After the Great War, the nations of Europa are still recovering and rebuilding. But strange rumors abound of soldiers with glowing eyes. Nikola Tesla, the architect of the mechs and automachines, has gone missing. What course will history take?
What Is Scythe: The Rise of Fenris?
Scythe: The Rise of Fenris is the third and final expansion for Scythe from Stonemaier Games. It’s for 1 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, and takes 75-150 minutes to play. (If you have the Invaders from Afar expansion, it goes up to 7 players.) It will release on August 17, 2018, with a pre-release at Gen Con, and will retail for $55. You can currently pre-order for Gen Con pickup at the Stonemaier Games website, or get a list of retailers that are taking pre-orders.
The Spoiler-Free Section
As I mentioned in my spoiler-free peek, Scythe: The Rise of Fenris has two modes of play: one is a campaign that plays over the course of 8 “episodes,” during which you will be directed to open certain boxes or punch out particular tokens from the punchboard. While it is not a legacy-style game because everything can be reset and played again, there are surprises both in the storyline and in what components are inside the mystery boxes.
The second mode is as a modular expansion: there are 13 different modules that you can mix and match as you please, including options for cooperative play and solo play. You don’t have to play the campaign to use the modules, but knowing the contents of the boxes does spoil some of the surprise of the campaign, though the storyline and outcomes of the campaign would still be something of a surprise.
In case you’re on the fence but you don’t want spoilers, here’s what I can tell you: I played through the 8-episode campaign with a group of five players: myself, my daughters, a friend, and his daughter. We met several times over about 8 days, starting with one practice round of the Scythe base game, and then diving right into the campaign. My daughters and I had played Scythe before but my friend and his daughter were both new to it. The campaign introduces new rules gradually, adding in one or two modules per episode, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by it.
We all really enjoyed the story—each episode includes a short introductory story section along with the setup differences and special rules. It also lists the episode goals, which always include “win the game” but often also direct you to do something else … though you don’t know why exactly. The spiral-bound book means you can fold the book so that you don’t see the outcomes until you finish the game. Once you finish the episode, there’s another section of story that explains what happens, and then rules about what happens next, including how those secondary goals play into things.
We had a lot of fun trying to figure out how to pursue victory in the game while also chasing after these secondary goals, because we discovered that they would affect how the story played out, or convey some sort of advantage on the player who completed them. Getting to open the boxes was always a real treat. I also really liked the way that the episodes directed us toward different approaches because of the secondary goals—it forced us to rethink how we used our faction and mech abilities rather than playing out the same tactics every time.
The component quality is comparable to the rest of the Scythe series, with plastic, wooden, and cardboard components. My only complaint is with a particular set of tiles where the border edges don’t quite line up perfectly and so it doesn’t look uniform—it has no effect on gameplay, but it’s aesthetically bothersome.
Now that we’ve finished the campaign, we know the effects of the secondary goals and where the story is going, but I think I’d still be interested in playing it again, to see if I could improve my results the next time around, but also because the story can play out slightly differently depending on the choices players make.
There are some of the modules that I definitely think will see a lot of use as we play Scythe in the future, and some that I think will be less popular depending on the particular group of players. But overall, I think if you’ve been a fan of Scythe and you play it a lot, you’ll probably enjoy the experience of playing through the campaign.
One last note before we get into the spoilers! Meeple Source has an upgrade kit for The Rise of Fenris, so if you’ve gotten their previous upgrade kits, you may want to check this one out, too. You can see their previous upgrades for Scythe here to get an idea of what they look like. This kit is designed to be spoiler-free: the influence tokens you can see are used right from the start so they don’t need to be hidden, but the other contents are in opaque bags, marked so you know which bag to open them with. Unfortunately I didn’t have these for the first playthrough of the campaign, but I’ve now added them to the appropriate boxes so that the next time I play we’ll have a fully upgraded set. You can order the kits at the Meeple Source website.
Finally: please do not repost or share the photos below without proper spoiler warnings!
For ease of navigation, here are the sections of this post:
- Walkthrough of my experience of the campaign (directly below)
- Closer look at the components
- Run-through of all the modular expansions
- My verdict with spoilers
Scythe: The Rise of Fenris Campaign
Usually, I start my reviews with a photo and list of all the components, but this time I’d like to show how the story reveals the components as you go. If you want to just skip ahead to “what’s in the box,” feel free to jump to the next section. Since you can download a copy of the rulebook here, I’ll give a quick overview of how the campaign played out for me, but without getting into tiny details.
Each player gets a campaign log. The idea is that your ending score each game is added to your wealth, which can be spent for mods and perks. Each perk may only be used once per campaign, and you may only use one perk per episode, for a cost of $15 from your wealth. On the triumph log, you mark the stars you’ve earned in each game—if you manage to complete rows or columns, it will be worth extra money for your final score. (Your wealth, on the other hand, is use-it-or-lose-it: it doesn’t add to your final score, so you’re encouraged to spend it on perks and mods as you’re able to.)
The ultimate goal of the campaign is to win episode 8.
Episode 1: A New Era
All you know going into the first episode is that there are strange rumors, that people are finding cool technology at the factory, and that the nations of Europa are still trying to decide what the future holds. For this episode, we all started using the five factions from the base game, though I was a little hesitant to take Saxony since I don’t generally like to focus on combat.
Everyone got to use one setup perk for free if desired. We started the game with influence tokens on each space of the triumph track, plus a random objective card placed near the track (with an influence token on it). The extra objective was a public objective that any number of players could fulfill and place a star on. The first player to place a star on any space (or the extra objective) claims the influence token.
The episode goals are to win the game, and earn influence tokens. At the end of this episode, everyone got 1 more influence token. Then, everyone simultaneously used their influence tokens to vote for war or peace—the more influence tokens you got, the more votes you got. Our group voted for peace—which didn’t seem ideal for Saxony, alas. I won the game, but lost the vote.
Episode 2b: Peace
(Episode 2a is War, so if we had voted differently we would have had a different experience.) Europa voted for peace, so this game was all about infrastructure and exploration. Each player got their faction’s alliance token, and we were allowed to make an alliance with one other player, trading tokens. The token grants you two things: some amount of money, and a faction ability. Essentially, you are loaning your ally the use of your faction ability. In this case, everyone wanted to ally with my older daughter as Rusviet (whose ability is that they can choose the same space on your player mat every turn), but she allied with her sister as the Nordics (whose workers can cross rivers). Crimea refused to allow anyone access to her “use combat cards as resources” ability, especially since those combat cards were much less valuable in peacetime, so Saxony and the Nordics allied, giving Crimea $5 as the “odd one out.” If you turn on your ally, you lose the ability and it will cost you $10 at the end of the game—but nobody broke any alliances in our game.
This episode used the Peace triumph track, which replaces the regular track on the board—it has no combat or power spaces, and instead awards stars for having 3 encounters, collecting a factory card, or amassing 16 resources. The episode goals were to win the game and build structures.
Well, I managed to get a bunch of stars out as Saxony, though my low popularity did not result in a win. Instead, the Rusviets won this time. Our rewards were the infrastructure mods—each player got to draw 2, plus 1 more for each structure they built. We got to keep 1 mod for free, and could pay $50 per mod (from our accumulated wealth) for additional mods. A couple of the players got the coveted “Assembly Line” mod, which lets you deploy a mech without spending any metal once per episode! I was jealous.
Episode 3: A Plea From Vesna
Vesna, Nikola Tesla’s daughter, sent out a plea to the nations of Europa, asking for help. Mercenaries have broken into the inner hold of the factory and captured Tesla, forcing him to work on his latest mechs.
In this scenario, you shuffle the Vesna factory card into the factory deck, plus 4 more cards than usual. Each time you enter the factory, you get an influence token, and then you get to draw cards according to the number of influence tokens you have, and you’re looking for the Vesna card. The more you search, the better your odds. The episode goals are to win the game, gain influence, and find Vesna.
Because the Rusviet has a mech ability that allows it to jump to the factory from a village, there’s a special token that changes that ability for this scenario. Instead, they replace it with a Township ability that lets it jump from village to village. Unfortunately, most of us didn’t really consider the implications (other than that my daughter couldn’t go straight for the factory): she used her Assembly Line ability right at the start to deploy her mech and activate Township, and then jumped from village to village, picking up several encounters before we knew what hit us.
Meanwhile, my other daughter managed to get a couple mechs so that her character could get to the factory. She took the first factory card she drew, and then just switched between her factory card and her move action, basically entering the factory almost every turn. She amassed a lot of influence and found the Vesna card, and the rest of us barely got any influence at all.
My daughter didn’t win the game—that went to my friend Wink, playing as Polania—but the player who found Vesna got to open Box A and to play as the new Vesna faction. (If nobody found her, then the player who won the game would have controlled Vesna, much to Wink’s chagrin.) Influence tokens were spent on setup bonuses, which give you a permanent boost to money, popularity, or power, so my daughter did get several of those.
We were allowed to purchase additional mods with our wealth, and also to change factions. I’d had enough of Saxony (my extra objective or combat stars did not earn me anything on my triumph log), so I switched to Nordic Kingdoms since my daughter was taking Vesna. Wink’s daughter decided to switch from Crimea to Togawa for a change of pace. By about this time, I was the only player who did not have an Assembly Line mod. (I later discovered that there are only 4 copies of it in the game.)
Vesna starts with 3 factory cards, but may only use each factory card once. Her faction board only has two mech abilities—Riverwalk and Speed—and the other two are blank. At the beginning of each game, she gets to draw from a pile of 18 mech abilities and decide which ones she wants to use—including replacing Riverwalk and Speed if desired.
Episode 4: Fenris
Well, we rescued Vesna from the factory, but Nikola Tesla was still missing. Meanwhile, the creepy soldiers were turning up again, calling themselves “Fenris.”
In this episode, we opened up Box A to find little orange soldier meeples—these were placed on all of the tunnel hexes and the factory. The episode goals were to win the game and subdue Fenris agents. As soon as you walk onto a Fenris agent, you draw a combat card—you must spend that much power, popularity, or money to equal the card in order to subdue the agent. If you can’t afford it, you leave the agent and move back.
Of course I managed to draw a “5” combat card when I encountered an agent, while my Rusviet daughter—now with the ability to jump to the factory again—drew “2”s for the two agents on the factory. In this episode, the game ended either when somebody got their 6th star on the track (as usual) or when the last Fenris agent was subdued. We knew that getting Fenris agents was important, but so was getting stars on the triumph track and building up wealth, and we weren’t sure if there would be some sort of different ending if we captured all the agents.
My daughter rushed the game and captured several of the agents, resulting in the shortest episode of our campaign, and we had very few stars on the triumph track this time, and not much wealth. She did manage to chalk up another win for Rusviet, though. Fenris agents earned you setup bonuses, but ending the game in that manner didn’t change any other outcomes. We also unlocked the mech mods at the end of this scenario, which allowed everyone to purchase new mech abilities (in addition to the infrastructure mods).
Episode 5: Factory Fortress
So, it turns out that Fenris has been pulling some strings behind the scenes in Europa and causing a bunch of international tensions, and the suspicion is that they’ve set themselves up at the factory. Time to go investigate.
This episode starts with Box C sitting on the factory hex like a giant monolith, and influence tokens on several of the surrounding hexes. If you move onto an influence token, you immediately stop moving and pick up the token, which costs you $1 at the end of the game. If you get to the factory, you get to open the box and find out what’s inside. The episode goals are to win the game and open the mystery box—which the rulebook says contains an “alternative end-game condition.”
Vesna (played my younger daughter) was the first to make it to the factory and opened the box… finding inside the Annihilator, a giant orange mech that towered over everything else. The new end-game condition was to defeat the Annihilator in combat.
Each round, just before her turn, my daughter rolled the two dice, and chose one to be the Annihilator’s combat power (placing it on the power track). When you fight it, you set your power and cards, and then draw 3 more cards from the combat deck to add to the Annihilator’s strength. Win, and you get your combat star and end the game.
Well, there were many attempts to attack the Annihilator, and my daughter tended to choose high values on the dice when she didn’t think she could reach the factory for combat, and low values when she thought she’d have a chance to attack (because she would get the first crack at it after rolling). The factory and some surrounding hexes got pretty crowded, particularly because we were all keen to avoid the influence tokens. But nobody had good enough cards to overpower the Annihilator.
I finally had a clear path through a lake (thanks to the Nordic Kingdom’s Seaworthy ability) and slipped two mechs onto the factory hex on a round when the Annihilator’s strength was low. (And I noticed that the Rusviets were gathering for another attempt.) I emerged victorious—not only did I topple the Annihilator, but I also won the episode by a slim margin (thanks to that last combat star). Because it took us some time to build up to attacking, though, the game still lasted about the usual length.
The rewards in this episode were that the player who destroyed the Annihilator got to open Box D, which we had all figured out by now included the Fenris faction. (If nobody vanquished the Annihilator, then the winner of the episode would do the honors.)
Episode 6: Annihilation
The secret was out: Fenris had been building up power and influence, and Grigori Rasputin revealed himself as the leader of the faction. Fenris had infiltrated one of the nations, and had now revealed their true face.
This episode didn’t use any special rules—it was just about introducing the Fenris faction and their ridiculously oversized mechs.
I took up residence at the Albion base. Fenris’ faction ability was placing influence tokens—every time Rasputin moved, he could place a token on his space and another unoccupied space. The influence tokens interrupted movement for other players, who had to pick them up. Each influence token was worth -$1 at the end of the game—including the ones I didn’t manage to get rid of.
The Fenris mechs had four abilities: Leap, to jump over spaces when moving; Horrify, to give opponents influence tokens when you forced their units to retreat; Death Ray, to play any number of combat cards of the same value; and Fanatical, to teleport to places you had influence tokens. Leap seemed like a good early ability to unlock because it sort of combined Riverwalk and Speed (neither of which I had). Death Ray was extremely useful, particularly because I tended to draw lots of “2” cards. It meant that other players were very wary of attacking me when I had a lot of cards in my hand, because they didn’t know if I could play all of them.
Despite the scary-looking mechs, Fenris did not win this round. Polania was victorious again, and players were allowed to switch factions again if they chose. Wink’s daughter decided to switch back to Crimea, finding Togawa a little trickier to play.
Episode 7: The Search for Tesla
With Fenris out in the open, Vesna redoubled her efforts to find her father, and called on all the nations to do the same.
This episode adds one more encounter token (or, in our case, a $50 coin as a substitute) on the factory hex. It also used the opposite side of the War/Peace triumph track that we used in the second game: in our case, since we had peace for Episode 2b, this time we were at War. The War track has extra spaces for combat, and for amassing 8 combat cards. Workers and popularity don’t earn stars.
In this episode, when you have an encounter, you keep the encounter token—if you collect enough, then you have found Tesla. (In a 5-player game, you needed to find 4 encounters.) The game ends either when somebody finds Tesla, or when somebody gets their 6th star on the triumph track.
Having learned our lesson in Episode 4, we knew that rushing to an alternate ending might be disadvantageous, particularly going into the last episode. There were only two more opportunities to earn stars for our triumph logs. On the other hand, nobody wanted anyone else to find Tesla. My older daughter argued that she was just picking up 3 encounter tokens so that she could end the game when she wanted to. Meanwhile, several players (myself included) staked out encounter areas with mechs, hoping to fight off other characters if they arrived.
In the end, Wink’s daughter as Crimea was able to use her Wayfare ability and her purchased Township mech mod to claim 3 encounter tokens, and then staked out the last encounter location with a pile of mechs and workers, guaranteeing a big fight and popularity cost for anyone who dared enter it. She had control over when the game would end, resulting in a couple of tense will-she-or-won’t-she rounds while we tried to maximize our score without knowing how many rounds we had left. I know I made several ill-advised choices, thinking the game was ending sooner than it did.
In the end, though, she took the last encounter before anyone else managed to reach 6 stars, finding Tesla and opening Box E (you can see the photo up in the spoiler-free section). We all had our guesses what Tesla would look like, and my daughter suggested that he was the guy riding the monowheel on one of the factory cards we’d seen.
Sure enough, the miniature shows Tesla riding a very similar monowheel vehicle (though a bit larger).
The game ended in yet another victory for Rusviet, though there were no other special outcomes for the end of the game.
Episode 8a: A New Era
And now, for our final episode.
Because Tesla was found, we played Episode 8a. (If he hadn’t been found, we would play Episode 8b: Mad Tesla.) Tesla joined the Crimea Khanate, since they rescued him. His miniature acts as both a character and a mech: he can transport workers and resources, have encounters, claim factory cards, and use all of your mech abilities.
We also had a few new setup rules. First, we were able to choose our player mats instead of having them randomly dealt, starting with the player who had the most accumulated wealth. We also used the triumph tiles to randomize the triumph track, so we had a new mix of ways to earn stars: upgrades and recruits were out; encounters, factory cards, and combat cards were in.
Finally each of us had to place 3 stars on the hexes adjacent to the factory—you had to go retrieve those stars before you could use them, so you were limited to only 3 stars at the beginning of the game. The goal this time? WIN!
It was a hard-fought battle. I tried to use my influence tokens to interfere with other players as they tried to get to their extra stars. A couple of the other players used the Stealth mech mod to sneak past the influence tokens or avoid combat. Crimea used Tesla to scoop up a lot of encounters.
At the end of the game, each star we earned could be marked for any column of the triumph log (though only one per column). Your score for the game (before bonuses) is doubled. We checked off our stars, tallied up our scores, and added triumph bonuses…
All my scheming wasn’t nearly enough. (Did I mention that everyone but me was able to deploy a free mech on their first turn?) Victory went to Rusviet, with a score of $283. Polania came in second at $257.
At the end, we also got our ratings in three types of leadership: your ending score determines your rank in economic leadership. Your stars for certain columns and infrastructure mods determine your governance leadership. And your mech mods and other stars determine your military leadership. Each one gives you an A, B, or C rank. Then the winner gets to read the concluding story, which tells what life in Europa was like after they rose to power.
It turned out that my daughter was a triple-A leader, so she had the best possible outcome… at least until Fenris rises again.
Scythe: The Rise of Fenris Components
So, here’s everything you get in the box of boxes:
- Vesna Faction components
- Faction board
- Combat dial
- Home Base token
- Airship miniature
- 4 Mech miniatures
- Character miniature
- Action pawn
- Power token
- Popularity token
- 8 Worker meeples
- 6 Star tokens
- 6 Upgrade cubes
- 4 Structures (Mine, Monument, Armory, Mill)
- 4 Recruit tokens
- 18 Mech Ability tokens
- Vesna Factory card
- Fenris Faction components
- Faction board
- Combat dial
- Home Base token
- Airship miniature
- 4 Mech miniatures
- Character miniature
- Action pawn
- Power token
- Popularity token
- 8 Worker meeples
- 6 Star tokens
- 6 Upgrade cubes
- 4 Structures (Mine, Monument, Armory, Mill)
- 4 Recruit tokens
- 16 Influence tokens
- Mad Tesla tile
- Tesla miniature
- Desolation tile
- War/Peace Triumph Track
- 21 Triumph Tiles (including 5 Desolation tiles)
- Rusviet “Township” Mech ability tile
- 2 Dice
- 9 Alliance tokens
- 9 Automa tokens
- 41 Mech Mod tiles
- 32 Infrastructure Mod tiles
As you can see, there’s a lot included in the box. The punchboards are numbered and you are instructed not to look at them until the rules tell you to punch something out. The two large boxes contain the bulk of the faction components and have molded plastic trays—but if you want to combine this with your existing Scythe set into a single box, you may have trouble getting everything to fit unless you ditch the plastic trays. (Or, save up for the “Legendary” storage box.)
I’ll get into more details about the specific components in the modules breakdown below, but a few notes about some of the components. Both new factions have combat dials, so each player can have their own dedicated combat dial in their faction color—even though you really only need 2 dials for the entire game because there are never more than two people fighting at once. I always thought it was a little strange because now I have 9 combat dials total (including the Invaders From Afar expansion) but, hey, if you like color coding then you’ll want one for each faction.
We also noticed that the power token from the new factions look a little lumpier than the tokens from the base game—the shapes are more rounded and so they don’t match exactly, though it’s close enough and didn’t really impair my enjoyment of the game.
There was some controversy recently about the art for Scythe, which I know for many is one of the first things that drew them to the game. Jakub Rozalski’s artwork is what inspired Jamey Stegmaier to design the game, and has been a key part of the game’s success, but there are some accusations that he has used photo references and other artwork as the basis for his digital paintings without giving credit to the original sources. I think that’s a discussion outside the scope of this article, but I think it’s reasonable to disclose in case you would like to do your own research about it.
And here’s a look at the Meeple Source upgrade kit. You get 8 painted worker meeples for both the Vesna and Fenris factions, plus the custom action pawn with the faction symbol on the end. In addition, you get 16 wooden influence tokens that are used throughout the campaign to replace the cardboard tokens that are included in the game.
I really enjoy the Meeple Source bits for Scythe, and I love the way these turned out. The Fenris agents are delightfully creepy, with the orange wood showing through as the glowing eyes. The influence tokens are printed on both sides, which is a nice touch—no flipping them all over to the right side. Meeple Source has two upgrade kits: the “complete” kit includes everything you see above, and the “partial” kit includes the influence tokens and the two action pawns.
Scythe: The Rise of Fenris Modular Expansions
There are 13 modules that you can mix and match as you choose. The campaign introduces these in a particular way, but after you’ve finished the campaign (or if you want to skip it entirely), you can decide for yourself which modules to use.
The mech mods have a variety of different powers—some of them match powers that certain factions already have, but there are also abilities that are completely new. When using this module, you shuffle the mech mod tiles, let everyone draw 4 (redraw duplicates), and then choose up to 2 to use. These mods go on your faction board and cover up existing mech abilities, so you’ll have to decide which abilities you’re willing to trade out. There are two or three copies of each ability.
This module gives you upgrades to your infrastructure. Like the mech mods module, you draw 4 tiles at random (redrawing duplicates) and keep 2 of them next to your player mat. Each one may be used once during the game, and is then flipped face-down.
Four of the infrastructure mods correspond to the four bottom-row actions on your player mat, making that action free, so you might be able to deploy a mech for free instead of spending metal. There are two mods that apply to combat, one that doubles your production for a turn, and one that helps you deal with bad publicity.
War/Peace Triumph Tracks
This actually counts as two mods, though you can only use one or the other: it’s a double-sided triumph track that replaces the track printed on the board. The War track emphasizes combat (naturally), so you can win up to 4 stars through combat, and you can get a star for upgrades or structures but not both. You can’t earn stars for workers or popularity, but you can earn a star for amassing 8 combat cards.
The Peace track has no stars for combat, and only allows a star for mechs or recruits. You can earn two stars for completing objectives (and you draw a new objective card when completing one), and there are three new stars available: having 3 encounters, getting a factory card, and controlling 16 resources on the board.
There are regular 16 Triumph tiles, which can be randomized and placed on the triumph track on the board to add some variety to the goals of the game. The tiles include all of the new options seen on the War and Peace tracks, and you just mix them up and pick 10 to use each game. These are the components that I mentioned were printed oddly—you can see in the photo above that the brown borders are not uniform on the top and bottom of each tile.
Rivals is designed to be used with the War triumph track, but doesn’t have to be. At the beginning of the game, you may place some of your stars (up to 2 with the regular triumph track, 4 with the War triumph track) on any opponents’ home bases, including placing more than one star on the same base. Those stars may only be earned through winning combat. If you earn a star by defeating the opponent whose base it’s on, you earn an extra $5 as a bonus. You may take a star from a different player’s base when you win combat to put it on the triumph track, but you won’t earn the $5. (You can’t use this module with the Peace triumph track, because there are no combat stars there.)
Each player starts with their own alliance token at setup—these are large cardboard tokens that have the faction icons on them, along with a coin value and an ability. The back side shows a $10 value (though it seems like it should show “-$10” instead). At any point during the game, you’re allowed to make an alliance with another player—you trade alliance tokens, and immediately collect the coin value printed on the token you receive, as well as the ability printed on it. (With an odd number of players, if you ever become the “odd one out” without an alliance, then you immediately get $5 from the bank.)
If you ever attack your ally or force their workers off a territory, you have broken the alliance. You flip your token over, negating the ability, and you will lose $10 at the end of the game (indicated on the back of the token). Your former ally can continue using the ability you gave them unless they break the alliance on their end.
Vesna is one of the new factions, and can be mixed into the game just like the other factions. (Note: the Vesna factory card is only used for the specific episode and has no function otherwise.) There’s an airship included so that if you have the Wind Gambit expansion, you’ll have a matching miniature. There is a home base tile, because there isn’t a Vesna home base on the game board. Instead, Vesna starts on a home base of an unused faction.
Vesna’s animal mascot is Voltan, and seems to be a robotic fox. The mechs look kind of like four-legged teapots, and bear a little resemblance to a mech seen on one of the factory cards (and also seen in the background of the Vesna factory card).
Vesna’s faction ability is “Technophile”: she starts the game with 3 extra factory cards, and can still gain one more by visiting the factory. However, each time she uses a factory card, it is discarded.
Vesna’s faction mat only has two mech abilities printed on it: Riverwalk (to and from structures) and Speed, with two blank spaces. There are 18 mech ability tiles (similar to the mech mods, but with light blue borders): at the beginning of each game, the Vesna player draws 6 of these at random, and then may choose to keep up to 4 of them. (Note that if the player keeps more than 2, they will cover up Riverwalk and/or Speed.)
Fenris is the other new faction, headed up by Rasputin (though you’ll have to play through the campaign to see how he fits into the story), who appears to have some mechanical mods himself. His animal mascot is Likho, the owl, and if you look carefully at the quest cards in my review of My Little Scythe, you’ll see that there’s a bit of an Easter egg there, which my kids were particularly tickled to discover.
Fenris also has an airship so that you can use the Wind Gambit expansion, and then the standard set of faction components. He also has a home base tile, which is placed on any unused home base during setup. The most prominent feature of the Fenris faction, though, is the size of the Annihilator mechs. They’re huge and imposing, standing higher even than the top of the airship. Size isn’t everything, of course, but it’s a lot of fun to stomp around the board with these mechs.
Fenris’ faction ability is “Influence”: any time his character moves, he may place an influence token into his space, and then another influence token on an unoccupied, tokenless, primary terrain territory (i.e., not the factory or lake). Any time another player moves onto a hex with an influence token, the movement ends and the player must pick up the influence token. Each influence tokens (including any the Fenris player has left) is worth -$1 at the end of the game.
Fenris has four unique mech abilities that do not include the usual Riverwalk and Speed. Leap is sort of combination of both: you may skip over territories when moving, which can get you over rivers. It’s a bit like Riverwalk + Speed, but in a straight line. Horrify allows you to give an opponent an influence token for each unit (mech, character, or worker) that you send home when you attack. Death Ray (my favorite) lets you play any number of combat cards in a fight, as long as they’re all the same value. The downside is that even if you have multiple units involved in combat, you still may only play one value of card. Finally, Fanatical lets you teleport to spaces with influence tokens, but then you must pick up the token.
Nikola Tesla (who also appears in the back story and the campaign storyline) has his own miniature, which is used in two modules. The first is as a player-controlled miniature: The first player to collect 3 encounter tokens gains the Tesla miniature, which is placed on the hex where the third encounter occurred. Tesla counts as both a mech and a character: he has all of your unlocked mech abilities and can carry workers and resources, but he can also gain factory cards and have encounters like a character.
Alternatively, Tesla can also be used as a boost for a player who is at a disadvantage: you can just assign Tesla to a player, in which case he starts on that player’s home base.
This module uses Tesla as an automated character who wreaks havoc throughout the game. You use the Mad Tesla tile (shown above) and Tesla starts on the factory hex. Tesla’s health (marked with an unused faction’s popularity token) is marked on the power track and starts at 16, and Tesla takes a turn after the last player.
Tesla moves randomly—you roll a die and move him in the direction shown on the Mad Tesla tile. If he doesn’t initiate combat with his first move, you roll the second die and move him a second time. He can move over rivers and onto lakes, and if he moves off the board he shows up back at the factory. He doesn’t interact with any of the other tokens like traps or influence markers.
If you fight Tesla, you gain 1 popularity, and then Tesla’s base power is equal to the top 2 combat cards in the discard pile. (At setup, you discard the top 2 cards.) After you set your combat dial and cards, you roll the orange die and add its value to his base power for his total combat strength. Tesla retreats to the factory whether you win or lose, but if you win you also gain another popularity and may gain a combat star. In addition, if you win a combat you may reduce Tesla’s health by the difference between your combat power and his. If you reduce Tesla’s health to 0, you gain $10, finish your turn, and the game ends immediately.
This last module is for a fully cooperative game, and uses the desolation tile as well as the additional marked triumph tiles. You randomize the triumph track with the tiles. You’ll need the miniatures from an unused faction: the 4 mechs, character, and Tesla are placed on the 6 hexes surrounding the factory, and the Desolation faction starts with 18 popularity (which serves as a timer), and the blue die on 12 popularity as a reminder. The Desolation faction’s starting power is determined by drawing a combat card. During the cooperative game, all players may only transport their own units as usual, but players may share space on hexes rather than fighting. Resources are shared, so you can spend resources that are controlled by any player.
The Desolation faction takes its turn after the last player. Reduce its popularity by 1. If it’s between 13 and 17, the turn is over. If it’s 12 or lower (and encounters the die), you roll the die and all of the Desolation units move in the indicated direction, crossing rivers and moving onto lakes as needed. If it moves onto a player’s workers, they’re sent home. If there are resources, the Desolation unit takes them with it.
The Desolation faction gets one die for its combat strength, and will draw more combat cards the more of its units have been defeated, making it stronger and stronger. The Desolation faction, unlike Mad Tesla, can win combat stars (placed on the desolation tile). If the 6th star is placed, all players lose. If you win, you destroy the unit and remove it from the board.
The goal of the game is to get at least 1 star on every triumph tile, or destroy all 6 units.
The last module is for multiplayer automa, and is recommended only for players who are already familiar with the automa rules for Scythe. It’s a “semi-official” variant, and allows you to play with any combination of human and automa players. The variant rules have been around in an online form, but they’ve been added here to the printed rulebook mostly as a nicety, with several disclaimers about the fact that it has not had the testing and development that the rest of Scythe has had. Play at your own risk!
Why You Should Play Scythe: The Rise of Fenris
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of Scythe—based on Dave Banks’ original review, I backed the Kickstarter, and also bought the Invaders From Afar and Wind Gambit expansions (though I haven’t broken out the airships yet). I know some people who were expecting it to be much more of a battle-based game because of the mechs and the appearance of the game, and so they found it disappointing, but that’s one of the things I actually like about it. There can be battles, but they’re costly, so victory often requires a more balanced approach. That said, I like that there’s room for each player to pursue different tactics, because there are 10 categories for earning triumphs but you can only earn 6 of them at most.
With The Rise of Fenris, I wasn’t sure what to expect—how much the campaign could be replayed, and how much I would like the various modules. Having played it, I do think I want another shot at the campaign, because I think I would change up some of my strategies the next time around. It’s a bit like watching a movie or reading a book: I enjoyed it the first time largely for the “what’s going to happen next?” moments, but now that I know the overall plot I can still enjoy re-experiencing the details. I don’t know how often I’ll play 8 games of Scythe in a row, though, so I do like the opportunity to mix and match the modules.
The biggest additions, of course, are the two new factions, and I think for many Scythe fans those may be worth the price of entry alone. Both factions can be a bit tricky to master, though, so although in our campaign we were all racing to get access to them, they may actually be a disadvantage for the player who acquires them, particularly if everyone already has some experience with their factions. It’s always fun to play a new faction, of course, but it won’t be easy.
Vesna is something of a chameleon: a lot of her mech abilities copy those of other factions, but you won’t always get your favorite and you have to figure out the best combination with what you draw. Her Riverwalk ability is to/from structures, so you often have to focus on building a structure along with your mech in order to start expanding your territory. Vesna’s faction power, starting with 3 factory cards, can give you a nice early advantage, but you can only use each card once. My daughter had a tendency to save up those factory cards for later use, sometimes running out of time, so I encouraged her to use them early, particularly for the movement before everyone was able to get Speed activated.
Fenris, on the other hand, is an aggressive faction, with two mech abilities that are focused on combat. Not only that, but Horrify only applies when you are the attacker, so to get the most out of your mechs, you need to go on the offensive. Fanatical (combined with your character’s ability to drop influence tokens far and wide) can help you teleport vast distances across the board, but the downside is that you have to pick up the influence tokens when you teleport there—and you can never teleport directly to encounters because you can only place tokens on unoccupied, tokenless spaces. I spent most games working to place influence tokens on the board, both to interfere with other players and to get them out of my supply: you’re basically starting the game with a $16 debt, and it was hard for me to know whether I’d given enough of them away to ignore the rest.
I liked the variant triumph tracks: War, Peace, and the randomized tiles. It’s another way to direct people toward particular strategies, which can then force people out of their comfort zones.
The mech mods are also a lot of fun, letting you customize your mechs a bit or try out an ability that you’ve coveted from another faction. The infrastructure mods felt a little less fair to me—though I admit that may be sour grapes from my campaign experience. Although there are four mods that let you get bottom-row actions for free, I contend that getting a mech for free may be the most valuable, and can convey the largest early-game advantage, and since there are four of them, it stings particularly in a 5-player game. Still, I think they’re a neat way to provide some one-time bonuses that can help direct strategy for a player.
I haven’t played the Desolation module yet, but I may give that a shot if I have friends who want to try Scythe but are wary of playing competitively. I’ll admit that I probably won’t use the multiplayer automa much, though those who are primarily solo gamers may appreciate that. There aren’t a lot of components specific to it, so I wouldn’t say that the automa themselves would be a sufficient reason to get the expansion, only if you’re planning to play through the campaign solo.
Since I’ve only played the campaign once so far, I can’t make any definitive claims about the balance between factions, but we did all agree that the Rusviet faction was, if not the strongest, at least the easiest to use. Its power—the ability to repeat the same action—felt like playing Scythe on easy mode because it removed the difficulty of chaining together actions. That, combined with its Township mech ability, also made it possible for Rusviet to sweep across the board to get to encounters or the Factory much more quickly than the rest of us. I suppose there are ways to overcome that, but I don’t think we found any solid strategies against it.
Saxony, on the other hand, felt like it had a disadvantage, particularly because of the triumph log. My ability to place extra stars on the triumph track for combat and objectives could help me score more (or end the game), but those extra stars did not carry over to the triumph log, which factored into the last game’s score. That, coupled with the second episode focused on peace, meant that I earned three stars that could not be spent on the triumph log, which could have completed some extra rows or columns. I’m not sure what the best solution for that is, but it sort of felt like having a useless faction ability. I’m not super experienced with Scythe, though, so I’d be curious to see what other approaches players will take with these two factions.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed the campaign experience. It was a blast to get together several times that week to play Scythe, and my kids and I were excited each day to learn not only what new wrinkles the game would introduce but also the unfolding storyline. I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out, and I definitely enjoy having two more factions to choose from for future games.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game (and the Meeple Source upgrade kit) for review purposes.