At the start line, accelerators flex in angry anticipation. Green-skinned drivers sneer and accuse each other. They snigger as their back-seat passenger straps a cannon to their dune buggy. A desert wasteland, something straight out of a Mad Max movie, lies ahead. A klaxon bawls, and they’re off! Tyres squeal, exhausts splutter, and sand coughs up into a billowing smog. The environment’s impossible to gauge. Drivers swerve around obstacles in desperation, with next-to-no time to react. Somewhere, close by – too close – an explosion rips the land apart. A crater’s born, and flames lick up the side of one of the wretched buggies…
This is Gretchinz! (yes, it has an exclamation in the title), a racing game for 2-4 players. It might have a Warhammer 40,000 logo on the box, but don’t let that fool you. Published by Devir Games, Gretchinz! features a blend of hand management, memory/deduction, and dice programming.
Do you need to be a fan of 40K and all things Games Workshop then, to enjoy Gretchinz‽ There’s only one way to find out. Strap on your seatbelts; this is going to be one wild ride of a review!
Make A Noise Like A Gretchin
Gretchinz! (urgh; I already hate typing that exclamation) is a race, first and foremost. The side of the box base itself is the finish line. The track isn’t circular, but more of a drag race. (No, not RuPaul’s kind of thing, nor Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.) You place your sand dune buggy the length of seven Terrain Cards away from the chequered flag. For now, only the first row of terrain cards get placed, face-up, next to the vehicles.
Every player has three custom dice. Each face is one of six different actions to take. You’ll ‘lock’ these dice into a spot on your small action board. Also, you start with a hand of double-sided cards. You’re only allowed to look at the reverse of them – meaning everyone else can see what you’ve got. First though, everyone rolls their dice, in a simultaneous fashion. This is the manic ‘real-time’ bit…
Like the look of any action faces that you rolled? You can keep one of them. Place the die into the first notch within your player board. No problem if none appeal; either way, quick as you can, you reroll your remaining dice. You’ll continue to reroll over and over until you get three die faces (so, three actions) that you want. Once you’ve done that, you then make a noise like a Gretchin, and shout: “Wagggh!”
At this point, all other players have to stop rolling. An element of calmness returns to the table. Whatever the current state of the other players’ dice, those are the die face actions they have to use this turn. Of course, someone else could have shouted “Wagggh!” first, before you. The saving grace is the other players can arrange their leftover dice in any order they choose. You’re action programming, here.
Once done, whoever called “Wagggh!” is the first player. They activate their three die face actions. Turn order proceeds clockwise. The next player performs their three dice actions, and so on. Everybody scoops their dice back up, and you start the real-time rolling again. This structure continues until one player reaches the finish line.
Die Gretchin, Die
These dice have six actions faces on them. Two of them are movement: Swerve To The Left, and Swerve To The Right. This is how your dune buggy progresses in the race. You’ll move to a diagonal card, left or right. Afterwards, you reveal three terrain cards in the next row. (One in front of your vehicle’s current Terrain Card, and one to the left and right of it.) You’re limited by table width – the edge of your table equals the edge of the terrain!
When you move onto a Terrain Card, you have to obey its stated action. This tends to be drawing more cards into your hand. Select terrain allow you to move a second time this turn – providing you have a second Swerve die face. If there’s no arrow, then your movement ends here, even if you rolled a second or third Swerve die. Theme-wise, these are obstacles, not stretches of clear, open desert. If two vehicles land on the same card they crash and both players lose a card.
A different die face lets you trigger your Gretchinz! Klan Ability. This involves asymmetrical ways to manipulate your dice after the big Wagggh! moment. The Freebooterz, for example, lets you swap the Klan die for one of your opponents’ dice! (But they can then use it as a Klan Ability of their own.)
One die face lets you draw two cards. You’re not allowed to look at their reverse. One die face, ‘The Eye Of Mork’, lets you ask any other player about the current state of your hand. They have to tell the truth about about how many Firing Cards you’re holding. The final die face is attack. (Or ‘Dakka’, if you check Google Translate for English into Gretchin.) This is where the cards and hand management come into play. So let’s swerve into that particular lane, next…
All The Toe-Curling Drama Of Hanabi
When holding Terrain Cards in your hand, the terrain side – which you get to see – means nothing. On the reverse, it’ll either be a Firing Card or a Problems Card. These are what’s important. There’s also a slim (4/95) chance it’ll be neither, but an Explosion Card, instead. Your hand limit is five cards, but the nature of Gretchinz! sees you pick up and spend cards on a regular basis.
Activating a Dakka die? You fire your buggy’s cannon at something – or someone! Want to destroy a Terrain Card that’s about to benefit your opponents? Pick one of your cards. If it’s a Firing Card, that’s a bingo. Hit. You overlay the Terrain Card with a Crater Card. Any vehicle that moves into a Crater lose two cards. But if you pick a Problems Card, your weapon malfunctions, and you end up shooting your own car by mistake! It’s like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when klutzy Sean Connery shoots the back of his own plane…
Want to sabotage an opponent’s car? Sure thing: but this time you pick two of your cards. Both have to be Firing Cards to qualify as a hit. If even one is a Problems Card, you shoot yourself in the foot. But on a hit, you place a flame token in the back of the targeted vehicle. If any vehicle takes three flame tokens, then they have to forfeit a turn, extinguishing the fire. Of course you could well be your own worst enemy, here. Your buggy takes a flame token too, every time you shoot yourself!
If you’re unfortunate enough to ever pick an Explosion Card when you roll Dakka, you lose your entire hand. If the card gods hate you, there’s the slimmest of chances you could pick an Explosion and a Problems Card together. In this rare circumstance, you lose your hand and take a flame token!
Embrace The Chaos
By now you’ve deduced, no doubt, that mayhem is king in Gretchinz! I appreciate: to some gamers, that might sound like exercises in randomness. You don’t know all your cards. Lady Luck rears her head with die rolls. You don’t know the terrain layout up ahead. I’ll admit, I was a little wary when I read the rules. But you know what? Once I started playing, I found myself smiling. Laughing. Cheering even, and gaping with my jaw agog. If you’ve played programming games like Colt Express before, you’ll know what I mean.
In Colt Express, if you go into it trying to out-think the game at every turn, you won’t succeed. It’ll leave you frustrated. While there are elements of strategy to it, Colt Express is best enjoyed if you embrace the chaos from the start. You need to accept that things can – and will – go wrong. That’s the style of the fun it offers. It’s like a form of slapstick, in board game format. The same applies in Gretchinz! If you like one, odds are you’ll like the other.
Some of the mechanisms here feel akin to those featured in other tried-and-tested games. The half-blind hand management is like Hanabi. There’s less to remember, though. The 95 cards sit weighted in favour of being Firing, over Problems. There’s enough Problems Cards to throw a spanner into the mix, without too many making it impossible. Some Terrain Cards let you draw varying quotas of cards into your hand. Some you have to draw blind. Others let you look at the ‘hit or miss’ side. With an Eye of Mork die face you can learn information about your hand, too.
Beware, though: this element of memorising your cards can evaporate in a flash. After the pandemonium of the real-time dice rolling, you’ll turn back to your cards and frown. “Ohh,” you’ll mutter. “I can’t remember which one of these is the Firing Card!” Also mirroring Hanabi, you’ll see your opponents’ hands hover over the cards they’re about to play. Try not to react and give the game away! You’ll see them wince as they gamble – will they play the card they want?
The direct attacking an opponent is a ‘take that’ move. Some people won’t like this, if they prefer less confrontation in their games. You can always attack the Terrain Cards, instead. This is like a passive form of attacking. If a rival is about to bank on driving through a great card that douses their flames (the Puddle’), you can destroy that. Plus, in theory this is easier to achieve, if you dislike the chance blind card pick.
Oodles Of Table Presence
The dune buggies themselves look superb, providing oodles of table presence. They’re a little awkward and delicate to punch and build. Approach with patience and steady hands. The flame tokens are small to place into the back of buggies, but not enough to be a problem. The side of the box being the finish line in a physical form is a neat touch.
The ‘goblin green’ custom dice have black iconography for the six different actions. Swerving and picking up cards are easy to detect at-a-glance. The other three faces – Dakka, Klan Ability and Eye of Mork – are too abstract, though. This can be an issue, considering you’re rolling these in among a cacophony of real-time action. You’ll grasp them after a while, but they’re not for beginners.
It’s satisfying to lock the dice lock into the mini player mats. The asymmetrical Klan Abilities are obvious once you’ve understood the icons. These player mats are double-sided, without any Klan Abilities on the reverse. This is a suggested starter option, which makes one of the six die faces moot.
The iconography on the Terrain Cards is a lot more obvious. You might overlook the flavoursome artwork by Albert Monteys. You focus more on the iconography. But if you take the time to look, you’ll discover fun details like gretchins squished by tyre tracks. Hulking piles of appealing scrap represent you salvaging them (as in, taking cards).
Red Firing Cards stand out against the blue Problems Cards. The rare Explosions Card is tougher – but not impossible – to distinguish at a glance. This is important when you’re asked to tell that opponent how many Firing Cards they hold.
Final Thoughts On… Gretchinz!
Gretchinz! came as a pleasant surprise. The hand management ‘Hanabi’ element is a fun addition in among this manic maelstrom. It’s pure silliness, but with games like this, it’s all about managing expectations going into it. Both yours, and those whom you’re teaching. Gretchinz! is a ‘beer and pretzels’, Friday night kind of game. Have a few drinks, have a few laughs. It doesn’t treat itself as a serious strategy racing game. It’s only 20-30 minutes, so it doesn’t outstay its welcome, either. With two copies of Gretchinz!, you could turn it into an eight-player game. That might be a tad too chaotic for my tastes, though.
Having Games Workshop and Warhammer 40,000 logos on the box is misleading. That presents an instinctual first impression, an association with that genre. Try to look beyond that, I implore you. I appreciate that’s tough, and that this swings both ways…
I know the reason those logos are on the box. Gretchins are a type of creature that reside within the Warhammer 40K universe. Angelis is the desert setting within the game, Gorkamorka. They’re petrolheads, and rather dim, scatty and lawless. They fit the chaos-driven theme to a tee. But this isn’t a skirmish-style game with minis you paint. I’m not convinced that 40K gamers would enjoy Gretchinz!. But would they – incorrectly – buy it off of the 40K association, alone?
On the flip side of the coin, people that have no interest in 40K or Games Workshop titles might avoid Gretchinz!. Why? Because they might think – incorrectly – that it’s a skirmish game, with minis you have to paint. It’s a marketing paradox. In reality, would Gretchinz! be better off without the Games Workshop affiliation?
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