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Subject: The Golden Ages vs. Scythe rss

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Chris Williams

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I just had an opportunity to play Scythe and, as I was playing it, I couldn't help but feel that it felt a lot like The Golden Ages. So whereas I didn't really have anything to add in the review forum which hadn't already been said, now maybe I can draw a little bit of attention to this game by making the comparison.

At the simplest level, The Golden Ages really looks awful. Yes, there's an artist out there who dedicated a lot of time and effort into trying to make it beautiful and functional, and I'm glad that he was able to find work that allowed him to support himself. But I wouldn't personally hire him as, outside of the symbology, the rest of the art in the game - even the map - just doesn't look up to professional quality. One suspects that the artist holds his job on the strength of his symbol creating prowess, but that he was asked to venture out of this realm, when really they should have hired a second artist to do the rest.

And, comparatively, Scythe looks pretty amazing. (Except the wooden buildings, which really stick out like a sore thumb and actually look about the same as something you would expect to find in The Golden Ages!) Everything is big, beautiful, and within the upper echelons of professional game craftsmanship (circa 2016).

So, if you're really just bound up in the aesthetics, skip The Golden Ages (TGA) and buy Scythe. Scythe drop kicks TGA, right into the nads, and out of the stadium.

But personally, I don't care terribly about the aesthetics. I accept that a game which looks ugly is probably going to be overlooked by a lot of players, but personally it's the following things that I hope for in a game:

1) Strong mechanics.
2) Reasonable setup/cleanup time.
3) Reasonable rules explanation time.
4) (Unless it's a coop) Playing against the other players, not against the game. (If it is a coop) Having to solve a puzzle together, not just brute force it or get lucky.

For #1, the two games are both solid and end up feeling pretty similar. Not exactly the same, but I'll get into that a little bit later. For #2-4 though, I have to give it to The Golden Ages.

== Setup / Rules Explanation / Replayability ==

I would personally never buy Scythe just because I've had enough experience with games that have eighty discrete piles of resources and stacks of cards, and you have to walk all the players through each one and a million other things. Ultimately, I just don't (personally) find it to be worth it. Maybe if I had a regular gaming group and we liked to play the same game over and over again, then having something so convoluted that it was worth putting the time and effort into becoming experts at everything there is in the game, and having max replayability would be paramount. But I attend boardgaming meetups and every time there's people who are new to the hobby, new to that game, etc. It's not worth spending 30 minutes to familiarize players with the rules of a game which they may never play again. (Note: When I played Scythe, all of us had a pretty good knowledge of game mechanics, so we learned in about 10 minutes and didn't have to follow up with many questions. But I wouldn't expect that amount of luck in your average random draw of players.)

But that said, I don't know that I'd say that The Golden Ages is actually short on replayability. I bought the expansion and added all the art cards and all of the cards which had nothing to do with cults or culture, and between that influx and the "tech tree", I'd say there's a pretty healthy chunk of replayability here. If ever I had a group who felt they had played it out, I'd just throw in the remainder of the expansion.

Maybe there's more depth and variability in Scythe? I don't think I could say at this point. Replayability via theme and aesthetics, Scythe wins for certain. Replayability through choices, I'm not sure.

But definitely TGA is easier to setup, teach, and tear down. If you want a game about getting resources, advancing your civilization, kicking each other around a bit, and doing it all in a single evening, The Golden Ages will give you that and is going to be more accessible to more people and situations. If I didn't own either, I'd buy TGA and just TGA. I wouldn't buy Scythe.

Your situation might be different. You might want a small set of games to play to death over the course of many years, and the aesthetics and theme will be more important than ease of bringing people in while still getting a solid Civ experience. If that's you, then go for Scythe.

== Mechanics / Playing the Players ==
Now certainly Scythe has more going on. But, at heart, you're capturing resources and using those to upgrade yourself, in the interest of meeting certain objectives. That doesn't change between the games. In terms of "feel" - excluding aesthetics - the games are pretty similar. They're solid Civ games which can be played in an evening.

Both of them skimp a bit on the upgrade path. In TGA, you have four linear paths you can follow that are hardcoded into the board (and are exactly the same for all players). In Scythe, each board has a bit of variability in how it's laid out, so you'll get a different experience just by switching boards, but the "upgrades" largely just affect the expense of different actions and TGA has character cards which vary how you play, probably to a greater extent and certainly to a larger variety of options, than the different player boards in Scythe.

In terms of the "tech tree", I'm not amazingly happy with either, but I'd put them fairly even with perhaps a slight advantage to TGA. Though, because of TGA's variability, it's not really feasible to play the game unless you print out reference sheets for every card in the game, and give those to each player (which can scare some players, and seems a bit silly). There is that disadvantage to it.

In terms of battle.... Well if you like battle, Scythe is the game for you, of the two. I think I've read that with fewer players, fights tend not to happen in Scythe until later in the game. But with more players, that's not an issue. I haven't played the game enough to confirm or deny that report.

But I'd personally be a bit worried about the fighting. If you just head over and punch out another player at the start of Scythe, that may set them back for the entire rest of the game. And while, true, you only get points for entering battle twice, going in and stealing someone else's resources isn't a bad way to get more resources for whatever other goal you're aiming for, so you could probably just camp out on your opponents and screw them for the entire game.

In The Golden Ages, you can push your opponents around a bit, and certainly it's not an act of kindness, but it would be a lot harder to wipe them out of the game and ruin their entire game experience.

In this respect, Scythe is certainly a lot more realistic. And, if you're happy to play and just do as good as you naturally do as the events unfold, then that's not a problem. "Okay, if I don't keep up my defenses in the early game, I'm going to be wiped out. Next time, I'm going to focus less on upgrading and more on defense." If you plan to play the game over and over, with the same group of people, getting completely taken out and camped on for a full game doesn't matter too much.

If you like battle to actually feel like "BATTLE!", Scythe will also be the one you want. In The Golden Ages, you move a piece out of the way and grab a token. It's...less than thrilling (though, there is a nuclear option where you could go gonzo on the map, if you so desired and built for it properly).

But, if you're buying a game for meetups and expect to play with a pretty diverse crowd, TGA is going to be your game. Everyone will be able to build their civilization, earn a good amount of points, and largely be able to play the game they want to play. It will always be a satisfying one time experience.

And to make my final comparison of the two games, I'd like to come back to my fourth criteria for a game: I want to play the players.

In Scythe, you have like 6 different currencies:

Money
Popularity
Battleness (I forget the name)
Iron
Food
Oil
Something resource (which I forget)

And besides the whole 4X thing that you need to do, you're also having to figure out how to balance your budget in getting and using these currencies, in an optimal way. You end up playing an economic optimization eurogame at the same time as playing a Civ game. And outside of worrying about a player coming over and camping on you, there's nothing that you're doing which is an interactive sort of euro. You end up spending 3/4ths of your time thinking about minmaxing your turns to get the greatest efficiency of upgrades to get resources to get upgrades to get resources. Playing against the other players is lost.

On the Civ side of things, you're watching the other players and trying to decide where to go on the map and how best to position your dude-cities.* On that side, the player interaction is fine. But, like I said, it feels like that side of things is only about 1/4th of what your brain power is spent on.

So if you're like me and you want a game where you're spending the time between your moves thinking about what the other players are going to do just as much as you're thinking about what you should do, The Golden Ages is the better game. You spend most of it looking at the map, not your player board.

But if you do like running through a deep tree of future options and figuring out the optimal path among those, while also playing a Civ game on the side, Scythe will be better for you. You spend most of the game looking at your player board, not the map.

== In Summary ==
I wouldn't say that one game is better or worse than the other. I've ranked them equally for myself to play (not to own, not to have to teach or setup).

But I will argue that The Golden Ages is a better purchase. It will be more accessible to more people and more situations, while giving you much the same feel. It's ugly as sin, but if you want a Civ game and you don't want to have to worry about how feasible it will be to get it played, or whether everyone will enjoy it, go with TGA.

Only if you have a dedicated play group with an unchanging cast of participants, who all would like a game like Scythe, does it make sense to choose that one over TGA. (Obviously, just IMHO.)

* Both games largely destroy the idea of a "city". In both, the concept of a city is wrapped up into your workers, who can freely roam about the map, to gather resources. The Golden Ages lies and tells you that you can build cities, but they act as nothing more than influence markers and, rarely, anything more.
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Kevin Garnica
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Thanks for the comparative review. I own both, and I happen to like the artwork of TGA. I would respectfully disagree with you about two things:

1) I don't think Scythe is all that complex. If you feel the need to teach the game in full then it can take some time if you don't use a script or rehearse it. Otherwise, I found the quick-start cards very helpful in speeding up the teaching process.

2) I spend just as much time looking at the map in Scythe as I do my player board; more, actually. It's pretty straightforward what I want to do on my player board for my next move. The rest of the time is spent looking at the main board trying to figure out how to advance my goals.

Aside from that, thanks for the review. These are two 4X games that I'm happy to have on my shelf.
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M M
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I can see the basis of comparison. They're more alike than different but both have the efficiency engine and boiled down tech tree at the nub. But I could see Scythe having a broader appeal just for the theme. TGA is more straightforward analytics. And it's a quicker play. It's much more portable. It's quicker to explain. And it still gets to the heart of a civ builder. So for me, it would probably be a better buy. (In point of fact, I own TGA and sold Scythe, so there you go). It is, though, as you say really dry. The immersion is low. Everything is utilitarian. And everything is calculation. So for someone who is looking for the experience of the civ builder and not the experience of the theme, it may have more to recommend.

FWIW I consider Harbour my best buy of last year. Not that it's the greatest game ever or even the greatest game I played last year. But it has incredible bang for the buck both in purchase price and shelf space.
 
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chris thatcher
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Quote:
At the simplest level, The Golden Ages really looks awful.


I respectfully disagree. I think it looks nice.
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Adam P
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Interesting how Scythe is being compared to many games, but I still think at its core it's closest to Antike.
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Mark Johnson
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Tariff wrote:
Quote:
At the simplest level, The Golden Ages really looks awful.


I respectfully disagree. I think it looks nice.


I think the new cover looks awful, but the rest of it is just fine.
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Chris Williams

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adamredwoods wrote:
Interesting how Scythe is being compared to many games, but I still think at its core it's closest to Antike.

I haven't played it. But, yeah, I would assume that Scythe does correspond to many games. Still, it doesn't hurt to use its popularity to try and boost some overlooked games.
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Stephen Buonocore
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Great review! Thanks for doing this!

Thanks,
Stephen M. Buonocore
Stronghold Games

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A J
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Landed here from the Stronghold Games newsletter. Thanks for the comparison. I'll have to check into this game more. I agree with you on the artwork, though -- looks pretty bland for a modern game.

I do own Scythe, and like it. I'm curious as to how many times you've played it? (BTW the two things you forgot are Power and Wood.) I feel like you might be exaggerating the combat in Scythe, because an early attack does not set back anyone that much (nor do early attacks even happen all that often) and can hurt the attacker more if done poorly. It's usually quite easy to recover from an attack.

Anyways, I love comparisons and hope you continue to do more!
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Noah Sager
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Wait a second. Did somebody just insult the amazing Alexandre Roche? Trust me, Roche is no amateur. And the artist credit is what first drew me to the game.
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Chris Williams

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RequiemX wrote:
Wait a second. Did somebody just insult the amazing Alexandre Roche? Trust me, Roche is no amateur. And the artist credit is what first drew me to the game.

I looked him up and, from Jaipur and etc., he does seem to be a capable artist.

It's possible that he was trying to elicit an ancient/medieval art style? But, if so, I would have to vote that that's not the feeling I get from the art. If you look at the hoplite on the box cover, for example, the way that he has drawn the muscles (i.e. around the armpit), is very much the way that young kids draw wrestlers and superheroes, before learning anatomy and shading. The use of lines doesn't - to me - bring out the feeling of art from before mankind figured out perspective and started to care about quality in 2D illustrations (historically, most of the focus was on sculpture, until the Renaissance), it makes me think of the art of someone who never quite learned how to draw people. You often see that in art - people who always focused on backgrounds or vehicles, etc. and do amazing, professional work in that realm - just to look at their work which is out of their specialty and it's not just worse than their usual, but not even up to a professional level.

From his other games, it's clear that Mr. Roche does know how to do people, so it's unclear what exactly happened here. My hypothesis would be that he was trying to create an ancient look. But the palette is wrong for that, and the way that he "regressed" the style doesn't match any historic style that I know of.

I'll go with: Good artist. Flawed attempt at a different art style than his usual.
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Clyde W
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Tariff wrote:
Quote:
At the simplest level, The Golden Ages really looks awful.


I respectfully disagree. I think it looks nice.
I like GA art as well. It's clearly a much different style, but the style is nice.
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Kevin Garnica
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RequiemX wrote:
Wait a second. Did somebody just insult the amazing Alexandre Roche? Trust me, Roche is no amateur. And the artist credit is what first drew me to the game.


I think there is a certain segment of the BGG community that needs to take an art appreciation class. Without pointing fingers (because that's not the point), I' ve heard too many times how people don't like a certain art direction, when it sounds like it's just coming from a place of not understanding the artist's intent.

Troyes, Tournay, The Golden Ages, even before that - Onirim, and the rest of the Oniverse. Why are certain people obsessed with their limited view on what art should be?
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Bruno de Vries
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I recently played The Golden Ages and I don't think it's a pretty game per sé. It just looks terribly old fashioned as if it was produced twenty years ago. However, the style is consistent throughout the components and that's a big plus. Most symbols are effective enough in communicating meaning without needing descriptions after one playthrough. One thing bugged me though: The civilization symbols on the wonder cards are much too small. It's pretty hard to distinguish, even when holding the card in your hand.

I can see on which basis you compare it to Scythe. Taking control over areas on a map which contain resource symbols, possibly through battle. A private engine-upgrade board and a race for randomly distributed cards which you use to further enhance your effectiveness. But the two games play so differently. In both games the player that upgrades with the most efficiency is probably going to win, but in TGA it's more a standard victory point math exercise and in Scythe it's more of a race and knowing when to peak. TGA is worker-placement-esque and Scythe is action based; Take an action, resolve administration, and onto the next player. TGA seems much more AP-prone than Scythe. In Scythe those moments are reserved to times when a player is confronted with an important decision (which mech to deploy, do I end the game this turn?)

I like TGA, because I like euro/engine building in general. But not taking the visuals into account, it feels like a pretty dry and abstract game. Even the area movement is pretty contrived. Not that movement is a clean affair in Scythe; It's the part that takes the most effort to get the rules straight. But even then it feels like an army is invading the country. TGA never gives you that sensation. In our group Scythe had the shorter play time while in that game the palette of choices seem more diverse. In all honesty, TGA should play a lot quicker a second or third time around. It's not a complex game by any means.

Some games scratch the same itch in such a way that you only need the one or the other in your collection. TGA and Scythe are miles apart in my book.

About longevity; Scythe tries to maximize this by scrambling roles and assymetric player boards. I played the vanilla version of TGA and can see this becoming stale much quicker. I can imagine that expansions will help in this regard.
 
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Kevin Garnica
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BrunoDeVries wrote:
TGA is worker-placement-esque and Scythe is action based;


Huh, I've never thought of TGA as worker placement...not even "esque". To me, they are both engine-building games by way of action-selection.
 
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Chris Williams

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pacman88k wrote:
BrunoDeVries wrote:
TGA is worker-placement-esque and Scythe is action based;


Huh, I've never thought of TGA as worker placement...not even "esque". To me, they are both engine-building games by way of action-selection.

I think I'd agree with you. Four of the eight actions require a worker, but the worker doesn't get placed on a worker selection slot and doesn't block other player's workers. The slots don't even block your other workers from performing the same action. While we can refer to them as workers and understand what's being talked about, in actual practice it seems more like actions.

Otherwise, you'd be calling Magic: The Gathering a worker placement game, because your cards exhaust for a round after being activated.
 
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Bruno de Vries
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That was a bit of a misnomer, indeed. I went slightly overboard depicting contrasts, I guess, because despite some similarities I think the games feel so different.

I guess I came up with 'worker placement-esque' because of the race for wonders and buildings and the fact that for some of the actions you place a meeple in a central area. That's not worker placement of course, but you still potentially deny a player a certain resource, hence the 'esque'.

Thanks for pointing out the less than accurate description.
 
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