Friday, October 14, 2011

Dreadfleet - A Review

I wasn’t going to play it. I wasn’t going to buy it. It was expensive and more stuff to paint. So why did I say yes when Scott asked me to do a few games with him? He had just picked it up and suggested it and I said “he no worries, you have the key to the game store, want to test it out tomorrow morning”. He was on board and thus we set sail.

Navel combat has never been cooler than in this game. I have played Uncharted seas, the old CCG Pirates game by Wizkids, and Man O War, but nothing has compared to this game.  So let’s get down to business because I don’t know about you but I had no real concept of this game, it’s rules, contents or general fluff.

The Box

What’s in the box will make your head spin. This is an all in one naval combat game. You get everything you need. Islands, ships, monsters, cards, stats, rulebook and – get ready to hold onto your pants – a 3x5 cloth sea matt!

Unlike the recent debacle with Citidel Finecast, these plastics are machined to perfection. These ships are wonderful dry fits (you do not have to glue them). The ships each have a custom base that has wonderful detail, you can see waves and on the elven ship’s base you even have a few dolphins. The islands also have wonderful detail, these things are the perfect scenery and have little to no flash while keeping a wonderful amount of detail.

When Scott broke open the box and showed me the cloth matt I decided to buy it. This thing is spectacular. The detail and colors are fantastic. It is also essential to the game as it has the wind directional markings on it.

Needless to say the ships are gorgeous. Each fleet has 5 ships, the fleets being lead by the Heldenhammer and the Ravager ships.

 You will probably have to paint these guys piece by piece though because there is a lot of detail on the insides of the ships. For instance you can see a dirigible being launched from the inside of the dwarf ship. Also, for those of you who are wondering, the ship sails have the designs in relief. So, you can either paint the beautiful sail designs and say it was your own free hand or you can file them off and paint your own.

The movement tools this thing comes with are on par with the rest of the game. There are two movement compasses that have a 45 degree angle on them for easy turning. The ruler that is included is broken into 3 pieces. It is created as such because it bends to a 45degree angle at each joint. This is amazingly helpful in determining arcs on ships.

Also inside are things called Cogs. These are small ships that can depart from the parent ships. They can be different for each ship. For instance the elven ship’s cog is a dragon. These were awesome little additions to the game that make you really enjoy things. They are usually just mini ships though ( well crafted mini ships though). Strangely enough they are just about on scale with Man O War ships.

Is that a figurehead in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

The cards are also all color-coded for easy sorting and use. The ship cards have a picture of the ship on one side and the name and stats on the other. Each stat side of the ship card also has words around the boarder. When the ship takes damage you put the corresponding damage cards along the side of the ship card. This makes for a real clean and interesting game play area.

The Rules

The rules are very well put together. I was pretty surprised by this. They are simple and flow very well. The turn is broken down into the following steps: Initiative, Status, Fate, Action phase, end phase

First we roll for initiative. Easy enough, higher roll gets to choose to activate first or second during the Action Phase. Then you alternate between players in the activation of ships during the action phase (but this comes later).

Fate comes next. Each player draws a fate card. The effects of the fate card are then activate. Then the fate cards dictate the wind patterns. Easy enough, though this can be a serious game effect.

Then comes status phase. You resolve any status affects on your ships. Some examples are: “set ablaze”, “waterline shot” or “magazine ignition”.

Now comes the action phase. This is broken into the following for each ship: Issue orders, Move, Broadside, Boarding. Each is pretty strait forward. First the ship can issue an order that affects the ship in some way ( Hard to port will turn your ship left before you move). To make a successful Order you simply make a command check based on the ships captain. Just roll a dice and as long as it equals or exceeds the command the order is issued.

Ship movement is easy in this game thanks to the counters. You have a move stat, that’s how many inches the ship can move. If you want to turn your ship you look at it’s handling stat. The ship can make one 45 degree turn each time it moves it’s handling stat in inches. Again, easy.

Next we fire. This part is easy too! Wow! Look at the broadside stat and roll that many dice. Then you check range. 1-6 inches means each die hits on a 4, 6-12 means a 5 or better and finally 12-18 is a 6 or better. Then for each hit, your opponent makes an armor save which is – you guessed it – in the armor stat. Now if a ship takes damage it draws a damage card and applies the affect. To sink a ship it must have hull damage cards equal to it’s hull stat.

Finally, the boarding party. Simply look at your crew stat, and modify it by the crew damage the ship may have taken and roll that many dice. Each player does this at the same time. A 5 or a 6 results in a victory for that die. The player with the most victories win and the loser draws damage cards equal to the difference in victories between the boarding parties. 

This is what happened after the Heldenhammer boarded the Raveger...

Your oppent then activates one of their ships and completes the action phase with one of their ships. This repeats until there are no more ships to activate. Then end phase is simply any clean ups or conditions that happen in that phase. Now we just start a new tern from the top of the order.

What I think

This is a great game. Period. I am quite amazed that Gamesworkshop was able to produce a game so smooth and uncomplicated. The rolling of dice is intuitive and fast, there is very little to keep track of and to move around and all the pieces are compact and beautiful. The rules set is something much more solid and foundational than anything I have seen from that company in quite some time.

Unfortunately there is always the price. It is a little sleep MSRPing for 115 USD. Fortunately you certainly get what you pay for.

The game is one that is driven by scenarios, similar to Space Hulk. As long as there are continuing resources for scenarios ( fan base or company based) I for-see a bright future for this game. There also seems to be a good basis for replay of scenarios since movement and fate play such an important role in this game. So go try this out, you will have a wonderful time. This game has certainly reset the bar for naval combat games. I haven’t played something this cool from Gamesworkshop since way back when I discovered Battlefleet Gothic. 

So until next time all you barnacles, keep clinging to those hulls, 

Steve (The dread Pirate Roberts)

PS Since my posting there has been a nice expanded discussion here on the Wyrd forums. 

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