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Scythe Strategy: Basic Tips

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So far, I’ve played around thirty games of Scythe (read my Scythe review here). I have been playing predominantly digital edition, since it allows me to play more games and play whenever I want. I have developed some Scythe strategy tips of my own, but I am still struggling to beat the AI at medium strength.

My Initial Observations

I knew I wasn’t playing optimally. In the end, I always got less coin from tiles, structures and coins themselves. Obviously I wasn’t focusing on the right things. Popularity and military strength are important, of course, but putting too much emphasis on them held me back in other areas. I wasn’t using my mechs properly to carry workers around, so I wasn’t controlling enough areas and didn’t have the option to build on tiles that score points at the end.

Also, I wasn’t giving too much importance on the coin earning itself. As you can read in my original review, I was under the impression that you get most of the end game points by other means and that your treasury is just a bonus on top. Experience showed me, that the winner actually gets as much as 40% (my rough estimate, don’t quote me on that) of his end coinage from his treasury.

Another thing that was pretty obvious, was that you must always try to use your both – top and bottom row – actions. Since turns are (soft) capped (it ends roughly over 18-22 turns), there is only a limited amount of time to get the stars and you have to make every turn count. Of course, this is much easier said than done and is one of the key player skills in Scythe.

You have to plan your turns well in advance, so that you always have resources for bottom row action available. Ok, at the start you can afford a couple of dead turns, but after that, not so much. I still struggle with this aspect a lot. What I did is: I came into a game with absolutely no plan on what to do. I just went along as it seemed appropriate at the time: maybe produce, maybe enlist, maybe build etc. Such experimenting and jumping from one thing to the other is obviously not what you want to do.

My next move was to turn to our uncle Google for answers. Surely, there are guides online that give good tips. And there are – and in this article I will present you what I have learned in a compressed and (hopefully) easy to read way.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

When I started out, I did realize that each faction has its own specialty, but I didn’t know (or care) enough to fully take benefit of that. Well, I (and you) should. Since there are only five factions (in the base game), that shouldn’t be too hard. Combine this with a fact, that every faction has a fixed starting location and you already know which resources are at hand and which are not. (I write about how to play different factions in another article.) Now you only need you mat to start working on the foundations of your game plan.

Have a Plan

At the beginning of the game you should have a rough plan on how you will be getting your stars. Look at your bottom row actions. You are probably going to need to get three of your stars from here. Make sure to focus your efforts. Last thing you want to do is to be one action away from several stars. It’s better to build all four buildings (for example) and then move to finish enlisting. It’s still okay to have an upgrade or two, even if you’re not going for a star in that category. Remember, any bottom row action is better than no row action.

In the beginning you’re going to have to take a couple of dead turns, but that’s ok, if it sets you up for a strong mid-game production cycle. Use your move/produce/trade actions to achieve this. Most guides recommend five workers to be a good number to work with. Ideally, you would then move workers to your desired tiles with mechs, as this is much more efficient.

Now we’re ready to get to business. You should now be in position, that with a combination of trade/produce/x, you take the bottom row action every single turn and really work towards those stars.

Be Flexible

There are not many random factors in Scythe, but there are enough that there is no one overpowered strategy and that you have to approach every game differently. Player mats play a huge part in overall starting strategy, as do your objective cards and (to a slightly lesser extent) which tiles get bonus points for buildings.

Later on, encounters can significantly boost your momentum or turn you to completely different direction (your first encounter is particularly strong since you don’t have many assets yet). And there are those pesky opponents, trying to win the game just like yourself. It’s always wise to keep an eye out on what they are doing and modify your plan, if needed.

If you look closely at their bottom row action plan, you can enlist wisely and reap (free) benefits every turn they do it. And, since at the end, you will likely need that star (or two) from combat, its not stupid to look for chances to get them as cheaply as possible.

The Do’s and Don’ts

  • You can’t over emphasize the importance of popularity. You should decide early on, which bracket you want to finish in. Aim for at lest second. In the early encounters, you have the option to spend popularity to get something (quite large) in return. Don’t do that. It’s also not a good idea to attack workers, since that lowers your popularity too.
  • Speed mech is a very powerful tool to move your workers and get that starting encounter. It should be one of your first mechs (if not the very first). If you have the mine, you don’t have to go for riverwalk to get out of your starting peninsula.
  • Enlistment is often neglected by novice players as it doesn’t give any obvious benefits. But its anything but that – it can give you a lot of coins, popularity, power and combat cards even after you have done your enlisting. So, the sooner you enlist, more rewards you will reap in the future turns.
  • Spread out. This is most true when the end is imminent. You want to control as many territories, when that final points count comes.
  • Keep count on your (and your opponents) coins. Coins really count at the end and you don’t want to be falling behind here.
  • Treat combat as an opportunity, but don’t get distracted by it. It can give you some free stars (particularly awesome if its not even your turn when you get it), but you must consider risks (leaving you vulnerable to counter attacks or losing popularity) carefully. Attack when you can put together enough power to guarantee a win. Then its a bluffing game of how much of that you are actually going to need. If your opponent thinks, he can’t win, he may only put up a very weak resistance, so you can win with little power. Or he may anticipate that, and put more, to catch you off-guard. Or you may anticipate this and … you know the drill. It’s quite an intriguing cat and mouse game, to be honest.
  • Don’t focus too much on the factory, but don’t completely ignore it either. It you can get there first (or if you can control it at the end), the advantages are nice, but don’t sacrifice other aspects, just to get there.
  • Try to be the one to end the game. This has clear advantages: you have more stars and you get to be the last to act (you can get more territories and/or capture resources). But if you’re “not ready to win”, ending the game might not be your best option – perhaps you should acquire more territories or popularity?

Am I Any Better Now?

After doing the research and writing this article, I had to put things into practice. I took Polania out against two medium and two easy AI’s, and I pretty much wiped the floor with them. Here’s the picture – take a look for yourself.

I was really thinking about my moves, my next moves and moves after that. I improved all aspects of my game: controlled plenty of tiles at the end, built next to lakes (that was the objective) and got a lot of stuff out of enlistings. I earned my stars from buildings, enlistings, mechs, power and last two from combat. I also made a mistake in combat where I was trying to be a bit too fancy and lost a fight needlessly, which prolonged the game for two turns.

My popularity is low (still in tier 2), since I’ve gotten two hits from chasing away enemy workers. I’m sure I had a mech upgrade which negates that, but it didn’t work. Either a bug or a game mechanic I still don’t understand thoroughly and something i have to look into. Another aspect I forgot about, were my objective cards. These usually mean one fairly easy earned star, but I completely forgot about them in this game.

Without those setbacks, my win would be even greater, so I can say I certainly improved my game quite a bit.

Conclusion

In the end, this article turned out like a blend of my personal experience and a collection of strategy guidelines and tips. Not exactly what I had in my, but I guess that’s fine too. I hope you learned from my mistakes, just like I did and become a better Scythe player.

Thanks for making it all the way to the end of this blog/article. If you have any questions, as always, post them below.

Vasilij

2 thoughts on “Scythe Strategy: Basic Tips

  1. I am not a serious Scythe player and I have never won even a single game. Probably because I rarely finish a single game. I have never used enlistment as I do not understand what it is there for in the first place. I have ended the game on a few occasions but this has really never done anything for me. Thank you for these great tips. I will be implementing them in my next game to see if I get any better.

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