Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Published: Stonemaier Games
Players: 1-5 Base Game, 1-7 with Expansion
Playtime: 2-3 Hours
Type: Engine Builder
Scythe is set in Jakub Rozalski’s 1920’s+ universe. In the game you’ll find yourself controlling a faction trying to rebuild their country after the first Great War. Your faction will try to stake it’s claim on the land, war with other factions to maintain that land, enlist new recruits, upgrade your technology and reap the many resources scattered around the board. You will do this with the help of your unique faction leader, and battled hardened mechs. The road to victory has many paths in this unique engine building game.
In game, each round players will choose one of four sections on their player mat. Players then have the option to take the top action, the bottom action or both. When doing both actions, the player always takes the top row action first, followed by the bottom row action.
Each of these actions allows you to interact with the board in someway, or to help you build your engine to more effectively gain resources and develop your strategy. There are too many individual actions to go into depth, but generally the top row actions help you gain something (movement, resources, military strength) and the bottom actions help you build an engine (make things cost less, deploy mechs, gain reoccurring benefits and build buildings).
While interacting in this way, the player has two major goals. One is to gain as much money as they can through gaining popularity, resources and area control. The second is to place their six stars on the board, which will end the game. Stars can be placed for a variety of reasons such as placing all mechs on the board, completing a hidden objective, or even being victorious in combat.
One of Scythe’s strong points are the beautifully crafted components. Throughout the game you will find beautifully crafted miniatures, tokens, and artwork. The miniatures are high quality plastic with plenty of details to be picked out. Each faction has their own unique faction leader and animal companion. These are beautifully to the immersive nature of the game, because they represent each country so well. In addition to unique faction leaders, each faction also has specific mechs designed differently than all other factions.
In addition to these beautiful miniatures the game comes with a variety of wooden tokens for each person’s player mat and resources. While the majority of these tokens are consistent across the factions (with the exception of color), each faction’s workers have an individual design specific to their faction. These wooden tokens are well made, and look great on the board.
Many of these wooden tokens begin on each player’s player mat, which to me in one of the best aspects of the game for new players. Each of the player mats are made so that they pieces fit into the mat itself. This has multiple benefits, including the board is thick and sturdy, but also it helps new players figure out how to set up for game play. Each of their tokens has a designated spot in which it fits exactly, so players can begin to figure out set up with very little coaching from a more senior player.
The game comes with wooden resources and cardboard coins, which demonstrate the same quality as the rest of the game. The wooden resources are unique and easy to pick out on the game, and the coins are made of a quality cardboard that is thick and does not tear easily when punching it out. However, if you want to continue to improve the games aesthetic, Stonemaier has worked with Top Shelf Gamer and Meeple Source to provide a variety of upgrades. I personally have upgraded my coins to metal coins and wooden resources to realistic resources. These upgrades has taken the aesthetic of the game to a whole new level. The realistic resources in particular when on the board fit Jakub’s art in a way that the wooden tokens lacked.
Also note, the faction leaders have become more detailed since the first printing of the game that you can see in the pictures above. The miniatures were beautiful at first, but now have a level of detail that makes them pop even more, and seem more realistic.
Overall though, the thing that pulls all of these components together is the work of Jakub Rozalski. The unique artwork that is seen throughout the board, player boards, character boards, and encounter cards is simply stunning. They pull the game together and make it as much as masterpiece as it is a board game.
- Many strategies to win
- Little downtime between turns
- Plays well at all player counts
- Some factions are inherently simpler
- Player board combination frequently forces playstyle
- Very long at high player counts
I have now played Scythe over twenty times, at a variety of player counts, and a mix of different factions and player boards. If you know me, you probably know that Scythe is my favorite games but that does not mean it is without it’s flaws. Scythe checks off all the boxes that I enjoy in a game, it has resource management, area control and engine building that allows for long term planning and preparation. Due to the many areas in which Scythe allows for scoring, I find that there are a variety of ways to win. I have seen people win by hoarding resources, by being military strongholds, by area control and by combining a variety of the prior strategies. This game has a strategy for almost everyone.
Due to the variety of play styles, and faction boards the game has a lot of replayability. The game simply has so many different combinations that every time you play, you will be working around a different board with a different combination of strategies. This also does lead into one of the perceived downfalls of the game. Each of the player mats does lend itself most strongly to a specific play style by the cost of the bottom row actions, and the top row actions it is paired with. For some players, random selection of player boards means they are stuck completing a strategy that they may not enjoy or do not find success in. When players are seeking a challenge this can also be seen as a positive. The game is constantly challenging players to adapt to the faction and player mat combination that they are assigned.
When playing this game with experienced players, I generally find that I have very little
downtime between turns. While each player is taking their bottom action, the next play can be taking their top action. This streamlined game play makes the game move at a steady and fast pace. This can be slowed down while playing with new players of course, and some factions can take longer for new players to grasp than others. Factions such as Rusviet Union, Crimea and Polania have clear strategies that are inherently easier to win with than factions such as Nordic Kingdom, Togawa and Albion which take more careful thought and planning to win. I have seen new players become very frustrated if they are playing with one of the more difficult factions against a faction such as Rusviet Union which can become a strong powerhouse with an experienced player. That being said, I truly believe that this game is well balanced. It is clear that it has been play-tested thoroughly, and while some factions are inherently easier to determine a strategy, all of the factions have different strengths at different player counts.
The strength of the factions can also depend on the player count at which the game is being played. Some factions have an easier time at lower player counts such as Polania, where some factions really shine at higher player counts such as Togawa. Regardless of how strong the factions are though at different player counts, one this is true. Scythe plays well at all player counts and offers a challenge and unique gameplay with any player count. I have played this game solo all the way to seven players, and every player count in between. Each scenario offers a unique challenge, and is never boring or oversimplified. My preference is at 4-5 players as the sweet spot, but it will be enjoyable no matter how many people you have at the table.
While the game plays really well at all player counts, when you get to 5-7 players you may find that the game seems too long. The game takes a few rounds to pick up pace and have people placing stars and creating a strong engine. When you have a higher player count you will find that with rounds taking longer, the game can push up to 4 hours. While I personally do not mind a 4 hour game, some players find that this is too long and lose interest, especially if it was a game that seemed to move at a slow place. This can be counteracted by experienced players by doing the streamlined turns I mentioned above, but is not suggested when playing with new players.
Without a doubt, Scythe has a strong theme through out the entire game. The visuals create a consistent theme throughout the miniatures, workers, and encounter cards. However for me, I really found the theme even more solidified once I took the time to read each character’s backstory on Stonemaier’s Website. This helped me more fully understand the animal companions being included, and the tensions behind each of the factions. Even without the added backstory I am always fully immersed in game play, and a lot of that comes from the consistent theme throughout. Each card feels like it is telling a story. Throughout the game you feel as though you are rebuilding your faction’s country facing the tensions mounting from other competing factions. I am especially looking forward to the upcoming Rise of Fenris Expansion which is supposed to add even more to this story-line.
Overall, Scythe to me is an ever-changing puzzle. Each game provides it’s own setbacks and challenges that makes it seem like a brand new game each time we play. It is entirely unique in the sheer variety of strategies that can be used. I cannot find another game on my shelf that is entirely similar to Scythe, or has even come close to replacing Scythe in the two years I have owned it. It can be complicated for new players, but it is simpler than it appears at first. I highly suggest this for groups that are looking to play games at higher player counts, players who are looking for a strong solo game, and players who enjoy games that have a strong engine building component. While Scythe may be too complex for some players, Scythe truly offers a variety of strategies that support most play-styles. If it is not already in your collection, I highly suggest giving it a try.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this review, please feel free to comment or send me an email!
You may have noticed I did not mention the Wind Gambit expansion at all throughout this review. While I own and have played this expansion, I still need a few more play-throughs to give it a thorough review. Be on the look out in the future for a full review of the Wind Gambit if you are curious to hear more about these awesome airship miniatures!