Thursday 28 May 2020

GRIMLITE Playtest Report and Thoughts

Last night saw my first playtest of GRIMLITE. Ram kindly tested out a preliminary version while I was awaiting my minis, but now I'm fully equipped and ready to go.

First some changes I've made to the game.

Free Movement now lets you move any distance (!), with a single vault, climb, or sidestep permitted along the way. The caveat is that any Moves after your first each turn require a roll. If you fail the roll then your opponent can leave you stranded mid-move and you can't attempt to move again this turn. The aim here is to remove the focus on measuring inch by inch, while still creating situations where you leave yourself in a vulnerable position.

Hard Range Limits mean that short range weapons have a range of 6" as always, but long range weapons can now fire any distance over 6" but cannot fire at 6" or less at all. It takes a little getting used to, but I like that it makes a longrifle feel very different to a carbine, not outright better.

Modifiers have been tweaked slightly to help make Touch/Short/Long ranges all feel interesting. Touch weapons now get +1 when attacking an Exhausted or Downed opponent, meaning they can be outright more effective than ranged weapons as long as you pick your target. It also makes choosing who to activate first a tougher decision now. You can charge in with your leader to get a first strike, but they're leaving themselves open to counter charges for the rest of the Round. Recovery has also had its modifier tweaked to +1 for having an ally nearby, rather than allowing you to use the Ally's QL score. It's more consistent with the other actions, which all have a single +1 or -1 modifier, and it makes keeping your grunts together more appealing, which feels right.

Tactics are special powers you can use once per Round. I wanted to give each warband a sort of unifying thing that made them feel different to each other, evens if the individuals were very similar, and I love those Cosmic Encounter style game-breaking abilities. I'm not sure how I feel about these, and they're very much there in draft form, so don't be surprised if they vanish.

Weapon Mods are something I've gone back and forth on in the past. I've tried out the following methods for weapons in this game:

  • List of pre-made weapons. 
  • Broad weapon types with modifiers you can apply to raise their Attacks or Damage.
  • Bespoke weapon creation where you just stat them up and then calculate their cost. 
Now I'm back on a variant of option 2. The issue with the previous modular system is that it was feeding into the idea of build mentality. There were outright better and more cost effective ways to use the combination of base weapon and modifier, so it felt like it was putting too much focus on building your warband well rather than playing well. I realise that builds are always going to be a part of a wargame, but it's not what I wanted the focus to be. Now I have very broad basic weapons you apply modifiers to, but the mods are a lot more specific in their use. There isn't one that just gives you more Damage or more Attacks, they're all situational to some extent. Best of all, they're completely optional, so if you want to keep your warband simple you can use them as little as you like and you're not really missing out on much effectiveness.

With the rules out of the way, let's talk miniatures.

I've really enjoyed assembling and painting these little guys. I used to find painting stressful, trying to make sure my squads looked uniform with each other, being over-faced by a wall of grey plastic, but working with warbands of 5-6 misfits takes a lot of the pressure off. There are some pieces I'm happy with, others I'm merely okay with, but that's fine.

Really I'm leaning into claiming that my style is characterful rather than amateurish. I'm never going to be good at painting details or being especially patient, so my current method is:

  • Prime spray black.
  • Rough Zenithal Highlighting where I drybrush the model in grey where the light would hit, then drybrush white at the tips where the light would be most focused. This gives a rough greyscale-shaded look as a starting point.
  • Base coat the colours I want on there. As I'm going for a sort of Blanchitsu look I'm trying to limit the base coats to one colour. 
  • Drybrush to highlight the base colour and pick out the metallic bits.
  • Black wash pretty much everything. Been playing with other washes but I've found black works well for the look I'm chasing. Sometimes I'll use different washes on different parts of the model but generally the whole thing gets some form of wash. 
  • Pick out a very restrained amount of details, usually things like lenses or eyes. This is usually the only place I allow a more vibrant colour.
  • Restrained drybrush of everything with a very bright highlight. Focusing on the edges here. I've played with pure white, white/silver mix, white/blue mix. Whatever it is keep it bright and not too saturated with colour.
  • If I hate it then MORE WASHES then another final drybrush highlight.

This technique is all very broad-strokes, so it works for me. I'm not saying I've nailed the John Blanche aesthetic but I think they have a certain charm. As a general goal I'm aiming for "this looks more like something out of an illustration than something out of a videogame"

Let's look at the cast for tonight's battles.


Disciples of decay and entropy, idolising the past and mourning the dead future.

Tactic: Arise - All of your units attempt a Free Recover.

Argastes - Rust Priest (3+)
Pick (T1x3)
Assistant: Reroll one Fire or Fight die on your turn. Sacrifice them to ignore one Wound.

The order's miserable leader, always accompanied by his inhuman assistant.

The Bronze Knight (4+)
Ancient Sword (T3x1)
Shield: Reroll a single Resist die once per Turn.

Techno Hunter (Precise 4+)
Longrifle (L1x5)

The loyal lieutenants of the order, both dedicated to hastening the end of existence. 

2 Cyber-Guard (5+)
Voltguns (S3x1)

Not strictly members of the order, but these hired guns will join any cause where they're able to scavenge for rare bits of tech to add to their increasingly mechanical bodies.

AKA the Splice Boys

A cult of personality based around bolstering humanity with alien stock.

Tactic- Farsight: Undo anything that happened so far on this Turn and begin the Turn again.

Dyrak - Splice Prophet (3+)
AKA Sporty Splice
Blaster (S2x1)
Rending Staff (T3x1. If a 6 is rolled x2 Damage)

His alien brain has seen the future, and it mostly involves slicing people in half with his chainsaw-staff.

Warped Engineer (4+)
AKA Posh Splice
Grav Warper (L1x5. Instead of Shock, Move the target d6”)

Reaper Grunt (4+)
AKA Scary Splice
Storm Cannon (L3x1. x2 Attacks if you have not Moved this Turn)

Dyrak's most prized creations. Able to haul heavy weapons, grunt at each other, and mow down enemies of the cause.

3 Spliced Brethren (5+)
AKA Baby Splices
Shotguns (S2x1)

New recruits to the cult. Their helmets hide the fact that their bodies are going through some growing-pains after receiving their first splice. If they survive the battle they might not survive the next step of the splicing process.


The Rusted Order seek to capture a cache of genetic information that the Splice Coven have hidden somewhere in their shanty town. The Coven player will secretly note which of the three crates contains the cache, and the Order must try and take it off the board before they take more than 50% casualties.

I was the Splice Coven and Sarah, my partner, was the Rusted Order. This is why my warband has humiliating nicknames and hers are treated with due respect.

Sarah has played RPGs and Boardgames but never a miniature game. This will be a good test of my supposedly simple rules. I left the Tactics out of these first couple of battles to just try out the core of the system.

The heavy gunners set up at the highest point on the board, guarding the (empty) grey box. 

A lone Spliceboy guards the (empty) green box in a more remote corner of the battlefield. 

Dyrak himself guards the blue box, which I've secretly chosen to contain the Cache. He keeps a lackey nearby for support.

Most of the Order set up in cover in a relatively central position.

The Bronze Knight and a lone Cyberguard deploy on the left flank, worryingly close to the blue box that contains the Cache. 
Things got off to a dramatic start. Dyrak leapt to the top of the steps and blasted down at the cyber-guard below, Downing them before they even had a chance to act. On the Shock Table he rolls "Vengeance: The next ally to activate acts as QL2+ against your attacker."

This is a perfect opportunity. The Order's Techno-Hunter scurries to a vantage point and lines up his Long-Rifle with an avenging shot against Dyrak.

A hit! Five damage is nasty, but is rolling at 3+ to resist. This will be fine. He resists four of the damage, taking him Down. Sucks, but at least he's not dead.

Now for the Shock Roll. The roll is a 1... a Killshot.

Dyrak's alien brains are blasted across the roof as the sniper scurries back into cover, having successfully avenged his ally.

With their leader dead, the Splicers focus their big guns on the Hunter and his nearby allies. This was a revenge-motivated outburst, and both the Reaper and Engineer were both ineffective against the well-concealed hunter. The Order capitalised on the distraction.

A cyberguard sprinted up the stairs to check the blue box, discovering the Cache in the very first location they checked! He tries to flee back down the stairs but fails his Move roll, stranded at plain sight.

A splicer fires an ineffective shotgun blast at him. At this point I really wish I'd saved my big guns and remembered the objective.

Argastes himself manages to run up to the stranded cyber-guard. The question was asked:

"Can I just pass the objective to this guy?"

I mean it makes narrative sense. We allow it.

Argaste's coat prevented him making good use of the stairs, so we sent his Assistant up there to grab the Cache.
The table edge is in sight. Argastes attempts a final move...

 Well, a Round 1 win for the Order. I can confirm that this scenario is bullshit but I only have myself to blame. Of course it's lucky to get the correct box on the first try, but when you have free-movement like this then it's really not ideal to have the entire board edge as the extraction zone. A specific exit point might have made for a more interesting post-grab chase.

But as that was so quick we can at least try a rematch, flipping the roles! I don't mess with the scenario for now.


This time the Splicer strategy is simple. Keep your eyes on the prize.

There are fewer photos from this battle because I am focused.

Reaper Grunt surveys the field from the shipping container as you can see above and releases a hail of bullets on the Cyber Guards that are on the other side of the battlefield, taking one down and killing the other. Things are looking good!

The order mostly spend their turns shuffling their defences around. Dyrak makes a run into the building holding the green box. Argastes is there... Dyrak should totally charge him and use his Ripper-Staff. No! I'm objective-focused this time, he moves to check the Green Box.

It contains the Cache! Do we have a psychic link or are we just very lucky at guessing where this thing is hidden?

He rolls to scramble back down the ladder but fails, leading him stranded at the top.

Argastes springs to life, levelling his Corroder at the Splice Prophet, hitting for 5 damage and...

You suck Dyrak. But then maybe I shouldn't leave you directly in the sights of the two most powerful guns in the enemy's arsenal. Still, the objective was out!

Argastes strides forward, placing his rusted boot on the objective. To get the Cache the Coven will have to go through him.

The Coven descend en-masse towards the objective. Now fully exposed, the Warped Engineer levels his Grav-Warper towards Argastes and tears his mechanical body to shreds. A Splicer grabs the Cache from amongst the rubble and gore and flees off the board in a somewhat Pyrrhic victory.

This felt much more like a real battle, even though it was still much too short.

Lessons Learned?

  • Free Movement works well, but relies a lot on the common sense and sportsmanship of the players. This is something I want to encourage, but I'll work on some guidance for how to make it work. Terrain is also key to this, and it would be interesting to see how it feels on a less dense board. I really like the "roll for your second movement" as a sort of push-your-luck element and there were a few times it created tough choices. 
  • Activation Order is much more interesting than I had considered. Choosing well between striking decisively with a powerful unit or holding them back for more reactive action felt incredibly important. I like this!
  • Deadliness is strong here. Again, I can't judge too much based on one game, but I feel like most games have measures in place to prevent your leader getting one-shotted. I like that I got punished for putting my leader in dumb positions, but some of it was definitely down to unfortunate rolls.
  • Shock only came up twice across the battles, but both cases were pivotal in creating a narrative moment (the Hunter headshotting Dyrak to avenge his fallen ally). I was worried it would feel like a tacked-on bit of clutter to the system, but I really enjoyed the way it felt.
  • Scenario design really needs to be catered to the small board and free movement, so I've got a bit of work to do there. 

What's Next?

Now that I'm happy the core is at least playable I'm going to work on some scenarios and see if I can get the Tactics to a point I'm more happy with. 

And next time I'll write about RPGs, I promise. 


  1. The minimum range for some guns is interesting. Not sure it's realistic (you can fire a rifle point blank & expect to do damage), but as a game rule it could make for interesting tactical considerations.

    Nice to see the free movement included. Requiring a roll looks like a good alternative to interrupting reactions other games with measureless movement use to make it less certain. (I personally prefer those, but they require a different turn & initiative setup and might not work well with multiplayer games)

    1. It's definitely a game thing over a realism thing. If I find it's too abrasive I could allow Long weapons to fire at short range, but need a 6+ to hit, but then we're back at Long potentially being outright better than Short.

      More playtesting will tell!

    2. Don't think it would bother me. In a tactical battle game this type of rules artefact can be part of the fun.

      I would find it annoying in a heavily narrative "roleplaying with miniatures" game, since there I would expect (genre-appropriate) realism. But you don't need Grimlite for those games. The Electric Bastionland system with added tabletop movement rules would do nicely.

    3. For what it's worth I really like the idea of the minimum range. How would that work with a more killing focused scenario and free movement? Don't snipers just get run up on for free? Maybe I am misunderstanding the free movement part though, don't really know wargames. Sounds really interesting overall though!

  2. Hey dude, give yourself some credit. Those paint jobs look great!

    1. Thanks! I'm definitely happy with them compared to the stuff I used to paint in my teenage years.

  3. That's a tremendous-looking table - and very effective miniatures!

    Unlimited movement works very well in Battlesworn and Rogue Planet (both great games), but in bothoseth it's only in a straight line/across a single sort of terrain. Might a roll for that vault, sidestep or climb give you greater use of the push-your-luck mechanism? There's something quite cinematic about a character assuming that he'll make the jump across the chasm and then getting butterflies at the last minute (on a failed roll) and being stranded on one side.

    1. *but in both of those,*

    2. I'll check those systems out for sure.

      Should have mentioned the terrain is from Battle Systems. Can definitely recommend!

    3. If you haven't already done so, you might also want to check out Crossfire, probably the original unlimited movement (and ranges) system.

  4. I see you've got a chartopia generator going, would you find it useful to have something with a bit more pizzazz that you could put directly on the blog?

  5. My advice/ thoughts on Mods:
    Focus (x2 Attacks but one target only) is perhaps too universally useful, since comboing it with an attack thats single target anyway is a flat buff i think?
    Blaze is cool
    Synergy might be too strong too but is also really cool
    Is Solo 'gain this once per fight' or 'use this weapon' once per fight

    Overall mods are neat and I kinda like them- they don't make it too 'buildy' but encourage different fighters to use different strats/be more unique

    One thing that might be cool are more Accessories that make units more unique? More 'incomparable' bonuses to encourage more tactics/choice in unit turns. Might push things too much towards 'building' tho.

    1. Yeah the Mods and Accessories definitely need work. Balance especially is all over the place!

      Solo is "use this weapon once per battle" like a one-shot missile launcher or something.

    2. If you're worried about balancing factions, you could make a single power & equipment list from which everyone builds their force. Warbands might still be unbalanced, but it'll be the players own fault :-p

      Much of the uniqueness in miniature gaming comes from the miniatures anyway.

    3. As a side note, Im sort of confused by how movement is supposed to work. "Be reasonable" is all fine and dandy, but what if people have different ideas about how reasonable works? What about objective based missions?

      An additional (possible) issue with unrestricted movement is it removes the niche of the 'mobile' unit as a tactical piece- tho I guess Nimble sort of represents that, to an extent

      Overall though, I'm really interested my the system. I'm gonna try and put together a game with one of my quarantine-buddies later this weekend if I can.

  6. One of my favorite alternative 40k rulesets is Dice Crusade by Sean Patten, essentially Space Crusade on steroids for regular d6s:

    I once tried to clean it up and edit it:

    There may be some things worth plundering in there.

  7. I just ordered some minis and I'm looking at print-and-play terrain options. Thank you Chris, I thought this life was behind me...