Xenos Snacks II

Last week, we played a scenario with the Xenos Rampant rules. This week, we decided to play the same scenario with a different set of rules – Stargrunt II. The reason for this was that we felt the Xenos Rampant rules a bit too light weight for what we wanted. Once we finished, we wondered how the scenario would work with a crunchier systems such as Stargrunt, so I set about doing a conversion.

The short version is that yes, Stargrunt gave a more satisfying game (except for one crucial point, which you’ll need to read ahead to find out), and was also better time wise. The game itself took 2½ hours to play, compared to Xenos Rampant taking just under 1¾ hours to finish. Setup took a bit longer for Stargrunt, at ¾ hour compared to ½ hour for Xenos Rampant. For us, the extra time actually makes a big difference since it fills out the evening at the club better.

The disadvantage time wise is that it takes a lot longer tidying up after a Stargrunt game – collecting all the chits and making sure that they go into the right bag is a pain. But again, once we’ve packed away everyone else was on the verge of finishing their games before heading down the pub.

But on the game itself. I’d built the armies as direct copies from the Xenos Rampant game, which meant some of the units weren’t optimised for Stargrunt. I kept to five figures per unit, and since none of the human models had squad assault weapons (and the concept didn’t exist in the XR units) I didn’t give any of the units these either.

The Civilians I kept as Civilians, as a yellow unit. The Recon infantry had no long range weapons (just pistols, SMGs and a couple of shotguns) and were Regular troops. The Elite troops I gave advanced assault rifles with grenade launchers, and were at least Veteran in quality.f

The Xenomorphs were the hardest, since they had no long range capability. I made them fast to try and make up for this, and treated them as powered armour for purposes of close assault. I also gave them Terror effects. I could really do with the Bugs Don’t Surf rules, but the closest I could find online were some dead links to some preliminary notes. It’s been three decades, and these long promised Stargrunt rules for aliens still haven’t been published.

The tank was a typical size 4 GEV, with a high velocity cannon and a single SAW mounted on the top.

We had the same layout as before, with similar starting positions. One difference was that the human side had realised how good cover was from the last game, and most of the units started in cover.

Deja Vu

The first turn opened with the humans going first, and moving one of their recon units up the table, taking two move actions to get into another ruined building for cover. These figures have a mix of weapon types, which actually makes a difference in Stargrunt.

Light recon unit capturing a forward position

The Xenos moved up to match, and then a human elite unit did a move and shoot, getting a suppression result on the Xenos now in cover. A second Xenos unit tried a combat move (roll D10 and double it for distance moved, rather than taking a straight 10″) but didn’t quite reach the cover they were aiming for. They did a second move, which allowed one of the currently unactivated human hits a reaction fire. One is killed, but the rest make it into cover.

Xenos in the open getting shot at from a unit off to the left

Then we came to our first confusion of the evening – heavy weapon fire from the tank against an infantry unit. The rules are a bit confusing here, since half way through it says the Impact is treated as an artillery strike. I took this to mean that everything is done as a typical firefight action, then the Impact (damage) roll is then just D8 impact, modified for cover.

My opponent read it as it means it’s an area of effect attack and you roll damage against everyone in the area of effect. In the end we went with the latter, but I’m not comfortable that this is the correct interpretation. I think the comment of treat as though it was a GPE artillery round is unnecessary and has no actual effect other than making the Impact D8.

Whether either option is a reasonable one is another question, since the round only took out another Xenos.

Turn two began with some humans digging in, and then the unit of three Xenos made a close assault attack on the elite infantry unit dug into the ruined buildings. The result was a very one sided fight in which the humans were completely wiped out. The regular unit of Xenos were rolling D8 x 2 (because they counted as powered armour), against a straight D12 for the humans.

Hordes of xenos moving up the table

Given there were seven units of Xenomorphs, the end result would very likely being that the humans would get wiped out pretty quickly in any close assault. Because of this, we decided to remove the power armour trait. I think in hindsight, I should have gone back to one of my original idea of treating the Xenos as having close combat edged weapons, which would have shifted them up a die. That would make them more effective than humans, but not overwhelmingly so.

The rest of the turn continued, with the humans trying to shoot at the Xenos as they moved up the board. Without the disadvantage of wild charge which they had in Xenos Rampant, the xenos in Stargrunt had a lot more opportunity to manoeuvre. They could bypass the dug-in human troops if they wanted. They might get shot at, but taking the odd casualty was something they could live with.

I was a bit fuzzy about how much the Xenos needed to care about casualties. Going by the feel I was aiming for, Xenos should be leaving their wounded behind and just moving on. They had to make confidence tests when under fire, and some units got suppressed or couldn’t move out from cover. But several wounded got left behind to die.

Xenos running past the tank

The humans likewise didn’t always want to come out of hiding to engage the Xenos in close quarters. This allowed one unit to bypass the tank completely in order to get behind the human lines.

Another issue we ran into was how to handle close infantry assault against vehicles. This doesn’t appear to be covered in the rules. The close assault section doesn’t specifically say (that I could see) that you have to close assault another infantry unit. But it also doesn’t say that the target of your close assault can be a vehicle. Following the standard rules, the vehicle would roll its quality die, then all the members of the attacking squad would roll their quality dice. Very likely the vehicle would lose and be taken out.

This might fit the “vehicles without support are fragile” idea of the game, but it seems too fragile. In the end, I figured I didn’t need to attack the tank so I didn’t.

Getting close to their prey

Breaking through the human lines meant the Xenos were closing in on their prey. They had to kill the civilians to win. But then we ran into a problem. The Xenos had no long range fire, so had to close assault a unit to take it out. Close assault is a full turn action, so has to be done as your first action in a turn.

If you can’t see the enemy unit at the start of your turn, can you close assault? You’re allowed to make two moves in a close assault, and the rules don’t specifically say you have to be able to see your target. But… it felt wrong to be able to close assault without having a clear line of sight.

The civilians do a runner

All this resulted in a situation where, as the civilians were being surrounded by the Xenos, they decided to do a runner. They fled through the Xenos lines at the end of turn three.

Turn 4 started with the humans acting, so the civilians moved twice down the table. By this point most of the Xenos were up the far end, where the humans had been.

So close…

Two units of Xenos were close enough to be able to move near the to tasty civilians. But both had been around several buildings and completely out of sight at the start of their actions, so we both felt it was wrong for them to be able to declare close assaults.

By a close assault was the only way for the Xenos to harm a unit. They had no ranged combat capability, so even though their enemy was a few inches away, there was nothing they could do.

At the start of the next turn, the civilians ran past the Xenos to victory – presumably with the Xenos snapping at their heals. Really, I shouldn’t have left the way clear for the humans, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they might try this action. To be honest, it was the only option they had of winning.

So Stargrunt wasn’t a perfect system for this either. Not having guns was a serious limitation for the Xenos, and attempts to then balance that hadn’t quite worked. Treating them as power armour was too much. Maybe given them a bonus die shift in close combat would have worked better.

Their armour of D8 meant that they were hard to take out with ranged fire. Possibly that should be reduced to D6, or maybe D4, making them a lot more vulnerable at range. Armour doesn’t affect close assault, so then they could have a D8 for unit quality (or a bonus die shift) to keep them dangerous in close combat. A high quality would also improve their chances of initiating close assaults and removing suppression markers.

The usage of the tank also caused problems. There seem to be no rules for vehicles in close assault. Tanks can’t run over infantry, and infantry (even those with sharp claws, teeth and acid for blood) can’t hurt a tank. At least, if this is possible it’s not clear how it works. It was felt that the tank didn’t really do much in the scenario.

However, I did think that Stargrunt was a more interesting system to play. Tweaking the unit configuration would probably help. The units were a 1:1 copy from the Xenos Rampant game. They’re also based on the figures I happened to be using – which lacked heavier weapons and restricted the size and number of units. The humans only had three infantry units with long range combat ability.

So though there are definitely some questions about how vehicles should be used, but a lot of the issues came down to my scenario design.

Whether there’s another 28mm set of rules which would be better at this I don’t know, though it would be nice to come up with a Stargrunt solution to the problems.

Samuel Penn