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Subject: Scythe - Impressions and comparison after first play rss

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tibbles von tibbleton
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I finally got a chance to play a game of Scythe (5p) the other day and I thought I'd take the time to write out my thoughts and how it compares to other games I've played. First off, I'm not going to cover the rules, there's far more comprehensive reviews. I also want to say, I thought it was a very good game. I admit, I'm the kind of person who dwells more on negatives, so keep that general positive impression in mind regardless.

The Aesthetics:
Commented on at length by others, the artwork is excellent and the copy I played had the extras, those are very impressive additions. I also appreciate they broke from the common medieval or sci-fi themes. However, I personally was not a fan of the mixed plastic military and wooden workers. They don't look like they belong to the same game when sitting beside each other.

The Mechanics and Gameplay:
I liked the basic premise, how it's more of an economic engine building game with the threat of combat on top. And I really liked how actions were dual purpose and how doing well meant trying to best synergize to take advantage of the paired top and bottom actions together in the same turn. The fact that there's multiple player boards on top of multiple factions was another huge bonus, since it adds a lot of replayability on to what would only be 4-5 turn options.

Speaking of the player boards, I do worry some might be a touch stronger? Clearly I haven't played enough to tell, but I was handed board 5 (the one that will never start first), which according to the rulebook, has a bit higher starting values to compensate. However, because turns always go clockwise, I lucked out to sit next to the player with board 1 and got to go second and still have my higher start values. If starting resources need to vary to balance the board actions fine, but I would not use them to balance turn order. Turn order should be compensated by just giving the later players say 1-2 power/popularity/cards/resources regardless of board dealt.

I am not in love with the mech system, where deploying a mech also gives you a new special power, though it certainly works. I get that they wanted to keep the whole dual action idea and not add in a separate research action. But, thematically, it makes little sense that building a mech suddenly gives your empire a tech boost, particularly to nonmechs. And getting another combat/transport unit out seems like a large enough power boost in a single action already before adding in the tech.

The fact that resources are produced on to the board instead of directly to a player tableau is a good one. Especially in a game that features combat, the ability to steal supplies is an excellent touch...Unfortunately (at least this first game), I did not feel like Scythe really takes advantage of this. Resources might be produced on to the board, but most of the times the player then followed that produce by immediately spending most, leaving nothing to steal. Or, in the one case resources did get stolen, the player could immediately consume their loot in the middle of the opponent's area. Why is there no need to move it back to the empire first? Perhaps it would have been too fiddly, but I wonder if some sort of supply shipping mechanic would have made the resources on the map more meaningful? Force them to spend more turns vulnerable on the board, but eventually moved in to the starting hex and unstealable.

Most of the rules were straightforward and clearly presented. My main potential quibble was the game end triggering. Ending on 6 Stars sounds simple enough, but the fact that your action could trigger some else to get 6 Stars made them include a comparatively nasty set of priority rules. I bet that will unexpectedly bite someone in the butt the first time your group runs in to that.

The Game Comparison:
Speaking of game end triggering, let's get to the game that I personally think this game compares the closest to: Twilight Imperium 3. Yes, in the (admittedly small) sphere of all the games I've played, I think Scythe best fits the mantle of TI3-lite, not Eclipse. Why does a 2 hour 1920s alternate history quasi-Euro resemble the day-long space opera? Here's some reasons:

-Both games feature players starting in their own slice of an explorable hex grid map with a central hex that's super desirable. Okay, you say, there's also [X], [Y], and [Z] that have that kind of hex map to fight over. But, the other key similarity is, both games are more about cold war area control, not actual fighting. While some players will be spending their turns pushing out sick looking plastic figures everywhere, some sneaky git with few units and his eyes on the Star track instead of the minis is probably going to win the game.

-Getting bonuses when other people take actions. Planning around getting bonuses when your neighbors take bottom row actions felt like a simplified version of getting secondary actions on TI3 strategy cards. You can look at the board and be near positive your neighbor will deploy soon and give you that free combat card you want to spring an attack, but what if they delay that action too long? Do you waste a turn taking a card draw action?

-Upgrading. No, the systems aren't the same, but the fact that pretty much all upgrades or mech bonuses were economic efficiency or movement powers felt a lot more like TI3 than say Eclipse ever felt like TI3.

-Objectives. Both games feel like about the same mix of objective types. Both feature a secret objective and a number of economic objectives, but enough military ones to prevent anyone from being fully pacifist.

-Game ending. Just like the point system in TI3, I'm guessing players will love or hate the 6 Star ending system. If you're a wargame fan, having your plastic dominating the map and losing to someone who uses their economic advantage to pop out a quick 6 Stars is probably going to be very frustrating. And I definitely see Scythe having the same bubble victory issue/feature as TI3 where a skilled player is going to pickup 2-3 Stars in a single action for a surprise game end. I could see a group who wanted a more epic game house ruling to play to say 8 Stars just so a bubble push isn't 50% in a single turn.

Obviously Scythe somewhat mitigates this by having 6 Stars not be an automatic victory, but in it's place it adds in the awkwardness of really wanting to count how many VPs each person has before you push for a 6th Star, no one wants to trigger a game end and not win, but that's too slow to compute every turn.

I'm also a little mixed on that whole ending immediately thing. First off, I'm really surprised you don't even get to finish your own turn if you hit 6 Stars. The Euro gamer part of me also dislikes the idea that the rest of the table will get fewer turns, but then I also see why you can't let the game go 1 more round. If everyone knows the game ends in 1 round and the game rewards ties to the attacker (Side note, I like the tie going to attackers to encourage mini aggressions in the cold war), everyone would go on a hex grab spree and the Factory would change hands every player turn. Either way, the fact that the game ends immediately again reminds me of TI3 where a big portion of player skill is simply learning to recognize when the game is likely to end and to counter/plan for it accordingly.

There's clear differences in games too, Scythe has no diplomacy phase and no shared strategy card system, for example. I won't claim they're identical. But after all the hype over Eclipse being TI3-lite, I say, no, those games may both be space empires, but too different. Scythe is TI3 in 2 hours. If you enjoy one, you should give the other a try.

My verdict:
I really liked it, it lives up to most of its hype. I was not keen on the designer's other game, Viticulture, but I'm eager to play Scythe again and I'm regretting missing the Kickstarter to pick up my own tricked out copy at a discount. I'll need to get in a few more games, but I think it'll be on my shortlist. That said, no, it's not making my absolute top list. I find the action system clever and the combat acceptable, but both are simplified, another reason I go for the lite label. If I've only got 2-3 hours, which is most of the time, I would gladly play this, but if I had 6 hours I would rather play TI3. Or if I were really in the mood for just economy or combat I might reach for a more specialized game that does that feature better rather than Scythe that does both.
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Klaus Kristiansen
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Kongens Lyngby
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Each time you deploy a mech. it is a new and improved model. At the same time, you also upgrade your existing mechs to match your new one. The smaller. personal mech your character travels in also gets upgraded. There is a picture of Günter's on one of the cards.
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Stephen Sanders
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tibbles wrote:
I was not keen on the designer's other game, Viticulture, but I'm eager to play Scythe again and I'm regretting missing the Kickstarter to pick up my own tricked out copy at a discount.


I actually enjoyed my one play of Viticulture, which I came in last place, than my one play of Scythe, which I won. Seriously, I want to play Viticulture again, but can pass on Scythe. I played the Kickstarter game version of Scythe and it is an excellent production. But I'm not drawn back to this game like I am the former. Why? I like the planning in both games, but the end-game is not gamer-friendly in Scythe. You plan and develop your own board, then it suddenly ends. There are probably a few gamers that might evaluate every other player's boards and moves for the end-game possibilities, but I am not one of those.
 
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Well, I think you're right that Scythe is really more similar to TI3 than to Kemet or Terra Mystica. But there's also plenty of differences. Scythe's combat is extremely simplified, and there's no equivalent to politics/event cards. It also doesn't have the best aspect of TI3 (which TI3 shares with RFTG): the action selection mechanism.

Still, if I had 6 hours, I'd much rather play Scythe twice than TI3 once.
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jhaelen wrote:
Still, if I had 6 hours, I'd much rather play Scythe twice than TI3 once.


3 times, surely?
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tibbles von tibbleton
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Klaus O K wrote:
Each time you deploy a mech. it is a new and improved model. At the same time, you also upgrade your existing mechs to match your new one. The smaller. personal mech your character travels in also gets upgraded. There is a picture of Günter's on one of the cards.


Ahh, the heroes having their own mechs makes a bit more sense on the upgrades. Not so much why a guy riding an ox is in a mech, but okay, it explains why the Ox gets mech bonuses.

I do get the new improved model idea, it's not totally out there. But still, just by building a new mech you also get upgraded ones. It's not like every time you Enlist you upgrade your Enlist action cause you got better at it, you have to do the separate Upgrade action.
 
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tibbles von tibbleton
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caltexn wrote:
tibbles wrote:
I was not keen on the designer's other game, Viticulture, but I'm eager to play Scythe again and I'm regretting missing the Kickstarter to pick up my own tricked out copy at a discount.


I actually enjoyed my one play of Viticulture, which I came in last place, than my one play of Scythe, which I won. Seriously, I want to play Viticulture again, but can pass on Scythe. I played the Kickstarter game version of Scythe and it is an excellent production. But I'm not drawn back to this game like I am the former. Why? I like the planning in both games, but the end-game is not gamer-friendly in Scythe. You plan and develop your own board, then it suddenly ends. There are probably a few gamers that might evaluate every other player's boards and moves for the end-game possibilities, but I am not one of those.


Interesting, cause I though Viticulture had the same uncertain ending feel, which I did not expect in a worker placement. You see someone at say 12 and wonder if they will/wont hit 20 that round and trigger game end or if they'll fall short and you'll get the extra round. Or they pull out a double order fill card and early finish on you.
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Timmi T.
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xorsyst_uk wrote:
jhaelen wrote:
Still, if I had 6 hours, I'd much rather play Scythe twice than TI3 once.


3 times, surely?


We recently accomplished 5 games in 6 hours. meeple

To hell with the AP!
 
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Stannis the King wrote:
xorsyst_uk wrote:
jhaelen wrote:
Still, if I had 6 hours, I'd much rather play Scythe twice than TI3 once.


3 times, surely?


We recently accomplished 5 games in 6 hours. meeple

To hell with the AP!
Well, our first game of Scythe took 3 hours, but I think we'd be faster in our second game. Also, our last game of TI3 took 7 hours (with 5 players), so, yeah, we could probably play Scythe thrice cool
 
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Stephen Sanders
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tibbles wrote:
caltexn wrote:
tibbles wrote:
I was not keen on the designer's other game, Viticulture, but I'm eager to play Scythe again and I'm regretting missing the Kickstarter to pick up my own tricked out copy at a discount.


I actually enjoyed my one play of Viticulture, which I came in last place, than my one play of Scythe, which I won. Seriously, I want to play Viticulture again, but can pass on Scythe. I played the Kickstarter game version of Scythe and it is an excellent production. But I'm not drawn back to this game like I am the former. Why? I like the planning in both games, but the end-game is not gamer-friendly in Scythe. You plan and develop your own board, then it suddenly ends. There are probably a few gamers that might evaluate every other player's boards and moves for the end-game possibilities, but I am not one of those.


Interesting, cause I though Viticulture had the same uncertain ending feel, which I did not expect in a worker placement. You see someone at say 12 and wonder if they will/wont hit 20 that round and trigger game end or if they'll fall short and you'll get the extra round. Or they pull out a double order fill card and early finish on you.


Good point. I've only played Viticulture once, so I suppose that could happen. But I felt I had a little more awareness of the progress of other players.
 
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