Game Review: ‘Scythe’

3/7/2020

SCYTHE is a thematic engine building game set a fictional alternate-history 1920’s time period. Through unique player abilities, resource collection, and area control, players are tasked with gaining the most power and influence among their opponents. It was designed by Jamey Stegmaier and originally published in 2016. 

I have played the game twice and – while I did see the allure of the game – it just isn’t my cup of tea and I will likely not play it again. That being said, this game is loved by a lot of people and you may enjoy it! Read on for my thoughts. 

What does this game have to offer?

APPEAL (audience, length)

This is a heavier game that takes a bit of effort to learn and play which will rule out some people but if you primarily play with people who enjoy heavier games (mainly WARRIORS) then you will have no problem getting it to the table and enjoying it. In regards to length, I feel like it was perfect. It took about two hours each time I played which didn’t feel too short or too long. 

VARIABILITY  (re-playability, different setup/gameplay)

The game has decks of cards which are shuffled every time. There are multiple, unique ‘mix and match’ player boards which will change experiences and strategies every time. In the base game, the map remains the same each time but if you have the ‘Scythe Modular Board‘ expansion, you can significantly increase the map variability. With all of these aspects, the game can change significantly.

AGENCY (Player choice, strategy/luck)

This game is highly strategic in most aspects and randomness is in only present to keep things variable and interesting (see the ‘VARIABILITY’ section). There really isn’t much to elaborate on other than to say that you will not lose a game due to the bad draw of a card or a random event occurring. The game rewards strategic planning and utilization of the abilities you have at your disposal. 

ESCAPISM (theme, artwork, immersive game play)

This section is a bit tough to review for Scythe. On one hand, it has great artwork and an intriguing setting but this ‘theme’ itself doesn’t extend too far past the surface. The game does try to deepen its ‘lore’ with the  encounter cards and – depending on the person – that may be enough. However, while they each have interesting thematic effects, they are completely isolated from the rest of the game. 

Now, if you are not as particular about theme, this may do it for you and really give you a sense of escapism but for the ESCAPISTS out there, this will likely fall on deaf ears.

Despite the ‘pasted on’ theme of the game, Scythe does a decent job of immersing you in the game through gameplay. It is very easy to lose yourself in the interesting mechanisms the game employs through the balancing act required to maintain popularity among your people while also trying to survive and thrive in order to win the game. 

It should also be noted that – for those looking to add immersion into the game, ‘The Rise of Fenris‘ expansion may be something to consider buying. This adds a campaign mode as well as several modules that can be added and combined to change up the game play and immersion factor as desired. It should be noted that I have not tried this expansion so I cannot say from personal experience.  

SPECTACLE (highs/lows, victory/defeat, laughter)

There are many opportunities throughout the game to experience highs and lows in various forms. The interesting combat mechanics, thematic encounter cards, and achieving a goal on the triumph track can all bring out highs and lows. The joys of victory and unfortunate consequences of defeat are abundant throughout which all contribute to a game that has great potential for excitement.

My Thoughts

The strategy and combat is interesting, the encounter cards are fun, and the unique player abilities really help this game shine, however – as stated at the beginning – I am not seeking this game out to play again anytime soon due to several factors. 

I don’t typically mind when a game doesn’t have too much theme – but I do mind when a game lures you in with great artwork and an awesome setting just to be let down by a game mostly devoid of a theme which had so much potential. Despite this, it isn’t a deal breaker for me. The artwork is still exceptional and enjoyable to look at. 

The real reason I dislike the game springs from its innate desire to be so many things at once. It is very clear that it wants you to focus on as many things as you can in order to do better than your opponents. Yes, you can omit things but this can lead to grave consequences in some cases.

This ‘need’ to focus on so many things throughout the game creates many opportunities to overthink your turns which also adds to its lack of immersion as you are spending so much time thinking about which thing you should focus on at any given time.

Another result of having too many things to worry about is that combat can ruin you. In each game I played, I lost horribly due to this factor. Now before I go any further, I need to be upfront about the fact that my main ‘gamer type’ is ‘The PIONEER‘. While I actually generally enjoy combat in games, I dislike it in Scythe. I like building something up and watching it thrive so when a game allows me to do this and then also allows someone else to completely wipe it out – that isn’t something I want to voluntarily experience for 2 hours. 

I am fully aware that this is the whole point of the game – needing to build up your resources and then protect what you have at all costs – but it just feels like work to me. However, I know that my dislike of the game is very specific to me and my tastes. 

My Recommendation

Because everyone is different, my recommendation varies depending on what type of gamer is playing. Descriptions for each type – including a quiz to figure out yours – can be found here.

WARRIORS should like it and may love it

PIONEERS should like it

FREE SPIRITS should be wary

ESCAPISTS should be wary, but may like it (possibly more-so with ‘The Rise of Fenris‘ added) 

If you are able to, check your local game store for availability – otherwise, it can be found here for purchase online. 

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