Posted on January 24, 2020
Scythe, “I was smitten by the artwork”
Over the holiday break Kat and I took Magnus to the mall in Edina so he could play in the children’s area next to the DMV In The Mall. On our way there we happened to pass by Games by James and perused their end of year sale, which was mostly just those $50+ shitty games you didn’t want before were now $5-10 cheaper and I wasn’t impressed so we moved on.
After about 10 mins of watching him not get run over by the nice and patient other children, I looked up some of the top reviewed games on boardgamegeek.com and found that Scythe was a highly recommended game for 1- 5 players. I go back to Games by James where I found another customer holding one of their last copies, who gladly handed it over to me and I promptly took to the checkout. What was his problem? Bureaucratic fool, he has no idea what he’s got there. Turned out it was a bit of foreshadow.
Some time later Kat and I sat down to play. I broke open the game, punched out dozens of pieces, arranged them in what I thought were the correct groups, and stared at the rules for just over an hour at which point Kat had fallen asleep. Seriously this game has so, many, damn pieces – and it should.
Number of pieces aside, if you’re not someone who plays a lot of boardgames, and by a lot I mean every few days for the past decade, it’s gonna take you a minute to digest what it is you’re actually supposed to do to win. It ain’t fuckin monopoly here and once you think you’ve got the basic flow down there’s a tiny gotcha that makes you turn the car around and go back to that fork in the road.
In Scythe, each player represents a fallen leader attempting to restore their honor and lead their faction to power in Eastern Europa. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.
Scythe works like this: you’re one of 5 selected faction commanders in the game trying to make your way through a dystopian post WWI landscape filled with advanced military technology (robots and lasers) but contains farmers that still harvest their crops by hand. Somehow the forced communist government spent ALL their R&D on advancing weapons of war for the past 25 years and not one dime on inventing a… tractor or plow. I think this is how they make the setting to be more 1920’s-ish because a robot harvester would make the game too futuristic, but they wanted to have Mech’s because Mech’s are just fuckin’ cool man.
Every part of Scythe has an aspect of engine-building to it. Players can upgrade actions to become more efficient, build structures that improve their position on the map, enlist new recruits to enhance character abilities, deploy mechs to deter opponents from invading, and expand their borders to reap greater types and quantities of resources. These engine-building aspects create a sense of momentum and progress throughout the game. The order in which players improve their engine adds to the unique feel of each game, even when playing one faction multiple times.
This to me was primarily the “flow” breaker and where things got confusing. It’s a strategy game but not necessarily turn based so yes you can think about things for a minute but at the same time the other players are doing their “turns” so what you thought was a good idea 5 seconds ago isn’t anymore and oh well fuck it I’ll just go with this. Which is ok if that’s what you expect, but we weren’t and it made it less fun. I think other player types might not like this as well.
This guy – https://youtu.be/ffMLIL5qGQg does an incredible job at explaining the rules and gameplay. We ended up watching this video after losing faith in our ability to understand the rules. The rule book is well written, but just to understand what to do in a turn took over 20 minutes and a lot of not giving up.
The game was Kickstarted and it feels to me that while it was being funded (or not, right?) the makers just kept coming up with more and more rules to cover the “what if?” and “but what about” ism’s. This is ultimately a good thing and means you can play it over and over again, but makes it difficult to know what is the happy path when you start out.
We haven’t actually had enough time to finish a game. Yeah right, so how can I write a review? Well because I think we’ve got it down now and when we go back and get our rhythm down I know it’s gonna be a good time. Learning a game is fun because you get that little hit of dopamine whenever you discover a new route or method to do a thing and it seems like this game is chock full of those little gems.
Bottom line (pun intended) don’t play this game if you’ve got a lot on your mind, it’s not relaxing due to it’s complexity. But, if you want to forget everything and just focus on this tiny universe of scrutinized options, consequences and tiny victories, take off your coat it’s gonna be a long night.