Scythe is one of the greatest boardgames of all time. Despite scoring it lower than it should have been (let’s face it, Scythe is a 10/10) it easily walked away with the 2016 TechRaptor Board Game of the Year award. Since its release, Scythe has been supported by the addition of two expansions. The first, Invaders From Afar, added two new factions to the game, and allowed the game to be played with up to 7 players. The most recent expansion, Scythe: The Wind Gambit, is far flashier than Invaders From Afar, opting to add enormous plastic airship miniatures to the game, and a set of Resolution tiles that change the game-end condition. While the airships are eye-catching and absolutely demand attention when you lay eyes on them, it’s actually the Resolution tiles that steal the show here.
First thing’s first, let’s talk about those airships. The airships are massive, the art all revolves around them, they dominate the board-space, and they demand attention. They ooze ‘cool’ and they are absolutely the visual selling point for this expansion, while simultaneously fitting in seamlessly with the theme and flow of the game. With that being said, they fit in seamlessly with the theme and flow of the game to the point that they don’t have the type of impact on gameplay that I initially expected they would based on their physicality. On the bright-side the rules for the airships are incredibly easy to learn, and it only takes a few moments to explain how they work to someone who already knows how to play the game. You should probably temper your expectations if you think that they are going to have as dramatic an effect on gameplay as they look like they’ll have, although you can tweak them a bit to suite your taste, so they definitely can add excitement to the game, you will just need to play with them enough to familiarize yourself with their abilities to find a combination that excites your group.
If you play by standard rules as written the airships will all share the same two abilities, which are randomly drawn during setup. There are two sets of abilities, one set determines the airships’ movement and lists a more passive ability, and the other set determines whether they can carry workers or resources, and generally provides a more aggressive ability. Mixing and matching ability cards this way means that there are tons of different combinations, but it also means that during some games you will end up with combinations that aren’t really that exciting, or don’t work all that well with some players’ play-styles or strategies. That’s actually perfectly fine, because the game feels balanced even if you don’t make much use of your airship, and it could potentially have broken the game if the airships were too powerful.
This means that you will need to deal with some less than exciting combinations from time to time unless you decide that you and your group likes one or two combinations and just sticks with those every time. There are some combinations that really up the fun-factor for my group, but considering you really need to play with every card at least once to get a real feel for it, that means you’ll need to play at least 8 games to really find out what you like the best. On top of that, some combinations are more exciting, so figuring out which abilities combo well is going to take time. Having said all of that, I have yet to play with a combination that feels bad. At the worst, I’ve seen a combo that didn’t really excite anyone, but even then the ships still saw use by all but one player that game. If you don’t mind the balance of the game potentially getting a bit out of whack you can even assign each player’s airship their own set of powers, or deal out a few sets and let players pick which set they’ll use for a game.
The more exciting, and surprising aspect of The Wind Gambit, for my group anyway, is the Resolution cards. Their are 8 cards in total, and each changes the way that the game ends, and they often tweak some other aspects of gameplay as well. Each of these cards makes the game feel quite a bit different from a standard game, and wildly different from each other. Scythe is already immensely replayable, and with the addition of these cards the game becomes exponentially replayable. Even if you don’t want to rotate through them, or draw them at random, simply having a few that you and your group like will shake things up dramatically. Like with the airships, you’ll need to play 8 full games to really get a feel for how they change things up, but that discovery is fun, and exciting.
A note on “chrome”: The big plastic airships are obviously the centerpiece for The Wind Gambit. They are absolutely gigantic, dwarfing all of the other game pieces, including the mechs. I play on the larger sized board, which is optional and requires an additional purchase, and even the larger hexes can become a bit crowded when two airships are in the same hex. If you are playing on the smaller board then expect to really face some crowding issues once you start to pile units and multiple airships up on the same area of the board.
The bottom line:
Scythe: The Wind Gambit adds two major components to one of the best boardgames of all time. The first, and most noticeable, are the airships. The airships themselves are giant pieces of plastic that ‘float’ over the board and look awesome and intimidating, but in practice they slot in with all of the rest of the game without feeling overpowered. Based on the set of abilities that the airships are dealt (or chosen), they can often look far more important than they are. Originally I was expecting them to be more exciting, but after playing multiple times with them I see that they are balanced in such a way as to fit seamlessly in with the other tools available to you rather than being so powerful that they dominate your strategy every time.
On the flip side, the new Resolution tiles force you to sit up and pay attention every time. They vary in how dramatically they effect the game overall, but they force you to consider them when planning out your plays, and they can radically alter how the game feels because of that. The new end-game triggers add a staggering amount of replayability to the game, and might actually be a stronger addition to the game than the airships.
The copy of Scythe: The Wind Gambit used for this review was provided by Stonemaier Games.
Scythe: The Wind Gambit isn't as punchy as you'd expect when you first lay eyes on the giant airship miniatures, but the airships are only part of what this expansion offers, and they really fit in well with the game without becoming the focal point/dominant strategy. Some of the airship power combinations can occasionally fall a little flat if you randomize them, but the sheer volume of combinations, and the ability to give every player's airship different powers, or just stick with a combination that fits your group is really nice. This expansion isn't simply airships though, and the Resolution tiles are excellent as they really boost replay value, and they can have a profound effect on how the game feels during play.