Saturday 22 December 2012

Dreadball Unboxed

So my copy of Dreadball turned up on Monday. I have to admit I wasn't expecting this. I did get in on the Dreadball Kickstarter, but only at the last minute and missed out on the December release pledges. Consequently, I wasn't expecting it to show up until January, making its arrival something of a pre-Christmas treat.

I don't want to go into the rules right now. For a start, I have only played one demo game. Plus they have already been available in digital form since November and much of the details were all over the Internet before that. Not to mention the designer's copious blog posts going into detail not just about the rules but also almost every design decision that went into creating them. Frankly, I don't feel I have a lot to add to that.

On the other hand, I do have some comments about the actual package.

Previous Mantic board games, Dwarf King's hold and Project Pandora, although decent enough games, were somewhat lacking in quality. Strong box and component art clashed with cheap and rather rough looking cardboard pieces, while the rules manuals were functional rather than striking. This criticism was pretty much accepted by Mantic at their open day back in September and they have taken serious steps to address it here.

Dreadball comes in a large squarish box made from thick card cardboard. Opening it up reveals the rule book, a general leaflet about Dreadball and its forth coming releases and a second leaflet to store your Mantic points, something that has been a long time coming. Mine also came with a rather nice art print of the box cover, though I suspect this won't be a standard feature. The rule book is a similarly high quality product, full colour and perfect bound on glossy paper. It has the look of a book that Mantic could sell separately in a pinch.

Hiding under the rules is the board. Mantic have offered two custom boards, but I stuck with the one in the box and have to say I'm happy. Mantic have maintained the high quality component art of their previous board games, but have mounted it on thick paper wrapped card, for a feel that is far closer to a traditional board game. There is a touch of sagging around the fold in the centre, and the print quality is not as strong as the rule book, but it is still of decent quality.

I speculated a little while back as to whether Dreadball would follow the packaging conventions of a board game or a wargame. I was surprised to find Mantic went with board game. Under the board is a moulded plastic tray with separate spaces for counters and dice, roster sheets and miniatures. I wouldn't have expected this from Games Workshop, so Mantic have done a very nice job here. The cards and roster sheets maintain the high production standards of the box, board and manual.

I think Mantic have been quite canny here. Although to my mind, Dreadball is essentially a wargame, it has been packaged such that it wouldn't look out of place alongside board games. It could sit comfortably in a shop that focuses on board games, or in Smiths or Waterstones, both of which have been expanding their board games selection recently. Dreadball could easily be Mantic's "gateway drug" for new players.

In their own sections of the tray were four bags of models. The largest was the official models included in the base set, in addition to those I also had the Forge Father team, that I had added to my pledge, another bag containing two samples each of Forge Fathers and Veer-myn and  a final bag of MVPs and limited editions. Unfortunately, it was the models that let the package down slightly.

The Human and Marauder Teams included in the box

The models are all resin-plastic (or restic or sprueless plastic or however Mantic is marketing it this week). Generally I have had a pretty good experience with this stuff. It doesn't hold detail quite as well as Games Workshop's Finecast or, for that matter, conventional resin, but it does a good job and has none of the problems of the other materials; no bubbles, air holes or nasty bits of sprue, and little flash or mould lines. It's also a lot more durable. It has shown a marked tendency to warp, but if you put it in some hot water it will soften enough to be bent back in to position.


The problem with the models is that they come in multiple pieces, usually with separate heads often arms and in some cases legs. Unfortunately, the box comes with no instructions on how to assemble them or even explaining that you need super glue and that conventional polystyrene cement won't work. On the plus side the pieces go together well and only minimal clean up was needed.

 Forge Father Team

The rest of the game is packaged like a board game, but having miniatures that need a considerable amount of assembly and prep works against that. It doesn't help that page 7 of the rule book actively encourages you to learn the rules by playing a game and muddling through. This isn't really practical when you have 20+ models to prep and assemble. Without this issue I could see Dreadball being opened Christmas morning and game being played by mid afternoon or at least Boxing day. Perhaps Mantic should have included some counters to represent the players so at least you could get in a game straight away.

It's a shame, because the models look very nice and I certainly have plenty of them, but, unfortunately, they work against the style of the rest of the package. So, high quality components, well packaged, addressing many of the faults with previous Mantic releases, but, sadly, not quite perfect.

Monday 3 December 2012

The Battle of Wurtbad

The market town of Wurtbad in the Northern Empire was to receive a rude awakening when the warning bells tolled. Grown fat from the town's annual beer festival, it was all too tempting a prospect for the hastily assembled alliance of Chaos Worshippers now approaching the town.

Magraf Adolphus Von Rachoff had been dreading this. Ever since the river Wurt had burst its banks leading to flooding and the collapse of part of the town wall, Wurtbad had been all too vulnerable. Unfortunately, the town Burgers, always with an eye on short term profit, had refused the funds to make necessary repairs. They would live to regret it when their coffers were carried off by beastmen, assuming they lived of course.

There was no time for recriminations, Adolphus had to focus on the town's defence. He rallied the town guard under Captain Borgen and set about equipping a hastily arranged militia with what weapons could be found, mostly pikes and crossbows but a handful of serviceable arquebus were included. The towns ageing cannon was pressed into service and a group of Bergjaeger woodsmen offered their services and their archery skills. Most fortunately of all, the Wizard Johannes Breckner, in town for the festival, mounted his horse and agreed to offer what magic he could.

With the defenders prepared, Adolphus deployed a number to defend the town, but kept the bulk of his forces on a hill just outside the town borders in the hope of distracting the chaos worshippers attention from the town itself.

We decided that I would nominally be in command of the Fetid Alliance, while MLB would command the Defenders of Wurtbad. I say nominally because the intent was not play a strictly competitive game. For a start, I would be in command of MLBs warband. But also, we wanted to play an interesting game that would develop the narrative of our ongoing campaign. Who won or lost was secondary.

We decided that in addition to the standard victory points table, if Chaos won the champions would take 10 victory points each. This is standard for a winning side in most of the scenarios outlined in Realms of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned.

Deployment - click on any picture for a better view

The cacophonous sound of a beastmen horn signalled the Chaos advance. The warbands advanced on the left flank accompanied by the diseased flagellants and there foul altar. On the Chaos right flank, Balios the Corpulent lead his Zombies towards the hill occupied by the Magraf.

At a signal from Adolphus, the Empire missile troops opened fire. Flaggelents and Zombies fell, but the warbands were unharmed and the advanced continued largely unimpeded.

Missile attacks from the arquebus and crossbows did almost no damage. Some Zombies fell to cannon fire, but not enough to have any serious effect.

As Rolf Hurtziger's warband approached the town, the brave men of the town militia, lead by Captain Borgen advanced to meet them, halberds at the ready. Sensing blood, the Chaos worshippers quickened their pace before launching into an ill organised charge.

Rolf's warband advances on the Hellblitzen while Owesteen's warband turns their attention to the Bergjaeger

As the battle lines met, Rolf declared a challenge, accepted willingly by Captain Borgen. The two champions were evenly matched, axe and sword clashed. There was a break in the fighting and then both men collapsed.

Enraged at the loss of their leader, Rolf's followers attacked with renewed and maniacal vigour. The militia were forced back, gave ground and then turned and fled back to the town with the vile Chaos worshippers in hot pursuit.

Captain Borgen and Rolf Hurtziger were both level 5 heroes with almost identical profiles. Rolf's mark of Nurgle gave him +1 toughness, but there was nothing else in it. With nearly identical profiles, they struck simultaneously and both went down. On the other hand, humans with halberds clearly weren't a match for a Dragon Ogre, beastmen and Orcs with spears. The halberdiers failed their break test, but in 3rd edition that didn't mean instant death, just running away with the warband following and hacking at them further. The pursuit would keep the warband occupied for most of the game.

In the centre, the warband of the Dark Elf Owesteen clashed with the Bergjaeger . Owesteen had expected easy prey, but the woodsmen put up a stern resistance.

But it was on the right flank that the battle was to be decided. Balios Plague Zombies charged uphill to meet the Magraf's pikemen. Despite the hideous appearance of their opponents, the pikemen held out. Balios and the Magraf clashed, ineffectually at first, but then the Magraf slipped past the foul Champion's defences and delivered a killing blow with the sacred Warhammer. Balios fell and his remaining Zombies driven into the ground and crushed. The triumphant defenders reformed and turned to face the rest of the Chaos raiders, only to see Rolf's warband advancing into the town.

 An uphill struggle for Balios and the Zombies

Both the Magraf and Balios were level 15 heroes and about as evenly matched as Rolf and Captain Borgen. One round of combat saw both champions completely miss each other. The second round wasn't much better, but luckily for the Magraf he managed to get in two hits and made excellent use of the hammers might strike (1 strength 10 hit per game) and enchanted strike (2 wounds) to bring Balios down.

It was at this point, with both armies right flank collapsing, it became clear that we were not going to get a clear cut outcome to the game. Neither one of us was particularly keen to see our carefully nurtured warbands have to battle to the death and with the speed at which 3rd edition combat is resolved we could have been there all day in any case.

We decided that if at least half the chaos units made into the town before the end of the game, they would be able to make off with enough plunder to claim a draw and get five victory points per champion. This felt like the most narratively satisfying outcome. Quite apart from anything else, a good part of the fun of Realms of Chaos comes  from rolling on the chaos reward table and you can't do that without a few victory points.

The lesson we took from all this was to always make sure that you iron out your victory conditions properly before you start playing the game and remember to consider the possibility of a draw.

With Magraf Adolphus and his pikemen and crossbows bearing down on him, Owesteen, having lost the rest of his warband, finally managed to finish off the scouts and turned to face the rapidly advancing pikemen. Reasoning that it was better to charge and take the initiative, that be skewered by crossbow bolts and blown to pieces by cannon fire, charged the Magraf.

Back in the centre, the diseased flagellants had finally crossed the river and engaged the aqruebus. Enhanced by the power of the Chaos altar, the deranged fanatics were more than a match for the men of Wurtbad, but, although forced to give ground, the defenders stubbornly refused to flee.

 Owesteen battles the Magraf while the Diseased Flagellants finish of the Hakbutschutzen

Despite a valiant struggle, Owesteen the Dark Elf fell to the Margraf's hammer. But by now, Rolf's warband and the diseased Flagellants had made their way into Wurtbad.

With two units having made it into the town, this was the point at which we stopped the game and declared it a draw. Both champions were able to claim five victory points, but with both having been "killed" during the fighting they didn't get any extra points for having survived the battle. Fortunately, for Owesteen the five victory points were just enough, with the points accumulated from a previous battle, to tip him over the edge and give him a roll on the Chaos Reward table. This turned out to be the chaos attribute feathers. Rolf, however, didn't earn enough for another roll. Luckily for both warbands, they no-one suffered any permanent injuries.

Overall it had been an interesting game. Using the warbands as complete units had been more straight forward than expected and the rules scaled comfortably well to 1000 points. Having said that, the combats dragged out for turns and Missile fire was also almost entirely ineffective. I suspect playing at the 'official' standard 3000 points would have taken ages.

That said, as the warbands grow it would be worth bringing them back together for another large scale battle, possibly bringing in an allied warband worshipping another God.

Although some of the followers of Chaos had made it into the town, they were quickly driven out by the Magraf's troops. The town had been saved, but, secretly, the Magraf hoped the town burgers had been scared enough not to neglect its defences in future.