Review: Scum of the Earth

Rating: 3 stars

Scum of the Earth (Black Powder gaming for the rest of us) is a set of rules developed by Ivan Sorenson & Matthew Sparkes and published by Nordic Weasel Games.

The introduction to the rules goes a long way toward letting the gamer know what they are in for:

“We all have extra figures sitting around that we bought because we liked the look of them, we got 13 of them painted up and then our attentions drifted.
They’ve been sitting on that shelf ever since, waiting for us to paint up another 200 to field an army. With these rules, you’ll be able to grab those dusty old figures and get them on a gaming table.”

scumearthcoverThe game, somewhat intentionally, has no hard and fast scale – the authors ask the players to have the mindset of a TV director attempting to film an epic battle on a very limited budget: Bring the camera in close and hope that goes some way to make 30 men look like 300 or more. (You have seen Sharpe’s Waterloo, haven’t you? It’s a bit like that).

You can play the game on a 2′ x 2′ or 3′ x 3′ table. You can play the game with as little as 20 or 30 figures a side – Infantry units are made up of 6 models, whilst cavalry units have 3 models. Artillery are made up of a gun and 2 crew.

As well as models, players will need half a dozen pieces of scenery, plus some standard D6 and also some Average Dice (although standard D6 can be substituted for these).

The rules contain the following set-up procedure:

A table should contain 5 pieces of scenery, such as a building, hill, wood, hedgerow etc. Individual trees and bushes may be placed – these do not affect the game.
Objectives are then generated for each side by rolling on a table.
Troops are deployed within 6” of table edge when using a 2’x 2’ table, or within 10” of the table edge when using 3’ x 3’.
After troops are deployed, each player may roll on the ‘Battle Complications’ table, as things never quite go the way that you had hoped…
Troops may move a fixed distance of 4” on the first turn of the game.

scum of the earth 2Scum of the Earth is designed to use an I-Go-U-Go turn sequence, although Alternative Unit Activation or Card activation are suggested as alternative ways of playing.

When a unit activates, it performs ALL of its actions to a conclusion before the next unit is activated – this includes combat, morale resolution, counter-strike etc.

When activating a unit for movement, the player indicates the direction the unit intends to go, or it’s intended objective, such as ‘The woods on the left’ or ‘The hedgerow directly ahead’. The player then rolls 1D6, applies a possible movement modifier, and then moves the unit that number of inches towards its destination. If you roll a movement distance which would take the unit beyond it’s intended objective, it halts at the objective.

Certain terrain will hamper movement for certain troops. If moving in area terrain, or crossing a linear obstacle, the player must discard a dice if it fails to exceed a number indicated in a table. For example, Infantry crossing a linear obstacle must roll 3+ in order to move. If a 1 or 2 is rolled, then that movement dice is discarded, and the unit is said to have hesitated.

Units normally move in Line, but may adopt other formations including Skirmish Order, Assault Column or Form Up (Square, Hedgehog etc.)

If a unit hesitates, the opposing side may react against it by firing or moving, but may own act against the unit that triggered the reaction.

Combat is divided into Ranged and Melee.

In Ranged Combat, Units may fire at a target that is at least partially in front of them. Range is measured from the middle of the front of the unit.

Musket range is 9”, 12” for Rifles, 6” for carbines.

The sequence is as follows:

  • Attacker roll Average dice, add/subtract modifiers to give Volley Roll.
  • Defender rolls 1D6 and applies modifiers to give Roll To Stand.
  • If Roll To Stand > Volley Roll, defender stands.
  • If Roll To Stand =< Volley Roll, Defender is shaken, and may retreat 3”
  • If Unit already shaken unit will Break

scum of the earth 3If a moving unit contacts the enemy, a Melee Combat breaks out. Combat is an opposed dice roll – Each side rolls 1D6 and applies modifiers. Check which die wins and by how many, and consult a CRT to check the result. If a unit loses a melee by 2 or more, it must make a Courage test. Roll 1D6 and add any indicated modifier. If Courage roll > Number of figures in unit, unit Breaks.

If a unit does not break, it withdraws 3”

Units that are shaken are marked as such, but no further effect is felt. A unit cannot recover from being shaken during a battle.

If a unit Beaks, it immediately removes 1 figure and retreats 6” away from the enemy.

Each turn, a Broken unit may attempt to Rally. If it fails, it may retreat again, or may remain.

If a unit belonging to the active player Breaks, the inactive play may immediately make a counter attack – either with the unit that caused its opponent to break, or with any other unit with 8”. That unit is immediately activated. The Counter Attack occurs immediately, after which the active player continues his turn.

Games is normally fought using scenarios, each with it’s own set of victory conditions.

That pretty much covers the standard rules. There are optional rules for Artillery, Character figures (Officers, musicians, flag bearers etc) and Leaders. Other optional rules include assigning units ‘Traits’, which give units a bit of character.

The rules contain a scenario generator, and a full generic campaign system.

There is also a rudimentary system of unit advancement, which can be used in a campaign, in that units may be upgraded at the end of the battle. However, any unit that was broken or wiped out my also earn a flaw. In this way, units start to create their own story as they progress through games.

The game is designed with the Napoleonic period in mind, but includes special rules for other periods. These include:

  • English Civil War
  • Seven Years War
  • American War of Independence
  • Napoleonic Wars
  • First Schlesvig War 1848-50
  • Crimean War 1853-1856
  • American Civil War
  • Second Schlesvig War 1864
  • Austro-Prussian War 1866
  • Colonial
  • Franco-Prussian War
  • Spanish American War
  • Russo-Japanese War

scum of the earth 4Scum of the Earth is designed to be a fun, fast set of rules with an emphasis on firmly playing the game with a small number of figures rather than full period simulation, although it has enough bells and whistles to give at least a nod towards whatever period you wish to play in. The designers present this philosophy front and centre, and as such the rules do exactly what they say on the tin.

The ideas contained in the rules firmly lie in those one-page sets of rules that you may have conjured up when wanting to create your first set of wargames rules, but have subsequently been fleshed out to the point that they could easily provide an hour or more of fun with a minimal number of figures – perhaps aiming at the failed project that many gamers have sat somewhere in the depths of their hobby collection.

It’s an ideal ruleset for introducing someone to wargaming, or maybe as a simple playable game at a wargames show (it would be great with 54mm figures I think). The optional rules of Unit Traits and Setting Up The Battle and Battlefield Complications would grace many, more complicated rules.

One criticism, and this may sound harsh, but in this age of digital publishing, the layout of the rules is pretty rudimentary – it simply looks like a word document that has been converted into a PDF. The layout is OK, but it certainly won’t win any prizes.

At its heart, Scum of the Earth is firmly aimed at a ‘Beer & Pretzels’ style of game – get a few figures out on the table and roll a few dice. At this level of play these rules will excel, though I suspect that players looking for more depth in their games may be disappointed.

That said, if you play the rules in the spirit with which they are written, you will have a great deal of fun.

Scum of the Earth is available from Wargames Vault, and is priced $12.99 at time of writing this review.

Note: The publisher provided a copy of these rules for the purpose of this review.

3 Comments on Review: Scum of the Earth

  1. I may be mighty biased by this gaming having a great title, but it looks like I could dig this. I like the way units take wounds through getting shaken and breaking rather than treating casualties and morale as two completely separate entities.

  2. Thank you for this in-depth review. Seems like a nice alternative to the likes of SoBaH.

    The layout is indeed distracting from an apparently good set of rules. Its rudimentary look drew my attention and I was less focused on the actual mechanics explained on your sample pages.

    I am aware that the best layout does not make a good ruleset, but a good set of rules is further enhanced by evocative pictures and a simple, professional layout. Just motivates you to paint some stuff and the text is easier to navigate.

    All that said I may give it a go and maybe a second edition can improve the layout somewhat.

  3. Ivan Sorensen // May 28, 2017 at 22:42 // Reply

    Ivan from Nordic Weasel here.
    We appreciate the detailed review and yes, the layout is fairly rudimentary.
    The primary goal is to make it as friendly to read on a screen as possible, but that can sometimes work against the presentation as well.
    We’ll definitely factor that into our future plans.
    Let me know if you have any questions. As the reviewer suggests, we sort of intended it as an “escape valve” for a lot of unfinished projects that people have sitting around.

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