Scythe Board Game Review (Stonemaier Games)

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One of the most popular games of 2016, Scythe is a moderately complex area control and resource management game. As players progress, they produce goods, hire workers, build mechs, and erect buildings. Players need to meet specific milestones in order to trigger the end of the game: once an individual player meets six milestones, the game immediately ends and players count up their victory points. Scythe is ultimately a solid game that has a couple of functional problems that often relegate it to the “hardcore” tables, even though it's actually a fairly accessible game for most. 

Game Details

Players: 1 to 5

Game Time: 115 Minutes

Age: 14+

Genre: Worker Placement / Area Control

How is Scythe Played?

Every player has their own mat, which includes their actions and some special skills based on their chosen faction. Actions have a top ability, such as move, and a bottom ability, which is optional. You can choose any action that you can afford, but you can't choose the same action twice.

Players are able to move their own avatar and workers, produce goods, bolster their forces, and trade for goods. They can activate two squares for production and they can move two units at a time, regardless of unit. Players build resources to make mechs, which can be used to augment their existing abilities. They additionally make buildings, for increased utility and control, and potentially fight other factions. Getting to the center area with your avatar gives you a special ability that you can use throughout the rest of the game.

At the beginning of the game, characters get objective cards, and there are also collectible events.Over time, players are able to add workers, upgrade their boards, and build popularity and strength. All of this together creates a complex game in which players are often working on different strategies and towards crossed purposes.

How Does Scythe Look?

An attractive game with a dark-toned palette, Scythe has an assortment of mechs and avatars, and clean, creative art direction. Plastic pieces indicate pieces that can be used for battle while wooden tokens are purely workers and resources, in a solid example of using visual design to impart information.

The game board is large, but also cramped, in an important way; this isn’t like Twilight Imperium where you're free to stay on your own corner for hours upon hours. Very quickly many people will be encroaching upon others, leading to conflict. There are few things that are ambigous in the art of Scythe. 

What's in the Box?
2 rulebooks * 1 quick reference guide * 1 achievement sheet * 1 game board * 5 player mats * 80 wooden resource tokens * 80 cardboard coins * 12 multiplier tokens * 12 encounter tokens * 6 structure bonus tiles * 42 combat cards * 23 objective cards * 28 encounter cards * 12 factory cards * 2 power dials * 5 riverwalk cards * 5 quickstart cards * 31 automa cards * 20 mech miniatures * 5 character miniatures * 5 faction mats * 5 wooden action tokens * 5 wooden popularity tokens * 5 wooden power tokens * 30 custom wooden star tokens * 20 customw ooden structure tokens * 20 coustom wooden structure tokens * 40 custom wooden worker tokens * 30 wooden technology cubes

How Does Scythe Feel?

Scythe is not a complicated game; it's a fairly basic strategy game at heart, which reuses many of the core Euro mechanics. But Scythe has an extremely sharp learning curve, which has provided a barrier to entry for more casual players. This is what has garnered Scythe a reputation for being more difficult than it actually is.

Part of the problem is the manual, which lays the game out in an unconventional way and doesn't give a solid picture regarding how the game is actually played. Instead, it primarily describes the game, rather than teaching it. This has a compounding effect, because it becomes more difficult for experienced players to teach the game to others. Many beginners need to invest a few hours into learning the game’s rules one by one, when in reality they should be able to get started in half an hour with better materials. 

With the high barrier to entry, it's easy to feel that some of the affection for Scythe comes from the feeling that the game has been “earned,” and a sense of exclusivity that comes from being some of the few people willing to do so. For a fairly intuitive and straightforward game, it's frustrating that a few hours needs to be devoted to learning rules piecemeal.

The Scythe Board Game Review
  • PRO: A solid Euro-style game with many traditional worker placement mechanics.
  • PRO: Fantastic art and a solid setup, in terms of game pieces and board design.
  • CON: A confusing manual that leads to the game being more difficult to learn than it should be.
  • CON: Often ends abruptly, leaving players feeling unsatisfied.