Hey guys! For my first article or series of articles on Tale of Painters I will talk about Dreadfleet. I don't think that Dreadfleet needs much of an introduction. For the past months, the internet has been bristling with rumours and previews of the new limited release game. In a series of articles I will review the game, give you my views on the different aspects of the game and the impressions I get.
This first part is purely of the contents of the box. I have yet to play a game of dreadfleet so I'm not quite sure of how it really plays. This review is taking a look at the quality, the design, the presentation and the workmanship behind the contents of the box. In later installments of this series I will tell you about how the models assemble and what they are like to paint and finally I will let you know what the game itself plays like.
So let's see... in the front we get a nice piece of artwork that sets the mood nicely and establishes the setting. The tagline says "Pirate Battles on the Warhammer High Seas".
The back of the box, in the classic way, shows the game as it's set up, one of the warships close up, a little blurb about the backstory and what the game is and lists what's in the box. The photo looks great.
This is the first thing we see when we open the box - lots and lots of plastic. The box contains five sprues the size of GW's regular "big sprues" like the ones you get in vehicle boxes for 40k or the size of the WHFB giant sprues and another one that's twice the size that has all the islands, wrecks and the "measure tape". One word about the box itself - when I opened it, I had a good feeling right from the get-go because of what the box feels like. Smooth, shiny surface, very sturdy cardboard. A kind of sturdiness you don't get on boardgames boxes often. It's a small thing but it really makes a difference when you feel it.
That's the big one with all the islands. These are all skull-shaped in one form or another. It's really over the top but it's alright as this game is kind of abstract anyway, at least more so than a regular tabletop wargame. The detail is very much fun. The shipwrecks all are very individual pieces and characterful, one of the islands is in fact the corpse of a giant sea turtle with someone having put a makeshift look-out on top of it made from driftwood. The two largest islands have a temple and a fortress on top of them respectively. All very nice, many of the islands being multipart. It's all very dark, devoid of vegetation and rocky.
This sprue also has something new - a measure ruler. Most of you will be familiar with the age-old practice of GW to include those whip-like measure tapes with one pointy end and really sharp edges. These things, along with Darda track pieces, probably led to more injuries than they ever were actually used for what they were meant for. So this time, GW included a three-part sculpted ruler. It's very reminiscent of parts of the special set of rulers and templates they used to sell along with the release of 8th edition Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
The other sprues have all the ships, big and small, some markers, the auxiliary ships and monsters as well as the sea monsters. Just one look at those models and one thing is clear - these are top of the line GW models, not playing pieces. You see, with Space Hulk (2009), the models were cleverly and beautifully designed but the casting, plastic quality and detailling was more reminiscent of playing figures you would find in the boxes of boardgames companies. In Dreadfleet, GW really shows off what they can do with plastic by now. It's not resin cast standards of course but the parts are sleek, they are highly detailled with crisp casting and made of the same plastic as all other GW plastic sets.
One sprue has all the cast plastic bases. All sculpted, all nicely done. Just be careful you get the colours to match the ones on the gaming blanket when painting them!
So now that we got all the tasty, tasty sprues done, let's see what else is in the box...
This just made me smile because it was one more indication that GW really put some thought into this box. It's a piece of cardboard to keep the printed gaming accessories seperate from the models. This may be due to pettiness or with the idea in mind that the somewhat compact and heavier gaming parts like the stacks of cards, the dice and the rulebook shouldn't get smashed against the sprues and damage the delicate parts. I'm rather sure that it's the second and I really commend this for adding to the presentation and the production value of this box.
Here we can see what's underneath the cardboard sheet: The rulebook (beautifully designed, 98 pages, full colour), a plastic baggy with 12 D6, 10 Warship cards, 55 Damage cards, 40 Fate cards, 12 Auxiliary cards, 10 Wound cards, 11 Miscellaneous cards and a bag of plastic baggies to store the various cards in.
This is another sign that the guys who made this care. I play a lot of board games with lots of different cards and with many the first thing you have to figure out is where you put these rubberbands so you could organize the various decks of cards. So I like those baggies. I would organize my whole life in these things if I could. They are sturdy, they stay tightly closed, they don't take up additional room, they don't wear out easily, they're great.
The cards are of course full colour. My only gripe with them is that most of them are very small (approximately 2.5" by 1.5" / 6,25 x 4,2 cm) along with the font being rather small on them as well. That makes them harder to handle, easier to drop and so on. I noticed that with the latest incarnation of Talisman as well and I'm not terribly fond of it. There's no need for the cards to be that small. I read that the prices for cardboard for boardgame manufacturing really went through the rood in the past few years so maybe that's a method of cutting cost. Still, not very cool and not necessary.
Then there's the playing blanket of course. And it really is a blanket. Maybe you could call it a gaming cloth as well. It's full cloth, it's fully printed on one side with a really pretty seascape on which you will find sunken ships rotting underneath the surface and similar things. It's not like it's a repeating pattern of waves or something. And it's big. We're talking about approximately 3.5' by 5.5' here so you'll have to get a rather large table if you don't want to play on the floor. Having the cloth over thick paper or somethign like that was a smart move and it looks great. The kind of cloth is kind of flexible and very smooth (somewhat like synthetic silk) so models won't fall over if you slide them across the mat.
Let's have a closer look at the rulebook now. First thing you notice is that it's printed on horizontal format which immediately invokes memories of Battlefleet Gothic of course. As mentioned above, it has 98 pages (interstingly they count the back of the booklet as well but then it's got the index so that's fair game), full colour through and through, tons of high-quality, close-up photos of the various ships and monsters and lots of John Blanche's artwork. His work isn't universally loved but I really enjoy it as long as it doesn't get too much in the "mad scribbly sketch" terrain. It doesn't have any of those masterful oil paintings he used to do but it's all very solid and it has a very coherent, intriguing style that feels much more direct and engaging than most of the GW illustrations we get nowadays. The artwork in his book isn't all by John Blanche but it's all done in the same style and the larger pieces are all by him.
So what's the overall structure of the book? First you get a short introduction along with lots of close-ups of the various ships, wrecks and islands so you get to know what they look like and maybe how to paint them along with a little bit of background information and a short assembly guide.The game's rules are all explained on the following 29 pages and were written by Phil Kelly. After that, there's a few pages on the background of the game (no general Warhammer world background, all very specific for the characters and events that happen during the alliance's hunt for Count Noctilus) followed by in-depth information on the 10 different warships, their captains and their rules. Each of them gets two full pages with a portrait of the captain, his (or her!) background and a bit on the rules. The last point doesn't take up as much space as you'd think so there's really a lot of space for the background which I really enjoy.
The rulebook comes with 11 individual scenarios which can (and are even meant to) be played in succession to form a campaign to cover the full story of the game. The first scenario is very simple, is meant to be played to get to know the game and only happens between two warships but there are some suggestions on how to spice this scenario up for repeated playing. In the end of this section you get a table to work out scores throughout the campaign to see who did best and is the winner overall. Despite all this, it would be really great to have more scenarios or a way to make up scenarios yourself quick and easy.
As with all GW games (and without having played a game of Dreadfleet yet), I suggest taking on a certain kind of approach to this game. It's meant to be fun, to quote pirate films and literature and listen to some pirate tunes while playing. This of course is just a suggestion based on my experience with Games Workshop games over the years and preferring a very laid-back and "when in doubt - roleplay" approach to these games.
Final verdict of the box contents
So let's get back to the tangible stuff in this box and wrap this review up: From what I have seen so far the production value on this game is top notch. The box, the rulebook, the seascape mat, ... all beautiful. The models are very cool pieces, highly detailled and something very unique. You get lots of terrain (by far enough for a high seas maritime combat game at least) - by the way, the largest three islands don't come with waves/water sculpted onto or around them so you can use them just as well to spice up your Warmaster or 6mm Fantasy wargame tables - and other fun bits that will look fine on your showcase even. The only negatives I noticed so far are the cards and an interesting thing: The models are almost too fragile. TOO well done if you like. You see, I like to use these board games to play them with people who aren't really into wargaming, maybe aren't used to handle pieces as delicate as those and so on. This game goes well with an ale (I'm almost inclined to say that anything GW publishes does ;) ) but with these ship models I'll be much more careful when playing, especially as this is all limited edition stuff.
Maybe I'm being too cautious but I'm part collector of miniatures and while I don't go to ebay and pay like 150 Euros for a certain metal sheep or something like that, I prefer my out-of-production models to be unharmed. So there's a little snag in the whole equasion. Again, maybe I'm being overly cautious but these models ARE fragile.
Some of you will be aware on how sought after the masts of Man'O'War ships are on the second hand market. I think that this will be the case with Dreadfleet ships as well. Or taking the idea even further, the great quality of the models may be a reason for people not to play Dreadfleet as often as they would like to which would be tragic. But maybe I'm just trying to look for tragedy in a thing that looks great and like a ton of fun to paint and play with.
All in all, my first impression of Dreadfleet is great. Despite the steep price I never felt like I got ripped off for a single second. The sheer volume of great models and the production value are worth the price in my opinion.
Now the next deciding point is: How do the models paint up and Are the rules actually fun and balanced? Rest assured that I will let you know as soon as possible but for now I am very positive that this is a product well worth the money. I would even go as far as to call this a labour of love by GW if it wouldn't sound so weird. But looking at the artwork by GW's house artist (artist, not illustrator), the unique models and the presentation of the product it well might be.
I hope you enjoyed the article and look forward to part two in which I will tell you something about building the models!
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Click here for part 2 of this review.