Monday, February 14, 2011

Won't somebody think of the *zombie* children? (Earth Reborn)

I took a gamble on a game called Earth Reborn recently. I'm a big fan of Duel of Ages, and always appreciated the freedom of actions available, the multitude of character powers and equipment, etc. In many of our games, memorable stories would emerge as players would attempt unexpected or desperate strategies against one another (or failed spectacularly at what seemed like an easy success). The game does have issues (components, balance, playtime, etc), however, and rarely gets played anymore. When I was browsing the BGG essen videos, I stumbled across the one for Earth Reborn and was was quite attracted by the designer's stated goal to create a game that would foster these types of stories and memorable events. The fact that I really like Dungeon Twister, by the same author, certainly helped. It's a game about an apocalyptic future where two factions have emerged after hundreds of years hiding from nuclear radiation and are apparently not getting along. One faction is military, the other dabbles in the occult (zombies and such). In the weeks since I purchased it, I've been slowly working my way through the considerable rulebook and playing through a few scenarios solo to get acquainted with the system before inflicting it on anyone else. It's a very ambitious title that attempts to bring a lot to a single game, and from a production standpoint you get quite a toybox. Cool minis, tons of double-sided tetris like tiles for scenario building, a large assortment of equipment cards, tokens for decoys, passcards, mines, doors, etc, etc, etc. There is a lot of stuff here.

With some familiarity with the system, I became simultaneously very enthusiastic and discouraged. Setup time for the scenario based games are quite long. Although there isn't anything wrong with the theme itself, the implementation is pretty weak. Despite the huge effort to flesh out the backstory and the characters (there are pages of this stuff), it all comes off as *really* generic and cliché. Second, the scenario based learning system is great in theory, but we don't play games often enough to play 8-16 times just to understand all the rules. Luckily, I *really* like the game system. Despite it's incredible flexibility and depth, the rules are very logical and playable. The scenarios are much more than simply "kill everybody else", and once all the rules are known and the full game is being played the game setup seems like it will be reduced to something much more reasonable.

All that, and I wasn't really sure if anybody in the group would like this type of game.

Anyway, this week I picked it. We skipped to the scenario called "zombie family", which is a 3-4 player learning scenario which uses weapons, duelling for initiative and equipment.

In the scenario, the Salemites (the occultists) believe they've unlocked the secret to allowing zombies to procreate. A female zombie has been impregnated as a proof of concept. The Norad (military types) must invade the lab and destroy the female zombie before she escapes.

We played twice. The player controlling the Salemites starts with all his characters hidden mixed in with several decoy markers to make things harder for NORAD to figure out. We had a bit of a hard time with the hidden movement rules and got several things wrong, which was frequently leading to odd and unsatisfying results (ex: when characters were revealed, I thought it was necessary to wait until the next turn to activated them. In fact, it's just until the next round. Big difference. There was also perpetual confusion about the movement rules of hidden characters). Other than these scenario specific rules, everything was going quite smoothly rules-wise.

In the first session, Shemp was the Salemites. Kozure and I spread out our forces and stormed the building. It all boiled down to 3 individual skirmishes, but in the end the lady zombie was killed before she was very close to escape. Shemp suffered the brunt of the misunderstood hidden movement rules, and we realized that the male and female zombies are reversed between the miniatures and the cards which caused an error in deployment. Oh well, it was a good learning experience.

In the second session, Kozure was the Salemites. Shemp and I decided to storm fewer doors to prevent leaving too many open escape paths. We managed to uncover several decoys, but ultimately James Woo and Vasquez (NORAD characters) where caught in a showdown in a corridor while the zombie mommy got around them. There was a brief chance of stopping her as she struggled to bash down the door to get out, but zombies aren't easy to take down in a hurry.

At this point, it's still playing like a skirmish game. I'm looking forward to playing a more advanced scenario which opens up the possibilities a little bit (special powers, non-weapon equipment, destructible terrain, spying, searching, communication blocking, etc). Still, I think the game system is great... a combination of order tiles (that allow many different types of actions to happen while still limiting choice in a reasonable way) and action point allocation (which allows surprising flexibility to manage actions, special actions, opportunity actions, reloading weapons, etc, with very little unnecessary complexity.

Shemp and Kozure seemed to enjoy it, but not overly. Kozure mentioned that he preferred skirmish games that are more focussed on the skirmishing. Fair enough. I do think I'll be making this my pick for a while until we get to the full game so I can make a final assessment on the whole game. Right now, I am cautiously optimistic...

1 comment:

  1. I should clarify that while I thought that the mechanics of the game generally not bad, the activation mechanic based on CPs required a lot of strategic thought and pre-planning. To me, too much analysis detracts from the immediacy of tactical skirmish level games, which in my mind should feel more instinctive.

    It's not bad at all, but for my money, if I'm going to play a slightly-wacky skirmish game with a RPG side, I'd probably prefer to play Duel of Ages.

    That said, I'm not against playing again.