Scythe is one of my favourite board games of the last few years, and having missed its first expansion I was super excited to drop back into the game to test out its second, the airship-based Wind Gambit.
Having begun as a game about mechs and workers stomping their boots around the grasslands of an alternate-universe Eastern Europe, Wind Gambit adds an aerial element to the game by giving each faction a giant floating ship.
Despite all seven ships being identical in every way except colour (the game’s mechs differ between factions), they look amazing. They’re huge miniatures, propped up on clear little display stands, and seeing them tower over the other figures in the game is a sight to behold.
As for their actual use, think of them as more peaceful long-range mechs. While not being able to enter combat or drive off enemy workers like their ground-based counterparts, Wind Gambit’s airships excel at shifting workers and resources around the map, as they’re able to move multiple hexes and don’t care what kind of terrain they’re flying over.
One of the frustrations I have with Scythe’s early game is that the restrictions on the movement of your units can feel suffocating, at least until you can afford to start deploying mechs (and thus upgrade your ability to cross rivers and lakes).
Wind Gambit almost completely solves this. You don’t have to build your airship, it’s simply there at your disposal at the start of the game, free of cost, meaning you can immediately begin dropping workers off at the best hexes near your home base, and quickly move resources long distances if need be.
This makes the early moves of the game not just more liberating, but exciting as well, as it can bring you into contact with your neighbours a lot quicker, and make non-combat moves like pushing workers around and stealing resources a more common occurrence for the first 20-30 minutes of a game.
Once the game settles in, though, I found the airships’ basic appeal a bit less useful. As soon as players have spread their early wings and reached the limits of territorial expansion, there wasn’t much a single airship could do that couldn’t be handled by the more capable mechs, of which most players would have 2-3 of by now. There’s less need to quickly ship workers around the map, and their lack of direct combat power means they’re not as effective in a fight as they look.
There are exceptions to this, though, depending on which of two new decks of cards players choose to employ alongside the base game. See, Wind Gambit doesn’t just include seven plastic airships, but also a new set of cards that can provide specific victory conditions and triggers, along with a second new deck that adds specific powers to your aerial units.
From game to game, the range and capabilities of your airships will vary depending on which cards from this latter deck are drawn and applied to a particular session. Some will allow the airships to move three hexes, others may let them deploy mechs like a dieselpunk airdrop. The mileage you get from your airships will vary, then, depending on which of these cards you draw/decide to play with.
Yet out of everything in this expansion it’s the new victory conditions that affect the way Scythe is played the most dramatically. Previously the end of the game would be triggered as soon as the first player was able to place six star tokens on the victory track; now there are all kinds of new ways to end the game, from the central factory exploding to being the last player to have a wilderness encounter.
Scythe knows how important this is, because in the documentation itself it recommends that groups dig through the deck, find the triggers that best suit their style of play and use them. My crew, for instance, rarely engage in combat, and are usually more interested in roaming the map harvesting resources and upgrading, so the “exploding factory” condition really suited us. If your friends prefer to duke it out, a “King of the Hill” card—where players are rewarded for being in control of the factory—will be more your style.
Wind Gambit could have simply added airships to the game and it would have been fine. They’re the most visually impressive thing about a game that has made much of its name from looking good, and aside from adding new features to Scythe have also addressed one of the few annoyances players had with the base game.
But it’s the victory conditions that really make Wind Gambit; Scythe’s original approach to winning was always a solitary and almost secret affair, and lent itself to established strategies settling in. So just as it’s great to see the airships add more flavour to the opening of the game, it’s nice that the end of the game has been spiced up as well.