Guest review by the Cranky Old Gamer on the miniatures game, Deep Wars! Check out his blog for more articles.
A friend of mine, several months ago, pointed out a game he was in the process of Kick-starting an expansion to an existing “under the sea” miniatures game called Deepwars. It immediately caught my eye. I started browsing their website and I had to give it a look, and I have to say I’m pretty impressed. I’m definitely interested in spending more time with this game. Deepwars is a tactical miniatures table-top wargame set in an alternate universe, essentially a “Jules Verne” style world with Elder God tech, spells, and some steampunk elements. I painted up a starter warband, and my buddy John has been doing the same, and yesterday we got a chance to play the game and use the rules – we had a blast.
(note – marketing materials / photos below used with permission from Antimatter Games).
So far I’ve played one game, so I’m not an expert yet. But I’ve been digesting the rules before and after and I can say that the game is deep yet straight-forward mechanics. The mechanics are based on the “Song of Blades” game. Deepwars has a very compelling world and ambiance – who doesn’t love 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?
Deepwars is a sister-game to Shadow Sea, a land-based miniatures game set in the same universe. There is cross-over with some of the factions, bringing continuity to the universe as well. Deepwars however is the same universe of characters and story but in the Abyssal Depths, deep out in the sea where adventure, treasure, and danger await.
How this plays out in terms of storyline and the game’s universe is essentially a “alternate-reality” universe of 17th-century earth that has a thirst for exploration, expansion, and science. The rule book starts with some great stories to describe the world and how scientists are looking for treasure as well as Ether tech, which seems at once both magical and alien. The Deepwars world currently has four factions – The Ancients of Atalán, the Fortune Hunters, the Dark Mariners, and the Scaly Horde. These factions are all unique and distinct and appear to have very different play styles in game terms – but they all want similar things – treasures and exploration.
The Ancients of Atalán (far right, above) are the remnants of an Elder race of slim, gilled humanoids that weild arcane power, and are as enigmatic as they are ancient. The Fortune Hunters (far left, above) are what you’d consider your “normal humans” race, which rely on 17th-century technology, like dive suits and even powered dive suits, using age-aligned tech and Ether Crystals to help them in their quest to explore and find treasures beyond dreams of avarice. The Dark Mariners (middle-left, above) are said to be strange remnants of an unholy merging of bio-technological experiments, melding humanoids and sea creatures, and are both dark and menacing. The Scaly Horde (middle-right, above) is an interesting alliance of deep-sea creatures supported by summoning shamans to call creatures from the deep to help them acquire golden treasure, which they lust after even more than perhaps the other races.
Back to the rules and gameplay – this game is intended to be played with between 4 and 8 miniatures a side, and can be played between 2 and 4 players. The game is very scenario driven, with varied scenarios and even a deep and robust campaign system to level-up your warband role-playing-game style if you want. The options seem endless there for different types of games. Each faction has a starter set that seems to have a good solid core of the miniatures you’re going to want for your chosen faction.
Once you pick your faction, and your forces (games typically are between 400 points and 800 points, which is likely going to be 4-8 models, give or take), you can do any of a number of scenarios. You roll for “attackers” and “defenders”, and deploy accordingly – attackers deploy last, but get first turn. Game turns are alternate activation depending on how many “successes” you have against your model’s “Quality” – more on that in a moment. Suffice it to say, you generally have alternate activation amongst players, which keeps players engaged and the cadence of the game fluid.
It bears a bit of discussion on models and their stats. I won’t go into all the details here, as there are several stats for each model, but honestly the stat bars are pretty tight for a game this deep – and that’s a good thing. But back on topic – there are a few key stats worth noting for this this discussion.
Here’s a sample of a stat card from a warrior model from the Scaly Horde faction, for reference.
One is these “Quality” – which is essentially a metric of how capable your model is in taking the initiative and how “overall effective” it is overall in performing actions. At the beginning of your model’s activation, you get the chance to either take a single action activation (“quick activation”, OR, you can roll up to 3 dice against your Quality stat to try to get more actions in your turn. It’s a bit of a gamble – and it’s a great way to give the player a hard choice – you can either go for your guaranteed one activation (and if you succeed in having more activations than failures you can move to activate another model in your warband instead of handing the activation over to the next player… nice!), or you can try to get more actions at the risk of failing your activation all together. A player rolls 3 dice to try to get more than 1 action – if you roll above your quality on any of the dice, that’s an action you get to take. If you get no successes on your roll, you lose that model’s activation that turn, and you pass the activation over to the next guy. So a low quality stat is “good”. There’s definitely a risk vs. reward mechanic for those “high quality number” models in taking multiple actions – so pick your strategy carefully depending on that model’s situation!
Another key stat is “Combat”. Combat is a number you add to your 1d6 die roll when you attack – both players involved in a combat roll a die and add all their bonuses for various things – higher is better. You want to have a big spread between what you roll and what your opponent rolls to put damage on your opponent. Armor break is another key stat, which describes how easily you can penetrate your opponents armor.
But enough on stats – this is meant to be an overview! Many more details in the rules but suffice it to say the actual mechanics are simple, but there are many things that can modify these rolls and different ways to get effects on actions, etc, to keep things varied and interesting.
So as a game gets rolling, there are up to 10 turns in which you an achieve your scenario’s objectives. Game play was pretty brisk once you get settled into the rules. John and I played our first game this weekend and we didn’t hit all the rules in the rulebook but we did get pretty comfortable with the base mechanics, and I can tell they are quick to understand but also quite varied. I think there’s lots of tactical depth here to explore.
Antimatter Games can be found here on the web:
Also, they recently started an expansion called Blood Reef, through Kickstarter. The Kickstarter finished successfully but you can still buy in if you’re interested.
Pictures and report from our first game
So for our first game, we played a small game between Fortune Hunters and Scaly Horde. John played Fortune Hunters, I played Scaly Horde. We played the contents of the Deluxe Starter Sets for each faction, both had 5 models and had about 400-ish points in them.
Here’s John’s Fortune Hunters. These guys are deep-sea divers looking for treasure!
Here’s my Scaly Horde. These guys were a blast to paint. The leader guy is the green Dragon-man – he’s a Draconian Sea Shaman. I used him hillariously wrong in this game!
The Draconian Sea-Shaman and his horde, ready for action!
Another pic of the Scaly Horde.
And the game begins! My first activation – the Abyssal Gark (that gentleman with the trident and the very long tongue) moves up. Movement is unique in that it’s one of three standard “measurement sticks” – short, medium, and long. Most models move “medium” for an action.
My Abyssal Gark didn’t make it into combat, but the Draconian Sea Shaman did! This was a mistake – I charged his heavy trooper. Sea shaman should stay in back and summon creatures, not get into hand-to-hand with the hard-as-nails heavy armored trooper.
My Dagothanian Scavenger (the yellow fish-man there in the back, weilidng the explosive-tipped staff there) attacks his deep sea diver with the sniper spear gun. He ends up killing the spearman, and forces a morale check, with one of his models fleeing the board!
The Sea Shaman keeps getting hit by the Heavy Support Trooper in the deep dive gear. He is hard as nails! My guys struggle to crack his armor. I end up in future turns dog-piling on him to bring him down!
My alien Scientist model (that guy in the middle with the 4 arms) moves up but isn’t close enough to use his Ether-tech blaster – curses!
John’s construct moves up and fires a torpedo at my scientist – thank goodness it missed! Those things are brutal.
My steel-jawed placoderm surveys the battle – he fails to get more than 1 activation a turn and is just lazily makes his way into the fray – really need ya buddy! Turns out he is my armor-cracking model.
He swims up but doesn’t get close enough! Drat! That guy in the deep dive suit is really hard for my guys to bring down. Abyssal Gark doesn’t connect on his attack.
Another angle of the fray!
A bit wider angle…
The big fish gets in! But he rolls a “1” on his attack roll – dang it! Next turn!
Another angle – my guys are dog-piling that heavy trooper.
Top view! That Fortune Hunter construct mech moves up and fires his torpedo again and hits the fallen Sea Shaman (he keeps getting hit and fallen from the heavy trooper’s power claw). The torpedo connects and hurts a couple of my guys…
Finally my Steel-Jaw Placoderm connects with the heavy trooper and chomps him in half. At this point the heavy trooper has killed my Abyssal Gark, sea shaman and the construct clocked my Dagothonian Scavenger (not before I put a damage point on him by attacking it in the back though!). Game is really even so far and is really back and forth.
The Steel Jaw Placoderm moves to intercept the Fortune Hunter mech construct and lands a couple of lucky blows and destroys him!
In the end, the Placoderm gets his regular trooper as well, and is the last model standing in the engagement. What a game!
Wrap-up and conclusions
What a fun game. I still have much to learn and several more layers of the game we need to try, but a very successful first outing with this game and rule set. I can’t wait for our next game with more “toys” on the table.
Overall impression of the game is that the mechanics are pretty straightforward, but there lots of options and events and interactions that make the rules very deep. I think the stat cards and the way the stats work will be a new paradigm for people who have not encountered the Song of Blades mechanics before. But once you take some time to digest them and if you put some models on the table to walk through some interactions it quickly becomes apparent how they work. One thing I really loved once I got the concept was how armor cracking works. In contrast it to other games I play like 40k/30k and Warmachine – its different yet similar to how AP works in 40k, but a better mechanic – it’s not “all or nothing” – armor break nullifies “levels” of armor, but if you crack the armor, its not like your armor is completely useless, just not “as effective” against a hit that is good against armor. I liked it, it was a good balance. I also like the “one dice roll” to resolve an attack – I don’t have to roll to hit, to wound, to save armor – there’s one roll, and the modifiers to the roll, and depending on how much spread there is in the result between the two parties in combat is, defines a miss, a hit, or how hard of a hit it is – it’s pretty elegant.
I think the rules are solid and I’m interested in exploring them more. For me, however, the thing that has really inspired me is the world and the miniatures. What a wild and awesome mix of Jules Verne, Cthulhu, steam-punk tech and magic to create a very unique and satisfying game world to play in. I can already think of all the terrain and scenario projects I want to do to really bring this game to life. And, for any regular game, how cool is it to be able to use aquarium scenery as terrain? How awesome is that?
Another thing for me, lately, as a “seasoned” wargamer, is that I already have way too many games I’m invested in. I don’t really have time or energy to build up dozens (or hundreds?) of models to build an army I can “play” with. Deepwars (or Shadow Sea, I assume), is pretty low barrier to entry and you can get up to speed with a satisfying game experience with just a handful of models.
An aspect of this game that can’t be understated is it’s striking visual appeal. John and I were playing this first game of ours at MOX Boarding house in Bellevue, WA. While we were playing, several employees as well as shoppers stopped by our table and remarked how cool the game looked. This is definitely a game with “curb appeal” and I would invite anyone to step in and give it a look – the striking miniatures and terrain really transport you to the world within the story.
If you’re looking for a game that is unique and has a fresh perspective on the mechanics you’re used to in other games, I heartily recommend giving Deepwars a look. I know I will be.
Thank you for taking a look and happy wargaming!