When I finally got my hands on Scythe after its successful Kickstarter and a solid run in stores, it was a glorious day. The steampunk strategy is one of the best board games of the last few years, with some exceptionally high quality components to match.
But translating all of those pieces and bits of information onto a single screen can be challenging.
Scythe made its way to Steam earlier this year, courtesy of a three person studio from Poland, The Kings of Unity. Aside from some work on mobile, their most recent work is the console version of Western Press.
But with Asmodee Games – publishers of Hanabi, Carcassonne and as of this year the owner of the rights to Catan – expanding their digital efforts, it made sense for Scythe to get the video game treatment.
It’s not the first time Scythe has been digitised. You can play a version of the game in Tabletop Simulator, which will set you back $11.50 (but comes with the Invades from Afar expansion).
It’s actually a nice recreation of Scythe, provided you know how to play the game. If you don’t, a five player game could easily take around three hours as people constantly consult the rules.
If you want a more guided experience, Scythe: Digital Edition is available for $28.95.
At its heart, Scythe is a mix of territory control, worker placement and resource generation. The game ends when one player collects six stars, although that doesn’t necessarily always determine the end winner. Stars are basically accomplishments for different tasks: completing secret objectives, winning combat, maxing out all your available upgrades, and so on.
The final score is calculated from a range of points, ranging from controlled territories, total amount of resources left over, leftover coins, your stars (which is multiplied by your popularity), amount of buildings adjacent to lakes, and so on.
I won’t go over most of the mechanics here, as we covered most of those when Scythe first launched. You can catch up on those below.
Scythe is an expensive board game: around $100 these days and another $40-50 for each of the expansions, of which there are three. That’s a lot to shell out for something you might only play a handful of times a year, so dropping under $30 isn’t a bad way to whet your appetite.
But $30 is not an insignificant amount of money to pay for a video game, especially a re-release of a beloved tabletop production. And if a publisher is going to go to the effort of expanding the board game to a new audience, it should meet a certain level of quality.
Scythe: Digital Edition will, by and large, be a game you play alone. The best chance you have of an actual multiplayer game is playing in the early hours of the morning, when most of the United States are awake, since the population outside of there is minimal at best.
So for the most part, you’ll be squaring off against the AI. With accelerated animations, that means you could knock over a two-hour game of Scythe in about 20 minutes. It’s a handy way to practice if you’ve got a board game day coming up, but it’s also a good way to get the flavour of the steampunk strategy game.
Scythe is a difficult game to visually replicate, if only because there are so many things that have to be tracked at any one time. Each player mat has two sections, divided into top actions (produce, bolster, trade and move) and bottom actions (upgrade, build, enlist and deploy).
You’ve also got to monitor the amount of stars each player has, how much money they have, their rank on the popularity tracker, their amount of combat cards, amount of buildings built, total resources and workers, mechs, various powers for the mechs and so on.
All of that information needs to be available at a click or a glance. Scythe is a race, and adding up your opponents’ moves and calculating their future moves is paramount to success.
And not all of that key info is available immediately. You can’t see the mech abilities of the other factions at a quick glance, and you can’t quickly glance at other player mats, which is key for calculating what moves they can and can’t make (and the potential strategies that might follow).
There’s a row of previously taken actions on the left hand side, but it’s not well laid out. Take a quick glance at the row and tell me if you know what the first or last action was?
Take something as simple as this. After trading for some resources, I’m allowed to use the “Build” bottom row action (since I have two wood available). The UI then highlights every single building that I can still build, as well as the build action that I’m currently taking.
It’s … not great. The UI already has issues with clutter, and stuff like this doesn’t help. The choice of a Warcraft-esque tile bar at the bottom, taking up almost a third of the screen, is pretty antiquated. The font almost looks like placeholder text, compared to the smart, neat design from the board game:
Part of the fun of Scythe is how nice the components are. It’s a high, high quality game: I paid $170 for it when it hit retail stores in Australia, and even though I haven’t gotten any of the expansions, I’m proud as punch to have it in my library. It’s a cleverly designed game, and even though the digital version doesn’t have that same level of refinement, it mirrors the mechanics perfectly well.
And that might be enough for some people. If you just want a good, fast game of Scythe, something where people can’t flip the table and fuck with all the pieces, and something where the AI handles all of the setup and collection, digital Scythe is entirely fine.
It doesn’t have the same special quality as cracking open the Scythe box for the first time. The virtual components aren’t as nicely laid out, or as pleasing on the eye as their real life counterparts.
And that’s a shame. Scythe is a great game with appealing visuals, and it’d be nice if that same quality translated to the digital version. But it’s still fun to plot against the AI and worth keeping an eye out for during one of the upcoming Christmas sales. Plus, it’s a easy way to practice ahead of an upcoming board game night. You like winning, right?
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