board game review: Scythe

We brought Scythe home a few weeks ago, and we’ve played it a few times. We’ve played one 2‑player and two 4‑player games, and Carl played the automa ver­sion once. I think I can give a decent review of it now.

There are some good tuto­ri­als on Scythe (see the Watch It Played video and erra­ta here), so I won’t talk in depth about how to play the game. But briefly, there are five fac­tions and five play­er mats, for 25 com­bi­na­tions of play. Each fac­tion has a spe­cial abil­i­ty and slight­ly dif­fer­ent pow­ers, and each play­er mat has a dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tion of basic and more expen­sive actions, and dif­fer­ent costs for things. You gain stars (achieve­ments) by gain­ing pow­er or pop­u­lar­i­ty, build­ing, deploy­ing mechs, win­ning com­bats, and oth­er things. Everything–territories, resources, stars, build­ing locations–is con­vert­ed to coins at the end of the game, and the play­er with the most coins wins.

For our first game, we were a lit­tle con­fused about the rules, and we did a few things wrong, par­tic­u­lar­ly with work­ers (allow­ing work­ers to have encoun­ters, let­ting work­ers do the spe­cial mech/character actions), but we got the gist of it, and our next games were more cor­rect. In our last game, I won with­out build­ing any build­ings, and I almost broke 100 coins, but I think I bribed too many peo­ple. I felt like it was a pret­ty nice vic­to­ry. There’s an achieve­ment sheet that lets you write down your name next to win­ning sce­nar­ios, which makes vic­to­ry even sweet­er.

The first few rounds are a lit­tle slow and offer lit­tle inter­ac­tion with the oth­er play­ers, as you try to gath­er enough resources to do some­thing use­ful, but once you get out of your lit­tle area, there is the poten­tial for more inter­ac­tion as it becomes a land grab and race to the fac­to­ry. Com­bats are not as fre­quent as you might think, even with four play­ers, and bribery is fun (and effec­tive if done right).

Carl says that the automa ver­sion needs more explic­it instruc­tions. While he was play­ing, he called me over a few times to find out what I thought was rea­son­able. I haven’t tried the automa ver­sion myself yet, but I will say so when I do.

I LOVE this game. It’s com­plex enough to have many dif­fer­ent win­ning sce­nar­ios, there’s a lit­tle bit of luck involved, and it speeds up as the game goes on. It’s not a sim­ple game, and you have to play with peo­ple who REALLY like games, but it’s pret­ty great.