Monday, 14 January 2013

Playing Dreadfleet: an introduction

Once you've seen the two first ships of the game, it's time to see what they can achieve in battle. My opponent was old reliable Keyan Sark again. You can read this same battle in his blog (in Spanish). Dreadfleet time!

Of course this photo is not mine. Copyrights blah blah blah
 This was my first contact with the game. I had read on different forums that it wasn't having specially good reviews. The reasons for that are varied, but they essentially focus on Dreadfleet being a close system, a game itself with no possible expansions, new rules for campaigns or new models to add to your fleet. The scale is quite particular and neither Games Workshop nor other companies produce models suitable to the game. So, once you've played the scenarios included in the box, you have nothing else to do.

Okay, point taken. Games Workshop has made us used to games that are "incomplete", that need constant revisions and expansions. We no longer conceive a game which is "closed", a complete set of rules/minis which need nothing else and which will utterly become obsolete. Well, I guess that's up to each player, I don't see the inconvenient in playing self made scenarios, as this game allows different approaches with little repetition -though I could agree that having more different models from this or other companies would open the scope. Guys, go over eBay and get old Man'o'War ships!

The other complaint I heard is about the role that randomness plays in the game. Too many random events allow little space for strategy. Even the former GW game designer Jake Thornton talks about that particular aspect in a recent podcast interview taken by the awesome crew of Laserburn. You can hear the complete interview about several matters (in English) here (beware! It's over two hours long! Laserburn is really great. The Dreadfleet part is about in the middle, at about 1h20m).

Well, sir, I am afraid I have to dissent.

Those random elements like wind changing suddenly, the appearance of sea monsters or the effects of Fate Cards are just the events that make Dreadfleet vary from game to game. That's why you'll probably won't need expansions or so for a looong time until gaming this becomes repetitive. Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40,000 and similar games have torn into competitive experiences which apparently can only be enjoyed through strategy challenges and 'balanced' encounters. Whoah, I remember the times when we played just for fun and when unexpected turns during the game were the most exhilarating thing that could happen to us. I might be getting old...

But I'm talking too much. Let's go for the game. The first scenario in the rulebook is a clash between the Heldenhammer and the Bloody Reaver. The first ship to inflict eight damage points to the opponent wins the game. Simple mission without special rules, ideal for beginners.

Core rules include sailing in favour of or against the wind
Each turn you have to check the wind. You must set the wind gauge and check if you're windward or leeward (pretty much like real sailing, as it can make your turn into success or disaster). That can make you sail faster or, if the wind gauge is in the front arc of your ship, you will have to pass a command check to avoid movement penalties.

Changing course depends on how maneuvrable each ship is, as you have to move certain distance before turning. That's when wind can get tricky. When our two ships were in range, the cannons roared.
The shooting phase is quite simple
Heldenhammer shooted the Bloody Reaver. Bonus were given for being the first shooting turn and shooting to the prow, but as the enemy was partially hidden by the island, the Heldenhammer rolled half the dice of its broadside value (in this case, Keyan, the Captain of the Heldenhammer, rolled 3 dice instead of the usual 6 in normal conditions). Each impact forces the ship to roll for hull damage and, given the case, to take a damage card. The effects of these cards are various: speed damage, burning, killing the crew and so on.
My ship got her speed reduced and was burning. Fire can extend its effects into subsequent turns
 Next turn was a little more tense, as the Bloody Reaver luffed and shooted against the humans.
Bloody Reaver approaches and shoots
After that, in the Fate Phase, you pick a Fate Card. Warhammer seas are everything but calm, and you can get hurricanes, blood sharks... or sea monsters:

Rise of the Hydra
Evil Count Noctilus (that should be me, the vampire pirate Captain of the Bloody Reaver) controlled the monster and it attacked the enemy ship in a boarding action. Boarding depends on the crew of the ships (or the value of the monster). The Bone Hydra attacked the Heldenhammer with no effect, and it was ultimately destroyed, not even using the Steam Hammer on the prow, we forgot that :(

In the meantime, the Bloody Reaver maneuvered and got herself to the stern of the Heldenhammer.

I should learn how to photoshop this and include fire and smoke
The artillery shooting killed Heldenhammer's First Officer. If the Captain was also killed, the ship would be unsteerable!
The Bloody Reaver had to move between islands with its maneuverability limited. Fate Phase again... and a new monster!

Leech Wyrm!
A lightning struck the Bloody Reaver and fire extended trough the ship. No matter what, the crew continued shattering the Heldenhammer with the cannons.

Repair damage! Repair damage!
The Heldenhammer destroyed the Wyrm and the Bloody Reaver moved along the islands. As it was damaged, I didn't dare to use the Hard-a-Starboard/Hard-a-Port rules. I also forgot that the Bloody Reaver has a regeneration special rule, so it could be repairing itself. I guess that this rule can be despairing for your opponent, but it went totally out of my mind, I have to remember it for the future.

The Heldenhammer's going to run aground the island!
Due to that forget, the Bloody Reaver was driven to the limit of her possibilities:

Damages in hull, speed, keel... it was burning... Oh, what a mess!
So, victory for the Great Alliance! My obsession in inflicting damage made me forget about repairing my own ship.

The game can look like a little bit fiddly at the beginning, but once you master the core rules, the rest goes along itself. It's probably not a game for a beginner in wargames, but if you're into this kind of rules (specially if you're used to GW's games) you will get everything in no time.

On the whole my own conclusions are quite similar to Keyan's: the game makes you think in advance about movement, which is really the keystone here. As the wind is changing every turn, you have to be weary of it, knowing the effects it can wield on your ship. The maneuverability of your warship is essential too, as its inertia can determine the possibilities of turning in time to avoid obstacles.
The Fate system is another issue you have to bear in mind. It can condition your strategy on the go, but it's not really determining. I really believe it's a good dynamic for the game, and precisely the randomness it introduces makes the game fun, not knowing what the hell is going to happen next.

But well, you have to like that whole concept to agree me. If you "play to win" probably you'll have a different opinion.

However, I really encourage you to give Dreadfleet a chance. Keyan and I would like to spare other moment in our schedules for new sea battles.


  1. Excellent entry! My own report was written in a hurry so I forgot to make additional personal comments as you did. I completely agree with and can't wait to fight you again with additional ships. That should be fun!

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you like it :)

    Next time you come to Madrid you have an appointment, sir. Halyard the cable through the boom, Mr. Sark! Hard-a-starboard! Arrr!

  3. Haha, with good reason! Rum, sailor, bring rum!! Yo ho ho!