Scythe Strategy: A Definitive Guide

| |

Spread the love

Scythe is one of the most popular games released in the last decade. It’s engine building mechanics and non-combative, yet competitive gameplay made it a go-to for a lot of board game groups. It still currently ranks as one of the top strategy games on Board Game Geek.

The game is very strategic with some element of luck in the player-mat and faction combos that can be drawn. I’ve made this guide with the help of this analytic data on Scythe from hundreds of games. So I have no doubt that these strategies are some of the best that can be used in the game.

We’ll jump into some strategies that you will need to use for any faction before diving into faction-specific strategies. These won

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Overview

The overall strategy for Scythe is pretty straightforward for every faction in the game. It involves 4 key steps which help you build your engine that will eventually finish the game:

  1. Get off your starting island
  2. Start chaining top and bottom actions
  3. Build workers
  4. Max out specific actions for your strategy

If you accomplish those steps you will build a good engine and you’ll have a good starting position to win the game. From here it will depend on what faction and play may you have. We’ll go over the most efficient offensive strategies for each. Before we jump into that, let’s go over defense strategies that are also useful to any faction.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Defense

The #1 reason newer players come dead last in a game of Scythe is that they miss this key strategy: watch what other people are doing. This game lends itself to being enveloped in your own moves and planning out the next 5.

It makes it very easy to not realize what your opponents are planning and how they intend to use their next 5 moves. If you watch what your opponents are doing closely, you can easily throw their plans off and turn the tables in a tough game.

However, your opponents will be watching what you’re doing as well, so plan for contingency and have some backup plans.

Just focusing on what else is going on in the game outside your next move will help you win.It’s worth talking a little about defense since this is going to be your best bet at keeping that carefully constructed plan intact despite your faction or player mat. Making your resources to costly to go after is the best way to deter opponents. There are 4 basic ways to deter your opponents:


#1: Mechs

This is an obvious way to keep your opponents from pushing your workers off resources and land. Although it may seem like it, this isn’t the best way to deter enemies because there is one major drawback: combat stars.

If you’re in a position where you can’t spend power, your opponents will take their opportunity to get an combat star. It doesn’t help that these are some of the easiest stars in the game to get, which makes an easily won battle very attractive.


#2: Workers

Although I’ve titled this as workers, they actually represent popularity. Often an opponent will happily attack a mech for a combat star but won’t be willing to take a popularity hit for the workers on the tile.

You can also add to the deterrence here by putting some mechs one hex away from workers, this will allow you to threaten an attack the turn after they take the tile. Combining popularity loss and a combat loss plus a combat star is usually too much of a negative for someone to decide to take a tile.


#3: Distance

If your opponent is aggressive and wants a specific space, sometimes the best strategy is to just put as much distance between their units and yours as possible. Of course, the negative here is that you will spend time moving your units. This isn’t the best resort, but it is extremely effective.


#4: Situational Awareness

This is the most vague and hardest to use of the deterrence tactics. Yet, I have found that’s it’s often the most effective and all around the best option, if you know how to use it.

Here is one example of great situational awareness: your opponent does not have the resources to use the bottom row action of their move but they do for every other action, therefore they are extremely unlikely to attack next turn because the move will not be efficient. 

However, if you have all of that resource they need to use the bottom row action on one space, that space should be heavily defended or moved. As you can see, this heavily depends on the situation. Being able to judge what will happen based on the situation can lead to the best deterrence in the game.


Tips and Tricks

Here are some useful tips and tricks that you can explore as you get more comfortable playing Scythe and each faction:

  • It’s worth trying a 0 popularity rush game where you just bash your enemies into submission. It can be a successful strategy and your opponents won’t see it coming.
  • It’s possible by most play mat and faction combos to use a bottom row action by move two. Either your trade or produce bottom row actions will cost three and can be rushed.
  • It’s worth trying to place a star for the bottom row action that will earn you 3 coins. It’s one of the most efficient stars that you can place.
  • Set up the end game so that you can win by placing 2 stars at once. It’s a huge point swing and your opponents usually won’t see it coming.
  • Being efficient with resources is a huge tell. If someone has very few resources on the board, generally it means they are in a good position to win the game.
  • Moving your faction leader to an encounter before moving your workers can be a good move. The encounter may change where your workers should be placed.

Factions

There are 5 base factions and 2 expansion factions in Scythe:

  1. Crimea
  2. Rusviet
  3. Polania
  4. Nordic
  5. Saxony
  6. Albion
  7. Togawa

Factions are at the core of what will determine your strategy in the game. Each faction has its own special ability, starting position, mechs, and backstory. There are two factions (Albion and Togawa) that are included in an expansion for the game called Invaders from Afar.

The game is pretty well balanced but some factions tend to be easier to play while others can be extremely powerful if you learn to use their ability efficiently. The way I have listed the factions above is what I believe to be from most to least powerful.

With all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the strategy for each faction, their best playmat combinations, and their starting position.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

#1: Crimea

Faction Ability

Once per turn, you may spend 1 combat card as if it were any 1 resource token.

Mechs

  • Riverwalk
  • Wayfare
  • Scout
  • Speed

Player Mat Matchup

  1. Patriotic – Wins 35%
  2. Mechnanical – Wins 13%
  3. Industrial – Wins 13%
  4. Agricultural – Wins 11%
  5. Innovative – Wins 10%
  6. Engineering – Wins 8%
  7. Militant – Wins 7%

Crimea Strategy

Due to the faction ability, Crimea can leverage the bolster action as a trade. There are a few major advantages over the trade action: the cards can’t be stolen, can become any resource, and can serve as combat cards if needed.Combat cards essentially become the key resource of the game for Crimea.

Additionally, if you can use the bottom action of bolster, you can net yourself two coins with each use of the action!

So there is a lot going for this faction but we have a few priorities to make sure we get a strong start to the game:

  1. Build a monument.
  2. Increased mobility.

Building a monument is the first thing we should try to do as Crimea. It will get the popularity flowing, which is a huge factor in winning the game. At the same time, we need to think about mobility to move off of our section of the map. Fortunately, the Riverwalk and Wayfare mech are  an easy way to accomplish that.

Once we have some mobility, there are 2 easy targets for us early game: the Nords and Rusviets. The Nords can be bullied early in the game and we could potentially steal all of their cards in the first attack.

Bullying them early in the game can be especially useful if the expansion faction near you is not used, since the Nords will most likely challenge you for it.

As for the Rusviets, there is a tactic we will cover in the Rusviet section called “the rushing reds” which has the Rusviets at the factory early in the game. Unlike most other factions, we can stop this strategy in its tracks and send the Rusviets back to their base with just a power card that is around a 5. Watch for “the rushing reds” tactic to be played and be ready to counter it.


#2: Rusviet

Faction Ability

You may choose the same section on your Player Mat as the previous turn.

Mechs

  • Riverwalk
  • Township
  • People’s Army
  • Speed

Player Mat Matchup

  1. Patriotic – Wins 18%
  2. Agricultural – Wins 16%
  3. Innovative – Wins 16%
  4. Engineering – Wins 15%
  5. Industrial – Wins 13%
  6. Mechanical – Wins 12%
  7. Militant – Wins 9%

Rusviet Strategy

This faction is arguably the strongest in the game and one of the most difficult to counter. It’s also one of the most straight forward to play and strategize with which makes it the go-to choice for any new players to the group.

As for strategy, the most obvious is rushing the township mech ability which will get you the factory quickly and area control over the middle of the map. This is a huge advantage. With the starting location of the Rusviets, they can easily have all of their workers and a mech built by turn 5, so this strategy will take shape very quickly. One key mechanic of township that can be overlooked: you can hop from any village to the factory to any other village you control.

With the mobility that you’ll have one you have built your township and speed mechs, encounters should be somewhere on your list of priorities since they will be easy enough to pick up.

Now for the downsides to the faction that you’ll have to watch out for. First, building all of your workers will make it harder to maintain popularity. Every time you produce after 4 workers, you’ll be dropping points. This is easily countered with enlistment bonuses and you should definitely keep that in mind.

Secondly, you’ll be making progress so quickly that you risk using up a bottom row action like building mechs which will lose some efficiency. Timing your upgrades and mechs being built can help keep your efficiency high.


- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

#3: Polania

Faction Ability

Pick up to 2 options per encounter card.

Mechs

  • Riverwalk
  • Submerge
  • Camaraderie
  • Speed

Player Mat Matchup

  1. Agricultural – Wins 23%
  2.  Patriotic – Wins 17%
  3. Engineering – Wins 13%
  4. Mechanical – Wins 13%
  5. Militant – Wins 13%
  6. Industrial – Wins 12%
  7. Innovative – Wins 8%

Polania Strategy

The starting position for this faction doesn’t have many resources, so most good strategies for will focus around mobility. Unlocking submerge and using tunnels effectively will get you to the resources that you’ll need and will also give you access to most encounters on the map.

You’ll want to pick up as many encounters as possible to maximize the faction ability.Their ability is great for quick swings in advantage but there is a key to using it: keep an open mind on what directions and tactics you will use to win. The encounters can give you some great opportunities to change tactics mid-game and blindside your opponents.

With the submerge and camaraderie mechs, Polania can use combat as an effective strategy to control the game as well. The submerge mech will also give you some good deterrence by being able to move into water tiles when you want to avoid being attacked. 

In addition, the camaraderie mech allows you to be aggressive and place early combat stars or leave them to be placed last and end the game on whenever you are in a position to. All without sacrificing any popularity.

Being aggressive early on can lead to some great star placement leads without any real negatives. Luckily, this faction has a lot of access to nearby faction homelands with the submerge ability.

The Nords and Rusviets can actually be boxed in completely with good placement of units.You don’t need to take a combative approach but at the very least, threatening your opponents with attacks in their homeland will stifle their plans to expand.


#4: Nordic

Faction Ability

Your workers may move across rivers.

Mechs

  • Riverwalk
  • Seaworthy
  • Artillery
  • Speed

Player Mat Matchup

  1. Agricultural – Wins 20%
  2. Engineering – Wins 20%
  3. Patriotic – Wins 17%
  4. Mechanical – Wins 15%
  5. Industrial – Wins 15%
  6. Militant – Wins 7%
  7. Innovative – Wins 6%

Nordic Strategy

The central part of this faction is the ability to move across water immediately. This ability can lead to some very interesting tactics that are hard to counter by the other factions. Here is Jamey Stagmeir’s, the creator of Scythe, thoughts on the faction:

I think the Nordic faction ability is mainly good early in the game for production flexibility and creation flexibility–you can build structures on key territories before other players, and you can deploy mechs outside of your homeland without needing riverwalk.

Then sometimes later in the game for moving across rivers into other faction homelands to claim those territories without much of a threat (if those factions are inactive).

Because of the flexibility offered by the Nordic faction early in the game, I consider it the best faction for a new player to play.

Jamey Stegmaier

The most obvious and one of the most effective uses of their faction ability is to spread workers out as quickly as possible. Gathering resources off the starting tiles early in the and controlling the area can give the Nords a powerful start. However, you will sacrifice a few turns of bottom actions to set this up.

The set up leads to a slow start but can pay off big time in a longer game. To add even more weight to the strategy, you can get all of your workers out as quickly as possible. You can start producing to get your engine running and utilize tunnels to get your workers to far-reaching areas of the map.

At that point, your opponents will either be forced to take a popularity loss to take a tile you have a worker on or take time to move around your workers.The seafaring ability can also be very useful for mechs. For starters, the ability can be used as a deterrent for combat. Here’s how the moves would play out if someone tries to attack you:

  1. Get attacked by opponent and use low level combat card or lose 1 power.
  2. Retreat across a river.
  3. Attack next turn with an added combat card.

Your opponents will lose some tempo and likely give you a combat star in the process .Additionally, this is the only faction that can strategically skip the riverwalk mech and move on to other mechs.

It can be a huge advantage to have some of the other mech abilities while your opponents are trying to leave their starting island.


#5: Saxony

Faction Ability

There is no limit to the number of stars you can place from completing objectives and winning combat.

Mechs

  • Riverwalk
  • Underpass
  • Disarm
  • Speed

Player Mat Matchup

  1. Militant – Wins 21%
  2. Patriotic – Wins 20%
  3. Agricultural – Wins 15%
  4. Engineering – Wins 13%
  5. Mechanical – Wins 10%
  6. Industrial – Wins 10%
  7. Innovative – Wins 9%

Saxony Strategy

Based on their ability, it appears that Saxony is a war-monger faction. Don’t be fooled, even for this faction combat isn’t the only strategy. In longer games it can even be a bad strategy.

If you focus too much on combat, you will lose time and popularity while your opponents build engines for the late game. Outside of combat, there are some great strategies that this faction can leverage.

Let’s start off with their position on the map: They are one of the only factions that can take advantage of oil or metal at the start. Early in the game you can use this to get a quick upgrade or mech deployment. They are also one of the only factions positioned near 2 encounters which can give them a significant edge early in the game.

On top of their good starting position, they have some great mobility mechanics in the underpass and speed mechs. This makes area control a piece of cake, gets you to resources quickly, and gives you an easy way to grab encounters.

And as for the more combative strategy’s, there are plenty. Your opponents are less likely to attack you since a loss would give you a star and shorten the game. Because of that, it’s easy to control the combat in the game. You don’t just want to dive into any fight though, pick your battles carefully.

A lone mech is an easy target for an attack. Send two of your mechs at it and you’ve got pretty good odds of walking away with a combat star. No popularity loss means there’s really no negative to grabbing stars this way. You can repeat it as many times as possible and save the last star for when you’re in a winning position.

Because of this, the best combative Saxony game is a short one. Ending the game quickly through grabbing territory and gaining combat stars will leave your opponents with very little time to get their engines going. However, if you’re going to play this way you’ll need to horde your popularity which means building fewer workers.


#6: Albion

Faction Ability

After moving your character, you may place a Flag token on its territory.

Mechs

  • Burrow
  • Sword
  • Shield
  • Rally

Player Mat Matchup

  1. Patriotic – Wins 20%
  2. Militant – Wins 20%
  3. Engineering – Wins 19%
  4. Agricultural – Wins 15%
  5. Mechanical – Wins 10%
  6. Innovative – Wins 9%
  7. Industrial – Wins 7%

Albion Strategy

This is the first expansion faction on this list and these expansion factions are notably harder to play than the base factions.

Albion has an interesting new flag placement mechanic and mech abilities. Notably, this faction doesn’t have the speed mech which is replaced with the rally mech. They start off with access to pretty much everything except wood, which wouldn’t be particularly useful anyway. The general strategy with this faction will be to get our engine going and increase mobility through the rally mech ability.

The faction has a hard time building up mobility but can be quite fast once a few workers are built and flags are placed. So that will be our main priority when playing this faction. After we have increased mobility, we will be a serious combat threat to our opponents and that should definitely be used to our advantage.

This faction can be extremely effective at dropping multiple units to a point quickly and overwhelming the enemies. Because of this,  holding off on getting combat cards to end the game is a useful strategy since you can swing the point score significantly by pushing units off territories and ending the game on your flags.


#7: Togawa

Faction Ability

After moving your character, you may place an armed Trap token in its territory.

Mechs

  • Toka
  • Suiton
  • Ronin
  • Shinobi

Player Mat Matchup

  1. Agricultural – Wins 21%
  2. Patriotic – Wins 19%
  3. Innovative – Wins 15%
  4. Mechanical – Wins 12%
  5. Militant – Wins 12%
  6. Engineering – Wins 10%
  7. Industrial – Wins 10%

Togawa Strategy

This is the other expansion faction and is equally hard to master. Like the Albion faction, they also do not have a speed mech.

The starting area is large and has every resource in the game, which is a great starting point. However, they have very little mobility. The lack of a speed mech also means there isn’t anything that speeds them up either. So tunnels will be a big part of the Togawa strategy. Using them to get around the map and place traps are essential to this faction.

One major negative of the faction is that they do not start off with any power. That is something that will need to be addressed while you play. Power will need to be gained before even resources since it is required for building 4-5 workers (a key component in this engine building game).

Naturally you would go for upgrades if you can’t build workers, but the village is so far away from oil that it will eat away at your factions efficiency to move a worker over. Finally, when you can spare a worker or a mech, you’ll be eating 2 movement turns to get there. This is definitely something to keep in mind while you play this faction.

Naturally you would go for upgrades if you can’t build workers, but the village is so far away from oil that it will eat away at your factions efficiency to move a worker over. Finally, when you can spare a worker or a mech, you’ll be eating 2 movement turns to get there. This is definitely something to keep in mind while you play this faction.

It’s hard to decide to go for the oil for an upgrade or metal to build a mech. And that ultimately embodies this faction. There are tough choices all around and no one strategy stands out as king.


Previous

Best Board Game Cafes in Chicago

Ticket to Ride vs Catan: A Buying Guide

Next

2 thoughts on “Scythe Strategy: A Definitive Guide”

  1. Thanks. Really Useful Guide. Impressed with the metrics based on games played.
    (I was hoping for a slightly simpler guide on how to play the various Player Mats, so a link to a simple Scytheguide would help….or please write one! ).

    • Thanks Patrick! I’ve received some great response for this guide from the Scythe community, so there is definitely more to come. A simple guide on play mats would be easy for me to put together, so I’ll add it to the list of planned articles.

Comments are closed.