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 7: Combat - How much Power to Spend

John Martorana
United States
New York
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(Start Here)
(Part 6 Here)

[Note: I've been away from this blog a long time. Mostly, my gaming group stopped playing Scythe and I lost a bit of interest in writing about it. But since starting to play the Beta of the new digital version of Scythe (soon to be available via Steam), I find myself wanting to write again... Here we go...]

Winning your first Combat to earn a Star is almost always at least as efficient as earning one of your BRA stars. Even an spending 7 power and 2 cards would likely have cost you no more than 3 Bolsters. And on almost all Player Mats, the BRA below Bolster is earning you 2 or 3 coins, so it's likely one of the BRAs you'll be working towards in any event. (Note: The only exception is the oddly named "Militant" Mat from the Invaders expansion). So it's an unusual game where you're not looking to position yourself to earn at least one Star this way.

As mentioned in Part 6, it's almost always a mistake to attack if your opponent knows they can win the Combat. So, given that your opponent believes you can force a win by spending enough Power and Cards, exactly how much should you be actually spending? The best way to answer this is by considering what I refer to as the "Default Position"

The Default Position
What I mean by the Default Position is where the Attacker spends exactly enough Power and Cards to guarantee victory. The Defender, knowing they can lose no matter how much they spend, spends exactly 1 power and no cards, or 0 Power and a low-value Combat Card so that they at least receive the 1 Card consolation prize. A lot of Combats go this way. For the Attacker, spending both an entire turn and some Power/Cards only to lose territory is an unacceptable waste. For the Defender, assuming that the Attacker does take the Default Position, anything spent on the Combat beyond the minimum is pure waste as well.

In many ways, it is much easier for the Attacker to stray from this Default Position. If the Attacker adopts the Default, the Defender cannot take any particular advantage of his opponent's strategy; all the Defender can do is gain a Card. From the Attacker's perspective, the Default is low-risk and low-variance.

On the other hand, the Attacker CAN take great advantage of a Defender spending only 1 Power. If you KNEW your opponent was going to roll over, you'd only spend a fraction of the Power. Pay attention to how much your opponents are spending when defending. Often if you see an opponent spend the minimum, they're looking to let everyone else waste power so they can attack themselves. They may be waiting to get a Max Power Star. This is the kind of player you can abuse and attack, spending little to gain a Combat Star. (Just DO make sure it looks like you can guarantee a win as outlined in Part 6. Otherwise, they may just take their free off-turn Star)

So the Attacker needs only suspect that his opponent will play reasonably safe to eek out a little extra value. The Defender on the other hand needs to suspect his opponent will veer from a safe, low-variance strategy to put up more than token resistance. In short, you often either need to know your opponent well enough to suspect they'll vary from the Default or have some (usually Faction specific) plan in mind to be spending significant resources while defending.

Seeking Variance
There is a principle in games that the player in the lead should tend to eschew variance, while the players who trail should look for opportunities to ramp the variance up. The idea is that the further behind you are, the more you should be willing to take risks.

This gives us some insight as to when it pays to diverge from the Default Position. If, when attacking, you feel you are comfortably in the lead then you should tend toward spending enough Power to guarantee you win the fight. Similarly, if your opponent has a comfortable lead as they attack, you're best play is usually to spend the minimum.

When the Attacker is behind in the game is when you should most consider veering from the Default Position. If you are the leader and are defending, you may now also have the option of spending some Power. You don't have to spend any; the low-variance option is usually still completely viable. But you can consider the Attacker and the situation:

1. Is the Attacker far behind?
2. Are you far ahead of all the other players?
3. Will guaranteeing a win leave the Attacker unable to make further attacks or defend themselves?
4. Are they the kind of gamer who favors a small chance of winning even if it mean moving them from second place to dead last? (Alternatively, is this a tournament where only winning matters?)

The more "Yes" answers to the above, the more Power you can lean toward spending.

If you are the attacking the leader, you need to consider what to spend. Are you so far behind that you need to gamble? Exactly how much Power and Cards do you need to deter opponents from attacking you? Power's value is discreet and does not scale linearly... If everyone is at Max Power, for example, you might as well guarantee a win because everyone is going to looking to use up their power anyway. If the leader is rather comfortably ahead and everyone is at 5 Power, spending enough to leave you at 7 Power and a couple Cards is a MUCH better result than ending on 4 Power.

Finally, when two players who are both behind in the game are in Combat... now there's a real poker match going on. Both players should often consider taking some risks. Someone who takes a large risk will either come out ahead or even further behind. The best advice is just to know your opponents and try not to be too predictable yourself.

And if you play with the same people over and over, then you really, really do have to try and avoid being too predictable. If I see that a particular player never takes risks in Combat, I will abuse that. On occasion it gives me near complete information about their Combat Cards (e.g. "He must have a 5 and he's going to use it). Don't be that guy.

(Jump to next Scythe Strategy post Here for a different take on Agricultural Polonia.)
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