An Insurgent Earth Battle Report in 54mm

insurgent earth tabletop wargame cover

For Christmas I received a copy of a tabletop wargame I’d been eyeing for some time: Insurgent Earth.

As the cover above suggests, it’s a game where you can create a human resistance cell and then fight against an alien occupation of Earth, with the enemies being run by the game’s “AI” (think movies like Independence Day or Battle: Los Angeles).

I’d been following the author Patrick Todoroff’s great wargame battle report/design/writing blog, Stalker7, for a while and had been intrigued by his other games built on the same engine (Zona Alfa, taking the action to a post-Soviet, post-apocalypse setting; Exploit Zero, doing the same in a cyberpunk Hong Kong; and Nightwatch, a dark fantasy version) but the idea of a scrappy band of humans fighting extinction, or worse, and squaring off against an evil alien menace really spoke to me.

If you can’t tell, I’m the kind of guy that tears up a little bit every time I watch President Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day.

And while I have a resin 3D printer and could have spent a couple days printing up opposing forces for the game, I figured I already own tons of modern figures and representative aliens in my existing collection of 54mm army men. So why not use those?

sci fi army men
Sci-fi army men *do* exist if you look hard enough!

It’s clear the author, Patrick Todoroff, comes from an RPG background. Insurgent Earth is almost “RPG-lite,” or what’s been described in other corners of the internet as, “adventure wargaming.” The game has RPG aspects like character creation, loot tables, and skill progression from game-to-game, which are then married to a tactical tabletop wargame experience to provide an arena for trying out that cool new shotgun your character just got.

It’s neither pure “theater of the mind” pen-and-paper RPG, nor pure battle-and-tactics-focused tabletop wargame. It’s a hybrid of both, with the character progression RPG aspects giving meaning and context to the frenetic tabletop battles, and the battles giving heft and consequences to the choices made during character-building and character downtime.

It’s perfect for me, as I’ve always been more interested in the stories that wargames can tell, and have never sought to “win at all costs” on the tabletop (which is probably why I lose more often than not…). The emergent narrative that comes from a chaotic toy soldier battle really feeds my love of world-building and engaging fiction.

Several times throughout the book Patrick uses variations on the term, “your game, your X.” Like, “your invasion, your aliens.” It’s a design philosophy that embraces player-tinkering with the game, the rules, and the setting, and which has been missing in wargames for far too many decades. I’m glad it’s making a comeback.

Character creation in Insurgent Earth

The book recommends a starting resistance cell of four-to-six members. I opted for four to allow for growth over time (and to reduce the amount of food I need to collect in initial missions to keep everyone alive).

While the rules state you can choose the type, loadout, and skills for each of your cell members, I liked the idea of rolling up each insurgent randomly, similar to how another “adventure wargame,” Five Parsecs From Home, does it (more on that game in a later post). I figured I’d get some weird choices I could spin into a fun story, and I was right!

Since many of the character traits in Insurgent Earth are in lists of seven, and weapons in a list of 11, I used a dice app on my phone (called Dice Ex) so I could roll unusual-sided dice to make my choices for me.

Characters in the game are either soldiers, specializing in tabletop combat, or civilians, who offer skills most helpful after a battle (like converting scrap into useful weapon upgrades). For my cell I rolled up two soldiers and two civilians (giving each a 50% chance on a D6).

The first soldier I rolled traits and skills for turned out to be a Support Weapon Expert (two-dice bonus for heavy weapons) and an Optimist (adding one to morale rolls) and, serendipitously, the very first name I rolled in the random name generator I found online was “Jonathan Hope.” And optimist with the last name Hope: can’t make this stuff up!

random name generator

The second soldier, Alfred Clarkson, got Hard (loses fewer dice when wounded) and Combat Life Saver Training (better with medic packs).

The two civilians, especially given the equipment I later rolled up for the team, turned out even more interesting. One is Focused (+1 to skill rolls) and a Brawler (+1 to melee rolls), while the other is Athletic (can jump and throw 2″ farther) and a Life Coach (can re-roll skill checks and give nearby friends +1 on their skill rolls).

Then for team equipment I rolled up not one, but two “Grape Ape Candy” drugs (literally crystal meth), plus a gas mask, flashlight, “cry baby” noise maker and a few other things. For weapons I rolled not one, but three “scarce” weapons: A support LMG, ranged blast weapon (rocket launcher), and flamethrower, plus some Molotov cocktails.

I hadn’t read the “Scarce” rule—which limits cells to only one of these types of weapons—before rolling and, once I had, it was too late. I’d already concocted a story in my head about these two crazy civilians, likely running an illicit meth lab, and armed with a flamethrower and Molotov cocktails (the exact wrong weapons to have around a dangerously explosive drug lab) and falling in with two straight-edged soldiers just for the fun of smoking some alien bugs. Paraphrasing the rule book: my invasion, my insanely-well-armed drug-cooking civilians.

I then realized I’d forgotten to roll for gender, so I gave the soldiers a 2/3 chance of being men and the civilians a 50/50 on a D6. Both soldiers turned out to be men, and the two crazy, drug-lab-running, Molotov-cocktail-slinging, let’s-kill-aliens-for-the-fun-of-it civilians?

Both women. Meet Lynn Farrell and Dorothy Lovell.

army men wargame
The cell, about to embark on their first mission.

I love how random generation can just create these unique story situations, the details of which your brain automatically works to fill in. Now on to the Insurgent Earth battle report!

Insurgent Earth Battle Report: Raid the Mech

After creating the resistance cell it was time to roll up a mission.

I again decided to roll one up randomly, and was helped this time by a mission table that was six options exactly. On a D6 roll of three I got, “‘Damn aliens…’ Sabotage an alien structure/vehicle. Or recover Xeno-Tech from the same.”

I decided the mission would be to recover some data from an alien mech that had been downed in the first wave of the invasion but not yet recovered by the occupation forces. It was located in a quiet and now abandoned suburb. But time was of the essence, because if the resistance had learned of the mech then the aliens surely would soon.

insurgent earth battle report
Mission AO. The downed mech was taken out by a Javelin ambush early in the invasion and for some reason has not yet recovered by alien forces. Each of the green crates and barrels is a Point of Interest that may contain valuable salvage, or may alert a deadly enemy. A human Collaborationist patrol appears in the top right corner, as decided by a die roll.

The resistance cell cautiously approaches the crossroads, splitting up to either side of the main road to scrounge for needed supplies and food. Team lead Jonathan Hope, with Molotov-wielding Dorothy Lovell behind him, investigates the abandoned campsite and finds two meals-worth of freeze-dried food packs, but accidentally sets off a bear bell as he does. Luckily the sound doesn’t carry that far into the forest and there’s no sign of approaching enemies.

Unfortunately, Alfred Clarkson and Lynn Farrell, checking out the truck on the other side of the road, aren’t so lucky.

starcraft army men

While they find some protein bars in the cab (2x more food supplies), they missed the Xenos Monstrosity with heavy armor rooting around right behind the truck. Each Point of Interest (POI) has a chance of spawning helpful supplies but also bad things like booby traps and, in this case, ambushes by enemy forces.

As an aside, I found the tables where you roll to figure this out a little confusingly-labelled. I accidentally rolled a D10 here when, for my “level one” beginner zone I should have only been rolling a D6, which would have made it impossible for this D10 elite monstrosity to appear. Ah well, it happened, let’s go with it!

army men vs aliens
“You came to the wrong neighborhood motherfu-“

Before the alien can react, Dorothy, across the way but seeing the hulking power suit rear up, thinks fast and throws a “cry baby” noisemaker to draw it away from Clarkson and Lynn. It works, and the alien lumbers into the open towards the noise. It sees Jonathan Hope and manages to take a shot at the Lieutenant, wounding him, before a combination of skillfully thrown Molotov cocktails and a hail of fire from Hope’s SAW cuts it down.

army men battle
“Welcome ta’ Earf!” First alien kill of the day—giving Hope 1XP—if he survives the rest of the mission.

In Insurgent Earth, combat works using different die types with a target number (usually 4+) modified by skills and circumstances. Player characters have one free move, plus three dice-based actions they can take if they roll successfully. Characters usually start with one of each of three different die types: D6, D8, and D10. The higher the die the more likely you are to roll over the target number and so the more valuable that die is.

This being a campaign, I actually opted to start with lower dice numbers so my characters could “level up” over time. So my civilians have two D6s and one D8, while the soldiers, slightly better-trained, start with one D6 and two D8s.

When a character takes wounds they lose the top die in their arsenal, representing a loss of function as they are more progressively injured, and handily also tracking the number of wounds (initially three) each has remaining.

It’s an elegant system, though as a D6 “die hard” (see what I did there?), I had to go out and buy a cheap set of RPG dice to make sure I had the right ones for the game.

zerg vs army men

Lt. Hope is just not having a good day. The second POI he investigates in the nearby hippy house turns up a first aid kit (surprisingly useful despite half of it being homeopathic herbal remedies) but also alerts some nasty alien critters scrounging in the compost pile behind the house. These are “vermin” I rolled up on the Trouble table, which the rule book doesn’t describe but which I chose to represent as some escaped alien fauna transported to this world during the occupation.

The bugroaches spring at Hope and engage him in close combat. He manages to down one, but the other rakes him with its claws and he falls back, wounded again. Luckily Dorothy is there to huck another couple Molotovs at the remaining creature and grin happily as it screeches and dies in the flames.

grenade throwing army woman
Nothing some highly-flammable gasoline bombs can’t handle!

With the entire crew now at the site of the downed alien mech, Dorothy is also able to use her Life Coach skill to add a +1 to Lynn’s skill check die rolls to retrieve the data core from the xeno machine. Lynn can then use her own Focused ability to add another +1 and she swiftly completes the three actions necessary to grab the key alien info (illustrating the importance of having civilians, with their non-combat skills, on the team).

Clarkson meanwhile escorts the wounded Hope back into some cover and towards an exfil point. There they discover a Very Good Boy helping himself to some delicious trash. Hope, with his Optimist ability tries to convince the doggo to join the resistance against the alien menace by holding out one of the food supplies he picked up earlier. Unfortunately it’s freeze-dried vegan tofu and the dog ignores him.

By now the sound of all that shooting and explosions has alerted the Collaborationist patrol in the woods, and they finally emerge into the neighborhood.

army men dog
Just say no to quisling Collabs, but yes to Good Boys!

Clarkson and Dorothy open up with AT-4 rocket fire and Molotov cocktails, respectively, and down four out of the five dirty traitors to humanity. Lynn, data core in hand, falls back to Hope’s position and, seeing the Lt.’s hopeless efforts to cajole the dog to follow him, snaps her fingers in front of its face, stares it down, and growls, “Heel!”

Meekly, the dog obeys.

alien rapid reaction force
“Sorry, wrong number.”

Unfortunately with one of the Collabs still alive, not one, but two alien Rapid Reaction forces is inbound and both impact within yards of the crossroads. Alien Line Caste troopers emerge from the smoke and begin advancing on the resistance cell members. The brave defenders of humanity decide that, at this point, discretion is the better part of valor and hightail it into the woods as fast as everyone, including the limping Hope, can skedaddle.

army men retreat
Smellya later!

Concluding Thoughts on the Insurgent Earth Rules

As you can tell from the extensive write-up and pictures in this Insurgent Earth battle report, I had a blast playing this game. There were enough surprises and decisions throughout that I felt engaged the whole playtime (which was probably an hour-and-a-half to two hours, but will be less as I learn the rules).

As mentioned above there are some confusing bits to the rule book itself (like which and how many dice to roll for the salvage/trouble tables), and the book really could have benefited from a consolidated quick-reference section of all the tables at the back. I found myself flipping back-and-forth to find all the different tables I needed to roll on, or to check weapon stats and special abilities way more than I should have.

That said, it’s worth getting through some of that indie RPG-jank because the game itself is tons of fun. And when viewed from the RPG-player lens as more of a toolbox from which to craft your own adventures, rather than a rigid set of instructions, Insurgent Earth really shines (“my invasion, my Good Doggos”). Plus with the unique character traits (not all of them combat-related) it’s easy to grow attached to the members of your cell and create personalities for them in your head. All-in-all I’d call this game a hearty recommendation!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see about converting some of this salvage to useful items, and tallying up experience for each of the cell members.

Plus, now that they’ve survived their first mission this little band (and their new furry member!) probably needs a name.


Published in: on April 16, 2023 at 1:02 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments Leave a comment

  1. This is amazing that I find this today (4/16).

    As I retire (70yo), I am looking for some social interaction and have an interest in tabletop/miniatures gaming.

    My son bought me the Bolt Action “Band of Brothers” starter set and I am looking at WH40K sets (Orcs!), but I don’t know, expensive and I’m not sure I can paint the 28mm with my big clumsy hands.

    This 54mm setup might be better. Bags of soldiers at WallyWorld are cheap and my 9 year old grandson and I can just begin slamming them together starting with “Russian Rules” or “Calvinball” and go from there. And he picks up more standardized rules as we go along.

  2. This sounds really fun I want to try it out now

    • Do! It takes a bit of pre-game setup creating your cell before getting to the table, but I like that kind of thing so it was enjoyable for me.

  3. Man I’m jealous that you’ve got some of those StarCraft marines! Lol.

    • I’m glad I pulled the trigger and bought them when I did, though you may still be able to find some floating around on eBay (and there are several options out there for 3D printing these days as well…).

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