This Scythe Review digs into the a game that has launched itself to quickly become the most played game in my collection of 2017. It took me months to snag a copy bringing me to the question at hand: was it worth the wait?
Your are recovering from the devastation of the first world war. Many are trying to get back to their day to day lives, gathering food, drilling for oil, smelting iron, and chopping down wood.
But you have more on your mind.
You’ve heard reports that the great factory lies abandoned…but still holds great power. The lore is drawing you in, and so you’ve set out with the goal in mind of not just finding it… but controlling it.
You’ve also heard that you’re not alone in this ambition.
There are at least 4 others undertaking this journey. You know that in order to succeed you need to be strong. You may not want to fight, but you will at least need to look like you do.
It’s time to build some Mechs.
What is Scythe?
It’s a long, usually wooden stick with a sharp blade…. oh… not that scythe, we’re talking about the board game. My mistake.
Here’s my one sentence description of this game that I first came up with when I was a guest on the Playing Rough Podcast, and then I’ll work on fleshing it out a bit.
“Scythe is an, action selection, resource gathering, engine building, economic experience that is cleverly disguised as a territory control game.”
(Please note: Some of the photos below include the “Invaders from Afar” expansion that adds 2 more players. The Purple and Green pieces are what is added in that expansion)
Alright, let’s unpack that.
The core turn mechanic of Scythe is “Action Selection.” Each player has a mat in front of them that has 4 distinct pairs of actions. On each turn, players choose one of those pairs of actions that they will complete – then they can complete either one of them, or both providing that they have the resources available.
(Note: I don’t do full rules explanations in my reviews. If you would like a rules explanation I’d recommend heading on over to Watch It Played’s tutorial video)
Once a player has done their selected actions, their turn is over, and play progresses to the next player who has their own player board. The catch to this mechanic is that you cannot select the same pair of actions two turns in a row…which makes planning for two or three turns in advance a high priority.
Another core component to Scythe is the resource gathering element. Players have workers and throughout the game you will move your workers to various hexes across the map. Each of these land spaces has the ability to provide you with various resources: Wood, Oil, Metal, Food, and More Workers.
Now there are a lot of games out there in which you gather resources, however, one of the things that makes Scythe stand out is that your resources stay on the board when you produce them. Of course your workers, and other pieces, can carry them from hex to hex, protecting them if you will, but until you spend them on an action, they are never truly safe. Likewise, you can attack someone else in an effort to take THEIR resources.
In a lot of engine building games it’s about getting to those more and more expensive items by being able to chain your actions together. The items usually get more expensive, but your “income” increases to meet that demand.
Once again, Scythe is different.
Scythe is all about building efficiency in your “engine.” This game has an upgrade mechanic and it’s probably THE mechanic that most players “ooh and ahh” over during, and after their first play. It’s called the Upgrade Action.
Without getting to deep into the weeds, the upgrade action simply makes a future action more lucrative, all while making a second, different action cost less. See? Efficiency.
You win this game by having the most money at the end of the game. Along with resources, you are also managing your money. You spend money by preforming various actions, and you receive money by doing other actions. At the end of the game you also get financial bonuses for how advanced your civilization was, for how many territories and resources your control, as well as where you built some structures throughout the game.
It’s kind of funny because the game doesn’t feel like it’s an economic game….because it disguises that by making it feel like it’s all about… the next aspect of the game:
Ok, this is where it get’s a little murky. Territory control doesn’t really matter in this game…. until it does, which is at the very end.
The game of Scythe comes to a screeching halt when someone places their 6th achievement (star) on the board. At this time, all the money is counted, aforementioned bonuses are added, and a winner is declared. However, in most games, it is very possible to know that you are taking your last turn, even if you aren’t going to be the one that’s placing the final star.
This means that when it comes to area control, timing is everything. Unlike Risk, Axis and Allies, and other control based games, in this one you don’t have to hold onto large swathes of land throughout the game. In fact, you can put all your pieces on just 2 or 3 territories if you like, and then try to spread out rapidly on your last turn. Now, of course, sometimes that may not be possible, but for the most part I see territory control in this game as a middle of the road objective.
However, don’t get me wrong. If you are just holding on to 1 piece of land at the end of the game, you’re probably gonna be in trouble.
Scythe Game Specs:
Price Range: $50-65 You can buy it HERE.
Players: 1-5 (Plays up to 7 with Invaders from Afar expansion)
Style: Action Selection, Engine Building, Resource Management, Territory Control,
Estimated Game time: 90-180+ Minutes (I suggest you plan 3 hours for your first play)
Geek Level: Intermediate
What I Liked About Scythe
- Artwork: This game is S.T.U.N.N.I.N.G. It is so evident that they wanted to go the extra mile in the player experience when it comes to the artwork of this game. From the box, to the board, to the faction mats, to the action mats, to the encounter cards, and yes, even the miniatures, this game is just simply beautiful. And almost 100% of the credit goes to the artist Jakub Rozalski. There are not too many games that would make me consider buying a piece of artwork from the artist to hang on my wall… but I may just do that with this game (If I ever have a game room… I don’t think my wife wants 1920’s Europa in our living room).
- New (to me) Mechanic: I have never played a game that uses an upgrade mechanic in the way that Scythe does. The upgrades, paired with the enlist actions make the action selection in this game super interesting and, at least to me, unique.
- Asynchronicity: Not sure if that’s a word… but it should be. One of the HUGE features that I really didn’t touch on above is the fact that no faction is the same. While all the same actions are available to each faction each player has a unique ability to break various rules. For instance, the Rusviet faction CAN take the same action two turns in a row!
- Low Downtime: This game does have downtime… but not as much as you would expect in a game this size. Because turns are so quick, you can get a 7 player game (with the Invaders From Afar expansion) in under 2 hours. I know this… because I’ve done it.
What I Did Not Like About Scythe
- Nothing: Ok… not 100% true. But this is my favorite game, so it’s close. So with the next few items I’m realllllly pulling hard to find some things I didn’t like.
- Sudden End: Others I have played with have mentioned this. For me, it doesn’t really bother me, but I can understand if you like “building and engine” and then watching it “run”…you may have a bit of a letdown in with Scythe. This game is about building efficiency, and just as you are reaching peak efficiency the game is most likely going to end, either by you, or by another player. I don’t think this bug me because I don’t see it as an engine building game, but if you do – this may bother you. Note: I believe this issue may get resolved for some with the release of the Wind Gambit Expansion in late 2017.
- Big Leap Movements: Again, this was something that was mentioned by another first time player in one of the many games of Scythe that I have played. In the game there are a few tunnels on the board that allow players to skip across the board much faster than you would expect. On top of that, 3 of the factions have abilities that let them treat other hexes in a similar manner. Keeping track of which factions can go where can be a bit of a challenge. For me personally, it’s part of the intrigue of the game, and if I forget that Polonia can pop out of the lake next to me…that’s on me. 🙂
- Poor 2 Player Game: Ok – here is a personal pet peeve. I don’t like this game at 2 players. That said – it does have an Automa player that I could add in, so shame on me for not trying that. But I have to say that without the automa, a 2 player game is like multiplayer solitaire.
What I Really Think of Scythe (My Official Scythe Review)
Do I really need to say this? I mean – if you haven’t figured this out already……..You must really be skimming.
I LOVE SCYTHE!!
This game checks all the boxes for me! I’ve played it about 24 times already and any time I feel like it’s getting “old” I take on a new faction, or attempt a new strategy.
Not only will this game forever be in my collection, it may get some treatment that very, very few of my games ever get…. it may get pimped out a bit. I’m thinking…. painted mechs, realistic resources, metal coins, and maybe… just maybe… a custom insert. I’ll have to wait on that though until after the next expansion and the “one box to rule them all.”
More About Scythe from Around the Web
- Want to know How to Play? Check This High-Quality Video Tutorial (by Watch It Played)
- Want to hear a less gush-y review? Heavy Cardboard has you Covered (Podcast)
- The Official Scythe Web Page
Just One More Thing:
The creator of Scythe, Jamey Stegmaier, has his own personal blog. I highly recommend that you go check it out. It’s very random, interesting, and just a great reminder that people who design awesome games like Scythe, are still just your average people like you and me.
I love it.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this Scythe review are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. That aside, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.