Scythe Review: Is It Colorblind-Friendly?
My husband and I are board game enthusiasts. Our collection totals more than 120 games. When considering a new game, we prefer that it plays well with two people. It must have a theme and a mechanic that we both enjoy. Because my husband is colorblind, our board game purchases are also guided by how well a game plays for people who are colorblind. The rest of this article will focus on that.
For the unfamiliar, colorblindness is more like blurry vision than the ability to not see any color at all (except for a small percentage - monochromacy/achromatopsia). Generally, for those who are nearsighted, a small letter “E” far away is hard to discern, and a giant letter “E” up close is easy to discern. Similarly, someone with red/green deficiency (deuteranopes) may have a hard time discerning a small red swatch far away, but close up it can be clearer. There is a wide spectrum of blurry vision problems, as there is also with color blindness. This review will discuss how colors are used in the game Scythe, and how much colorblindness (deuteranomalous) affects game play.
Scythe—Strategy Board Game
is a Worker Placement/Economic Engine board game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. Each player receives color specific faction pieces, a faction board, and a player board. There are a lot of pieces and colors, which can lead to an intimidating look at first glance. Let’s dig into each part. Scythe
Each player receives 8 workers, 6 stars, 6 cubes, 4 recruit discs, 4 buildings, 1 pawn, 1 leader, 4 mechs and a faction board. Most pieces start on your player board, and some will stay there. The buildings, workers, leader, and mechs may go onto the main board and mix with other players colors.
- Yellow Gold—Crimea
- Green—Albion (Expansion)
- Purple—Togawa (Expansion)
Popularity, Power, and Stars
Three types of tokens go on the board and immediately are surrounded by other players pieces. Each player has a heart token that represents how popular your faction is. A power token, which we call a bug, stays on the main board. When players complete objectives they get to put stars on the main board. The base game colors seem to have been chosen to minimize issues for colorblind players. If a pair of the factions seem too similar to you, you may want to only play with one of them. Each player needs to be able to easily and quickly determine how much power (bugs), popularity (hearts), and stars the opposing players have. If you have to ask out loud which color is which on the power track, other players might get an idea of who you want to attack.
Mechs and Leaders
Mechs and leaders for each faction are very unique. Mechs match the player color, and the designers did a good job matching plastic to painted wood colors. Leaders are gray with a colored plastic base. The shapes for all the models vary greatly. Crimea/Yellow has a person with a bird, while Nordic/Blue has a person riding an ox. There is only one leader per faction, and they stand out better from all the other pieces since they are grey. As far as gameplay goes, it makes sense for the leaders to stand out from the mechs. If they were the same color as the mechs, it could make gameplay more difficult. The mech shapes also vary between factions. Saxony/Black look like a small tank with giant legs and Crimea/Yellow look like a large Tractor. The strong primary colors help in distinguishing the player pieces. If any two colors look similar, then the shapes should help separate them. I have seen some copies of Scythe with mechs painted metallic. In these images, it seems harder to connect the mech to each faction because of the metallic color that doesn't match the faction color.
Buildings and Workers
Each player has up to 8 workers and can put up to 4 buildings on the board. The small wooden workers are unique per faction, but the buildings are the same shape for all factions. A person with colorblindness may get the workers confused even with the shape differences. The shape differences basically boil down to different hats. If buildings from two factions are close together and you cannot determine the colors, you will have a hard time knowing whose is whose.
Player Board and Factory Cards
Player boards in Scythe have holes that the pieces fit into. The action icons are the challenging part in regards to colorblindness on the player boards. The boards have a row on top that says "Pay" and another that says "Gain." The pay icons have a red background and the gain icons have a green background. My husband can’t really tell which ones are red and which are green. He just has to remember that the top row is "Pay" while the next one down is "Gain." The coin/popularity/power icons appear on top of the red/green background. Because of the icon, there is less of the red/green to see. The resources you pay for your bottom row have a black outline of the resources with a red background. It seems easier to see those as a color than the coin ones. Factory cards give you an extra action slot and have the same icons as the player boards. When you pick a factory card, you do so in secret. So it is important to pay attention to the "Pay" and "Gain" lines.
There are four main resources in Scythe: wood, metal, oil, and food. We have played the collector's edition (painted resin/metal) and the retail edition (wood) and the resources in both editions are easily distinguishable. Each resource shape matches what it is and they are each different colors.
- Wood—brown hex log
- Food—yellow bag
- Metal—gray bar
- Oil—navy blue oil drum
The resources are different shapes, sizes, and colors from the player pieces. There doesn’t seem to be an issue telling the resources from the players pieces when on the main board.
The main board is a hex grid laid on top of artwork. The artwork is part of the game play, since mechs and leaders cannot cross rivers in the beggining. Each hex grid has one of six icons which show which type of resource it produces. Four of the icons are the four main resources (wood, food, metal, oil). Another icon is the standard meeple and stands for (re)producing to get extra workers from your player board onto the main board. The last icon represents lakes. Only certain factions can travel to lake hexes. The lakes do not produce anything. The artwork is beautiful, but it does give the game a very busy look. It can feel a little overwhelming at first for someone who is colorblind. Each of the hexes that produce goods have a name (farms, mountain, village, etc), but the names don’t seem critical to play. Icons for hexes on the player board have the resource icon on them.
At the beginning of the game each player starts in their own corner of the map. It takes some time before the pieces start mixing up. Once they do, then color blind issues could be a concern if using pieces that are not distinguishable.
Some of the hexes on the main board have round encounter symbols on them in addition to the resource. These are easy to distinguish from the resource, but don’t stand out from the background artwork very well. This might make game setup challenging for someone who is colorblind, but once set up, there shouldn't be any issues. A few hexes on the board have a giant mine icon that is different from everything else. These are easily distinguishable.
Each game has one structure bonus tile that gives extra coins for meeting specific conditions when building. They may have resource icons on them that tie to having buildings on hexes with those icons. This does not become a colorblind game play issue as the resource icons are unique.
As stated before, the main board feels a little busy from the background artwork. Being colorblind, it may feel muddy to decipher the information. The information may have been easier to see if all the hexes were solid colors/designs combined with the resource icons on top.
Invaders from Afar Expansion
The base game colors are yellow, red, blue, white, and black. These are easily distinguishable for most people, even if they are colorblind. The expansion () brings in two colors that usually cause problems for people with colorblindness-green and purple. My husband and I have not played a game yet with green and red or blue and purple, so he can’t comment on how much being colorblind affects those factions. Comparing the tokens, it seems that it could be an issue. We will likely just avoid a game with red and green. Invaders from Afar
Scythe is a game with a lot of colors and pieces. The pieces should be distinguishable enough that those with colorblindness won't struggle. We have played a few games all the way through, and my husband has not had to ask other players to clarify the colors of any pieces. In that regard, we give it a thumbs up for colorblindness. It is a colorblind success and quite fun.