For quite some time, I've been meaning to jot down a few words about the game Dreadfleet in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles universe. The game was purchased about 2 years after its original release, around 2011. It dazzled me visually. The rulebook was beautifully presented with artworks by the likes of John Blanche, Dave Gallagher, and Adrian Smith. The exquisite ship sculptures captured the game's atmosphere with their unique appearance and intricate details. The story was intriguing and captivating. At first glance, everything seemed promising, and I had high hopes for this title. Unfortunately, with each scenario played, my excitement and enthusiasm dwindled until it sank below sea level.

Amarell is holding a box with a Dreadfleet tabletop game

Dreadfleet - a board game in the Warhammer Fantasy universe

A naval battle on the coasts of Sartosa

Jokes aside, the truth is there are a few things that still stick in my craw. Alright, let's take it step by step. Firstly, I've heard from many people that it was supposed to be a "modern" successor to Man O' War released in 1993. Let me put it briefly: it's not. True, the game's concept, naval battles played out on the seas of the Known World, is the same. However, everything else is entirely different, and I believe Dreadfleet should be treated as a separate tabletop game with a more pirate-like theme.

We've got ships representing some of the factions you'd encounter in the Warhammer world. It's not an even split, more like ships created for the story that's the main focus of the whole game. The creators divided them into two groups: the good (the Grand Alliance) and the evil (Dreadfleet). So here, you'll find the ship of High Elf Prince Yrellian or the Dwarven warship led by Red Brookk Gunnarsson. Of course, there are also mercenary ships like Swordfysh commanded by the Queen of Tides from Sartosa - Captain Aranessa Saltspite, or the Flaming Scimitar - a magical warship powered by spirits. They, for some reason, joined Captain Jaego Roth in pursuit of the vampiric Count Noctilus - the scourge of Sartosa, who along with his allies pillages the coasts of the Known World. His undead fleet includes things like the floating remnants of the sea monster Leviathan, which were transformed by Skaven into a battleship, a half-real, cadaverous and ghastly warship Shadewraith, or even the Curse of Zandri with King Amanhotep from the ancient Nehekhara. Chaos Dwarf also have a part in the game, which I think is a small nod from Games Workshop to an army that was rather overlooked in the WFB. I would add that the idea of a submarine that resembles the Kraken with its mechanical tentacles is really superb.

Each battle is actually playing out one of the 12 scenarios from the main rulebook. As far as I know, Games Workshop released additional 2 scenarios for free download. Theoretically, the game is designed for two players, but a more elaborate scenario with more ships allows for up to 10 people to share command of each ship. However, players still need to follow the scenario guidelines, so they don't have complete freedom in controlling their vessel.

A ghostly ship Shadewraith with an undead captain and a Skaven ship Skabrus

A High Elves ship Seadrake with two dragons.

A pirate-ship Swordfysh from Sartosa is preparing to fight with enemy battleships: Curse of Zandri and Skabrus.

Now, let's talk about assembling and painting the ships themselves. Unfortunately, their intricacy means they can't be easily painted after assembly. For example, the Shadewraith, a ghost ship, has many gaps and empty spaces in its hull, making painting these parts almost impossible after assembly. The same goes for the Skabrus (Skaven ship). With the Bloody Reaver, the titular ship of our Count Noctilus - the fleet's commander, I had problems with assembling the parts because there were gaps that I had to fill with modeling putty. The same situation occurred with the Flaming Scimitar, where the captain is the mysterious Golden Magus, who controls the tempest djinn and fire efreet.

An imperial ship of captain Roth - Heldenhammer

Moving the Skaven ship to better position for firing the warp energy infused cannons

The Seadrake ship uses its speed to pass between the islands to assist the Swordfysh.

In my case, four ships and terrain elements were painted shortly after purchase. The remaining ships lay in the box for many years until I finally decided to finish them as part of my "finish unfinished projects" resolution. I completed painting the rest of the fleet in January 2024, but only now have I played all the scenarios, taken photos, and recorded videos.

A boarding fight between the two main ships: Heldenhammer and Bloody Reaver.

Flaming Scimitar ship joins battle against Shadewraith and Skabrus.

A dragon from the High Elves ship glides through the sky in search of a target to breathe fire at.

Why only now? It's all because of the rules. The rulebook is beautifully produced, readable, and, above all, understandable. More than half of the book is taken up by descriptions of the ships with really great stories and the aforementioned scenarios. A big plus is the quality of the publication, not only the rulebook but also the mat. In the case of this game, we don't have a standard cardboard board, folded into several pieces. The publisher used a fabric version made by sublimation. The print is vivid, clear, and of really good quality. Another thing is that when moving the ships, the material can wrinkle. Personally, it didn't bother me; a bit of practice and there were no problems moving the models.

An elven ship Seadrake.

The Chaos Dwarfs ship emerged from the depths to immobilise the Flaming Scimitar with its mechanical tentacles.

Dreadfleet game ship cards

Each ship has its card, which presents its characteristics and special rules. During the game, damage cards or status cards are added to the ship's card in appropriately marked places. Unfortunately, I have some reservations about the clarity and legibility of such a card. As the scenario develops, it turns out that the multitude of cards added to the ships can be overwhelming. Players need to be vigilant not to forget about all the statuses and random events. Another thing is that damage cards could cause a lot of trouble. And I'm not talking about random problems, like lack of crew or damaged sails. The randomness of such cards could set a ship on fire or inflict a large number of wounds in one turn, practically eliminating it from the game. If we add to this the death of the captain in a duel with the opponent, it may turn out that repairing the ship is practically impossible. The only salvation is the ship's mate, who can issue a repair command for only one damage per turn of the ship on a roll of 6+. Another downside: captain duels. Simple D6 dice rolls and adding bonuses from the special rules of the characters don't really correspond to the fact that some captains are simply stronger and more suited to combat than others. And what's worse, it's impossible to avoid a duel in the case of boarding. Additionally, each wound on the captain gave penalties to the ship, specifically to issuing orders to the crew.

As I mentioned earlier, I like the fact that each ship is unique in terms of appearance. Unfortunately, I don't really like them in terms of special rules. They're just unbalanced. Some are stronger than others. Sometimes they didn't have any application at all. I got the impression that this variety was intended to spice up the gameplay and encourage potential players to buy the game. Maybe I'm wrong. Overall, I rate the game as a plus, but unfortunately, it has its flaws.

Seadrake sails to the rescue of the Flaming Scimitar

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