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Subject: Sickle of the Hype (a Space-Biff! review) rss

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Daniel Thurot
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Sickle of the Hype

If there are two things I’m wary of, it’s hype and Eurogames. Scratch that, three things: also moths. I hate those dusty-winged buggers.

Those first two reasons are why, in spite of my love for Jamey Stegmaier’s earlier Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, I was so wary of his newest title, Scythe. The early previews received it with such breathless ecstasy, as though this game of mechs-and-agriculture were some rapturous merger of religion and boardgamery. Not only would Scythe cure world hunger through mechanization and make cube-pushing fun again, it would also look good at the same time. It was all a bit much, honestly.

So imagine my surprise that Scythe is actually one rattlesnake of a game, tightly coiled and packing enough bite to back up all that noise.

Let me tell you about Scythe by not talking about Scythe for a minute.

One of the best things a board game can pull off is that moment when its systems coil back in on themselves like a nautilus shell, each compartment more vested and more intricate than the last, and all structured together to form a cohesive whole. Games like Pax Pamir — where every action bears some relation to each other action — exemplify this, letting even small choices hide swelling consequences down the line. Many Eurogames, with their optimized moves and focus on minutiae, seek to tickle that part of our brain that loves mastering disparate systems.

However, the problem with many Euros isn’t that they’re bad; it’s that they’re so solitary in nature, all too often breeding a heads-down sort of play where everyone is focused more on the development of their own tableau than on the state of the board. This is a terribly sweeping generalization, naturally, but the brass ring of smart Euro and hybrid-style game design is to get everyone to look up once in a while, to focus on both the fine-tuning of their own board and the state of the game at large. To split their attention between the internal and external, so to speak. To get the left brain chugging cheerfully alongside the right brain.

What I love most about Scythe is that it pulls off both of these goals in fine fashion. It’s a game that sees you tweaking the workings of your faction like a clocksmith, measuring out the gears and grams of an efficient empire and evaluating all those three-steps-ahead moves — and it’s also a game of broad conflict, posting posturing mechs on your borders, and deploying a muskox-riding Viking to steal an opponent’s stockpile of timber.

This is largely thanks to the way Scythe splits its own attention. Broadly speaking, it’s a brain with both halves working in tandem, both feeding information and resources to the other. There’s the map, where your workers gather resources, mechs and heroes do battle, and territory is lost or gained. Out there, it’s all untamed frontier. If you want territory, you’ve got to take and hold it, whether by waging battle or bullying everyone with a few well-positioned mechs and a surplus of ammunition. Then there’s the player board, all cubes and careful tuning and upgrades and bonuses, the clockwork Euro heart of your kingdom. What’s so smart about Scythe is that both halves are entirely reliant on the other, with the best things happening on each half because of actions you took on the other. Want to upgrade something on your faction board? Well, then you’ve got to get out there on the map and stockpile the right resources. Want to conquer a particular sector? Well, first you’ll have to grow your power and earn some mech bonuses. Playing heads-down might let you shape a fine empire, but you’ll need to put yourself out there on the map if you’re bent on victory.

The thing is, I haven’t even touched on the setting yet, and already I’m gushing about how well Scythe accomplishes its goals. So let’s back up a moment.

Here’s the scene: after an alternate mechanized Great War, the city-state (only known as The Factory) that fueled the conflict with its big old robots and glowy-blue power sources has collapsed, leaving a power vacuum that its neighbors are hoping to exploit. Thus everyone sends in their best heroes and tools, hoping to annex the place and become dominant in this brave new world of big walking robo-suits.

As far as setups go, it’s perfectly serviceable. Where it succeeds, however, is in presenting its conflict as an honest-to-goodness blitz to win the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of the locals. The goal is simple enough: have the most money when the curtains go down. The highway to your destination, however, is anything but straightforward.

First of all, much of the game revolves around earning stars, little achievements that represent your progress towards establishing dominance over the city-state. Pretty much everything inches you closer to earning a star. Completed an upgrade? Great! That’s one-sixth closer to earning the star for upgrades. Built a mech? Fantastic — once you have all four out there, you’ll earn another star. Won a battle? Completed one of your objective cards? Star, star. Your progress is gratifyingly brisk.

Better yet, almost everything in the game is pitched to provide both an instantaneous and a delayed reward. When upgrading, for instance, you not only remove one of the cubes on your faction board, thus increasing the benefit of its corresponding action. You also move it down to the bottom row, blocking out a bit of the cost of something else. That’s practically two upgrades for the cost of one! Similarly, building a mech not only means you now have a new battle unit stomping around the map, but also that you’ve just earned an upgrade, letting your guys cross rivers or move faster or perform better in battle. Even the seemingly-wimpy “enlist” action, which gives you a onetime bump in cash or whatnot, becomes absurdly powerful once you realize that it gives you something every single time a neighboring player takes its corresponding action in the future. If you’re sitting next to someone who’s clearly pursuing a particular strategy, you can enlist recruits to give you bonuses every time they take a step towards meeting their goals. Very cool.

This level of interconnectedness extends to pretty much everything in the game. Consider, for instance, how you can travel around with regular workers to dissuade enemies from firing on you for fear of angering the locals, especially since your level of popularity largely determines your income of cash at the end of the game. Squatting on the center spot of the board might not earn many resources, but it’s worth a whole lot of territory if you can hold it until the end, so a sit-in of civilians might be enough to dissuade your opponents from dislodging you. If that doesn’t do it, then maybe a healthy supply of combat cards will suffice.

If it isn’t clear, I’m having a grand time with Scythe. If I had to offer a downside, it’s that the game can occasionally become a bit dull in the early and middle stages as players evaluate their overwhelming quantity of actions. After all, this is a game that’s easy to become lost in, focusing so much on the sheer volume of what you can do that you fail to play to your strengths. Unsurprisingly, first-timers might find it mind-boggling and unfocused until they finally navigate a path to stomp forward.

After that first time, however, Scythe is one of the most interesting games of the year. This is game design at its most rewarding, offering meaningful interaction on the map alongside the fiddle of fine-tuning your faction board, not to mention the balance of powerful mechs alongside alternate strategies for neutering their effectiveness, geography that both matters and can be circumvented, and an entire host of interesting decisions every step of the way. Every now and then, it’s nice to see reality live up to the hype.



This review was originally published at Space-Biff!, so if you like what you see, please head over there for more. https://spacebiff.com/2016/07/26/scythe/

Also, I suppose I ought to plug my Geeklist of reviews: https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/169963/space-biff-histori...

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Gareth Roberts
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The Innocent wrote:

Sickle of the Hype

first-timers might find it mind-boggling and unfocused until they finally navigate a path to stomp forward.

After that first time, however, Scythe is one of the most interesting games of the year.



I agree with this statement.

I have to say I think that Scythe is pretty horrible for new players. -and its not the rules, no the rules are easy to on-board

Problem is you need to know Scythe to enjoy it-

If you Go all Euro engine builder on it, then the game is too simple and a little dull

If you go all War hammer 40 000 on it then you lose from overcommiting your strength too quickly then being pushed pushed off the map/game ending before you get anywhere.

If you don't see your Player Mat and think 'oh ive got x so I should be doing y' then you may find your engine stalling.


However once you know Scythe a little bit it starts to become extremely deep and enjoyable in my eyes, and the lightness of the engine build+ the cost of combat is what makes it great. Its a game of balanced tensions, but no one tension is too intricate to make unmanageable.

Problem is games where most people don't know what they're doing/haven't adjusted to the unique play style of Sythe aren't all that fun.

Overall I don't see this as a critical problem; i like games which i have to sink my teeth into. -and I really like this game. I love the fusion of Engine builder and Engine smasher with a hammerer


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Paul Ferguson
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ilovedawkins wrote:
The Innocent wrote:

Sickle of the Hype

first-timers might find it mind-boggling and unfocused until they finally navigate a path to stomp forward.

After that first time, however, Scythe is one of the most interesting games of the year.





If you Go all Euro engine builder on it, then the game is too simple and a little dull






So true, after 4 plays I find the game very linear with a very simple complexity. My first game of Scythe felt like this game has a lot of depth, but it really doesn't. It leads you down a path, and the same path every game. I think this game is getting a lot more credit than it deserves. It seems like a backwards step from Jamey's previous games, rather than pushing forward into something bigger, he has made something that is lacking.
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David Larkin
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The Innocent wrote:


If there are two things I’m wary of, it’s hype and Eurogames. Scratch that, three things: also moths. I hate those dusty-winged buggers.


Looks like you just need to work on these then
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Michael Debije
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itmo wrote:
ilovedawkins wrote:
The Innocent wrote:

Sickle of the Hype

first-timers might find it mind-boggling and unfocused until they finally navigate a path to stomp forward.

After that first time, however, Scythe is one of the most interesting games of the year.





If you Go all Euro engine builder on it, then the game is too simple and a little dull






So true, after 4 plays I find the game very linear with a very simple complexity. My first game of Scythe felt like this game has a lot of depth, but it really doesn't. It leads you down a path, and the same path every game. I think this game is getting a lot more credit than it deserves. It seems like a backwards step from Jamey's previous games, rather than pushing forward into something bigger, he has made something that is lacking.


I came here to express this but you beat me to it. The excessive praise of this pedestrian game amuses me.
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Christoph Weber
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itmo wrote:
ilovedawkins wrote:
The Innocent wrote:

Sickle of the Hype

first-timers might find it mind-boggling and unfocused until they finally navigate a path to stomp forward.

After that first time, however, Scythe is one of the most interesting games of the year.





If you Go all Euro engine builder on it, then the game is too simple and a little dull






So true, after 4 plays I find the game very linear with a very simple complexity. My first game of Scythe felt like this game has a lot of depth, but it really doesn't. It leads you down a path, and the same path every game. I think this game is getting a lot more credit than it deserves. It seems like a backwards step from Jamey's previous games, rather than pushing forward into something bigger, he has made something that is lacking.


You do realize that Daniel actually said that the game does have great depth, if you play it the right way and that the fault lies with the player that fails to play it as more than an all Euro engine builder?
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Greg
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mi_de wrote:
itmo wrote:
ilovedawkins wrote:
The Innocent wrote:

Sickle of the Hype

first-timers might find it mind-boggling and unfocused until they finally navigate a path to stomp forward.

After that first time, however, Scythe is one of the most interesting games of the year.





If you Go all Euro engine builder on it, then the game is too simple and a little dull






So true, after 4 plays I find the game very linear with a very simple complexity. My first game of Scythe felt like this game has a lot of depth, but it really doesn't. It leads you down a path, and the same path every game. I think this game is getting a lot more credit than it deserves. It seems like a backwards step from Jamey's previous games, rather than pushing forward into something bigger, he has made something that is lacking.


I came here to express this but you beat me to it. The excessive praise of this pedestrian game amuses me.


Not everyone has heavier games as their top games. If people are used to playing heavy games and that's what they enjoy the most, then Scythe will certainly feel simple. But there are a lot of people that also really like it for their own reasons, just like you like the games you like. Games don't have to be heavy or complicated to be enjoyable. Itmo keeps chiming in that the game lacks layers, but that is his opinion, which is fine, but others are free to enjoy the game regardless of his or your opinion.
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Trevor Soule
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I think it's a pretty solid game, nice review.

I find it funny that so many people have to come in and say they didn't like it. Insecurity shows it's face everywhere, it seems.
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webs1 wrote:

You do realize that Daniel actually said that the game does have great depth, if you play it the right way and that the fault lies with the player that fails to play it as more than an all Euro engine builder?


Hilarious statement.

Guys, you don't understand, if you don't like the game it's not because of the game, it's your fault! The game has just so much depth and you're not understanding it . . .

HA!
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Matt Highfill
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broken clock wrote:
webs1 wrote:

You do realize that Daniel actually said that the game does have great depth, if you play it the right way and that the fault lies with the player that fails to play it as more than an all Euro engine builder?


Hilarious statement.

Guys, you don't understand, if you don't like the game it's not because of the game, it's your fault! The game has just so much depth and you're not understanding it . . .

HA!


I was thinking the same thing.
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Philip Morton
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broken clock wrote:
Guys, you don't understand, if you don't like the game it's not because of the game, it's your fault! The game has just so much depth and you're not understanding it . . .

If I'm following right, the conversation here is (though I might be conjoining this with a couple of other threads):

"It's kind of shallow if you just focus on eurogame-engine-building"

"That's the optimal way to play, so that means it's shallow as a whole"

It's the "optimal way to play" part of that that needs more support. Make a strategy post or something that lays out what you think the degenerate / too-shallow strategy is, see if people come up with good ways to disrupt it / out-race it.
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Christoph Weber
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broken clock wrote:
webs1 wrote:

You do realize that Daniel actually said that the game does have great depth, if you play it the right way and that the fault lies with the player that fails to play it as more than an all Euro engine builder?


Hilarious statement.

Guys, you don't understand, if you don't like the game it's not because of the game, it's your fault! The game has just so much depth and you're not understanding it . . .

HA!


I was referring to what itmo wrote before (so true..), because he seemed to think he was agreeing on a bad review, which was making his statement ridiculous.
That's why I quoted his whole statement. I'd appreciate it if you'd actually read and try to understand comments before you prematurely make nonsensical assertions.
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itmo wrote:
ilovedawkins wrote:
The Innocent wrote:

Sickle of the Hype

first-timers might find it mind-boggling and unfocused until they finally navigate a path to stomp forward.

After that first time, however, Scythe is one of the most interesting games of the year.





If you Go all Euro engine builder on it, then the game is too simple and a little dull






So true, after 4 plays I find the game very linear with a very simple complexity. My first game of Scythe felt like this game has a lot of depth, but it really doesn't. It leads you down a path, and the same path every game. I think this game is getting a lot more credit than it deserves. It seems like a backwards step from Jamey's previous games, rather than pushing forward into something bigger, he has made something that is lacking.


That's interesting -- what do you see that path as being? So far I've felt like strict adherence to any one style of play is dangerous and inefficient. I can see trying to play an optimized, Euro-style strategy if everyone else is doing the same, but in my experience that style is very vulnerable to players who are willing to get a little more aggressive. One well-placed mech assault can derail an engine fast -- and I've seen players who launch those assaults come out ahead in the final scoring. If you're playing with people who go down the same path every time you play, then you're well-poised to be waiting down the path to ambush them with a bazooka.

I've played ten times now and I'm really appreciating the Cold War aspect of this game. I really find myself paying attention to my opponent's capabilities and strategies and trying to adjust accordingly. I haven't yet seen or read anything that seems even close to a dominant strategy other than the universal advice of "Stay alert and make good decisions."
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Randal Divinski
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This is a really interesting review. Even though a lot of reviews have already appeared, this one covers new ground. The observations about the distinct spheres of action (playmat and gamemap) and the SYNERGY between them really reframes the discussion about the richness of the game.

I agree with the three posters immediately above that the reviewer makes a good case and, at the very least, raises the bar for detractors. Scanning back up the comments, you can see vocal critics of the game re-asserting their complaints without engaging with the key insights of this review.

That won't cut it here. Be critical by all means, but engage with the current review, which to my mind blows your current level of complaint out of the water.
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mi_de wrote:
itmo wrote:
ilovedawkins wrote:
The Innocent wrote:

Sickle of the Hype

first-timers might find it mind-boggling and unfocused until they finally navigate a path to stomp forward.

After that first time, however, Scythe is one of the most interesting games of the year.





If you Go all Euro engine builder on it, then the game is too simple and a little dull






So true, after 4 plays I find the game very linear with a very simple complexity. My first game of Scythe felt like this game has a lot of depth, but it really doesn't. It leads you down a path, and the same path every game. I think this game is getting a lot more credit than it deserves. It seems like a backwards step from Jamey's previous games, rather than pushing forward into something bigger, he has made something that is lacking.


I came here to express this but you beat me to it. The excessive praise of this pedestrian game amuses me.


And the smug condescension from those who don't like this excellent game amuses me.
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Marc Mistiaen
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reverendunclebastard wrote:
mi_de wrote:
I came here to express this but you beat me to it. The excessive praise of this pedestrian game amuses me.


And the smug condescension from those who don't like this excellent game amuses me.


Although in his case it's not really about the game, it's just the way he is.
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Gareth Roberts
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I'm of the opinion that a player who plays the game only as a 'no interaction' engine builder will lose against someone who builds an engine and gets aggressive once or twice. (ie they grab the factory, and push workers off a key tile)

If my opinion stands up (it does to me anecdotaly) then I think we can say that playing scythe as an all engine builder game is wrong because it is suboptimal play.

-and in that case we cannot accuse the game it of being shallow because the engine builder part is simple.

To play only a part of the game then call the whole thing shallow is a false criticism imho.

Its like playing Agricola, never upgrading you house or something then criticising the whole game.
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Barry Miller
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I'm still on the fence about this game, but regardless, I loved your review and gave you Geek Gold only because of the quality of your writing!

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Erwin Anciano
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ilovedawkins wrote:


I have to say I think that Scythe is pretty horrible for new players. -and its not the rules, no the rules are easy to on-board

Problem is you need to know Scythe to enjoy it-
.
.
.
However once you know Scythe a little bit it starts to become extremely deep and enjoyable in my eyes, and the lightness of the engine build+ the cost of combat is what makes it great.



I actually feel it's the complete opposite.

Scythe is a great game for new players. It's easy to learn and when you first step in if feels like there's so much to do, and it feels so streamlined and sharp. And the components are gorgeous.

Then after a few games it starts to feel redundant and simplistic. Gameplay becomes railroaded and you feel the limits of your choices as you become a slave to efficiency.
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Erwin Anciano
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ilovedawkins wrote:
I'm of the opinion that a player who plays the game only as a 'no interaction' engine builder will lose against someone who builds an engine and gets aggressive once or twice. (ie they grab the factory, and push workers off a key tile)

If my opinion stands up (it does to me anecdotaly) then I think we can say that playing scythe as an all engine builder game is wrong because it is suboptimal play.

-and in that case we cannot accuse the game it of being shallow because the engine builder part is simple.

To play only a part of the game then call the whole thing shallow is a false criticism imho.

Its like playing Agricola, never upgrading you house or something then criticising the whole game.


Going Euro-style efficiency AND getting aggressive twice is actually the optimal play style, and the one true path to dominating this game. That's because two combat victories is an instant two stars, which gets you 1/3rd of the way there.

I've played this way in all but one of my games and won all of them handily. The one time I didn't do this I was experimenting... Trying to win without producing a single mech for the Achievement Sheet. I lost that game by 9 points.

The optimal play style also depends on your faction and player mat, but make no mistake 90% of your strategy is determined by those two factors and your Objective cards.

Should also note that making a mech is also part of the optimal strategy... You need it for River walk or faction movement ability, not to mention to get those two combat stars.

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Mochana wrote:

The optimal play style also depends on your faction and player mat, but make no mistake 90% of your strategy is determined by those two factors and your Objective cards.

Should also note that making a mech is also part of the optimal strategy... You need it for River walk or faction movement ability, not to mention to get those two combat stars.



Totally disagree! Barring one worker placement mistake I would have won a game against a very competent opponent and an Automa the other day with no mechs built (using Patriotic player mat). Efficiency is a tough thing to pin down when your opponents are paying attention to what you are doing and picking the right moments to interfere.

In spite of the fact that both my opponents built all of their mechs, I was the first to six stars! I came 3 points shy of a victory because of a poor placement decision.

Make no mistake, as you put it, the ability to use upgrade and enlist to adapt your board towards the strategy of your choosing means that you are never railroaded into a single strategy. The choices your opponents make are as relevant, if not more so, to your strategy as the player board you have.
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George Fisher
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itmo wrote:


So true, after 4 plays I find the game very linear with a very simple complexity. My first game of Scythe felt like this game has a lot of depth, but it really doesn't. It leads you down a path, and the same path every game. I think this game is getting a lot more credit than it deserves. It seems like a backwards step from Jamey's previous games, rather than pushing forward into something bigger, he has made something that is lacking.

Can you say what that same path every game is?
 
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