Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you've probably never heard of.
I first discovered Scythe through the art of Jakub Różalski. His deep, slightly haunting images made me want to explore this world he had created. At that time though there was no world, just the images themselves. That was until Stonemaier Games gave us all the opportunity to play in the world that Jakub had created. The result of this merger was the Scythe board game, which we first reviewed in August 2016 with a 9/10 score.
When preparing for this article I spoke to Travis (the TechRaptor Tabletop Editor) and asked if there was anything he'd like to add for our Scythe Digital article. He simply said that he wishes he had given it 10/10. I mention it here so that if you do play Scythe, digital or tabletop, no matter how complex or difficult it appears, please remember that score. It's not a score we give lightly and you will also at some point after the learning curve, agree with that score. What we are saying, is persevere. Believe us, it's worth it.
This article isn't going to focus too much on Scythe's rules and gameplay, you can read our tabletop review for that. We're going to focus on what the digital adaptation brings to the table.
For those who want the quick guide, Scythe is a resource building game, where players compete in an alternative 1920's Europe with a dieselpunk twist. Giant mechs are used to fight and manage territory. Scythe isn't about combat though, it has combat, but it's not the focus, the focus is economic growth through effective management. Each turn players get to chose between four action pairs, such as Move and Recruit or Produce and Upgrade. You won't always be able to do both actions, so some subtle timing and staging are required throughout. You also can't as standard do the same action on consecutive turns, so you really do have to plan ahead.
Throughout the game, there's management of several resources and currency to consider throughout the game, and a series of objectives to achieve. When a player completes six objectives (earning six stars) the game ends, and a series of sums relating to resources and achievements throughout the game provides the winner, which isn't always the person who gets the six stars.
Scythe Digital has several obvious advantages over the board game, with the price being the first. Recently out of Early Access on Steam, Scythe Digital is $19.99 as opposed to the physical which is currently just over $54 on Amazon. Obviously, you don't get the beautiful physical copy, but if Digital is your ideal, then the saving is another plus.
A physical copy of Scythe weighs around 7.5 pounds and comes in a sizable box. This makes transport just as much a consideration as being able to arrange all your friends for the game. The online matchmaking goes some way to resolve this. The issue then is that if you're playing online with your friends, they will all need to purchase a copy. This actually makes it more expensive than the physical game. You can play against other players via the matchmaking service, but currently, it's not always quick to find a game. This could be due to most players going in with their friends or the recent release. AI in Scythe Digital is challenging, but sometimes predictable. It only goes some way to matching the joy of playing against real players.
What I like most about the Digital version is that all the working out in terms of what you can do each turn, and the results, are all handled by the game. It makes everything easy to navigate and speeds up playtime. It also allows you to really focus on your strategy, without having to work out sums or available options. The setup time for the game is also hugely sped up with the Digital version, allowing you additional play time.
Another point in the digital over physical games' favor is the Tutorial. This, combined with the UI control during the game, puts you in good stead for what is going on. I hadn't played the physical version of Scythe, so the Tutorial was my first hands-on with the game. I followed up my first few games with reading the rulebook for the physical game, which is available for free on Stonemaier Games' website, and I can safely say that players working through the tutorial will have a much more solid understanding of the rules. Players will have to pay attention during the tutorial. Skipping through it won't give you a full enough understanding when you start playing.
The tutorial does lack a true onboarding process. It currently explains details about actions, results, and options in Scythe separately from each other in dedicated tutorials. I'd like to see a process that allows a player to build up their knowledge with smaller games and targets. Each round scales up the player's available actions, adding more each time until the full game. In any form, Scythe is a complex game that will take you a few rounds to wrap your head around. Even after you've been through the Tutorial, it takes a long time to truly master.
Scythe Digital looks beautiful throughout. It really captures Różalski's art and fuses the digital with a board game feel in how the game pieces move. There aren't any flashy battle or in-game animations, but rather than be a negative, it really helps to focus and capture not only the board game feel but the essence of the setting. The Digital Purchase also opens up a free download of the music used in-game. These tracks are haunting and extremely well suited.
In both its digital and physical forms, Scythe appeals to a large range of players. Victory is seizable through a variety of different playstyles, with violent confrontation rarely at the forefront. This world also features several strong female lead characters and all faction leaders have an interesting animal companion. It's great to see this level of inclusivity in a game that is already great. It's an inspiration in both physical and digital formats.
I've really enjoyed my first few weeks with Scythe. The game is challengingly complex and the Digital version offsets any of the issues that may put players off purchasing a physical copy in terms of price and time investment. The current pool of players mars the digital experience slightly. It still feels like you need to organize games as you would with the physical version. To be able to fill a multiplayer game whenever you wanted at any time of day would make the experience incredible and would really push the digital over the physical version.
There is still a few updates planned on the Scythe Digital Roadmap, as well as scope for the three physical game expansions to make it to a digital release.
TechRaptor covered Scythe Digital on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.