Earlier this month John and I had a chance to try out Scrappers, the new post-apocalyptic ruleset by Bob Faust and published by Osprey. This was actually our second run-through with Scrappers; we tried it out a couple months back and resolved at that time to try a proper campaign game. So we’ve had two outings with the game, and so we wanted to share some thoughts.
If you know me, you’ll know I love warband-sized games with 5 to 20 figures per side. They’re perfect for a weeknight evening, and they’re also a great excuse to paint up a handful of cool new miniatures — without having to commit to a full army’s worth of models. In the past, I’ve had great luck trying out compact, tightly produced post-apocalyptic tabletop wargames, so I was excited to give Scrappers a try.
As with similar titles from this publisher, the game is a sleek volume, light on the fluff but heavy on the crunch, with lots of replay value packed into the core rulebook. Warbands are composed of individual figures — typically humans, mutants, synthetic robots, further defined by various faction traits.
Unit creation is entirely customizable, with a strong affection for WYSIWYG gameplay (no invisible turbolasers or hidden rocket launchers, please). I have a pretty sizable collection of post-apocalyptic and sci-fi miniatures, and I’m pleased to say that I could get them onto the battlefield with Scrappers.
John and I put together a couple basic warbands — both from the Freelancer faction, which is the generic catch-all faction that represents all of the mercenaries and raiding parties that lurk in the hinterlands, competing for scrap. There more specific factions, such as the all-mutant Gamma Lords and the half-life warboys who make up the Sons of Entropy.
I took this game as an opportunity to drag out my brand-new double-sided plush game mat from Cigar Box Battle Mats. I had received it in the mail following their Kickstarter just a few weeks prior, and was eager to give it a baptism by fire. Here’s the setup.
Pretty crowded! In Scrappers, gameplay is tightly focused on the basic “treasure hunt” mission, where both sides are competing to retrieve scrap tokens from the battlefield. I jokingly referred to Scrappers as “sci-fi Frostgrave,” but the characterization is apt. I find this type of focused gameplay to be very refreshing, and it makes pre-game setup easy. Here are the loot tokens we distributed around the battlefield.
After going over the rules once more, we got underway.
Now’s the point where I explain how Scrappers has *a lot* of rules. Seriously, this is the sort of game that has two full pages of text to describe the mechanics for climbing, jumping and falling. It is extremely tactical, with lots of overlapping rules for both figures and their gear. This allows for lots of customization during unit creation, and lots of rich, unique campaign play — but it also leads to plenty of rulebook flipping, particularly during those early games. This is most decidedly not a rule-lite game — just something to know before going in.
As our game unfolded, John and I both saw immediately how the d10 dice resolution system in Scrappers keeps both players engaged at all times. The game uses alternating unit activation coupled with a unique initiative system. Dice rolls are always opposed — you are never rolling against a static number, always against an actual opponent, even for something as mundane as a climb check. That’s fun and engaging.
In our game, we both sent our figures creeping into the ruins to try to secure the scrap tokens. Small firefights erupted throughout the battlefield as our guys spotted each other and exchanged fire.
Here’s one of my veterans, Lieutenant Shashlik, exploring a rusted power conduit. Wonder what scrap he’ll come up with?
In Scrappers, each scrap token has the possibility of generating a random event (based on a big table in the rulebook). The dramatic moment when you roll for a random event is definitely one of my favorite parts of the game. It adds a lot of unpredictability to the game, and of course random weird stuff is one of the hallmarks of the post-apoc genre.
The wide-open nature of unit creation allows players to min-max and create virtually any sort of character archetype imaginable. In John’s case, this meant a deadly sniper who seized the high ground early on and began picking off my figures one by one.
In my case, custom unit creation yielded SN0-C4T, a quadrupedal combat robot who could scale any piece of terrain and blaze away with his integral auto-shotgun.
We traded fire for a few turns until a rad storm blew in and began saturating our characters with radiation. By that point, I had lost a few figures and gained a few scrap tokens, so I wisely decided to quit the field rather than risk irradiating my warband. And SN0-C4T was about to tangle with Ashford, John’s hulking mutant warrior, so it was probably better for me to just flee.
John “won” the game, but during the post-game loot checks, we found that one of my scrap tokens was actually a force shield — a powerful artifact from before the worldwide collapse. So I actually scored more loot, though I’d have to spend some of it re-equipping my guys who lost their gear.
We remarked after the game that we didn’t get into close combat all — not in this game, and not even in our previous game. Ranged combat seems extremely potent, so much so that melee seems difficult to leverage without building your entire warband around it. And again, this is a WYSIWYG game — I want the game to play properly with a bunch of regular figures armed with pistols and autoguns and knives, because that’s what I’ve got in my collection. I’m not interested in building a min-maxed uber-warband just to fight in close combat.
And now, some thoughts on Scrappers from my stalwart opponent…
John’s Thoughts on Scrappers
After reading the rules I was nervous about playing Scrappers, but once I did I had a wonderful time and can’t wait to play again.
We played Scrappers following a series of stripped-down one page rulesets, like Grimdark Future and Double Tap, which leave many procedural decisions up to player interpretation and common sense. If those rulesets are sketches, Scrappers reads more like a detailed technical drawing. Before playing, I felt the rules text over-explained some concepts or dwelled on trivialities. Scrappers clearly means to handle being played competitively.
I worried gameplay would feel stilted as a result, but the game flowed beautifully. The rules supported play without obstructing us, and helped us avoid getting bogged down negotiating the gentleman’s agreements often required by looser rules.
The system for choosing who goes when leads to rich tactical decision-making. Opposed d10 rolls gave me a twinge of nervous excitement each time we rolled, which I sometimes lack in handfuls-of-d6s-style rules.
Scrappers only offers one type of scenario, hauling away scrap under fire from your opponent, but it’s a robust scenario that held up fine across both our playthroughs. A random event always occurs sometime during the first four scrap tokens recovered, maybe wonderful, maybe dangerous for the player who triggers it. That variety and uncertainty give the scrap scenario the legs it needs to carry a campaign. Rolling after the battle to find out how much loot you hauled off is simply joyful, but the trauma table can do some nasty things to your wounded models if you’re not lucky.
Overall I found the balance of risk vs. reward and long- vs. short-term benefit embedded in campaign play to be just right.
Scrappers would really benefit from trait and equipment cards. Special capabilities in Scrappers are expressed in terms of trait keywords, which must be referenced separately from where they are listed. For example, the machine gun profile lists its range, rate of fire, and damage, followed by a Directed Burst keyword, whose effects are described several pages earlier in the book. There are also several traits listed throughout the book in different spots based on the source of the trait (e.g., whether it was granted by lifeform type, faction, or was purchased, etc). I would like a tool that pulls the trait descriptions onto my crew sheet for ease of reference.
I think I will play Scrappers often, and recommend it to anyone looking for a sturdy, fast-playing post-apocalyptic skirmish wargame.
Well there you have it! Scrappers is a crunchy game that rewards the players who take the time to dig into the nuances of all the special rules and funky interactions. It also contains enough flavor and random gonzo weirdness to keep the narrative crowd engaged as well. We’ll play this one again soon!