Friday 25 January 2013

Gruntz 15mm Sci Fi Wargames Rules Review

I'm sure you're familiar with the format of this meme. Here's my version:

1. Take Warmachine rulebook
2. Replace "Warjacks" with "Vehicles." Remove "Warcasters" and related feats.
3. Replace steampunk terminology with sci fi terminology and rename stat lines.
4. ??????
5. Profit!

15mm armies are easy to store and very affordable.  This GZG UNSC force cost about $70...

Gruntz 15mm sticks so close to its source, it is more the sort of thing I'd expect to see as a set of house rules in a Warmachine yahoo group then a published set of rules in its own right.  I know you can't patent game mechanics (try tell GW that, though), but... it feels kinda dirty, like respraying a car and claiming it's a different make and model.  The author could at least have thanked Privateer Press in the acknowledgements....

Now given my somewhat scathing opening, and the fact I have a well-known aversion to the CCG-with-minis-so-unbalanced-it-appears-balanced Warmachine, you can tell where this is review is heading, right?

Actually, no.  Gruntz 15mm is a good game.

The Shiny
I have the pdf, and it stands alongside the "Battlefield: Modern Miniature Warfare" as one of the nicest pdf rulesets I own.  It has absolutely truckloads of quality pictures of miniatures in action from
Old Crow, Khurasan and GZG. There are plentiful gameplay diagrams and examples, and flowcharts which make game sequences clear.  There is even a FAQ of common questions.  This is a set of rules obviously built for gamers, by a gamer. I like it so well I'm considering grabbing a print copy.  Ironically, I wish more companies would copy this guy!  A+

The rules are well presented and obviously made by a gamer, for gamers. Plentiful examples, diagrams, and pictures of minis...

Basically, it's Warmachine with the casters and feats stripped out.   The stats pretty much directly correspond:
Gruntz  vs Warmachine
Move = SPD
Shoot = RAT
Assault = MAT
Guard = DEF
Soak = ARM
Mental = CMD
Gruntz also has "Skill" for making vehicle piloting rolls.  Units even have similar "stat cards."  

Gameplay is IGOUGO and like Warmachine most rolls are 2 x d6 added together to beat a target score.  You roll 2d6 plus your RAT oops I mean "Shoot" score and try to beat their DEF Guard score to hit.  If a hit is scored, the weapons POW Damage + 2d6 is compared to the target's ARM Soak and any amount in excess of this applied as casualties/daamge. Melee works the same way.

Squads (usually of 6, coincidentally) stay within 3" of each other. Units can make 2 actions including shooting, running, assaulting, overwatch (I always like this in a rule-set), going prone, removing suppression etc.  I liked "Interdiction fire" where a unit marks an area of effect in which it gives supporting fire - used by weapons like squad machine guns, although this too is replicated from WM. 

The rules are clear, easy to read and well laid out.

Commanders have "special abilities" which are more sensible then some of the game-changing "Feats" in WM; they including removing suppression and extra movement for friendlies in range, extra wounds, and being able to fire an extra shot.

If casualties are taken, a unit must take a morale check or be suppressed. They need to use an action to remove their suppression which will reduce their options next turn.  If a squad takes over half casualties they must check for "Condition Brown" (yes, direct quote from rules!) and if they fail the test they run away from the enemy.

Vehicle rules are quite comprehensive and well explained.  Vehicles have a Full-Thrust style damage track with quite a lot of hitboxes (ironic "yaaaay" from me). Criticals (which work similarly to FT) can damage Armour (-4 soak), Engine (restricts speed) or Tek (-3 to ranged attacks.)  There are rules for embarking and disembarking, assaulting vehicles with foot troops, airborne assaults and artillery.

There are digital warfare rules where vehicles and units can be suppressed or disabled by being "hacked" which adds an interesting dimension to combat.

All up, about 40 pages of gameplay rules is pretty par for the course, and presentation and ease of use is well above average.

TL:DR  Gruntz strips the more annoying cheese from Warmachine, adds a few sci fi flourishes and gameplay tweaks, and emerges as a rather solid ruleset, with gameplay quite different to its parent

Terrain for 15mm is also cheap, and easy to store. A simple 4x3 sand table is surprisingly easy to make and maintain.
Optional Rules
There are rules for card activation or alternate activation which break out of the IGOUGO mould. The card system in particular looks interesting and has a few interesting quirks but I'd probably avoid it for really large games as it could slow things down.

Build Your Own
One of the features of Gruntz is its unit construction rules.  You are encouraged to make armies from different 15mm manufacturers and are given a solid set of tools for "making your own."  The unit creation is pretty straightforward and being able to build a custom army from your favourite models from different manufacturers is very appealing.  Infantry squads are based around groups of 6 with up to 2 special "attachments."  There are rules for making monsters and vehicles (air. hover, tracked, etc)

There is a template with about 40 generic infantry and support weapons which cover pretty much any TV show or movie, and a similar range of vehicle weaponry.  There are also "Perkz" which allow you to customise units with skills ranging from "Bullet time" to "Telepathy" and "Infected" (turn your opponents into friendly zombies).

The building rules are clear, well laid out and take up a large chunk of the rules (about 40 pages).

EDIT: I'd like to add the proviso that although fun for mates and good for "pick up" games the points system is far from power-gamer proof.  Weapons are worth the same no matter who is wielding them, and improving key stats is comparatively cheap.   Min-maxing units would be quite easy - this is not a super-tight "competition" rule set.

In addition, in the pipeline is a Barracks army-builder program ($14?) which will take all the work out of unit creation - simply choose your unit stats and weapons from a drop down box, then print out the cards.  The author seems to be an active hobbyist and supports the game really well. The Gruntz site is worth a visit.

For some reason, all 15mm companies seem to have impeccable customer service. Blue Moon, Micro Panzer, Khurasan, GZG, Rebel, CMG - all have impressed me with their pricing, communication, and response times.  (Micropanzer troops and GZG vehicles pictured)

A attractively packaged and very well presented ruleset, it's sci-fi Warmachine rules without the cheese.  Removing the caster-warjack synergy and feats gives a very different (and far better) flavour of game, and as a bonus WM players will find it very easy to pick up.

The unit builder section is a gem and Gruntz 15mm seems to be (directly or indirectly) supported by most of the biggest 15mm manufacturers.  You can truly make your army out of any miniatures you want, quickly and easily. Constructing your custom army can be a fun activity in itself!

The range of about 50 "Perks" allows a lot of easy customisation of your troops. Together with the unit builder, this is the most convincing argument to put Gruntz ahead of the other major 15mm commercial ruleset, Tomorrow's War.

Recommended? Yes.  Easy to learn, accessible, very customisable. A very solid set of rules that seems surprisingly polished for a private venture. Provides a great entry point into 15mm sci fi gaming. 

Some other options:
My current favourite sci fi rules is the less conventional ruleset "Tomorrow's War" which has superior tactics and strategy. The mechanics are simpler (and owe a bit to the free Stargrunt by GZG) although the reaction system makes gameplay more complex. That said, it is more generic and grainy, and it is better for human near-future sci fi rather than exotic aliens. There are only 4 "levels" of troops with little differentiation between races.  Of the few weapon classes (energy, kinetic, railgun, etc) special weapons simply add firepower dice rather than having special attributes.  The "build system" is very primitive compared to Gruntz (more guesswork than anything).  That disclaimer aside, Tomorrow's War is unparalleled for forcing commanders to make realistic decisions, and remains my #1 choice.  I'd recommend TW for scenarios, and Gruntz is better for pick-up games at the club. Both are worthwhile games.

FUBAR is a good simple free ruleset, and the "not-40K" spin-off In the Emperor's Name allows you to get use out of those 40k models that have been sitting in the cupboard...


  1. Nice review. Not sure I'm 100% with you on the warmachine crossover though. Excellent ruleset and the unit builder lets you create any kind of army you want, unlike many other "open" games.

    1. The lack of warcaster/feats make it play very differently, but its as closely related to WM as the GW "Legends of the Old West/High Seas" are to LOTR:SBG.

  2. Good review. Thank you for that! I've been thinking about picking up grunts.

    1. Well worth picking up. 15mm sci fi is full of great manufacturers and the rules are pretty good, as well. Cost, storage... and the quality of sculpts in some cases equals 28mm

  3. Never played warmachine but I am looking for something to play 15mm Hammers Slammers style actions. This might be a bit less tankcentric than Crucible...

    1. Vehicles fit well into the game (as opposed to some rules where vehicles are kinda bolted on)so Hammers Slammers wouldn't be a problem...

      Tomorrow's War on the other hand, seems better focussed on "hard" sci fi so it might also be worth a look.

  4. Thought i would leave a comment to show the longevity and utility of your posts.

    I just listened to the latest Meeples and Miniatures podcast (episode 137) in which they interview the author of these rules, Robin Fitton. After listening to that, I checked to see if you had reviewed them and 10 minutes later had then d/l from Wargames Vault.

    BTW the author has now released a set of print on demand cards for random activation, which also incorporate random events and temporary effects. Sounds like that would be a neat addition to the game.

    There is also now a free online unit builder for the game, which is neat

    1. Pleased to hear it! The blog started as I used to belong to a few forums and I used to do long posts explaining various rules to friends, to help them avoid "lemons" (I'm an avid rulebook collector so I'd waste my $$$ anyway...) - the blog was just to save myself repeating the same thing over and over....

  5. they have a skirmish 3 to 10 models version now

  6. How well does this game adapt to playing solo?

    1. I haven't played it for ages and as it's updated quite often my opinion may be out of date; no better than any other.

      Games that lend themselves well to solo play are ones with reaction mechanics with reaction mechanics or ones that force logical play (Tomorrow's War, for example,would be easier for me to play both sides, as it tends to force a certain style of play).

      Or you do something like could borrow a Two Hour Wargame reaction mechanic (have a look at the free Chain Reaction 3.0 rules on their site) and graft it onto an existing rules system.

  7. From what I see on videos it looks well suited to solo play. The author claims to play it that way often.

    Tried THW stuff but always seemed too complicated to figure out. I just can't seem to grasp the rules.

    1. You can play anything solo if you want. I don't recall anything that makes Gruntz especially suited to it, compared to other games.

      "Tried THW stuff but always seemed too complicated to figure out. I just can't seem to grasp the rules."

      That's because they are poorly and confusingly written. (Though they have improved of late)

      Free CR3.0 are worth a look for ideas though.

  8. That's the one I was using. I was also talking with Ed Teixera about it as well. I feel like I need to play a game with someone who knows how in order to get it. I did purchase their racing game though.

  9. "I feel like I need to play a game with someone who knows how in order to get it."

    ....That's not a sign of clear, well laid out rules writing.

    1. 100% agree. Thing is, I want to love THW's rules. Ed is a very nice guy, and thus far has given me loads of great customer support, very responsive to questions and I believe he has a true passion for his work. That said, a bit of complicated rules mixed with my style of overthinking stuff when I read rules (and I read a lot of them, I'm a ruleset collector too), it just because something I couldn't get into. I've tried twice now, and perhaps I'll give it another shot sometime, but I don't like that I had to take my own notes from the rulebook and collect all answers to questions I've seen in the forums and try to piece together some of the mechanics.

      P.S. I found this blog looking for FUBAR AAR's and your review subsequently almost compelled me to purchase Gruntz. Being a Warmachine guy, this was no-brainer for my first foray into 15mm.

      I do need to check out Tomorrow's War now too. I've got ruleset ADHD.

    2. If you are familiar with Warmachine, Gruntz would be a good starting point.

      Tomorrow's War belongs to a different school of mechanics, as a Dirtside/Stargrunt descendent (both also free, but a bit dated in layout etc). Well worth a look to have a well rounded "education" :-)

      Welcome to the world of war-game collecting. I think I did a few "favourite rules" lists (index, right side of this blog?) which may help you choose (aka mention more rules you NEED to buy....)

      *New rules are a need, not a want.

  10. I decided to forgo Tomorrow's War due to price. Gruntz seems to fit the need for uncomplicated but fun rules at an affordable price. I had a few rules questions I wanted answered so I hope I can find an active forum somewhere.

  11. Gruntz is a nice set of rules for sure - until the game size exceeds the number of different coloured sets of d6 dice you have. Rolling 2d6 to-hit per figure firing, THEN rolling 2d6 to wound/damage hit targets in a large game requires quite a few pairs of dice and lots of dice rolls. Then on to your next squad ...
    For me, the vehicle rules are what let it down - I'm quite an avid armoured vehicle fan (WW2 and so on) and I've read a fair amount on the subject and I found the idea of the damage track somewhat annoying - either the armour is penetrated or its not. If it is, odds are Kill, perhaps Mobility or Weapon kill. If not then there's a smaller chance of M or W kill. But accumulated battering type damage? These are 50 ton tanks, not 50,000 ton battleships!
    I've not played TW - I have Stargrunt II, which I prefer.
    But 15mm is most definitely the way to go, and GZG proffer superb service!

    1. I don't think TW offers much over Stargrunt, though I've not played the latter. I live in Australia, and once ordered minis on Thursday arvo and got them on Monday - that's 4 days from the UK to my door; can echo the good service bit!

      Gruntz is a sensible consistent set of rules, but pretty much a direct copy of Warmachine in every way, both in resolution of dice, and treating vehicles as "warlocks" - which are sort of the war machine robot monsters and are expected to die slowly (i.e. like multiwound models in 40K).

      I'm not sold on the 2d6 as the distribution curve makes modifiers inconsistent. As you say, throwing lots of 2d6 sets is a pain in the butt. (At least it didn't use 10+ man squads) A switch to d10 at the least would make sense.

      Perhaps it should have deviated more from the source material.

  12. Hi again,
    The 2d6 system is an issue, but so is the claim of 'flexibility'. Whilst I agree that it IS flexible in some ways, Gruntz (what is it with this 'Z' thing anyway - Gruntz, Perkz, Modz) - the flexibility is actually quite rigid in that you can only create units the way the designer thinks you should.
    What happens if your alien race uses a trinary command structure?
    What happens if your alien squad has more than 10 troops in it?
    Why can't you design a vehicle family - APC, AA vehicle, rocket artillery, anti-tank, all on a standard chassis (like many modern militaries do) - use Gruntz and the APC comes in as a GSV but the anti-tank vehicle has to be a tank (different stats to the GSV) the rocket artillery is yet another type of vehicles (with different stats again) - so much for multiple functions on an 'identical' chassis. Whilst many will find this just a minor niggle the inability to recreate my forces the way I originally designed them (for USE ME 15mm) meant that, with my other (more system) issues got fed up with the faffing and went back to a truly flexible system.
    And to be fair - the writer really should've thanked Privateer for the use of their game system. I know that systems can't be copyrighted, but none the less it'd be polite to thank them. After all, they did all the work, he just changed an few bits.

    1. "And to be fair - the writer really should've thanked Privateer for the use of their game system. I know that systems can't be copyrighted, but none the less it'd be polite to thank them. After all, they did all the work, he just changed an few bits."

      --Can't disagree with this.

      --Perhaps it isn't flexible compared to your favourite system. But it is (well was - I haven't played my 15mm sci fi for ages) enough to let you grab your favourite 15mm models and make an army.

  13. Why does my copy of Gruntz says there are blank unit record sheets inside when there are none. I bought the rulebook for $25 then had to shell out more $'s to get the unit builder JUST to get usable blank unit forms - if I'd known that I'd have to do this I'd probably bought another system that didn't trick me into spending more of my hard earned $.
    And compared to Strike Legion: Platoon Commander, why the lack of example units? If some had been included (as in almost all other similar games) you at least could play your new game straight out of the Amazon packaging.
    I wish I had spent my money else where.