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Subject: Scythe - Would you stop for the geese? - down to the basics review rss

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Tiago Perretto
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About Scythe:

1) What is it?
Is an optimization euro with asymmetric positions, costs and abilities and with some sprinkled combat, area control, random encounters and a tad of a race game. There were (and likely still are) plenty of arguments around the fact the designer said that Scythe is a 4X game. I didn't see it. I wouldn't called it that way to others. But if one wants, hey, be my guess.

Scythe has a light amount of interaction, mostly for board position. Yet, for the most part, you will do your thing, the others will do theirs, and rarely one will care to see what you are doing. It will be more an affair of "pass me 3 food", or "raise my popularity by 1", or "I'm building this, here".

There is a high amount of decisions points offered by the game, and several paths to follow, though the nation and action board taken do narrow the possibilities, since the game rewards optimization, it pays better to make actions more suited to your advantages.

The game bits are great and the art on the card and player boards are, as expected, amazing. The kickstarter version comes with some awesome metal coins and special resource tokens.

Playing time, though not really short, sits comfortably in a game night, lasting around 2 hours, even with 5 players. Downtime increases the more players at the table, but isn't a big issue, as the actions are limited and executed quickly, most of the time (combat is also done fast).

The theme, while a big initial draw to many, due to Jakub's art, passes under the radar almost all the time during play. Rarely did we make a thematic connection between an action in game to what nation we were. The encounters have some nice tidbits of theme and worldbuilding, but we simply passed above many, as the next player was already carrying out his action, yet, eventually we heard a "So, I stopped to let the geese cross the road..." - seems proper.

Overall, the Scythe works smoothly and well enough, even if it brings little actual theme and mechanical innovations to the table.

2) How do you play?
Each player is represented by a nation, with special abilities, correlations and unique costs for building stuff. The goal of the game is to have more money at the end. Stars, areas controlled and resources are worth money at the end of the game - these are multiplied by the popularity the player has. Also, players gain money when doing things (building, encounters, etc) during the play, but some actions also cost money to be done.

The simple way to say what happens during the game is: each turn the player picks an area of her own player board to activate a main action, which are: move, trade, bolster and produce. Then, if able, the player can activate the secondary action associated with the main action (these change between the player boards, and are part of the asymmetry) - these always cost resources to be done, and isn't always possible to be made due to this, specially near the start of the game.

The tricky part is: once an (action) area of the board is activated, it can't be done again in the next turn - a different area must be used.

Mechas and heroes can initiate combat, and is done by, secretly, each player deciding the amount of power to use (adjusting a dial), to a maximum of 7, and if add a combat card (whose power varies from 2 to 5). The highest amount of power wins, and in case of a tie, the attacker wins. Defeated mechas, hero and workers return the the player starting position. Buildings, even from the defeated player, remain. For each worker sent away, the winner loses 1 popularity. All used power (in the dial) is lost, regardless of the result. Resources in the area in which the combat occurred are in possession of the winner.

There are 10 ways of getting stars - winning combat (x2), building all mechas, doing all upgrades, making all buildings, reaching the max popularity or max power, and others. Once a player reaches 6 starts, the game is over, and final scoring will happen. The player with the most money will be the winner!

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
Several. What action to do each turn - and this is two fold, as every action on the board is divided in two - and, sometimes, you will truly want to make the action above, but won't be able to make the bellow, and in a optimization game, this is usually not a good thing. Therefore, it might be worth more to delay the coveted action for a turn or two, to make the best of it, as once used, the action can't be done (usually) again in the next turn.

And all actions also have connected decisions: where to move, what resources to take, which option to pick from an encounter, what to build and where (from proper buildings, to mechs, as each uncover a special ability, to upgrades and enlists), and many others. If a battle starts, there is considerations about the amount of power to use and if/which combat card to add.

Overall, there is plenty points of decisions - most not all that difficult, to the point to induce to some severe analisis paralisis, but enough to make each matter and have lasting effects in the board state and in your game.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- Excellent components;
- Several options to choose from in each turn;
- Clear objectives that all players can go after;
- Asymmetric, as all nations have unique abilities and different costs for actions;
- Downtime is rather small;
- Combat causes little damage for the player that loses, and there is basically no player elimination;
- Little luck, kept in the draw of combat and encounter cards.

5) Which are the bad news?
- Small interaction and even interest in what the other players are doing for most of the time;
- The art on the board can get in the way of seeing the situation of the play;
- A collage of mechanisms (from Kemet, Dune, Antike, euros of optimization, etc) in a whole that, while it works well enough, has little innovation;
- The theme is, sadly, lost during play.

6) How do you feel while playing?
"So, popularity rises the amount of money you will get."
"Like Imperial?"
"Yes, mostly, but just for you.
"The board is big, as you can see, but every place is kind of near to each other, once Mines are made."
"Reminds me what happens in Kemet."
"Close. There can be the same pressure and the thought that no place is truly completely safe. Anyway, in the battle you bid an amount of power and may or not add a card to boost the total."
"Ah, like Dune?"
"But with phantom units - you don't handle armies, just a level of power. And without f***** traitor generals." (A sore spot.)
"The goal is to have the most money in the end. Yes, like Imperial, things in the board help, but money in the pocket is what counts. The game ends when someone reaches 6 stars, and stars you get when you do one of 10 objectives."
"Sort like the objectives in Antike II."
"Hum, sure, sort of. There isn't such a race here, as is only the trigger to end, not the end goal itself."

(...) And a whole lot of this. It feels like playing parts of several top notch games, not all taken to the fullest, some being more waterdown, but I could still find connections: like trying to make the best of the main and secondary action and not being able to use them again for a time remind me of Runewars (and also having heroes exploring the map); the resources on the board that can be taken and/or used by others, some economic and pick and deliver games; and so on.

At first the game seemed daunting, with so many options and branching paths to acquire money, resources, popularity, power, etc. But once we started playing, things fell nicely into place, and though there is a fine level of possibilities, each one is clearly defined, contained in a simple action to be carried on, to the point that even a friend of mine, who usually struggle to understand quickly the mechanics of a game, did learn the ways of Scythe rather fast.

I can understand the hype around it, though I don't really share the same amount of love many have, as, for me, Scythe is a well done game, interesting and smart, taking good parts of other games and making a whole that works nicely together. But not groundbreaking, particularly innovative or inventive, nor has an awesome factor besides the art, which just sits in the background, as does the rest of the theme.

Regards,

Image credit: jameystegmaier



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Paul Ferguson
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Good review, you make some valid points about the theme and art. It all looks nice but just doesn't blend into a great gaming experience. I find it is a watered down, overly friendly pseudo 4X, that truly lacks in every element to makes it shine.
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Randolph Bookman
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And that review is exactly why I didn't kickstart the game.
Well done.
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Jo Bartok
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itmo wrote:
Good review, you make some valid points about the theme and art. It all looks nice but just doesn't blend into a great gaming experience. I find it is a watered down, overly friendly pseudo 4X, that truly lacks in every element to makes it shine.


Sounds like the usual weakpoint with many Euros - though some can overcome it!

Same goes for the options-salad in a way - is there also point-salad?
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Paul Ferguson
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ionas wrote:
itmo wrote:
Good review, you make some valid points about the theme and art. It all looks nice but just doesn't blend into a great gaming experience. I find it is a watered down, overly friendly pseudo 4X, that truly lacks in every element to makes it shine.


Sounds like the usual weakpoint with many Euros - though some can overcome it!

Same goes for the options-salad in a way - is there also point-salad?


It's not a point salad, everyone ends up doing the same thing every game.
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Alexandre Trentini
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I agree to a lot of things said here, specially about the lack of theme even with very high quality components and art, the game fails to make a good connection with the theme exposed, a problem in many euros.

But the experience rises, as in many games the more you play. The game rises in rating every new play, in my first game it went a little strange, too, but with new plays the game shined more and more and more.
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Bobb Beauchamp
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Excellent review. There's been a lot of empty hype about this game, by which I mean much talking about how great it is, but not much about why it's so great. This review provides the missing information, and also some key elements that help fence-sitters like me decide whether to take the plunge or not.

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Tomáš Sládek
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I agree the theme is not front and center, but if you stop and consider it's a Euro, the theme is actually excellently implemented. I know few other Euros whose theme permeates the game so well. Part of this is definitely the encounters, they're just regular stuff that happens along as you travel, and yet it immerses you in thew world as you describe to other players what's going on or show the art... I bought it mostly for the theme and am not disappointed - maybe only by the fact that the narrative the game sets out with does not come to any actual close.

And if theme is not yout thing, you just ignore the encounters and take away from those cards only the resources it gives you. Don't make any narrative as to why your hero is going here or there, why this place is a good place to build that mill, etc. It's all optional, which is why it's so great imo. You can choose to participate in the theme or not.
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Randal Divinski
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It seems the that #1 determinant of how a review of Scythe is going to play out is whether or not the reviewer is a hard core board gamer, who is intimately familiar with hundreds of games, and has opportunity to play long complex games (e.g Terra Mystica) on a regular basis with a group of committed gamers.

Such folks tend to see Scythe as derivative, because they have seen it all before.

Those with less breadth of gaming experience (myself included) tend to be more taken with the game.
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Paul Ferguson
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One of my issues with Scythe is that it doesn't create any memorable moments. I can remember turns in a game of TI from 6 years ago, and we still talk about it years later. The actions that arise in Scythe don't allow for something memorable to occur, "you remember that time I beat you and got a star, yeah everyone did that". There was a platform here to make something good, but it was implemented poorly.
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Simo Ahava
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itmo wrote:
One of my issues with Scythe is that it doesn't create any memorable moments. I can remember turns in a game of TI from 6 years ago, and we still talk about it years later. The actions that arise in Scythe don't allow for something memorable to occur, "you remember that time I beat you and got a star, yeah everyone did that". There was a platform here to make something good, but it was implemented poorly.

I'm sorry you haven't had memorable moments with a game which, for my group, seems to have nothing but. Most of my games (10+ now with all player counts but 3) have ended up with us chatting about the game for a loooong time after the scores have been counted, and that's, for me, always a sign of a successful evening with board games.

And we've definitely had those memorable moments, such as a recent game where Crimea was looking much like a runaway leader, but a clever alliance between two runner-up factions dethroned Crimea, and the usurped faction was forced to place the sixth star to avoid falling even further behind. In this particular game, all five factions executed a completely different strategy, with e.g. Nordics never leaving the vicinity of their home base (they just built their engine and kept it running), and Saxony and Rusviet competing around the map, battling it out in numerous combats. Even though all 5 played differently, the scores were between 62 and 72 - so very even indeed! Such an amazing experience, and one we'll definitely remember.

Scythe may seem derivative because it employs quite a number of different mechanics we've seen before. I've never been bothered by this - I'm not sure where the idea that Scythe should have some ground-breaking innovations came forth in the first place. What Scythe does tremendously well, in my opinion, is how it packages these mechanics into a solid experience which, at least looking at the quantity and quality of ratings for the game, seem to be appreciated by the majority of the players.
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James
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tiagoVIP wrote:

But not groundbreaking, particularly innovative or inventive, nor has an awesome factor besides the art, which just sits in the background, as does the rest of the theme.


We'll at least it's a review in the right section this time. You are mistaken in the end though.
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paul lieberman
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Nice review but far from the majority opinion. Looks like the theme is your main problem with this game. I noticed you tend to be interested in games with heavy themes. I think it does a pretty good job thematically and many people agree. At any rate an excellent review.
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Jo Bartok
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itmo wrote:
ionas wrote:
itmo wrote:
Good review, you make some valid points about the theme and art. It all looks nice but just doesn't blend into a great gaming experience. I find it is a watered down, overly friendly pseudo 4X, that truly lacks in every element to makes it shine.


Sounds like the usual weakpoint with many Euros - though some can overcome it!

Same goes for the options-salad in a way - is there also point-salad?


It's not a point salad, everyone ends up doing the same thing every game.


Now that doesn't even sound better than point salad
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Jo Bartok
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brandoncorgi wrote:
Nice review but far from the majority opinion. Looks like the theme is your main problem with this game. I noticed you tend to be interested in games with heavy themes. I think it does a pretty good job thematically and many people agree. At any rate an excellent review.


The majority opinion "on bgg" "on this games review section" ;-)
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Paul Ferguson
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sahava wrote:
itmo wrote:
One of my issues with Scythe is that it doesn't create any memorable moments. I can remember turns in a game of TI from 6 years ago, and we still talk about it years later. The actions that arise in Scythe don't allow for something memorable to occur, "you remember that time I beat you and got a star, yeah everyone did that". There was a platform here to make something good, but it was implemented poorly.

I'm sorry you haven't had memorable moments with a game which, for my group, seems to have nothing but. Most of my games (10+ now with all player counts but 3) have ended up with us chatting about the game for a loooong time after the scores have been counted, and that's, for me, always a sign of a successful evening with board games.

And we've definitely had those memorable moments, such as a recent game where Crimea was looking much like a runaway leader, but a clever alliance between two runner-up factions dethroned Crimea, and the usurped faction was forced to place the sixth star to avoid falling even further behind. In this particular game, all five factions executed a completely different strategy, with e.g. Nordics never leaving the vicinity of their home base (they just built their engine and kept it running), and Saxony and Rusviet competing around the map, battling it out in numerous combats. Even though all 5 played differently, the scores were between 62 and 72 - so very even indeed! Such an amazing experience, and one we'll definitely remember.

Scythe may seem derivative because it employs quite a number of different mechanics we've seen before. I've never been bothered by this - I'm not sure where the idea that Scythe should have some ground-breaking innovations came forth in the first place. What Scythe does tremendously well, in my opinion, is how it packages these mechanics into a solid experience which, at least looking at the quantity and quality of ratings for the game, seem to be appreciated by the majority of the players.


So your most memorable experience was seeing kingmaking?
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paul lieberman
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ionas wrote:
brandoncorgi wrote:
Nice review but far from the majority opinion. Looks like the theme is your main problem with this game. I noticed you tend to be interested in games with heavy themes. I think it does a pretty good job thematically and many people agree. At any rate an excellent review.


The majority opinion "on bgg" "on this games review section" ;-)


Huh! What would you call over 5000 ratings. A minority!
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Simo Ahava
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itmo wrote:
So your most memorable experience was seeing kingmaking?

Maybe I should have pointed out (I had it in my reply draft) that Crimea did not win. Their "kingmaking" advantage was an illusion, easily shattered by a couple of well-placed combats in the end game. Territorial advantage is very slight in this game, as two factions can gang up on the leader with multiple combats, exhausting the opponents combat cards and power to ensure their advantage is lost. So I have yet to see an actual runaway leader problem in this game, as long as players are aware of what's happening on the board.

Also, this was just one memorable experience - not perhaps the most memorable one.

Anyway, this was a very good review, I think. I enjoy how reviews spark discussion, and reviews of Scythe (especially the not-so-glowing-ones) seem to always bring up passionate responses.

I completely agree with the first sentence of the review's last paragraph:
Quote:
I can understand the hype around it, though I don't really share the same amount of love many have, as, for me, Scythe is a well done game, interesting and smart, taking good parts of other games and making a whole that works nicely together.

Hype is mentioned in almost every review, so it's unavoidable that it has an impact on preconceptions and on the first few plays of the game. That's why I recommend, again, that people on the fence get a couple of plays in. If you're on the fence, you must have already considered wanting to play or buy the game. If Scythe clicks for you, you'll have many memorable moments with it!

EDIT: Clarifications
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Tomáš Sládek
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I am somewhat confused about all these people saying it's a downright negative that Scythe offers nothing innovative as if it were expected. I guess it's a very "cult of the new" view to have, but I think it's just wrong. A game doesn't need innovation to be great.
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Paul Ferguson
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Borghal wrote:
I am somewhat confused about all these people saying it's a downright negative that Scythe offers nothing innovative as if it were expected. I guess it's a very "cult of the new" view to have, but I think it's just wrong. A game doesn't need innovation to be great.


True, a game doesn't need innovation to be good, but the concept of Mech's, area control and resource management, felt like there would be a great platform to make something that stood out.
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John Prewitt
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I think it's odd it's about to surpass Mage Knight on the top 100 list. Wasn't particularly blown away by Scythe, or even all that interested by it. Just another Euro with better art I found. Glad I was able to play it with someone, but also glad I dropped out of the KS when I did.
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I think it's odd that people think its odd Scythe is getting the accolades it deserves. The majority love the game and understand what it is. Meanwhile there's this weird minority trying to convince people it's not a good game or just standard fare. Luckily opinions aren't fact. Whew...
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Vonderbread wrote:
I think it's odd that people think its odd Scythe is getting the accolades it deserves. The majority love the game and understand what it is. Meanwhile there's this weird minority trying to convince people it's not a good game or just standard fare. Luckily opinions aren't fact. Whew...


Spot on. One thing I've noticed on bgg recently is that it's often not the "fanboys" that are out there to proselytise unbelievers, but rather the people not liking a game.
 
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Vonderbread wrote:
I think it's odd that people think its odd Scythe is getting the accolades it deserves. The majority love the game and understand what it is. Meanwhile there's this weird minority trying to convince people it's not a good game or just standard fare. Luckily opinions aren't fact. Whew...


Yes, because only those who love the game understand that their opinions are facts . . . oh and I love the "understand what it is" line. I'm a huge fan of people telling others that if they don't like something it's because they don't 'get it'. Classic.

Someone dislikes something you ratted a . . . 10. Take a deep breath. It's okay!

Why do people feel the need to distinguish between the minority and the majority when it comes to the quality of a game? I'm sorry, but do you think that means something? Excuse me while I go play the greatest game ever made: Cards Against Humanity. The majority agrees!
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Jeff Smith
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Nice review. The one point that I often see in the more critical reviews, yet I haven't really experienced myself, is that there is minimal player interaction. While this is certainly true as the players are developing River Walk the first few turns, once that happens players are quickly expanding and pressing toward The Factory, all the while preparing for the inevitable combat. So I think the degree of interaction is largely dependent on the game group. Yes, this game could be played multiplayer solo, but it certainly doesn't have to be that way. My experience has been very aggressive interaction, even it the aggression is only a bluff.

I enjoy the game, and especially find it to be a great solo game using the Automa (which I recommend to anyone seeking more interaction).

Regarding theme, what's up with the magic tunnels? Why can I teleport all over the map by using a tunnel? What wizardry is being used here? I find it strange that this is never addressed in terms of the game's world. (Though I obviously understand the role of tunnels from a design mechanism)
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