2016 turned out to be one of the biggest years for board games. We saw some of our favorite developers hit the shelves yet again with a couple of fresh faces thrown into the mix. It was hard to choose just a couple of games to spotlight on the list, but here is just one that you need to play. Stay tuned for the full list coming soon.
Scythe is the type of game that meets you more than halfway. It’s a deeply strategic experience, but it’s wrapped up in gorgeous presentation and intuitive mechanisms. The ease of play is often overshadowed by its physical beauty, but both aspects are quite the achievement.
Alongside Mechs vs. Minions, this is the most hyped game of 2016. It exploded on Kickstarter thanks to the inspirational Jakub Rozalski artwork and impeccable track record of designer Jamey Stegmaier. It takes an evocative post World War I European setting of gigantic mechs fighting alongside infantry, and binds it tightly to an engine building system of deep satisfaction.
You receive a starting faction board and a separate player mat, both bearing unique powers and varying strength of actions. Utilizing these independent system nodes in tandem and leveraging them for maximum effectiveness is the core of Scythe. And it feels so damn good.
Scythe is all about reaching in and stoking that warm fire in your belly. You will upgrade your actions on your player board, leech off neighboring opponents, and kick your engine into high gear. It’s all about choice and building a reciprocating efficiency machine.
As all of this off-board activity is hitting your cognitive buttons, the board dynamic is taking shape. Mechs are moving about to claim land while farmers exploit resources. The hero of your faction will be engaging their wanderlust personality to strike out and activate encounters–cards that present a graphic/narrative conundrum with three choices. These slices of story bolster the underlying setting and ground your actions in the fiction of the game. You can help locals cut down a tree or you can conscript them into service to swell your ranks.
The goal of Scythe is to place stars on a track by accomplishing achievements. These consist of developing several vectors of the game to their utmost conclusion, such as deploying all of your farmers or building all of your mechs, but they’re also awarded by combat. This highlights the strong dual thematic nature of the design where violence buts up against civilization. It’s not always about carving out a peaceful bit of countryside; sometimes it’s about smashing the poor fellow’s barn that happens to be just over the hill.
Warfare in Scythe is conducted via a combination of cards and bidding Power—an important resource. It’s reminiscent of the combat system in the classic Dune board game and it works well. It injects a sense of drama and high stakes into the design and raises your blood pressure just a tad.
However, everything comes at a cost. If you displace peasants then your standing with the populous falls. Your position on the popularity track cannot be ignored as this is a key scoring metric. This is one of the most divisive aspects of the game but it works exceptionally well to bolster that central theme and double-down on its values.
Scythe is a fantastic design that will not soon be forgotten. It’s flying off shelves and near universally praised. It’s an experience that is far meatier than the effort required, and it nails a number of key elements that are sure to satisfy. In a year packed to the gills with phenomenal games, Scythe absolutely deserves recognition.
Have you played Scythe? Do you think it lives up to the hype? Let us know in the comments below!
In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on twitter @CharlieTheel
Images courtesy of Stonemaier games