Friday 18 May 2012

AAR and Review: Gruntz 15mm Sci-fi

Me and Phyllion managed to get in our first game of 15mm Sci-fi last night and I've done an AAR and a preliminary rules review. 

This game was mainly to figure out the rules so it had no scenario or backstory, it was simply a clash between Autosentia (me) and New Vedithian (Phyllion) forces using whatever bits and bobs of terrain Phyllion could dig out (apart from the vegetation, which he made for the game). 

The board mid-way through turn 1. We both moved our units forward with double actions and into cover where possible. My infantry were a little stranded in the open but luckily out of LOS.
The start of turn 2. Phyllion  had dismounted his gruntz squads by this point and was using his commander to give an extra 'push action' to the squad in the bottom left (marked by the dice)
The end of turn 3 (I think). My 'Tarantula' Spiderbot lost 4 of its 5 damage points when its shields were completely overwhelmed by one of Phyllions' IFVs. Also, you can just about see my recon droid specialists in the top right vegetation, they lit up the IFV with a targeting beacon for the rest of the game, granting a (measly) +1 to hit bonus. 

My battledroid squad had hit the deck on the hill, using the commander's 'push action' to get into position, and managed to knock a couple of damage points off one of Phyllions' IFVs.

Meanwhile  my Assault droids used their jumpacks to fly over the shipping container and take cover in the vegetation. Phyllions' gruntz hit the deck and returned fire but mostly whiffed, curse of the dice!
My mech, after rolling poorly for a few turns shooting, moved into short range of one of Phyllions' Gruntz squads and let rip with its medium gatling gun (I combined the effects of both arms) and medium missile launcher. Five grunts bit the dust.
The New Vedith Riflemen failed their Condition Brown check (silly name...) and legged it 8" behind the crate.
On the other flank my Battledroid squad moved up (again using the commander push), went prone, and then concentrated fire on the IFV at short range. Concentrating fire gives ordinary gruntz a change of hurting an IFV and offers cumulative modifiers which stack with each member of the squad. The result was 6 damage points and an engine critical - the IFV could no longer use Flank Speed (double move).
NewVedith's retribution was swift. Phyllions's riflemen moved up and waxed four battldroids, suppressing the unit. His IFVs tried to bring the pain on my mech but missed. Mech's have quite high Guard values for vehicles, representing their greater agility. 
Mid-way through turn 4 (perhaps...). Phyllion's surviving riflemen relocated into the shipping container (we treated them as buildings) and something, I cannot recall what, wasted two of my Assault Bots.
Phyllion kept his commander in cover and used him to dispense 'push actions'. I did much the same with mine.

My Assault Bots moved deeper into the vegetation to avoid fire and get within assault range of the New Vedithian IFV.
The surviving members of my Battledroid Gruntz unit activated and preceded to decimate the NV riflemen oppositie with a Squad Attached flamethrower, waxing 4 and causing a Condition Brown check, which the NV riflemen failed. 
This picture was taken just before I moved the mech round the crates and got a clear shot at the IFV's rear, adding +2 to my damage roll. My missile launcher missed (although the splash damage still inflicted a couple of points) and the gattling guns knocked off some more hitpoints, inflicting an Armour critical. 

At this point we called the game. Neither of us were happy with the balance of forces (my mech cost half of my forces points and was overpowered, my bad) or some of the design decisions in the Gruntz rules. 

Gruntz: The good, the bad and the illogical. 

What did we think of Gruntz then? Well, its early days and we've only had one game so I think final conclusions are still someway off but here's some ideas. 

The Good

  • Optional alternating activation rules worked well and were dynamic. 
  • Commander abilities flavourful and useful (although we might expand these). 
  • Concentrate Fire. This was a nice little mechanic for giving gruntz a chance vs light armour. 
  • Some excellant design choices, such as the 'Guard' value which appreciates that a unit's chance of being hit is not simply dependent on the shooters skill but also their evasive abilities. 
  • Presentation. The PDF was extremely well presented with lots of great photos featuring a wide range of manufacturers, had good artwork and surprisingly good fiction. The designers notes were also nicely arranged and interspersed.
The Bad and Illogical

However, there were a number of design choices in the game I wasn't really a fan of:
  • Weapons do not posses a rate of fire statistic. This has clearly been abstracted into the cumulative weapon damage statistic but this doesn't feel right to me. SAWs provide 1 extra damage over a rifle but I don't think this really captures the feel of an automatic weapon. Similarly the equivalent of an HMG inflicts more damage but receives no extra shots or even a to hit or suppression bonus to represent weight of fire. 
  • Suppression is based on casualties, not hits. Suppressive fire, in my mind, is about throwing enough firepower at an enemy to keep their heads down. Killing them helps, but it isn't the main factor. 
  • Suppression does not reduce return fire. Although suppression does limit a unit to one action it doesn't reduce the amount of fire it can kick out. I don't think this is a great way of simulating the effects of a unit cowering under cover and getting real small. I prefer the FOW method of reduced ROF and restricted movement. 
  • Squad sizes are limited and controlled. I'm not sure I really like the 6-8man squads. This feels like its been put in the game simply to make it easier to design. In my mind squads should consist of fireteams and have more independence of movement. Fire-team size should depend on your race and military doctrine. 
  • The army builder is easy to use but fundamentally flawed. The army builder is a nice touch, don't get me wrong, and I love army builders with excel files, so big points there. However, no real effort seems to have gone into balancing the points costs of the various units and abilities. Increasing stats usually costs the same number of points, the implication of this is that all stats are valued equally. This is not the case. Guard and Shoot are clearly superior, if your opponent cannot hit you in the first place then you don't need a high Soak or Mental. Skill is also expensive and largely useless for infantry figures, as Phyllion found to his expense. Limitations on the number of perks are also annoying, especially for those armies like mine which use exclusively robotic units. I had to fudge the jumpack unit and give them the jump and automaton perks to represent them accurately, even though this is 'illegal'. Another simple point is that the army builder, for some reason, aims to assign extremely low point values to everything. However, the more increments you have in a design system the more differentiation, and thus accuracy, you can show. The Strike Legion unit builder, which is extremely good, is a perfect example of how to get this right. You work out the points cost of a unit using a series of simple sums (which may go over 1000) and then divide by 10 and round up at the end. This retains differentiation without having to calculate silly figures (which if you have excel or a calculator isn't an issue anyway). 
  • 2D6 mechanics. Neither me or Phyllion were really sold on these. I appreciate the author was probably seeking the nicely averaged distribution bell-curve you get with a 2d6 probability but it made rolling fiddly, requiring dice to be paired up each time. D10s probably would have done the job similarly well and been a lot faster. If you roll enough dice everything evens out statistically anyway. 
Ultimately we plan to play Gruntz again but with some heavy modifications to better reflect the kind of game we'd like to play. I think I'll probably continue to look into Critical Mass and work on my own homebrew rules. Also, I appreciate the games' author will probably read this. I'm not trying to slam your product just give my honest opinion as to the rules. Perhaps you can shed light on some of the 'issues' above, maybe we were just playing some of it wrong?


  1. Interesting report and review. I've been on the fence about Gruntz but I think I'll stick to StarGrunt!

    1. I wouldn't rule Gruntz out, it has good points as well and plays fast. I suppose it depends what mechanics make or break a game for you. As you're a fan of Stargrunt II, which is complex but fiercely logical, I think you'd probably get annoyed at some of the same thing I did in Gruntz.

    2. Thanks for that extra info! I may well give it a try at some point, but you know how it is when the number of projects builds up!

  2. I tried to respond fully in the comments but I broke the 4000+ character limit and my link examples were blocked. So apologies for not responding in detail here but I have now pasted my response into the forum here:

    1. Haha, I thought that might happen. I've looked through your responses and it seems like most of the stuff has been addressed, which is fantastic and what I hoped for. As for the 2d6 system, this wasn't really a deal breaker. I suppose if you stick your neck out and do something different than most other designers players will always question this, at least before they've gotten used to it. Thanks for taking the time to respond, I really appreciate games designers who do this.

  3. Thanks for the write-up Samulus. I'll post my pics and some thoughts soon.

    And maybe buy a few more troops to take on your dastardly Autosentia... ;-)


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