Kickstarter can be a blessing and a curse. Hey, look, cool new game! Oh, it’s not going to be released for ten months. But look, they posted print and play files, we can play it right now! Oh, but we have to do the “print” part first, and that’s a lot of printing. But now we’ve played it and it’s awesome! So, um, why do we need to back it if we have this copy we made ourselves? Of course, your average gamer doesn’t have the resources to do the kind of production a publisher can, so that shiny actual copy is usual worth the cost and the wait.
Fortunately, our game group includes our friend Robert, who isn’t average when it comes to printing and playing. He previously did an amazing recreation of the original Civilization board game, putting more effort into it than I’ve seen from some professional companies. And now he’s done the same thing on a print and play version of the white-hot Kickstarter du jour, Scythe.
Scythe is the latest from Stonemaier Games, the company behind other Kickstarter sensations like Viticulture and Euphoria. Our group is big fans of both games, so we were immediately interested in Scythe. And so was the rest of the internet, apparently; initially looking for a modest goal of $33,000, its Kickstarter is currently sitting at $1.2 million with a little over a week still to go. So when our friend announced he’d created a copy, we jumped at the chance to play it. And if I hadn’t backed it already, I would have after last night.
Scythe takes the best parts of action selection and area control and merges them together in an alternate post-World War I Europe where the Great War was fought with gigantic mechs that no one is really all that anxious to fire up again. It’s essentially the Cold War forty years early, and players each represent one of five factions vying for control of the continent. Each faction has different starting resources and different special abilities (each of which essentially breaks a game rule), and you get a separate player board that provides the actions you can take. Each action has a top and a bottom, and you can do one or both each turn. But while everyone has the same set of actions available, the top and bottom combinations and their costs are different from player to player. That’s a ton of different combinations and a lot of replayability.
Everybody takes turns taking actions, and everything happens on the game board. Your workers, mechs and character representing you move around on it, your resources are placed on it, your buildings get built on it, you fight over territories on it. What you’re doing with all this is trying to accomplish various goals, like building all your available mechs, or all your available buildings, or getting all your workers on the board. The first person to do six of these — represented by placing star tokens on the board — ends the game. But they don’t necessarily win; you score points based on how many stars you have out, how many territories you control, and how many resources you have. There’s also a Popularity stat that increases the multiplier for scoring these, so if the people don’t like you, you’re going to suffer. Seeing as Popularity is very often something you have to spend to get things done, managing it is crucially important to being successful.
This game is really good. It moves quickly, there’s a ton of good crunchy decision-making, and the theme and artwork are fantastic. And like most great games, picking up the basics is simple; getting the strategy is the hard part. And most of the fun.
The only bad thing is we won’t get our copies until August of next year. And Robert’s only got the one copy to go around.