Could this be the end of this generation's Catan?
Love it or loathe it, Jamey Stegmaier's Scythe has not only become one of the seminal games of this generation, it's also become something of this generation's Catan. Its uptake reminds of how Settlers of Catan (back when it had its full and proper name) was widely played by just about everyone in the mid to late 1990s, and it has become a game that for many is their first foray into hobby games. I think it's a great game worthy of the attention. Solid, compelling mechanics mesh with a distinctive, painterly style and a strong sense of setting driven by illustrator Jacob Rozalska. It's ubiquitous- wherever folks are gathered to game, somebody has a copy of it. Sometimes all of them do.
For me and my group, however, peak Scythe was really a year or so ago. We've largely moved on from it despite the fact that just about everyone has their own copy and we've been refreshed somewhat with a couple of very good expansions (Invaders from Afar and The Wind Gambit). So with the release of Rise of Fenris, which is being touted as the last add-on, I found myself almost wishing that we had this really quite excellent campaign-focused box of modules all along. I also found myself wishing that there were an analog for the junior version of the game, the brilliant My Little Scythe- a game I am more likely to choose to play moving forward.
But for the legions of Sunday night Scythers and the hordes of players who still can't get enough farming-mech-gone-wild action, Rise of Fenris offers 11 modules brought together under the titular 8-session campaign storyline, and that represents not only a tremendous value but also a major addition to the game. If you are worried about maintaining a regular group, fear not- it's fairly easy to add or drop players and Automa Factory has once again provided an excellent AI. This is definitely a set for more experienced players, however, and I would caution that those new to the game would be better served coming to grips with the game's intricacies without the addition of anything in this kit.
The centerpiece addition and what ties the modules of Rise of Fenris together is the campaign. It features a Wealth resource that can be used to purchase modifiers such as swords and pontoons for your mechs that replace their existing abilities and infrastructure improvement tiles that improve production, offer discounts, and more. There are also one-shot Perks that you can buy that give you a little bonus here and there impart a good sense of development over time. I especially like how each player must record the stars they earn in a game categorically, and when they complete a row or column kind of bingo card they get a $25 reward that counts toward winning the game. This simple grid encourages players to engage with all of the performance metrics over the course of the campaign.
The campaign is cool with a full storyline written for it that involves some rather unexpected personalities. Each episode offers its own special parameters and rewards with some branching options that impact the way subsequent episodes are played. Key game materials are kept in secret boxes and are revealed as you play, and if you don't already know (i.e. you haven't peeked) some of the reveals are pretty awesome. In fact, I am reticent to mention some of this game's most important additions because it should be as much of a surprise as possible
Suffice to say, opening Boxes A-E are all pretty thrilling as far as opening new game materials goes. Especially the big reveal in box D after what happens in episode 5, where you actually put box C on the factory as a discovery incentive. The big finale is completely bonkers and possibly weird depending on the path it takes. It's worth sticking through to the end to see, even if you solo through with Automata. I'm not sure there's much replay in the campaign game, but the modules you unlock through it are totally playable with one-off sessions and in any arrangement you see fit. And if you really want to, you can reset everything- there are no destructible or single-use items in this legacy game.
I like that at the end of the campaign, everything is listed out and the exact impact of the module on the game is spelled out so you can easily pick and choose which you want to use. And there's also a co-op module, which I didn't try, so you can go that route if you so choose. I'm not quite sure of the appeal there, but as a wise internet poster once posted, YMMV.
Rise of Fenris is a sweeping, epic module that caps off the Scythe product line. Best suited for advanced players, there is much to explore and even if you are burned out on the core game there is plenty here that may put a little more gas in the tank. What this add-on will not do, however, is convince those who aren't onboard the Scythe train to hop on and in fact it may drive them further way.. I'm very glad I got to play it all and see Mr. Stegmeier bring this game to a sort of conclusion, but I'm also ready to move on from it all. If this really is the final Scythe release, it's been a great run.
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