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After cleaning and putting together the pieces (and a lot of painting) me and a bunch of friends sat down to try the game out last night.

First, some general info in how the game plays:
As the description on GW’s website says, the game is for two or more players but it’s evident that it is mainly designed with two players in mind. Despite this, playing went pretty well with five people.

It’s a scenario-driven game with eleven scenarios listed in the rulebook (as mentioned in part 1 of my review) which are rather different with various objectives, game setups and numbers of ships involved although about half of the scenarios involve all 10 warships (“warships” is the term used for the big ships) so people get to use all the pretty models often enough.

If you ever played Battlefleet Gothic, you will find many similarities in Dreadfleet. Other than previous rumours, it’s nothing like Man’O’War with which it obviously bears more similarities visually and backgroundwise. Being similar to Battlefleet Gothic bears another very, very important thing I honestly underestimated when I just glanced through the rules before – this is a full tabletop wargame, not a board game. It’s not terribly complicated if you’re familiar with tabletop wargames (especially GW’s) but the rules are definately more extensive than with regular boardgames and can be a bit overwhelming the first time around.

The most astonishing change from other Games Workshop tabletop wargames is that they drop the I-go-you-go system in favor of an alternate activation system. I will give you a second there to collect yourselves from the floor there because this is big for GW. Unheard of, most unusual and unorthodox I must say! Very welcome as well.

So essentially the players each got a fleet consisting of between one and five warships each (depending on what the scenario says). First player one activates his first warship, then player two activates one warship and so on. You can choose in which order you activate your warships each turn.

Once a warship is activated it can act in the following order: First the captain of the ship may issue a command to their crew. These orders allow for certain bonuses or actions that last for this turn. Some ships’ captains are able to issue special individual commands. After that, you can move your ship. Movement is essential the essential part of this game (even the rulesbook points that out). You have to maneuver between lots of islands and wrecks, manage to get into boarding fights (if you want so) by getting your ship into base-to-base contact with an opponent’s ship and so on. Movement is determined by the ship’s speed (which is the number of inches you can move straight ahead) and its maneuverability (which determines how many inches you have to travel before you can make a single change of course by up to 45°). All in all, it can be a bit tricky to guess and assess angles to get through between two islands, to get a good broadside shot at an enemy ship any so on.

In true GW fashion, shooting takes place after movement (and I’m sure you can guess what happens after the shooting phase). Warships in this game only fire to their sides, the maximum shooting distance is 18″ and chances of hitting something aren’t all that high really so shooting things isn’t easy. As usual, there’s a to-hit roll and armour rolls. There are no damage rolls. Instead, the player who controls the ship that was shot at draws a number of Damage cards equal to the number of hits the ship suffered. These cards indicate what kind of damage the ship takes. This, other than a system of structure points, hit points or wounds, illustrates that a ship consists of different parts or factors that make it work rather than being a single entity. Every once in a while you will draw some special Damage cards which can lead to events that range from amusing (“They hit the ship’s mascot!”) to horrible (a hit on the powder magazine).

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The next phase naturally is boarding fights (including cinematic duels between captains) which break out between ships whenever they are in base-to-base contact. Both sides fight in this phase and depening on how the dice roll either the attacker or the defender (or both) can take damage. There are no special bonuses to being the attacker so unless you are really confident in your crew you may well take a lot of damage more than your opponent does. Once ships are in base-to-base contact, boarding combat breaks out and the ships are “locked” in their positions. Still, any warship may attempt flee in their movement phase and that aside ships still may shoot despite having a bloody mêlée going on on the upper deck.

There are two more factors that play into this and which every captain worth his salt is aware of – Wind and Fate. Both are determined each turn before any ships are activated. Both players draw a Fate card each which say what’s happening as well as in what way the wind changes direction (For the first few turns we thought that only one Fate card was drawn because we’re used to that with other games that use such card decks. Plus, it seemed weird to have the direction of the wind change twice in quick succession). Fate cards lead to random events which can either mess up your well laid out plans, give you an unexpected helping hand to turn the tide or just a little pause to do some makeshift repairs on your ship. The wind can impact the way (sailing) warships move, either slowing them down or giving them extra movement, depening on the direction the wind comes from.

Here’s the setup of yesterday’s game:
.) As mentioned above, there was five of us.
.) We diced off to see who was to go into which team and ended up with three people on the side of the Undead and two people playing the Great Alliance.
.) We decided that for starters we’d play the first scenario from the book which is very basic with just the Heldenhammer and the Bloodreaver engaging in combat. There are no victory conditions and no turn limitations apart from getting the enemy ship damaged to a certain point.
.) Each side had three Warships at their disposal. The Heldenhammer and the Bloodreaver, being the flagships, had to be in there as well as two more ships on each side which were randomly determined. We ended up with the Heldenhammer, the Flaming Scimitar and Grimnir’s Thunder facing off against the Blood Reaver, the Shadewraith and Usirian’s Wrath.

Here are my observations:
.) As mentioned above, this is a tabletop wargame and it takes a while to play. Actually, the game took us seven hours to finish. Before you scream and throw your Dreadfleet boxes out of the window: This was a scenario that was designed for only two ships and without any other objectives than destroying the other fleet without any set number of turns. On top of that, it was the first game of course so I’m sure that you can finish normal games in less time than it took us.
.) Ships are kind of slow (which I’m perfectly okay with. They are large warships after all) and they are tough so no need to hold back. 😉
.) Maneuvering is very important.
.) The measuring stick is really, really handy. All the markers are really. It’s just a shame that there’s only two sets of command cards. It would be cool if they had included markers to the commands to put beneath the ships for clarity so everybody knows what command was issued to each ship.

All in all, I would say that the game is pretty entertaining and has lots of replay value with all the different ships and different scenarios. It is however a wargame, not a boardgame so some people might feel uncomfortable with how long the game takes because no matter how experienced the players are, I don’t think that the game can be played within 90 minutes or something like that. But then, I’m not the kind of gamer who insists on finishing a game that quickly and haste on to the next one. One thing concerning the size of the game: I don’t know about your tables but we didn’t manage to find one in the house that’s big enough to have the seascape fit on it so we had to play on the ground which is a little bit of a bummer but with a smaller seascape we’d have smaller models instead of these very pretty ones so I guess it’s alright. Still, if you’re appalled by the idea of having to play on the ground you should keep this in mind when thinking of getting the game.

Well, it was pretty good fun for a while (dragged a little in the later hours) and I hope I can get people to play it again some time. 🙂

I hope that I could give you an insight into how Dreadfleet plays and what I thought of my first game. Thanks for reading!

What’s your playing experiences with Dreadfleet? Or, if you haven’t played it yet, what do you make of the reports so far/what are you looking forward to? Share your thoughts via comments below!Click here for part 1 and part 2 of this review.

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