Scythe Strategy and Planning (+Scythe-960)

My thoughts on Scythe strategy. Also expanded to include updates on my foray into randomly generating more Scythe content...
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Part 6: Combat - Why and When

John Martorana
United States
New York
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(Start Here)
(Part 5 Here)

Despite Scythe having a bit of a reputation of "not being a wargame", combat is a significant part of the game. And while it's true that most turns will go by without and battles taking place, the threat of combat looms over you the entire game. It can helpful to maintain a healthy Cold War mentality. You and your opponents will spend most of the game waiting, poised to strike when it most benefits you. So let's start the discussion by trying to answer a few basic questions about combat.

Why to Attack
The most obvious reason to attack an opponent's units is to gain a Star. You can earn up to 2 Stars for Combat (more if you're Saxony) and in some way they can be the "cheapest" Stars you can earn. While BRA (bottom row action) Stars take a minimum of 4 Actions and a good number of Resources to earn, Combat Stars take as little as 1 Action and a little bit of Power under ideal circumstances. In almost any game, you'll be planning on earning at least one Combat Star simply because if you don't then someone who did will likely be ending the game on their turn.

Winning a Combat for your 6th Star also tends to be am incredibly efficient way to score a few more points. You end the game with at least 1 more Star than your opponents, usually spread out to a few more territories (while costing one opponent a territory of his own), and deny your opponents another turn in which they could have scored more points themselves.

The other main reason to attack is usually to steal some Resources (Wood, Oil, etc). If one of the other Players has left a large pile of Resources where you can attack (whether or not they have a Mech there), you need to consider whether it's worth attacking. You're almost certainly going to incur a Popularity loss. And because there will rarely be more than one production cycle of resources on a Hex, the amount of Popularity you lose is usually going to be proportional to how many Resources you can steal. So just attacking unprotected Workers for Resources is often a mistake unless your late in the game and you've calculated that you're sure to end the game in the same Popularity Tier. Also, you must be able to spend those Resources fast: either the Resources you're stealing are needed for the BRA of your Move action, or you need to be very sure no other Player can get there with their next Move and just steal the Resources from you. Unless you've done the Popularity calculation and can guarantee you'll be able to spend the Resources, it's often the case that it wasn't worth stealing them in the first place.

Another obvious, reason to attack someone it that you need that specific Hex. It could be the Factory, some place you really want to put a Building, or you need it to satisfy an Objective.

A final reason to attack is to cripple an opponent. As in any multiplayer game, when one player spends resources to hurt anorher, it's everyone else who benefits. But, you do need to consider exactly how bad being attacked will be for your opponent. Completely removing them from the game (for example, sending 2 Mechs and their Character back home) is usually worth a little extra investment.

Overall, remember this: you don't have to have only one reason to attack an opponent. Sending 4 of your opponent's Workers home probably isn't worth the hit to your Popularity even if it does set one opponent back. But if you're also sending his Character home, earning a Combat Star, and stealing a bunch of Wood that you use to Build a Monument this turn, now that may very well be worth the Popularity it will cost you.

Why you'll get attacked
A quick corollary to all this is that your opponents will be looking to attack you for exactly the same reasons. It's very important to try and not to paint a target on your back and to try and appear to be a costly target. You want your opponents to think you're not worth attacking.

Don't pile all your resources in one place within striking distance of your opponents. Be very aware that when you choose to take Resources from an Encounter that they go on the Hex of the Encounter itself. If you can't spend them immediately, you've created a situation where winning Combat against you sends your Character back home, grants your opponent a Star, gives them Resources, and doesn't cost them the popularity that Worker-Produced Resources usually do. So don't chose to take any Resources from Encounters that you can't guarantee you can spend before being attacked.

Don't spend all your power and Combat Cards in one attack that will just leave you vulnerable to having everything you own sent back to your Home Base - your opponents will gang up on you for cheap Stars if they smell blood. You can end up seeing yourself attacked multiple times in a single turn.

Be wary of opponents who are very low on Popularity. Popularity can't go negative, so your Workers really aren't a deterrent to them. They're now targets and a liability. At some point in the game, an opponent can come to the decision that they're just not going to hit Tier 2 Popularity, and it can be costly not to realize the new threat they now pose.

When to Attack
With the reasons to attack now laid out, let's consider the idea of WHEN it's a good time to attack.

Usually, you need to be in a position to guarantee a win in order to make an attack. Note: I am NOT saying that you necessarily will be choosing to spend enough Power and Cards to guarantee a win - only that you should avoid Combat if that is not an option. (More on how much to spend later.) At a minimum, your opponent should be unlikely to be able to guarantee a win himself. Otherwise, there is a good chance he will choose to win; earning a Star on your opponent's turn is pretty much the most action-efficient way to earn one.

Next, you have to look at the board and see if other Players can counterattack you on the next turn, and if so how much you care about being forced to retreat. Being forced to retreat a single Mech isn't that costly, for example. It's not a bad idea to ensure that after your combat you'll still be a costly target - have some Power and Combat Cards left over.

What frequently happens in Scythe is that one Player will attack to earn a Combat Star. Now that he's weaker, another Player will attack him. Of course, now THAT Player is weaker... It is usually most advantageous to be on the tail end of one of these chain of attacks. Just because you can earn a Combat Star now doesn't mean you can't also wait for a better opportunity that will cost you less Power.

Finally, if you're over 11 or 12 Power, you want to consider delaying your attack. Especially do so if it is relatively early in the game because there will likely be numerous opportunities for Combat later. The "free" Star you earn at 16 Power also puts you in excellent position to quickly earn 2 more Stars for Combat, even if you have to overspend Power on them. On the other hand, if it's late in the game and you can't guarantee time to both max out power and also win two Combats. You probably don't want to give up an easy Combat Star now for a max Power Star several turns later. Even assuming you earn the Power Star you're unlikely to end up with more total Stars by the games end. And always remember that games of Scythe can end rather suddenly. So the later in the game it it, the more you lean toward earning Stars NOW.

... looks like Combat's going to require at least another post or so. In Part 7 will look at some thoughts on how much Power to spend on Combat, and possibly some useful combat-related tactics.
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