Scythe: Modular Board – A World of Difference

  • Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
  • Artist: Jakub Rozalski
  • Publisher: Stonemaier Games
  • Release Date: May 2019

Disclaimer: This expansion was provided to us for review by Stonemaier Games.

Luke: Scythe has been one of my favorite games for a long time, that is undeniable. It’s perhaps one of the oldest games I own at this point, which is a huge mark in its favor considering how often games rotate in and out of my collection.

Phil: I still wake up in the middle of the night hearing the screams of the games of collection’s past.

Luke: But the expansions are a different story.

To me, the first has always been the best, with Invaders From Afar acting as an extension of the original game, sold separately due to pricing the content in a manageable manner and to allow players to move on to the advanced content only when they were ready.

The Wind Gambit has been a hit-and-miss for me and many of the folks in my circle of gamers, enjoying the ideas that they introduce in theory, but rarely choose to include the content into their sessions, as Scythe can already be a heavy game to get to the table.

And while the rest of the world has raved about how much they love The Rise of Fenris, after playing 1 and 3/4ths campaigns of it, I generally didn’t enjoy any of the modules and what they added to the experience. It felt like a box of tools to entice your friends to play because you can now change the thing they didn’t like about the original experience, such as removing combat or adding more combat.

Phil: So this must be one special addition to draw you back to the expansion content.

Luke: Technically, the Modular Board is not sold or marketed as an expansion proper, but instead an aesthetic upgrade of sorts, including a new double-sided board, faction disks, 4 reversible board tiles, and a plethora of new building bonus tiles to shake up end-game scoring.

Phil: Doesn’t seem like a whole lot.

Luke: In terms of its footprint, no, there isn’t much physical merchandise being added here, which is good; Scythe already has so many chunky bits to play with, any more would be far too much. But what this “expansion” adds to the gameplay itself changes Scythe for the better. That is, assuming you’re a seasoned player.

Phil: In the words of Calvin Candie, “You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.”

Luke: At the start of each game, players select one of the 2 sides of the board to use, providing a slightly different layout. Then, the board tiles are randomly laid out in the four main areas of the board, filling in large swaths of the map. Then, faction disks are shuffled and placed randomly in the 8 optional starting locations on the map, with one of these disks acting as an empty region.

Players are then dealt random player boards, dictating the first player, as well as the order players draft their factions, highest value to lowest.

Phil: Hence why you need to be an advanced player to really appreciate what this has to offer.

Luke: Exactly. A new player would have no idea what positioning is good or bad, what resources a certain player board benefits most from, and so on. Thus, they have no idea what a good or bad draft is. And yes, other players can guide them to a fitting choice, but they likely won’t know what are good or bad plays without their hand being held. Scythe is a marvelous game in part due to its nuance and complexity, and the Modular Board heightens this.

Phil: And that’s about it in terms of new “mechanics” beyond the building scoring tiles.

Luke: Yep, and they work just as expected, just adding a burst of variety.

Phil: So clearly you’re very on-board with what this “expansion” offers, what makes this such a stand-out addition?

Luke: Once players have become particularly comfortable with the base game, there isn’t too much in the core system to shake things up. Sure, Encounter Cards and Objective Cards will shake up how each game plays out, but the board remaining stagnant creates a similar experience that players of Terra Mystica had, with certain factions being outright better than others statistically speaking. Not to say this game has that staunch an issue, but its clear that certain factions are better than others.

A new, ever-changing map makes it much harder to determine which faction will be great in a given circumstance. Who knows is Crimea, my personal favorite, will even be a viable pick this time around based on their starting location? Do I really want to select a faction that shares their starting area with a neighboring faction with no river dividing us? Strategy is a lot murkier, injecting each game with adrenaline as each players has to slowly figure out the status quo, much like how it felt in the first 10 or 15 plays of the base game.

Phil: Any reason not to recommend this?

Luke: Again, if you’re a new player, you’ll want to veer away from this for a while, but in my eyes, this ought to be an essential purchase for any fan.

Verdict: The Scythe: Modular Board adds what I’ve wanted from a Scythe expansion all along; controlled unpredictability. It keeps the core game intact in all its glory while also adding nuance to how factions are chosen and the way in which each game plays out. It has revitalized one of my favorite games in a big way, and I’d recommend that any long-time fan of Scythe pick this up as soon as humanly possible.

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