Scythe has been all the rage since 2016 when it was first published, followed by a number of expansions and add-ons, namely:
- Realistic resource tokens (2015)
- Invaders for Afar (2016)
- Board extension (2016)
- Legendary Box (2017)
- The Wind Gambit (2017)
- Metal Mechs (2018)
- The Rise of Fenris (2018)
- Encounters (2018)
- Complete rulebook (2020)
Today we are going to discuss about the Modular Board add-on which provides a new way of playing the game with a board that changes everytime you play along with some extra goodies. This add-on was published in 2019 and it was designed by Jamie Stegmaier, the creator of Scythe with graphic design and layout by Christine Santana. Let’s see the full contents of this bundle (it is delivered shrinkwrapped and doesn’t have a box):
- A double-sided board
- 4 double-sided hex tiles
- 7 home base tiles
- 1 inactive home base tile
- 8 structure bonus tiles
The gameboard is double-sided and features some hexes with fixed positions on the board and 4 empty spaces which are filled with the hex tiles provided in the bundle. On the edges of the gameboard there are 8 special places for the factions’ starting positions.
The first thing to do, when playing with this add-on, is choose which side of the gameboard you are going to play with. The two sides have, as can be imagined, different layouts of the fixed hexes. After that the 4 modular tiles are randomly placed on the designated areas on the board. This random distribution may result to a lake being adjacent to a home base, which is unacceptable (see the photo of the gameboard state above). In this case the hex tile that causes the problem must be flipped to its other side, which will definitely fit.
Then the home-base tiles are distributed randomly on the designated places on the board, regardless player count. Each player is randomly dealt a player mat. Starting with the player with the highest-numbered mat and continuing in descending order, every player chooses a faction. The rest of the gameplay goes on, as usual.
All the components in this bundle are made from the same high-quality cardboard, like the original game.
The double-sided gameboard has, as expected, the exact size of the original Scythe board. The designers did their best to provide variability in this game and they absolutely succeded in that, not only with the gameboard design but also by providing a double-sided board. This way we are offered dozens (or rather thousands) of different combinations of hexes layout and faction positioning which guarantees that no game will be the same with another.
Some caution must be exercised while playing, due to the fact that the hex tiles are placed on top of the gameboard. This means that they may accidentally slide a little during play, this way hidding other elements of the game. This seems to happen rather occasionally so it doesn’t pose a real problem.
However, one problem that you will have to deal with, immediatelly after purchasing this add-on, is where to store it. It doesn’t come in a box, in order to minimize the cost I guess, and it doesn’t fit in the original box either. So the only option would be to put it in a box or bag of your choice and to store it accordingly. However it wouldn’t have a label on it to give you a hint of what’s inside (unless you print a label of some sort and glue it on the box. So, I don’t like this solution much cause it’s a rather clumsy one. I like everything organized as best as possible regarding my board games and I also think that an official add-on with such quality components deserved better from the publisher in terms of storage.
A modular board is by definition a concept that enhances replayability in a board game. And this is not an exception. The board itself, being two-sided, along with the two-sided modular hexes create dozens of combinations of layouts. Certain resources may be sparse or abundant, near a player or on the other side of the river. This leads us to an important decision you have to make early in the game, which is: “What faction to choose”? Yes, this is another huge difference from using the standard board game. In the original game, player mats AND faction mats are distributed randomly whereas with the modular board, players only get a random player mat and then get to choose their faction. This decision requires close examination of the board and good knowledge of the different faction characteristics. This is why this add-on is not recommended for gamers just getting to know Scythe. Players choose their faction in order, decided by the number of their player mat (starting with the highest-numbered mat and continuing in descending order) so it is not guaranteed that you will get the faction you desire most but this fact provides the game with some extra flexibility which is always welcomed.
Apart from the fact that players get to choose their faction, now factions dont’t have fixed starting positions like in original Scythe but starting positions are chosen randomly at the start of the game. Fixed faction starting positions in the original game, led to a somewhat fixed strategy by all players in the first few rounds of the game, according to their faction. With the modular board, however, all the standard moves you used to make in the start of the game should all be forgotten, because now nothing is guaranteed. Careful consideration and study of the board layout is required in order to choose the faction that will make the most of the layout. Riverwalk and lakewalk abilities become suddenly more important, as do mechs and tunnels.
So, the combination of a two-sided board, 4 different, two-sided hex tiles and random faction starting positions, guarentee that no game of Scythe will ever be like no other, a fact that enhances the feeling that this ,already legendary, game could literally be enjoyed for ever. Be careful though because the board layouts created with this add-on are not always suitable for campaign play (like the Rise of Fenris expansion) because they may conflict with various episodes.
An interesting variant has also been added for games with low player count (up to 4 players). You have the option to remove from the board one or more hex tiles, depending on the number of players, leaving some parts of the board empty. This option is really a game-changer and provides for really tight games as players are forced to encounter each other earlier and to fight harder for the control of territories. I really like this variant because player interaction is on the top of my list among things I appreciate most in board games and I always thought that especially 2-player games of Scythe were lacking that sparkle of interaction. Now this is settled but it’s also nice that it is completely up to you to decide if you want to implement these rules or not. Some people may like the somewhat relaxed pace of play of the original game and that is perfectly fine. This variant can also be used when playing solo and it shines there as well.
Besides all the other modular-board related components, in this package you can also find, 8 completely new structure bonus tiles that can be shuffled-in for all games of Scythe. These add even more variability to the game as they can affect playing strategy. Given the fact that you only use one per game and that they can be used in all games of Scythe (with or without expansions) they add up to the value of the package.
All in all, I think that this expansion is totally worth it. It does exactly what an expansion should do and even more. It pushes an already great game to new heights of excellency by creating new challenges for players in many ways and ensuring that no game will ever be the same with another. And that is literary true given the million possible board layouts that can be created with the components of this package. It is a must-have for regular players of Scythe as it boosts the overall experience of the game. New Scythe players have already a lot to digest with the basic game and would better wait a few games until using this expansion. Occasional players also may not fully appreciate the value of it. Players that mainly play 2-player or solo Scythe games and would like more aggression, will have the opportunity to tailor the setup to their needs and make the game as tight as they prefer. My only real complaint about this add-on is the lack of a storage box/bag.
** If you want to read my review of Scythe, you can do so here.**