About Me

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My name is Gavin McClements. I am a wargamer and family man, living in Los Gatos, which is a suburb of San Jose, CA. Building terrain is one of my favorite aspects of the wargaming hobby - in fact, lately I've become more interested in making my battlefields "pop" than in actually playing.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Gruntz v1.1 Book Review

I recently got my hands on the printed version of the Gruntz v1.1 rulebook, and would like to put down my thoughts on the product itself. I have reviewed the rules elsewhere - and I have had a dearth of gaming lately, so I haven't been able to even play the game a second time. So for what it's worth, this is my impressions of the physical product.

I already owned the latest version of Gruntz in PDF form, and have it printed out and scribbled all over in red pen like I do to all my self-printed rulesets (I can't help it - I edit things in my sleep, apparently). Still, having an actual bound book is nice because I'm old school, and I find that having something I can flip through is just handy. Besides, even though I am more apt to use PDFs during gaming sessions these days, we had a small hiccup on Saturday night with a PDF not loading correctly during play...and short of a malicious dog or REALLY invasive spill of Mountain Dew, a book doesn't tend to let you down when you need it most.

I also pretended that I hadn't played the rules while flipping through it, to see if that affected my view of it's presentation.

In case you've lived under a rock for the past few years, Gruntz is a 15mm Sci-Fi wargame written by Robin Fitton of the UK. It is described as "Fast play combined arms". Just wanted to make sure you were in the right place...

Their website is http://www.gruntz.biz/.

Initial verdict upon examining the book: The book is nice. It has a good sturdy, glossy cover. The paper inside looks like it came off my printer at work - it is in color but is regular weight. The black spine is uninspiring, and the name on the spine is in tiny print on the bottom of the spine, and is upside down [from my American point of view, I'd expect to walk up to a shelf and put my right ear onto my right shoulder to read spines of books on a shelf]. Not such a big deal, but I do collect rulebooks, and this one will clearly get lost amongst some of the others but for one fact - it is printed in the oversized British standard of A4. I'll nestle it alongside my Firestorm Armada and Dropship Commander rulebooks and it will feel at home.

The Contents looks quite thorough, but one thing stood out to me: it's lack of organization. It is just a three-column exercise in words and page numbers. This is a real shame, because clearly the book is broken into sections: Introduction, Rules, Unit Construction, Scenarios, and Fluff. There is nothing to draw your eye to any one of these categories in the Table of Contents, but this is a minor quibble.

The book immediately tells you what it is for (which, believe it or not, if often skipped in rulebook introductions) and gives you some basics of what you can expect from the game. It then leads you into how a game is played, starting right away with Game Setup, Initiative, and Deployment. I love when a book doesn't waste time and starts you off in the nitty gritty. After all, if you're learning a game and use the book as a reference, like I often do, being able to open to the first few pages and have pertinent info right there is a nice touch.

Robin uses a really nice mix of flow charts, diagrams, and pictures to bright up the book. A friend, who had never seen the book, remarked about the nice layout design as he flipped through it. I agree. There was clearly some time and effort put into the book, and the grammatical and spelling errors I found are to be expected (God knows, I've written enough and proofread my own writing enough that after a very short while, a grammatical error could be brazenly flipping you off from the middle of the page and I could gloss over it).

Despite my initial comment about the Table of Contents, it is actually quite easy to find stuff in book. Massive headers line each page, clearly labeled with what is on the page, and they follow a logical order. I think I would have liked a color change for each major section, maybe, but this is again a minor thing.

One thing that I constantly have to get past when reading the book is the language. I don't mean that silly British habit of putting u's where they don't belong (colour, anyone?), but the very cheeky nature of the terms used in the game. Let me preface: the ruleset is clearly based on a similar game, Warmachine by Privateer Press. This is fine, as the formula clearly works, but it appears that in order to put some separation between other rulesets and Gruntz, the author came up with alternate names for stats.

The Gunnery or Ranged Attack stat is called Shoot. Melee is Assault. The Avoidance stat is "Guard" while the Armor stat is called "Soak". Leadership or Morale is "Mental", and everything else is just called "Skill". A unit that whose morale is broken is under "Condition Brown". Being killed is called "Waxed", or "Smoked" if the unit is a vehicle. Special abilities are called "Perkz", and add-on equipment for vehicles are "Modz". I actually like adding Z's at the end, because it reminds me very much of the Games Workshop Orks-style of language, but the rest of it kind of makes me feel like I should be giggling in the boys bathroom with other 12 year olds over some Mad Magazine comic strip. I can get past it. Others of my friends have clearly stated that they won't. I don't think it should be a deal breaker, as it is just the flavor the ruleset is written in - I applaud the author for being bold and writing how he likes. If I had my own ruleset, I'd likely do the same.

Background: There is a trend (again) recently to bring rulesets back to the generic, so that they work with anything and anyone. I completely applaud this direction because I stopped buying game-specific rules and models years ago. Now I buy what catches my eye, and I'd love to put them all on the table at once...and these types of rulesets allow that. With that in mind, Fluff (e.g. background story, the setting's history, etc) is a controversial item. Some, like myself, could care less about the fluff because we're going to making our own as we go, or even just ignore it in our rush to get models killed on the battlefield. Others feel that without fluff, there is no immersion, and without immersion, one might as well be throwing dice on an empty tabletop. Gruntz acknowledged both of these schools of thought and did something brilliant - he put it in the back. The last 32 pages of the book are Background, so they're out of the way if you don't need or care about it, but, well, if you do, it's there. Kudos. No, I haven't read the fluff, and no, I don't intend to.

However, I feel that in this case, the fluff gets in the way of what could be a truly excellent product, but for 3 things missing: a QRS (Quick Reference Sheet), an Index, and 2 or 3 premade factions with example units.

The love of a Build-your-Own system is that you can buy, model, and convert to your heart's content, and you can likely find rules for putting it on the tabletop. The downside to said system is that often, you have to do the Gruntzwork yourself (I'm feeling quite clever there - leave me alone in my smugness!). In order to get about to throwing dice in anger, you need units, and this book has none. Well, ok, there are a few tiny examples in the Unit Buider section, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'd like two faction's worth of infantry, a few support units, a few vehicles, and let me try it out.

I own the unit builder for Gruntz, but I've never used it because I don't have a printer at home. I know there are plenty of examples on the really cool website http://www.gruntz.biz/, but is immaterial to me. Sometimes I like unplugging, sitting down with an army book, and doodling over a paper with a calculator. I like sitting with friends pre-game, especially if I am introducing a game to them, and picking out forces together. Am I alone in this? 4 pages of pre-mades to get me started, to whet my appetite to build my own, is all I'd want. I think this is one large error from a rulebook point of view.

[The opposite of this is PMC2640, which doesn't allow you to custom design anything, but has so many prebuilt options that you'd have to be incredibly anal or nitpicky to not be able to field the force you want].

Personal Issues: I have a few other minor points to point out. Doing so might be slightly unfair, because I said I wasn't going to go into the rules. I cannot help myself, however, as I have played it once, and these things are niggling at the back of my head, and might be semi-influential in why the game hasnt hit the table a second time for me.

The first is the method of combat resolution. Roll some dice, add a stat, compare to a target stat = nothing new here, especially considering it is WarmaHordes rewrtten. My issue is that you roll 2d6 per model firing. If you have a standard infantry unit of 8 men (2 with Squad Weapons), you're rolling 16d6. Each pair of dice is unique, however, so you're rolling 8 pairs of different colored dice. Oh GOD yes, I can do this (my dice collection is stupid-huge), but this is a bit of an inconvenience when it comes to speed of play. This is shared by the friends I have shown...and it shouldn't be, but its the biggest roadblock to me wanting to play Gruntz again.

By the way, I completely agree with and understand the allure of the 2d6 bell curve. I grew up playing Battletech (Phantom Blue Assault Company, FASA fan chapter #2 for any really old timers out there), and my favorite roleplaying game is HERO, which uses 3d6...so this leads me to my second quibble.

In v1.0, the price to buy more Shoot mechanic was 1 point per stat, so a Shoot of 4 costs 4, and a Shoot of 6 costs 6. The problem here is that a +1 or a -1 to the 2d6 bell curve is HUGE. I'm not a mathematician here (1 plus 1 IS 2, right? Just making sure...), but give me a -2 to a 7-or-better roll and I'll love you, but give me a +2 and make it a 9+? Ugh...so why make this all-important stat so damn cheap?

Remember Tomorrow's War? I tried my ASS off to make a spreadsheet that assigned points to units, because I'm just not cool like other people who can balance lists off the top of their head. As I consulted the forums, one thing came up constantly: Troop Quality (the stat used in ranged combat) IS ALL. It is the most important thing. It might even be the only thing. Same as with Gruntz (as an aside - I was so desperate to like Tomorrow's War, but I think I need someone who knows, really knows, the rules to walk me through it. Are you near San Jose, CA? Holler at me!).

I helped do rules testing and editing for Unbridled Fury, which was a really promising product, and his combat stat was almost exponential in cost. I urged Robin to the do the same...So Gruntz v1.1 came out, and I was relieved to find that he had at least increased the cost per stat, but only by 1 point each...I think it is too cheap to get a high skill, but it is better than it was.

So let me sum all of this up. The rules are what they are, so no rulings here.

Book Presentation: A-
The book is well done. It organizes itself fairly well, although I have not had to delve for info i the middle of a game for ages, so I cannot comment to that. An Index would have been HUGE, as would have a more organized Table of Content.

I liked the layout and how things were presented. I liked the order that everything was presented in. I missed the prebuilt unit lists that are on the website, and a QRS would have been jolly good (jolly goodz?). I will buy other Gruntz products if they are produced, and most likely in book form if they come out in this medium again. I am even aiming at playing this again, but my gaming group suffers from the same affliction that I do - gamebookcollectingitis. Yea - we all collect rulesets, and we all want to play said rulesets at least once, which means on any given game day, we're likely trying out a new set of rules. The upside? Lots of cool rulesets come across our desks. The downside? It's like that hot brunette that catches your eye as she passes in a crowded mall - by the time you realize she really was as hot as you initially thought, and turn to get a second look, she is gone, swallowed up by the crowd, and getting back to her is harder than it should be (poor choice of words? "More difficult", maybe?)...PMC2640 is my number one right now, but Victory Decision looms on the horizon, as does the WW2 ruleset Chain of Command by Two Fat Lardies (which I have already played once but not reviewed).

Thanks for reading.