Whilst you may not have heard of them, gretchins are an ever present (albeit very much sidelined) feature of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000. These expendable creatures are maniacal and cunning, yet they love nothing more than getting behind the wheel to cause mayhem and mischief. Gretchinz focuses on just that — madcap racing and wanton carnage in Warhammer’s otherwise dark future.
Fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe will be well aware of what a gretchin is, but for the uninitiated, these long-nosed, pointy-eared greenskins might as well be referred to as space goblins. But that would be underselling them a little bit, because ‘gretchinz’ are the ingenious backbone of any well oiled crew of orc Mekk Boyz, giving them a real affinity for vehicles.
Gretchinz takes this idea and merges it with card and dice rolling elements to create an experience that feels as chaotic to play as the subject matter suggests it should be. The aim of the game is simply to win the race — which, depending on how events unfold — is achieved by simply moving your buggy from the first space (represented by a card) to the seventh, which will be drawn in a later turn.
Gretchinz can be played by two to four players with a single set, but somewhat ingeniously, the players can purchase two sets to expand the game to accommodate up to eight players, with no additional complexity, proxies pieces or anything else unwelcome. Whilst I haven’t tried this dual-box version, I am delighted to see it included as a feature and I can see exactly how it works with the components included.
On that note, Gretchinz features some unusual — and interesting — components. There isn’t much in the box, but what is present can be considered pretty cool. Firstly, there are four, three dimensional buggies that represent each of the players and these are undoubtedly the centrepiece.
The board is made up of cards, drawn from a deck of 95 (plus 15 crater cards that sit separately.) These cards are placed as side by side, one for each buggy plus one more on either side. The race (usually) lasts until one buggy reaches the finish line, which is placed just beyond the seventh card in line. The largest play area needed with one set is therefore a space that is six cards wide and seven long, so do bear that in mind.
To my surprise, Gretchinz also packs in seven clam boards that allow each player to access a special ability, with each clan doing something slightly different. Some make their players act more aggressively, while others offer slightly more subtle or intelligent (but not too intelligent) approaches. Finally, considering this is a dice rolling game, there are twelve customised green dice.
The first phase of each turn is simple enough — the players simultaneously roll three dice over and over, hoping to see symbols that they believe will be favourable to them. Faces can show swerves to the left or right, draw cards, eye of Mork (or Gork) and attack or clan ability symbols and once the dice are locked, all three actions must be performed.
The first player to have three dice that are satisfactory will shout “WAARGH!” (I’m not joking) and all players stop with whatever dice they have. These dice can then be placed into the clan card in any order, but players must bear in mind that they will also be resolved in that order.
Resolving the dice is fairly straightforward — but it should be noted that buggy’s never move in any way other than by swerving left or right, so if a player doesn’t roll those dice, then their buggy will not move. The board is also laid out as and when needed — with three cards being placed in front and to the front left and right of a buggy, each time it reaches the current front line of cards.
Attacking is as chaotic and hazardous as you might expect. When the decision to attack is made, the player chooses a target (it can be anywhere, there are no range or directional restrictions) and then draws two cards from their own hand. What’s interesting here, is that the attacking player can only see the other side of the cards in hand (which happens to be the terrain that makes up the board) so they’ll never really know whether the cards they are attacking with will do the job — or even if they damage their own buggy.
The eye of Mork (or Gork) symbol can alleviate some of this issue, because it allows the player to ask others how many attack cards are in their hand — and this question must be answered honestly. Regardless, if a player has locked dice a Mork (or Gork) dice followed by an attack dice, then they cannot change their decision to attack even if they learn it cannot be successful.
Explosion and problem cards can force the player to discard their whole hand or to place a fire token in their buggy, whilst two successful attack cards will place a fire in the target opponents buggy. Drawing two cards as a result of dice rolling is one way to replenish this hand, but some terrain cards also allow players to draw cards (whilst others will cost them to move through.)
Being on fire, either as the result of drawing a problem card (or because you’ve been attacked) is always a bad thing. Each buggy can take three burning tokens onboard before it must stop for the driver to put out the flames. When this happens, that player discards all cards and skips their turn – which will generally cost them the game.
As you can probably imagine, this madcap dance of rolling dice, shouting, locking in actions (which personally I like to put a time limit on) and then blasting each other (with an uncertain outcome) is pretty bonkers. Gretchinz is definitely not a game for controlled, strategic thinkers who want to optimise every move. It’s simply just not that kind of game.
Instead, it’s a warm, familiar and thematic experience that will be appealing to fans of Warhammer 40,000 lore who want to play something that occupies the opposite end of the spectrum to the traditional Warhammer experience. Gretchinz is fun, fast and very lighthearted, with an awful lot of randomness thrown into it. Ironically, that’s not actually too far removed from using gretchins in the miniatures game, but I digress.
No one is going to nominate Gretchinz for smartest game of the year, but for a cheap thrill (that can accommodate up to eight players with two sets) and a lot of laughs, you could do much worse. Gretchinz components are good looking and fun, allowing it to have a bigger table presence than you might think, whilst the core gameplay, despite being entirely luck driven, remains fairly good fun as long as you don’t take it too seriously.