Stargrunt II

Jon Tuffley’s Stargrunt II offers an infantry miniatures wargame that is both realistic and economical. The rules stand on their own merit, but players of other systems will benefit from cannibalizing many of Tuffley’s ideas.

“Call ‘em what you will—the infantry have been there as long as armies have been around. Sure, they’ve got lots of shiny new toys, missiles that’re smarter than they are and all the rest—but they’re still the ones that get left up to their knees in mud, getting shelled and sniped at, holding the line like no tank or gunship can.”

Alternating turns keeps both players alert and involved at all times (as opposed to Warhammer 40K’s ‘I move entire army; you move entire army’ system which can  get bogged down when playing horde armies—those with a significant number of models and units, like Tyranids and Imperial Guard). It also better abstracts the normal flow of battle. Each player has the opportunity to react to an opponent’s move and to force the opponent to react to one’s own maneuvers. For reasons discussed later, the system runs more smoothly with a GM (Tuffley prefers the term ‘umpire’), but Stargrunt players can go to war without. In that event, I would suggest the players agree beforehand on the number of units per side (unless the scenario warrants otherwise). Because players take turns activating one unit at a go, an important strategy is deciding which troops to move later rather than sooner. If, say, the blue army divides its forces into many more units than the red army, then blue can decide to hold the activation of its more important troops to the end after red has exhausted its activations. Thankfully, a failsafe built into the rule allows a player with fewer activated units to pass on an activation. Some players may prefer to leave this mechanic as it stands. Regardless, I recommend some consensus be reached prior to battle.

Several of the game mechanics revolve around the use and shifting of die types. For example, a veteran unit uses a d10 (a higher die than regular or green troops). If the veteran unit receives a positive modifier (say, for hiding in soft cover) then its die type will shift up to a d12. When you switch a die like that, you’re playing with the percentages to such an extent that one wonders if percentile dice might not have been easier. The positive trade-off, however, is that units don’t need individual stats as they are instead differentiated by their type (green, elite, etc.) and thereby their die type (d6, d12, etc.). Although shifting die types is not the most intuitive system, to be fair I will add that it’s not difficult to acclimate to either.

Casualties in Stargrunt are not as simple to come by as in other systems. Units under fire are much more likely to be ‘suppressed.’ Essentially, enemy fire pins the unit down behind cover and prevents them from moving or returning fire. If practiced well, suppressing fire encourages generals to put a premium on maneuvering troops. Ranged fire takes place between units rather than individual troopers. That keeps the number of dice to a minimum. Keeping track of the die shifts, however, takes both practice and patience. Don’t let the reference sheet wander too far away. While the outcome of ranged fire tends towards a suppression result, close combat is a much simpler and bloodier affair. Rules for vehicles, artillery and air support are also included. They follow a similar format to ranged fire.

Many of the advanced and optional rules needlessly complicate an otherwise straightforward combat system. Others add interesting wrinkles to the game. Reaction fire, for instance, belongs to the latter category. Basically, a unit can trade its activation marker to fire on an enemy unit making a double move (very similar to overwatch). The ‘last stand’ optional rule allows a hopelessly imperiled unit to ignore suppression and confidence tests as it fights to the last man. Tuffley adds a mechanic to ensure this rule is not abused, providing room for cinematic glory without compromising too much on realism. The advanced and optional rules are much more likely to be used in small skirmish games (15 or 20 models per side). With some minor house rules (such as critical tables and/or a more complex injury system) running a platoon-level skirmish as part of a larger RPG campaign is relatively simple. What you lose in abstraction you gain in time.

A huge departure from many popular tabletop wargames is the lack of a points system for units to gauge army balance. Tuffley is quick to note on page 3, “This is NOT a game for Power Gamers and Rules Lawyers.” He also believes points systems are too abstract and don’t accurately reflect the value of a unit (but isn’t that what play-testing is <I>supposed</I> to unravel?). Tuffley’s background fluff (Sino-Russian bloc versus a united Europe versus a British-led alliance of Canada and the U.S.) isn’t very deep, and I suspect many players will adopt the background of their choice. Most existing army lists from other games will need only minor tweaking.

“The squad has taken fire: one man is down—under many game systems you just tip the figure over and the rest of the squad carry on. Right, now look at things from the point of view of the troops on the table: that isn’t just a little lead figure out there, that is one of your squad mates…are you just going to leave him to die?”

If you’re looking for a counter-free miniatures game, Stargrunt II may not suit your needs. Small battles are relatively clean, but large ones with a high number of units will litter the tabletop with bits of cardboard. Ultimately, there’s a happy compromise somewhere between Stargrunt II, Void and Warhammer 40K. If one were to adapt the top few mechanics from Stargrunt II, alternating turns (also present in Void), suppression fire, five levels of confidence (instead of ‘fight or flight,’ units go through various stages of morale), and reaction fire deserve immediate consideration.

Because Stargrunt II is now out of print, it can be downloaded free at Tuffley’s Ground Zero Games.

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