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Dreadfleet Pt4: Review after one game

M Updated
There Will Be Games

As far as painting, I'm on my last two ships, and then have a bunch of small pieces--monsters and land and things to finish up. 

But Avery and I did manage to get a game in. And I adore it. Lots of people won't. 

The Bits: 

Are the best miniatures ever. Large, full of personality, and reasonably complete. The cloth map is the weakness. It is rather thin and a bit prone to bunch. But as it turns out, there is actual game information as the edge of the map is used to handle wind direction. 

Overview of the game:

Pick from 10 scenarios, plot down 2-10 ships, start. 

Each turn consists of initiative (straight D6 roll), two Fate (event) cards turning up to screw with things, then a series of alternating activations until all ships, monsters, and auxiliaries have moved. 

Ships move X total, can only turn 45 degrees after moving every Y inches, get to fire a broadside and then board. 

There is also the concept of performing one order which can bail your ass out of trouble. This can be an overwatch extra shot, a repair move, an early extra turn, or a massive (and random) forward movement. Except that you have to roll a Command check to issue an order. 

The actual shooty parts of the game are pure Warhammer. Each vessel has a Broadside stat. You roll D6 equal to that number, with range setting the target value. Defending ship then rolls an armor die for each hit to try and soak the hit. 

Rams and boarding are handled the same way. Roll dice equal to crew, compare the 5's and 6's and the losing side takes damage equal to the difference. 


Damage means draw a card and tuck it under your ship template. Ships have Hull and Crew values. When either is exceeded, ship go boom. But there is much wackiness in the Damage deck. Those damage values range from 1-3 points. And there is Speed damage which slows you down. 

Then there are special cards. Maybe your keel gets stuck and you can't turn left. Maybe your ship is on fire. 


And there are tons of chrome in the game. Each ship and captain has a special power. These are relatively straightforward, without introducing a ton of rules. But they get into weird areas. The Ghost Ship can just ignore facing and wind and just drift any old direction. The Kraken can submerge. The Reaver can control sea monsters (brought in by Fate cards). Also, Fate cards can give ships a special one-time power which is often tailored to an individual ship. 


It isn't the fastest game in the world. Many scenarios are limited to 6 turns, which is probably in the 1-3 hour range. This will speed up with practice, but playing with more than 5 ships would have been a nightmare. There is some amount of fiddliness in mini moving, and a little more in determining partial shots, line of sight, and range. 

The rules and move gauges provided are useful, but a little clumsy for working out partial shots. 

The second thing is that the board is TINY in game terms. Max range is 18", and the board is 5'x3'. Ships move 8-12" before the 2-12" Full Speed Ahead Order. There will be shooting on turn one. 


This is the truly great part of this game, and why I wouldn't trade this for a minis system with tons of extra ships. The scenarios are awesome, and are often tailored to the various quirks of the included ships. There is no costing as part of setup or real choice beyond "put stuff here" and "play". 

And only two of the scenarios are the pedestrian "kill the other side". They vary from "kill this ship before it escapes" to "don't get eaten by the giant sea monster just off the map" to "navigate this nasty freaking board-filling whirlpool to throw the Magic Dingus into the Maelstrom of Doom". Those last two include a nice healthy dose of currents and automatic touch this and die traps. 

In Play:

Our Scenario involved a pirate chick trapped on an island jail by the undead minions. Object is for the Heldenhammer to shell the island until she can escape to her boat and get off the map while surviving both return fire from the island's emplacement cannon as well as the two ships converging on her from the north. 

The Heldenhammer broke the jail on the second turn, thanks to the help of a Hydra who appeared out of the water to eat the last of the undead jailors. A third turn silenced the cannon, as the Bloody Reaver appeared and turned the Hydra and the newly appearing Sea Giant to board the Heldenhammer. The Heldenhammer rammed the giant as men swarmed the thing with cutlasses and carved it to pieces quickly. 

The pirate chick got her ship moving but the massive Bloody Reaver was far too close. She tried to ram the island, firing broadside after broadside into the Reaver, but was swarmed by the massive undead onboard, and was finally mortally wounded by the vampire count. Her last order was to disengage, launch the auxillary with a firebomb onboard to try and slow the Reaver enough for her escape. The Auxilliary capsized during the complex maneuver, and the Reaver (whose sails were nearly completely crippled in the boarding action) closed and boarded, finally killing her. The first mate was also killed, leaving the ship too crippled to function or stand any chance of escaping without a valid commander. The rest of the men on the ship surrendered. 

That's about an hour and a half of real time, and we were coming to grips with some details of the rules. As good a story as you get in Earth Reborn, and all nice and Warhammer-y. 



If anything, the scenarios jump from 2 to 3-4 ships straight into the 8-10 ship big battles. The 2 ship scenario is a boring throwaway one-on-one match. It really could use some intermediate-sized matchups. 

Boarding actions are hard to get away from, and initiated by a ram attack. Once you get into one, I think it is going to be a duel to the death, hopefully with other ships intervening. These actions are rather less interesting than the moving and shooting part. 

Also, there is lots and lots of luck involved in the game. tons of dice are rolled, and the Fate cards just screw with things sometimes in major ways. Even then, I can see three pretty serious mistakes being made in this game:

1. The Heldenhammer turned wide to pass the island and nail it with broadsides. I think it should have turned in to come up alongside the pirate lady's ship so it would be of more help. It may have failed a Hard to Port order that kept it from doing that. Combined with the dual monster attack, it was removed from the core battle and could only take potshots at the Reaver from a distance. 

2. Lady Pirate should never have rammed the Reaver. Too many skeletons, and a regenerating hull. Her Ram attack should be used more to slip in and finish a crippled ship. 

3. I brought in the egyptian ship and turned it broadside to cut off her most likely route of escape. Her second most likely, remained completely wide open. At that point, the Reaver's sails were nearly gone. If the auxiliary hadn't capsized, I think she would have been home free. 

4. It lacks an experience/campaign system. Two of my other faves from the old GW minis line are Gorkamorka and Mordheim. And of course, my beloved Warhammer Quest. Still, there is a lot of play in the box. 


It is good. Because of the strong scenario design, I think it is better than Man O War, and ends up being in the top tier of GW releases, ever. It feels like the old 90's big box games, but with far better production values, but still having the classic GW big box feel.

It is a little unusual in that it feels much more like an RPG in actual play than Space Hulk. Part of this is that I'm much more fond of Warhammer Fantasy than 40K,  but the use of event cards and specials add a ton more flavor to this game over the somewhat spartan Space Hulk. 

Don't get me wrong, I adore the simple, fast, and tactically interesting SH a lot. But RPGs have a sense of exploration and uncertainty that don't appear so much in boardgames. Dreadfleet manages that. 







There Will Be Games
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