Scythe (Stonemaier Games)
Designed by Jamey Stegmaier
Art by Jakub Rozalski
In an alternate history, the continent of Europa is recovering from the effects of the Great War. The Factory once provided the armies of this land with powerful mechs but has now shut down, hiding its advanced technology behind its doors. The nations of Europa want this tech and begin a campaign against each other to become the most prosperous of nations in the world. To do this, they will need to gather resources to unlock greater and greater achievements, always taking note of their military might and popularity amongst the people.
Scythe is one of the best board games I’ve ever played, and it took me some games to get there. With any game of moderate complexity, I need to play through it a couple times and likely look up a YouTube tutorial to make sure I’m not missing any details and nuances in the rules. Once I understood the flow of Scythe and diverse economies happening within it, the game lit up for me. Now it is easy to pick up and play, but definitely, a game that will take a long time to master all the strategies that go into it.
There are four main currencies in the game: Money, Combat Strength, Popularity, and Resources (Metal, Wood, Food, Oil). All of these can be exchanged in various ways to boost the others. But finding the right balance for your Nation and Production type is crucial. Each Nation has different abilities that supersede one or more basic rules of the game. Your Production card denotes if you are Industrial, Agricultural, Construction, etc. These two boards determine your starting wealth, popularity, and combat strength. Additionally, they let you if you get any starting Combat cards that can be spent to boost yourself in battle.
You begin the game stuck in your homeland with two or three territories to place workers on and produce a limited number of Resources. The more workers you unlock, the more they cost to have on the board. Starting with Combat, then adding Popularity into the mix, and finally Gold. Once all workers are deployed, you still have to pay these costs to Produce resources in your land. There are solutions to this sliding scale though. You can pay $1 to trade for goods or to bump up Popularity. Additionally, you can spend $1 to Bolster your armies and move up two Combat strength. Finally, you can choose to Move/Gain, meaning you move two units one territory each or acquire a single $1. These moves make up the top track of your Production Board.
The bottom of your Production Board lets you exchange Resources for new abilities. Metal will get you Mechs. Food will help you Recruit. Wood will help you Build structures. Oil will allow you to upgrade the upper track abilities while lowering the Resource cost of a lower track option. The cost is always the same for a top track ability, but with an upgrade, you can Move three spaces instead of two or choose to bump up two Popularity when paying the Trade option. The strategy of how you spend resources and how you upgrade is complicated even further because no two Production boards are the same. There are different Resource costs depending on what type of society you are. Industrial only pay a few Metal for Mechs but need much more Food for Recruits. Agricultural societies have small Food to Recruit costs, but Oil for Upgrades is more costly.
Each player has 8 workers, 4 mechs, and 1 character with which to play and each has different abilities. Eventually, you can unlock Riverwalk with a Mech that allows your Mechs and Character to cross water. Workers cannot pass so they need a Mech to carry them. Characters and Mechs are the only units that can engage in combat and a territory without them just has its Workers scared back to their nation’s home base. Not so easy though because for every worker you scare off you lose that many Popularity points.
I think you can see how there are many moving parts in this game that, once you start to see their interconnectivity, makes it into quite a challenging endeavor. The asymmetry of the Nation and Production board adds more complexity in how you gather Resources and when you choose to attack or retreat. The game ends when one player places their last star on the Achievement track. An achievement might be unlocking all your mechs, or reaching 16 in popularity, and so on. In end game scoring all the achievements, territories, and resources are calculated into a final score of money. The player with the highest score wins.
While it may look like a game about combat, this is much more about managing the various currencies and trying to make sure you never find yourself without the one you need a moment to moment. The rules do not let you repeat two actions in a row so with that you have to be thinking a few steps ahead. I wouldn’t consider Scythe a lite game in any sense, and I don’t typically gravitate towards such a complex game. However, I find I’m pretty addicted to this one and itching for another session.