Scythe: First Impressions Unboxing the Behemoth
According to Board Game Geek, Scythe, designed by Jamey Stegmaier, was the most anticipated game of 2016. It promised a brand new look at engine building games, offering huge scope and, in the great worker placement tradition, a whole plethora of ways in which to win the game.
Scythe, I have to admit, was one of the games on my list when going to the UK Games Expo back in June 2017. Having watched the No Pun Included video about Scythe, it had really made an impression on my gaming group. There was something attractive about the game, in regards to both what it offered and how it was presented.
It came to pass that, at the UKGE, I ended up going for a whole host of other games rather than actually completing my list, so only managed to get my hands on Scythe last weekend. That being said, I don’t think I have been this impressed with a game since Lords of Waterdeep back in 2015.
What is the Concept of Scythe?
Scythe is a complex game with a very interesting and gritty premise. The whole idea is that it exists between WWI and WWII, taking place in Eastern Europe, better known in Scythe as Europa. A company, known only as The Factory, that was providing giant mechs for the war has shut down, leaving an area of land undefended where five great nations converge. This area of land is now up for grabs by whoever wants it, free for farming, settling, and those who want to take it by military conquest.
Scythe is an asymmetrical game, meaning that every player has their own abilities, their own goals, and, as always with worker placement games, their own way of doing things.
This means that there are hundreds of pieces for this game. Yesterday, I spent an entire hour unboxing it to see what was inside. Yes, this does mean I haven’t played the game yet, but I thought I could still explore the quality and components within.
Quality of Scythe
Scythe lives and breathes the whole concept of a high-quality game. It is not a cheap game, and it is often the case that (when buying a more expensive game) you are purchasing the use of the mechanics rather than the quality of the components themselves. This, in regards to Scythe, is not the case. The quality of Scythe is, to be frank, second to none. This one game, in my opinion, is more extraordinary than any Fantasy Flight game or Cool Mini or Not – and those guys make some amazing games. Small things got me really excited about playing it.
The guys who created Scythe, the guys who produced it, must have asked themselves a question. They must have asked themselves, looking at the traditional worker placement game components: How can we make this better?
The question isn’t that simple. The answer is actually a difficult one to answer, as some of the elements behind worker placement games have been around since the beginning of the genre. Yet, the guys who made Scythe (Stonemaier Games, plus no fewer than eleven other game production companies according to BGG) managed to look at all the components and somehow they evolved them. These range from custom meeples per faction to the incredible mechs and character pieces the game is known for.
There are five factions within the game, ranging from Crimea to the Nordia Nations and, if you draw a line through those two, basically every country you hit en route. Each one has its own distinct personality, mechs, and bosses for the players to use.
What is immediately striking though is two fold. The first is that, in most miniatures games like Blood Rage and Descent, the moulding is of soft plastic. Where this is the case for the mechs (I believe) the actual characters themselves are hard plastic, and this means that there is quite a lot of detail on each one. Where they are not quite at Games Workshop standard, they are good enough to mean that there are hundreds of pictures on BGG of players who have painted them up to a professional standard.
Each leader has a figure of themselves, along with an animal mascot of their preference. These range from tigers to birds to buffalo. The above image shows the leader of the Polania Republic, Anna and Wojtek (the bear). As it can be seen, although the image focus does not help, there is a fair amount of detail that can be painted up.
What is really impressive though is the base. There is no way of accidentally knocking the figures over without a fair amount of force. They are incredibly solid, with heavy bases that give a real weight to the miniatures.
The quality of Scythe is not in the miniatures alone. Instead, it runs throughout the entire game, from the die cut tokens to the artwork itself.
The Artwork of Scythe
The artwork of Scythe is absolutely stunning and has been designed in order to be in keeping with the 1930s backstory of the game. For such a large game there was only one designer, and that really shows in the consistency of the game as a whole. Scythe was designed by Jakub Rozalski, who adopted an almost-oil-painting style of artwork for Scythe, which really helps draw you into the era.
This same feel comes through on the board itself, which is a double sided board, made with the expansion built in.
On the back of the board, there is another version of the map, which requires an expansion for a bigger board with larger hexes. To my knowledge, this is identical in all ways but it is bigger, for a more epic feeling game.
The game only comes with five factions, although, there is room on the board for seven. This is because two come in a later expansion pack.
The board is thick and incredibly well made, with only a small printing error. As you may be able to see in the image, at the very bottom of the board, there is the image on the other side bleeding over. This is very small and almost unnoticeable, but it is the only thing that stops the production quality from being absolutely perfect.
This artwork is also used on the two player mats each player gets. One of these is faction specific, one not. Scythe takes note from games like Terra Mystica and Power Grid, where more things are unlocked as you remove resources or build things from your player map. Scythe, however, goes a step further than either of those games by increasing the production quality on the player mat. This means that there are indents in the player mats for where certain items go.
What this means, as seen by my experiment (inspired by this BGG post) in the picture above, is that the boards can be lifted to around a 30-degree angle without everything falling off. I think the best way to describe this is as one of the comments does: “Earthquake proof gaming”.
Equality in Scythe
Scythe has gone further to surprise me on two accounts. The first is that it is a colourblind friendly game, in order to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy the new-age classic as possible. This is done, I realise, by the uniqueness of the meeples/mechs/leaders of each faction, and using iconography where possible to explore further.
Secondly, there are (in the base set) five different factions. Three of the five have female leaders. Where this may not mean much, this is the first game I have seen in a very long while with strong female representation. Yes, games like Blood Rage have female factions, but they are still outweighed by the male factions. In the world of Scythe, women are fairly and proportionally represented, and that is refreshing to see.
Scythe arrived a couple of days ago, and yet I can’t help but keep looking at it. It is a remarkably stunning game, with beautiful pieces and an incredibly high production quality. I haven’t played it yet, but I can’t wait to. I also can’t wait to introduce it to my gaming group as they are sure to love it.
Scythe already promises to be a game with a difference, and it makes it easy to see why there was so much hype surrounding the game.
Have you played Scythe? If so I would love to hear your comments and thoughts in the comments section below.