My Wife Always Wins: Scythe
This Week’s Game: Scythe
This week, my wife Lyndsey and I announced we will be expecting our first child on Halloween of this year. There have been a lot of life changes these last few weeks. I moved across the country, and now will be expecting a son or daughter. I’m super psyched to be a dad, but I have a whole lot of growing up to do. But hey, it’s time for some changes.
Speaking of changes, Lyndsey’s had plenty of those too. If you thought gaming with her was brutal before, you should see her now that she has a new life growing inside her. Some women are “eating for two” when they’re pregnant. Not Lyndsey, she just puts me through double the torture at the game table. She’s winning for two, and I’m losing for two. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Part of our announcement this week was a photo shared on Facebook (it’s not official unless it’s on Facebook). I think it captures the theme of our article here perfectly:
Well. I guess this is just my life now. Lyndsey will continue beating me for the rest of my days. Then the little one will come, maybe another after that. They will grow, play games with us – which sounds like a pretty good life. But right now all I can see is my future children as competitors; competitors that Lyndsey will groom from birth to make sure I don’t just lose, but that I come in dead last.
If I’m gonna win, I gotta get those Ws in now. Maybe I’ll have that luck with Scythe.
Scythe is an area control and influence game set in an alternate 1920s Eastern Europa. The continent is in shambles after the Great War, and five factions all build their resources to fund their mech armies in order to claim dominance of the region.
Let’s sum it up: your workers produce resources, your resources build your civilization. Coins are collected throughout the game, and more are awarded at endgame for various achievements. In order to reach endgame, there are certain feats on the game board players can claim and place stars upon. When six stars have been placed by one faction, the game ends immediately.
Players take turns one after another, based on actions available on their player mats. Each player mat has four columns, each with a top-row action and a bottom-row action. The top row actions are: move, bolster (gain military might), trade for resources or popularity, and produce resources or workers. The bottom-row actions are: deploy mechs, build, enlist recruits, and upgrade. Players can play one or both actions from a single column during their turn as long as they can afford the cost. Controlling the central territory (known as the Factory) allows players to add a fifth column to their player mat to provide additional action options.
The benefits increase both the player’s immediate standing (with mechs, resources, buildings, etc.), and his long term goals. Stars are awarded for various feats, such as deploying all four mechs, producing all eight workers, building all four buildings, etc. When the first player achieves six stars, she immediately ends the game and endgame scoring ensues. Coins are awarded for stars placed, as well as territories and resources controlled. The players’ popularity level, which fluctuates all game, decides how many coins each is worth. A higher popularity provides a greater multiplier with scoring. The player with the most coins wins!
Check the rules and how-to play video here.
Time to Play
We selected our factions. Lyndsey got Rusviet, while I had Saxony. I struck first, getting all eight of my workers out within a few rounds. I should have known from my initial success this game was already over. After this, I began advancing my mechs and character toward the center of the board. My goal was to take the Factory early (and complete my objective of controlling the Factory with my character at the start of my turn).
I was the first to the Factory, though a quick combat on Lyndsey’s turn displaced me before I could gather the objective. Her first star was therefore the combat star.
Fast forward a few rounds: I had won a combat at the Factory, and gathered the objective star, leaving me at three stars. But in the meantime, Lyndsey had churned out all four of her mechs and completed all six of her upgrades. We were tied at three stars each.
Around here is where things fell apart for me. Normally in a game players can only get one star for objectives, and two for combat victories. There is no limit for Saxony. As such, I deployed a few mechs and headed out for victory in battle. In my head I saw myself getting three or more stars from combat. In reality, Lyndsey beat me in our next battle, and received her second combat star. This game isn’t about combat – especially at two-player – and trying to make it so led to Lyndsey taking the lead.
My next poor decision was to capitalize on my ability to bring in a second objective star. My objective was to have nine resources in a single territory and one of each type. Stockpiling and moving my resources prevented me from using them and from growing. I never did get the objective, as eventually I needed to give in and spend them, as Lyndsey’s fifth star came from building all her buildings.
I got the star for my fourth mech, but Lyndsey got her sixth for getting her fourth recruit through enlistment. The game ended with her six stars to my four. The final score was an embarrassing 72-38 in favor of Lyndsey. According to the ever truthful internet, 38 is an impossibly low score. Not for Lyndsey. It’s not a win for her unless she absolutely crushes me.
I really wanted to enjoy Scythe more than I did. I caught a lot of heat for announcing that to a few of my friends. This game is one of the top games from 2016, is well-loved, and people defend it vehemently. I suppose at first glance, my assessment is that I didn’t like the game. That’s not true at all, it was an enjoyable experience. I just expected more. With all the hype, I thought I’d be wowed at the first sitting, but to me it was just a good game.
The positives: the miniatures for the mechs and characters are pretty cool, and they will probably present Lyndsey and me with another painting task in the future. The art and theme in the game is phenomenal and speaks to the dark, alternate history sci-fi that I love. The overall design definitely gets my top review. Even the gameplay flowed well, and was fun.
The negatives: This just isn’t a two-player game. When picking factions randomly, there can be significant imbalance. This was our experience. Saxony benefits from military victory, but combat is rare in most multi-player games, and nearly non-existent in two-player. Forcing combat didn’t quite work out for me, either. Also, when facing a slow-starting faction against a faster one, there is no threat from a third or fourth player to stunt the latter’s growth.
We tried playing again, each picking our factions this time. This provided for more balance, and the game was more enjoyable (I still lost). A suggestion I received, which I have not tried yet, is to play two-player with an autonomous third player, using the game’s mechanics for a non-player faction. We are going to get it to the table next week with a larger group, and I’m sure it will grow on me from there.
I definitely was underwhelmed with the game, but that has to do with the great level of hype surrounding it. Had I not known this was pretty much everybody’s best game of 2016, I would have come away with just the opinion “hey, that’s a fun game!” My assessment isn’t just because I lost, or had the weaker faction. Lyndsey’s assessment is similar, though she did mention destroying me adds an enjoyment factor to every game we play.
“It’s a joy you’ll never know,” she said.
What a loving family.
Brian Shabbott is a gamer, but not a very good one. His favorite pastime is to play board games with his wife, even though she always wins. He has turned his gaming misfortune into a creative outlet, reviewing their game sessions in his weekly article 'My Wife Always Wins. You can follow him on Twitter at heyshabbott
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