Scythe—The Rise of Fenris: Episode 2A War

At the end of Episode 1, we voted for War and not Peace. We had no idea how that was going to change the next game, but by the start of set up we found out.

— Spoiler Alert: I am not even going to try to hide anything revealed by the rules for this episode. If you haven’t played Episode 2A yet, I advise you to stop now…unless you like knowing the twists and turns ahead of time, so if you do, read on!

Episode 2A War

Set Up

Basically the nations of Europa have readied for war. Each player starts with 3 upgrades, 1 additional worker in play, 1 structure in play, +4 Popularity, and can purchase a perk for $15. Thus, each side can effectively upgrade their randomized player mat to make production easier. Like maybe a good idea might be to make Deploying a Mech require only 1 resource.

Also, each player could place up to 4 of their stars on other players’ starting points to declare them a “rival”. If you defeat a rival in combat you remove the star and place it on the achievement track and get a bonus of $5.

But the biggest change was yet to come! Packaged in the RoF box was a new double-sided achievement board that you overlay atop the regular achievement list on the map board. The “war” side changes the available achievements to emphasize winning battles and collecting 8+ combat cards.

— The War Achievement Board overlay. Note how some achievements are missing, replaced by more spots for winning battles.

Game Playthrough

Stew drew the number 1 player mat and had to go first. The turn order would be:

Stew-Rusviet Union

Lee-Togawa Shogunate

Neal-Saxony

Bob-Clan Albion

— The start of the game. You can see that my (I am Saxony) two neighbors have put rival stars on my start point.

Rusviet got off to a great start. He built a mech on the first turn and increased his speed. Using his faction power to select the same action on successive turns, he quickly moved his character toward the Factory…but then veered away to reveal his Divide and Conquer objective.

— Rusviet completing an Objective by the third turn

But Stew wasn’t the only player to quickly finish an objective. Lee skillfully manipulated his units to complete his objective a couple of turns thereafter.

— Togawa Shogunate finish their objective early

As each side quickly deployed all their mechs, both the Rusviet and Saxony were able to find a quick victory in combat against a rival. Exploiting their speed, the Rusviet isolated a single Clan Albion mech guarding workers and defeated it. Saxony jumped across the board via a tunnel to defeat a Saxony mech.

–The board after the Rusviet and Saxony victories against rivals

From there the game turned into a real boring affair. Each player had generated 8+ combat cards (one of the new “war” achievements) and had deployed all 4 mechs. Saxony had the most Power, but each faction quickly Bolstered until they too were above 7 Power.

This led to each player concentrating at least 2 mechs and their character (The most units that could move together on a single action) onto a single hex with some human shields, ie workers. Nobody could get their sixth achievement without winning a combat…but nobody could attack without running into 3 units, at least an equal number of cards, and a hex full of workers that would ruin the attacker’s popularity if the attacker won.

— all 4 factions turtled up! The poor Togawa and Clan Albion couldn’t find any way to attack, and the other factions were afraid of ruining their popularity by attacking or losing the attack and giving the game away. Saxony had the best chance to attack, but would have to vacate the 3-hex Factory to do it.

The calculus was simple: if I attack but the defender’s cards are better, I not only lose the game, but I just threw the victory to the player that I attacked. This kind of “kingmaker” situation is ubiquitous in multi-player games and can portend a bad ending: the eventual reckless attack by a player that gets bored.

The Sad Ending

After a few turns of staring at each other with nobody willing to gamble on an attack, we decided to just quit rather than continue. I am pretty sure this ending is not what the game designers envisioned, but it seemed preferable to us rather than just “grinding” more turns of a senseless buildup of resources, Popularity, Power, etc. as nobody wanted to launch a reckless attack that in essence was a coin flip to determine the winner.

We all thought the problem was the rival stars. If each player had been able to take back at least one rival star still uselessly sitting on an opponent’s starting point, the game would’ve ended quickly. Instead those rival stars were “stuck” on the map board preventing a resolution. Another problem was the ability to use those first 3 upgrades to deploy mechs early meant that each side had all their mechs deployed pretty much before anybody could attack anybody else. This was particularly true for Togawa and Clan Albion. Neither has Speed so they couldn’t actually attack because their opponents could see easily avoid unfavorable confrontations.

After calculating ending coin totals, Rusviet won the episode, with Saxony in second. So, the two factions that won a combat did indeed finish higher, but there wasn’t any decisive victory.

Also poor was that the War Achievement board effectively negated the Saxony faction power. Because every faction could get 4 combat achievements, Saxony didn’t have any true advantage from its power to get any number of combat achievements.

The Verdict

In the end, this episode was quite disappointing. The set-up changes didn’t encourage combat, they instead made combat impossible. We all hope that the next episode would be better.

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