Stats at a glance
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Scythe is renowned as being one of the most well-made and beautiful games out there. Its theme and alternative reality storyline grabbed everyone’s attention when it launched in 2016. But does it play as good as it looks? Let’s dive into our Scythe review and find out.
Brief Overview of Scythe
Scythe is a strategy game for up to five players. Set in dank and misty Eastern Europe in an alternative reality, ginormous mechs patrol the land, a hangover from the First World War.
Your goal is to lead your clan to become the richest in the land. You will explore new territory, generate resources, build structures, grow your worker pool, and encounter local tribes as you do so. Sometimes you might end up battling other players, too…
It’s an engine-building game at heart, all managed on the player mat in front of you. You will work to enhance your player mat and develop a strategy to generate points. At the end of the game, tally up your points, and whoever has the most wins.
On opening up Scythe, you’ll find:
- 1 quick-reference guide
- 110 cards
- 5 player mats
- 1 game board
- 184 tokens
- 6 structure bonus tiles
- Faction items (x5)
- 1 faction mat
- 1 action token
- 1 popularity token
- 1 power token
- 6 star tokens
- 4 structure tokens
- 4 recruit tokens
- 4 mech miniatures
- 1 character miniature
- 8 workers
- 6 technology cubes
One of Scythe’s standout features is the artwork and production values of its components. It is, quite simply, immense. The box itself has an amazing scene showing the rolling fields of rural Eastern Europe with farming families in the foreground, while in the background you see an army of battling mechs. This alone will be bound to grab your attention on the shelf.
Things stay just as good when you get inside the box. The game board is a vast map of land split up into hexes that act as the game spaces that you move between. Again, it’s beautiful, with strong bold colors and clear markings that make gameplay easy.
The components themselves, too, are of great quality. There are wooden tokens, which I always prefer, and the plastic miniatures for your character and the mechs are really cool, too, which differ from faction to faction.
All in all, it’s a great haul.
How to Play Scythe
To begin, place the 11 encounter tokens on their respective territories, and put the combat, objective, encounter, and factory decks on the board.
Players then randomly get dealt a faction mat (Nordic, Rusviet, Crimea, Saxony, or Polania – all of which have different abilities), and a player mat. These can be combined in many different ways, and tell each player the number of coins, combat, and objective cards they can take, and where their markers start on the popularity and power tracks.
Then, put your character on your home base, and a worker on each territory connected to it.
Finally, on your player mat, place your structure, action, recruit and technology tokens, and your worker meeples.
Goal Of The Game
Your aim is to become the richest Empire in Eastern Europa. Players start off small but will grow their resources, headcount, technology, and land controlled throughout the game. Once someone has completed six achievements – such as deploying mechs, having a certain level of popularity, or a certain population count – the game finishes, and points are tallied.
A player’s turn starts by moving your action token to a different section on your player mat (it cannot stay in the same place). Each section has a top-row and bottom-row action. Players will resolve them in this order.
The location of the top row actions varies by player mat, while the bottom row stays the same but has different costs/benefits. This means each player may need to play a little differently depending on the mat they have. The top row actions are:
- Move – move units from one territory to another. If your character or mechs move into another player’s territory, this could result in combat. If you enter a territory with an encounter token, you’ll need to resolve an encounter card.
- Bolster – pay a coin to move up the power track or gain a combat card.
- Trade – pay a coin to acquire resources or move up the popularity track.
- Produce – select two territories. All workers on those territories produce resources depending on the territory’s terrain type.
The bottom row actions will often improve each time they’re used. You have the option to:
- Upgrade – pay oil to make other actions cheaper to use.
- Deploy – deploy mechs to protect your workers. Mech abilities vary by faction.
- Build – build structures in your territories, like mines or monuments, all of which provide various advantages.
- Enlist – take the recruit token from your player mat and place it on a faction mat section for a one-off bonus. Also, get an ongoing bonus based on where you took the token from. Whenever a player on your direct left or right uses an action from that section on their player mat, you get the bonus.
If you move a mech or your character into the territory that another player’s mech or character is in, then combat ensues.
To do so, players secretly choose a number on their power dial (between 1 and 7, although it can’t be more than their power level). They can also use combat cards to boost this. Then, when revealed, whoever chose the most (including combat cards) wins. Both sides then pay the amount of power they committed.
If the attacker wins, they take the territory and all its resources. The winner, either way, also puts a star on the combat track, for which you can get coins at the end.
Moving Through The Game
Players take actions and expand their empires turn by turn. They’ll enter new territories to take their resources, enhance their abilities, and encounter various local peoples to build their resources, coin base, and popularity. Sometimes, they’ll battle each other, too (although not as much as you might think).
There are various achievements and objectives players can work towards to generate more points/coins. Once someone completes six achievements, the game ends and all points are totaled up. Alongside the achievements themselves, you’ll get points for the territory you control and your popularity. Whoever has the most wins.
Your First Game of Scythe
Along with building your player mat engine using upgrades and structures, there is also The Factory. This is a special territory on the board that allows players to acquire a powerful new action space for their player mat. Once you enter the territory, you get to choose a Factory card from the Factory deck, and this will be added next to your player mat.
This means that whoever gets there first gets the pick of the lot. What’s more, if you control it at the end, you get some coins, too.
As you expand your territory, you will also come across various local people and have to deal with the situations that come with them. These are encounters.
When your character enters a territory with an encounter token you must resolve an encounter card. You’ll be given several different potential outcomes with different costs and benefits, and you must choose which path to take. This will often result in your popularity going up or down, along with various other effects.
Versions & Expansions
There are four expansions to Scythe, which all develop the game in different ways. Scythe: Encounters is pretty straightforward, adding in 32 new encounter cards to the game.
Scythe: The Wind Gambit and Scythe: The Rise of Fenris introduce several new modules to mix up the gameplay, with the latter also adding an eight-episode campaign that develops the storyline.
Scythe: The Wind Gambit
Scythe: The Rise of Fenris
Scythe: Invaders from Afar
Finally, Scythe: Invaders from Afar adds two new factions, increasing the total player count to seven.
Okay, so maybe not necessarily an expansion, the modular board add-on can boost your Scythe replayability.
Instead of using the same tiled board, the Modular Board replaces the original with pieces that can be rearranged to create a much different experience every time you play. Similar to Catan (Settlers of Catan) and Mage Knight, the pieces can be placed to create a much more tense gaming experience. The entire game feels fresh by changing up the faction locations.
Pros & Cons
- Ultra strategic approach to territorial control
- A different take on a 4x-style game
- Mix-and-match player boards
- Awesome theme and components
- Surprisingly little combat
- Wait between turns can be long
Scythe is quite hard to define. It has all the elements of a 4x game, but the actual gameplay will have you thinking you’re playing a totally different beast.
Not Quite Total War
Rather than a game of absolute war, Scythe’s gameplay focuses instead on developing the player mat and resources. Combat plays a part, but it is costly regardless of whether or not you win. This acts as a deterrent to players attacking each other as they grow their wealth through other means. After all, with all the death and destruction that comes with war, does anyone really win?
This might come as a surprise considering Scythe’s artwork and components are awash with mechs and grizzled-looking warrior folk. But, for me, this creates a fantastic sense of threat that hangs over the game. The odds forever increase as your empires build up and up, eyeing each other suspiciously in your own Cold War.
All About Strategy
Scythe is about the intelligent and strategic management of your player mat. Turn by turn, as you upgrade your actions, build structures, and visit The Factory, you can create quite the machine of moving parts. It’s incredibly rewarding and this is what will ultimately win you the game.
What’s more, the ability to mix-and-match the faction and player boards – as well as enhancing them at The Factory – forces each player to have a different strategy, and you’ll have to do so each time you play the game, too.
Another thing I love about Scythe is the theme. It’s just so cool. The concept is intriguing. The artwork and design are all sublime. The encounters brilliantly bring it to life. And the storytelling is wonderfully woven in, and also strangely amusing.
On the flip side, where Scythe falls down is that some paths to victory are much more efficient than others. The popularity track especially is a bit too powerful, as it acts as a multiplier when scoring at the end – another reason combat is often avoided.
A Different Kind of Beast
When it comes to flow, I liked that Scythe didn’t follow the usual phase structure of 4x games. The turn-by-turn process made it feel different and helped to keep the game moving. However, the level of strategic thought that will need to go into it can result in some players taking a while to make their minds up. This is important to take into consideration, as there are some groups that simply can’t handle too much downtime without getting fidgety.
That said, one benefit of such an engrossing theme is that it takes a few more minutes than usual before people remember they’re not actually hiding from a mech in a rural Eastern European ditch as it nurses its wounds from the First World War.
Scythe Review (TL;DR)
Scythe is a strategy game for one-to-five players set in the interwar period in an alternative reality. You must lead your clan to become the greatest in the land by expanding your territory and generating resources. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.
It’s a very dense engine-building game that will take a lot of thinking, but it’s more than worth it. There are many ways to earn points, and enhancing your player mat to do so efficiently can be really fun.
While the amount of combat is relatively small, the tantalizing sense of threat that grows as players build their empires will still leave the bloodthirsty more than satisfied.
Scythe has rightly won a lot of plaudits for the fantastic alternative reality it has created and the way it is then presented on the tabletop. You will be left captivated by the gritty, fog-infused world. Thankfully, there are expansions to satisfy some of these cravings, but I worry I won’t ever get enough of it.
The game itself plays very well, too, and will be a big hit with fans of ultra strategic 4x behemoths. The engine room that is your player mat is a real labor of love, while the cost/benefit decisions you make throughout are grueling.
That said, the amount of strategy this game requires will be a bit heavy for some, while the lack of combat may not be a nice surprise, especially when compared to other games in the genre. Getting the right group together for this one will be important.
Either way, regardless of whether or not it hits your buttons in terms of gameplay, please do me a huge favor and sign my petition to make Scythe: The Movie.
Have you tried Scythe? Drop a comment below! We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Find more Strategy Games in our video below:
A passionate traveller as well as a gamer, Joe is trying to play board games in as many countries as possible. No surprise, two of his favourite games are travel-friendly Tiny Epic Galaxies and Coup. But when in his home town of London, Libertalia and Secret Hitler are currently top billing.
Saturday 29th of August 2020
Guys, thanks for this in-depth over view, it is much appreciated, but how could you do a modern review of Scythe and not cover the modular board? Please add this to the article if you want it to be complete. https://stonemaiergames.com/games/scythe/scythe-modular-board/