A Strategy Map for Scythe: Analyzing the Game and a Compendium of Tips for Victory

Whilst we build our own games (follow us for updates on Mitropia here!), we’re always playing other game and inevitably thinking about what makes them tick! To try to make the most of this thinking, we decided to create a simple strategy map format to capture game dynamics: we’d love people’s feedback on whether it’s useful!

One of the most played game in our office is of course Stonemaier Games’ Scythe: so this was one of the first to get the treatment!

Scythe is one of the most engaging games to be released in the last few years and we’re big fans. But how do the elements interact? What actually makes for rational strategy? There are already a lot of great winning strategy posts out there (which we’ve linked to later) but we wanted to go dig deeper and look under the hood..

To do that we rolled up our sleeves and made a strategy map for the game to try to tease out its hidden secrets. Here is the Map!: 

Scythe Strategy Map: While there are a lot of different mechanics in the game, Scythe is ultimately about gaining the most coins. Keep your eye on where they come from! Many of the actions in the game either build your engine (to gain more) or move a metric which influences your ability to gain coins.

Clear? Ok – here’s how to read the map! The map shows what it takes to win starting with the game’s key metric Coins on the far right. The flows on the map show you step by step how to get those coins. Here are the key elements on the map:

  • Resources (in the abstract sense, not in the specific Scythe sense): these are units of something which can be accumulated and later parlayed for something else of worth. 
  • The Engine and Board State: these are states in the game that you build over time to gain your advantage. Scythe’s engine in the Faction Mat state – this allows you different types of actions at different costs. The secondary “engine” is the board state with its placed workers, buildings and mechs: this also affects your ability to produce things you need as well as coins in the final reckoning.
  • Actions: these are things which can be done in the game that have a positive or negative effect on the supply of resources, points or other things in the game. 

The flow of resources, exploration and so forth is transformed into two things: a growing engine for more action and a stockpile of coins & other point scoring elements. When looking at the map it becomes obvious that the game design team must have spent a great deal of time balancing out the impact of these elements. There is is a pretty fine balance between straight accumulation, acceleration (building engines) and non-linear elements (step functions in the scoring).

Analyzing Scythe

It takes a significant amount of points to win a game (typically 70-80) and there are different numbers of points available from the board in any one game depending on the configuration. In Scythe there’s a tendency to think that victory points are the thing to aim for. However, while victory points affect when the game ends (and hence gives you some control if you are ahead) they have a somewhat limited effect on the actual coins total of a player. As you can see from the map, a player with less victory point stars may even gain more from their victory point stars if they are in a higher popularity bracket. 

How easy coins are to get depends on the faction you are playing, randomness and some strategic choices. We can see though that there are a number of things which become clear from the map:

  • Vary strategy over time: resources are very useful in the early and mid-game to build things, but they are worth only a little in the final reckoning (divided by two in the scoring table).
  • Conversely, the territory is less important early on, but important late on since it is a primary scoring metric. 
  • The popularity score you have can nearly double your coin score from the primary scoring mechanisms (stars, territory, resources) which is easily worth 15-25 points for most players. 
  • Popularity is also a step function thus, while you gain a star for reaching the maximum, in the scoring phase it only matters which ranking level you fall into.
  • Scoring coins from open play (the middle box in the coin total column) is often missed as an important factor. However, you are unlikely to get zero in any of the main scoring categories. This means the real range of scoring difference there may be small enough that open play coins tip the balance!

As well see below a couple of these correspond to some of the common wisdom play tips you’ll find on the web and a few are our own additions! 

Strategy Compendium…

There are already some great Scythe strategy posts out there including: Start Your Meeples with an in-depth analysis that goes faction by faction (start with Nordic Kingdoms!), long, in-depth Reddit threads, BGG Blogs (especially those by the excellent John Martorana) and also Jamie Stegmaier himself with a great video on the game’s background and 5 great tips. If you have other favorites please add them in the comments section. Ryan Geshler’s Top 5 Scythe mistakes are for the online game but are also great and generally applicable to the tabletop version.

Based on our analyses and these posts we pulled out what we think are the top five tips in the compendium:

  1. The Factory might not be that important… it’s tempting to rush for it early, but it can be a distraction. You’ll get there mid game or even not at all. This became fairly clear when we made the strategy map since the factory does not feature that heavily. It essentially drives up territory score if you hold it at the end and improves mobility. For most players though, factions gains are somewhat marginal, at least in terms of making it worth rushing for early game. Of all the factions, Rusviet may value it most. Original tip from Ryan Geshler’s on-line version posts
  2. Spread out at the end: This is one of the most often repeated tips, but incredibly important… Territory is one of the key items in the end game and it is multiplied by your popularity count. When you suspect the game might end soon: spread out, even if it’s not you that’s going to get the game ending star.
  3. Get the Speed Mech early in the game (true for most factions). Obviously, this is important in the late game when trying to spread out. However, the Speed Mech is also in the early game. Often people move workers manually but it takes so long you might as well have built the speed mech. Once you have it then you can spread your workers better and get a more diverse set of resources. This is mentioned in John Martorana’s blogs and elsewhere.
  4. Make sure you grow your worker pool to at least five: if you don’t this sufficiently you will struggle to perform enough actions in the mid-game. You need them so that you can take more actions which is what gives you an advantage. Jamie Stegmaier recommends 5 workers as the right balance between productivity and not ending up with too much cost. Some tip sheets tend to eight in very aggressive or defensive strategies.
  5. Use Enlistment! Another tip we ran into first via Ryan Geshler. Not enlisting leaves a lot of opportunity on the table. You’re not playing afterwards. Coins from getting all four enlists are likely to be up +8-12 additional coins and all they all accelerate you. (Brian Geshler has this as his top tip – see here in is video.)

And in addition to this collected wisdom, here are a few of our own:

  1. Popularity is key: it can make a very significant difference. This shows up clearly in the strategy map with the bracket for popularity multiplying your star, territory and resource scores by roughly 2x in the final reckoning. However, unless you are going for the star you only need to get yourself in the top bracket, not all the way to the top. This is something worth deciding early.
  2. The premium for ending the game is significant but not overwhelming. There is a significant premium to ending the game (you deny everyone the last moves but get your own) and have size stars BUT it is not the be-all and end-all. Make sure you are over the thresholds in terms of popularity and in roughly the same ballpark in terms of stars. 
  3. Bottom and Top Row Actions: Plan your moves to use both the top and bottom row actions whenever you can. It often comes as a surprise that there are only 18-22 turns (roughly) in a game of Scythe. This means game turns are a very significant resource and getting more things done per turn (improving your engine and something else) have a significant momentum effect turn per turn.
  4. Keep your focus on the coins: nothing comes out of the strategy map more clearly than this. Other items become less valuable in the end (like resources): you’ll get something for them but coins are worth more. So you might want to take counter-intuitive actions like taking bottom row actions even if you don’t get all the benefits just to get the coins. For example, once the lower line has been completed you can still take the actions and collect coins.
  5. The combat distraction. Lastly, combat can be distracting. While it does gain you one (or two) victory points it only indirectly affects coins and end-game scoring. Depending on your faction, think carefully about how much combat to engage in! Polonia and Saxony do benefit more from combat since they (respectively) don’t lose popularity from banishing workers or can score multiple stars from combat. Other factions benefit significantly less.

We’d love to hear what you think of the strategy map and tips. Hopefully, it added a few helpful insights and some fun! If people like the approach we’ll try to refine it and apply it to some other favorite strategy games. (We’ll tag them #StrategyGameGeeks to separate them from game design posts.)

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Happy Exploring!

One thought on “A Strategy Map for Scythe: Analyzing the Game and a Compendium of Tips for Victory

  1. Pingback: Mitropia and StrategyGameGeeks will be at GenCon! – Mitropia Strategy Game Blog

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