Recently I managed to find a couple of hours to play some Dreadfleet and see how the game actually pans out when it hits the tabletop. Sadly I forgot to take my camera to the game (despite putting it on the counter) and so there are no pictures. Still, a brief look at what we experienced of the game so far is still nice to see.
Three of us played the fifth scenario in the Dreadfleet play list. This is the same one that was featured for a turn on the GW website prior to the game's release. It was a good challenge since we had our first game with 9 ships on the field in total but all three of us are 40k and/or fantasy players who've been around miniature games for quite a while.
Once you get the hang of the turn pattern, the game plays nice and quickly. Its biggest shift if you're used to GW games is the alternating model activation concept. Starting with the player who wins initiative for the turn, the two sides take it in turn activating ships and running through an entire set of actions with that ship, then the other player goes. It gives some nice tactical implications to the game since you can clear the movement path for your ships and combine attacks if you play your ships in the right order. Of course your opponent can alter that with their plans so you have to keep on your toes a bit.
In a nutshell, each ship gets to issue an order (full speed ahead, repair, hard a port etc.), move, fire a broadside and then fight a boarding action if they are in base contact. You're even able to fire on a separate target even if you are locked into a boarding action that is ongoing. It's a nice touch that keeps all of the ships valuable while they are on the field, especially if they get locked into boarding actions and can't escape from them. In our game, my ship ended up fighting off boarding actions from two ships, attacking back to the one in front and then firing at the one to its flank.
The Fate deck seems to be a much maligned around the interwebs as it brings in random events and moves the wind counter around the table. I think it has been somewhat exaggerated in its power, though I suppose with a particularly strong draw of cards, you could produce big effects (somewhat like drawing a straight flush in poker at the start of the game). Basically you draw a fate card per player, per turn and resolve both. Our game was six turns long, though we ended on turn 4 I believe so a total of 8 fate cards were played. They gave some boosts to shooting, damaged one or two ships slightly and generally made the game more fun and crazy to play.
The changing wind counter was also not as powerful as I thought it might be. In the course of our game it started in the middle of one long edge, then move to one short edge, onto the next long edge then back to the short edge. Certainly not a massive gameplay shift though it did have implications as my flagship ended up failing a command check at the end and being unable to move enough to get out of the path of my opponents' flagship and fleet. Quite a dramatic end to the game all in all.
In essence, the elf warship made a run for it but was gunned down by the combined Dreadfleet. The Black Kraken (mecha-squid) was then tied up and battered to pieces over several turns by two ships on my opponents' side, my tomb kings ship got flattened by the enemy flagship. The skaven ship was fired upon from all angles and finally went down to the surviving elf dragon auxiliary. In the end, my Vampire Lord flagship did the most damage, sinking two enemy ships before finally being sunk.
MVP award goes to the Dwarf dirigible auxiliaries who, despite only getting one dice of broadside per turn, managed to make my flagship list badly for a turn (no firing), killed the first mate (lowering my command score), started a fire in the powder room (draw D3+1 damage cards if you don't roll 3+ at the start of the turn) and finally put the final point of damage on the titanic warship, sinking it right after it sank the alliance flagship.
So my feelings on Dreadfleet?
It's a good game. The models are excellent quality, the game is fun, it plays differently do other GW stuff but that's fine, it's self contained and it doesn't take itself too seriously. The price is a bit high but in general, it gets a thumbs up from me. It's not a wargame, it's not competing with Spartan Games or the like, it won't be further supported but you will have a good time playing it.
All the best,