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Subject: The Great S&T Play-off! Review! rss

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The Game

1971. The wargame boom had reached a fever pitch with a couple dozen offerings from the Big Two publishers. Almost to a game, however, the wargames were on historical topics at a comfortable distance. World War 2 was the perennial favorite, then 26 years old.

And then came Grunt, a recreation of tactical combat in Vietnam. It was kind of a revolution--for the first time, a wargame had been made to simulate the situations that one saw reported on television every night: American soldiers trooping through the exotic jungle; wounded men being carried away in stretchers; Vietnamese villages in flames. Sure, SPI had made "Up Against the Wall MotherF**cker" and "Chicago, Chicago," but they were one-off experiments, and not very successful ones at that. Grunt was an honest attempt to portray tactical forays in an ongoing war.

Moreover, unlike other tactical offerings (Panzerblitz, Renaissance of Infantry, Centurion, etc.), the point of Grunt was not the obliteration of the "enemy." The American task was to attack the VC supply chain through the finding and capture/destruction of hidden caches of equipment, weapons and food. When the helicopters dropped the squads in the jungle, it was impossible to know if they were entering a peaceful zone with naught but peasants and rice or if they had been dropped in the middle of an NVA training camp. The NVA were generally outnumbered and outgunned, but they had the virtue of invisibility. They were indistinguishable from the peasants and the decoys, and the victory conditions were in their favor: each American bloodied was worth far more to the Communists than VC blood was to the Americans.

The result was a game completely unlike anything that had come before it, both in concept and currency. It was also pretty fun.

The Components

I had the opportunity to buy this game, but $50 seemed steep for what I was going to get. Instead, I built the map (colored with crayons--worked fairly well) and made my own counters. After a play of the Basic game, I realized the game would benefit tremendously from the use of blocks. I'm not a block afficianado or anything, but with such a low counter density and so many units to keep track of, it makes the game way faster. I bought my blocks at a price of (after throwing out unusables and paying shipping) about 10 cents a piece. I got them here.

The Rules

Grunt uses a simple IGOUGO system, with all units having six movement points and a range of eight hexes. Broken terrain costs two points to enter, jungle costs three. Combat range is reduced to four if broken hexes intervene, and jungle and buildings block sight completely. Defense strength is determined solely by terrain (with the same values as movement cost). The CRT is such that killing anything generally requires 3 to 1 odds. At lower odds, one has the chance to "pin" a unit, which makes it unable to move or fire the next turn. This is huge for the VC since the Americans need every turn to find caches. Units cannot move and fire in the same turn (at least in the standard rules)

The Americans have a variety of combat units, but the workhorse is the "squad" representing ten men. They have an attack strength of two. The Vietnamese have hardcore VC with a strength of two, militia with a strength of one, snipers with a strength of one (which are often killed on pin results) and decoys, which have no strength, but can move. The VC player also has peasants, which can't move, and porters, which can. There are also boobytraps, which exploded at 3 to 1.
Setup is done thusly: the VC player chooses an OOB, the more combat troops associated, the less of a VP handicap he/she gets. The Vietnamese are then set up face down on the map--peasants can't be placed in jungle, and only two can be placed on the edges. Then the Americans come in, generally on helicopters in groups of no fewer than four, but also potentially or by road, over a series of turns, or both. The American player gets more or fewer points depending on their deployment.

The American player uncovers VC units by spending 3 movement points upon walking on top of them. If the VC is a combatant, the American unit is bounced back. If the item is a cache of stuff, the American must spend a turn with the cache without moving or firing. Then the cache can be destroyed or captured. If a capturing unit is pinned, it drops the cache. Capturing is always worth more than destroying.

A game lasts just ten turns. Whomever has more points at the end wins.

Note: There is a Basic game, which has no terrain effects on movement or sighting. There is also a Solitaire game, which uses the Basic rules. Neither are terribly satisfying experiences. There are a number of optional rules (napalm bombs, artillery, interrogation of peasants to identify and locate caches, etc.) that I have not yet played with.

Gameplay

This game plays almost in real-time, as each turn represents six minutes of time, and two experienced players can finish a turn in about that period. I really like that--one of the problems with tactical games for me is they tend to bog down with so many rules that it can take an hour to resolve five minutes of time.
Moving through the jungle takes a long time. It is really impossible to investigate more than half the map in the time allotted, and that means the American player has to make some hard choices at the outset. If forces are divided too thinly, it becomes impossible to bring enough firepower to bear on any VC regular to kill it. This might be all right if the goal is simply to pin while other units try to snatch caches, but the cautious player will be forced to leave much of the map unexplored.

The VC player has a psychological game. She/he needs to keep the American player guessing. Sometimes, this means moving frustratingly few pieces, as each moved piece lets the American player know where a mobile unit is. If a VC player is overanxious, a smart American player can have a pretty good idea where the useful Vietnamese units are and this makes their game easier.

Conclusion

I am impressed with the speed and elegance of the game. The rules layout is a little muddled, and I think there are balancing issues (which I resolve by simply using the same rules and setup twice in a role and swapping sides--the winner is the one with the most points for both games). I understand these have been addressed in the revised version, but I haven't played it (and can't until it comes out in five years.. time travel can be tough). Grunt is an interesting puzzle, and it has a lot of color. The American player constantly has a feeling of dread when she/he explores the unknown, but caution must be used in moderation for there to be a hope of winning. The VC player always feels horribly outnumbered, she/he must use her brain to stand a chance.

All in all, a commendable design. Somehow, I don't feel much urge to rush back to it, as I did with Goeben and Battle of Moscow, but that may simply be my general disfavor for tactical games. We'll see if it gets played in the long gap between Franch 1940 and Lost Battles...
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Brett Christensen
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Nice review. I have some of the same feelings about the game (great atmosphere, rules ironing needed) however I only have one solitaire play so far. I'm looking forward to a 2p game. I think this game could be really great with some more well defined scenarios, especially solitaire situations.
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I only reviewed the Standard Game. I should have mentioned that there is a Basic game, which does not have terrain effects on movement or line of sight, and there is a Solitaire game, which uses the Basic rules. Neither are terribly satisfactory experiences.

There are also lots of optional rules that I've not yet played with.

Edit: Fixed review
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Brett Christensen
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With the rules as written the solitaire game is definitely lacking, but it certainly has great potential. It really just needs a decent scenario incorporating the good standard and optional rules along with the full complement of NVA counters. I mention it because I plan on making one, including using the 11 blanks to make events. I think there is a good solitaire game buried in there somewhere.
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mothertruckin wrote:
With the rules as written the solitaire game is definitely lacking, but it certainly has great potential. It really just needs a decent scenario incorporating the good standard and optional rules along with the full complement of NVA counters. I mention it because I plan on making one, including using the 11 blanks to make events. I think there is a good solitaire game buried in there somewhere.


If you make it, I will surely play it! I'm so glad to have revived interest in this chestnut--are you going to be making it based on Grunt or S&D?
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Brett Christensen
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I don't own a copy of S&D unfortunately. Seems impossible to find.
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Drake Coker
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Is it possible this game will get a second "fan"? I've been the only one for so long...
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mothertruckin wrote:
I don't own a copy of S&D unfortunately. Seems impossible to find.


Then we work with what we got. I love the idea of old games making a comeback.

P.S. It would be cool if everyone who has ever played this game would rate it. We only need 6 more to hit 30, and then it can be properly ranked.
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Brett Christensen
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Olvenskol wrote:
Is it possible this game will get a second "fan"? I've been the only one for so long...


Now you're not alone!
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Mike Szarka
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When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
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Neopeius wrote:
mothertruckin wrote:
I don't own a copy of S&D unfortunately. Seems impossible to find.


Then we work with what we got. I love the idea of old games making a comeback.

P.S. It would be cool if everyone who has ever played this game would rate it. We only need 6 more to hit 30, and then it can be properly ranked.


OK, OK...
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