Scythe Review

“We are already dead. We are Robot Jox!”

Description from the Manufacturer

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 a board 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 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.

Each player begins the game with different resources (strength, victory points, movement capabilities, and popularity), their choice of several faction-specific abilities, and a hidden goal. Starting positions are specially calibrated to contribute to each faction’s uniqueness and the asymmetrical nature of the game.

Scythe gives players almost complete control over their fate. Other than each player’s individual hidden objective cards, the only elements of luck are encounter cards that players will draw as they interact with the citizens of newly explored lands and combat cards that give you a temporary boost in combat. Combat is also driven by choices, not luck or randomness.

Playing Time

90-115 Minutes

Number of Players

1-5

Best With

4 Players

Complexity Rating

3.32 out of 5

When I was a kid, growing up in the late 80’s (yeesh, am I really that old?), one of the few pleasures I had in life, was sneaking out of my room late at night, after my parents had fallen asleep, and watching the experimental animation shows that they aired on MTV back in the day.  Oh how I loved Liquid Television, even though my 10 year old brain could barely understand most of what I was seeing.  Trust me, this story has a point.

Shortly after I was old enough to drive, I would make my way down to the local video rental store (yeah… those were a thing) and began pouring my way through the cult classic section.  Sure, there were a lot of clunky Troma films, but it was also where I was first introduced to Meet the Feebles, Evil Dead, and a host of other amazing films I love to this day.  One of those films was a little gem called Heavy Metal, a loosely connected collection of animation shorts based off the amazing magazine of the same name.

About a year ago, I found out that Heavy Metal Magazine is not only still in publication, but they had hired Grant Morrison, a fantastic comic book writer, as their editor in chief.  So naturally, I subscribed.  One of the first issues I received, featured the incredible artwork of Jakub Rozalski, and unbenownst to be, was the art he had created for this incredible board game.

A few weeks later, my friend brought the game over, and naturally I excitedly grabbed my Heavy Metal and showed it to him.  I guess this story is kind of pointless, but it’s too late now.  I’ve wasted both my time and yours.  AWESOME!

You know what isn’t a waste of your time though?  This incredibly fun game.  Like Terraforming Mars or Blood Rage, there has been a recent spate of backlash, calling the game overhyped, or overrated.  Is anyone else tired of the endless cycle of breathless glowing reviews, followed shortly there-after by the think pieces proclaiming the newest game to actually be terrible?  Can’t we all just calm down a bit?

Scythe is a great game.  It’s not the second coming, or the pinnacle of human creation, but it is a truly fun game, and don’t let the nay-sayers stop you from giving it a go.  So relax, play a game or two, and then let me know how completely right I am.

Things I Loved About Scythe

This game has a great balance between the tactical and the strategic.  Most board games I’ve played over the years have leaned towards one or the other, either turn to turn tactical thinking, or long term strategic planning.  This game offers both.

The theme is gorgeously realized.  Most games have a fun or interesting theme.  But few pull out all the stops, creating an immersive world with such beautiful art, that the game probably would have sold remarkably well even if the mechanics were a complete failure, simply based on the artwork alone.  Thankfully that is not the case.

The mechanics are not too hard to learn, and integrate with each other beautifully.  There is a strange intuitiveness to how it all works, and after a few turns, you’ll have a solid grasp of how the game works, and can begin forming your strategies, and refine your techniques.

First to end the game and earn all six stars is not always the person to win.  In fact, frequently they are not.  This forces some interesting thinking and planning, balancing what other players are doing, and when they might end the game (even by accident).

Scythe has an incredibly well designed player board, so you don’t forget what actions you can take.  Unlike some games we could mention (cough… TERAFORMING MARS…cough) the mat fits pieces nicely, makes this easy to track, and avoids the pitfalls of a disastrous table bump.

Things I Hated About Scythe

The method of combat is simple, but relatively uncommon and somewhat anticlimactic.  With giant mechs, I would have expected more impressive giant mech battles.  This is not a combat game.  So if you are hoping for a board game version of Robot Jox, you are barking up the wrong tree.

The game can take a lot longer than advertised, in particular with new players.  There are a lot of moving parts, and the game doesn’t end until someone decides to (or figures out how to).  Budget more time than you think you’ll need.

This is definitely not a game for beginners.  There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of fairly advanced concepts, and if you aren’t familiar with how board games play, you’ll struggle to pay attention long enough to learn.  Basically, if Candy Land is your jam, you may want to steer clear until you have a bit more experience under your belt.

When a player gets ahead, they tend to stay ahead.  With the lack of direct conflict, there isn’t much of a way to even the score, and if a player jumps out to an early lead, it can be very difficult to catch up.

There doesn’t seem to be much of an overall arc to the game.  You don’t really develop a civilization per se, you don’t have long term objectives, and the game ends somewhat abruptly.  So you just kind of try to wrack up points while you can.  So despite such a gorgeously realized setting, it really misses the mark in this regard.

Final Thoughts

Scythe is far from a perfect game.  It needs more giant mech battles, more action, and a more fully realized arc to the gameplay.  Much of the time you think “What… what am I even doing?”  But the game itself plays beautifully, it’s so very fun, and I cannot emphasize how beautiful the artwork is.  Perhaps there was a little too much hype upon release, but don’t let the resulting backlash fool you, this is a great game, well worth the high price, and would make an excellent addition to any gaming collection.

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