Empires have risen and fallen in the aftermath of the Great War, and Europa stands on the precipice of a new era. The economy is robust, morale is high, and defenses are strong. There are reports from the countryside of strange soldiers with glowing eyes, but they seem distant and harmless.
Scythe: The Rise of Fenris, the conclusion to the Scythe expansion trilogy, enables two different options for any player count (1-5 if you have Scythe; 1-7 players if you have Invaders from Afar):
- Campaign (8 games): The story of Scythe continues and concludes with an 8-episode campaign. While the campaign includes surprises, unlocks, and persistent elements, it is fully resettable and replayable.
- Modular (11 modules): Instead of—or after—the campaign, the new modules in The Rise of Fenris can be used in various combinations to cater to player preferences. These modules are compatible with all Scythe expansions, and they include a fully cooperative module that isn’t part of the competitive campaign.
While the exact nature of the episodes and modules will remain a mystery (most of these components are in 5 secret tuckboxes and on 6 punchboards), the components in this expansion include a detailed episodic guidebook, 13 plastic miniatures, 62 wooden tokens, 2 custom dice, 25 tiles, and 100+ cardboard tokens.
- Pre-release available at Gen Con (see Meeplesource to pre-order for Gen Con pickup)
- Retail release on August 17, 2018 (MSRP: $55; SKU: STM637)
- Available in other languages in October 2018
- Game Boy Geek Q&A
- Game Boy Geek spoiler-free preview
- Geeks of Cascadia interview with Ryan
- Tantrum House (review)
- GeekDad (review)
Is this a legacy expansion?
No. “Legacy” refers to permanent changes that cannot be undone. The Rise of Fenris can be reset and replayed any number of times.
Does this expansion require other expansions?
Nope. We wouldn’t do that to you.
- Alliances (Episode 2): If you’re playing with 6-7 players (Invaders from Afar), Polania has an upgraded faction ability. However, their Alliance token retains their original faction ability for the player they ally with.
- Township (Episode 3): In this episode, the rulebook notes that the Rusviet faction is required to replace the normal “Township” mech ability with an alternate ability. However, if mech mods have been unlocked, the Rusviet player could replace Township with a mech mod instead.
- Vesna (End of Episode 3): The new Vesna player actually should not use their previous home base, as that faction may be claimed by another player. Rather, after faction selection, the Vesna player chooses a home base from among the unselected factions (placing their home base tile there on subsequent games).
- Automa (Episode 5): The following note should be visible from the beginning of Episode 5: “During setup, place the Automa’s popularity token on space 2 of the popularity track. When the Star Tracker token reaches row 4 on the Star Tracker card, move the Automa´s popularity token to space 10.”
July 6, 2018 (Jamey): The Same, but Different
In the previous design diary post, Ryan talked about rules overhead. This is the idea that we didn’t want to require players to remember an ever-accumulating set of rules. Yet, at the same time, we wanted to tell a persistent story over the 8-game campaign.
The solution we came up with was, as Ryan mentioned, to have some unique twists listed in the setup, gameplay, and end-game rules for each scenario. We walked a fine line here, as we wanted each scenario to feel different, yet we wanted players who know Scythe to simply jump into it and start playing, even if it’s been months since they played the last scenario.
Paired with that are a few ongoing special bonuses that players keep track of on their campaign logs. That way, you can feel like you’re building an engine over the course of multiple games. Some of those bonuses are explained before the campaign even begins, hence the image here.
In addition to this balance we tried to maintain, we also never wanted the game to not feel like Scythe. So we tried to create twists that make each episode unique while staying true to Scythe’s roots. If you’re the type of person who wants to play an 8-game campaign of Scythe, you don’t want one of the episodes to be a cooperative dexterity game about stacking oil tokens. Nor do you want each game to feel the same as a regular game of Scythe–I’ve played other campaign games where they include a ton of scenarios, but each scenario has players doing the exact same thing over and over. I’d rather have 8 unique, memorable scenarios than 200 scenarios that feel the same.
We’re getting very close to receiving some of the shipments for The Rise of Fenris (probably in 2 weeks), and as soon as we do, we’ll start shipping to Stonemaier Champions who pre-ordered from us. Other pre-orders will ship after Gen Con, and the retail release is August 17.
July 3, 2018 (Ryan): Rules Overhead
I recently managed to finally get some friends together to begin the Rise of Fenris campaign. I’ve had my advance copy for weeks, but I just haven’t been able to coordinate a game night. Finally, two friends just took a day off of work, and with them a fellow teacher and I began the campaign. We played the first three episodes in a 5-hour stretch (including a brief lunch break), and it was a lot of fun. As I was packing up afterward, I had a moment of relief when thinking about when we could meet up next because I realized I wouldn’t have to refresh everyone on the rules – Jamey and I had covered that.
Scythe is a fairly rules-dense game already. They are pretty intuitive rules, but there are a lot of them, so from the beginning we knew we wanted to keep to a minimum the number rules and exceptions players had to remember during the Fenris campaign. However, we wanted each game of the campaign to feel exciting and unique (while still distinctly Scythe-like), which required at least a few tweaks to setup and rules. With a game as carefully balanced as Scythe, even a small adjustment to the rules can completely change the dynamic of the game. In the promotional scenario I designed there is an increased emphasis on building, and players reported that they enjoyed how this small tweak entirely changed their interactions with the game, while still *feeling* like Scythe. The Rise of Fenris is full of these types of changes.
In many episodes, the most complicated exceptions happen during set up, where it is relatively easy to simply follow the steps, leaving little or nothing for the players to remember long term. The specific rules for each scenario usually only rely on one or two changes to the regular game. However, these small changes can make fairly dramatic impacts on the way each game plays out. In the marathon three-game session I played with my friends, all three games played out very differently, and our regular strategies were often challenged. The most successful players identified the core goal of each episode and focused on that, but without forgetting the nature of Scythe.
When I recently played the sample scenario with some fans at a meetup in Seattle, I dominated the building goal . . . then came in 3rd or 4th out of 7 players because I put TOO much effort into that, at the expense of other Scythe goals.
As I noted in my last design diary, the focus of this campaign is strong narrative and gameplay that emerges from that. I’m pleased with how the subtle changes we made to each episode feel unique and different without burdening players with a lot of new rules, while simultaneously making the gameplay reflect the narrative for each episode nicely, which was another goal of ours.
So what does this mean for the players? It means that if you find yourself with a large gap between play sessions, as I have found while playing Pandemic Legacy with my wife, you don’t have to go back and review a bunch of rules before you begin again. Everything you need to play the next episode in the campaign is self-contained in that episode. Otherwise it’s basically like regular Scythe. There are a few global rules that carry over from game to game, but they are quite simple to remember and won’t require much review, if any. (I should say that we highly recommend that all players in the campaign have a decent grasp of Scythe rules before beginning, since it is definitely a more “advanced mode” experience.)
I’m very satisfied with how this came out. I think it makes the campaign approachable, especially for groups who won’t be getting together weekly. It has allowed us to do some fairly dramatically different things from game to game without overburdening players mentally. I enjoy games like Pandemic Legacy where the rules emerge and grow, but I think for Scythe in particular, where there already so many rules to track (intuitive though they are) that it was very important to keep things simple.
June 20, 2018 (Ryan): The Rise of Fenris & Lessons of the Past
Several people have asked about the similarities between The Rise of Fenris and my fan-made campaign Lessons of the Past, so I thought I would address that today. As you may know, I designed a campaign for fun back in October/November of 2016, just a few months after Kickstarter backers received their copies of Scythe. Several people felt it was a world ripe for a campaign, and I agreed, but it wasn’t until several weeks later that I thought, “Well, I could probably do that,” after seeing Morten’s “untested Automa campaign” on the BGG Variants forum.
My goal for Lessons of the Past was to give players various “challenges” to change the way they looked at the game. For example, I wanted to emphasize different aspects of the game, such as the Objectives or building Structures. In short, I wanted to encourage (and reward) thinking about different aspects of Scythe, in the hopes that players would actually become better at the game as a result of playing my campaign.
I specifically didn’t want to do a lot by way of “print-and-play” materials, so I avoided adding tokens or cards or whatnot. There were player aids and a campaign book, and that was all players needed to print. After each episode of that campaign, some players (usually the winner) received some sort of “setup bonus,” such as getting to put out an extra worker or starting the game with an Upgrade or a Structure already built. These bonuses ended up being a little problematic I think (what if I don’t want a structure on one of my starting territories?), but they at least built in a sense of growth over the campaign, like your faction was getting stronger.
Ultimately, the limitations of those self-imposed restrictions on what I wanted to make people print out are pretty clear in the final product, I think. I am more or less happy with where it ended up (for what it is), but it could be improved with better testing and a little more willingness to have people print off tokens and such. Still, I liked the goal of challenging players to focus on different aspects of Scythe and to improve their use and/or appreciation of them.
The second goal I had for LotP was to tell an interesting story. This was definitely secondary to the gameplay challenges, but I thought it needed something compelling to drive the action and keep players invested. In short, the story of LotP is the story of the nigh-inevitable march toward World War II (or not, if players played one game in a very specific way). Each episode represents roughly a year in my mind, so the total campaign spans about a decade, ending in either a new peace or a second war. It felt like the natural progression of the story, given the nature of the mechs and humanity’s proclivity for destruction.
In general, LotP’s story was very large in scale. The Rise of Fenris, on the other hand, has a much more personal story to tell (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it here!), and the big design focus was basically the opposite of what I had for LotP.
Very early in the design process for Fenris, I presented the aforementioned priorities to Jamey (interesting gameplay challenges vs. story), and I asked him about his priorities. His response was that he wanted all of the gameplay to be driven by the story. Jakub had the bones of a specific story he wanted to tell, and Jamey wanted a focus on narrative to drive the story and any changes or additions to the gameplay.
I had begun drafting for Fenris the same way I had for LotP, which was to try and sketch out a series of interesting scenarios, then add narrative to tie them all together. This wasn’t working so well. I had the bones of nine games laid out, but they weren’t coming together cohesively, and one of the later games in the campaign remained blank for a long time – I knew what I wanted there, but for the life of me couldn’t figure out how to do it. So I took some time off and sat down and drafted the story for the entire campaign. Even if we didn’t end up using it, I wanted to have it as background knowledge to inform the scenarios. Jamey and Jakub liked the story quite a bit – so much so that Jamey included nearly the entire thing in the final version (with some edits here and there, for space or narrative).
With a story in place, I returned to the episode designs and began editing, deleting, and adjusting to get them to fit the narrative. The nine episodes fell to eight after I started matching them to the narrative. Two episodes were combined into one (which was a good thing) and a few others were replaced or modified to fit the story better. The episode that had remained blank finally came together. It fit the narrative, and I finally found the missing elements of gameplay I had struggled to piece together.
Sitting down and focusing on a story-driven approach really helped guide and accelerate the design process in this case. It provided me the framework and direction I needed to get over some hurdles that I was having when I tried to shoehorn the narrative into a gameplay-driven approach. Oddly, I don’t know if the story-driven style would have helped LotP as much.
The narrative for Fenris is much more intimate. For reasons I can’t explain here, it doesn’t go into a lot of detail about the seven factions or their leaders as much as people may have wanted, but it does tell a specific story about the Great War, Tesla’s feelings about his mech creations, and some other events and forces I can’t discuss in a spoiler-free diary entry. Fenris contains a rather personal story, following the writing convention of focusing on individuals, rather than the big picture, to make a story more relatable and engaging. Lessons of the Past was more about human nature (and our historical tendency toward war), whereas The Rise of Fenris is more about specific human relationships. In a way, LotP (timeline-wise) probably would follow the events of Fenris and could possibly be made compatible, but it would take a major overhaul, and I don’t know if I’ll have the time for that. :)
In the end, I see value in both the gameplay-driven and the narrative-driven approach to designing a campaign game, depending on the designer’s goals. What do you think of these two approaches? Is there one you prefer as a gamer or designer? Is there another approach I haven’t considered?
June 17, 2018 (Jamey)
In my last design diary post for The Rise of Fenris, I talked about something Ryan and I tried to design but ultimately decided not to create (an encounter book). Today I’m going to write about two other oft-discussed and requested elements that are not in the expansion.
First, some context: Ryan and I read pretty much every comment on Facebook and BoardGameGeek about what people hoped would be in the final expansion. People didn’t know we were working on an expansion, but there were a number of threads containing ideas and wishlists. Some of them directly inspired elements of The Rise of Fenris, and I’m grateful for everyone who shared their thoughts as part of those public conversations.
But there were two ideas mentioned a number of times that we discussed, toyed around with, yet didn’t implement.
The first is combat. Some people like Scythe’s combat; other people don’t. I respect both sides. Some people who don’t like it (or just find it uninteresting) advocated for some sort of change to happen to the combat rules for The Rise of Fenris. I appreciate that wish, but I know from many, many playtests of different versions of combat that it’s such a finely tuned machine. That doesn’t mean it’s as fun or satisfying as it can be. But if you pull even a single string one way or another, it might result in players not wanting to attack or not putting up a fight, or you end up with combat that’s more about luck than skill and bluffing. I can’t claim it’s perfect, but I think it is already what it needs to be for Scythe, and I didn’t want to mess with that formula.
So we took a different approach with combat. Even though the combat rules remain the same, in several episodes and modules, there are twists to the game that impact combat. I don’t want to give anything away, but you’ll absolutely know what I mean when you see them.
The second is faction mats/abilities. A number of people asked for different faction mats for existing factions. I thought this was an interesting request, and I appreciate that people are connected to the existing factions to the point that they’re still excited by them, but they want something fresh from those factions.
Here’s the thing: Designing faction abilities is very difficult. It’s not impossible, but difficult–not just the first idea, but all the testing and balancing to ensure the faction abilities work, particularly at different player counts. Remember, these are persistent abilities that you have from turn one, so ideally they would be relevant throughout the game. I can’t even claim that the existing faction abilities accomplish this goal.
Also, thematically, I like that each faction has their own specific identity, and I was very hesitant to break from that.
We did, however, address this desire with several of the modules. A distillation of the desire is that people want to continue to use the existing factions, yet with more variability. There’s one major module that accomplishes this, and another that touches upon it in a more subtle way.
Those are the two biggest things I can think of that people requested but we didn’t directly add. Ryan may remember and write about others in future design diaries.
Is there anything you were specifically hoping The Rise of Fenris would include, add, or change to Scythe?
June 14, 2018 (Ryan)
Hello! This is my first design diary entry for The Rise of Fenris, and I would like to start with a brief introduction. Specifically, I’d like to address my name. :) My full last name is Lopez DeVinaspre. It was my great-grandfather’s name when he immigrated from Spain. However, for simplicity’s sake, I typically just go by Ryan Lopez, so feel free to refer to me that way. Because I like my full name and board gamers are comfortable with unusual designer names, I used my full name for this game. But don’t feel like you have to try to spell or pronounce it. :)
For this first entry, I thought I would follow up on Jamey’s note about the character specific encounter storylines that we considered for the campaign. Originally, I wanted to do quite a bit of so-called flavor text around the campaign. One rejected idea I had involved having players read short phrases or sentences from the “journals” or “letters” of fictional soldiers and civilians as well as the faction leaders whenever they completed stars during their games. I intended to write those in a historically thematic “voice”, and they would be brief tales of the goings-on during the events of The Rise of Fenris.
That was obviously a tremendous amount of work, and we eventually passed on it in part because if it didn’t have a meaningful gameplay reason to be there; it would slow the game down a little, and Jamey and I were worried that players would either ignore it or at most find it mildly interesting. Given how much work it would involve, that just wasn’t reasonable. However, a version of this that we considered very carefully was the idea to create ongoing narratives around characters’ encounters. It was an exciting prospect at first. Then I actually tried to accomplish it.
The first hurdle was what form these narratives would take. Would they be a series of cards that could be randomly drawn? Would they be a sequential deck that required players to complete one part before moving on to the next? Would they be in the form of a sequential series of events with mildly branching stories in a sort of storybook? We considered all of these, and they all had their strengths and weaknesses. A random deck of cards could potentially be used in ordinary games to create unique challenges for players based on their faction. A book would allow for more scripted and intricate narratives.
I already had some notes from Jakub about the basic backgrounds and motivations for the characters, although I needed to do a fair amount of development there to make them work for this task. In fact, as a side note, I actually developed somewhat complete stories for several characters (Anna, Olga, Connor, and Akiko). Translating them into interesting stories with meaningful impacts on gameplay however was a different story altogether. Giving them a relevant impact on gameplay was especially challenging.
It was certainly possible to simply replace the regular encounter system, but even that created narrative challenges. It was difficult to distill each step of a character’s story down to three choices on a card while retaining narrative cohesion. It would be easier to forgo the three-choice mechanism, but that started to branch away from a core aspect of the game. Ultimately, we found the idea of a book of options, as Jamey mentioned in his post, to be the best for developing a meaningful narrative. However, as I said, it continued to be very challenging to break a meaningful narrative into such short chunks with different decisions that followed a relatively continuous arc.
I spent a solid week or two just trying to translate Anna’s story into one of these narrative arcs and doing relatively little other design work—though all of my design work was done on the side of my regular job as a teacher. And after all that time I only got part way through and was quite unsatisfied with the result. On top of that was the knowledge that players might not even stick with the same faction for the entire campaign, so it had to be possible for a story to end without disappointing the players or otherwise having a negative effect on the gameplay. We finally decided that it just wasn’t worth it. It was going to be a tremendous amount of effort, and might set the design process back by weeks, for what amounted to flavor text. We loved the idea, but we just had to scrap it. And, for what it’s worth, it would have increased production costs.
I believe I still have the background stories for the characters, however. They are largely inspired by Jakub’s notes, with my own elaborations to fill them out. I will try to upload those to Board Game Geek for people who are interested in some semi-official background narratives for the factions.
I have a number of other ideas for design diaries, but if there is anything in particular that you would like to hear about, please let me know! :)
BONUS Design Diary! I was actually working on a similar idea for my fan campaign (Lessons of the Past) when Jamey first contacted me about working with him on the campaign expansion. In my LotP version, players would have a “mission card” for their leader. It would be thematically tied to their background stories (which I gathered from the art book and the Invaders from Afar rule book). Each player would need to accomplish a specific goal a certain number of times over a series of games in order to complete their mission. Goals included things like holding the Factory at the end of the game, claiming a certain number of territories of certain types, etc.
June 8, 2018
Today’s design diary post is super special. In addition to talking about encounters in The Rise of Fenris (or the lack thereof), I’m going to give you the opportunity to design a real encounter card for Scythe.
Also, if you intended to pre-order The Rise of Fenris directly from Stonemaier Games, today is the last day to do that: https://stonemaiergames.com/games/scythe/scythe-the-rise-of-fenris/
Ryan and I considered adding new encounters to The Rise of Fenris, but we wanted to do something new with them. There are already more than enough encounters in Scythe, so we didn’t want to add more of the same.
So the idea we pursued–inspired by several fan posts, comments, as well as the excellent game Near and Far–was to add persistence and narrative arcs to the encounters, most likely as a book. That is, instead of drawing a random encounter card the first time you have an encounter during the campaign, you would instead read an entry from a storybook (specific to your character) and make a choice. Then, the next time you have an encounter–in the same or a future game–the encounter itself and/or the options on it would be determined by your previous choices.
This turned out to be a monumental challenge, though. I don’t think it’s an impossible task, but it’s quite difficult due to all the branching paths and callbacks. We tried to make it a little easier by focusing on shorter story arcs–maybe 6-8 encounters per character–but even then, the persistence made it very difficult.
We finally took a step back and simply decided not to pursue it. After all, we were knee-deep in the design process for 8 scenarios and 11 modules…sometimes we had to cut some ideas so we could ensure that we made the other ideas as great as possible.
Instead, I would like to give you the opportunity to design an encounter card for Scythe. Jakub has assembled 32 pieces of artwork used throughout the world of Scythe, and you can pick exactly 1 of them that inspires you. You’ll submit your design to me (see full details below) no later than June 15. I’ll select and edit my favorites, and then I’ll print them in a big promo pack containing all 32 cards. If your design is selected, you’ll get your name on the box, a free copy of the promo pack, and eternal glory.
June 1, 2018
This is the first in a series of short design diary posts I’ll share leading up to the release of Scythe: The Rise of Fenris.
There’s a name on the Rise of Fenris box that you may not know unless you’re particularly active in the Scythe group: Ryan Lopez DeVinaspre. How did he get involved in the expansion?
Well, a few years ago, Ryan decided to create a campaign version of Scythe for fun. He called it “Lessons of the Past.” I read through it after he posted it, and I was impressed with his writing and ideas.
And that was it.
Flash forward a few months later. At the time, people were starting to play Charterstone–a legacy game that is also a campaign game. Meanwhile, I noticed an increasing number of people in various Scythe threads who said they wished there was a campaign version of Scythe.
I had previously considered making a legacy expansion for Scythe, but I needed a break from the brain-burn of legacy design (legacy = permanent changes that cannot be undone. The Rise of Fenris is NOT a legacy campaign, as it is completely resettable). I had also come to a greater appreciation of the stories campaign games can tell. They often have persistent (but not permanent) elements, as well as new things to unlock and discover during the journey.
But I didn’t know much about designing a campaign. Sure, Charterstone counts, but the vast majority of Charterstone’s story is player-driven. I wanted a meaty story that would satisfy Scythe fan’s desire to know all those things in Jakub’s head that we’ve seen visually but not textually, and I wanted that story to enable some really cool mechanisms and surprises.
So who came to mind? Ryan Lopez DeVinaspre.
I reached out to Ryan to see if he would be interested in co-designing a campaign expansion with me, and he was intrigued. I also discussed it with Jakub, who shared a bunch of lore with us. Then we got to work.
In future design diaries I’ll talk about various challenges and discoveries we made during the design process, but I wanted to start with the origin story. Huge thanks to Ryan for going on this journey with me. And Jakub, of course, for creating this story and this world.
What is your favorite campaign game experience?