I’ve been very interested in Z-man Games’s epic Earth Reborn lately. This is a game that hearkens back to the days of ‘big box’ games by Games Workshop in the 90s like Advanced Space Crusade and Warhammer Quest; a game packed with potential for enhancement, homegrown scenarios, and expansion—a big ‘sandbox’ of a game. Let me tell you a bit more about Earth Reborn, what makes it so much fun, and show you some things I’ve already done to enhance this fantastic post-apocalyptic combat game.
Firstly, the makers of this game have already provided the gamer with endless hours of gameplay, and there’s really nothing that has to be added to what’s in the box and what’s online. The game itself comes with nine scenarios that have a lot of replay value, but the included Scenario Auto Generating System (affectionately dubbed ‘S.A.G.S.’) means that by following specific rules, you can easily generate an infinite number of scenarios yourself. You go through the steps of building a map, assembling teams, selecting equipment, and then drawing a number of Mission cards from the supplied decks, and you’re ready to go. And there’s even a S.A.G.S. system specifically designed for 3 or 4 players.
There’s a lot more stuff for the game at the Earth Reborn website, where you’ll find an community of Earth Reborn players, online and offline map designers, multi-player rules, and player-created scenarios to try.
Anyway, back to the game. I must admit it took me a little time to get my head around the quite original activation and combat systems in Earth Reborn, but once I understood what was going on it all clicked smoothly into place. The basis of the game are Order tiles and Command Point counters. Basically, whenever you activate a character you draw an Order tile from the bag, add it to the selection of tiles and Command Points you have hidden behind your little player screen, then choose a tile to assign to your character. You then assign Command Point tokens to actions on the tile. Each tile has four order types on it—either close combat, move, interact, search, or shoot actions, with a number on each type shown.
You assign CP counters to the orders you want your character to take, as he takes them. For example, you may want to assign 2 CP to a move action, so if your character has a movement value of 5, he could move 10 squares. Then you could assign 1 CP to a close combat action, allowing your character to attack an adjacent enemy. Then you could assign another 1 CP to another move action so he could run off another 5 squares afterward!
You can easily see that this ingenious system gives you an incredible amount of flexibility during your turn—it’s not just ‘move then shoot’. However the selection of tiles and the amount of CP counters you have also give you built-in limits which can be incredibly frustrating and really get you thinking tactically! You may have plenty of options for running around at high speed, but very few for delivering accurate fire or strong attacks, for example. You have to manage your options carefully for the optimal result. This makes every game interesting and different.
I won’t go into all the specifics of the combat system—not to mention all the other possibilities for manipulating equipment, spying, searching for items or even capturing your opponents and torturing them for information!—but suffice it to say they all flow very smoothly and once you get the hang of the Iconographic Phrasing System (I.P.S.—these designers love their acronyms!) you can see at a glance how each special ability works.
In short, if you love an extremely thematic game with a lot of tactical possibilities, detail, and endless opportunity for expansion, you’ll love Earth Reborn. It’s definitely a game for ‘game hobbyists’.
Now, on to my personal improvements for owners of the game. Firstly, I’ve created a comprehensive rules summary and set of reference sheets: download them here. The game rules can be quite daunting at first glance, but the nine scenarios cleverly take you through the rules, adding concepts as you play through them and get used to the way the game works. But once you’re using all the rules you’ll find my summary very useful to give you all the information you need without all the detail and examples that are in the rulebook.
Another thing I did was to redesign the character cards that come with the game (you’ll find them in the above file). Now of course the original cards work just fine, but I decided I’d make them a bit bigger and a bit clearer, and actually write out the special abilities as well as show them with the icon system. These are just an optional extra, but a good example of how a game like this can bring out the hobbyist in some gamers!
Of course, I’ve already painted all the miniatures that came with the game, and you can check out my Earth Reborn Painting Guide if you need some tips.
Finally, I decided to replace the original box insert with my own, made of that incredibly useful stuff—foamcore. You can find foamcore in art supply shops and it’s very easy to cut with a craft knife and a metal ruler (watch those fingers!), and build with using white glue (and pins for extra strength). Now the plastic box insert that comes with the game is actually custom-designed and has a special place for everything, but I personally like to make foamcore inserts for most of my games. This one is designed with a removable tray for all the counters. In a future article I’ll tell you about the art of foamcore and how to build box inserts and game enhancements.
As you can see, Earth Reborn is not just a game, it’s a hobby, and I’m sure I’ll come up with even more ways to enhance the game as I play it more often. But then that’s one of the endlessly fascinating things about gaming in general; you don’t have to stop at what you’ve been given in the box!