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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The Tao of Scythe: See the Game from Your Opponent's Point of View

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start of Scythe strategy blog Here)
(Previous blog post Here)

It's been a while since I added to this blog. Recently, I've been thinking about thinking. Here's some of my recent thoughts about how to think about your opponents' thoughts....


It's Not a Single-Player Game
Always keep in mind what your opponents are trying to do. And what their goals are. Scythe is not a Solitaire game, but it can be easy to focus too deeply on your own plans to the exclusion of others'. Your opponents are real people who will not just be letting you do whatever you want. And as a corollary, you shouldn't just let them do whatever they want. Ask yourself "What wouldn't they want me to do?", and then consider doing just that.


Attacking Powerful Opponents
Almost paradoxically, opponents who have a lot of Power - more than 13 Power, but less than 16 - can be a source of a cheap Combat Star. This is especially true if they already have the resources necessary to perform their BRA (Bottom-Row-Action) under Bolster. You can often win Combats here with 2 to 5 Power total.

It is important to always keep your opponents' goals and options in mind. A player who can Bolster for a Max Power Star on their next turn, and who has taken the necessary steps to secure resources for their BRA, is almost certainly planning to do so next turn. What they're really looking to do is Bolster for a Star, and then spend all that Power to win two more Stars. If they spend power and win now, they end up delaying their Max Power Star. And if they spend a lot, there's a good chance they only ever earn 2 Stars instead of 3, because they never manage to get their Power up to 16.

So keep an eye out for situations where you can use this to your advantage. Some indicators that increase likelihood of success are:
1. Opponent at exactly the point where they can Bolster to 17 Power. (i.e. Spending exactly 1 Power is very attractive to them)
2. You see that their 6-Star plan almost certainly will require a Max Power Star
3. They can Bolster next turn and perform the BRA.
4. You're attacking a position that has little value to them. Ideally an isolated Mech.
5. They either don't have a lot of other places to defend, or there aren't players who can move and attack them before their next turn. Otherwise they may be afraid of signalling to everyone that they are unwilling to defend.
6. They already have 2 Combat Stars.
7. They have Workers on their home base, and losing a Combat will actually help them get the Workers off more quickly.
8.You have at least 7 Power and Combat Cards.

If you look for opportunities, Combat Stars can be among the cheapest Stars in the game.


Defend your Stuff
You've got stuff. Lots of it. Workers and Mechs. Territories and Resources. And your opponents really, really want to take that stuff away from you. How does one protect one's stuff? Scythe is a game of deterrence, and the best way to protect your stuff is usually to make it too costly to take. Lets look at the main ways you can do this.

#1: Distance
Often not specifically thought of as a deterrence, distance if often the easiest to achieve. If you can't defend territory or some resources, just move your stuff somewhere else. Your starting peninsula, the corners of the board, lakes, or an inactive player's starting area. One territory is worth as many points as another. If your opponent really wants a particular Hex, sometimes it's best just to move off of it.

#2: Mechs
Mechs are an obvious way to protect your stuff. But rember that they can actually make a territory MORE attractive to attack because winning a Combat gives a Star. So for Mechs to be a deterrent, you need to be sure your opponent sees risk and/or cost in attacking. Having two Mechs on the same territory can make Combat more costly. Even better, having your Mechs, or opponent's Mechs in a position to counterattack can be an even better deterrent.

#3: Workers
Popularity has three discreet tiers. Much of the game will often be spent near the border between two tiers, unsure by how much you'll have to spare when you make it to the next levels, or if you'll make it thete at all. Of course this goes for your opponents as well. Usually, terrories with fewer resources than enemy Workers are just not worth the Popularity hit on their own. In a game where players are concerned about their Popularity, Workers protect the Mechs more than the other way around. You are often better off if you place your Mechs on the territories BEHIND your Workers. Now, your opponents may find that attacking your Workers not only costs them Popularity, but also leaves them where you gain the benefits of being the attacker should Combat ensue.

#4 Time
What is your opponent gaining from attacking you? Often, as in the case of Resources they have to calculate whether they'll have time to use what they've gained. This is why you NEED to keep in mind what BRA is below everyone's Move Action. Whenever you leave those resources out there, you're just daring opponents with the appropriate BRA to Move onto your Workers and spend them immediately. Your Workers on the BRA for Produce are somewhat safer because you can usually ensure you spend them immediately. For other resources corresponding to your opponents' Move Actions, it's safest to Produce right after they've Moved. You are more likely to have time to spend those resources.


"What Would I do?" is the Wrong Question
The correct question is: "What might my opponent do?" While it's tempting to always assume that your opponents will take what you see as the "best" actions, they very well might not. It's always good to have an idea how a particular opponent plays. A risk adverse opponent may be much more likely to take the Default Position when attacking and spend a lot of Power. And you should always account for uncertainty in your opponents' actions. They're not robots and they're not perfect. More importantly: they're not you. Even if they were, there's still asymetrical information in Scythe - they may know something you do not.


An Anecdote of Failure
I recently played a 5-Player game as Rusviet. At one point, I really needed to push the Nords off my farms - both for the Food and because I was boxed in my starting area. They had just moved to defend the territory I wanted for myself, and I saw they were at 13 Power with 3 cards. They had the resources to perform their BRA under Bolster. I attacked their 3 Combat units with 3 of my own. In my mind, this was a show of great commitment to win the Combat.

How much power was I going to spend? Well, I didn't have to decide that yet! I waited to see if they were going to use Artillery and spend 1 Power to cost me 2. If they do not, then I know they are planning to earn their Combat Star next turn and so will commit no Power to Combat - probably only a 2-Power Combat Card if they have one.

Well they did use Artillery, putting them out of range for their Combat Star when they Bolster next turn. I now know they aren't going just roll over for this fight. I commit exactly 1 Power. I expect them to use their Cards and possibly spend quite a bit of Power. My Cards are fairly low - I cannot win if they go all out. So I spend 1 Power and no Cards. I will let them Spend all their Cards and then use my Relentless ability to attack again next turn.

As you can probably guess, the Nords refuse to cooperate. They spend 2 Cards and a bit of Power. Not exactly 100% what I was expecting, but a least not too far off. I draw a low Combat Card and then start going over my plan in my head:

... Yes, I can still attack them next turn with the same 3 Mechs and probably win a Combat on the cheap
...Even after they Bolster for Power, and use Artillery, I'm still over 7 Power and they're close to that Combat Star again
... He probably kept a 4-Power or a 5-Power Card, but he's down to 1 Card to my 3, so worst case scenario I can force a win by...
... Did he just say he Bolstered for Cards?
...Crap
...
...
...Crap.

Opponent goes on to win the game never getting their Power Star at all.

The lesson here: Sometimes the reason your opponents don't do what you would do is because they're smarter than you.

Or at least they're smarter than me. Sometimes - despite the amount of time I've spent thinking about Scythe - sometimes none of the stuff I've written about actually works. Always keep that in mind as you read my blog... in all my writings on the game of Scythe, I've never claimed to be actually be all that GOOD at the game.
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