First Impressions: Scythe

pic2323719It took me a while to realize that there’s a very, very passionate fan of Stonemaier Games among my friends. In my defense, it was hard to notice; they were divided among a whole bunch of people. Between us, we have nearly every game published by Stonemaier games.

I suppose it was my turn to help out so I was one of two people to Kickstart Scythe, a crunchy game set in an alternate Europe between the world wars, but with giant mechs, too. Everyone represents a nation not-so-subtly inspired by real nations, vying for control in the lands surrounding the now-shut factory that had armed them in the recent past. Really, how could I not jump on board? Between their outstanding reputation and an incredible theme, I backed the project and then promptly ignored everything about it until it arrived in the mail.

Apparently I missed a whole heck of a lot of hype, as every other review I’ve seen or read has mentioned. Let me start off with my own expectations: I expected a good game, with high production values, and an effective use of a compelling theme.

Did it succeed? Read more to… eh, that feels dirty. I’ll tell you now: it hit all three points. There’s my thesis, and I’ll just clarify them in the following.

First off, gameplay. It’s a treat. The standout feature is that this is a medium-weight strategy game that feels lightning-fast. It’s one of those games where you can more or less tune out when it’s not your turn; you can pay attention to changes in the board state, but there’s nothing you can really do. I say that because, first, it’s just a common element in most games, and second, because it doesn’t matter. At one point in the game, with three players, I got up from the table to make a cocktail. I did not have enough time to finish my drink before it was my turn again. So, while I didn’t time the rounds, I can confidently say it takes half the time it makes me to make a mint julep, and I’m no slouch in that respect.

The reason is that on your turn, you technically do just one thing: pick an action, and resolve it. Sure there are a lot of bells and whistles, but it all revolves around just one main decision. Heck, all your actions are split into two parts, and the rules explicitly state the next player can start their turn when you begin the second part of yours.

Sure, the board state can change, but it’s not a very swingy game. It’s just that if your plan is upset, you can either resolve your planned action in a different way, or pick among relatively few others. It’s a game that didn’t hinge on single critical, complicated plays, but consistently making effective decisions.

On to production quality: fantastic. I have the collector’s edition, but I’ll just say that the extras are fantastic. Ignoring that, though, it’s still a top-notch production. The art is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a board game, and the miniatures are excellent. Expect pictures of mine when it’s all set and painted.

Finally, the theme. The art is relevant again, as the game is gorgeous. The mechanisms support the theme as well! …Mostly. You win the game by having the most money, but earn more money at the end of the game based on a whole slew of criteria. Basically, it’s victory points. That said, to be brief, most everything that earns you points seems to be a fair element to judge your performance as the (pretend) leader of a nation in this setting.

Best of all, though, are the event cards. There’s unique art on each card, and options representing your response to some sort of encounter. They’re thematic, often funny, and a rare departure from what is otherwise a fairly abstracted strategy game. It almost feels like you’re playing more of a storytelling game.

I’ll finish again by stating my opinions of Stonemaier Games, and what I expected going into it. As I said before, I expected a good game. I don’t think they’ve made a bad one so far. The problem is that they’ve never made, in my opinion, a great game, either. That still makes for a consistent and, frankly, outstanding track record. It’s just that, although they’ve made several games I really enjoyed, they never made an all-time great for me. I go into new games of theirs expecting to have a great time, but not so great that I keep thinking about it well after I stopped playing it.

I’m only one game in so far, but Scythe might be the game that breaks the cycle. It’s my favorite game of theirs so far, and it’s comfortably on my shortlist for games to play on game nights. I’ve spent a good long while painting the miniatures. It has stayed in my brain long after I played it. I can’t say for certain, but, so far, the outlook for Scythe is great. I expect, and hope, to get many more plays of it, and soon.

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