The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Gretchinz!
When Games Workshop and Fantasy Flight Games ended their licensing agreement, many people -- myself included -- wondered what exactly would happen next. Would Games Workshop produce board games using their own intellectual property? Would they abandon board games and focus solely on their core miniatures product? Would they license out their Warhammer and Warhammer 40K IPs to other board game companies? If so, to whom and for what?
With the recent release of Gretchinz! from Devir Games, we have one answer to that question -- although this brightly colored, quick-playing racing game with chunky dice and papercraft cars may not be the expected answer, considering the grimdark Warhammer 40K source material. For the 40K uninitiated, the title of the game comes from the race Gretchin -- a small subspecies of Ork -- who, in Gretchinz!, drive the slapdash contraptions racing in this scattershot demolition derby.
Gretchinz! boasts a solid creative team. It was designed by Captain Sonar co-designers Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier, and illustrated by Eisner award nominated artist Albert Monteys. Like Captain Sonar, there is a real-time element to Gretchinz!, but that is likely where all similarities end.
Gretchinz! plays two to four players, and takes 15-20 minutes to play. The race ends when one player reaches the seventh card, although the complete map, made up entirely of cards, is revealed as players race, and not during set-up. Gameplay combines imperfect information, hand management, real-time dice rolling, grid movement, attacking, as well as a fair bit of chaos and luck -- all of which I’ll detail below.
Players will start with a hand of cards, which are used for attacking. However, they will not be able to see the pertinent information printed on the cards, as the cards will be facing so their opponents will be able to see that side of the cards.
To start each turn, players will each simultaneously roll three dice until they reveal results they want. During this real-time phase, players will place dice faces they want to use onto the three numbered slots on their player panels. The first player who places all three dice will then yell out WAAAGH!, and all other players must immediately stop rolling and place their dice onto their player panels in any order they choose.
Players will then, one at a time, follow the programmed instructions of their three dice, in order. The dice faces are as follows:
- Swerve to the Right: Move diagonally right
- Swerve to the Left: Move diagonally left
- Dakka: Attack
- Draw Cards: Draw two cards
- The Eye of Mork: Find out how many attack cards are in hand
- Klan Ability: Special faction ability (in the basic game, this die face has no effect).
Note that there is no way for a player to move straight forward.
When a player moves their buggy to the next row of terrain cards, they will follow the instruction symbol on that card, which may allow them to draw cards, force them to discard cards, allow them to discard a damage token, or allow them to keep moving on that turn (but only if they had other dice with movement symbols on them).
When attacking an opponent, a player will choose two of their cards and hope both are firing cards. If they are, the chosen opponent’s buggy will take a flames counter. If one or more is a problems card, no damage is dealt. When one or more is an explosion card, however, the attacking player’s buggy takes a flames counter instead. Of course, the deck is stacked in favor of hits over misses, with even fewer explosions, so attacking is still very much encouraged and rewarded. Note that new cards are only drawn due to dice or card effects, there is no hand refilling phase at any point in the game.
Getting three flames counters on their buggy will force a player to lose their next turn and discard their entire hand of cards, so any player jumping into the lead is putting a large target on their back, inviting attacks that will allow their opponents to catch up.
The game continues, alternating between the ‘real-time dice rolling phase’ and the ‘carry out programmed instructions phase,’ until one or more players reach the seventh row on a turn. In the event of a tie, the player with the fewest flames counters wins, and if it is still a tie, the player with the most firing cards in their hand wins.
Pros: The game is a frenetic, fun racing game that does not take itself too seriously, and has awesome little papercraft buggies. It plays quickly and can be easily taught to non-gamers. There is an advanced mode with special klan abilities, giving the game more variability and each of the player panels a unique feel. The components are language independent, and the game comes with four rule books in the box -- English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. The game has a nice molded insert and is in a “right-sized” box. More than one copy of the game can be combined for a more epic race at a higher player count.
Cons: Some or all of the following could be turn offs to certain types of players -- the frantic, real-time dice rolling, the lack of certainty when using cards to attack, the take-that nature of the game, the fact that players can take enough damage to lose a turn, and the lack of any long term planning or strategy involved in playing. The game plays better with three or four players, racing with two is not an optimal player count.
There have been many serious racing board games, from Formula D to Automobiles, among many others, but I have often heard calls for a different, goofier style of racing game, inspired, for example, by Nintendo’s Mario Kart or the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon Wacky Races. Gretchinz!, despite its 40K license, fits this bill. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the kind of game a lot of people were hoping Portal’s Crazy Karts would be, as it is equally chaotic, but doesn’t require partners and plays in a much shorter time frame.
Gretchinz! is a perfect choice as a lighthearted game to bring out with any group that enjoys sillier games, zany experiences, and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. It’s great to play for laughs and some good natured trash talking while enjoying a beer, but should not be mistaken for any sort of serious strategy game, and forcing it into that role with players that only enjoy those kinds of games will surely disappoint. In short, if you know your audience, and they sound like the kind of people that would enjoy this, they probably will.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Gretchinz! from Devir Games.