I Couldn't Be Happier That I Spent $170 On Scythe

Image: Kotaku

Modern board games can cost a lot, and the Scythe is no exception. It cost me $170 a few weeks back to take the crowdfunded strategy game home, and since then it's been worth every single dollar.

In a nutshell, Scythe is about making money. That's appropriate for a game that costs more than most collector's editions, and it's apt given that Scythe is basically a 4X-lite.

You can play by yourself with the provided Automa cards and rules, but it's really a game designed for two to five. The general idea is to branch out from your home base, recruiting workers, manufacturing resources, building mechanised units for combat, constructing buildings, enlisting recruits, and so forth.

If you've played Civilization before, it all sounds fairly straightforward. But before I get more into the gameplay, let's talk about what makes it worth $170.

Image: Kotaku

One of the annoying things about modern board games of this calibre — so, anything over $100 basically — is that they're a massive time investment. That's fine; I've got nothing against a day of board gaming.

But that's the sort of thing you have to plan your life around. It's the reason why Star Wars: Rebellion usually stays in its box. Four hours is a lot of time to invest.

Scythe only demands between 90 minutes and 150 minutes (factoring in setup time). Your first game will probably take an hour or two longer to get accustomed to all the rules and icons, and about halfway through you'll have most of the symbols, syntax and strategies down pat.

Your second game will be infinitely faster; a round with my partner, for instance, was done and dusted in just over an hour. And that's where some real clever design kicks in.

Image: Kotaku

Each player gets a player and faction mat at the start of every game, but it's the player mat that's the cool part here. It's broken up into four sections, one for each of the moves you can make during your turn.

Every turn, players can take the top action, bottom action, or both from one of the panels in their player mat. You can't take the same action twice, for balance. And since most of the bottom actions are related to mechanics that don't interfere or interrupt other players, the next player can get on with their turn while you sort your stuff out.

Because there's no rounds or phases, turns are quick. And having your options laid out in front of you makes the learning process infinitely easier.

Image: Kotaku

But that alone doesn't make Scythe worth $170. And often it's not the design where games fall down — it's the quality of the materials itself.

So let's start with the pieces. The mechs are made of moulded plastic, as are the four characters that represent each of the factions. The characters are ripe for painting too: the Polania Republic is a female marksman and her bear companion, while the Crimeans are represented by an almost angelic Khan and her eagle.

The pieces aren't just visually distinct, but physically too. Anything that's a resource or used for production, like the workers and buildings, are made of wood, while anything that engages in combat is made of plastic.

The boards and mats are high quality too; I was far more impressed with their thickness and solidity than, say, what I found in Star Wars Rebellion. Here's a close-up of the player mat:

Image: Kotaku

You'll notice there's holes for various bits and pieces, which is where your buildings and upgrades go. When you're ready to pay the requisite cost for a building, you move the piece off your mat and plop it somewhere on the game board. Upgrades, on the other hand, basically reduce the cost of your bottom row actions. (And once you've paid for an upgrade, you can lower the cost of any bottom row action you like.)

Until then, everything fits nice and snug in the holes provided. It's well designed, and the mats and pieces feel that way too.

Something that's also well designed, something often overlooked, is the box itself.

Image: Kotaku

Walk into a game store, and this is what you'll see. Scythe is a big box, rightly so for something that's pitched as a 4X in a board game.

But it's not just big because everything's squeezed together. There's actually a good amount of room inside the box, which is a lifesaver at the end of an evening when you're popping all the pieces back together.

On top of that, there's a little guide on the inner box showing you where everything goes. Why every board game over $80 doesn't have this is beyond me. The extra room in the box means you'll probably be fine without it, but the added thought is more than appreciated (particularly if your board game night is paired with a few drinks).

By the way, did I mention the board is double-sided?

Image: Scythe

There's already plenty of variety in the standard game, with the randomisation of the player, faction mats, end-game structure bonuses, and the board encounters. On top of that, the standard board has placeholder bases built in for expansions down the road, and there's a second map on the underside of the board with 70% bigger hexes. (Note: the content of the maps are identical, but it's handy if you're playing with a larger group.)

Right now, the option seems excessive if you're only playing with two or three people. But once the extra factions are added in, the added room will become real handy. The board extension was given out to some Kickstarter backers, but you can purchase it separately through Stonemaier Games (although you'll have to wait until November).

Image: Kotaku

What I've enjoyed so much about the game, though, and what's ultimately put a smile on my face after handing over $170 is the way each game comes to its final conclusion.

The winner is always determined on their cumulative wealth, and you'll accumulate money as you undertake certain actions. But each player's popularity also acts as a multiplier at the end of the game, maximising their seemingly-minimal amount of territories, resources and buildings into a scarily formidable total.

Each player mat is different too in terms of what they'll reward. Some will hand out the most amount of money for deploying mechs, while others favour upgrades. And the player mats also mix up the actions in each of the panels, preventing players from falling back on the same strategy.

And there's still so much I haven't touched on. The art, for one, is downright gorgeous. The solo mode is also a really neat touch, although as Luke noted when he got the game in July it's a little pared down from the full game.

But as an overall product, I couldn't be happier. I'm infinitely more pleased with my purchase than I have been with Star Wars: Rebellion, not just from the general quality of materials but also the thoughtful design, variety and the streamlined nature of play.

It's not the kind of game that should have an automatic pride of place in every gamer's shelf. $170, after all, is a bloody lot to spend on a board, plastic and bits of wood. But I'm thoroughly satisfied with the money I've spent, and ultimately that's the only test that any game needs to pass.


Comments

    sounds cool.

    I have never really been that into board games due to the time sink and the need to organise the available time and co-ordination between players that is usually associated with them. Most game nights I've been to end up with a game maybe half way through (if that) before the drinking/music/video games or other things start to take over and the game doesn't end up being finished.

    this sounds pretty short sharp and sweet.

      There's heaps of great board games that don't require this much time, effort or organisation.
      I'd say games like this one are the top 15-20% of time, money and effort commitment. Same with any Legacy or campaign based games.

      Check out things like 7 Wonders. Simple game, takes about 20min to play. Scales from 2 to 7 players, has various expansions. My group of friends have fallen in love with it recently.

      Co-op games like Pandemic or Xcom can be great to introduce new players who might not be into a more competitive game.

      And if you're after easy party style games, you really can't go wrong with Codenames.

        Thanks for the tips mate. My group of friends has tried a few times to get into board games, but as I said above it doesn't usually end well. I'll check out your recommendations and see if I can rope a few friends into it,

        cheers again.

          Try King of Tokyo. It's 20 mins per game, tops. The rules are super easy and it's heaps of fun. It's like Yahtzee, but you fight movie monsters for control of Tokyo.

    Funny thing happened yesterday. I complained on Twitter that I didn't get to play many board games these days and that Scythe was on my increasingly lengthy list of games I need to play. Then I went to my FLGS to play some Netrunner and one of the guys there was trying to get people around to play Scythe this weekend.

    Clearly I need to complain about things on the internet more. It's a goddamned super power.

      +1 for Netrunner reference.

        I've been playing competitively for the better part of a year now. It's a damned good game.

          Yes it's wonderful. I've been playing for about 3-4 years. Did you go to Nationals the other week? 3 of us flew over from Perth; was a great weekend.

          Do you play on Jinteki.net at all?

            I couldn't go but I helped a handful of Canberrans prepare. I had a testing gauntlet and was mostly playing IG and Minh Maxx so that they'd learn the matchups. I don't ever want to play Minh Maxx again. Need to go back to my Shaper bullshit ways.

            I'm Trjn on J.net but I haven't been on there much lately.

              Cooooool. I took a Kate and Next Design deck. Made it to Top 8 but then things went south :D I'm Ayanami on J.net, maybe see you on sometime!

                Congrats.

                Despite the fact that the Canberrans kept playing the Canberrans, I heard that it was a pretty tough field. Doubly so if you took NEXT :p

                We're about to start up a least played ID league, so I'm probably going to be experimenting with Ken, Apex and Spark over the next few weeks.

    Ok now I'm miffed :P I was at MindGames in Melbourne on the weekend, and was eyeing Scythe off as I had an $80 gift voucher. The shop attendant said the game would take hours (3+) to play :/

    Ahh well. I ended up getting seasons at their recommendation and it looks good so I won't complain too much ^_^

      Seasons is a great game - great dice! - ...but it's no Scythe. :)

        Different games for different crowds though :P

          Indeed! Mismatch games with audiences at your peril! BEWARE! BEWAAAAARE!

    Scythe one of the most beautiful games I've seen but the best part is all the resource tokens. The coins make an extremely satisfying clink.

      You don't get the nicer resource tokens if you buy it off the shelf, sadly.

        Stonemeier games aren't known for skimping on quality. Even without the kickass kickstarter edition, I think most people would be happy with the quality of the components.

      Yeah I got the CE and was surprised to find the iron token were actually heavy metal coated, and the others were super detailed.

    Ah yes, of course. I played a friends kickstarter version. Still, the art is stunning too.

    I had the premium edition, played it a few times (8), then sold it. It looks amazing, and its a decent enough game, but not one I really wanted to keep playing. And plenty of friends have it, so I can still get a game of it if I really want to.

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