Monday, 13 February 2017

Scum Of The Earth

Nordic Weasel have been around for a while, producing interesting-looking skirmish and small-unit games which I have read, read about and somehow never managed to play. However I read a review of his latest offering the other day - Scum of the Earth - and decided that it was time I stopped reading and started playing.

Scum of the Earth is available HERE in (at the time of writing) a beta test version. The plus side of this is that you pay what you want for it; nothing if you truly are the scum of the earth and lots if you are true Lady or Gentleman of Honour.

They are described as 'Black Powder' rules for people with 'dusty miniatures shelves'. That is, they are designed to cover 18th and 19th century actions, and also designed to make use of that handful of figures from that era that a hypothetical short attention-span wargamer has on his or her shelves. The scale is a bit nebulous; units consist of six infantry or three cavalry figures, but since the rules comment that, if you are using 6-10mm figures, a 'figure' can be a base of 3-5 models, we can assume that they represent more than six individuals. It's definately pitched as a skirmish-level game, though. Let's assume a unit is 30-50 infantry, or up to 25 cavalry tops, and leave it at that. The starter game suggests 3-5 units per side. There are optional rules for artillery, although it does point at that at this scale you wouldn't be using it.

Essentially this game is a ruthlessly simple game set at about the same level as Sharp Practice.

And it is ruthlessly simple. All rolls are on a single D6, with an Average die used for firing. Movement is a D6 in inches, plus or minus modifiers for formation and type. Firing and close combat are by unit, and consist of opposed rolls. Units lose figures, but mostly disappear through routing, with a loss of one or two figures making a rout more likely in close combat. Both forms of combat can be brutal. There are a couple of pages of optional rules at the end for characters to add to your units, rules for leaders and rules for different unit characteristics. These are what you would expect - the odd +/- modifier in particular circumstances, or the ability to ignore something.

Anyway, I bought a copy (paying more than $0), and set up a game. I used my 6mm South American Wars of Liberation troops, with no special abilities or leaders - three units of infantry and one of light cavalry per side. I used one Irregular Miniatures stand to represent one figure in the game.

Terrain was a series of rocky hills - I just rearranged my Chacabuco terrain from yesterday, with a farm in the centre. The two forces were foraging parties after supplies. Victory would go to whoever held the farm.

The Patriots quickly moved to occupy the farm. In fact the rules aren't clear how buildings work. I treated the farm as bad going which offered no cover unless the unit adopted skirmish formation, at which point they could spread out around the perimeter.

The Royalists formed up into columns to assault the farm. One came under fire and was shaken.

The other column got held up in the rocks.

Eventually the Royalists got their act together and attacked the farm, routing the defenders.

The two cavalry units had fought wide out on the flank, and the Royalists had eventually routed. The Patriot cavalry swung round to threaten the Royalists attacking the farm, forcing one into square. But a firefight around the farm saw the Patriot infantry driven off, so a charge by their cavalry was all that was left. The Royalists came out of square in order to shoot, and paid the price, despite the Patriot cavalry struggling through the rough terrain, but musketry from the farm drove off the horse and won the day for the Royalists.

The game was quick, brutal and surprisingly fun, given the simple mechanisms. Most of it was obvious in play, but I did have a few queries or reservations.

(i) I confess that I didn't find the bad going rules intuitive, with units sometimes not moving even if they only intend to enter terrain. However I shall persevere and see if it makes more sense in future games.

(ii) I liked the reaction rule, where the passive player gets to move a unit. However with only one minor exception, this can only be triggered by a unit failing to move in bad going.

(iii) I had units roll for movement to change formation, with a discarded dice meaning that they didn't manage it. I rather like the idea of *any* formation change rolling, with a 1 being a fail and, of course, triggering a reaction. This would mostly deal with my reaction move reservation in Point (ii).

(iv) I wasn't sure what the penalties for cavalry attacking into bad going where. I assumed that a unit attacking something in bad going had to roll as if it were entering/crossing it, so obviously a failure to move is a possibility. But cavalry don't seem to lose their +1 combat bonus, unless the target is formed up. But I shall play this unchanged for now and see how it goes.

(v) Finally, the routing rules seemed to be mostly redundant. There are rules for rallying units which rout, but since a unit routs 12" and the recommended board is only 24" square, most routs take a unit off the table and out of the game anyway. Perhaps a routing unit should stop at the table edge, or not travel so far. A routing unit that fails to rally is very vulnerable, and moves 6" if attacked, so a 6" rout would keep units in the fight whilst removing those that cocked up the rally. In addition I'd perhaps make the rally roll one point more difficult if the unit is also shaken, since shaken doesn't seem to have much of an effect otherwise.

I shall try some more games of this, and see how they go.

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