Monday, May 15, 2017

Scum of the Earth Review

I recently purchased Nordic Weasel's Scum of the Earth by Ivan Sorensen and finally had a chance to test it out – albeit with bare plastic models (at least they were the correct color plastic).

The game is intended to use just a handful of miniatures so that you can break out some of your figures that have been collecting dust or explore a period without having to invest large amounts of time and money. For example, an infantry unit consists of six individually-based figures.

The rules only take up about 24 of the rule's 67 pages. The rest are optional rules including campaign rules and some tools/inspiration for developing scenarios. The rules are straight forward. It is generally an I-Go-You-Go turn sequence, but there are opportunities for the passive side to interrupt the active side. Shooting and hand-to-hand combat use opposed rolls. The results of these rolls incorporate disorder and units breaking as well as casualties. This makes for a quick game and one that is visually appealing – Shaken units can be shown by a staggered line while broken units are represented by a mob of figures skulking at the rear.

Having read the rules over, I grabbed some American Civil War miniatures that had been collecting dust, and gave the rules a test drive...

Below is the field after turn three. The forces have come together. Each side has one unit broken (indicated by the stands at odd angles) and one or two units shaken  (indicated by slightly staggered stands). The Union force seems to have things well in hand – The North controls the hilltop, two of the Confederate units are shaken, and one other is broken.

However, things took a turn for the worse for the Northern troops. A series a successful volleys devastated the Union troops. At the end of turn six, the Union had only one unit that was not broken (and that one was shaken). Moreover, as the picture below shows, the Rebels' battle line was still intact. This highlights one of the features of the rules. Namely, units will tend to fall back, but if they are left alone, they can rally and return to the fight. To win you really have to keep the pressure up on the enemy.

Overall, I enjoyed the game. It was quick to learn the basics, but there are definitely some tactics that will increase your chances of success – like shooting at a unit twice in the same turn. If you don't concentrate your fire, it is hard to drive enemy troops from the field (The target unit only loses a figure if it rolls a 1 or is broken, so attrition can be slow compared to some other games). However, all things being equal, that is probably a realistic result and actually models a black powder firefight pretty well.

Another thing that became clear by the end of the game was that two forces simply marching forward and exchanging volleys until one side breaks would become stale fairly quickly. That is, the rules are so straight forward there is little "rules-gamesmanship" to engage in. But this is a good thing as it encourages players to have the proper historical mindset. Real life soldiers would not have been thing about maximizing modifiers. Moreover, it makes scenarios and campaigns worthwhile – almost a necessity. And to his credit, Ivan has included some nice scenario generating tables and campaign rules.

The only area that seemed a little off to me was that units could move and fire in the same turn without any ill effects (This is probably because I'm so used to that type of mechanic and not because of any particular knowledge of black powder warfare). And I don't think is would break the game to have units give up their movement to "reload." Indeed, I think it might add to the tactical challenge. I will definitely be trying this house rule out.

The Rebels watch the Union troops skedaddle

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