27 October 2013

Gruntz 15mm (v1.1) - 15mm Sci-Fi Skrimish Wargaming by Robin Fitton

OK guys, this one is waaaaay overdue: I've had the book on my desk for a month and told Robin I'd aim at a review within two weeks or so. Guess what, Real Life messed those plans. Sorry, Robin! Anyway...

Be advised:
  • Robin actually sent me a copy of his book free of charge in exchange of me doing this post. I'll obviously do my best  to remain honest reviewing it. See next point though...
  • As with all my reviews, I do believe that objectivity is a fiction and that bias, conscious or unconscious, is inevitable. Bias, however, does not equal dishonesty, as long as you don't hide it under the pretence of objectivity. Long story short: this review is a mix of hard facts (book description, chapters organisation, page count, rule descriptions) and of personal feelings (things I like and others I don't based on my gaming experience and tastes).
  • This review is based on a couple of reading of the rulebook but I haven't had a chance to play the game yet...
Gruntz is the brain children of Robin Fitton, while it started as a single handled effort by a garage based enthousiast, the book I have in my hands (well not quite, I'm typing right now) has all the trimmings of a professional production (ok, maybe not the sheer bling of current GW books, but frankly it's suppose be wargame rules, not enluminated holy scriptures).

The rules are available from Wargame Vault as watermarked PDF ($14), softcover ($29.06) and PDF+softcover deal (usualy $43.06 but reduced to $33.56 as I write). 
  • Front cover - As pictured on top of this post, with blank back 
  • Blank page (1) - With small publisher logo and URL
  • Acknowledgments and foreword (1 page) - By Robin, introducing his rules and acknowledging the various mini manufacturers and illustrators whose products and artwork ornate the book.
  • Rules (38 pages) - I won't go into details on those: plenty of reviews have already been written and without practical experience, I'm afraid I won't be able to add much pertinent. For exemple, have a look on Delta Vector's one (don't let the incendiary introduction put you off: the review is actually positive)...
    Rules and diagrams
    Nothing earth shattering in that chapter: turn sequence, squad coherency, movement, terrain, leadership, ranged and close combat, vehicles, buildings... Worth mentioning: digital warfare (AKA the Neural Net) is a core rule, not an afterthought!
  • Unit builders (34 pages) - One of the major assets of this game: a tool to stat any mini! Each builder (infantry, commander, specialist, vehicle, tank, super heavy tank, mecha, monster, transport vehicles, flying transport vehicles, super heavy flying transport vehicles, air attack vehicles, fighters, artillery and mobile artillery) provides, half a page explanation, a quarter page exemple and a full page of the builder itself: a menu from which to choose your unit stats and figure its cost. As you can see, Robin went the way of several (!) small module each describing a type of unit instead of trying to make a single all encompassing unit builder... While maybe less sleek, I think it is actually easier to use: find the right builder and everything (but weapons and mods - I mean modz) is at hand on a single page.
    The specialist builder pages
    Bigger generic-er builder tend to confuse the shit out of me with their sheer scope of options. The end product is a neat unit card including everything you need to field it. While I love the idea of easily stating everything my mind comes up with, I also dread the cheese some player could make out of it. Nothing to do about it: that kind of double edge is inherent to any detailed building system... Also, while the way to build a rifleman squad with a Shoot of 5, a Assault of 3 a Guard of 11, a Soak of 12 and Mental of 7 and a Skill of 6, I'm still a bit fuzzy on how those values fit in relation with other units: a few more example would be nice too (and would maybe help alleviate the power race ("you Desertworld Militia has better Shoot that the Federal Special Forces snipers, really?")! Worth nothing: an desktop application, Barracks, is also available ($5 from Wargames Vault), and takes over the whole unit card making: choose your stats, weapons, modz and perks and the software figures the cost of the unit and produces its card!
  • Weapons (weaponz?), modz and perks lists (16 pages) - The other half of the builders: weapons and special abilities to equip and further customize your units. Lots of them generic (laser pistol, plasma rifle, missile launcher) but a few are more exotic (Ionic Bond Cannon, Neutrino Concentrator,  Neural Net Phase Gun). The modz and perks run the gamut of sci-fi abilities: various flavour of stealth, force shields, fanatics, jump packs or jets, medic,  psy powers, AAA, micro-CIWS, self-repair droids...) For some reason, environemental effect are also included in there (acid rain, earthquakes, lava flows, zero-G...)
  • Optional rules and Q&A (6 pages) - The main optional rule is an alternate activation system using playing cards to randomize the process and add some fog of war to the game.
  • Scenarios (6 pages) - Six generic scenarios: mom and pop "we line up on each side of the field and go at each other until one of us hasn't any toy left"; assault on entrenched forces defending objectives; a variant of the former where objectives have to be destroyed in a given order ("destroy the generator that powers the force field in order to destroy whatever was protected by that field"); another objectives based scenario where scenarios are only captured and thus can change of hands several times; a time constrained battle (the first player to have more victory points than turns played wins); and a break the blockade one...
  • Background (32 pages) - The actual reason l bought the PDF a year or so ago: a extensive background open enough to accept most 15mm armies currently produced. Though generic in nature (hence the builders) Grutz (and Robin) got a step further and managed to got most manufacturers behind his project. His Heliosphere is a (impressive) attempt to tie all their factions and minis in one big background. Now, it might not be what you buy a wargame for, but I am partial to all those stories which are (with the actual minis) what fires my imagination (rules being just a tool needed because most adults lost the ability to wave toys around while making up stories). Dozens of faction, bits of fiction...
    Faction, fluff, logos, uniforms, recommended minis
    I'd actually love to see more of this: each faction comes with a small generic silhouette coloured to show its uniform colour scheme, and one of several suggested miniatures line, e.g. the Special Contact Agency wears white or light grey with dark green details, recommender minis are GZG UNSC or Blue Moon Orion Republic... Well I'd like to see more about them: what is a SCA team organized like, what are their equipment, see a picture of the recommended minis actually painted and organized as per this background... Also stats of typical background units could provide a benchmark on how to stat your own unit (and ready to play units for a quick pick up game, although that might be available on the net, I haven't really looked yet) This is obviously me wanting more of my personnal kink, not a reflection of the lack of background in Gruntz: it has more than most rules I've read...
Bottom line:
I haven't played the game and can't really comment on the system itself. For what I've read it a solid system (but probably too crunchy for my own tastes). The builders and sheer number of options provide for through genericity but also potentialy open a whooping can of cheese worms. From a eye candy and background point of view though, the book is definitely worth buying/reading!

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