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This expansion will completely change the best board game of 2016

Scythe, Golden Geek 2016 winner for best board game, is getting airships

Jakub Rozalski
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Hit board game Scythe, winner of this year’s Golden Geek Award for board game of the year, is getting a very big expansion. Called Scythe: The Wind Gambit, it introduces airships to the game for the first time. And, says co-designer Jamey Stegmaier, it will completely change what players need to do to win the game.

The germ of the idea for Scythe started when Jamey Stegmaier learned about the art of Jakub Rozalski through a photo gallery on Kotaku. He was completely taken with Rozalski’s 1920+ world, an alternate history of turn of the century Europe that includes exotic technologies and huge, militarized mechs. After a successful Kickstarter, Scythe proved to be a critical darling. It’s currently ranked as the sixth most popular game of all time on Board Game Geek.

The game has also been a commercial success. Stegmaier tells Polygon he’s sold around 100,000 copies so far, a very impressive number for a young board game.

But he’s not resting on his laurels. With The Wind Gambit, Stegmaier said he’s trying to fix the game’s biggest weaknesses — the at times painfully slow opening rounds, and the game’s sudden and often surprising conclusion.

To make the game move a bit faster, Stegmaier is tapping rookie game designer Kai Starck, a fan who first introduced airships into a homebrew version of the game on his own.

Jakub Rozalski/Stonemaier Games

“Back in January, a fledgeling designer — a guy who hasn’t designed anything before — posted the rules for an airship-themed expansion on Facebook,” Stegmaier told Polygon. “I later learned that he had been inspired by an airship illustration that Jakub had made maybe two or three years ago.

“Kai actually did something that most people don’t do with their ideas. He actually wrote the rules out. He had play-tested it a few times, and I liked that he put the effort into it. I reached out to him and we’ve been working on it ever since.”

When playing with The Wind Gambit, players begin the game by drawing from a deck of offensive and defensive airship abilities. Those cards lock the starting abilities for every airship on the table for the rest of the game. In early testing, Stegmaier said, it was possible for ships to have different abilities, but with as many as seven players at the table things got a bit too complicated.

“What we found,” Stegmaier said, “is that some groups, when they play Scythe, they don’t like fight a lot. Whereas other groups, they really go out of their way to have as much combat as possible. So, by having those two abilities we give different groups of players and different player counts something to do with their airship for their style of play.”

Stegmaier said that airships aren’t impeded by water, and therefore greatly increase a player’s range in the first half of the game. They’re also not actually on the game board, which allows them to float through enemy territory unless confronted by another airship.

“It’s the same miniature for each faction,” Stegmaier said. “It’s a big miniature, about 80 millimeters long. The airships all start on your home bases, so you don’t have to buy them or anything. ... They’ll be on a little pedestal, like [Fantasy Flight Games’] Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.”

An early rendering of the airship miniature. In the fiction of Scythe, much of the advanced technology in the world is the product of a single, mysterious location called The Factory.
Stonemaier Games

Also included in The Wind Gambit is a new deck of “Resolution” cards. They’re entirely optional, and can be used with or without the airships. Resolutions add additional ways for the game to end, above and beyond the regular victory point system used in the base game. Stegmaier said they would be less sudden and surprising, give players something unique to work for each time they played and be appropriate to the thematic elements of the game.

“One of the biggest requests I get from people is that they want more encounters,” Stegmaier said, referring to the lavishly illustrated cards that contribute choose-your-own-adventure style plot points to the game board. “They’re fun and, well, it’s free stuff. Everybody likes free stuff. So one of the Resolution tiles says that when all accessible encounter tokens have been removed from the board you reset all of them. Then you continue playing, and the game will end either when someone gets their sixth [victory point], or when someone again wipes out all the encounter tokens.”

Neither a price nor a release date has been set for The Wind Gambit. Fans are being encouraged to register at Stonemaier Games for more information when it’s made available.

Stonemaier Games