Gretchinz! review


10 October 2018
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gretchinz-07671.jpg Gretchinz!
Fast cars and big guns in this madcap Warhammer 40,000 racer

As anyone who grew up playing Warhammer 40,000 knows, life isn’t easy for the Gretchin. The smaller, weaker cousins of the marauding Orks, these diminutive creatures usually find themselves stuck with the most demeaning and dangerous jobs in the 41st millennium. Whether it’s operating unreliable weapons or making suicidal assaults on Space Marine strongholds, they’re the ultimate expendable troops.

This new game in the 40,000 universe looks beyond the battlefield, though, handing players control of rickety, rocket-fuelled racing buggies. Designed by the creators of the brilliant submarine combat sim Captain Sonar, it pits players against one another in a contest of speed and cunning that feels like an ultra-violent tabletop take on Mario Kart.

The game gleefully embraces chaos, and its anarchic spirit makes itself known from your very first turn. Each round sees you and your opponents simultaneously rolling handfuls of dice to determine the actions available for you to take: manoeuvring your vehicle, firing your oversized cannons or performing some cunning tricks to gain an edge over your competition. You can re-roll your dice as many times as you like, but as soon as one player is happy with their results, they give an intimidating Ork war cry (“Waaaaaagh!”) signalling that everyone has to stop, making the best use of whatever dice they have at their disposal.

With the frantic dice-chucking out of the way, you’ll enact your results on a racetrack built from randomly-drawn terrain cards. Different types of terrain trigger different effects when you drive onto them and, with new cards constantly added to the course, it’s impossible to anticipate the dangers you’ll face, compounding the general sense of unpredictability.

If you can’t match your rivals’ speed, you’ll also have the perfectly sporting option of blowing up their karts with your vehicle-mounted machine guns, and it’s here that Gretchinz! reveals one of its cleverest elements. Its terrain cards are double-sided, with their reverse face showing symbols representing hits, misses and catastrophic explosions. You’ll hold a handful of them, Hanabi-style, with the combat side facing away from you, visible only to your opponents. Whenever you attempt to attack a competitor, you’ll choose two cards from your hand and turn them over to discover whether you’ve successfully damaged their buggy. It means your rivals need to keep a stone-cold poker face to avoid giving you any hints as to what’s in your hand, and it makes for some stomach-churning moments as you launch an attack only for your weapons to spectacularly backfire.

Unfortunately though, this also leads to the game’s major weak point. Accumulate enough damage, and you’ll skip your next turn while you perform some impromptu repairs. It’s deeply unsatisfying sitting out of a round while your opponents race ahead.

There’s also the fact that taking the lead in the race automatically makes you the prime target for your opponents’ aggression, and you’ll quickly find yourself under a concentrated barrage as your fellow players attempt to halt your progress. It feels a bit like bullying and, while it might be appropriate to the source material, it undeniably sours the game’s frenetic sense of fun. 

OWEN DUFFY

 

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WE SAY

Gretchinz! combines frantic dice-chucking, an unpredictable environment and risky card-based combat; if you can grab at the fleeting moments of control amid the chaos, though, you can pull yourself ahead of your rivals. It’s silly, competitive fun – it’s just a shame that it suffers from miss-a-turn mechanisms and a tendency towards leader-bashing.

Buy your copy here.

Designer: Roberto Fraga, Johan Lemonnier

Artist: Albert Monteys

Time: 30 minutes

Players: 2-4

Age: 8+

Price: £27

 

This review originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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