Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dreadfleet First Impressions

When Dreadfleet was first announced I was very tempted to get hold of a copy. I figured since it was limited edition it would probably sell out fast. I'd give the game a go and if it turned out I didn't enjoy it then I should be able to make a nice profit selling on eBay. However, as far as I know it STILL hasn't sold out yet and therefore I'm pretty glad I didn't get it! Matt on the other hand got a copy for Christmas and so last weekend 4 of us had a go with it. Incidentally, the pictures I'm using aren't of Matt's copy of the game since he hasn't got it painted yet.

Whats in the box?
There's 10 detailed warships that I have to say they're bigger than I expected. They're nicely detailed too. I'd be tempted to have a go at painting them but Scott was too and he'll do a far better job than I will. There's also about a dozen smaller craft from ships to dragons. You also get some scenery in the form of islands, rocks and shipwrecks. Add to that a few sea monsters and you can see there's a lot of hobby to go at. There's the usual rulebook and a stack of cards but the best bit for me is the playing mat. Some people have referred to it as a cape and it's about the right size for one! Matt tried to fit it on his dining room table but soon found it was too wide so we went for the lounge floor instead. I'd say its not much smaller than a standard 40K board (6'x4'). All in all fairly decent value for money given the quality of all the components. The ships clip together which means you can assemble them for a few games and then take them apart again to make a good job of the paintwork.

Basics of play
In order to get used to the rules we all took a ship each out of the mid-sized sail warships. We started off in each of the four corners and moved in to engage each other. Players roll off each turn for initiative with the highest going first. They then take it in turns to move one of their ships (we only had one each at this point). The players then draw fate cards which determine the wind strength and direction and also generate lots of other affects such as monsters, bonus damage, repairs, special events etc. These add a nice edge to the game and can have a dramatic effect on the outcome.

Before moving their ship a player can chose to issue one of five orders. There's two which allow you to make hard turns to the left or right, one for a burst of speed, one which basically puts you on overwatch and a fifth that lets you recover some damage.

Each player turn allows you to move, broadside and/or board enemy ships. Movement is pretty straightforward. Each ship has a maximum movement allowance and a manoeuvrability. This dictates how far forward you can go before you can make a turn. Turns are 45 degrees and use a specific counter. The only other thing to take into account (since we all had sail ships) was the wind. This can be used to move faster but also forces you to move a minimum distance based on it's current strength and direction. Sailing into the wind is of course more difficult too.

The broadside phase (or shooting phase if you will) is again pretty simple. Each vessel has a number of shots it can fire and you have to roll to hit based on range. There's a bonus for raking fire (where you're firing along the lengh of the enemy craft). If your opponent can't pass an armour save he has to take a damage card. These have different effects on your ship. They can reduce your speed, kill off crew (affecting your boarding actions), damage your hull, set you on fire or a range of other special damage. Each ship has a crew and hull rating. Once either of these drops to zero the ship is destroyed.

Finally, if you can get into contact with an enemy ship you perform a boarding action. The captains of each vessel get to attack each other in a bit of "swashbuckling" and then the rest of the crew fight it out. Depending on who wins both ships could end up taking damage. Play then moves on to the next captain who can control one of his ships.

In our game Matt started opposite me and since he got to go first he quickly headed in my direction and hit me with a broadside. This left me with severely crippled movement but I soon recovered and shot back setting Matt's ship ablaze. Sam and Scott battled it out on the other side with Sam emerging victorious. His ship (the elven one) seemed pretty much invincible as it was extremely agile and seemed to repair all it's damage quickly. Scott fell to a lucky shot from Sam that took out his ship. Sam headed in our direction and between us we killed off Matt. I had to go for it and opened up with a punishing broadside that sunk Sam's vessel leaving me in charge of the seas.

Bigger Games

We then moved on to a kind of doubles game with two of us controlling the Imperial Alliance and two taking command of the Dreadfleet. Scott and I got the Dreadfleet and split the ships up between us. I got the flagship the Bloody Reaver and the Curse of Zandri (a tomb kings ship). Scott had the ghostly Shadewraith, the Black Kraken and the Skabrus (skaven one). Each side took it in turns to deploy a ship each and we soon had both fleets facing off against each other. We took the initiative and started to move our ships around. Each side gets to controls one of their ships before their opponent controls one of theirs. This makes for some interesting tactical decisions. If you get things in the wrong order you can easily give your opponent an advantage.

Luckily for us at the start of the game a sea monster appeared right next to one of Matt & Sam's ships and we gleefully took control of it with the Bloody Reaver's special rule and set it to work ripping into their hull. This basically meant we only had to worry about their other four ships. Given how large the sea is in relation to the ships it can be quite tricky planning your moves so that you don't block of the movement of your other ships or end up ramming into a rock. Unlike 40K you can measure everything before you do it so you get to plan out your moves before trying them out. Sadly, once you've started moving you can't take it back so if you put yourself in a position where you're heading straight for a rock it's tough luck.

Their dwarf vessel quickly dealt with my Curse of Zandri but we took revenge by submerging the Black Kraken and bringing it up right next to them. The mechanical squid soon ripped the dwarven ship apart. What Matt and Sam had done well was concentrate their fire on a single ship until it was destroyed.

We realised we'd need to do the same, especially if we were going to deal with their flagship the Heldenhammer. They moved it into the middle of the board and were soon in a boarding action with the Skabrus. Thanks to some miraculous dice rolls and lucky damage draws the Skabrus held its own for several turns of combat, even putting some damage on the Heldenhammer before it fell. We moved the Shadewraith in behind their flagship sealing the trap and proceeded to batter it with broadsides from the Bloody Reaver too. The Heldenhammer held out well until it received a damage card where it has a hole in it's hull that will sink it if the Damage cards run out (they're reshuffled and restacked again though). This eventually claimed the massive vessel and things looked decidedly one sided.

The other ships traded blows without much damage on either side. Matt and Sam managed to run the Elven ship aground and struggled to break free of the rocks. Their ship engaged with the sea monster eventually won the fight but found itself damaged and up against the Shadewraith and Bloody Reaver. It managed to bring down the Shadewraith but the Blood Reaver ripped it apart with a heavy broadside.

We'd agreed that which ever side found itself with just a single ship left would be the winner and things had turned in their favour. The Bloody Reaver was quite a way from the other vessels and therefore it was down to the Black Kraken to deal with the remaining two Imperial warships. The Black Kraken is devastating in a boarding action but thanks to me fluffing a lot of rolls we made it pretty hard for ourselves. We eventually won out though and only the stricken Elven ship was left standing.

It had been an extremely close and enjoyable game. Fate had dealt them a few cruel blows and the sea monster certainly made our job a lot easier. The two sides seem pretty balanced with some unique special abilities for the vessels. I had to say I'm a big fan of the Kraken as it can submerge and come up right in the face of the enemy. You just have to hope you get first go as they'll soon bring it down if not.

There's no denying we were lucky to win the game and I'm sure Matt will blame some attrocious rolls from Sam with the Heldenhammer. It was amazing how many damage cards their warships seemed to receive before they eventually succumbed. I think it's a great system as rather than just taking wounds you actually see the ship becoming crippled. Obviously you can try and repair some of the damage but it soon becomes too much.

General Thoughts
There are a ton of different scenarios that we intend to play through on other occasions but those two games had taken us most of the day. Granted we were pretty new to it and probably got a lot of things wrong but it felt easy to pick up and play. There's a lot of depth there though and you have to really think about every decision. I have to say it was a nice break from the usual 40K themed games we play (Necromunda, Space Hulk and Horus Heresy). We'll certainly be coming back to it again. I spent most of the day humming the theme from Pirates of the Carribean as I moved my ships around!

I'd recommend the game to anyone and it would definitely be a good way of getting other friends into gaming. I enjoy these stand alone games as they offer all the good parts of our hobby without such a financial commitment. There's some lovely models in there which could be great little painting projects on their own.

I'm looking forward to our next game already but with tournaments coming up I suspect there's a lot of 40K in the pipeline first.

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