Which faction will emerge as the leader of Eastern Europa in this most epic of games?
In 1920s Europa, five factions emerge in an attempt to claim the small but desirable land surrounding ‘The Factory’. With brave leaders alongside their heavily armoured mechs and labouring workers, each player wants to claim superiority – peacefully or otherwise – and become the leader of Eastern Europa. This is Sam’s all-time favourite game and it’s in my top three, so hopefully you’ll see how much we love it in the review below.
The aim of the game is to score the most victory points (coins), which are gained in a few ways, but mainly through earning achievement stars and controlling territories. Another key thing that effects your score is your popularity rating (more on that later), as that is used as a multiplier, so even if you control half the board and have the most stars, if you’re unpopular you could still lose! The game ends the moment someone wins their 6th achievement star.
Using your faction’s unique character and its ability, with your army of mechs and workers, you explore Europa in search of these achievement stars. But how do you win these stars?
You can earn up to two stars by winning combats against other players. The mechanism for doing this is fantastic as you can often bluff your way to victory- when a battle takes place, each player secretly selects an amount of power to use, along with as many battle cards as they’re allowed, and the highest sum wins the battle. If you know you are outgunned by your opponent you may choose not waste your power and combat cards, but be aware your opponent may second guess you! The fact that two is the maximum stars you can win from combat shows how killing each other isn’t the be all and end all of Scythe – you can win games without ever being in contact with another player.
So aside from the odd battle, Scythe can be quite a peaceful game, therefore you may choose to gain your achievement stars a different way. You can gain them by completing a set of upgrades which, in addition to the reward of stars, give you benefits such as making other actions cheaper, or give bigger rewards for actions. Some even give you rewards when your neighbours perform certain actions – so the earlier in the game you manage these the more rewards you’ll gain!
Some stars relate to building. Each mech you build unlocks a new ability, as does each building (e.g. a mine allows you to travel between all other mines). Maxing out power (otherwise spent on combat) and popularity will also give you stars.. There are more than six types of stars you can achieve, so don’t worry if one seems impossible to you – you can focus on other areas. One tip from me would be to have half an idea about which stars you want to achieve and work towards them – you may change your mind but it can help focus your actions rather than wasting time exploring unnecessarily.
Other than attempting to gain stars and territories, you may wish to visit “The Factory”, which is right at the heart of Europa – this hex grants you a new, powerful action card (which you get to pick out of a deck), and is worth three territories if you control it at the end of the game. But beware, The Factory naturally draws people to it, due to its rewards, so expect to be attacked once you’re there. I usually try and take the Factory early to gain the extra action card, leave to avoid being attacked, before plotting to get it back just before the end.
One major positive for Scythe is that despite being a reasonably complex game, at its heart is a very simple set of actions and mechanics. On your turn you only have four primary actions you can take – move/combat, trade (buy stuff), produce (make stuff), bolster (improve stats). It’s as simple as that. Underneath each primary action there is a secondary action, such as build mech, buy upgrade etc. which has a cost in resources and often a reward in coins. The key to doing well in Scythe is to maximise your turns by doing the secondary action along with your primary action as often as possible, so plan ahead to ensure you have the resources to do so. You can’t take the same action twice in a row, so if you get the order wrong you can really suffer.
It has the nicest table presence of any game we own (and this is from someone who owns Tapestry and Wingspan!), the mechs look epic and mean and scary, the characters are all very well made too and the artwork fits so well with the theme, you really feel like you’re in a bleak, post-war land where resources are scarce and tensions are high. It can be very threatening when you’re sat on The Factory and you’re surrounded by opponent’s mechs!
All the factions and player mats are asymmetric, meaning they each have slightly different abilities, starting resources, strengths and weaknesses. If you’re new to Scythe try not to worry too much about how to maximise the strengths of your faction, but hardened players may already have a plan forming while they set up their pieces. I always enjoy asymmetric games as long as they are truly balanced, and I feel like Scythe is well balanced. There are factions I prefer, but the differences aren’t as stark as they are with the civilisations in Tapestry.
It’s a wonderful experience to play Scythe, it really is a masterpiece from Stonemaier Games. The game flows so well, once you’ve learned the game it plays really quick and even at five players you’re not waiting long before your next turn, and most of the time you’re interested in what your opponents are doing anyway. I love the tension as you rush to build your mechs faster than your opponent, will you risk battle or wait it out? Will they attack you? Are you ready for it if they do? Attacking at the right time can make or break your entire game (I learnt the hard way), you can often pick off a lone mech if someone has low power, or if they are nearing max power (so want the star).
I love the mental challenge of trying to outthink my opponents, and unlocking the puzzle of how to get to six stars as quickly and efficiently as possible. Every game is different and everyone approaches it in a different way. I whole-heartedly recommend this game to you- its beyond epic and you’ll find yourself wanting to play it over and over again!
My one very very tiny gripe is that it is a big old board for just two players, so the games can be a little bit less treacherous with two. This is of course solved by the modular board (review to come), which allows you to remove segments of the map for a tighter game experience.
There are some fantastic expansions too, Rise of Fenris is a campaign to play with the same group of players which is fantastic, Invaders from Afar adds extra factions and allows play up to 7 players, Wind Gambit adds in airships and extra components, and the modular board allows you to mix up the map and building objectives!
Finally, here are some of my top tips for ensuring you aren’t last placed when you play Scythe!
1. Make sure you spread your units out as much as possible when the game is about to end. If you see someone on five stars, spread out! You gain points for each territory you control and if your units are bunched you aren’t making the most of them!
2. Make sure you aren’t in the lowest section of the popularity track! This is so important as your popularity is used as a multiplier for basically all your victory points. If you’re down at the bottom and your opponents are at the top, you’re very unlikely to win even if you have all six stars.
3. Try and attack people either when they’re vulnerable (not much power), or nearly at max power (saving up for a star), this way you’re likely to have an easier time of it.
4. Enlist early. Enlisting allows you to gain an extra benefit each time you do a secondary action, AND when your neighbours do. Do these early and you could gain a coin any time you or your neighbours build a mech, or a power every time they buy an upgrade.
So there it is folks! That’s why I love Scythe, it has a chunky price tag (as you’ll see if you follow the link below), but it is absolutely worth every penny, so do yourself a favour and grab a copy, you will not regret it!