player game this weekend? PS: That battle maneuver you used to take out Saxony was beautifully executed. Saxony will be back, and they will have their revenge.
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Kurt Bieberbach
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I just played this with my wife and adult daughter and we all agreed it was awesome. I was afraid it was going to be too heavy for my wife but I took the advice in the rulebook and just taught the victory scoring, end game conditions and then the actions and covered the details and the rest of the rules as we came to them. I'm going to call this a Goldilocks game, it's not too heavy nor too light, it's just right.

Regarding your cons:
1. Since the trade action is pretty much just as good in the early game as the produce action, I don't feel like starting position is a big disadvantage. Of course, I've only played one game so my opinion might change with more plays.
2. Every time someone took a bottom action, we just asked if anyone else had a recruit action. It seemed to work fine and I don't think we missed any.
3. I like that it isn't combat intensive but that there is some fighting. This makes the game more appealing to my wife as she doesn't like too much direct conflict. Interestingly, she initiated the first battle in our game.

This one's definitely a keeper, I'm glad I got it and especially happy that I got the collector's edition as the realistic resources are awesome. Great game!
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kbieb wrote:
I just played this with my wife and adult daughter and we all agreed it was awesome. I was afraid it was going to be too heavy for my wife but I took the advice in the rulebook and just taught the victory scoring, end game conditions and then the actions and covered the details and the rest of the rules as we came to them. I'm going to call this a Goldilocks game, it's not too heavy nor too light, it's just right.

Regarding your cons:
1. Since the trade action is pretty much just as good in the early game as the produce action, I don't feel like starting position is a big disadvantage. Of course, I've only played one game so my opinion might change with more plays.
2. Every time someone took a bottom action, we just asked if anyone else had a recruit action. It seemed to work fine and I don't think we missed any.
3. I like that it isn't combat intensive but that there is some fighting. This makes the game more appealing to my wife as she doesn't like too much direct conflict. Interestingly, she initiated the first battle in our game.

This one's definitely a keeper, I'm glad I got it and especially happy that I got the collector's edition as the realistic resources are awesome. Great game!


I completely agree with you on your counter-arguments. Trading is equally viable to producing. Alternately, pick a different strategy. The game is so wide open to trying a variety of approaches, I can't understand the argument that some player mats work better with certain factions. At most, some player mats have obvious strategies, while others require a bit more planning.

As for the recruit bonuses, the rules even say you should clearly announce which bottom actions you're taking to avoid missing it.


Very good review, I liked it a lot.
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philcampeau wrote:
The game is so wide open to trying a variety of approaches, I can't understand the argument that some player mats work better with certain factions. At most, some player mats have obvious strategies, while others require a bit more planning.


This may have only been for us, but in our games, mats where our native resources don't match up well with high coin outputs on bottom row actions often meant our economies were a turn or so slower. Unless you're Nordic, it isn't easy to get non-native resources in the first few turns of the game.

Consider the review example I gave above. If a Crimean player started with the first mat, their only resource for coins is a single coin from Enlisting. Additionally, the only two bottom row actions they can natively take - Deploy and Enlist are fairly expensive. Without oil to upgrade, they're forced to concentrate on slowly building up enough metal to get an early mech to riverwalk. Alternatively, they'd need to take the trade option more often, which quickly uses up coins without many options to get more in the near term. I generally just feel like I have fewer options when the mats don't line up very well.

Again, it isn't a big difference. In most games, you may not even notice the difference. However, my girlfriend and I are so evenly matched in most games that it does have an impact when we play.
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mavericklancer wrote:
philcampeau wrote:
The game is so wide open to trying a variety of approaches, I can't understand the argument that some player mats work better with certain factions. At most, some player mats have obvious strategies, while others require a bit more planning.


This may have only been for us, but in our games, mats where our native resources don't match up well with high coin outputs on bottom row actions often meant our economies were a turn or so slower. Unless you're Nordic, it isn't easy to get non-native resources in the first few turns of the game.

Consider the review example I gave above. If a Crimean player started with the first mat, their only resource for coins is a single coin from Enlisting. Additionally, the only two bottom row actions they can natively take - Deploy and Enlist are fairly expensive. Without oil to upgrade, they're forced to concentrate on slowly building up enough metal to get an early mech to riverwalk. Alternatively, they'd need to take the trade option more often, which quickly uses up coins without many options to get more in the near term. I generally just feel like I have fewer options when the mats don't line up very well.

Again, it isn't a big difference. In most games, you may not even notice the difference. However, my girlfriend and I are so evenly matched in most games that it does have an impact when we play.
Isn't Crimea the faction that can access unused home bases? That way they can access quite a few more hexes before unlocking riverwalk or building the mine.
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Ze_German_Guy wrote:
Isn't Crimea the faction that can access unused home bases? That way they can access quite a few more hexes before unlocking riverwalk or building the mine.


That's a mech ability, which still requires you to Deploy (same as riverwalk). Their regular power, Coercion, allows them to use a combat card as a resource.
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mavericklancer wrote:
Ze_German_Guy wrote:
Isn't Crimea the faction that can access unused home bases? That way they can access quite a few more hexes before unlocking riverwalk or building the mine.


That's a mech ability, which still requires you to Deploy (same as riverwalk). Their regular power, Coercion, allows them to use a combat card as a resource.
Got those mixed up, thanks for correcting me!
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Chris Laudermilk
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I have indeed found that some faction + player mat combos are more challenging. It's not a massive difference, but I have had at least one game where I picked a difficult combo while my son drew a perfect storm combo & walked me. It's not common, but can happen. I just took that one as a challenge to see if I could overcome the difficult combo.
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Good review, but have to emphatically disagree with you on one point;

"The miniatures are beautifully detailed, rivaling anything from CMoN "

CMoN... you can't be serious.

The production quality in the game overall is outstanding. No question it's the highest quality production i've seen in a total package... but those minis aren't amazing by any means. There's a distinct lack of detail in them and the poses are fairly bland.
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Jamey Stegmaier
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I'm very pleased at our first attempt at miniatures, particularly the mechs. The characters didn't quite have the detail of their 3D renders--I agree that CMoN's miniatures are better than Scythe's character miniatures (particularly those in Blood Rage).
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MannyM wrote:
Good review, but have to emphatically disagree with you on one point;

"The miniatures are beautifully detailed, rivaling anything from CMoN "

CMoN... you can't be serious.

The production quality in the game overall is outstanding. No question it's the highest quality production i've seen in a total package... but those minis aren't amazing by any means. There's a distinct lack of detail in them and the poses are fairly bland.


I actually just took this to a group where we played Blood Rage and then Scythe. While the Blood Rage mini's where definitely more intricately detailed, several members commented that they liked the Scythe miniatures more, as they seemed more elegant. Take this with a grain of salt though, as none of us are real miniature enthusiasts. We just don't pay as much attention to them. The extent of our exposure is limited to Arcadia Quest and Blood Rage.
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Chris Smith

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Great review! Thanks so much : )
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jameystegmaier wrote:
I'm very pleased at our first attempt at miniatures, particularly the mechs. The characters didn't quite have the detail of their 3D renders--I agree that CMoN's miniatures are better than Scythe's character miniatures (particularly those in Blood Rage).


Ohh Jamey... You're such a champion. In the face of criticism, you still remain so balanced in your opinion. You're so damn nice!! Now I feel bad :-P

For the record, I was actually commenting on the character minis. The mechs have a great amount of detail and I can't complain about them at all. The characters do lack a bit of detail, but it doesn't affect the game at all so it's no biggie. For board game minis, they're totally fine.
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Tod Andrew
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Good review.
I like the explanations about pro's and con's because con#3 'Some games don’t have much conflict' is neutral or even a pro to me.
 
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Great review!

Unpacking this game was an experience unto itself- easily the most beautiful game I have ever seen.
 
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