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Subject: Is Scythe a combat game?: An opinion rss

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Daniel See
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Let me preface my remarks that I’m a novice at Scythe, and rarely do I post on BGG. I do like to read everyone’s thoughts, but I don’t feel like I have the authority to write reviews on games or the skill to write about theory craft. I did however want to share from my experience, and I’m curious if others found the same thing, or if different, what might account for the differences.

I heard a lot about how little combat plays into Scythe. I heard a lot about how the game disincentivizes combat and in some way punishes the aggressor. I heard advice not to expect any combat. I heard reports of games in which combat occurred only 1 or 2 games. I even heard the game is more a 3X game than a true 4X game.

Because of all I heard I went into my first play of Scythe reluctant to engage in combat. In fact, everyone at the table shied away from combat and instead just kept to themselves. As a result, one player, Crimea, was allowed to build an incredibly powerful engine and ran away with the victory.

That made me realize that I HAD to engage in combat to slow down my opponents.

I then recently played a game, as Polania, and my opponent, Nordic, was relatively isolated and therefore free to build their engine and play the territory control game. I felt like I had to stop Nordic, or suffer the same fate when I left Crimea alone. So I deployed my Cameraderie mech power and went on a military march, forcing Nordic off territories and stealing resources. In the same game, Saxony picked on Crimea, targeting wherever Crimea’s mechs were unaccompanied by workers. I ended up winning that game. I’m pretty certain had I played more passively, Nordic would’ve ran away with the victory.

Having played Scythe a few times now (granted, I’m a novice, and may not know the intricacies or have played against the best competition), I now feel like Scythe has been mis advertised as a noncombative euro game. I feel like combat plays a significant role in Scythe. Granted, it’s not combat silly billy like Blood Rage. One must be strategic and smart about using combat in Scythe, but this is a game in which combat plays as equal a role as the resource production/management, engine building, and territory control—in other words,a true 4X game.

If you have found the same thing, I’d like to hear your experience. If you disagree, I’d like to hear specifics about how combat was discouraged and how pacified play led to victory (and by the same token prevented a run away winner).
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Michael
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Scythe designer Jamey Stegmaier has said, "In Scythe, the threat of combat is more important and prevalent than combat itself," and attested that this is a deliberate feather of the design (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/26524319#26524319). The key to keep players from building uncontested engines and running away with the game is exactly that "threat of combat"--players who attempt to hang back and build up themselves should be challenged (i.e., threatened with combat) so that their isolationist approach to victory becomes more difficult to achieve. I think Jamey's point was not that combat is absent, but that it is not the only thing a player must do to win.
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Daniel See
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To be clear, I’m well aware of the “Cold War” aspect of the game. But I’m not talking about the threat of war. I’m talking specifically about actual combat. I think actual combat plays a much bigger role in a winning strategy than has been advertised.

If a game has occurred without actual combat, then I’d be interested in hearing how players slowed down opponents from building powerful engines.
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Scythe being labeled a "noncombat game" is a little bit misleading, but not entirely untrue. It's misleading because there's definitely combat and you have to participate in it if the players know what they are doing. However, it's a far cry from "combat games" where you attack every other turn in order to make any progress at all.
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I don't think it's actually being advertised as a non-combat game. I think some people expected and wanted combat to play a bigger role and were disappointed that there wasn't more. They may complain that Scythe isn't a combat game, but if you aren't using combat strategically you probably aren't going to win.

I've played games where there were only a couple of combats and I've played games where there's quite a lot of fighting. Each game is different and each situation needs to be assessed differently.

It's been my experience, generally speaking, that if you fight too much you'll lose, but if you don't fight enough you'll lose too. The fun is figuring out who and when to attack...
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Andrew Young
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Metal Rat wrote:
Scythe designer Jamey Stegmaier has said, "In Scythe, the threat of combat is more important and prevalent than combat itself," and attested that this is a deliberate feather of the design (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/26524319#26524319). The key to keep players from building uncontested engines and running away with the game is exactly that "threat of combat"--players who attempt to hang back and build up themselves should be challenged (i.e., threatened with combat) so that their isolationist approach to victory becomes more difficult to achieve. I think Jamey's point was not that combat is absent, but that it is not the only thing a player must do to win.


Never read this but that is exactly how I see it. The threat of combat when you aren’t prepared is an aspect of the game. It’s not a combat game.
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Daniel See
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medievalbanquet wrote:
Metal Rat wrote:
Scythe designer Jamey Stegmaier has said, "In Scythe, the threat of combat is more important and prevalent than combat itself," and attested that this is a deliberate feather of the design (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/26524319#26524319). The key to keep players from building uncontested engines and running away with the game is exactly that "threat of combat"--players who attempt to hang back and build up themselves should be challenged (i.e., threatened with combat) so that their isolationist approach to victory becomes more difficult to achieve. I think Jamey's point was not that combat is absent, but that it is not the only thing a player must do to win.


Never read this but that is exactly how I see it. The threat of combat when you aren’t prepared is an aspect of the game. It’s not a combat game.


Again, when I hear "threat of combat" this suggests to me that no actual combat takes place. If this is the case I'd be interested to hear how you slowed down engine builders.

For example Saxony can hide on its penninsula and build a pretty powerful upgrade and mech engine. No amount of "threat" will slow them down. What is needed is combat to push them off their resource engines. To me that's a combat game, not just a "threat of combat" game.

Again if you've played a game in which avoiding combat was part of a winning strategy I'd be interested to hear more about.
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Andrew Young
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It’s a great question. I think you may be able to win by not attacking yourself but it’s such and easy achievement to acquire. The point is it’s not a combat game. The threat of others want that achievement right? So that’s the threat.
 
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Peter S.
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Building up and spending military power can get you three of the six stars needed to close the game out, and claim territory for end-game scoring. Folks tend to undervalue it a bit because you don't have to fight, but if you're playing optimally you're going to want to.
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Daniel See
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medievalbanquet wrote:
It’s a great question. I think you may be able to win by not attacking yourself but it’s such and easy achievement to acquire. The point is it’s not a combat game. The threat of others want that achievement right? So that’s the threat.


I see your point about stars. But I’m not focused on combat as an achievement. I’m thinking about the role combat plays in the competition with your opponents. For example, combatting opponents to force them off key hexes to deny them resources. That’s where I see combat being undersold.
 
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Daniel See
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ErsatzDragon wrote:
Building up and spending military power can get you three of the six stars needed to close the game out, and claim territory for end-game scoring. Folks tend to undervalue it a bit because you don't have to fight, but if you're playing optimally you're going to want to.


Yes, I think I agree with you. It seems to me that combat will play a key role in any winning strategy.
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CbusGamer wrote:
medievalbanquet wrote:
It’s a great question. I think you may be able to win by not attacking yourself but it’s such and easy achievement to acquire. The point is it’s not a combat game. The threat of others want that achievement right? So that’s the threat.


I see your point about stars. But I’m not focused on combat as an achievement. I’m thinking about the role combat plays in the competition with your opponents. For example, combatting opponents to force them off key hexes to deny them resources. That’s where I see combat being undersold.


Makes wane.

I think that is rare in the game, though. Unless you really regally need those resources. I guess my point is that the game rewards you for attacking twice. 1/3 or the way toward victory. No more no less. That 3rd combat better be worth the action. Otherwise, I’m not attacking.

Andy

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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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medievalbanquet wrote:
I think you may be able to win by not attacking yourself but it’s such and easy achievement to acquire.


In general I think that attacking yourself is inadvisable. It tends to be better to attack the other players .

I’ll show myself out .
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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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I think that this is simply a matter of how we define the term combat game. I define it so that combat must be a frequent occurance and thus wouldn’t use it for a game where you on average make 1 attack in 20 turns, but on the other hand you can argue that if there’s combat then it’s a combat game.

I’m pretty sure that those who say that it’s a not a combat game use the same definition as me. If you use the second definition and neither of us states what we think the term means, then we don’t disagree about how the game plays out, instead we are talking past each other.
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mortenmdk wrote:
I think that this is simply a matter of how we define the term combat game. I define it so that combat must be a frequent occurance and thus wouldn’t use it for a game where you on average make 1 attack in 20 turns, but on the other hand you can argue that if there’s combat then it’s a combat game.


In most Ameritrash games, especially dungeoncrawlers and miniatures games, combat happens. All. The. Frickin'. Time. Enter a room? Combat. Enter a space? Combat. Pick your nose? Combat.

While, in most Eurogames, combat *never* happens. Take a space someone wanted? No combat. Take a resource someone wanted? No combat. Get attacked by bandits? Hah hah. They take your stuff. No combat.

So,since many AT games *force* you into combat, that any game that *threatens* combat, should, imo, be distinguished by their murder hobo bretherin. Ditto for Eurogames, since a combat mechanic isn't all that common, at least compared to AT games.
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Sam and Max wrote:
mortenmdk wrote:
I think that this is simply a matter of how we define the term combat game. I define it so that combat must be a frequent occurance and thus wouldn’t use it for a game where you on average make 1 attack in 20 turns, but on the other hand you can argue that if there’s combat then it’s a combat game.


In most Ameritrash games, especially dungeoncrawlers and miniatures games, combat happens. All. The. Frickin'. Time. Enter a room? Combat. Enter a space? Combat. Pick your nose? Combat.

While, in most Eurogames, combat *never* happens. Take a space someone wanted? No combat. Take a resource someone wanted? No combat. Get attacked by bandits? Hah hah. They take your stuff. No combat.

So,since many AT games *force* you into combat, that any game that *threatens* combat, should, imo, be distinguished by their murder hobo bretherin. Ditto for Eurogames, since a combat mechanic isn't all that common, at least compared to AT games.
No-one has ever seriously argued that Scythe should be classed as a war-game ("combat game"). Combat can and does occur so it is not a Euro in the classic sense either. It is, as a lot of games are these days, a hybrid that combines a number of styles and mechanics borrowed from many sources. None of what is found in Scythe is totally unique as many of its aspects have a ring of familiarity to them. The attraction in this game for me is that the resulting total is greater than the sum of its parts.

The continual need to fret over the place of "combat" in this game has become tiresome - we've seen it in how many different threads now? I'm not sure what the point is anymore. The question of degree (which is really the issue) will always be subjective and the conclusion will be different for everyone depending on all kinds of factors such as expectations, group dynamics, individual play-styles, to name just a few.

Relax and enjoy the game - or we could take up the debate as to whether this is a "worker-placement" game. I don't think that has been totally nailed down yet...
 
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mb Well, it clearly is not a worker placement game.
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Most of my games involve at least a little combat. Sometimes it's a naked grab for poorly-defended resources, but most players learn to avoid setting themselves for that. I do have games that get into Cold War-style stalemates, but it's rare for someone not to be able to leverage an advantage through good combat cards, mech abilities, or savvy maneuvering (usually to get two or three units into a fight.)

Often I'll see an attack used as part of a player's last turn, where they use it to grab one or two final stars. If a player knows they can place their sixth star, then they can spend all the power they want without fear of a reprisal next turn, which is the biggest impediment to a combat-heavy strategy -- a player who attacks too much is often handing stars to other players by making themselves a low-power target for counter-attacks.
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When I play at two players there are typically about 3 combats, though that's highly variable - anywhere from none to six (Oh, Saxony) - usually one or two as an opportunistic grab for a star, and one towards the end for control of the Factory.

I wouldn't call it a combat game, even at six combats that's a small fraction of the number of turns in the game having a combat, but combat is present more often than not even at lower player counts.
 
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I play exclusively solo (so far), but when I plan and move, I'm reminded of Clausewitz' dictum that "war is an extension of politics." His point is that militaries don't (or shouldn't) fight for the sake of fighting, but rather should fight when necessary in pursuit of a rational political objective.

When Automa gets my blood up with aggressive moves, I'm tempted to go whoop ass for the emotional thrill. But I attempt to control myself and think rationally--why should I fight or not fight?

It seems to me that if you are asking yourself this question, you're right where you should be in your appreciation of the military dimension to the game. Fight when necessary for a rational purpose.
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Daniel See
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mortenmdk wrote:
I think that this is simply a matter of how we define the term combat game. I define it so that combat must be a frequent occurance and thus wouldn’t use it for a game where you on average make 1 attack in 20 turns, but on the other hand you can argue that if there’s combat then it’s a combat game.

I’m pretty sure that those who say that it’s a not a combat game use the same definition as me. If you use the second definition and neither of us states what we think the term means, then we don’t disagree about how the game plays out, instead we are talking past each other.


I see your point. I think I used the wrong term to try to get my point across. Maybe 4X is more appropriate. Overall, I’m just defending the combat that does exist in the game against a lot of what I heard going into the game.
 
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I want to thank everyone for their comments. It’s been an interesting discussion, and I’m learning a lot.

Ive rethought my poison, and so I want to recapitulate the points I’m trying to make to clarify my overall argument.

1) “combat game” is the wrong term; I see that now.

2) going into this game, I heard a lot about the lack of combat. You can read or watch almost any review and you’ll see the reviewer complain about the lack of combat and how misrepresentative the mechs on the box are. My main point is that in my experience, I found combat to play a crucial part of the game. And so I want to defend the combat that is in the game and make the argument that combat plays a significant part in this game (albeit significance not in terms of quantity but quality and impact).

3) my focus is not the stars that one is rewarded for combat. I’m speaking of combat specifically to slow opponents down or control key resources.

4) may I offer a specific example that we might be able to discuss. Saxony has oil and metal on its peninsula, along with a village. Depending on which player mat they are teamed with (but I think in all cases, really), they can produce a worker, then move two workers to oil and one to metal. Then they can upgrade and cheapen upgrades and eventually deploy. Once that engine is in place, they can churn out upgrades and mechs at a very high rate. Once they get riverwalk, they can move to wood across the river, and then churn out buildings. They can then seek out 2-4 easy combats to end the game in realitvely rapid fashion. The question is: how to slow down Saxony’s isolationist strategy? My point is that one would have to use combat to invade Saxony’s penninsula to break up their engine. In this case, the interest in combat is not for stars (though stars are a nice benefit). The interest is strategic. If not through combat, I am unsure how Saxony could be slowed down except that everyone just hopes that in the final tally Saxony doesn’t outscore them. If someone can think of a non combat method for slowing down Saxony in this case, I’d be very interested in learning it.

Because of the above example, I used the term (wrongly) “combat game” to emphasize the importance of combat (not just the threat thereof) in this game.

Thanks for everyone’s interest in this topic!
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Michael
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Well said; thank you.

Vague, general reply to the Saxony scenario: Maybe rushing to the top of the Popularity track, and working hard to occupy as many hexes as possible before Saxony comes out of his hole, would be sufficient to beat him on points?
 
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In regards to the Saxony scenario: I'd be tempted to play it out and see! My gut tells me that turtling wouldn't do much for them. Yeah, if they prioritize Produce, Upgrade, and Deploy, they can get those relatively quickly -- faster if one of those bottom-row actions aligns with Produce. But Upgrade is one of the slower stars to get in terms of bottom-row actions (six versus four), and this start is going to leave the Saxons behind in territory, other resources, and depending on what lines up with Bolster, combat capabilities. And that's going to hurt them. While they're turtling, I'm expanding my empire, hopefully grabbing the Factory, and picking up my own stars.

That last piece of the puzzle is the kicker: against half-capable opponents, they're not going to find 2-4 easy combats. In fact, in this scenario it wouldn't surprise me if they end up the easiest prey. I bet in most games the Saxons wouldn't be ready to start expanding before the game ended in a blowout. It's too narrow a strategy -- the remaining four stars will be tough to get.
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I have found combat is a small but vital part of the game. Winning fights is useful because it gives you more territories, potentially resources and stars. However if you focus solely on combat and nothing else you are going to struggle to achieve anything as you will quickly run out of power.

That is why i love Scythe so much you can't just attack willy nilly because you are all powerful and have all the soldiers you need to fight strategically at the right time and place. Often scoring a single combat victory will give you a final star and win you the game.
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