Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Review: Freebooters Fate Rulebook

The obligatory shot of the rulebooks front cover

So a few people have asked me to actually do a review of the Freebooters Fate rulebook. And as I own the book, and have played a fair few games now it's not a major imposition. As with my Pirate starter set, the rulebook was sent to me free of charge by Freebooters Miniatures to review. Given the last game I was gifted for review was Dreadfleet that could be seen as a pretty brave move. I do think though that I would almost certainly have brought the rulebook and some starter sets myself eventually. Simply because it's pirates and as Phil Kelly says, who doesn't love pirates? Good God how did they get Dreadfleet so wrong, it had pirates in it...

Product Description

So what do you get? Well obviously without wanting to labour the point too much it's a book. It's a typical softback glue bound affair that I'm sure wargamers are more than used to. It's roughly A4 sized. The cover isn't a glossy cover that you might be used to seeing on say a 40K Codex, it's somewhere between a matte and a satin finish. Like the recent Hell Dorado rulebook if you've seen that or the Malifaux books. Inside though the pages are on a nice glossy paper, and the print is in full colour. There are 112 pages in total, although 3 of them at the back are reserved for notes. Otherwise it is crammed with information, stories and of course those all important rules.

Gameplay 8 out of 10

I have played more than enough games now, against multiple opponents to be able to judge it as a product. What strikes me about the game is just how simple the mechanics actually are. And how quick the game is to play at roughly 300 to 500 doubloons, which appears to be the standard points value range for games to me. When I first read the rules I felt that the targeting of body parts might have been a bit 'gimmicky' and indeed might have slowed things down. But actually it flows pretty nicely and doesn't slow things down that much at all, in fact it's actually a really nice focal point to the game and adds a good sense of drama. My other concern was scenery. After reading the game and the rules for cover, movement etc. I was unsure about how much or how little scenery was required. Here is the first thing and pretty much only thing that might make people wary about starting the game. I think it requires a fair amount of scenery. Also a specific type of scenery. If you've ever played Necromunda then you'll know what sort of set up a good game of Freebooters Fate requires.

Pirates and Goblins do battle across a rickety bridge

I have played with flat level fantasy terrain, the stuff you'd maybe play games of Warhammer Fantasy with, or Anima Tactics. Simple line of sight blocking terrain. Those games have actually been fine and indeed enjoyable enough, but throwing in some totally out of place looking Micro Art and Sarissa Precision walkways and all of a sudden the game opens up a whole lot more! The terrain for Freebooters Fate does need to be multiple level, it does need to allow you access to buildings and there needs to be a fair amount of it. Maybe somewhere between 40% and 50% of the board actually covered. Not just with buildings either but jungle trees, water features, walls and other sorts of tropical Island based terrain. It's no where near as intensive as say Infinity is on the Terrain requirements. But whereas Infinity now has third parties producing quick and simple terrain suitable for use with that game system, Freebooters Fate isn't in the same boast.. haha... boat, get it? Yeah it's not that funny is it? Fine, fine, I'll get my coat.

For some of you that bit of information will most certainly be a bit of a turn off. However, for many I'm sure the opportunity to whip out some foam card, balsa wood and other modelling materials is positively exciting. I have to admit, like Hell Dorado before it, Freebooters Fate has got my arts and crafts side all excited again. It might require a little bit more work to get a nice looking, playable board, but to me it just makes Freebooters Fate a more all round complete hobby experience. I'll be looking at doing some quick scenery articles over the coming weeks. I just thought before I went any further with what I've found the game mechanics to play like, I should put this information up front. Once you have this sort of set up though, the type you see on the rulebooks pages, the game is very rewarding. It offers a very quick and fun set of game mechanics, that actually has a serious amount of hidden depth behind its simple appearance. There is a new expansion book for Freebooters Fate called 'Deep Jungle'. I don't really have a clue as to how that effects proceedings, or what the new Amazon faction does to the balance of the game. But, the core rulebook provides a slick, tactical and well balanced game that most wargamers will pick up quickly and enjoy!

The Imperial Armada defend a ruined temple from a Goblin assault.

In the Core rulebook there are four factions. The first obviously being the Pirates. This faction are the games all rounders. They have a pretty good selection of ranged combatants and some pretty handy fighters for when things get up close and personal. They are the quintessential average faction. Next up would be their closest enemies or their nemesis, the Imperial Armada. The Armada play quite differently to the Pirates. For starters if an Armada player allows things to get too close and too personal they're likely to get chopped to pieces by their opponents, whereas pirates can usually hold their own. These guys are the ranged combat specialists and they're the best at it in the game, bringing an impressive amount of guns to the table. The dynamic between the two back stories main protagonists is actually an interesting one on the table. They seem, on an appropriately constructed board, to be quite a good match up. Although the Armada's superior ranged combat makes them more defensive, the Pirates can certainly hold their own at range in a gunfight. Thus allowing their close quarters experts the opportunity to flank their opponents and wreak havoc at close quarters. This dynamic actually gets to the heart of Freebooters Fate as a game, it's all about movement and positioning and planning your tactics out in advance.

Captain Rosso and his motley crew take an early afternoon stroll... yeah right!

The polar opposite of the gun toting imperialists though are the Brotherhood. The assassin faction of Freebooters Fate. These shadowy, clandestine murderers are all about getting up close to their opponents and brutally murdering them in hand to hand combat. No other faction can boast martial prowess anywhere near as good as what these assassins can, with their poisoned blades and other nasty tricks. Against the Pirates they force them onto the back foot for a change, as they'll invariably have to go defensive against their masked attackers brutal onslaught. The Imperial Armada might be set up well to deal with the Brotherhood, but these games invariably end up quite close and tense affairs. As once the Brotherhood get in amongst the Imperial ranks they rip them to shreds with ease. So often it can be about throwing speed bumps in the assassins way, or just sending sacrificial lambs to their inevitable slaughter to try and draw the assassins from the shadows and out into the open. For the Brotherhood player it'll be about moving quickly and quietly from cover to cover. Picking your approaches and targets carefully, because if you get it wrong, you will get shot to pieces.

A group of feisty Amazons attack some pirate interlopers.

The final full faction are the Goblin Pirates. Again these guys are actually not bad all rounders, in terms of having some good ranged weaponry and some pretty handy close combat specialists. BUT they like their quirky toys. The Goblins don't just roll into battle with pistols and cutlasses, nope they carry giant crabs on their backs and walk into war on stilts. They're certainly 'characterful'. Just because they're another sort of all round faction doesn't mean they play anything like the standard Pirate faction. They do have some very cheap deckhands to bulk their numbers out, and although they can't quite get to 'horde' levels, they're certainly able to do swarm tactics with their superior numbers. What is interesting though is that their specialists tend not to be all that much cheaper than the other factions specialists. They also tend to have more potent 'tricks' than standard profile superiority often found with other factions specialists. It's all about distraction and providing too many targets so that you can get your damage dealers into position against your opponents. They're fun to play with, and importantly against. But strangely for a Goblin faction, they seem to be the glass cannons of Freebooters Fate, which is certainly a break from typical wargaming conventions. I like it!

Another image filled page.

Each faction also has access to some mercenaries, who can bolster any potential weaknesses you feel your chosen force might have. They aren't however a full faction in their own right. So that covers the dynamics between the core factions found within this rulebook. So what about the mechanics? Well they're all pretty simple and straight forward. Each character has a set number of stats. There are 6 main ones that are attached to corresponding body parts:

  • Movement, Legs
  • Attacks, Head
  • Defence, Abdomen
  • Strength, Right Arm
  • Strength, Left Arm
  • Toughness, Torso

There is a wounds counter as well, that also doubles as a morale checker. Each body part has an higher or 'standard value', and a lower value for when it has taken a critical hit. But those are the raw basics. When attacking an opponent you will target various parts of their body. This is to see if your attack gets through. Both players have a set of 6 special cards that corresponds to the various body parts. The attacker will select a number of cards equal to their attack statistic, while the defender will pick a number of cards equal to their defence statistic. However, with these body parts having various attributes attached to them it's not quite as straight forward as a game of snap for the defender or the attacker.

The Queen of Shadows moves stealthily with her entourage

For instance, if your warrior has a really powerful weapon in their right arm, or perhaps they're really quick. As a defender you really need to defend that primary weapon, if you want to keep them as an effective tool. Or if they're a speed demon their legs. As an attacker you can either assume that your opponent will defend their star attributes or, gamble on the fact that they won't and try to cripple an area by getting a critical on it. This adds a serious sense of tactics and strategy to proceedings because it's not just about randomly selecting which areas to defend and attack. You have to be shrewd, cunning and a bit tricksy about it. It's a clever and simple mechanic. So how do you then damage your opponent? Well it's actually quite simple. The attacker draws a card and then adds the strength of their attack, either their arm strength if it's close combat or their RAV (Ranged Attack Value) of their weapon if it was a ranged attack. The defender meanwhile adds their Toughness value to a card they draw. If the attackers value is equal too or lower than that of the defenders total, then the attack does no damage. If it is greater than the defenders value, then the amount of damage taken is equal to the difference. It really is that simple.

The rulebook isn't just a 'wall' of text.

So how do you do critical hits to an area? Well there are a number of ways this can happen. The first involves the margin of difference in damage value. Lets say I caused 5 damage on somebody, and lets for arguments sake say it was on their right arm. I would draw an extra card from the deck, and if the score on the face of that card was equal to or lower than the amount of damage I'd caused, in this case 5, I'd cause a critical hit on the right arm. This would drop the value of the statistic attributed to that body part down to the lower value, if it was the first critical the area had suffered. The other way to cause critical hits is during the body part targeting phase. If during this phase I pick two or more body parts that my opponent doesn't defend then I get an opportunity to cause an automatic critical hit. You can only ever target 1 body part with an attack in Freebooters Fate for causing damage. But scoring 2 or more hits is important, as you then get to choose the body location to damage. And if you damage it then that body part takes an automatic critical hit. No need to flip a card for it.

An Imperial Armada gun line plan to lay waste to some pirates.

Critical hits aren't just important in terms of lowering your opponents capabilities either. Although that in itself can seriously hamper a characters effectiveness on the battlefield. No, if an area takes 2 critical hits then the model is removed from play. If a model takes 3 critical hits to 3 separate body areas then the miniatures is also removed from play. The final way to remove a miniature from play would be to exhaust the wounds of a miniature. As I said, although it's ostensibly a very simple and easy to learn mechanic, it does add a significant level of tactics to the game. The bluff and counter bluff that goes on during attacking and defending can be really good fun at times, if a little bit stressful at key moments in the game. Obviously I've only scratched the surface of the core mechanics of the game, as I'm not here to re-write the rules out for you, just give you a strong taste of what the game is about. The other thing I should mention is that the game uses centimeters, as opposed to inches for measuring and has some pretty involved and clever movement mechanics for clambering around scenery and terrain. It's all very well realised in terms of a 'game' and there aren't any things within the core rules that cause me or my friends any confusion.

It's a pirate game, so there was bound to be some ships!
The games scenery rules and movement rules are unsurprisingly very closely interwoven, and as such different types of layout on the board really do effect how the game plays. This is always a sign of a good rules system for me. that the scenery we throw down on the table isn't just there to look pretty and provide a backdrop. It plays an integral part in proceedings and gives you as a gamer a very simple way to mix your playing experiences up a bit. The last thing to cover I guess is that the rulebook also provides 6 pretty varied scenarios, and its easy to come up with  variations on a theme off of these 6 basic missions. I think the scenarios are needed as well because playing simple straight forward pitched battles, will A) eventually get boring and B) as with all games lead to an eventual scrum somewhere on the board, and depending on set up potentially favour one side over another. On the whole though it's a well thought out game that has a consistent and balanced approach. There aren't any major 'what the hell' moments and it all runs smoothly and is easy to grasp. But don't let that fool you, there is a hidden depth to proceedings.

A typical page layout
Detail 9 out of 10

The book is a smashing read. Quite often recently I've been left a tad bemused by the language or structure of a few rulebooks and supplements. The most important detail of any rulebook is how good it is at communicating the rules efficiently and effectively. For a rulebook that was written natively in German this is a splendid translation... no scratch that actually. Regardless of whether or not Freebooters Fate was originally written in German, this English language version is quite frankly significantly better written than many natively written English rulebooks. Not once have I looked at a sentence and thought, what the hell do they mean there? Or, Jesus H Christ that was a long winded way of saying you can't do that! It flows very well and is mercifully brief and to the point. The copious use of excellent diagrams to explain the rules is also a massive boon. Honestly, my friends and I have all simply read the rules once and got on with playing the game. No fuss, no confusion and absolutely no hassle.

A fairly typical two page layout found within the rulebook itself.

Even when you are a bit stuck on what to do when first learning the game, or can't quite remember exactly what to do next, the ordering of the book is superb and again helps out. On page 3 is a single contents page that tells you where every section is in the book. Nothing too revolutionary I guess. The fact that each section is so clearly labelled, and that the book is so well organised, means that you can very quickly find the required section and relevant rules in no time at all. It all makes sense and there's no hoping backwards and forwards between different sections trying to work out what the hell just happened and what you need to do. It makes sense. The rules start on page 14 and extend to page 43. That's only 30 pages of rules, many of which are covered in stylish artwork, pictures and diagrams that help explain the game to you with visual examples. It really is that concise and condensed. There's no excessive use of flowery language or convoluted prose, it's straight to the point and actually conveys some quite detailed concepts and rules with consummate ease. It really helps that the rules are so clear when doing intro games because you never look like an idiot flipping through the book! You hardly have to, and when you do it's easy to find what you are looking for.

The second job for any rulebook is to convey a sense of the game universe. It's tone and character. There are obviously a number of ways to do this. First and the most often used is the artwork. Many people flick past the artwork in books without ever paying much attention too it. But it does seep into your mind. This Freebooters Fate Rulebook is crammed to bursting with pretty pictures of minitures battling it out on evocative gaming boards. There are also plenty of concept sketches, that the various miniatures are based on too. Honestly, all these images just make you want to build a pirate port town. Or some tropical jungle board and stuff it full of characterful miniatures. Even the pages themselves give a sense of pirately atmosphere, looking like they are printed on aged parchment like they do. Obviously there's also the colourful and stereotypical pirate language too, but it all just adds to the feel of the game. The best atmosphere creators though are the short stories that are littered throughout the book. They're simply put bloody brilliantly entertaining, and at times genuinely funny and amusing. The whole book gives you a great sense of what the game is and what its world is about. So not only does the rulebook do its primary job of communicating the rules well, it also imparts a great sense of the World Freebooters Fate takes place in.

The lovely Queen of Shadows concept sketch.
Quality 8 out of 10

The book itself is actually one of the better produced softback rulebooks I've seen in recent years. Yeah so it appears to be glue bound, which I don't like. But, my rulebook has been handed around and leafed through many times, as I've run intro games and pimped it out to various people. The pictures you see are of a book that has been carried with me in my luggage to and from London on a train. To multiple gaming clubs and has been loaned to a number of friends as a cunning ploy to lure them into playing yet another game with me. I think for a softback book it's stood up to this punishment actually really, really well so far. The glue binding doesn't show any of the tell tale signs of 'cracking' that can so often happen. True I'd prefer a stitched hardback book if I'm going to carry it around with me, but on the other hand they do tend to weigh more. All in all it's well constructed and print quality is crisp and clear. It hasn't fallen apart and it is printed on good quality paper. I've also only found one typing error as well on page 19. Where it says the rules for hiring crews can be found "on page 000". Obviously this was meant to be changed once the print layout was set. However, the fact it's the only error I can find is a testament to how much time and attention was spent on it. Because in other rulebooks and expansions of late I could write entire articles on the errors contained within them!

Service N/A out of 10

Again, I can't really comment on the service I received for this product can I? Freebooter Miniatures sent me this free of charge, and although it came wonderfully well packaged can I really judge that? Nope. So you'll have to insert your own score dependant on who you use to buy your goods, and the service they provide. although I will say that on the basis of the packaging my stuff arrived in, I wouldn't hesitate to use Freebooter's Miniatures directly. As it was all packaged really, really well.

Price 8 out of 10

Obviously you can't beat a bit of free can you? However, most of you will have to hand over your hard earned cash for this or wait for your birthday to come round! The Freebooters Fate rulebook is comparatively and competitively priced at a good solid price of £22.50 at both Firestorm Games and Maelstrom Games. So it's in the same price bracket as many other such skirmish based games rulebooks are. No doubt other online and high street retailers will match the £22.50 price tag too, some may even beat it if you shop around. The book is good quality, reads well and is a solid set of fun rules. I'd say it's worth the asking price.

One of my favourite concept sketches from the rulebook
Overall 8.5 out of 10

I have enjoyed playing Freebooters Fate with my friends, and I think they've enjoyed being introduced to it. Or at least I hope they have. Because yet again I've forced them all to buy factions. Not that it took much arm twisting to be honest with you. After all it is Pirates! There is a bit of a niche in the market for a good solid fun pirate game. There is also a niche in the market for well built small scale skirmish games. Especially as Malifaux continues to grow the size of investment you need to make
personally to remain competitive, and up to date with everything. It really has vacated that 'other game' market it occupied so effectively. So does Freebooters Fate step into that breach for me? I think it's fair to say that it does. Not because of the card mechanic either, it's not a lazy comparison in that regard. It's because it is a small scale game that doesn't take itself too seriously and is lighthearted fun. You can just pick this game up and play. Yet it does have a hidden depth to it and some quite clever tactics at play with the targeting mechanic. Right now the factions feel about 'right'. Sure there are some skills that make you wince when you realise what they do, but hey once bitten twice shy. It could become overly bloated and unwieldy like Malifaux has of course, if more and more elements are randomly added to the game. But the thing is I don't think it will, because the special rules in the main are universal and you're simply dealing with known quantities and playing with different statlines. The care and attention taken with writing the core rules also speaks of a game system that has been carefully planned, not just tacked onto a miniatures range. It remains a tight rule set that I can deal with in a small pick up and play game. However, the biggest reason I think it's worth a look is that it is simply good fun to play. Peace out!


  1. Replies
    1. You really won't regret it. I've had so much fun with this game already it's untrue. It's loads of fun to sit and watch too, very entertaining to see people go at it and there are some very tense moments with the damage and body part targeting as it comes down to the nitty gritty. Very entertaining indeed!

  2. Sigh...
    I love the look of this game.
    The art is fantastic, and the game mechanics sound interesting.
    And it's pirates...

    It's a rare game where I can look at the factions and be totally stumped on which one is the coolest, but damn...all of the factions seem pretty cool, and have pretty cool models.

    Must. Fight. Urge.

    1. SinSynn, I'm really sorry I've tempted you yet again. But the game is a barrel of laughs and it lets you shoot people in the family jewels. Seriously, it's just such a riot to play. Taking somebody out with too critical shots to the man parts is just too God Damned hilarious. The factions are brilliant too. Each of the four I've seen so far have their own unique play stay and character. Although I haven't seen the rules for the Amazons the miniatures look fantastic.

    2. You're not sorry, you pimp.

    3. No you right playa... or are you my bottom bitch? :P

      Yeah I've been watching gangster movies recently. Not sure a middle class white boy from England can pull that off though... so I won't even bother trying! lol.

    4. S'okay....I can't do the 'Neds' thing either.
      Gangstas and thugs on both sides of the pond are pretty darned funny, though....
      If they weren't so tragically stupid.

  3. ahha!! you are trying to sell me something i already have!

    i second the positive review of the book though, it is a bloody good read and very clear on the rules

    1. Well you could always buy it again!!! :P

      I'm glad Ive got somebody else backing me up on the books quality though. My friends and I all think it's actually rather splendid, and it's certainly a rather splendid game. Honestly we've not had any rules confusions, sure there were a few and what now moments with some of the more weirder special rules, but look at the cards read the book and 60 seconds later we were back playing the game. And now we don't even need the book. Bloody brilliant.

  4. Damn you and your awesome make me want things even more than I already do!

    I actually tried to borrow Robin's from him the other night but he can't find it so I guess I'm gonna have to buy my own copy :)

    p.s he says he will email you at some point, he's been busy finishing up the rules and planning his Salute boards.....

    1. Ah well, at least you'll have your own copy! :P

      It's a good fun little game. Cheers for the heads up about Robin. I'll keep an eye out for his email, although my inbox has been swamped of late. I'm 3 days behind on responses, which is good. 2 to 3 weeks ago I was 6 to 7 days behind, so I'm catching up at least.

  5. AAAAnd now I have yet another mini game to buy. Thank sir! Perhaps I should I drop a system to balance it out? hmmmm.

    1. Depends on what you're going to drop though doesn't it? I actually think Freebooters Fate, given how slick and easy it is to learn was able to fit into my head no problem. Plus it doesn't ask a lot of your bank balance.

  6. The art and presentation are simply awesome.

    I doubt I will get it as I am quite keen to mess round with Puppets in Relic for a wee bit but maybe just one of those goblins dressed as a crab...

    Also insert "defence of Dreadfleet" here : )

    1. I love the Goblin with the giant crab on his back. Superb miniature. I'd forgotten about Relic, see just so many interesting options out there right now.

  7. Hmm, I have a massive pile of Black Scorpion pirates sitting around and plenty of warmachine minis - is this game playable using other companies' minis or do you need stat cards specific to blister packs of Freebooter minis?

    1. The stats and special rules for the various options are in the rulebooks so you could cobble some stuff together if you wanted too. Bit the cards are sort of important in how the game plays. I'm not sure if you can download the cards though. I'm sure you used to be able to. Sorry I can't be of more help than that. Personally I'd say buy the mini's as they're brilliant, but I'm more than aware times are tight. You will need a deck of playing cards though. Those are non-negotiable.

    2. It's not that times are tight, so much as I simply can't justify or fit any more minis :D

    3. Ak yes... the lack of space that is the curse and bane of many a hobbyist... if only I had my own tardis!!!

  8. Hi there

    Firstly great review, secondly I notice that the models come with a card with the stats on it for each figure. Do you need the cards or are the stats reproduced in the book. I ask as I have a large collection of pirate figures and will probably use them instead of buying the ones for the game (ok maybe the goblins but no others) so won't be collecting the cards.