A long while ago I sort of sworn off any squad based rules and for a few years I jumped into larger, mixed forces WWII games. The smaller tactical stuff just didn’t keep my interest any more. However lately I’ve been having an itch to get back into squad-based infantry stuff. I’ve done the whole 40K bit before and had no desire to go that route, so I dipped my toe into the 15 mm sci-fi range and was looking for a few rule sets to try out.
Enter Gruntz, a 15 mm, man to model, skirmish game that can easily handle a platoon or more of minis. The game is a points based system where players try to field equivalent forces of an agreed value, see who can tackle a scenario, and come out the winner. Gruntz is a pretty simple system, with several layers of advanced rules to alter the play. At first glance the system is very pedestrian but by incorporating the advanced rules, there is enough there to give seasoned wargame fans a fun time.
The base rules revolve around a player activating their entire force, with the opponent doing the same for their troops (simple IGOUGO). Each unit can perform two actions, typically being move then fire, fire twice, or assault. Players roll 2d6, adding their unit’s skill, and try to roll equal to or higher than a target number to hit, followed by rolling 2d6 against another target number to damage a unit. Casualties inflicted give units suppression markers which reduce the number of actions they can do on following turns.
There is a nice gradation of attribute stats, as units can have different relative levels of training, morale, and equipment to alter these values. So units could mimic very stealthy units that can’t take a hit, to slower, easier to hit targets that are tough as nails. Vehicles also operate very similarly, but have a few more options when shooting and usually can take much more damage (as typical infantry can only suffer one wound).
There are some wrinkles to play. A unit has a few options with shooting to either concentrate fire, or lay down suppressive fire into an area. And units can also place themselves on overwatch to interrupt opponent’s actions if needed. However for the most part the game uses very familiar and simplistic mechanics to resolve fire and morale situations.
The advanced rules here are a nice touch. They primarily cover alternate ways to activate units, using random initiative via a deck of playing cards, to even alternate activation between opponents. Rules for actions that the player can take can also be mixed up, to give some more flexibility in the 2 different actions a unit does. While the game is set up for single based figures, there are even rules to cover multiple figures per base. These rules certainly give the game some needed complexity while not overburdening the player with an overly complicated set of simulationist rules.
The point system for building units is a pretty strong aspect of the game. There is a lot of room to give units not only varying attributes, but also special abilities. Also the system seems flexible enough to work up statistics for a variety of vehicle models, from copters, tanks, and APCs, to walking mechanized units. What is nice is that you could easily work up different flavors for troops and equipment to give forces a completely different feel, making aliens have differing play styles.
The game has several basic scenarios which usually revolve around with attacking and defending forces and give the players concrete goals and objectives. A nice break from the simple objective of ‘kill the enemy army’ you might see in other sci-fi games.
The Good – You have a fun little set of rules, with just the right complexity to make for an enjoyable game. The point system for unit creation allows for a makeup of different forces, allowing for mixing in air and armor pretty easy. You have enough variation in unit abilities and the base attributes to give forces a different feel for the same point value, adding a lot of variation in the force makeup from game to game.
The Bad – While simplicity has it’s charm, sometimes the mechanics can be a little rigid. Infantry forces are required to cluster around a unit leader, and elements that split off from a squad have very limited options. There are some variety of options with unit activation, however it does slip into that territory of IGOUGO with a single unit’s activation. There is some room for reaction fire, especially with charges, but these options are limited. For smaller scale games, I’d like more flexibility in target reaction. Also, while the point system does allow for variation in unit makeup, that problem of the min/max lists can crop up.
The Verdict – I have the newest V1.1 and was happy to see not much changed compared to the original Gruntz. At its core is a very approachable skirmish-scale wargame that allows players to field a variety of forces. While infantry are what your troops are built around, it’s nice to have some other options in the force makeup.
The execution of the game may not be ideal for everyone. You very much have a unit undergoing different actions, without any response from the opponent. Infantry unit cohesion is also a little tight (3”) and inflexible (however with 6 man squad sizes very understandable). There are a lack of campaign rules, and options for setting up the board revolve around mutual player agreement.
Still the game sets out to give a basic ruleset for sci-fi infantry skirmishes and delivers. Where you can argue the unit activation and resolution of tasks is very simplistic, at the same time you can say they are streamlined and get the players involved. You throw buckets of dice and have quick, easy, resolutions to combat which is enjoyable. While there is a bit of bookkeeping required for managing troops in the manner of unit cards, the rules themselves are easy to remember.
It’s a fun ruleset. For squad-based infantry games folks might want something a bit more fluid and dynamic. However if you want a game that has a good set of basic mechanics, that is tactically challenging and enjoyable, with enough room to allow players to explore different force makeups for their troops, Gruntz is a great entry point into the 15 mm sci-fi wargaming realm.