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Tabletop Game / Scythe

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"The ashes from the first Great War still darken the snow in 1920s Europa. The capitalistic city-state known simply as “The Factory,” which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries. With characters from five factions converging onto a small but highly desired swath of land, who will gain fame and fortune by establishing their empire as the leader of Eastern Europa?"

Scythe is a 2016 board game published by Stonemaier Games, designed by Jamey Stegmaier and with art by Jakub Rozalski. Each player represents a faction of Europa, a fictional version of Europe that is trying to rebuild itself after World War I, set in the alternate reality of 1920+. The factions consist of leaders (and their Loyal Animal Companion), workers, and four giant mechs.

Besides its fantastic artwork, Scythe is known for its incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $1.8 million dollars.

Three Expansion Packs have also been released:

  • Invaders From Afar adds two new factions: Albion and Togawa.
  • The Wind Gambit adds airships, as well as resolutions which add variance to the way the game ends.
  • The Rise of Fenris adds a campaign of eight scenarios that introduce new rules modules, as well as a cooperative mode.

In addition, several minor expansion and a spin-off has been released:

  • Scythe Encounters adds 32 new encounter cards designed by fans of the game.
  • Scythe Modular Board allows players to construct random boards to play on.
  • My Little Scythe is a family-friendly remake that began life as a fan-made print-and-play game. It has received an Expansion Pack of its own:
    • Pie in the Sky adds new mechanics revolving around the Airship Kai, giving each Kingdom a unique ability.

The Real-Time Strategy game Iron Harvest takes place in the same setting.

Scythe contains examples of:

  • 4X:
    • X-plore is played lightly since the map is known from the start, even when random. The "goodie hut" makes an appearance as encounter cards though, encouraging exploration, and the Factory is potentially the biggest goodie hut on the board.
    • X-pand and X-ploit are core parts of the experience, since territory has a direct impact on your final score, and resources are required to build up your efficiency and power.
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    • X-terminate is also played lightly - simply rolling over your opponent's territory will kill your reputation with the locals, and advance the ending, so there is a balancing act of deciding when starting a fight is worth it.
  • Action Pet: All of the leaders have an animal companion that accompanies them on their adventures of conquest. All of them are large, apex predators (with the exception of one), so it’s difficult to believe that they wouldn’t take part in the action as well.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: The faction leaders can discover encounters while they explore the board, giving them choices that will reward them depending on their actions.
  • All Animals Are Domesticated: Bears, wolves, eagles, and tigers make great pets. At least you can argue that the dire wolves here are bred for domestication.
  • All There in the Manual: The rulebook has shortened blurbs on each of the characters, but a bit more detail on their backstories can be found on the Stonemaier Games website and in the art book. Details on the mech’s designs can also be found on their website.
  • Alternate History: What would happen if Europe had mechs as early as World War I?
  • Alternate Techline: Gargantuan mechs wander the land right after World War I.
  • Bold Explorer: All of the characters are specifically chosen by their factions to explore the land around The Factory. Anna and Bjorn, specifically, are noted for spending a lot of their time traveling with their animal companions.
  • Clockwork Creature: Some of the artwork shows smaller animal-like machines wandering the land aimlessly and without human direction.
  • Competitive Balance: The factions each have their own special abilities, and more abilities unlock every time they build a mech. The player mats are different from each other and are randomly distributed, giving everyone separate but balanced stats.
  • Cool Pet: Would you like a tiger or bear at your side?
  • Didn't Think This Through: As stars only partially contribute to scoring, it is very possible to end the game by putting your sixth star out without realizing that you aren't going to score as much as somebody else. There's even an achievement for this!
  • Diesel Punk: Takes place in an expy of Europe during the 1920s, where oil and metal are necessary resources to build and maintain technology far larger and more elaborate than what was actually made during that time period.
  • Double Meaning: A scythe is a farming tool for reaping grain and associated with death and The Grim Reaper. The game is simultaneously about building a domestic economy while projecting war forces to claim territory. The video game Iron Harvest retains this dual theme in the title.
  • Euro Game: Resource management, no player elimination, winning by victory points (money), little luck, and skill and choice playing a large part make definitely makes this a Euro Game.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: In spades. Scythe takes place in the world of Europa, where five nations vie for territorial control of The Factory. The nations in question include Saxony (Germany), the Nordic Kingdom (Norway), Polania (Poland), Rusviet (Russia), and Crimea. Interestingly, the Crimean faction is based on the Tartars and the Crimean Khanate, which no longer existed by that time. The expansions includes two new nations, Albion (Great Britain), and Togawa (Japan).
    • The backstory for each faction in the manuals is much more in depth and reveals just how wildly different the world of Scythe is from our own. The Rusviet Union is apparently still ruled by a Tsar, albiet one heavily reigned in by the will of the people. Saxony is Germany if it was unified by the nominal princedom of Saxony-Goethburg, rather than Prussia. Apparently the Scottish highlands are in the south of England, which is still known as Albion here.
  • For the Evulz: Some of the evil options on encounter cards can be hilariously petty:
    Convince the soldier that reindeer aren't real
    Steer the cow under the mech to see what happens
  • Historical Domain Character: Why hello Nikola Tesla, I didn’t see you there building tremendous mechanical miracles and monstrosities.
  • Humongous Mecha: Some mechs reach the size of elephants, and some are much, much larger.
  • Inexplicable Treasure Chests: Subverted with the encounter tokens. Instead of randomly finding bonuses scattered about the board, characters discover random encounters (along with a gorgeous picture) and can pick which bonus they want.
  • Instant Awesome: Just Add Mecha!
  • Karma Meter: The popularity track is used as a resource, and the higher it is, the more points you receive for end-game scoring. Popularity is always given for choosing the first choice on an encounter card (the “helpful” choice) and popularity is always lost when taking the last choice (the “aggressive” or “evil” choices). Popularity is also lost for forcing your opponent’s workers off their land.
  • Mad Scientist: Hard not to have that when a fictional version of Tesla is around.
  • Mundane Fantastic: Several pieces of artwork show farmers and aristocrats working and relaxing around robots and mechs as if they were part of the landscape.
  • National Animal Stereotypes: Averted. The bear is a companion of the Polania leader, as opposed to the Rusviet leader (who has a tiger). Saxony has wolves instead of an eagle. Instead of reindeer, the Nordic Kingdom’s leader has a muskox. Togawa’s leader has a monkey, which is a less frequently used national animal, and Albion’s leader has a boar as opposed to a lion or other more recognizable animal stereotypenote .
  • Obvious Rule Patch:
    • The Rusviet Union's "Relentless" faction ability (ignore the 'no identical actions on successive turns' rule) can completely break the game if it's combined with the "Industrial" doctrine: by exploiting "Relentless" and a nearby oil reserve to rush workers and the mech speed upgrade out at the start of the game, the Rusviets can quickly obtain four stars with little chance of reprisal. As a result, Rusviet/Industrial is the only faction combination that is outlawed by the FAQ.
    • Similarly, the Crimean Khanate & Patriotic combo was banned for allowing victories in as few as 15 turns.
  • Tabletop Game A.I.: The Automa supplement replaces one human player with an algorithm that plays by simplified rules and uses a deck of specialized cards to randomize its actions.
  • Tunnel Network: The six spaces that ring a space outside The Factory create an interconnecting series of tunnels that can get players to any side of the board. Each faction also possesses a mine they can build that will give them their own personal access to the tunnels.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: The factions require powerful personalities to lead their nations to victory. It just so happens that all of these personalities have been paired with unique animals.
  • Variable Player Goals: The game ends when any player completes 6 of the possible 10 goals. These include winning up to two combats, reaching the highest level of popularity or power, deploying all of your mechs, or completing one of two secret objectives. This allows players to attempt different strategies.
  • Walking Tank: Interestingly, there appear to be no actual tanks present in the world of Scythe. But there are plenty of mechs. In particular, Saxony mechs are the most heavily based on real life tanks, resembling a Panzer II with legs.
  • Worker Unit: Each faction starts with two meeples used for collecting resources. More can be produced, and getting all of them on the field will net you one of the stars needed for victory. Each of the different faction’s meeples have slightly different hats to add to the flavor.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: You’ll need to collect wood for structures, food for recruits, metal for mechs, and oil for upgrades. And don’t forget to produce more workers to collect those resources!