Thanks to their massive publicity machine, almost every nerd on the net will have heard of GW's upcoming boxed game, Dreadfleet. And what a reaction the announcement has generated.
First off, in case you've not heard much about Dreadfleet, here's a little blurb from GW's blog:
"Dreadfleet is a standalone boxed game for two (or more) players that includes everything you need to make war on the high seas of the Warhammer world. At your command are two fleets of ships - the Dreadfleet led by the Vampire Count Noctilus, aboard his gargantuan sea-hulk the Bloody Reaver; and the Grand Alliance commanded by the Pirate Captain Jaego Roth, who recently stole the Heldenhammer - the pride of the Imperial Fleet, and one of the largest galleons to ever sail the high seas. After his family's death at the hands of Count Noctilus, Captain Jaego Roth is after revenge and no one will get in his way."
You can also hear a studio introduction, featuring author Phil Kelly and some dubious voice acting:
So there you have it. A game in a box; everything you need to play, including a game mat, miniatures, scenery, rules, cards etc. Dreadfleet is set in the Warhammer World, but otherwise unrelated to GW's other games. Lastly, Dreadfleet is on a limited print run, so the "while stocks last" guff is plastered all over the publicity.
Almost immediately afer it was announced, Dreadfleet and GW started taking flak.
The biggest criticism of Dreadfleet I've heard online, is simply that it isn't either Warhammer Quest or Blood Bowl. In many ways, GW have left themselves open to this kind of attack through the success that their re-release of Space Hulk was. They took an older game that many of their customer would describe as iconic and look back on with nostalgia, gave it a makeover (with some kick-arse miniatures) and made a heap of cash. However, the fact that this release isn't the one that many (some) people wanted, does that justify the scorn being poured out?
Can we speculate why GW decided not to produce a remake of Warhammer Quest or Blood Bowl? Yes, of course we can. The most obvious reason is their licencing agreement with Fantasy Flight. A Warhammer Quest release (assuming a £60/$100 price point) would conflict directly with the second edition of Descent just released. The stand-alone nature of this release and the inherently expansion driven nature of Descent means that this kind of release would harm both companies and be to the benefit of neither.
Why not Blood Bowl? Again the standalone release GW seem to be going for would prohibit this. There are, roughly, eleven Warhammer races. Is it reasonable to expect that many teams in a standalone box? No. So do GW release a box with, say, four races and basically piss off half their customer base by not having their team available? On the other hand, do they release a box with just two teams and then leave it at that? Again no, Blood Bowl was a game based on leagues and multiple teams and ignoring that would be a very poor decision to make. Alternatively, teams could be drip fed in individual box sets, but this would contradict GW's core business strategy, taking attention, resouces and floor space away from their core product.
These complaints also ignore the fundamental business decision GW are making by producing a standalone, limited run box. It's to generate a one-off, high spike of revenue. This release comes at half way though the financial year and, to my eyes, is intended to influence their half yearly shareholder announcements. Anything wrong with that? No, not at all. GW is answerable, financially, to it's shareholders, not to their customers. Their Space Hulk release was at the same time in the year and was a huge success in this respect.
As customers and consumers, we have the choice whether to take advantage of the game (and support GW's business plan as a result,) or not to buy the game and move on. As a side point, GW took a lot of heat last year when they "found" some excess Space Hulk stock, and were able to offer the game a second time. A repeat of this is unlikely, due to both the PR flak they would take and the fact that large numbers of customers bought multiple boxes to sell on (sealed copies are going for well over £100 nowadays)
So most of the chatter seems to be about what Dreadfleet isn't "It isn't what I wanted" "It isn't a proper game" "There's nothing else to it but what's in the box."
Is there anything good to say about the release? For starters, the contents look lush! Each ship looks distinctive (although there is the feel of a pastiche when you look at the ten ships together) and they seem to be surprisingly large (if the comparison picture is to be believed.) GW appear to have adopted a few mechanics from Fantasy Flight and have introduced some random card and ability mechanics that sound interesting.
Unfortunately, GW haven't released any information on either the game mechanics or the rules, so assessing Dreadfleets quality as a game is pretty difficult. Probably a mistake, Fantasy Flight make all their rules available online, before release, and this makes it easier to assess new games.
So, will I pick this up when it's released? To be honest, I'm not sure yet. I haven't mentioned the price point yet, £70, which puts it about £15-£20 above the price for a "normal" boardgame, but there is a lot of stuff in the box. Also, some of the islands could double up as Dystopian Wars terrain. Also, the Mrs, who isn't a gamer, made some agreeable noises when she saw the ships. . .
So undecided. Still a couple weeks before release, so we'll see what happens. . .