Earth Reborn Review
Hey guys, I'm taking a look back at many of my board game reviews this week to see how they measure up a year or two later. Look for my Looking Back sections at the bottom of the page!
Earth Reborn is a sprawling board game set in a post-apocalyptic universe where, much like the Fallout games, the world has been ravaged and is filled with all manner of mutant people who are just itching to kill you. A board game version of Fallout? Good gravy.
In the story, there are only two surviving factions who emerge 500 years after the nukes fall: The American-funded NORAD group who are the ancestors of military generals, rich politicians and other 1% types. Conversely, there was a privately-funded group of people in Salem, Massachusetts who like to experiment on their own survivors, turning them into hideous monsters. Yes, the fiction is pretty black and white, but this brings me to my first favorite part of the game: Its seriousness is comparable to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the best possible way.
The villains (The Salemites) have buzz saws for arms, mind-controlled zombies and 500-year-old soldiers who've been kept alive thanks to some questionable science. The heroes (NORAD) are all Truth, Justice and the American Way in that cheesy "baseball and apple pie" kind of way. This is made all the stranger when you discover the game was designed by a Frenchman.
The gameplay is a tactical miniatures skirmish on a modular map, but it feels more like Halo than Chess. Players square off against each other in either pre-written scenarios that come with the game or in a player-generated map with randomly drawn sets of secret mission goals. Between these two random elements, the game could basically be played forever.
A Small Margin of Luck
What It Isn't
Although gameplay consists of moving figures around a map, this isn't a war game like Warhammer 40,000 or even a war-board game like Memoir '44. The designer said he doesn't like much randomness in his games, and it shows. The dice are extremely forgiving in this regard, rewarding tactics more often than luck.
It isn't an RPG, though it often feels like it. Instead having the options of only moving and shooting, you can move, shoot, search rooms, torture prisoners, create zombies, blow open walls, spy on players, jam radios and many other things. The fact that every wall in the game is can be destroyed speaks to its tactical flexibility.
Being a board game, I was worried that the combat would be bogged down in dice rolling. Fortunately, this game resolves everything fast. From picking a target to rolling for damage, everything is done with one or two dice rolls. These aren't funky polyhedral dice, either: They're six-sided with custom faces and the functionality is streamlined across multiple situations. Everything from swinging a chainsaw to firing a sniper rifle is handled with ease, including situations where a clip in a firearm runs dry.
If I had to say one bad thing about the game, it's that it takes a long time to set up the board. The modular tiles ensure variability, but it takes at least ten minutes to get everything in its place.
The Gentle Slope
"Oh William," you might be saying, "this game sounds complicated. All of the things you just described are already overwhelming my resolve!"
Fear not, gentle reader. The game's (colossal 44-page) rulebook gently eases you into every new rule with grace. Want to play the first scenario? Read the first eight pages. This will teach you the basic game, movement and melee attacks. Each new scenario will only teach you two new rules, allowing the game to open up like a beautiful flower. If you're the impatient type, skip the first two levels and learn how to use ranged weapons in scenario 3. It makes the game feel like it came with two or three expansions already in the box.
Better still, once you've learned one thing, you'll be using the same kind of procedure for other things. For instance, melee attacking is very similar to using ranged weapons. I taught this game to my sister in about two minutes, then demonstrated the rest as we went. I asked her, "do you feel overwhelmed?" and she said, "not at all."
I can't tell you my favorite part of the game without telling you the following story. Two years ago I was deeply engrossed in tabletop RPGs. I enjoyed writing them and seeing how the players interacted with the story.
At the time I was regularly playing board games with some friends from college. I wanted to make a more approachable RPG for someone who had never even heard of such things. That's how I invented the zombie RPG system. I didn't know it at the time, but I was essentially building a board game.
What I wanted to emulate was basically Left 4 Dead, but with more meaningful storytelling, choices and consequences. I wanted a fairly serious drama, a sense of dread and the need to scavenge as much as possible. The game was fairly successful in that regard, but the system was paper-thin and there wasn't much room for player improvement. I had fun designing the character cards, though.
The first time I played Earth Reborn, I realized it hit on all of the high points I was hoping to achieve with my zombie RPG. The only differences were that it was designed extremely well and it wasn't in a zombie apocalypse.
I'm blown away by how solid this game is. If you're familiar with games like Star Wars: Epic Duels or Space Hulk, you'll fall in love. I took a risk buying a game that I wasn't sure I'd like, but thanks to diligent research, it paid off in the end.
Despite the somewhat high price tag, if you have someone to play this game with, buy it. If your friends don't care for this kind of game, stay the heck away. It's too high a price to pay for a hefty dust-catcher.
Like an RPG, I feel that this game could easily be modified into whatever people desire. With a little creativity I could see this becoming the basis for a custom Gears of War board game (with more meaningful decisions than the official game), an actual zombie apocalypse game or any number of other interesting settings. The modular tiles could be used for other games as well. If you have other miniatures on the same scale you could easily use them with the game.
- Huge amount of variety
- Loads of unique gameplay
- Decent quality miniatures
- Gentle learning curve, especially if someone else can teach you
- Complex enough to satisfy tacticians but simple enough for casuals
- Limited audience for this type of game
- Story and setting might not appeal to everyone
- Setup and breakdown is a pain
- Lots of little components that can easily become lost, especially for someone with small children
Looking Back: Three Years Later
I've owned this game a long time now and sadly, much of my enthusiasm has gone away.
• I can't say enough about how insane this game is to set up. Thirty minutes, every time. It's prohibitively long. I often don't want to play it badly enough to justify the setup time when I could just as easily play any number of other games (or go play a video game).
• It's a beast to teach new people. The campaign system is nice at first because it holds your hand as it teaches you the rules. You'll soon realize that if you want to play with someone else you'll either have to replay all of the scenarios again or just pick and choose your favorite rules to play with. It's unruly and very intimidating, especially if it's been a few months between plays and you've forgotten half the rules yourself.
• It's a serious time commitment. Sure, the early scenarios are quick, but as the rules get layered in, the length of each turn increases exponentially until one game takes more than four or five hours. I could play a dozen games of Cosmic Encounter in that time and I'd definitely have more fun.
• It's only a two-player game. I know that it says it goes to 4 players on the box, but most people will never play with that many. With all of these factors considered, you'll discover it's a lot of work for just two people to play. I've played Mega Settlers of Catan games with less setup and it played twelve people. So why do so much work for just two players?
While I still think it's a startlingly good piece of game design, I just can't recommend that the average person go out and buy it. If all of these factors aren't a problem for you, by all means play the heck out of it. Otherwise, stay away.
- Downloads - Earth Reborn
You can download the rules and scenarios for free from the creator's website.
- How to Shop for Board Games Like A Smart Person
An article I wrote that aims to make people smarter.
- Drakkenstrike's Earth Reborn Components Breakdown Video Review in HD - YouTube
See the game out of the box and examined in some detail.