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Scythe

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See aggregated Scythe reviews and ratings here.

 
Scythe mobile board game app

Overall Rating: 5/10

While Scythe is an excellent tabletop game, its mobile adaptation falls well short of its potential. Its downfall is that it is too uncompromising in its attempt to preserve all of the visual aspects of the physical game, which leads to a subpar experience in a digital format and especially on a mobile screen. Adding in other issues — no undo button in multiplayer games, a poor tutorial, weak AI — leads us to advise looking elsewhere for everyone other than the most ardent fans of the original game.

What we like about this adaptation

There are some things Scythe gets right. It does a better job than many other digital games of showing you what other players are doing on their turns — not just with a game log, which helps, but also by animating their turns for you. Your opponents’ actions in Scythe matter more to your strategy than in some other games, and this feature makes it easier to keep up.

Replay of AI opponent's turn | Scythe mobile board game app
Replay of AI opponent's turn

Scythe also provides you with access to all of the information you “should” have in a digital game. At any point in the game you can check any player’s stats, including running totals of their score — a basic feature that every game should have, in our view, but that is too often omitted. While not always easy to find, anything that the app could count or keep track of to make your life easier will appear somewhere.

The app is quite visually appealing; the tabletop game is known for its original artwork, all of which is ported into the mobile game.

Original game artwork in background of game opening screen | Scythe mobile board game app
Original game artwork in background of game opening screen

There’s a cinematic flair to how it replays turns, and a pleasant soundtrack. Someone watching a game being played by others, as opposed to having to interact with the game themselves, would likely find it more enjoyable viewing than almost any other board game app.

Why we don’t recommend it

The problem, of course, is that this is a game, not a movie. Scythe’s digital implementation includes a number of frustrating choices that make playing much more tedious and difficult than it should be.

First, the layout. Scythe spreads the information you need across — wait for it — eight different screens (the main game board and seven screens within the menu).


Each of the seven icons in the top left is a different informational screen | Scythe mobile board game app
Each of the seven icons in the top left is a different informational screen

It can be difficult to remember what information lives where, leading players to toggle through screens until they can find what they’re looking for.

Screen real estate is also not used efficiently within menus or the main game board screen. Everything seems to have been modeled off of the original game without sufficient thought to how it might be adapted and condensed in a digital format.


For example: the game is designed to be played in widescreen on your phone, and the game board is roughly a square. However, the “player mats”, which take up considerable space, are placed as boxes along the bottom of the screen. Even when zoomed all the way out (which makes the pieces on the board impossibly small) you can't see the entire board — and yet there is plenty of unused space to the left and right.


Even zoomed out fully, the bottom of the board is cut off by the player mat — while the grey map on either side serves no purpose | Scythe mobile board game app
Even zoomed out fully, the bottom of the board is cut off by the player mat — while the grey map on either side serves no purpose

Presumably, placing player mats at the bottom was considered a natural choice because when playing the physical tabletop game that’s where they’d be (right in front of the player, closer to them than the shared board). For the digital game, though, it would make much better use of space to put the player mat on one side or the other (and perhaps move the scoring and resources tracking at the top of the screen to one side as well).

In addition to layout issues, Scythe also commits the all-too-common sin of having no undo option in online multiplayer games, even partway through an action during your own turn. Accidentally move the wrong piece due to their finicky movement UI? That's probably two turns down the drain.

New players will be unimpressed by the tutorial — I ended up just finding a pdf of the original game’s rules instead. Digital games should have a big leg up in teaching the game to new players given their interactive potential; if you’re losing to the rulebook, that’s a bad sign. And finally, for experienced players, the AI is unlikely to be challenging.

Closing thoughts

There is perhaps a very specific constituency for this adaptation — players who already know the game’s rules, who aren’t interested in solo play against an AI, and who place a high premium on preserving the look and feel of the physical game. Beyond that group, though, we do not recommend this digital adaptation of Scythe.


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