Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Earth Reborn

Plays: 2Px3.

The Game

Earth Reborn is a scenario-based tactical level combat game. The background is a post-apocalyptic Earth. Each player controls a number of characters and compete to achieve their (usually different) objectives of the scenario being played. The game has a very rich backstory. Many pages of the rule book and scenario book are dedicated to telling the backstory. The two factions in the game are survivors of a nuclear holocaust that has destroyed Earth, emerging from their underground cities after 500 years of hiding. The NORAD has a militaristic and scientifically advanced society. The Salemites have been tinkering with technology to re-animate the dead, so they have zombies. The 9 scenarios that come with the game are clashes between these two factions.

This is one game that I think is better served from describing the game sessions than from describing the game mechanisms, so I'll keep this game overview part simple. Your characters can do all sorts of things just like in real life. They walk (or run), they fight, they shoot, they open and close doors, they search for good stuff, they use all sorts of equipment. Managing all these is an original order system. At the start of every round, you get a certain number of command points (CP) and draw 5 order tiles. Order tiles determine what kinds of actions characters can do. They are assigned to characters, and then CP's are spent to trigger the actions on the order tiles. A round of play usually consists of players taking turns assigning order tiles to their characters and spending CP's to make the characters take actions, until both sides run out of CP's. This order and CP system restricts the players a little. You need to work out the best way to distribute the order tiles and the CP's, to carry out what you want your characters to do.

Some icons on some order tiles allow you the opportunity to take actions on your opponent's turn, but under specific conditions, e.g. when an enemy character enters your line-of-sight, or when an enemy character walks up next to you. This allows you to react more quickly to your opponent's actions, and also allows you to plan ahead to do so. Positioning the location and also facing of your characters is very important - for blocking your opponents, for having line-of-sight, and also for fighting / shooting effectiveness.

The cards in the first row are the characters. Heart tokens on them mean they have suffered injury. The two characters on the left are carrying weapons, hence the equipment cards below them. The square tiles with blue backgrounds are the order tiles. The small half-pink-and-half-green round tokens are the Control Point (CP) tokens that have been spent on the specific quadrants of the order tiles.

Special dice are used for battle resolution.

Characters have many different statistics and abilities - how good they are at close combat and at shooting, how strong their armour is, how much punishment they can take before they die, how much equipment they can carry. The bases of the characters indicate how good they are in close combat and in shooting in specific directions, and their Line-of-Sight (LOS) angle.

There are rules for usage of all sorts of weapons, equipment and tools. There are rules for interacting with specific rooms. There are even rules for torturing captives. There is a lot of detail in the game. However they are introduced to the players bit by bit through the first 6 scenarios, so that the players are not overwhelmed.

Every scenario comes with a background story setting the stage for the game, making every scenario unique. In the earlier scenarios victory is based on fulfilling a simple condition. In the later scenarios there are multiple objectives for both sides each being worth a different number of victory points.

The Play

Allen and I played 3 games back-to-back, covering the first 3 scenarios that come with the game.

In the first scenario, one of the NORAD ladies Vasquez had been captured by the Salemite forces and was locked up in one of three rooms, the exact location only known to the Salemite player. One of the Salemite soldiers, Frank Einstein, who was a very clever zombie (yes, zombies in this game can be smart due to implanted artificial intelligence), had fallen in love with Vasquez, and decided to betray the Salemites and free her. The NORAD (Frank was considered to be on the NORAD side now) would win if Vasquez lived and escaped from the far side of the game board (away from the house). The Salemite player would win if Vasquez was killed.

We randomly decided who to play which side. Allen played NORAD and I played the Salemites. The three prisoner's rooms were locked with a magnetic card, and only the Salemite commander Jeff Deeler had the mag card. He was in the toilet when he heard a loud boom, which was Frank blowing open his bedroom door and coming out to rescue Vasquez. Jack Saw (a strong zombie with a powerful saw for a left hand) and two zombies were outside the house and rushed towards the house upon hearing the noise. Their movements were slow though (nope, zombies are never nimble).

The first thing Frank did was run to the toilet to confront Jeff. Jeff was fumbling with toilet paper and was caught with his pants down. I'm pretty sure that was a women's toilet. See the pink toilet seat.

Jeff was not exactly a strong fighter, so things didn't look good. In the mean time, the three zombies outside the house ran as fast as they could towards the house. Jack Saw, the strongest fighter, ran in first, with one zombie following not far behind, and the other coming in from the other door on the lower left.

Jeff was soon, ahem, terminated by Frank, who promptly relieved him of the mag card. Jack cornered Jeff in the refectory just outside the toilet. The refectory had a narrow corridor and there wasn't much space for manoeuvre. However clever Frank simply smashed up the table to make space, and ran past Jack. See that round "Destroyed" token on that table in the corner of the refectory.

Frank ran out to try the first room closest to the refectory. To his delight, Vasquez was there! However, by now, Jack and one other zombie were upon them. In that room where they all met, there were three doors, one leading to the refectory (eventually to a dead end), one leading to the front of the house, and one being the backdoor opening out to the back of the house. The room was small and had some goods piled up at the centre, hindering movement. Frank destroyed one of the stacks to clear up some space for movement. I had one zombie blocking the backdoor, and Jack near the other door leading to the front of the house. The door leading to the refectory did not need to be guarded, since it was leading to a dead end. How was Vasquez going to escape?

The answer: via my stupidity. Somehow I kept thinking Allen was going to get Vasquez to run towards the front of the house. Maybe he did some Jedi mind trick on me. I moved my zombie who was blocking the backdoor away, to try to block Vasquez's path to the doorway leading to the front of the house. After that Vasquez simply waltzed past Frank, gave him a passionate kiss, said thank you for saving her life, took the mag card, opened the back door, exited the house and sprinted all the way across the game board. You can see her near the top left corner.

Jack Saw (left) and Zombie 2 (lower right) stood around stupidly. Frank Einstein (right) was wearing a stupid smile and feeling like a hero now that he had saved his girl.

Scenario 1, NORAD (Allen) won.

Scenario 2: A small NORAD team visited a priest in a small town, who had discovered some concoction that could ward off zombies. They wanted to persuade the priest to come with them to the NORAD base, but the priest didn't want to leave his town. That evening, while the NORAD soldiers were sleeping in their guest rooms, Salemite soldiers who had learnt about this visit attacked the priest's home. The priest was the first casualty, killed when he went down to the basement to check mysterious sounds, which of course turned out to be a Salemite zombie.

In this scenario, the NORAD team needed to get 2 of their 3 soldiers into the chapel at the centre of the house, which had a special blessing that prevented zombies from entering (but not all Salemite soldiers were zombies). The Salemites just needed to kill one NORAD soldier. The NORAD soldiers started in three different bedrooms, on the west, southwest and south part of the house. The chapel was in the north. It was secured by heavy doors which could only be opened by a mag card, and the mag card was in the priest's room, which was also in the north part of the house. The first thing that Allen (who played NORAD again) did was to get his officer Nick Bolter to the priest's room to pick up the mag card. I (Salemites) had one zombie Jack Saw emerging from the basement staircase, which was at the centre of the house. One other zombie entered from the east side of the house to guard one of the three entrances to the chapel.

The priest's room quickly became very crowded. Another NORAD soldier ran inside, and I too sent two of my Salemite soldiers in. My two soldiers blocked both the doors, one leading to the chapel and one leading to the corridor. Allen's NORAD soldiers were stuck. My Salemite soldiers were better in hand-to-hand combat, so it was only a matter of time before I would kill one of his soldiers. Also it was more likely that I would kill one of his before he could kill my soldier who was blocking the door to the chapel. In theory he could destroy a wall section and walk right into the chapel which was next door, but unfortunately his soldiers were not physically strong enough to destroy a wall empty-handed, and he did not have any bombs in this scenario.

So eventually Allen conceded. One victory for the Salemites. He should have let one soldier guard the entrance to the priest's room, which would prevent my soldiers from entering but not stop his own soldiers from doing so. In Earth Reborn you can move through spaces occupied by friendly characters.

Scenario 2, the Salemites (me) won.

Scenario 3: Again I played the Salemites. The Salemite team was on a mission to bring Professor Kendall to a lab. The professor was carrying a vial containing a deadly virus. The NORAD team's mission was to grab this vial. What the soldiers (both NORAD and Salemite) didn't know was the professor had an antidote in his lab, and in order to save himself, he was planning to inject himself with the antidote and then release the virus, which would kill off all the soldiers, including his bodyguards.

This was the first scenario with guns. The game board had a small house in the west, and otherwise was all outdoor tiles. However there were many trees and other objects blocking line-of-sight. So it wasn't exactly easy for the NORAD soldiers to find a good shooting angle. The professor started in the south east corner with two zombie bodyguards. The Salemite commander was Jessica Hollister, who was already at the south end of the house. The NORAD soldiers were approaching from the north end of the house.

The NORAD soldiers could run much faster than Professor Kendall and the zombies protecting him. They ran towards the Salemites' intended path to cut them off. Jessica stayed behind one corner of the house waiting for Vasquez (on the far side of the photo below) to appear. I was preparing to have Jessica interrupt Vasquez's movement and shoot her once she turned the corner. Although the other two NORAD soldiers approached Professor Kendall and the zombies, many trees were blocking their line-of-sight and they could not shoot yet.

My Salemites could not run very fast. Zombies were of course slow, and the professor was not exactly the athletic type. Soon the two NORAD soldiers were upon them and shooting. Jack Saw had to use himself as a human shield to protect the professor. The other zombie was too far behind and I decided to ignore him, preferring to spend my order tiles and CP's on my other characters. I didn't use Jack Saw to attack much, although he was good at hand-to-hand combat. I wanted to save CP's for Professor Kendall to run. One important rule in the game that prevents players from activating the same character turn after turn is that within a round, all characters must be activated at least once before any character can be activated again. So I couldn't just activate the professor turn after turn and get him to sprint all the way to the lab.

The professor ran as fast as he could. He was injured, but he managed to run all the way into the house. He was just one step short of getting into the lab. Jack Saw positioned himself to try to block the firing line-of-sight of the two NORAD soldiers who had been attacking the professor. Vasquez had turned the corner, but in order to save my CP's, I didn't use Jessica to fire at her. I knowingly let Vasquez shoot at Jessica. Fortunately for me Vasquez somehow missed, even though it was at point blank range. Yes, it is possible to miss even at this range. Well, strictly speaking it was not a miss. It was a hit, but there was no damage dealt because Jessica's armour was able to withstand the bullets.

I had activated Professor Kendall, which meant I must activate all other characters before I could activate him again and get him to enter the lab. I got Jessica to stand right in front of the professor to act as a human shield.

Both Vasquez and another NORAD soldier tried to kill Jessica in order to get to the professor, even using a grenade launcher, which also hurt the professor who was standing just behind Jessica. However Jessica lasted long enough for my character activation to cycle back to Professor Kendall. He entered the lab, took the antidote, and released the virus. Game over.

Scenario 3, the Salemites won.

The Thoughts

I have only played 3 scenarios, and that only covers about half the rules of the game. I would need to play 3 more scenarios to learn all the rules. So my impressions of the game are based on partial knowledge. Moreover I have not tried scenario building, so I am unable to comment on that aspect at all.

Based on what I have experienced so far, the game has been quite enjoyable. The many rules, components and details may appear intimidating at first, but if you follow the "tutorial" provided by the game (i.e. you should be reading just a small part of the rules, play the first scenario, then read a bit more of the rules, then play the second scenario, and so on until Scenario 6), the game is not hard to learn. I enjoy the variety and backstories of the scenarios, and also like the level of detail of the game. I haven't read all the backstory sections, but I like how unique the characters are, how different the two factions are, and how the abilities of the characters tie back to the backstory. When I played the scenarios, I felt I was witnessing part of a grand story unfold.

One worry that I have is replayability. The scenarios that I have played so far are all good, but I'm not keen to replay them. I may play once or twice more, to play the other side, and maybe to see how things may turn out differently if certain mistakes had not been made, or certain different strategies had been pursued. I have a feeling that once you know a certain scenario well, there will be optimal ways to play both the factions. Naturally you are still limited by the order tiles that you draw, but I think in most cases as a player you do have much freedom to pursue a general strategy that you choose. Sometimes things can happen during the game that make you reconsider your strategy. You do need to try to adapt to changing situations. I have only played 3 very basic scenarios, and it seems that at least in these scenarios the situation can only go in a few possible directions. In the more advanced scenarios there may be more possibilities and thus more replayability. And I haven't even tried the scenario-building aspects of the game.

The fact that this game models squad level combat has its characteristics and pros and cons. Some people may like or dislike it simply due to what it is trying to model. One worry that I have is given the small number of characters you control, there may not be many options in what you can do with them. There may not be many creative ways to use them given any scenario, even though with the scenario building rules you can create many different scenarios. One good thing about playing individual characters (as opposed to a faceless, generic squad or group or unit) is you do get attached to them and feel more for them. It was painful for me to use some of my characters as human shields for the greater good - the completion of my mission.

There is still much more for me to explore in Earth Reborn. Hopefully I'll get to play more scenarios soon, so that I can write more about it.

This is a NORAD robot. I quite like the figures in the game.


荒凉。儒 said...

sounds like fallout (video game) version of the board game to me, cool! i would like to try it too.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I have heard of the name Fallout but don't really know much about it.

I now also blog about boardgames in Chinese, in case you prefer to read in Chinese (but it's a bit of Malaysian-slang Chinese :-) )

荒凉。儒 said...

i prefer it in english, thanks :)

William said...

I really enjoyed your review and retelling of your experiences with the game. My copy is coming early next week, and I'm looking forward to playing it!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thanks. Have fun! I still have not proceeded to scenario 4. I'll need to start from the beginning again since I've forgotten many of the rules by now.