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Alex Greenberg | Studio Director, Founder

Nov 10, 2023


Iron and wood; grain and oil, forged into hulking machines and refined into fuel for a nation’s inexorable lust for conquest. As gears screech and grind in the factories; long, curved blades whip tirelessly through wheat fields, and rain and sweat moisten the earth beneath the millyard, the engine of expansion lumbers forth, quickening its pace with each day. On a crisp Autumn morning, an expedition force pauses for a moment to observe the horizon. Far across the rolling hills, silhouetted against the sunrise, colossal forms trudge slowly into view. Momentary glints of enormous blades and gun barrels flash along the line of swaying shadows. At the sight, a bandolier-clad man kneels and exhales a prayer, “let our diplomacy be righteous– and our bullets more so.”

With the harvest season waning, the time has come to discuss the aptly-named strategy board game, Scythe. Set in an alternate, yet familiar, universe, the factions of “Eastern Europa” vie for control over the capitalistic city-state called “The Factory” following the Great War of the early 1900s. Unlike our Great War, however, Europa’s weaponry has been augmented with towering mechs and other Steampunk-inspired machines. With these machines still at the helm of warfare, Eastern Europa’s factions converge on The Factory as Europa’s key source of technology.

One of my favorite board games, Scythe provides an engrossing take on the 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) genre which encourages players to think creatively about how they interact with other players as well as the game board itself. Rooted in the classic Euro-style formula, Scythe boasts a spacious board filled with hexagonal territory tiles overlaid on a beautifully painted, dynamic landscape. Not only is it visually impressive, Scythe incorporates mechanics and systems that changed the way that I think about strategy games. It even inspired a few of ULTRAMASSIVE’s mechanics!

The core appeal of Scythe is its engine building system, which is the defining strategic feature of the game. At the beginning of the game, each player receives an industry board, which is used to enhance the player’s actions, and a faction board, which grants the player special abilities and influences how they shape their engine. The outstanding part of Scythe’s engine design is how the industry board, faction board, and turn actions synergize. Improvements to one of these elements will be reflected in one or both of the others, creating a satisfying ramp in turn-to-turn power. Furthermore, the variety in upgrade options and combinations of faction and industry boards allows for a wide range of strategies, ensuring that every game of Scythe plays out differently. Individual upgrades are small but numerous, frequently giving players the chance to tweak their engine throughout each game. Ultimately, Scythe reaches the height of its appeal when all players are able to optimize their engines and utilize them to their fullest, thus challenging their opponents in unique and formidable ways.

Another highlight of Scythe is the balance it strikes between the prominence of combat and diplomacy. The name “Scythe” is literal– it is a reference to a scythe as both a farming tool and a weapon of war. By providing players with several different ways to win, the majority of which are not combat related, Scythe incentivizes players to plan more diplomatic and passive paths to victory rather than simply fighting their way to the top. And in a game with badass mech figurines and a solid combat system, keeping players from exclusively following the warmonger path is an impressive feat. Additionally, the complexity of Scythe’s win conditions trickles down into scenarios such as standoffs, bluffs, and subversive maneuvers that will have you questioning who you can really trust. Not only are these individual conflicts mechanically engaging, they also add to the geopolitical theme of the game. Players often find themselves in opposition with others and while combat may be a tempting form of resolution, a resourceful player will orchestrate a more beneficial, and less violent, outcome.

Despite their vastly different themes, Scythe and ULTRAMASSIVE share some mechanical ideas, with Scythe acting as the inspiration for mechanics such as Wormhole Wagers and the Anomaly Board in ULTRAMASSIVE. Drawing ideas from Scythe’s combat and upgrade systems and inserting them into core elements of ULTRAMASSIVE was a fun and gratifying process for us– we hope fans of both games will have a similar experience when comparing the two.

While Scythe is not everyone’s ideal night, I highly recommend Scythe to board game players who enjoy a lengthy game that they can sink their teeth into for an evening. It is absolutely a “centerpiece game” (as I like to call them) for a board game night as it will keep you entertained and thinking critically for most of your evening. Scythe remains engaging throughout the game and provides a setting that is easy to immerse oneself in. It even allows for single-player games through its Automa system, which I have enjoyed thoroughly. Ultimately, if you enjoy a solid strategic experience with high replay value and which leaves room for socializing in between turns, I suggest picking up a copy of Scythe and trying it yourself.

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