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Subject: Scythe review rss

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Seph North
United Kingdom
Oxford
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Mechanics

Scythe is an engine-building game first and foremost. So understanding synergy and engine building will make it easy to get to grips with. It's fairly complex, but not overwhelmingly so.

It has area control, used to secure resources and gain points. It has resource management, which is used to purchase upgrades and gain points. The combat mechanics involve some hidden information, so it is possible for a seemingly weak player to bring more to combat than expected, but the range of possible values an opponent can have (from the cards and abilities they have) can be calculated.

It has variable player powers. Each player will get a faction that has it's own set of unlockable powers, some of which are unique, and also has a special ability that is available from the start. Each player also gets a random hidden goals, and the actions that are available are combined randomly in setup from a set of four "top" actions and four "bottom" actions, with each top action being matched to a different bottom action in each random setup. On each of your turns you can perform one of these four sets of top and bottom that you get.

Strategy

In the early game you need to build your engine, making the best use of the upgrades and resources that are easy for you to get to. Don't go in with a pre-planned strategy of getting a particular set of upgrades first, as your starting cards and options are determined randomly and you need to adapt to these to get an efficient start. There are a lot of ways of upgrading your options and neglecting these will rapidly give your opponents a widening lead.

Resource management is quite important as these are required for your upgrades. They are also worth extra points at the end of the game, so even once you have bought all available upgrades it's worth having extra resources.

I think combat can play a part, but only in very specific edge cases such as when an opponent leaves resources vulnerable to you or to control the factory space in the middle of the territories. There's not a lot to be gained from combat other than this, and it costs you a lot to win combat reliably. You need to be aware of what special movement options your opponents have in order to avoid exposing yourself unwittingly.

Area control is useful in the late game, as it will give you extra points in scoring and also give you more territories to gain resources from when you have upgraded to be able to. You also need to get your popularity track up at the end of the game, as this significantly increases your score.

Play experience

I played with two other players (one as new as me, the other was the owner of the game and had played once before). I controlled the Rusviet Union and they controlled the Crimean Khanate and the Polania Republic respectively. I managed to get to grips with the game fairly easily with a skim of the rulebook and an explanation from the player who had played it once before.

Faced with a wide variety of different options at the beginning, I picked the option I could find that allowed me to get some synergy going right away. I exploited the special ability of the Rusviet Union to chain up production actions (an option not allowed for other factions) and get my full workforce into play as soon as possible, allowing me to produce large quantities of resources. I could then continue exploiting the special ability to chain up upgrade actions, and then deployment actions (which were all increasingly efficient thanks to the upgrade actions, and I was flush with resources thanks to my workforce size).

After this I focused on just completing as many upgrades and buildings as I could, claiming territory, then ending the game with one of my hidden goal cards. The strong start I had from making use of my faction ability gave me a very comfortable lead in victory. I think I could have widened my lead by playing on for another couple of rounds, but it would have just been dragging out a game I had already won.

Criticisms

I think it has some flaws. The combat mechanics are extremely costly, to the point where as I said before they are only useful in edge cases. I think the style of the game would change with larger numbers of players and combat would become important because you would have less access to spaces, I think this is a flaw for two reasons.

One is that it would be better if the game were balanced so that with less players, there is less access to resources (like a different map layout, or some sort of dummy player mechanic) so combat is more relevant no matter the number of players. The other flaw is that since the cost of combat is high, you make yourself very vulnerable to being attacked whenever you attack - so even in a game with lots of players, you're strongly discouraged from attacking since there are lots of players who will exploit your weakness afterwards.

Another flaw is I think in the factory cards, which even in the early game (when they are hard to get to) are only a small bonus while in the end game they are not worth as much as your standard actions thanks to your upgrades. They seem like they could be left out of the game without making any difference.

I think the factions and hidden goals have some balance issues. Some of the goals seem inordinately hard or limiting (in terms of things you can't do) to achieve them which makes them a bad choice of strategy unless you get the right ones. I think the Rusviet Union faction power is overpowered, but would need to try out all the factions to assess this better.

Summary

Overall Scythe is a eurogame with the illusion of combat options that in actuality aren't really worth it. The threat of combat is more important than the actual combat. Between the player boards, factions and objectives you'll need to pick a different approach each time - but I don't think they will be that different.

This is worth playing at least once since the upgrade system is quite different and interesting. I think I would play this again, but mostly for the sake of trying out combat as a strategy since no-one actually made use of it in this play through. I do not think the set of other strategies available will differ greatly between the random setups.
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Viking Erik

New Jersey
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Don't forget that combat awards a star to a winner. This is the cheapest method to score points in the game, compared to spending four turns and a dozen resources to complete all your mechs or upgrades or whatever. The star by itself is significant incentive to engage in combat.
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Peter S.
United States
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iamseph wrote:
The threat of combat is more important than the actual combat.


With how often this in particular comes up as a criticism in reviews, I have to say I consider it something that plays to the game's theme in a good way, and one of the game's subtle strengths.
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Seph North
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vikingerik wrote:
Don't forget that combat awards a star to a winner. This is the cheapest method to score points in the game, compared to spending four turns and a dozen resources to complete all your mechs or upgrades or whatever. The star by itself is significant incentive to engage in combat.


Beside the cards and power you have to spend on combat (especially if you want to reliably win), you also have to spend the actions getting your units into position to attack. This can all go to waste if your opponent then just moves out of the way.

And the star itself isn't worth a whole lot (compared to territory, resources, or earning popularity - also something you can lose by attacking). It might end the game, but it will rarely win you the game.
 
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Seph North
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ErsatzDragon wrote:
iamseph wrote:
The threat of combat is more important than the actual combat.


With how often this in particular comes up as a criticism in reviews, I have to say I consider it something that plays to the game's theme in a good way, and one of the game's subtle strengths.


I do agree that the threat of combat is an important tool in strategy games and is thematically fitting. But they put so much work into the actual combat mechanics (the power dials and track, the combat cards) that all seems a bit superfluous.
 
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Peli Kaani
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In my couple (3-4 times) of 2 player games the victory has come by "last turn" attack/attacks gaining the attacker last star/stars (1-3), several territories (incl. the factory and by leaving workers behind in unoccupied areas) and some resources. Attacking in 2 p game is especially powerful since the territories you win from the opponent means less money for him/her and more for you.

Usually my mechs are already at a good positions in order to prevent attacks and protect my workers and I try to have optimal popularity to be able to drive some opponent´s workers back home without dropping my popularity to a lower category.

Also attacking earlier, for example when you have gained a star with max power and your opponent has not, can be useful delaying/preventing him from getting a star there.

I have only played one 5 p game (some attacks were made but I don´t remember that they were so decisive) so i can´t really say much about playing with more than two players, but in two player games that I have played the attacks have been the winning move.

 
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Xavier Nostradunwhich
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New Hampshire
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I appreciate your review and thank you for posting it. Good summary of mechanics and well presented as an initial presentation.

But... you knew there was going to be a but the way this started, didn't you?

But I think you were a bit premature in discussing strategy and such when you have only played a limited number of times. I would love you to come back and revisit this review after some more plays. That would be an interesting post to read. Would your initial impression change?

Again, thank you for your time both for the review and for reading my reply.
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John Lloyd
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I agree with Xavier. There is much more to this game than a 1 play impression will give you.

That said, one play is enough for many of us to decide if the game appeals to us. I painted all the miniatures before I even got a chance to play my first game, so I was definitely not willing to dismiss it after one play. Plus, I knew it had over 750 playtests before even launching on Kickstarter.

The game has a race / efficiency element, and combat executed and timed right will disrupt others and tip the balance to you. That said, I've only played 4 & 5 player and I have wondered if smaller player counts will discourage it more.

Anyway, I would encourage you to give it a couple more tries if the theme appeals to you. It's short enough to play a couple of times in one evening.
 
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Stephen Sanders
United States
Henderson
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iamseph wrote:
Mechanics
Scythe is an engine-building game first and foremost.


And a boring one, but a bit tense one, for the most part.

iamseph wrote:
Criticisms
I think it has some flaws.


Mainly, the tunnels. If I want to play a game with chaos, I'll gladly play Kemet, but this element does not belong in this game - its an engine building game, which strangely includes a magical "take that" ability with the tunnels that doesn't make any sense to me.

iamseph wrote:
Summary
Overall Scythe is a eurogame with the illusion of combat options that in actuality aren't really worth it.


Well, unless you attack the same player in consecutive turns, who has run out of combat cards, giving the other 3 players a no brainer action to take an easy star now that he has no real defense. Happened in our game.
 
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Anson Ng
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the game feels like roll for the galaxy for me. tableau building...

and each turn feels so short... i have something which i know i want to do, once it's my turn, i do it and what that's it...?! have to wait a bit again for my turn...
 
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Richard Young
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Turn-phasing came out of the reaction against "downtime" where you had to wait until each player had done all the things that used to make up a turn: get income and reinforcements, produce and/or trade, move all your units, then resolve all the combats associated with movement as applicable. Most games now have turns broken down in various ways such that each player is only executing a small portion of a normal turn at a time, and round and round things go until everyone has done all they can or choose to do for that turn. Your downtime is still the same but is broken into smaller supposedly more palatable chunks.

In Scythe, the usual notion of turns is done away with altogether. A turn is one, maybe two at the most, actions - then it's on to the next player. But, as with all those other games, your overall strategy still involves stringing actions together to achieve what now become much longer term objectives. Your progress feels much more incremental especially with the restriction that a particular action may only be taken every other turn. Now, your turn whips by and you wait for your next chance to put the next block in place and so on until eventually, the series of actions yields the result you were working toward. This could, for some, be the cause of a different sort of frustration.

I like turn phasing and the apparent speed with which you get to do stuff, but the incremental nature of achieving some end result can be admittedly ponderous. It is also possible for an intervening event precipitated by another player to interrupt or even prevent the achievement of what you were working toward. These characteristics can be what some folks appreciate in the game but others may find them unsatisfying. In any event, turn-phasing is pretty well established as the norm in most newer game designs. How many times do you hear, "this is another of those games where you want to do so many different things, but you can only do them one at a time!"
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Michael Boucher
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ErsatzDragon wrote:
iamseph wrote:
The threat of combat is more important than the actual combat.


With how often this in particular comes up as a criticism in reviews, I have to say I consider it something that plays to the game's theme in a good way, and one of the game's subtle strengths.


Indeed. In fact in one of designer's notes in the rulebook it implies that they designed it that way - that players are supposed to think twice before initiating combat.
 
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Brandon Zappala
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ErsatzDragon wrote:
iamseph wrote:
The threat of combat is more important than the actual combat.


With how often this in particular comes up as a criticism in reviews, I have to say I consider it something that plays to the game's theme in a good way, and one of the game's subtle strengths.


I completely agree with the above quote.

Think of America and Russia during the cold war. Military power was balanced against each other to cause a military stale-mate. But a strike by either side would have caused chain-reactions or retaliations, and the whole world today would be vastly different than we are familiar with if one of these superpowers would have made a demonstration of force against the other.

The usual feel of the game is dogs circling and growling and snapping at each other to keep each other at bay. A lot of times a bolster or strategic positioning near the end of the game causes a chain reaction of bolstering and further defensive positionings.

Combat is a pivotal characteristic of the game. But it doesn't mean that combat takes place. It means that combat is a constant factor to mitigate throughout the game. A particular session could occur with a single combat early or later in the game, BUT there is also the possibility that someone attacks, and the result of the combat sends every other player to attack the other spent factions. This is where the subtleties of assessing the pros and cons of winning an losing combats can save one's ass from being knocked back into the stone-age, or whether just giving up a territory is justified to the longer goal of self preservation.

For all the flaws this game might have, I don't think that combat is one of them. I actually think that the combat system and how it affects the game is one of the stronger points of the game.

The one thing I do understand about the criticism of combat, is that it leads to a lot of saltiness and apology. A lot of times I "feel bad" about ruining another player's plans and position, but this is part of the game. For the more tactical and/or experienced player, this is another strategic thing about the game: if you put yourself at risk to make a gain, then you have to deal with the consequences, and if you want to take a risky position, try to build a defense around that position by moving mechs or workers or bolstering your military power first. If you can't deal with doing that or having that done to you, then this may not be the kind of game for you.
 
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