Comparison: Scythe vs Robinson Crusoe vs Terraforming Mars

Quick note!
If your not keen on a comparison, I’ve separated each game into its own review. Click for Scythe, Robinson Crusoe and Terraforming Mars. You can also check out my “unboxing” video for Scythe here

On this comparison and in this order I’ll be taking a first impressions look at the games overall, the look and feel, the instructions, the set up, the gameplay and a final verdict overview.

Overview
November was a ‘mare of a month, so after some radio silence and retail therapy, I’m back with some thoughts on not one, but three, pretty big games.

They all share the engine building mechanic and can all be played solo as well as with your friends.

All three of these games have high reputations, a fair amount of hype and a price tag to match. They are the most expensive games so far in my collection. Let’s see if they were worth it.

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Look and Feel
Scythe is enormous, on so many levels. The box is big, the board is bigger, the hype has been even bigger still. It’s said to be the most hyped game of 2016, and spent most of the last two years on the BGG hotness list.

And it looks and feels bloody beautiful. The box and card artwork, although sometimes a bit at odds with the miniatures and the board, is gorgeous, the board is full of detail, the miniatures are amazing, the many many wooden pieces are lush.

From the rolled textures when you pick the box up, to the indentations in the double layer greyboard player mats, no corners have been cut in attention to detail and quality with this game.

The other thing to note is that although Scythe is more expensive than the other two games, it’s not that much more expensive and there is sooo much stuff in this box.

Similarly, Robinson Crusoe has a pretty big board, with a bunch of different sections and things going on, a lot of greyboard tokens, custom wooden tokens, a rulebook you could get stuck under if it fell on top of you and lots and lots of cards and scenarios to play.

Robinson Crusoe has been named as one of the best solo experiences out there, although it can also be played cooperatively. The board is smaller than the standard Scythe board, but once you’ve laid out all your player bits and pieces it does still take up a similar amount of space.

The artwork on this one varies from it’s simplistic symbols to detailed sketches and watercolour locations and it all looks great.

Terraforming Mars seems to pale in comparison in terms of size, quality and value for money when pitched against the likes of Scythe and Robinson Crusoe, but that does make it easier to play if you’ve not got a lot of space.

The artwork on the box front isn’t bad, but when you open it up you’ll find something that appears to be a bit like a child’s summer holiday homework project. (Sorry!)

There’s a mish mash of renders and photography that look like they came straight out of 90s clip art and Google image searches, the player boards are paper rather than greyboard and the cards are almost paper thin too.

It’s a bit disappointing to say the least but I do wonder if I would have felt quite so upset if I hadn’t played Scythe and Robinson Crusoe first.

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Instructions
All of these games are pretty meaty to get your head round if it’s your first time playing. Scythe and Robinson Crusoe both have great instruction books, which are laid out well with good visual cues and examples.

But I still found myself needing to Google things every five minutes with Robinson Crusoe, there were a fair few loopholes and things which didn’t make sense, although I’m not gonna lie, as previously mentioned, the instructions are pretty hefty and I didn’t read them word for word, the whole way through.

We also found ourselves needing to watch a how to play video for Scythe, just to get started, but once we were there it all clicked into place with a few back and forths from the rule book along the way.

Terraforming Mars on the other hand… Well, I’ve played it twice now, the first time in a games cafe where it was too loud to listen to a video, but we did have a quick reference guide I found here. (Incidentally they seem to have similar feelings about the game, but rest assured, it does get better!)

The second time was a games evening with the Ridley’s Games gang after work and I took the time to watch a few videos beforehand to refresh myself, try and figure out what we couldn’t understand before and also plan how I was going to teach my peers this new and confusing game.

Even after all that, I still don’t think we were playing it properly. The instructions are like a novel with almost no visual aids on some pages, entire sentences and paragraphs that don’t make any sense and some answers to (pretty basic) questions we had just weren’t in there at all.

I know, I know, it’s not sounding good for poor Terraforming Mars. Don’t get me wrong, the look and feel of a game aren’t everything and it can still be a solid game with good mechanics and play through, but if a game takes this much effort to learn how to play, I’m kind of surprised it’s as highly regarded as it is.

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Set up
Set up for Scythe is fairly quick, considering how much stuff there is in there. I would imagine once I’m more familiar with the game it’ll take 10 minutes or less to set up. The instructions are super useful for setting up, with a quick start guide and pictures.

Robinson Crusoe took a while longer to set up, there are a whole load of similar looking cards with subtle differences that you have to separate and shuffle separately and do different things with. I will 100% be investing in a box insert for this asap.

Bearing in mind I was also trying to figure out how to play, it took me about 2 hours from opening the box to actually playing the game. It was the Event phase that got me, I couldn’t wrap my head round what to do or how they effected me.

FYI, the first event card has no effect until you action it and if you wanted to action it you do so in the Action phase. When drawing other Event Cards later in the game, you action the top half immediately and the bottom half if and when you decide to do so during the Action phase. However if it’s not actioned within 2 turns, bad stuff happens, which is on the very bottom of each card.

Terraforming Mars is the quickest game to set up once you know how, but the instructions are pretty hard to follow so if it’s your first time I would use the quick start guide I linked to earlier.

There is a similar set up to Robinson Crusoe in the fact that you separate half of the cards, which are annoyingly mixed in with the rest of the deck, and put them back in the box for a beginner game.

The board is a good size although it feels teeny tiny compared to the other two games, and there is little of anything in terms of different card sets and tokens, compared to the other two games, so it’s not surprising it doesn’t take long to set up.

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Game Play
We’ve finally arrived at playing the actual games!

Scythe is a bit slow to start, and on the first play, during the first few turns, I did wonder if I was actually going to enjoy it. However it quickly picked up and once you get into it is great fun to explore.

The best part about Scythe is that it is completely different every time you play. There are two mats for each player, a Faction mat and a player mat. Although each one has the same basic actions and options for all the players, they are all completely different.

Each one has a unique cost and gain for each action, compared to the others. They also have different special abilities, different mech enhancements and different starting conditions for each player.

Plus, because the two mats are separate, even if you play the same faction again, you’ll likely have a different player board with different abilities which gives you a different experience to the last time you played.

Robinson Crusoe is famously difficult, and it lived up to it’s difficulty. I don’t know if it was determination, the fact I was having so much fun, or the fact I couldn’t be bothered to do anything else, but I played 4 games in a row. On reflection, maybe it was because it took so long to set up, I wanted to get my times worth out of it!

I have only played solo, and I think it would be easier with more players. You do get an extra character and a 4 legged companion in a solo game, but they still aren’t as good as another actual player (they have restricted actions and play); so I’ll admit I did bend the rules a little on my last go. I tried 3 times to play as it was intended and it was just crazy difficult. I would bend the rules again if it meant a game was more enjoyable or that it just worked better!

Terraforming Mars is hard to comment on because I’m still not sure we played it right. Having said that, there are lots of options for things to do on your turn and lots of ways and different strategies to earn points.

It does feel pretty slow though, perhaps because of this freedom and choice. There also never seems to be enough cash or resource to do whatever it is that you want to do and some cards can’t be used until much much later in the game, so your long term strategy and thinking are important here.

This also means there is little player interaction, although the same can be said with Scythe for large parts of the game as combat is not necessary to play. I do like the idea of the Milestones and Awards but it seems like too big a payout to open an award.

I feel like there is something to this game and it could be a really great game to play, but it just doesn’t feel like it yet.. which reinforces my thoughts about still not playing it properly. Or maybe it just needs you to bend the rules and make it better. I’ll be exploring this in another post soon!

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Verdict
I’m sorry to say that it feels like I’ve added two really solid games to my collection and one game that I’m yet to be convinced about.

If your looking for an engine builder with worker placement, area control, combat and resource management, look no further. You get A LOT of bang for your buck with Scythe, and who can say no to those awesomely detailed mechs.

Similarly, for all of the above in a co-op game, Robinson Crusoe is a great choice. I absolutely love all the custom shaped wooden pieces, tons of tokens and masses of cards in Robinson Crusoe, even it does take an age to set up. However, it is crazy hard. I’m eager to give it a go with more players and try out some more scenarios.

Finally, Terraforming Mars rates at 8.4 on BGG, has lots of glowing reviews from all the guys over at Opinionated Gamers and people are raving about all over the rest of the internet too. I just don’t see it yet, but I’m still glad I have this game in my collection, as I’m eager to figure it out or make it better; so keep your eyes peeled for a future post.

Also remember these are first impressions, I’ve played Scythe twice multiplayer, Robinson Crusoe several times solo and Terraforming Mars twice multiplayer.

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