Scythe Review

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Quick Look: Scythe

Designer: Jamey Stegmaier

Solo Designer: Morten Monrad Pedersen
Artist: Jakub Rozalski
Publisher: Stonemaier Games 
Year Published: 2016

No. of Players: 1-5
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 90-115 minutes.
Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com  
This review is part of a 3-part series where I revisit some of my favorite Stonemaier titles (Scythe, Viticulture, and Wingspan) and share my impression of these signature titles. Prior to completing this, I had a 5-player game so that it was all fresh in my head. It was great to get it to the table especially at max player count (for base game – Invaders from afar increases max player count to 7).
From the Publisher:

It is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as “The Factory”, which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.

Scythe is an engine-building game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. It is a time of farming and war, broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and valor. In Scythe, each player represents a character from one of five factions of Eastern Europe who are attempting to earn their fortune and claim their faction’s stake in the land around the mysterious Factory. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.



Initial Impression/Components:

One thing that Stonemaier has become well-known for is quality components and that’s been the case with every one of their titles that I’ve encountered. If you are familiar with Scythe, then you know that it has really interesting minis which are the draw for a lot of mid and heavy weight tabletop gamers. I definitely enjoyed those, but my favorite component was actually the dual-layered player boards. The board uses multiple little wooden squares to keep track of costs and upgrades for particular actions. Without that dual-layered board, I don’t know if the game would actually function the same. Of course, you could get by without it, but with so much movement of pieces and a game length that can reach 2 hours, I can see those tracking cubes getting knocked at some point. The base game’s component list is:

1 box (300x365x98mm)

2 rulebooks (multiplayer and solo)
1 quick reference guide
5 player mats
5 faction mats
1 game board (624x818mm); the back can be combined with a separate board extension for bigger hexes
80 wooden resource tokens
80 coins tokens
12 multiplier tokens
12 encounter tokens
6 structure bonus tiles
42 combat cards
23 objective cards
28 encounter cards
12 factory cards
2 power dials
5 riverwalk cards
5 quick-start cards
5 wooden action tokens
5 wooden popularity tokens
5 wooden power tokens
36 wooden star tokens
20 wooden structure tokens
20 wooden recruit tokens
20 plastic mech miniatures
5 plastic character miniatures
48 wooden workers

36 wooden technology cubes



I thought the action selection (which varies by player card) was done very cleverly. All players start with access to 4 pairs of actions; the top of the action is more or less an income or increase of something while the bottom is usually a large permanent improvement. While that in itself was a great choice for this game, what I really loved about it was how you only get to choose one of the four pairs of actions (you can do either or both) and your turn was over. This makes turns fast, and reduces the lull usually present in games of this weight. As another added bonus, it gives you something to go for no matter your situation and I found it helped against analysis paralysis. It broke what could be a deep long-haul strategy into bite sized pieces that can stand alone. As someone that usually internally calculates the current state of the game and my progress multiple times throughout the game my honorable mention is the point system. Everything fluctuates so much and goes on a series of multiples to get the final score at the end but it’s not really used throughout. As a result, I enjoyed simply letting things be and focused solely on just enjoying the game rather than where everyone was point wise.
Least Favorite:
I both loved and hated the combat and here’s why: The battle resolution itself was fun, engaging and interesting to me. But I felt there wasn’t enough reward for actually winning or pushing combat vs other strategies. True, you can get a 1-2 stars (6 stars triggers game end) by having 1-2 successful battles, and you could also pressure some area control or move opponents off of a resource pile, but still. I feel it was undervalued and wouldn’t make for the best viable strategy to win. As a second item on this list, I think map movement, especially prior to gaining your mech that unlocks riverwalking, is more difficult than I’d like and can give the start of some games a slower burn than being able to get right up next to opponents faster.
Area Majority / Influence
Card Play Conflict Resolution
End Game Bonuses
Force Commitment
Grid Movement
Hexagon Grid
King of the Hill
Movement Points
Solo / Solitaire Game
Take That
Tech Trees / Tech Tracks
Variable Player Powers
Variable Set-up
Victory Points as a Resource

Zone of Control 

The full rulebook for Scythe – and any other Stonemaier title – can be found in this dropbox link:

They are clear and easy to understand overall, but I would suggest giving the full book a readthrough before you push ahead and try to learn as you go. Pay close attention to the produce action and how payments work. That part is a bit odd to get used to but you get used to it after. On that note, don’t forget you can trade a coin for resources you need right away or don’t have access to. The key to understand is that resources are not stored by players. Instead, they stay on the board on the hexes where they were produced and stay there until used. You use them directly from the map if you control that hex(es).
Areas they did well:
– The variable setup/variable player powers were a game changer. Not only do player boards have some unique abilities but the top actions and bottom actions on each player’s 4 action pairs are scrambled. In addition, they have different costs and rewards. This gives each play a different feel.
– Combat resolution
– Points as a resource and basically everything else as a resource such as popularity, combat cards, or power.
– Component quality (and dual layer boards!)
– Good examples and clarity in rules
– Excellent bite-sized turns / choices
– True to gametime even at high player count
– End game bonuses and final scoring multiplier method
– Ability to change up strategies without costing the game
– Unique feel of each game based on random setup and starting boards
– Upgrades/sense of progression
Areas they could have improved:
– More satisfying combat outcome / reasons to start a combat
– Easier map travel
– Potentially start with some random resources populated or choose an upgrade on the player board during setup
– A benefit for the player who collects the 6th star to trigger immediate game end
– Your hero to be able to move workers instead of just mechs or workers themselves
– Felt the buildings could give a little more for the effort involved in building them.
Interesting moment:
In the later stages of the game, I had a mech and a worker on the Factory location in the middle of the board. Another player entered into the space with their own mech and 2 workers. We each had all of our mech bonuses unlocked and they got to take a random combat card from me before the combat started, while I was able to use an additional combat card if I had a worker present – which I did. I felt this was going to be an important fight so I put everything I had into it – 7 on my dial and two 3-value cards for a total of 13. They put forward a 6 on their dial and a 5-value card for a total of 11. They had overlooked my potential max with two combat cards and I was able to successfully defend. It wasn’t until a few turns later when the game ended that I realized if their attack had been successful, they would have ended the game by getting two stars in the same battle – 1 for a successful battle and the other for satisfying their secret goal based around controlling the Factory location. In the end that player still won the game, and I took 3rd place, but it was still the most thrilling moment of the game for me and though it didn’t change the outcome of final scoring, it felt like it made an impact.
I know that Scythe is listed as a heavy weight game, but I’d consider it mid or upper mid. It’s really not as complicated as I’d expect from a heavy title and maybe that has something to do with the clear explanation of the ruleset. In all, this game felt more about production and growth than an all-out brawl as I first thought when I was introduced to the title. I guess with battle mechs and a conqueror/global expansion type theme, that was always my assumption. However, as the rules themselves point out, a typical game usually starts with a growth phase, into an exploration, and then some combat. In that way, it can sometimes give the feeling of solo play even with others at the table as your turns might rarely affect anyone else.
Final Thoughts:
This title has been on the scene for several years and has remained a prized piece of many collections. I’ve got 4 close friends in my area with this game but in truth, don’t have my own copy. Even though it has a solo mode, I’ve never tried it, but as I absolutely live for the social aspect of gaming, I don’t think that would really appeal to me for a mid or heavy weight game. As a result, even though I thought the game was great I probably won’t purchase it. Instead, it serves as a great reason to visit a friend and bring some others to the table as well. After playing it at 5 players, I think 4-5 is my personal preference of player count where the game shone.
I’ll see you next time, back here at The Game Table,
Brad Hiscock, aka Zerility
Here’s a link to their website if you’d like to learn more about Scythe or their other titles:


After reading Brad’s review, if this sounds like a game for you at the time of this posting Scythe is on sale in the United States for only $80. check it out and get yours HERE.

Find out more at BGG
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Brad Hiscock, aka “Zerility”, is a construction project manager and electrician by trade who was the owner of a 6-time award winning electrical company. His passion for board games has led him from playing hundreds of original titles to creating a design and publishing company of his own, Convivial Games. As an up and coming collaborator on many projects, he is always eager to try new games and meet new people.

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All of Brad Hiscock, aka “Zerility”‘s reviews can be found HERE.


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