1-5 players, Competitive, Action Selection Area Control Dieselpunk
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Artwork: Jakub Rozalski
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Release Year: 2016
NOTE: I also reviewed the Realistic Resource Tokens at the end of this review that you can buy separately to spruce up your game a smidge.
This review has been a LONG time coming. I’ve owned the game for years now and have played it countless times over those years mixing and matching the expansions as well. Today I will just be taking a look at the Base game of Scythe along with the Realistic Resource Token upgrade. Released in 2016, Scythe quickly became very hard to find as its popularity grew exponentially. I got extremely lucky at the time and was able to nab a copy and boy was I excited about it! I was still pretty early into my “awakening” into modern board games and this one had it all. An awesome theme, amazing artwork, interesting and engaging mechanisms and tons of components. BUT…..did the game live up to all that hype after I played it? ….perhaps…….
Overview of Gameplay
When first digging into Scythe it will be a bit overwhelming. There are multiple mechanisms at play here but once you learn the general four actions, it becomes much simpler. On your turn you will be selecting one of these four actions: Move, Produce Resources, Bolster up your military power or Swap out some of your resources for others (Trade). So during the first few rounds that’s it! Every player starts in their own little small three-hex location perfectly safe from the outside world and other players. So you can easily move your starting two workers and your main character mini around that small area to investigate the close Encounter token and start working on building up your resource engine a bit with your workers.
Now, as you start to accumulate more resources, of which there are four (Wood, Metal, Grain and Oil) this will open up an extra action on each of the four action spaces on your player board. Each of these additional actions require the payment of a particular amount of resources and once paid you can take that additional action on the same turn as the other action on that space. Now, these new actions start REALLY opening up the game. They will allow you to deploy your mech units to the board, Build buildings on the board, open up Recruitment spots on your board to gain extra resources and Upgrade your player board to make future actions cheaper in resource costs. This is all played out nicely on your double layer player board by moving around little wooden cubes to mark what has and hasn’t been made available yet. It’s a very clever design I won’t deny, and FUN. So, while all this player board action is going on you will also be altering the main board state by moving your units around. This is needed as each hex on the board is labeled with a specific resource icon, of which you will need at least one worker on said hex to produce that resource. There are those luscious Encounter spaces littered across the board as well that your main character can collect to draw up a fun Encounter card which will deliver three interesting options to choose from, of which you get to pick one.
Also on the main board in the very center is the Factory. Once you control this particular hex you can look through and choose a new factory card that adds a FIFTH action space to select on your turn. These are very powerful action spaces that give you extra movement and another unique ability on your turn. Of course, since there is only one space for this Factory, players will undoubtedly want their mech’s to control it…..and fight for it. And this leads into the combat portion of the game. Now, the combat isn’t a high priority in Scythe and that’s not to say it isn’t interesting, It’s just that it’s not a large focus. One of your actions is to bolster up your military might and there are also ways to gain combat cards to supplement you during combat. That said, military might and combat cards are temporary items, as you will spend them during combat. This ensures that no one player can become this unstoppable military juggernaut and sweep the board conquering everything. Furthermore a quick glance to the board and you can see the military strength of every player so you will always have an idea of who might be plotting an attack…..although the combat cards are secret so you can never be sure JUST how powerful a player is.
Overall, players are competing to have the most coins by the end of the game. Now this amount is increased by how highly your reputation marker has climbed the tracks, so you want to make choices in the game that actively help the masses rather than harm them. Usually these choices present themselves on the encounter cards. As you are playing the game, you are working towards a few goals that are listed at the top of the board. Pretty standard stuff like having all your workers out on the board or building all your buildings etc. Every time you complete one of these objectives, you slap one of your “Star” tokens on that objective space. The first player that slaps their sixth and last objective star down initiates the end game scoring. Whoever has the highest coin count wins! Now, let’s dig into the nitty gritty.
I mean, absolutely gorgeous all around. The game board is HUGE so be prepared to have a good size table ready for this beast. You will also need some extra space for your two player boards each player will be managing, the game is a table hog no doubt about that. That said, it’s just a gloriously amazing looking table hog. This board is like the prized show hog at the state fair and gets the blue ribbon every time. It’s got space on the board for all the card decks and the trackers for everything and the hex spaces are pretty large to fit your units. HOWEVER, if you need even MORE space, like for instance if multiple armies meet in a hex, you can flip the board to increase the size EVEN MORE. Of course, to play on that side you will need to purchase the board extension expansion which sits next to the main board to make it basically, gigantic. I haven’t played on that extra large size but I’m very tempted to try it out and see how it works out.
The rest of the components are all premium quality, which honestly, is to be expected with Stonemaier Games product. That is to say they are all top of the line above average quality. The pieces each player will use on their boards are all colored wooden tokens shaped uniquely. The mechs are all unique sculpts made of plastic and each faction has a uniquely sculpted character miniature. The base resource tokens are all wooden differently colored and shaped corresponding to their respective resources (although I will be talking about the upgraded tokens at the end). All the cards have a very nice linen finish and have a good thickness to them. I mean there is nothing in the base game that I can even come close to complain about with the board and components. It’s super easy to differentiate the different characters on the board based on the colors and sculpts.The player boards are double layered and very nice! The double layer is put to great use here as the tokens cover up potential upgrades, not only that but they just have some incredible table presence.
The storage situation is…ok. There are plastic inserts to hold the miniatures and a couple plastic resource token holders but for the most part you will be bagging up everything else. And let me tell you, because of the amount of tokens and cards in this game, you will be using quite a few baggies. Luckily, you can toss each players respective colored tokens in separate bags for ease of setup. That said, I would recommend looking for a decent storage solution if this turns out to be a favorite game of yours. Setup can be a bit of a bear having to place all those tokens on your player board. The box is on the bigger side so more than likely you will want to place it atop your shelf unless you have some really deep shelves. It’s a good display box as it has that gorgeous artwork adorned on the front.
Visual Appeal /Theme
I already touched on this a bit but I’m just in love with the artwork and theme at play here. The art perfectly captures the feel of a 1920’s- 30’s era “punk-style”. The Encounter cards are my favorite bits. Each one has unique artwork and perfectly matches up with the choices you can make so you can get a nice visual of what is transpiring. Not only that but giant mechs are just awesome, and you got them in this steam punk style world and it just creates this really cool vibe. The table presence the game exudes is really high as well. Once players start getting their mechs and buildings on the board, it really creates a game that draws the eyes towards it.
The rulebook is laid out really nicely. It’s got pictured component lists, a table of contents, sections going over each action that are easy to read and locate. The only thing that I would improve is to add a numbered Setup section. The game setup shows the board and goes through the typical setup steps…BUT…I think it would be easy to miss something based on the way it’s presented. In my experience it’s easier to follow along with a nice straight down numbered setup with picture examples rather than having the information scattered around the picture itself. That said, I think that’s just a personal preference thing and it’s not a knock on the rulebook itself.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Most of the time players will be sticking to themselves, trying to work out the most efficient manner in which to progress their faction. But, as the game progresses and players start spreading out over the board, there will be confrontation over those delish resource hexes and that Factory space. At higher player counts this will create some downtime between turns that has players just sitting and watching sine there is nothing you can do other than plan your next turn. Which, usually is pretty obvious since there are only four action spaces to use. I would say it’s about 50/50 with player interaction. The beginning of the game it’s SUPER low but as the game goes on it becomes more and more active with player interaction.
Even with the low player interaction at the beginning, the game is just flat out FUN. The little intriguing player board manipulation is a joy to figure out. Trying to see what resources you need to unlock a mech, and then looking to the game board to see how you can get some workers over to the metal hex space to produce said resource AND THEN plotting out the movement actions to get there. I mean, it’s a game that will have you thinking four actions ahead every time. Of course that just makes it kinda drag at higher player counts since you want to unleash your plan RIGHT NOW.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
This is one that I would play with four or less usually. Like I mentioned before, once you get an idea of what you want to do in your head, such as move to an area and start producing metal and then deploy a mech, well, that’s what you want to do! BUT, in game terms that’s at MINIMUM three different actions or turns. So, to do that you MOVE, wait till your next turn, PRODUCE, wait, DEPLOY. HOWEVER, it’s usually not that fast since you need multiple resources to deploy a mech. So, you end up producing more workers, moving them, etc. etc. That part can be a bit of a drag, especially in the early stages of a game. Eh, it’s all a part of the ultimate engine building within this game. You start out slowly at first and ramp up over time. I just wish there was SOMETHING the other players could be doing during this time as well to give everyone some agency and keep them occupied. There is also a solo game automa that is built in but to be honest I still haven’t played it yet. I suspect it’s good as most of Stonemaiers Automas are excellently built. The two player game works out really nicely, although there is even LESS player interaction as you now have the entire board to explore with less players to hinder your plots. Of course there is still ONLY ONE Factory to gain so that will eventually lure everyone that direction.
Replayability is very high. There are five different factions with unique abilities, a variety of encounter cards to discover, unique Factory cards and even slightly different player boards. Each player board has a slight variance on the upgrade costs and actions between them. Meaning one player may be able to build a building cheaper than another player etc. This kinda steers players into a specific direction and causes them to focus, which is what you want to do if you want to win anyway. On top of all that, every time you deploy a new mech from your player board, it unlocks a new faction specific unique skill. You may not even unlock all four of your mechs in a game so these little surprises are always fun and exciting. Let me just say, you could play this game many times over and still be surprised at what you find.
Positive Final Thoughts
This is a great game! It’s got a lot of meat with a pretty simple action selection mechanism. The fun for me comes from the upgrading you can do on your player board over time. Slowly putting out buildings which uncover new abilities or resources. Building mechs with opens up a world of possibilities with abilities and main board expansion. Upgrading to make everything cheaper to craft up or even just gaining extra resources on other players turns when they take a specific action. It’s all good. It’s thinky….but not TOO thinky.
Negative Final Thoughts
I would say there is very little negative I have about this one. My biggest qualm is the lack of player interaction, especially early game. You are mostly competing on the tracks, but more of a race of keeping up with everyone else’s efficiency than anything else. Higher player counts increase downtime BUT lower player counts decrease player interaction even more. So, you will probably want to stay at the 3-4 player count on this one.
The Bottom Line
It’s great! As long as you don’t go into this one expecting large amounts of battles, because there aren’t. The military units are more a DETERRENCE to battle than anything. If you enjoy a nice resource management/Action selection game with a very generous upgrade over time style, you will love this one! That said, players will primarily have their heads down purveying their own player boards rather than up interacting with the other players during a typical game.
The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction
Realistic Resource Tokens
I recently acquired the Realistic Resource Token expansion (thank you Stonemaier Games for providing!) and have to say….WOW! So, these babies replace the already nice wooden components in the game and are of an even higher quality than I was expecting. Seeing the pictures really doesn’t do these tokens the justice they deserve. The wood, oil and grain tokens are a very nice hefty resin and painted up to look great. The metal bars are legit metal and are the most impressive of the components in this bag. They have a nice shiny metallic paint job and even have little notches in the metal design that give them a more realistic look. Moreover, they are HEAVY giving them an even more premium/realistic feel.
Now, I played umpteen million games of Scythe using the standard tokens and being fine with them. Never even really thinking they needed upgrading, which is a testament to how nice the components are already. BUT, if you are like me and go wild for upgraded anything with your board games, then I guarantee you will not be disappointed with these upgraded tokens. To be honest, I’ve now been eyeballing the metal coin upgrade to spruce the game up even more……