There seems to be a lot going on with regards to Warhammer 40k at the moment. The playerbase seems split between a lot of different versions, when taking into account that it is an active game system. There’s a crowd for 30k, one for 40k (9th edition I believe) and then there is a crowd of people who wants something simpler altogether… and of course there’s the crowd that I normally belong to – those who play older editions.
Grimdark Future by One Page Rules belongs to the “let’s make it simpler” category. I happened upon them purely by accident when reading into some 3rd edition related facebookery. Someone suggested that Grimdark Future sort of did what Warhammer Renaissance does for Warhammer Fantasy – it tastes a bit of the old days, allows for a good evening of fun and has all the kinks ironed out. Hmm! I thought I had to try this Grimdark stuff.
Unlike the name would suggest, the rules are not really on one page. Rather the full book comes in at 32 pages, which is probably more sensible. It is done in a completely manageable way, without cluttering and very “to the point”.
There is a lot of information packed in those pages though. You get all the basic mechanics in about 16 pages (and that is including the wargames trope of “what do you need to play” which can only be news to people who’ve never played a wargame before). The layout is very simple, but it is nicely illustrated with examples and so on.
Given that this rules set was introduced as a 40k-ish type of game I was surprised to see that the common 40k stat line was nowhere to be found. Instead all figures simply have a Quality rating and a Defense rating. A lot of the Line of Sight, cover and close combat concepts are still the same, but the statline is not.
The mechanics are similar, but with only 2 stats, you are of course a bit more limited. Essentially you use your Quality (for instance 5+ for a not-Ork or not-Termagant…) to hit in close combat and to shoot. You basically score a hit if you roll equal to or more. Any hits scored can be countered by the opposition by making a defense roll (equal to or more than defense – for instance 2+ on a Carnifex). If you fail the Defense roll you take a wound. Simple. Essentially this cuts out the “to wound” roll of 40k. It also speeds the game of greatly, as you no longer have to compare stats ( “My strength is 4, what is your toughness again?” is nowhere to be heard) on a table or anything…
Another divergence from the standard 40k tropes is the turn activation: In Grimdark you take turns to activate a unit, instead of I Go, You Go. The ensuing problems with close combat that would result in normal 40k is dealt with in a clever way through “Fatigue” and close combat always resulting in the units being 1″ apart after fighting. The 1″ gap might seem a bit illogical during a swirling melee, but game wise it solves everything. A combat never lasts turn after turn, you can’t hide in close combat, and you can always shoot at any unit.
This simple approach looks like it might make for a dull game at first, but then when you add the additional abilities given in the rules, you end up with something that has a surprising depth for 16 (32) pages of rules.
The last 16 pages are concerned with terrain, gameplay variants, various add ons in the form of command points and extra missions. It really becomes a great sandbox of possibilites.
In addition to the core rules, the author has made Army Books for (literally) ALL 40k armies… including space Dwarfs! There a few armies in addition to this (Space Rats for instance). This is an amazing amount of stuff for a $5 game.
It doesn’t stop there though – there is actually an army builder on the page too! And it is super good for quickly browsing the rules while playing.
How does it play
The really short summation and the matter of fact style of writing greatly helps in learning the rules. When we played the game I was pleasently surprised at how smooth it played. We had minimal problems finding clear answers to the questions that invariably arise during wargaming.
We tried a small (600 points) game and a larger (2000 points) game. The small game seemed out of scope – the amount of figures and the time it took to play was very short. In all fairness the author states that 750 is suitable for beginners. I would say that anyone who has ever played 40k can safely go a lot higher.
The 2000 points game did exactly what it was supposed to. It was a good 2 hours (including short breaks) played with 2 marine armies (each 1000 points) and one tyranid army (2000 points).
One thing I found a bit weird was the morale. Every time your units are reduced to 50% of starting strenght they start to suffer morale problems. This goes for Tyranids as well as Space Marines. Now, I guess you can find a reason why Tyranids would scuttle away, but rolling a single d6 on 5+ to see if the rest of your unit disappears (this happens in melee) seems a bit too flimsy. But, it really isn’t a big criticism.
I think this set of rules gives you a tremendous amount of bang for your buck (it is $5 for the full version). I don’t think buying the full version is essential, but as I want to support the author I did it anyway. And I am happy that I did, as I actually really think the extra stuff is cool.
The game is really good for pick-up and play – getting some of those old figures out an on the table, Maybe if you have played 40k during 3rd to 5th edition – it feels like the amount of figures you would use. You can of course also use new armies for this and actually OPR offers a selection of 3d printing models for their army books. I don’t think that is in scope for me, as I have tonnes of old 40k figures that I would rather use.
My only concern is longevity – the simplicity of this game might make it less interesting in the long run. But then again, that depends on your playing style. I normally play games with a strong narrative, and not a competitive focus. For that kind of gaming the rules are second to the actual company you play with.