I like board games. A lot. According to the stats over on Board Game Geek I own over a thousand of them. But there’s always room for one more, right?
Especially when it has giant robots, farming, and a mysterious ‘factory’. I’m talking about Scythe. It’s all the rage on Kickstarter right now. The crowdfunding campaign ends on Thursday night, so if you want to grab a copy hop over to Kickstarter now and make a pledge.
I first heard about this game late last year when the designer, Jamey Stegmaier, shared some of the artwork for the game. Giant mechs roaming through a 1920’s agrarian post-war Eastern Europe? It was cool and beautiful. Click here to see some of the artist’s work. The non-sequitur nature of the paintings reminded me of Dinotopia. There’s just something fascinating about things appearing where they shouldn’t be.
The art is great, but is the game good? I think so. I built a print & play version of the game just so I could try it out (Print & Play is just board game-speak for downloading the game bits and printing them out on paper or cardboard. It’s not as nice as a professionally manufactured game, but it gives you an idea of what the game will be like).
After nine plays I can say the game has really grown on me. The first two plays were a little rough, and I was doubting my pledge. The people I played it with weren’t wow’d either. The turns seemed a bit ‘samey’, none of the factions felt all that unique (there are five different countries/factions in the game). Should I cancel my pledge?
I then tried the ‘Automa’ version of the game. Automa is a deck of cards that mimics a second player, allowing you to play the game solo. I racked up several more games this way and discovered something. I had no idea what I was doing! The Automa deck was beating me quite handily. Slowly I saw strategies emerging, and I could see where opportunities had passed me by in my early games. The more I played against the Automa deck the more I found I enjoyed the game. There are many ways to win, many strategies to follow. I think the game will have a lot of replay-ability.
Still, it’s not a game for everyone. It takes two hours to play. And it looks like a really advanced version of Risk, which turns a lot of people off. At a recent game gathering I could only find two other people interested in playing. It just didn’t look like your typical Euro-style game (even though it’s a very Euro-style game under the hood).
I like it. So I’ll keep my pledge and support it. Besides, the artist is from Poland, I’m Polish, so how could I not support him? I should have the production version of the game next summer, after it’s finalized and manufactured. But between then and now I’ll have my beautiful print & play copy to fiddle around with and impose on my friends. The mighty Polonia mechs will not be defeated!
Do you have a Kickstarter project you’ve hemmed and hawed over? How did you decide?
For those looking to play the game, here are some things I’ve learned:
- Area Control is a large part of winning Scythe. That means the more hexes you control on the board, the better your odds of victory. Spread your guys out and try to hold on to territory. In our games the points from area control are clocking in at around 40% of total points.
- Movement equals flexibility. Being able to move every turn allows you to spread out faster, grab more encounters, and respond quickly to combat. Unlock the Speed power on your faction mat and get to the Factory to grab a tech card, not just for the top benefit it brings but especially for that bottom ‘double move’ benefit. You’ll be zipping around the board. Or focus on your faction’s special movement power. Grab that and you’ll suddenly be unique, jumping around the board in unexpected ways. It keeps everyone on their toes.
- If someone is stockpiling resources on the board, don’t let them. Go over there and fight them for it. Sure, if you win your popularity may go down. But you’ll gain a hex (points) and take away all of those resources from your opponent’s economic engine. Don’t let people sit on piles of resources at the end of the game, those count as victory points as well. Take them!
- Combat is a key element, especially late in the game. The point swing from combat can be huge. You’re not only gaining hexes and resources, you’re denying someone else from scoring those points. So taking a hex may be worth three points to you, but you may be taking away three or four points from someone else at the same time. Not counting the resource points. There really isn’t another way to have such a large impact on the final score with a single move. Don’t shy away from combat.
- Plan for what happens after you initiate combat. I failed to do that early on and depleted most of my combat strength/cards on my first attack. Recognizing that I was now weak, every other player on the board attacked my positions to rack up easy stars. There was nothing I could do but march all of my forces back to home base. Plan ahead and don’t create opportunities for others.
- Encounters are great! They’re a sudden influx of resources, popularity, or combat power. Get to those encounters and your engine may spark to life. It’s fantastic when your encounter reward matches the bottom action you’ve just selected…Hey, I can do that bottom action now. Bingo!
- You don’t have to do it all. In fact, you can’t. I’ve played games where I didn’t build a single building. Or maybe I didn’t put out any of my workers onto the board. Or complete an objective. Don’t try to do a little of everything, it’s ok to focus on just a few accomplishments and to build your strategy around that. It’s fun to see how your approach to the game will change.
- And finally, make sure to share the art on those encounter cards around the table. Read the descriptions for each reward out loud. Those are some of the best laughs we’ve had while playing the game. Pause, take a breath, and enjoy the theme.