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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 Eurogame published by Stonemaier Games, designed by Jamey Stegmaier and with art by Jakub Rozalski (creator of the 1920+ setting). 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 expansions and a spin-off have 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.
  • Scythe Complete Rulebook consolidates all the rules from the base game and expansions as well as clarifications on them with a F&Q section.
  • 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 and with two new factions.

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.
    • 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.
  • Death from Above: The Bombard ability card shows an Airship raining shots down from the sky. The ability on the card grants the user the ability to use resources on the Airship to drop the combat power of an enemy attacking one of your units below your Airship by a certain amount.
  • 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.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: the Rise of Fenris expansion, grants two new factions that are mechanically different from the others. Vesna's faction has a huge starting benefit that can become a huge detriment if played improperly, while Rasputin starts with a large detriment that can become a huge asset later.
    • When Vesna starts, she gains three Factory Cards right out of the gate. Not only can this allow her to build extremely early, and possibly gain a large advantage in power, the detriment comes from the fact she cannot keep any of the Factory cards. Like all other factions, she can get one Factory card from the Factory when reached, however unlike every other faction who gets to keep theirs as a permanent option, Vesna also loses that card when used. Improper usage and timing of Vesna, or her having a poor starting base, can absolutely ruin her chances at winning, but if you can effectively use her Factory cards at the right time, or to gain a decent enough early-game advantage to get Victories before others, this temporary bonus can become an unstoppable lead.
    • Rasputin starts with 10 Influence tokens (a mechanic unique to Fenris), and each one drops Rasputin's total coins by 10 during scoring. He can remove 1 Influence token per turn and drop it where Rasputin's miniature is on the board, and any player who steps on that space, Fenris included, gains the token. Rasputin is the only one who can rid himself of Influence tokens, meaning every other player who gains one gets a permanent -1 to their total during scoring. This means Rasputin's ability is next to worthless near his home base as there's little reason anyone would invade there except to hold a location with his structures, however it becomes extra effective when he's in the middle of the board where most of the action will be. In addition, Fenris is a heavily combat-focused faction, meaning that their mech abilities can devastate opponents and allow them to take areas easily as long as you have the determination to get them out quickly and the foresight to lay Influence tokens in the right spots.
  • Digital Tabletop Game Adaptation: An official dedicated app is available on Steam and mobile app stores, with the Invaders from Afar expansion available as Downloadable Content.
  • 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
    Yodel loudly to trigger an avalanche over a local village
    Steer the boars into the helpless village
    Cut down the tree to signal an end of the age of innocencenote 
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: the Tesla faction gets extra draws if you're using mech mods. However, if you're not using mech mods, Tesla is the only faction that gets only 2 character/mech abilities, which is extremely limiting (the ability to Riverwalk and the ability to move +1 tiles like any other faction). It also isn't great that you get 3 factory cards, but these cards are instantly discarded after use. It seems nearly pointless to even try using this faction... until you draw 3 excellent factory cards that let you start the game with a ton of resources, 2 movement every use, and possibly a couple mechs or structures. Being able to get an early-game advantage and planning for being overwhelmed in late-game can actually make up that shortfall and put Tesla in the best position to own the board by turn 3 (and possibly hold it for a considerable time).
  • 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.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople) : the game is set in an Alternate History 1920s Europe and uses different names for all the nations. Rusviet Union is the Russia/the Soviet Union, Republic of Polania is Poland, Saxony Empire is Germany, Crimean Khanate is Turkic Crimea, Nordic Kingdoms are Scandinavia, Clan Albion is the British Isles, and Togawa Shogunate is Japan.
  • Instant Awesome: Just Add Mecha!
  • Junior Variant: My Little Scythe is one of these with a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic pastishe.
  • 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 .
  • Necessary Drawback: The Encounter card options mostly follow the same format: choice 1 nets less resource gain but grants popularity, choice 2 nets resources or benefits of some kind in exchange for money, and choice 3 nets great benefits but you lose popularity. Choice 3 is almost always the best possible choice in terms of gain, but losing popularity is extremely detrimental to end-game scoring and can actively cause you to lose the game once over. As such, it often is better to get little benefit immediately for gaining popularity (so your end-game score is higher), but if your popularity is higher or your lead is significant, it may be worth the popularity loss in order to gain the rewards for it.
  • 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. The digital version comes with the option to make it impossible to use Rusviet/Industrial and/or Crimea/Patriotic, whether by choice or randomly, and it's on by default.
    • The "Invaders from Afar" expansion adds 6-7 player gameplay. Because of this, two factions got updated. Crimea's Wayfare ability was seen as too weak, and thus a token came with the game that would be used in replacement. Polania also got an updated Meander ability due to the original being somewhat fruitless in 6-7 player games.
  • Random Number God: The base game is mostly exempt from this, as the only randomness the players encounter is when drawing combat cards or obtaining Player Mats. The Rise of Fenris expansion, however, added numerous modules to the game that add a great amount of randomness.
    • The Tesla faction is built on randomness. Two of the Vesna mech ability slots are empty. The Tesla faction draws 4 Tesla Mech tokens from the pile, and then chooses 2. In addition, both the Fenris and Tesla factions do not have permanent home locations and thus their starting locations can greatly change how the game plays out.
    • The Mad Tesla and Desolation modules add in dice rolls. There are ways to actively control how powerful Tesla is, but both Tesla and Desolation are unpredictable.
    • Triumph Tiles randomize the Triumph Track. Unlike the Peace and War tracks which are agreed upon by player, the Triumph Tiles are completely random based on how they're drawn.
    • Mech Mods and Infrastructure Mods randomize player abilities. The Mech Mods function identically to how the Tesla faction Mech Mods work, and the Infrastructure Mods grant two specialized tokens to each faction (chosen from four draws for each faction). These tokens can allow a free build, double resource output once, or give advantages in combat one time.
    • The Airship abilities work in one of two ways. Either you can draw one passive and one active ability that everyone shares, or every faction draws one of each for their factions (which can become quickly hectic).
  • Real Robot Genre: The 1920+ setting combines this with Diesel Punk, taking place in a setting where mechs were developed instead of tanks during World War I. Despite the focus on mechs, regular infantry units of the period are still seen, and mechs are shown to fulfil mundane tasks such as farming and transport as well.
  • Ruritania: The game has this for most of its Eastern European states, like the "Rusviet Union" and "Republic of Polania." While the Crimean Khanate did exist historically, it was gone by World War I.
  • Sensual Slavs: has Olga Romanova of the Rusviet Union. A blond Statuesque Stunner with model good looks that is often posing with her Siberian tiger and in some artwork she's in a miniskirt and carrying a Whip of Dominance to make her look like The Baroness. It's telling that Olga is the thumbnail for the iOS version of Scythe. In a game with several other female characters, including fellow Eastern European - Anna of the Polanian Republic, Olga's the only one whose artwork plays up her looks.
  • Sliding Scale of Cooperation vs. Competition: Typically of the Free-For-All kind. Players are allowed to make unofficial alliances, but no faction is beholden to them, and the instructions outright state that only one player may win and thus alliances can be counter-productive.
    • If using the Alliance mod from "Rise of Fenris", it becomes of the Dynamic Alliances variant. Players choose another present faction to become an ally with. Both players then exchange a faction token. The faction token grants the allied player their ability, and thus it is in the best interest of both factions in the alliance to avoid all forms of combat with each other. Should you attack your ally, you lose their ability (however they don't lose yours) and you gain a permanent coin loss during scoring. Even if the alliance is never broken, only one faction can emerge victorious, so the allies will still be competing for resources and power even if they never fight directly.
  • 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.
  • Tesla Tech Timeline: The technology of Europa is simultaneously primitive and advanced, with industrialized mechs driven by early-20th century diesel engines that belch black smoke. The basics of their design were devised by none other than Nicola Tesla.
  • 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!