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Subject: Prescience and the Fog of War: A Solo Review of Scythe rss

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Bruce Nettleton
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Like about half the world's population, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Scythe by Stonemaier Games. My copy arrived in the mail just before I left on family vacation and waited patiently for my return. I set it up and played a herky-jerky three player game with a couple of other folks who had never seen the game before. We all agreed we liked it, but couldn't quite grok the systems after only a single play.

Over the next couple of days, though, the box was out on my dining room table, just inviting me to come and have some fun. Finally, I broke out thee solo version against the Automata. As of this writing, I've played the solo version of the game four times.

Scythe, in case you've just returned from the jungles of New Guinea, is a steam punk, alternative history sort of 4x game in which players compete for control of territory, score points for achievements and production, and occasionally annoy one another with combat. The solo experience uses a faction controlled by a deck of cards with various actions listed on them. Each action is governed by a sort of boolean logic that simulates an opponent spreading their influence across the board. The AI has four different levels of difficulty, primarily differentiated by how quickly the makeshift opponent ramps up their scoring engine.

My first play (at the beginner's "Autometta" level) seemed to be going well. Then, suddenly, it wasn't. Once the AI started to score, it did so pretty quickly. The seemingly aimless movement, if left unchecked, eats up a lot of territory, too. Being still a little uncertain of the game's nuances, I had tried to "turtle" and paid dearly.

So I immediately set up to play again at the same level. This time I moved out a little more aggressively. I was also getting the hang of the mechanics and producing more regularly, which, in Scythe, often translates into an extra action each turn. Things were nip and tuck until the Autometta pulled a card which dictated an attacking move. My toes curled up, because about the only thing you can't really control in Scythe is the outcome of combat. This is particularly true against the AI. Against a human opponent, the player with the most accumulate strength points and combat cards generally has a solid edge in combat. The outcome usually boils down to how bad the more powerful player wants to win and what they're willing to spend to make it happen.

Against the AI, though, combat boils down to a blind card draw. Don't get me wrong, the more power the Automata has accumulated, the more likely it is to bring real heat, but other than that, the game state doesn't really affect combat at all. In this crucial battle of the game, I drew a puny attack against one of my key positions. Not only did that retire the Automata's Mech, it also gave me a star and bought me the time to finish off my plan and win the game.

So I raised the bar and played the game at a tougher level. In my third game I had a couple of more combats that sort of fizzled out and handed me stars. I saw that I had a move to end the game early. It's a move that I never would have used against a human opponent. It involved spreading my workers out to cover a lot of territory to secure one of my secret objectives. It also set me up to produce the last two workers and score another star on my next turn. It would have never worked against a human, because it left all of my workers (and several of my structures) exposed to attack for that intervening turn. A human would have gobbled me alive.

But I knew that the Automata couldn't read the game state and was highly unlikely to move a Mech into a space occupied by one of my workers. More to the point, the Automata would NEVER level an attack from multiple fronts in a single turn.

There are higher levels of the Automata to explore, and I know they'll probably be much more challenging just because they score points faster.

My verdict?

The solo experience is fun and challenging at all but the combat level. The race to score points is satisfying enough, but that "cold war" threat of an overwhelming tactical military response that adds a layer of palpable tension to Scythe as a multi-player game seems a little lacking. It could happen, but only as a random event, and only on a limited front.

On the positive, the solo experience has certainly given me an opportunity to explore and better understand the mechanics of the game. I can hardly wait to get the game back to the table with human opponents!
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Sky Zero
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Tried solo a few times now and haven't been able to get through a full game yet. The card draw and going through the mechanics of different rules to place pieces through sequencing really pulls me away from the game. Need to give it a few more tries though before giving up on it. I know many enjoy it and the work put into the solo variant is outstanding, just hasn't resonated with me so far.
 
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Ken Kuhn
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If you like solo gameplay, I encourage you to keep at it with Scythe!

I have played six games Solo so far.

1x Easy (Won)
1x Normal (Won)
4x Hard (Won 1, Lost 3)

I will agree the combat does feel a lot different then in the multiplayer experience, however, I wonder if there are a few things to reconsider.

1st: Winning combat is not always the best move in solo play or multiplayer. Because losing allows you to draw a card and transport your character/mech back to the start spot. In some cases the best choice is to effectively forfeit by playing one power or by discarding a 2 card in the hopes of drawing a better one.

2nd: In the higher difficulty levels, you have fewer and fewer turns to win. So even one unexpected combat pull can really set you back in your planning.

3rd: There is quite a bit of strategy in the combat encounter because you effectively have an idea of the odds of the card flip and you have to decide whether to go all in (ex. combat card 5 + 7 pw), risk it (ex. some variation of combat card and power that puts you at around 7 strength), or forfeit as mentioned above. Today I played a match where I needed to win the combat, so I went full tilt which took me down to 0 power. Then two turns later I realized that I needed 1 power to produce and didn't have it. As Jamey says often, Scythe is a puzzle. So sure I messed up due to lack of foresight, but it makes the combats that much more important that they are approached thoughtfully.

4th: Lastly, choosing to move into two combat encounters to receive your final two stars can be a killer last turn move. Assessing the state of the AI's game state tells you a lot about the strategy by which to attack adding a little extra kick to an already wonderful solo puzzle.

Nice Review! Try one of the higher difficulty levels, they are a blast!
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John Bruns
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Just a thought about leaving a bunch of workers around the board.

Against a single human opponent, would it really be that bad. Lets say that you maxed out your workers, do to the high production rate have all the resources accumulated that you need. Leaving single workers laying around means you own the territories and the opponent must move his mechs in at the cost of a popularity point and no gain, other than taking over a hex that would otherwise be vacant. A single AI won't spend a lot of effort removing them, but it is likely a human might not either.
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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pastorbln wrote:

Against the AI, though, combat boils down to a blind card draw. Don't get me wrong, the more power the Automata has accumulated, the more likely it is to bring real heat, but other than that, the game state doesn't really affect combat at all.


That is a bit misleading as the current power and how many cards the AI has have a big effect on combat. The AI can only spend whatever power it has, and can only use the cards it has, so part of an effective strategy is to drain the AI of power and cards through some side combats before hitting it where you really want to achieve a victory.
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Neil Helmer
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One thing in your example... You cringed when the Autometta opponent drew an attack move, then drew a puny attack against you. In this case you would not have earned a Star as defender - you can only earn them as a successful attacker, never as a successful defender
 
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Ken Kuhn
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Mondoron wrote:
One thing in your example... You cringed when the Autometta opponent drew an attack move, then drew a puny attack against you. In this case you would not have earned a Star as defender - you can only earn them as a successful attacker, never as a successful defender



Incorrect. See pg. 23 and 27 of the rulebook. "winning combat" is what awards a star
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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Mondoron wrote:
One thing in your example... You cringed when the Autometta opponent drew an attack move, then drew a puny attack against you. In this case you would not have earned a Star as defender - you can only earn them as a successful attacker, never as a successful defender


That isn't true.

Rules, Page 23:

"The winner also places 1 star token in the combat space of the Triumph track."

There is no mention anywhere that this is for the attacker only.
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Pierre
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Combat against Automa is, from my perspective, not all that bad. When Automa has 7+ power, you can mostly be sure that it will spend as much as it can. Making a blind bid against the unknown amount of cards to be played by Automa is quite tense. You can lure Automa into battles against territories in which you have 2 combat units, which usually should be enough to beat Automa. To achieve that, you should unlock the enlist action that lets you draw combat cards as soon as possible, because Automa will often grant access to these. Same goes for the power bonus.

That holds true for all enlist actions. I unlock these as soon as I can to gain as much profit from it as possible. Actually, none of my turns ever are about gaining popularity because Automa usually gives me 7 or 8 for free - just for the enlist bonus.

Another factor you can exploit is the fact that Automa does not generate Resources by itself, and thus hardly gains coins from them (unless you let it conquer yours). Getting closer to the end game, you could simply turtle into a territory or two [inserted to reflect the correction below] with a mill and spam produce/bolster actions with no more than 5 workers (to avoid losing popularity for producing unless your player mat voids that cost) up to 6 resorces [inserted to reflec the correction below]. Assuming you are at the top tier of popularity, this will net you a neat amount of coins. Just make sure to bolster on a regular basis and collect strong combat cards to fend off any attacks. Your best bet for this is a territory near your home base to conquer the terrtory back in case Automa actually manages to take it from you.

Once you got the hang of it, there are several factors you can exploit, but they don't guarantee you to win the game. You still need to adjust your strategy to your faction and player mat.

Finding Automa's weak spots each game is a fun puzzle to solve.
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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nightye wrote:
Another factor you can exploit is the fact that Automa does not generate Resources by itself, and thus hardly gains coins from them (unless you let it conquer yours).


The Automa never gains resources, if it conquers a space of yours with resources on it, those resources are immediately destroyed, as per the rulebook. The Automa never holds resources and never scores end game points for them.

Automa Rules, Page 11:

Resolving Resources:

"If the Automa was the attacker and won, or if it moved into a territory with just workers or just resources, then remove all resources from the territory."

Scoring:

The Automa scores coins as if it were a human player... since it doesn't produce resources or build structures, it doesn't gain coins for these."


nightye wrote:
Getting closer to the end game, you could simply turtle into a territory with a mill and spam produce/bolster actions with no more than 5 workers (to avoid losing popularity for producing unless your player mat voids that cost). Assuming you are at the top tier of popularity, this will net you a neat amount of coins. Just make sure to bolster on a regular basis and collect strong combat cards to fend off any attacks. Your best bet for this is a territory near your home base to conquer the terrtory back in case Automa actually manages to take it from you.


Don't forget that you can count a maximum of 6 resources in each hex for victory points when playing the automa, so if you are going to spam a hex near home base, you will still need to spread those resources around in order for them all to count. Also, if the Automa manages to take a hex from you that is filled with resources, as I stated above the resources are immediately destroyed, so taking the hex back would not regain you those lost resources as they have been destroyed.

Automa Rules, Page 11:

Scoring:

"You score as in the multiplayer game, except that for resources you score a maximum of 6 resources per territory."

This is such a fantastic game, both solo and multiplayer. I am having a blast with it.
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Pierre
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reverendunclebastard wrote:
The Automa never gains resources, if it conquers a space of yours with resources on it, those resources are immediately destroyed, as per the rulebook. The Automa never holds resources and never scores end game points for them.

Yet another rule I overlooked due to never having been defeated with resources on that territory. Thanks for the heads up.

Quote:
Don't forget that you can count a maximum of 6 resources in each hex for victory points when playing the automa, so if you are going to spam a hex near home base, you will still need to spread those resources around in order for them all to count. Also, if the Automa manages to take a hex from you that is filled with resources, as I stated above the resources are immediately destroyed, so taking the hex back would not regain you those lost resources as they have been destroyed.

Well, even in that case it's not that hard to gain 12 resources which can be defended without much effort.

But you are absolutely right. 3 plays against Automa and I still don't have all the rules changes memorized.
That is my only gripe with Automa. There are a few rules changes that are easily forgotten or overlooked.
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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nightye wrote:
3 plays against Automa and I still don't have all the rules changes memorized.
That is my only gripe with Automa. There are a few rules changes that are easily forgotten or overlooked.


I am 7 solo plays in and I think I have the automa movement and all the rules changes down. There aren't that many changes to the regular game to play solo but in the early games it can be easy to miss something. I missed that once the automa can cross rivers, it can also use lake hexes as if they were regular hexes. Took me a couple of games before I figured that one out... modest
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Pierre
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reverendunclebastard wrote:
I missed that once the automa can cross rivers, it can also use lake hexes as if they were regular hexes. Took me a couple of games before I figured that one out... modest

This one actually got stuck in my head as soon as I read the rules. I thought "What the heck? This is ridiculous!" and thus could not forget it anymore.
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Bruce Nettleton
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nightye wrote:
Combat against Automa is, from my perspective, not all that bad. When Automa has 7+ power, you can mostly be sure that it will spend as much as it can. Making a blind bid against the unknown amount of cards to be played by Automa is quite tense. You can lure Automa into battles against territories in which you have 2 combat units, which usually should be enough to beat Automa. To achieve that, you should unlock the enlist action that lets you draw combat cards as soon as possible, because Automa will often grant access to these. Same goes for the power bonus.

That holds true for all enlist actions. I unlock these as soon as I can to gain as much profit from it as possible. Actually, none of my turns ever are about gaining popularity because Automa usually gives me 7 or 8 for free - just for the enlist bonus.

Another factor you can exploit is the fact that Automa does not generate Resources by itself, and thus hardly gains coins from them (unless you let it conquer yours). Getting closer to the end game, you could simply turtle into a territory or two [inserted to reflect the correction below] with a mill and spam produce/bolster actions with no more than 5 workers (to avoid losing popularity for producing unless your player mat voids that cost) up to 6 resorces [inserted to reflec the correction below]. Assuming you are at the top tier of popularity, this will net you a neat amount of coins. Just make sure to bolster on a regular basis and collect strong combat cards to fend off any attacks. Your best bet for this is a territory near your home base to conquer the terrtory back in case Automa actually manages to take it from you.

Once you got the hang of it, there are several factors you can exploit, but they don't guarantee you to win the game. You still need to adjust your strategy to your faction and player mat.

Finding Automa's weak spots each game is a fun puzzle to solve.


I tend to a non-aggressive sort of strategy, largely because combat is the most uncertain element in the game. For that reason, I usually only have one or two combat encounters per game. However, in that limited experience, the Automata has NEVER maxed out its combat potential by playing seven power and multiple combat cards, in spite of the fact that the Automata usually accumulates a lot of combat power very quickly. Maybe I've just had uncharacteristically lucky draws.

At any rate, my point is that whether the Automata goes "all in" in combat is randomly determined, rather than responding to game state.

You pointed out some other things I hadn't though of in terms of manipulating the Automata. I think your observations kind of reinforce what I'm trying to say. Playing against the Automata can be fun, but it's a very different game from playing against a human opponent who is responding tactically to the game state.
 
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Bruce Nettleton
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Quote:

This is such a fantastic game, both solo and multiplayer. I am having a blast with it.


I actually agree. I hope I didn't come off too negatively in the OP. I like the solo experience. I was just trying to point out how it differed from playing against a thinking opponent.
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Bruce Nettleton
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reverendunclebastard wrote:
pastorbln wrote:

Against the AI, though, combat boils down to a blind card draw. Don't get me wrong, the more power the Automata has accumulated, the more likely it is to bring real heat, but other than that, the game state doesn't really affect combat at all.


That is a bit misleading as the current power and how many cards the AI has have a big effect on combat. The AI can only spend whatever power it has, and can only use the cards it has, so part of an effective strategy is to drain the AI of power and cards through some side combats before hitting it where you really want to achieve a victory.


You are, of course, correct. Still, though, whether the AI goes "all in" in combat is randomly determined. In my games, the AI has often maxed out the power track, but if you draw a card with a puny attack, all that power is for nought. A human player that far ahead on military strength (especially if they've already got the max strength star) would almost certainly spend a few extra against a lone attacker to secure a win and a star.

On the flip side: I don't attack much, as a matter of course, but I'm particularly loathe to attack in solo mode because I have no idea how many units I'm actually attacking. That single figure on the hex could represent what amounts to a much larger army by blindly drawing multiple combat card draws.

As for drawing off combat strength with "side attacks," I don't think you could play at that for very long. The Automata scores stars in a hurry, and pretty much without regard to board state, so while you're setting up a future combat, the clock against you is tick, tick, ticking. You MIGHT be able to stage a couple of side attacks in a single turn, particularly if the move action gained you something else of value. For most factions, though, this means you've postponed your primary attack of two turns, because you have to take a different action in between.
 
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Mathue Faulk
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nightye wrote:

Quote:
Don't forget that you can count a maximum of 6 resources in each hex for victory points when playing the automa, so if you are going to spam a hex near home base, you will still need to spread those resources around in order for them all to count. Also, if the Automa manages to take a hex from you that is filled with resources, as I stated above the resources are immediately destroyed, so taking the hex back would not regain you those lost resources as they have been destroyed.

Well, even in that case it's not that hard to gain 12 resources which can be defended without much effort.


It's 6 resources, not 6 points in resources. You can only gain 3 points per hex by sitting on 6 resources.
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Pierre
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mfaulk80 wrote:
nightye wrote:

Quote:
Don't forget that you can count a maximum of 6 resources in each hex for victory points when playing the automa, so if you are going to spam a hex near home base, you will still need to spread those resources around in order for them all to count. Also, if the Automa manages to take a hex from you that is filled with resources, as I stated above the resources are immediately destroyed, so taking the hex back would not regain you those lost resources as they have been destroyed.

Well, even in that case it's not that hard to gain 12 resources which can be defended without much effort.


It's 6 resources, not 6 points in resources. You can only gain 3 points per hex by sitting on 6 resources.


My point was that you can easily defend 2 territories and accumulate a total of 12 resources there that qualify for scoring. Perhaps I should have been more clear about that.
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John Hicks
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This is the thread i was looking for. Thx for all your reports about solo experience, i finished a few moments ago a match with poland vs. crim khanate and lost - second time now.
My analyse says: play less the way i do vs. human players, pay more attention to the AI script, its calculatable. But i won`t do this, cause this is not what i want. I lost 3 important battles in my first two games by only one combat value, due to the random combat system. that the ai can draw 0-3 cards with only one miniature standing is really disappointing me. To loose, so the ai spend a lot of military ressources and get a card has the disadvantage that you loose important time at the end. In both games it only had to be one turn more for me to win the game

Probably i am going to change some automa mechanics, so its more similar to the multiplayer game with humans.

Edit: Played just right now a third time vs. autometta and the result is suprising: Me 98 Pts vs. Autometta 61 Pts

This time i take initiative in attacking so autometta was often missing combat units to attack with and i take a look at the combat card table: only 6 of 19 cards includes playing 2-3 cards for autometta. This makes it a little bit more calculatable. Enjoyed Victory :]
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