Scythe Review - Does it live up to the Hype?
- Game Type: Hybrid of resource management and direct conflict style games
- Number of Players: 1 - 5 with an expansion that adds players 6 - 7
- Mechanics: Worker Placement, Area Control, Storytelling
- Difficulty: Medium
- Release: 2016
- MSRP: $80
Without a doubt Scythe was the most hyped, most anticipated game of 2016. Stonemaier Games raised 1.8 million on Kickstarter to get the game published and it looked very promising. Featuring beautiful art by Jakub Rozalski, a setting in an alternate historical version of Russia involving Mechs, and a hybrid game system that combined the best parts of several different styles of games, Scythe promised an experience unlike any other, but does it deliver? Before I answer that question I want to give a little more background on the game itself and how it plays.
In Scythe each player controls a different faction in an alternate historical version of Russia vying for power after the end of the great war. The goal is to score the most points at the end of the game by controlling areas of the board/resources, accomplishing various achievements, and gaining popularity points. Each turn players choose one of four actions on a player board unique to them and can then pay resources to take an associated secondary action. The actions available to the players allow them to obtain resources, build improvements/mechs, move around the board, and generate income. There is also a system in which player can have unique encounters on the map by drawing from a story deck which gives three options of interacting with the people they encounter to gain various rewards. All in all, the game flows very well and while it has a lot of moving parts to it, it's not hard to pick up.
As said above this game has a lot of moving parts to it, luckily though the rule book is very well written. It gives many examples and is laid out in an easy to follow fashion. The actual graphic design of the rule book is excellent as well. Some games have muddled, dark rules that make it hard to troubleshoot, but Scythe avoided that common pitfall.
This game drips theme, largely due to the beautiful art and components. The aforementioned story cards add an element of adventure that you normally wouldn't find in similar games. The factions featured are all unique enough to be distinct but not enough to make playing a new one hard to grasp.
There are a fair amount of bits and pieces to this game but they are largely confined to each players individual board. This splits up the burden of set-up making the game relatively quick to jump into after opening the box..
Whether or not you like this game there is no denying it's absolutely beautiful. Each faction has unique art and playing pieces to make them stand out. The art on the cards is a stunning look into a snowy world of Russian mechs, and even the resource pieces look like little logs or barrels of oil.
I realize this probably isn't a consideration for most people, but it still deserves to be mentioned that the solo rules are fantastic. The game uses a deck of “automata” cards to run you up against a dummy player. There are ways to scale up the difficulty and it's so well implemented that it's almost like playing against an actual player.
Overall Score and Final Thoughts
So with all that said it seems pretty obvious that I'd give this an A+ review and tell you to run about and buy it now. Well not quite. Scythe is a very interesting and beautiful game. What it isn't, is a game with great game play. For me, after a few plays the game started to feel very scripted. I knew what actions were best the next few turns and I just mechanically performed them. Also the combination of mechanics that you don't normally see together feel a little inelegant. While it does a lot of things, it doesn't do any one of them exceedingly well.
Now I would normally jump to recommend this to newer players who might have less experience with the game play elements Scythe gives you, except for one small detail, the price tag. $80 is a little high for someone getting into the hobby when you could get two or three great games for the same price if you were just starting to build your collection.
So where does that leave Scythe? Well that's really up to you, it's not a bad game but it certainly doesn't live up to its insane hype. Where Scythe really shines is as a solo game, but that's something of a niche. I'd recommend playing someone else's copy before picking it up yourself. At the end of the day Scythe is an ambitious but flawed game that deserves praise but isn't a must play.