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Subject: An Earth Reborn Review by a Lapsed BattleTech Fan rss

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Christopher
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It’s a lazy Labor Day, and I finally got to play my copy of Earth Reborn yesterday, so what better time than now to write my first game review? Earth Reborn is a game that was on my radar long before it released in late 2010 because it hits so many selling points for me:

Gorgeous minis? Check.

Modular game board for building detailed and varied layouts? Check.

Several scenarios to add replay value, plus a random scenario generator? Check.

Deep tactical combat? Check.

Destructible environments? Check.

Torture? Check.

Guy with a buzzsaw for an arm (which I’ve wanted in a game since a buddy lent me his copy of Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight in 1991)? Check.

A Battlemech? Check.

A Horny Zombie? Check.

A guy that scores points for using the toilet? Check.

A clone of Private Vasquez from Aliens, but with giant bombs and a sniper rifle? Check.

Suffice it to say, this game looked like something I’d have created myself in 1992 if I was somehow able to translate my awesome adolescent thoughts into gaming reality. As a teenager I loved playing Battletech with my buddies (we also dabbled in Warhammer 40k and some other similar stuff), but then we all went our separate ways after high school (different colleges in different parts of the country, followed by different careers in different parts of the country). I’ve missed playing tabletop games with engaging tactical gameplay ever since those carefree days of blowing the heads off of each other’s carefully crafted Battlemechs with lucky Gauss Rifle shots. Heck, I’d missed playing games in general. I’d long since made new friends, but none of them really enjoyed geeking out with boardgames the way I did. Still, I always kept track of the latest and greatest games on BGG.com and bought them as they came out. The sad ritual was to buy the game, paint the minis (if it had any), sleeve the cards (if it had any), ask the girlfriend if she’d play it with me, then put the game in the trunk of my car after she said no in the hopes that one of my buddies would want to play it (which almost never happened).

December 2010 rolled around, Earth Reborn finally hit shelves, and I exercised some rare buying restraint and held off on it. After all, I was already spending tons of money on Christmas gifts, and $80 was a lot of money to spend on something I’d almost certainly never get to play; if getting friends and family to try Dominion was like pulling teeth, getting them to try a super-detailed tactical minis game would be like pulling teeth with a pair of tweezers. My resolve held until I saw the game hit $30 on Tanga. To not buy this game for $30 seemed wrong on principle to me, the way it’s wrong to not eat free cheeseburgers. I put my order in immediately, and when it arrived I was overcome by a familiar delusion: “This game looks so badass, certainly I’ll get to play it somehow!” I crafted a gameplan on how to paint, inkwash, and seal the minis while protecting the firing arcs on the bases. I ordered card sleeves from Mayday and replenished my supply of paints and washes. I always relished this part of the new game cycle, the foreplay (well, I guess reading endlessly about the game on BGG.com before buying it is technically the foreplay, but you know what I’m getting at).

I worked on painting the minis for 30 minutes here and there when I could find the time after getting home from the office, and I sleeved up the cards. I printed up the Universal Head rules sheets (I find them invaluable in learning games) and laminated them. When the minis were painted up I dipped them in Future Floor Wax (the best acrylic paint sealant I’ve ever encountered for raw protection), two coats, followed by a spray of matte sealant to take the gloss off. My copy was ready for action. I took it to a buddy’s house and pitched it to him; he was wowed by the components and the theme, but the 44 page rulebook and the apparent complexity of the game clearly turned him off to it. Same with a few other buddies, so into the trunk it went.



A couple months later I discovered a couple of really great boardgame clubs, and now for the first time since the mid-90’s I’m playing games regularly. I’ve lugged my copy of Earth Reborn to almost every meetup, but I was intimidated by the large rulebook and notoriously lengthy setup time and so it just seemed easier to play other games. This week I decided to stop putting it off and I finally dove in with a couple of good buddies from the game club. I printed up the 3-4 player version of the first scenario and we started setting it up. It took about 20 minutes, which felt like 40 minutes because we had to sort through all the little door tiles to find the correct ones. I started wondering to myself if this game really was more trouble than it was worth. We sat down, and Seth (who had already played the game a couple times) walked us through the basic rules, and got down to business. Pat and I were playing the Norad side, tasked with rescuing Cherokee Bill from his prison cell and getting him outside to freedom. Seth was playing the Salemite side, tasked with killing Cherokee Bill. The tile system clicked with us pretty quickly, and in no time Pat and I were showing off our good tiles to each other with delight (“a 4 CP Knife tile! That’s going up Jack Saw’s keister!”)

Pat had James Woo make a run down to one of the prison cells while I had Nick Bolter make a run for the keycard needed to open up all the doors and cells. Seth maneuvered Jack Saw after us. The back and forth movement felt intuitive yet meaningful; this was not just a run-and-gun actionfest but rather a thinking man’s skirmish game. I was quickly reminded of Battletech, probably because of the critical importance of the terrain and facing. Seth thought he had positioned Jack Saw up against a wall, but in fact had not (the walls are very dark and sometimes hard to make out) and was out of points to spend on him! Pat and I gleefully put our best tiles to work in a failed attempt to flank Jack Saw (we had some bad rolls). Seth uncovered Cherokee Bill in a cell and trapped him in there; Cherokee Bill eventually broke the door down, but before he could get free Jack Saw cornered him. Just when I was starting to think the game made it too hard to kill people, Jack Saw went and cut poor Cherokee Bill to shreds in one turn! I think we all would have been up for playing again if it wasn’t almost midnight.

I’m really looking forward to getting more plays in with Earth Reborn. It seems to be as much a tactical action toolkit as anything, because underneath the theme (which seems ripped right off the cover of an 80’s death metal album, and I mean that as a compliment) lies a skirmish game with a lot of depth and seemingly unlimited options (and we haven’t even graduated to using guns yet!) The gameplay is fun, addictive, and a lot more streamlined than I expected. The map tiles allow for complete freedom in building interesting maps to game on, which is critical with a tactical game (adapting to an unfamiliar layout is part of what keeps these games fresh ). This game was clearly crafted with hardcore gamers in mind, as the minis come primered and the insert is built to fit sleeved cards.

That said, Earth Reborn is not perfect. Setup is a drag, both because of how long it takes and because it can be a pain to find just the right tile you’re looking for (though I’m going to try coming up with a sorting system that will alleviate that). I suppose that comes with the territory; a game that offers this much variety (93 double-sided tiles) is going to be at least a little unwieldy. I’ve thought about taking a high-res picture of each map after setting it up, then printing it onto a poster to eliminate setup time, but I’m not sure how realistic that is. The tiles are also a little too dark, and walls can be hard to spot without studying the tiles up close. The rulebook could be clearer, and certainly doesn’t need to be 44 pages long (the Universal Head sheets convey almost all of the same rules in 8 pages).

At the end of the day these complaints are minor in relation to just how awesome Earth Reborn is. I look forward to playing more and getting deeper into the rules. This is one of those games that doesn’t hide anything; I think you can easily determine if you’ll like it by just reading about it. If it sounds great to you, you’ll probably love it. If it sounds way too involved and detailed for your tastes, you probably won’t enjoy it very much. Different strokes for different folks, but after one play I think it might be the best tactical skirmish game I’ve ever seen.
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Brian McCormick
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Lansing
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Great review! Glad you're enjoying this awesome game. It's a keeper.
 
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(^_^). A first play review/session from a gamer experienced in skirmish games is great to see! Glad that your first taste confirmed ER as a winner for you. A great read, and I'm looking forward to more sessions--and hopefully some pics!
 
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Christopher
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Thanks guys! Added a pic of the painted minis (the flash is way too bright, but I'll take a better pic at some point).
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