Scythe: Invaders From Afar is the first expansion for the extremely popular strategic engine-building game. We at Just Push Start loved the base game, with its balanced gameplay and unique factions: you can check out our review of the base game here. The Invaders From Afar expansion adds two new factions into the game, opening up the game for more variety and also an expanded player count, raising the maximum from 5 to 7. However, is the awesomeness of the base game preserved with Invaders From Afar? Let’s find out!
The most important aspect with the new factions being added to the game, as with any similar expansion be it in video games or board games, is if the balance of the game is retained or at least altered fairly. Scythe: Invaders From Afar falls into the later of these categories. As with the original factions there are elements that Clan Albion and Togawa Shogunate both come up second best. Naturally there are ways, new ways, that these factions have significant advantages over the other factions. Therefore, balance is retained.
The green Clan Albion faction, led by Connor & Max, are reminiscent of the Gauls. This isn’t due to them flooding the board in greater numbers. Instead, alongside the boar faction symbols, they are very much movement and combat focused. It is quite nice to see another faction ready to bang the war drums against the black Saxony Empire from the original factions. Combat strength comes from two mech abilities of reducing an opponent’s power by two when attacking and the same effect when defending. This helps to cancel out Saxony’s Disarm ability of reduction an opponent’s power when conflicts occur on tunnel hexes. This caused a change in dynamic when both factions were in play with the two often gravitating their military might towards each other, opening opportunities for others. Partially due to the starting map placement and part for the fun of combat.
The player controlling Clan Albion can place a flag on the board after moving their character. They have four to place throughout the game and once placed flags cannot be moved. Aside from end game scoring benefits these are crucial to the faction’s movement. Unlike the base clans, they do not have the mech ability of Speed. Instead their fourth ability is to move to placed flags, potentially moving the entire length of the map with minimal actions.
The other new faction is the Japanese themed purple army of Togawa Shogunate, commanded by Akiko & Jiro. For me Akiko & Jiro are represented by the best model to grace the Scythe game board, a rather bold statement I know. They just represent something that bit different in style to the others and the animal being a monkey is pretty awesome too! This faction also focuses on military strength, but unlike Clan Albion focusing on solo and lake combat. The Suiton ability allows players to use an additional combat card when in combat on a lake. More interestingly, Ronin gives the Togawa Shogunate player two power for entering into combat with only 1 unit. This means a different strategy is used in combat where multiple mechs is often a disadvantage.
In the same way as with Clan Albion, this faction also does not have the Speed ability and adds markers to the game board. Rather than flags the Togawa Shogunate are equipped with four trap tokens. Placed in the same way as flags these traps activate when opponents move a unit onto the hexagon. These traps have various instant loses for opponents: lose $4, lose 2 popularity, lose 3 power or lose 2 combat cards at random. The key part is until triggered these traps do not display their effect so players may risk landing on a trap only to find out it is the only one of the four they hoped to not come across. These traps might sound powerful but often others will more simply choose to venture around hexagons rather than risk charging through.
One issue that is not caused by the new factions directly is the “need” for the large board expansion. It isn’t in terms for units on the board as players cannot stack up in any greater numbers with the sixth and seventh factions included. Nevertheless, the need for the bigger board comes by trying to sit the 6/7 players around the board more comfortably. I acknowledge that some, myself to some extent included, do not have ample room for the larger board fully set up as it requires a decent sized table. This being said, if looking to play with the full 7 players you’ll need a decent amount of room either way.
One concern which was quickly dispelled by the expansion is how their inclusion affects the base game factions. Stonemaier Games was on top of this and the expansion comes with special rule tweaks for when playing with 6/7 players. For example, the yellow Crimea faction would have a redundant Mech ability when the full player count of 7 was reached. Their Wayfare ability allows them to move a mech or their player character to empty faction base. In the base game this opens a minimum of 2 bases they could move to, a number which naturally increases as the player count drops. Included in the expansion box is a small cardboard chip which fits over the top of this particular mech ability changing it to avoid the specific issue of there being no empty faction bases. Crimea players can instead move to any unoccupied farm. This sounds very strong but remember the additional players then cover more of the map, resulting in less unoccupied farms to move to.
Scythe isn’t exactly a short game to start with. If you are in a gaming group that struggles to already get the game to the table, due to time constraints, the time extension from additional players isn’t going to help. You’re looking at around an additional 20 minutes per player from my experience. Strangely, this extra time can be beneficial to new players, though the size of a 7-player game can be overly daunting for them. Going into the game with 5/6 other experienced players puts them at an immediate disadvantage. However, with additional players comes increased downtime which helps those new to the game work out their next action. This extra downtime can be fine if everyone sticks to the suggestion in the base rules. This sees players starting their top row action when the previous player is finishing off their bottom row action. Otherwise the time extension really starts to show.
The new factions most importantly add something new and different to the base game of Scythe yet the expansion manages to not disrupt the gameplay balance. New mechanics are added into the game is such a way that they feel naturally included and not as an afterthought. The model quality is an extension of the base game’s high standards, especially when it comes to Akiko & Jiro. Will I be trying to play full 7 player games of Scythe again any time soon? Most likely not, just because of the time taken for a game. The opportunity of playing these factions with my more regular player count of 4 is something I will continually be excited to do. For that reason alone, the expansion is a worthy purchase for Scythe players, as long as you can continue to get the game to the table.
[Editor’s Note: Scythe: Invaders From Afar was provided to us by Esdevium Games for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £21.99. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]