Embarrassingly Ostentatious

Right so you’ve probably seen a post or two about that Kickstarter game Scythe, yeah? WW1 steampunk mecha in cryptoslavic farming country. We got to play it a couple times today. It’s awfully good.

The bulk of the game, like the vast vast bulk of your time, is making things into other things. Fairly straightforward eurogame engine-builder: produce these resources on the map and turn them into better stuff, like buildings and mecha and stuff. The hot twist here is that your eurogame scheme is asymmetrical to everyone else: you get a combination of a team (“Rusviet,” I kid you not, plus uh “Polana” and “Criminia” or something and so on) and a faction: agriculture or patriots or industrialists or whatever. That second board is where the variety in prices take place. Every board has a “top action” and a “bottom action” but they’re all combined in different ways. Very smart, wow a lot of replayability especially when combined with the various nations.

So you’re busy making stuff on the board. And there are these stars you’re trying to earn, because once someone has earned six of them the game is instantly over. They say that stars don’t win you the game, but anyone who ends the game usually wins the game: placing stars is a big deal. Every category of action in the game is worth a star: build all your mechs, field all your workers, erect all your buildings, achieve all your upgrades, and so on and so forth. It’s so very wide open that it’s honestly a little intimidating to identify a path through all that noise and figure out how to win.

There’s also fighting, but honestly not much of it. Winning a fight can be costly and it’s just worth a star, and you can usually only earn two fighting stars. In our five player game, there were 4 total stars earned on that category. It’s super interesting! My wargame-crazy friends were itchy for a fight but you just can’t get a lot out of it beyond the glory of the win, a hex worth of territory, and maybe the resources left behind by the army you defeated.

Nothing stays dead forever; all the lost units end up back at your headquarters, which is so far away you might as well be dead. But, like in Terra Mystica, as you build things off your boards that reveals new abilities and costs and benefits. Man I love that whole design concept. So smart and compact.

Maybe my favorite little trick in the game — it’s really too small to be a killer app — is that you have these six “upgrades” you can perform, right? They start at the top of your board, covering up benefits: one extra move action, one extra production hex, stuff like that. When you upgrade, you pull one of those cubes off (increasing the benefit of one of your actions) and then you put the cube back into place at the bottom (thereby decreasing the cost of your secondary actions). It’s a neat little two-fer, again very compact procedural design. I can both move one more unit each move action and it costs me one less food to recruit help to my side. Whatever, any combination.

There are some other neat little tricks. So so many little tricks. It feels a little overwrought, and certainly overproduced if you get into the Collector’s Edition (what with tiny little oil barrels and bags of clinking metal money). And despite a couple tricks to keep players involved, turns can run long and in a five player game you can find yourself with not much to do. I suspect the sweet spot is four players, based on playing with 3 and then 5. Three felt too small and 5 felt slow-ish. But even then, our learning game took less than 3 hours to get through. I would have guessed more than 4 just looking at the rules.

Anyway! Wow, yeah, very worthy game. Lots of good ideas put together in smart ways for a very complete experience. Highest recommendation. At least an 8/10, maybe more with more plays and fluency.

20 thoughts on “Scythe”

  1. Two games tonight. One three-player and one four-player. Crimean Khanate won both. She may be a bit easier to get the hang of. Great mobility.

    In the three-player, my Rusviets got to six stars first but she edged me on territory points down the home stretch. I blame a pacifistic Saxony. 😉

  2. I just got my copy in the mail yesterday. Itching to get it to the table. I’m curious what you mean by over-produced. The term almost sounds derogatory – like a job you can’t get because you are over-qualified. I get that the game has lots of nice bits, but does that make it a bad thing? (I don’t think you meant it that way, but I’ve heard people use it as a negative.)

  3. Your thoughts are much the same as mine. One bit though: I’ve seen one two-player game end with a win for a person (me) who had only 3 stars compared to an opponents 6. In this case it was because I had more territory and a lot of cash sitting in front of me. It was close (52 to 48 or similar) but still a surprise to both of us. After playing that game, I now understand the “Delay of Game” variant rule.

  4. Nate Parker oh I totally got sucked into that edition. Metal money, tiny oil barrels, etc.

    Brian Casey​ oh I do mean it in a semi derogatory way, if I’m being honest. Not just the collector’s edition bits (which I happily splashed out for), but…The art, oh my god, so much art. Individual custom meeples that are different for every nation. Not just metal money but five different denominations, each with their own mold and tinting. Different mech models, different character models. It adds up to just…so much. It evoked questions in me like “how many families could I have fed” and “our nation’s empty houses outnumber the homeless and I’m playing a board game with tiny bags of grain.”


  5. The metal coins in particular. You scarcely touch any of them apart from the blue “1s” until the end of the game and then you can just as easily tabulate your final score in your head.

  6. Did I tell you about the permanent record sheet the included? You write down who won what games under a variety of criteria: first to win with the Saxons without buildings, first to win with Crimea without upgrades, etc etc.

    I wrote my name down for the first 1-player game winner.

    I’m not ashamed.

  7. Ehhh, she deserved it.

    Thanks for the tip. Didn’t notice the note. We’ll let the next winner co-sign the “First win in 2016” or something.

    Kind of a learning game. We were allowing mechs to carry characters -against the rules. Don’t think we missed anything else.

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