Product Review: Dreadfane
As many of you are probably aware, Dreadfane went up for purchase on Barnes and Noble's website last week. I was a bit cautious as we hadn't heard from Games Workshop on the official release date or specifics, but I went ahead and purchased a copy. I figured, at the worst, I would get the item after it was officially announced. Much to my surprise, I received a shipping confirmation from Barnes and Noble stating the item had been shipped...
I am not really sure on whether this is was an intended release or a mistake from Barnes and Noble. Either way, I got my copy of Dreadfane in the mail this morning.
In this article, I will be reviewing all the contents that come inside the Dreadfane box set. This includes the boards, warbands, and rule book. Furthermore, I will review each and every card in the set that is translatable to the core game.
Time to enter the Dreadfane!
Dreadfane, as it says on the tin, is a tactical miniatures game of deadly arena combat. So, does that mean it is another Warhammer Underworlds core set? No, not quite. Dreadfane is similar in that is a starter set of sorts, however it offers a twist on the core game in that it is designed, from the ground up, for beginners. Think of it as a streamlined version of Warhammer Underworlds.
The intention here is to promote and advertise an easy-to-play version of the game outside of Warhammer Stores/Games Workshops. Think of it as a "gateway game." The purpose of it is to attract non-regular customers and provide them an enjoyable experience that piques their interest. The intention, hopefully, is that they enjoy the game so much that they branch out with the promise of trying different warbands and cards which not only leads to other members joining the community, but also leads to an improvement on Games Workshop's bottom line. Both great things.
As demonstrated in the photo above, there are a ton of items included in the box set. First off, we've got the two warbands included: Lady Harrow's Mournflight (4 fighters) and Ironsoul's Condemners (3 fighters). Those are some pretty epic names. Some of you have noticed that these figures are the exact same as the easy-to-build kits in Age of Sigmar. While that may be true, I think the models still look awesome and this further reinforces that the target audience are people who do not currently play Games Workshop games.
In addition to that, we have a 24-page rule book and a 12-page learn to play booklet.
The rules seem to be worded better when compared to previous sets. There is a greater sense of clarity as well as detail when it comes to how the game is run. My favorite part is the mapping out of the combat sequence.
I also really like the glossary at the end of the book. There were two new terms that really caught my eye: Scything and Ensnare.
This officially gives a key-word to attack actions that targeted every adjacent enemy fighter. I dig it.
My favorite one, however, is Ensnare. It is cleave but for dodge! This was a LONG time coming and personally, I love it.
The fighter cards look awesome and the art on each card is different on the inspired side. This means we don't need to hunt for alternate fighter cards. They are already built in! Also, the quality of cards in general has improved greatly - they feel thicker and sturdier. Unfortunately, some of my cards were damaged just by the way the box was packaged. A little disappointing, but I guess it's fine.
The game board included is also quite fascinating as the game is played on a single board. Don't be alarmed though, the game board is the same size and length as two separate game boards. This obviously makes it easier and faster for newer players to play the game. The objectives are also printed on each side, so you simply can't move them around.
I suppose the only drawback is that we don't get another board for the core game. However, that's quite alright as we currently have 12 game boards to choose from.
Each side of the single, large board.
Furthermore, there are 40 power cards, 24 objective cards, 20 hazard cards, 106 tokens, and 8 dice. The 40 power cards consist of 20 cards each for Lady Harrow's Mournflight and Ironsoul's Condemners. They consist of 10 gambits and 10 upgrades, respectively.
The 24 objectives are also similar in that they consist of 12 cards for each faction. This is pretty cool as this provides both combatants an easy way to distinguish the faction cards and start their first game rather quickly.
Dreadfane also introduces different kinds of objective key words: Dual and Surge. Dual objective cards have two conditions that must be met for it to be scored. Surge is just a fancy word for score immediate.
The tokens and dice are the exact same as previous starter sets. It is neat to see faction specific activation tokens too!
The biggest change here, off the bat, are the hazard cards. These are random happenstances and events that occur every turn.
They're quite unique and introduce a random element to the game. I can see the appeal here for a player who is new to tabletop war gaming or just looking to play a "fun" board game. Keep in mind, this particular mechanic will not translate to the core game (at least that's what people are saying online). Here are a couple of my favorites:
Lady Harrow's Mournflight:
The models are just beautiful. They are some of the most aesthetically dynamic models in the game. They are molded in the same spooky green that their counterparts, the Thorns of the Briar Queen, are and it suits them quite nicely.
However, the real treat in regards to this warband is that they are a band of very powerful fighters. These femme fatales will carve you to pieces while looking great doing it. Think Charlie's Angels...well, I suppose more spooky. You get the idea.
Also, models in the warband inspire when they move through a hex occupied by an enemy fighter in an activation. Additionally, like all the other Nighthaunt in the game, they treat lethal hexes as normal hexes and can move through blocked and occupied hexes.
Lady Harrow, the leader of this vengeful quartet, sports fairly decent stats off the bat. In fact, she is very reminiscent of the Briar Queen, to a certain degree. We've got a range one weapon that hits on three fury and deals two damage. Furthermore, she sports a movement of four, two dodge, and four wounds.
When inspired, the Lady becomes a terrifying avatar of death. Her movement jumps to five, she starts dealing three damage, and has cleave! Oh, and if that wasn't enough, she also comes with a sweet reaction. If an opponent declares an attack action and it does not target her, she is able to push herself one hex. Yes, you read that correctly.
If you deploy your fighters correctly, Harrow can glide up the board, allowing her to get into the perfect positioning in order to do whatever she needs to - most likely brutally stab her target to death. If you are facing against her on the battlefield, take her out, and do it quickly.
The Anguished One
Aside from suffering from eternal mental and physical pain, this banshee is actually pretty useful. Similarly to her leader, she sports a movement of four and two dodge. Her other stats are a bit weaker. Her weapon has a range of one, hits on two fury, and deals two damage. She also has three wounds.
On inspiration, this fighter gains a bump in movement, attack dice, and even health. That's pretty good. She also get a pretty nifty special rule - rolls of defensive crits don't count as successes when she is attacking them. That's pretty dirty. If this fighter can roll a crit (yes, I thought of John Reese too) her attack will pretty much always go through.
The Screaming Maiden
So this fighter, other than sounding like a death metal band, is perhaps my favorite of the bunch. Like her sister-in-death, the Maiden has four movement, two dodge, and three wounds. Her attack action has a range of one, hits on two fury, and deals two damage. She seems pretty similar to The Anguished One at first glance.
However, upon inspiring, this fighter stats will make your eyes pop. She gets the usual boost in movement to make it five but that's not really that important. Her melee attack also get a bit of a bump in accuracy, jumping to four fury but that's not really the important either. The important part is that she gains a special ability titled Lethal Chill Blade. This rule allows her to deal an extra damage when she rolls a crit. Oh, that's not that big of a deal, right? Arnulf does that too!
She rolls four dice guys.
The Screaming Maiden is going to roll a lot of crits. Slap on Concealed Weapon on her and she's gonna be doing five damage. That's crazy!
Rounding out the tide of banshees is Widow Caitha. In addition to the four movement and two dodge, she starts with a measly total of two health. Her weapon is comparable to the Lady's though, albeit a little less accurate. It has a range of one, hits on two fury, and deals three damage.
When inspired, we see the regular bump in movement to five and we also gain a wound putting her at a total of three. Her special rule is fairly neat as well: if she doesn't have any move tokens, she can be placed on ANY empty hex. It's like Hidden Paths but on steroids. Caitha is your ambusher and can finish off any fighter that is hiding just out of arm's reach.
A moment of silence for the Spiteshroom, Stalagsquig, and the Bat Squig.
Now, let's get into the cards!
Note: As per my previous articles, I'll be using the following rating system.
A score of "A" means that the card is very powerful and should almost always be included in your deck builds. "B" means that the card is strong and will usually be included, but not always. A score of "C" means that card can be good in certain situations but will usually require extra support. Lastly, a score of "D" means the card is on the weaker side of things. It doesn't mean that it is inherently bad but perhaps can be considered hard to use or counter intuitive to your game plan.
Please keep in mind that these are my personal opinions. You might rate these cards differently.
Lady Harrow's Mournflight Cards:
Bitter Embrace: We start things off with a Dual objective! Unfortunately, it just isn't that good. Sure, you are going to get up and personal, even kill things. Having more friendly fighters than your opponent isn't the hard part. The part that is hard is that all your fighters have to be next to your opponent's fighters.
Creeping Dread: This one is a bit easier to score compared to the last but I still don't really like it. If it was a score immediately card, I might rate it higher but as it stands, it's alright.
Dominion of Death: This card is awesome. If you're able to have a good game which means you score more cards than your opponent, this is a pretty nice glory boost - especially with Superior Tactician restricted. I do think that it can be tricky though and it's just not always guaranteed since you are an aggressive warband and things can just not go your way at times.
Fleeting Memories: This card is really good for three reasons. One, it's a score immediate. Two, you can set up for it in the objective phase. Three, you have movement five on all of your fighters.
Frozen in Place: This card is nuts. Essentially if your opponent has a fighter on guard at the end of activation, yours or theirs, you score a glory.
Ghostly Torment: So I do and do not like this card. While I think the first part is fairly easy to accomplish, the second part is a bit trickier. Generally, if any of these banshees get hit, they are going to get removed from the board - it's fairly easy to one-shot fighters now. However, I think this scenario might come up more than I anticipate so I'm giving it higher rating, for now.
Inescapable Hunger: So not every board has blocked hexes, but if you take this card make sure you've got some there because this card is pretty good. Generally you'll score this after a charge. I like it, a lot. I can see why others might not though.
Nagash's Tithe: So this isn't too bad as it kind of follows your intended game plan - eliminate the enemy fighters before they eliminate yours. I just feel like the payoff should be better than one glory.
Nexus of Terror: So this card is a bit cheeky in that you can use gambit to maneuver this into your favor. I feel like that you can score this card quite often, unless you are playing against an objective based warband or Guardians. Still, it can be countered quite easily if your opponent knows you have it.
One Will: I really like the idea of scoring objective based cards after activations rather than phases. The issue is that the banshees are an aggro warband and moving to an objective rather than attacking or drawing cards to set up an attack seems a bit counter-intuitive. Furthermore, what if all the objectives on your side of the board are just even or odd?
Spectral Vortex: If two of your fighters attack the same fighter successfully, you score a glory. It kind of makes sense as the theme of the warband is to gang up on your enemy and do the whole death by a thousand cuts (and screams) thing. However, in practice I don't see that working too often as generally you want to one shot or combo into a two shot via Ready for Action. Still, I think it might have a place.
Tide of Malice: This is an interesting card but I think it kind of works. The thing is, you need at least half your warband alive and they all have to be inspired. However, your warband only inspires when they get close to the enemy which means it's easier to get killed. Interesting card - I think it can work.
Call of the Grave: This is an awesome card. There are so many applications here especially when it comes to inspiring and attacking.
Chilling Scream: We've seen this effect before on other cards. I tend to think that they are okay - you could shut down your opponent from doing something crazy or running away but I don't think it is worth the slot in a competitive deck.
Dissipate: This card is insane. You are giving your fighter a free successful roll against an attack prior to either of you rolling. That is huge, especially because you want to keep your fighters alive so that they can continue the slaughter. Just watch our for attack with Ensnare.
Echoing Spite: It's effectively a do over. For an aggressive warband, that is a godsend. Take it because you are going to need it.
Enervating Sorrow: So this card is pretty nasty. Essentially, when your opponent plays a ploy, you can make them discard a card. That in itself is huge as every card added to a deck is crucial. There's a reason why people go 10/10. The second part is that if they choose to not discard a card, the current ploy's effect is pretty much negated. For some obvious reason, that's pretty good. It also lets you know that they have something in their hand, and that they need it more than the card they just played, which gives you a bit of info in regards to their hand. The downside is that they could have a bunch of upgrades in their hand and then the card is wasted. Either way, I like it.
Frightful Aspect: It's an in-faction Distraction and that's a pretty good card. I like it and it can help with charges and even inspiring your fighters.
Shared Agony: I feel like this will most be used on Lady Harrow but that's not a bad thing. Healing your fighter while dealing a damage to an enemy for free is pretty nice. It could even help you finish a fighter off.
Soaring Spite: Yeah this is super good. Once inspired, any one of your fighters will have a movement range of ten and a threat range of eleven with just their base stats. This is a must have and can even help score objectives like Cover Ground and Inescapable Hunger.
Spectral Grasp: This is definitely a tech card. Used correctly, you can shut down your opponent's turn, especially when you can tell it was going to be a move or a charge. Does it make the cut though? I'm not so sure.
Spectral Charge: It's okay. I generally like strength inducing upgrades over ploy cards. One interesting thing to note is that it specifically states range one or two. However, all the fighters have ranged one attacks so it's neat that they are allowing you to use this with upgrades, too.
Arcane Siphon: This card is pretty tasty. In theory, you can just pop your opponent's upgrade for free. That is huge. Not only did you negate a card they put into their deck, you also made them waste spending a glory on a card. I like it, I like it a lot - especially when you take off a health inducing card like Great Fortitude or Sudden Growth and it takes the fighter out of action because they have too many wounds. Plus, you can use it more than once on a 50/50.
Debilitating Aura: This is a pretty decent card. Making it hard for your opponents that are adjacent to you, harder to hit you is pretty nice. Unfortunately, there is a lot of range nowadays so I'm not sure how useful this will end up being.
Gravesand Glass: Heal one for every time the warband takes out an enemy fighter. While I can see the appeal, I don't think it's worth the upgrade spot.
Hollow Hatred: I really like this card. It is pretty much a more balance Awakened Weapon. Sure it's only for the first attack each round, which mean you'll probably only benefit from it once or twice a game, it is something to consider since all the accuracy inducing upgrades were restricted.
Maddening Hunger: A greater sense of accuracy is always nice but only working when your fighter has a charge token is not. I'd pass.
Soul Harvest: This would be pretty neat if it were a ploy, I don't think its worth it as an upgrade though.
Soul Leech: This is kind of cool but would be worthwhile if the damage was guaranteed. For that reason, I don't think I will be taking this.
Spirit Blade: Its a very strong and unique card, I love it. Taking out an enemy fighter should be easy enough. It'll be even easier to take out a heavily armored target with this upgrade. Imagine this with Ready for Action or Great Strength!
Swooping Dash: This warband is already quite fast so bumping a fighter's movement to seven is wild but not necessarily needed. Still, if you like Cover Ground then you take this card for sure.
Veil of Grief: I dig it. An additional wound is always nice and needed for melee combatants.
Molded in the blue typical of Stormcast warbands, the Ironsoul's Condemners boast quite the nice spectacle. Sure, they're just Sequitors but they are packed to the brim with details. Each fighter is clearly unique and demonstrates solid character. I particularity like Brodus Blightbane descending down the stairs en route to smite his enemy. I will say, although this is the fourth Stormcast warband in Underworlds, they all look fairly distinct.
This particular warband is very reminiscent of the original Underworlds Stormcasts - Steelheart's Champions or rather their shield-slamming member, Angharad Brightshield. Just like her, the warband can pack quite the punch despite being quite defensively powerful. They're also quite the master of placement and maneuvering. If you can plan things out correctly, you'll enjoy great success with this warband.
Every fighter in the warband inspires in a fairly simple way - rolling a crit in either an attack or defense roll. Although that can seem a bit random, I imagine that it will happen eventually. If your luck is really that bad, that should be fine as your fighters have some fairly sturdy base stats to see them through the day.
The first ever female Stormcast leader in the game, Ironsoul is a pretty neat fighter. She boasts the typical stats that Stormcast have prior to inspiring - three movement, four wounds, and one block. Her weapon is the exact same as Brightshield's in that in has a range of one, hits on three smash, and deals two damage.
Once inspired, Gwynne jumps to two defense, hits for three damage, and gains Knockback 1. She also gains a special rule for her weapon. If her attack has a crit in it, the attack replaced Knockback 1 with Knockback 2. That means she can drive a fighter back three hexes, if she rolls a crit.
It's a neat rule to have but I don't know how useful it will be. Sure you can kind of control the board by shoving around enemy fighters but I think the real strength of hers is that she is tanky beat stick. Stick on Great Strength or Gloryseeker on her and she is taking out four wound fighters with ease.
The "Obryn" of the group, Brodus brings, along with his sense of humor, a giant mace to the battle. Like other Stormcasts, he sports four wounds, three movement, and a single block. His weapon is fairly typical as well - range one, two smash, three damage and Knockback 1.
As you can see Blightbane is your primary damage dealer. Once he inspires, he just becomes plain scary. He jumps up to four movement and gains an extra block on defense. Furthermore, he gains another attack. With both these options at his disposal, Brodus can take down any fighter he damn near well pleases. Channeled Blow is particularity useful for taking out multiple enemies at once.
Tavian of Sarnassus
Tavian is the last scion of his people and as a result, has a really cool name. Like his compatriots, he starts off with three movement, one block, and four wounds. He also has two different attack options at his disposal. I prefer the range one, three smash attack that deals two damage but if you want to use Knockback 1, the second attack can be useful.
Once inspired, Tavian gains an additional block and his Shield Rush attack bumps up to two damage while doing Knockback 2. While I still think his primary attack is better, if you do decide to use his Shield Rush, be aware that if you succeed and drive your opponent back, you have to push Tavian to an open hex near that fighter. Its interesting for sure.
Ironsoul's Condemners Cards:
Aetheric Mastery: This card can be challenging to score because it can be tough to consistently inspire. If you are able to roll hot naturally or stack some cards that help you roll more dice, it could work. On the flip side, there will be games where you roll crits like crazy and this is just super easy to get. It's definitely worth the consideration.
Forceful Banishment: This is an auto-include. Its an in-faction version of Get Thee Hence and since everyone has Knockback, it's super easy to score.
Martial Prowess: Two glory for making three successful attacks in a single phase is pretty nice. Plus, your fighters are pretty accurate. I think you take it because you can probably finesse it if you need to, but wary that it could be dead card.
Sacrosanct Purge: It's alright. Taking out two enemies reliably is a bit tough because you are slow and naturally defensive. I think there are better options out there.
Sally Forth: This is a pretty easy to score card albeit a bit limiting. However, if you are playing a defensive deck, this could work. It's slow though.
Strength in Unity: This card is fairly decent if you want an easy to score end phase card early. Just put three fighters on guard or move with three fighters in a single phase. Both those avenues are fairly reliable except the charging option.
Uncontested Might: This isn't a hold objective warband and although you can be pretty sneaky with it, it's a bit out of your hands. Also if your opponent knows you have this it can be telegraphed pretty easily.
Vengeance Satisfied: If you can take out half the opposing warband, you get two glory. If you think you can reliably take out half the opposing warband then this isn't a bad card, as it doesn't say you have to do it that turn. If the warband state is like that and you draw into, you can score it.
Vindicated Arrogance: I like this card. People will naturally go for your leader so when someone tries to attack her, whether they fail or not, if your leader survives - you get a glory at the end of the turn. I dig it.
Wrathful Blow: Oooh, a surge and a dual card! Taking out an enemy is fairly standard business, I think the hard part is doing it with a fighter that has taken a wound. For that reason alone, I think this card might actually be a bit harder to score than you think. Still, if you tank a hit and then get in there, you got it.
Your Turn!: With proper positioning you can score this card effortlessly. As long as you are aware of where you charge with your fighters, you can navigate this fairly easily. Just keep in mind that you are placing an enemy fighter next to one of yours so be smart about it.
Adaptive Tactics: I like the idea of this card - draw a card and if you want, swap out an objective. I don't think it earns a spot in your deck though.
Champions of Sigmar: If I am understanding it correctly, you are getting a free success (half support) when you use this card. However the support is only a success if you are attacking an enemy fighter adjacent to a friendly fighter. So at that point, is it even worth it? Maybe.
Fulminating Blast: An in-faction Distraction. Love it.
Improvised Blow: Essentially you get to make a free attack with a fighter already next to an enemy. A three fury, one damage attack won't turn heads but it might help finish an enemy off, especially with a upgrade like Great Strength or Gloryseeker.
Inevitable Blow: You get to give a fighter cleave or ensnare right for their next attack action. While that might be situationally seasonable, I think Blightbane's got you covered on the cleave.
Outflank: Giving a fighter the ability to push two hexes is awesome especially since it doesn't specify what kind of fighter. You can use this as an initiator or an escape. Solid.
Steadfast: A free guard action is always nice, especially if you are trying to score Change of Tactics.
Thunderous Smite: I guess this can be useful if you are fighting a high health warband. Unfortunately, I don't think this is particularly useful.
Unyielding Resolve: This is an in-faction Healing Potion and as such, does have its uses. However at this time, I think there are plethora of cards that provide more value when trying to build a 10/10 or even 11/11 deck.
Vengeful Strike: This is My Turn but on a 50/50 and because this isn't guaranteed, the value of this card drops dramatically.
Aetherically Charged Shield: This is a fairly decent card, especially if you have two block. It can help you navigate around cleave as well. It's an in-faction Trusted Defender.
Aetherically Charged Weapon: An exact replica of the Mournflight upgrade mentioned earlier, this can be good but realize that the value is quite limited here. Still, due to the potential damage output the card can be super useful if luck goes your way.
Consecrated Pendant: An in-faction Great Fortitude. Useful and welcome!
Enchanted Robes: Its like Great Speed but you also treat lethal hexes as normal hexes. The applications are quite fascinating and if you want a movement upgrade for these guys, this is the one to take. Enemy fighters hiding behind lethal hexes can't escape your rate anymore. However, no Calculated Risk for you!
Hallowed Aura: Essentially, on a 50/50, you can heal your fighter for a single point of damage should you survive the attack. Eh.
Punishing Blow: This is insane. A three smash, four damage, cleaving attack is the bane of any blocking fighter. Watch out Mollog!
Sanctified Armour: This is a permanent, in-faction twist on Potion of Constitution and is quite handy if you expect to be in the thick of it.
Soul-Hardened Shield: You get a guard token on the fighter equipped with this card before making an action with them. If you ask me, it's a bit of overkill but I suppose it can be super annoying for your opponent if you are in combat and are rolling two dice.
Spirit Flask: For the cost of an activation, you can either deal a damage to an adjacent enemy fighter or heal the equipped fighter for two and then discard it. I don't like it - it doesn't seem like it's worth the effort or space in your deck.
Stoic Stance: Not being able to be driven back is cool and can definitely mess with your opponent's plans however I am not sure if it warrants being taken for just that effect alone. I suppose if you are playing an objective based deck or really want to have absolute control on where your fighter is currently placed it would make sense, still I don't see myself taking it.
Phew! That was a lot to get through and took me a lot longer than I thought it would. I hope you enjoyed the read. I, for one, am really excited about Dreadfane. Not only is the game a lot of fun to play (I played a couples games with my girlfriend) it also signals that the game is moving in a really good direction.
I think Dreadfane was exactly what the current meta needed and I am really excited to see Beastgrave expand upon these subtle, yet powerful changes. This game looks, feels, and even reads cleaner which is awesome. I can only hope that the rules displayed here translate to the core game. I am particularly curious on getting two glory for eliminating fighters and the fact that being on guard means a fighter cannot be driven back.
So should you buy the Dreadfane box?
It really is just awesome. As someone who plays competitive games 99% of the time, the variance in play and even the simplicity has been refreshing. Furthermore, I really think people new to the game will enjoy the set. It's super simple to pick up but it's obvious that the game can be quite in-depth and extremely tactical, should you want it to be.
If you are located in the US, Dreadfane is currently up for purchase on Barnes and Noble's website. If you are located outside the US, I am afraid I am not sure how to advise you in regards to purchasing it. Your best bet is to make a friend in the US and have them order you one on your behalf, and ship it to you.
Go pick up a copy of Dreadfane and share it with a friend you've been meaning to get into the hobby. I think this is the perfect game for it and who knows, you might be able to convert him over to the core game!