Goonhammer Historicals: Black Powder Red Earth 28mm – Ultra Modern Engagements at Close Quarters Review, Part 2

Based on a series of successful graphic novels, Black Powder Red Earth 28mm is an ultra modern wargame that simulates close combat – not necessarily melee, but very close firefights. Operators from each side and insurgent forces collide in an urban setting with plenty of cover, suppression, and tech strikes. The product line includes rules, 28mm miniatures, and accessories like templates, cards, and terrain tiles.

We’ve taken a look at the universe and how it works first and then a look at the materials and minis after that. Today we’ll be taking a look at the rules, including:

      • organization
      • specific rules and how they work
      • campaign and scenarios
      • unit cards and special cards
      • overall thoughts

Before we get started we’d like to thank the creators of BPRE for sending us a free preview copy of the Complete Target Package box for review purposes.


The Rulebook for BPRE is 87 pages long. Of that, the actual rules, scenarios, units, etc. are about 34 pages. It has a nice Table of Contents but no index – while the rules are short compared to some tomes you see out there an index is always welcome.

The core rules are broken down nicely and how I would expect them to be. I have a feeling the devs have played other recent wargames and have seen what works and what doesn’t. They call out specific rules and conventions nicely with headers and bright colors so you can’t miss it.

Graphics showing rules interactions, line of sight, chits, etc. are all present in great detail, which makes the rules a lot easier to read and understand. While I do enjoy having rules outlined on real photos of minis, I also don’t mind simple shape and arrow descriptive images as well; sometimes they can show a rules interaction easier than a photo can.

The prolific use of art from the graphic novels really helps the readability and it’s easy on the eyes. The setting for this game is all it’s own, with it’s own forces and technology, so it makes sense to have a ton of the art to get people into the universe.

Overall, I really like the organization and design here. The designers obviously are well-versed in modern book design and aesthetics. You’re getting a very well done rulebook for the price.

The Rules

Players use D10s for the core game. I won’t get into all the math but I enjoy having a bit more of a curve on the stats than just D6s. It’s not a make or break thing to me, but it’s an interesting differentiator. Units are single fighters all on a 1″ diameter base. When the rules references Units it’s not talking about multiple people, just one fighter.

I really like the card based system that BPRE uses for doing unit stats. It’s easy to read and carry around. You don’t have to look in a book all the time. Unit cards really are one of the best things a game designer can do to make their game accessible. These particular unit cards include their Capability Value (their points cost), attack and save roll stats, movement range, and special rules.

I’ve played probably a half dozen different modern wargames and I’m glad to see that BPRE is not just ‘move and shoot’. Each unit has different special abilities on their card that they can do – mostly calling in drone strikes, tossing grenades, or other role-specific special rules.

The first ‘beef’ I have with the rules would be measuring from the middle of the model. It’s not a huge issue, to be honest – it’s just something I noticed. I’m very used to measuring base to base for almost every game. I don’t necessarily want to have to hold the ruler over top of the model and eyeball it. Since everything has the same base size anyway, it seems like you could just measure base to base and it wouldn’t hurt anything. Again, not a huge issue – just a minor quibble. In practice games I just measured base to base and didn’t find any issues.

Line of Sight is always a huge sticking point for games and I think BPRE takes a good, common sense, easy to understand, and good-for-wargaming-vets approach with one minor quibble. You look at the mini and see where their hips are pointed, then allow a unit to see 90 degrees to the left of their hips and 45 to the right. The idea behind this, I believe, is that it’s harder to see to your right with your right eye on the scope of whatever weapon you’re using. It was a little confusing to me at first, but the template included in the game helps you look and measure it.

Beside that minor quibble about view radius, the LOS rules are all very intuitive and easy for me. LoS can be obstructed by enemy models, waist-high cover, corners, etc. but not friendly models – a very cinematic method of showing that operators are trained to shoot near each other. I like how the designers deliberately used very descriptive and definitive language to define all the rules in the game, especially with LoS and turn structure stuff. A+ here.

Doors play a huge part in the layouts and I like how they do the mechanic for opening and closing doors – you need 3″ of movement to open the door. Not separate actions, not rolls, not anything else. It makes it really easy and quick to remember. Pre-measuring is allowed, so there shouldn’t be arguments over if you made it within 3″ etc.

Attacking is VERY LETHAL. I know I’ve made the comparisons before, but this is more Rainbow Six or Call of Duty and less Quake or Overwatch. You take 2D10, roll and add it up, then compare to the Attack Roll stats on the operator cards. A regular Crisis Troop operator hits on 7s or 9s if the enemy is obstructed. Guard Shurta, the untrained insurgents, hit on 14s or 15s if obstructed. 20+ is a headshot that kills the target immediately with no saving throw.

Crisis Troop operators have saves of 15+ on 2D10, while the Guard Shurta have no saves at all. The Muhtasib only save on 17 and the Hongbin on 17 as well. If you do actually save the hit then you are staggered, where you then lose your activation for the current turn. You also automatically fail any saves after you are staggered – it’s rough. This leads you to trying to suppress enemies who haven’t yet activated, and focusing on them until they’re gone.

The Phases of the game are really well defined in a way that makes it easy to play. Setup, in the rules, is defined before these other phases. It tells you how to create your force using Capability Points, then tells you how to create a QRF (Quick Reaction Force) if you’re the defender, essentially putting units in reserve.

It’s really important to mention – this game uses alternating activations. I activate a unit (model) then you activate one. I kinda expect games to have this now, but I shouldn’t. It is super welcome and one of my favorite ways of activating stuff.

Shooting and Moving are broken up into two different phases and it gives you some interesting opportunities for strategy. If you fire during Direct Fire, you can’t move beforehand, you gain an Activated token, and you get +1 to hit. This is really to help yourself try to guarantee a hit. There are also other things you can do in Direct Fire, such as blowing up objectives or throwing a grenade that blows up during the Finishing Phase.

During the Maneuver phase, players choose a unit and move them up to their movement range. Each unit can actually fire during this movement at any point – so you could break from cover, move across a corridor, shoot in the middle of it, then keep moving to the other side of the corridor.

A key here is that the opponent can interrupt your movement with an Immediate Action, or what other games might call overwatch. They can shoot at the target model with a -3 modifier to the roll. They then get an Activated token. One side can keep doing this against the active unit as long as they have units to do so with LoS and no activated token. This gives you the opportunity for covering fire, but also takes away your own ability to then maneuver. I like the options and strategy available to the player here.

In the Finishing step, you roll for scatter for Grenades then see if anyone saves the automatic hit (it has a 2″ area of effect). This really hits home to me how quick the rounds are in the game – you’re literally moving and shooting in the time it takes for a grenade to bounce around.

After grenades explode, if either player has units within 3″ of each other, you get ANOTHER chance to see if you can destroy your opponent. The Assaulter chooses a unit to attack a unit within 3″, then the Defender. Keep doing this until everyone eligible has fought. After all of this, you take all Activation tokens off the board, then move the turn counter one. The turn counter goes to seven then the game is over.

That’s it! That’s the core rules. There aren’t morale rules as far as I can tell, except that some missions end when one side has taken a certain point number in casualties, which could be abstracted to be a morale loss. You don’t have to worry about some of the larger platoon-level things that you might think about – moving out casualties, identifying the enemy, etc.

Campaigns and Scenarios

BPRE uses a similar method of generating scenarios as other companies we’ve seen recently and it works very well. You draw a Tasking (mission) card, Atmospherics card (weather and other stuff), and Battlespace card (the board layout).

I think where the game really shines, and where we found a lot of the fun in it, is when you do a Night Raid operation. You can do three or five missions – we chose to do three. The same Atmospheric applies to all three. If you do three missions, you get one Infil type mission, one Actions On type mission, and one Exfil type mission. At the end of each mission it shows the effects for who wins – sometimes you get an extra intervention card, sometimes campaign points. This is what I would call a short programmed campaign and they typically took us a little over an hour.

Typical missions show how to do setup, how many Capability Points each side gets, the win condition, and what happens to the winner in the campaign. If you’re not doing a campaign, you can simply ignore the last part. Again, games are limited to seven turns and units only move 6″, so you sometimes have to book it to get to the spot you need to be to finish the mission. This is, again, a point where I compare it to games of R6 or CS:GO or Call of Duty – you’re trying to get to chokepoints, set up overwatch, move the mission objective person to their spot, then do it all very quickly. This is not a game where you setup for a few turns.

Each Battlespace, or how you setup your board, has all the parts you get in the big box. It has a grid on it but no measurement rulers – I’d like it if they were in the graphic. I think for the future I’m going to try to find a gridded mat with some desert base to it and gridlines printed over top of it so it’s a lot easier to place all the buildings. I can see them releasing new stories with new missions straight out of the stories using these setups and missions really easily.

Unit Cards and Special Cards

Each unit in the game has a page in the book and a card associated that has the same info on it. The key thing to remember is that while the units are different, they’re not superhuman or anything. They might have a special rule that is there because of their equipment or training, but they’re not vastly different. That’s a good thing – it keeps the game in the realm of historical games that we’re used to.

The Crisis Troop operators are generally better shots and have better saves, but their saves are still definitely not a sure thing at all. They’re not Space Marines marching across the board – they have to be careful. To give you an idea of how this Recce operator fits in a force, they’re 30 CP while a regular Assaulter is 20 CP. The Assaulter gets a Frag grenade while the Recce gets the other special rules and moves faster.

Fires (or what you might think of as drones or missiles) for Crisis Troop auto-hit and cause save rolls within a radius. This prevents the Aayari Network operatives from bunching up a ton and just overwatching everything with weight of fire. The Aayari Network fire does not hit automatically but can be used to surgically pull out an enemy operator near your own operators.

Intervention cards are basic and easy to use but powerful; they allow re-rolls, extra shots, etc. It’s an extra layer on the game that creates more strategy and fog of war that isn’t present if you just move and shoot.

Overall Thoughts

I did have a few minor quibbles with the rules, and they were minor – the line of sight angle thing, the center of base measuring, and measuring to place tiles on the board. Two of these are personal preferences while one is something that could be cleared up by me getting a mat.

This game really fits into a space that I haven’t found before. It’s not an entire afternoon set-piece platoon vs platoon blaster with scouts and vehicles or anything like that. It’s also not a big box board game that is in-depth with roleplaying and a half dozen decks of cards. It’s a quick playing, short timeframe, small area tabletop modern wargame. The size of all the missions I’ve found is 26″ by 26″ – easily played on a dinner table. Single games can be over in 20-30 minutes easily, so you can put together a chain of missions that create a narrative for a short evening.

28mm Scorch Operators. Image credit: Michael O “Mugginns”

One bit of good news is that you can use models you already have to play the game. While the BPRE minis are some of the most top-notch minis I’ve seen for modern wargames, you might already have some minis around that you’ve painted that you want to give a try. Grab the rules, some dice, a wet erase grid mat you’d use for D&D and you can get started.

I like the lethality of the game. You don’t have to remember statuses or keep rolling and rolling and rolling to see what happens to guys. If I want a game like that I know of a few. This is all about the action and setting up a strategy that is going to get your mission complete with as few casualties as possible.

While the forces are asymmetric, it’s easy to setup a mission, play as one side, then re-rack and play as the other. For participation games at conventions I could imagine having one side play a mission and then switch to the other side for the next mission to get an idea of how each one plays.

Overall, I think these rules are something I didn’t know I wanted – but now realize that this might be the modern ruleset for me going forward. There aren’t tables upon tables, tons of random rolls, or engagement rules. Again – it’s all about the action. If you’re into operator type stories or video games, I definitely encourage you to try it. If you’re into modern games at all it costs about $35 to get the rulebook and a few bucks for dice to try it out. The cards and everything are all included in the rulebook so it’s definitely an easy get when most rulebooks are $50+.

Black Powder Red Earth 28mm is a great little set of rules that does what it says it does – modern close combat – in a mechanically sound and most importantly fun manner.

That’s it for our coverage of Black Powder Red Earth! We will have some paint photos up on our Goonhammer Instagram so definitely keep an eye on that!