|And here it is... the expansion book review you've all been waiting for!|
Well when I first got this book I expected it to be your typical new faction / extra options for old factions update book. That would have given my normal reviewing method enough of a problem as it is. But no, turns out Germans don't do half-arsed faction update books! The Deep Jungle Expansion book, is an actual expansion of the core game. So it wasn't just a case of read the new Amazon's special rules, look at the new things for established factions, and then decide if I liked it. In effect I've had to re-review the entire game system again, and make sure everything was still hunky-dory. Obviously as I'm sure you are all aware, this was a massive imposition on me, being forced to play a game I'm a self confessed fan of. Not to worry anyone though, it is still balanced, lots of fun and I can say from the outset that I actually like the changes they've made to the game. So finally this is my belated review of the Deep Jungle Expansion book, I have my machete in hand and I'm ready to cut through the undergrowth for you...
It's an expansion rulebook. The big news will be the inclusion of the new Amazon faction, with their special rules and the swanky miniatures range that has been released to accompany these lovely rules. There's also the standard new options for each of the existing factions. However, for me the real story is the slight tweaks to how the game actually plays scenery now and the inclusion of rules for combat on multiple levels. There are also rules for including 'animals' in the game and of course there are new traits and actions, mainly for the new Amazon faction, but also utilised in the original four as well. The book weighs in at 80 pages, all highly detailed colour prints with the type of satin finish I like so much. As with the main rulebook the Deep Jungle expansion book is actually a softback book, although the binding appears to be a step above most softback book bindings.
Gameplay 9 out of 10
Right so I guess I'd better start with the important stuff, the changes to how scenery works! The first thing to note is that like most things in Freebooter's Fate it's none of it 'complex' and only takes 3 pages of reading. The changes also appear to me to have been instigated to ensure that the new faction, the Amazons, actually work. Beyond that I haven't found anything that would give me cause for concern as to how these new rules have affected the previous four established factions, which if I'm honest was my main concern with the changes this book brought to the game. So far though they seem to hinder and help each faction equally, and give the Amazons some cool wiggle room to actually act differently to the four established factions and have a character all of their own. So genuinely I'm a big fan of the changes.
|This is what most of you will want the book for... Amazons.|
The first thing that has changed is that all terrain in the game now belongs to 'Terrain Classes'. The idea being that you don't place too much of any one type of 'Terrain' on the board and give any one faction too much of an advantage. The 'Types of Terrain' and how they function has been greatly expanded in terms of breadth, but in some respects this has actually simplified the game by defining more clearly the different sorts of feature we actually physically put on the table. The traits these 'Terrain Types' now posses are also more clearly defined and make significantly more sense, even though originally the rules in the Core Rulebook were, and still are perfectly serviceable and work fine. But, the scope these expanded rules for terrain mainly provide as I've said previously are an expanded 'space' within the rules for the new Amazon faction to exist.
|Some cool Goblin Pirate artwork.|
So I feel it's best to talk about how they now fit into the game? The previous four Freebooter's Fate factions all had distinct roles in many respects. The Pirates were the 'average' faction and the Imperial Armada were the clearly the 'shooty' faction. This left us with the Brotherhood being the 'close combat' faction and the Pirate Goblins being the 'wacky fun' faction. I don't mind admitting that as I saw it, the balance in the first four factions was actually pretty spot on. So where do the Amazons fit in then? Well they're the 'sneaky tricksy' faction! These scantily clad vixens can move around the board with consummate ease and perform hit and run attacks. They can be a difficult force to get to grips with... but it's clear to this gamer they're not in any way impossible to deal with. Nor are they overpowered. Many of their attacks lack the real bite or strength the other factions bring to bear. They make brief attacks, and then flit away as if they were never there.
|The photographs help explain the rules very well.|
Sure certain things in the Amazon faction can deliver an almighty kick to the groin area for sure, but as a faction they're more about a death of a thousand cuts. They're about patiently picking apart your opponents slowly but surely and safely. While the game designers have given us gamers the tools to do so with the Amazons, they haven't made it too easy for them either, and require some skill to use correctly. I've heard various gaming clichés used to describe them, but the two that have the most resonance would be 'glass cannons' and 'hit and run'. What I'm trying to say is that they have their own unique place within the game as it currently stands, and they're a very welcome gaming edition. They represent a steady and considered growth to the game system and they've been pulled off with some considerable grace and thought, while retaining the original factions balance and character, and in doing so have enhanced the overall game.
|Typically colourful page layout.|
Now I never came across this situation, but I'm sure others did. So it's great the situation has not only been clarified, but that the rules have been clearly thought out. Fighting from a higher position now confers an attack bonus from certain heights. Again it's all dealt with a paucity of words and the descriptions are easy to understand, but most importantly clearly work. But it's not all bad news for those combatants who find themselves on a lower ground, as they've added a new action called 'pull down'. See they're always thinking of the counterpoint. The other action they've added, which I like, is 'Shoulder Charge', I won't go into too much detail. In fact I'll go into none, but what I will say is that it's sneaky and utterly cool! There have also been some Special Actions added, which pretty much do what they sound like, 'Apply Poison', 'Assault Shot' and 'Sic 'em'... wait, what?
|Another example of the excellent line drawings that cover the pages of the book.|
Yeah OK, so that last Special Action might require further explanation. One of the other really cool additions to the wonderful world of Freebooter's Fate is animals. again I won't go into too much detail, but certain factions and characters have access to vicious little critters now. They have their own set of rules governing them, and they work slightly differently to normal characters. Nothing to onerous on the old grey matter, just enough to provide a different flavour and feel to proceedings. Talking of 'flavour' and 'feel' the game has of course added a whole new host of different character Traits. Obviously many are for the new Amazon faction, such as Jungle Warrior. But, not all of them! Yes OK, OK I'll get to the other factions now, they too have got lots of new toys to play with. Each faction has at least one new Captain, but the pirates have two. All factions have a few new specialists as well and many of them will almost certainly find their way into your forces. Not all factions though have new Deckhands, the Goblin Pirates being the odd ones out, as it were.
|A more colourful example of the games excellent artwork.|
So, it is a full on expansion book. Not just the usual here are a few new choices / factions and some new special rules for them. Or the additional new 'scenarios', although there are six new scenarios, which are all very welcome. No, Freebooter's Miniatures have actually added something to the core rules, and changed how the battlefield now plays. True it's not completely huge sweeping changes, or a total overhaul, but it didn't need to be. Plus fiddling with the terrain rules is normally considered brave, or foolhardy enough as it is. So I'm happy with what they've done, true the Amazons don't yet have the breadth of choice the original four factions have now, but they're not left wanting or short in any way shape or form. The new traits have allowed more new colourful characters and fun options to be added to the already very fun game that existed. So for me what was once a fun, tactical and nicely poised game has just had more of the same added to it, with a fair degree of aplomb, and is much better for it. So yeah, I think we can call it a success can't we?
Detail 9 out of 10
As with the previous rulebook, the Deep Jungle expansion book is very easy to read. At no point have I felt like I've needed to re-read any sections to make sure I've got it right. Everything seems precise and neat. As I said in my review of the original rulebook:
"The most important detail of any rulebook is how good it is at communicating the rules efficiently and effectively."
... and as before, that is accomplished exceedingly well in Deep Jungle. It's probably worth pointing out that yet again this was a rulebook written natively in German, and then translated into English. Yet it, like its older brother, reads far better than many natively written English language rulebooks. Because the language used is clear, concise and too the point, without labouring things or trying to be 'characterful'... are you reading this Matt Ward? We don't need lame ass jokes in the middle of rules descriptions! Nor do we need overly flowery prose, or ghastly inconsistencies in the language used, make some notes.
|The handy points guide to all options in the game.|
As before the design and layout of the book is great, with characterful artwork littered throughout its pages that give a real sense of the world the game attempts to recreate on the tabletop. The art direction is yet again very tight and in keeping with the themes of the original rulebook. The brilliant little short stories also make a very welcome return as well, again they are genuinely funny and set a nice tone for the game and the rest of the book as you read. Each character also yet again gets a brief introduction that seems to give them a bit of 'life', as opposed to being just another statline to read. But I haven't mentioned the two things that actually make the use of this expansion rulebook such a pleasure. The first thing lies inside the back cover of the book, and is a complete list, faction by faction of the hiring cost of every option in both books. Might seem like a simple addition, and it is, but it's a welcome one as it was missing from the original rulebook. The second though is a thing of beauty, a three page comprehensive index of all rules across both the Deep Jungle expansion book AND the original rulebook. It makes quick reference between the two books as easy as it is ever going to be with two rulebooks. As I say, they've paid close attention to the details.
|The quick reference index is a life saver at times.|
Quality 8 out of 10
The Deep Jungle expansion book is again a softcover book like the original rulebook. Again I'd prefer the book to be hardback but if it must be softback at least they've made it the best it can be. Softback rulebooks tend to fall apart after a damn good thumbing! We all know this to be a sad truth as wargamers, book fatigue being a common sight on tabletops everywhere. Usually the glue binding them is little more than some horrid gummy substance that simply isn't suitable to the harsh life rulebooks are accustomed too. Yet that's not actually the case here, the binding is as good as the original rulebook, and after both books have receiving a damn good thumbing they're still in one piece, the both of them. No loose pages. No cracked spines. So in terms of construction they're good examples of the softback book. The print quality is also exceedingly good and it doesn't smudge, even in my sweaty grubby little paws. It's also very clear and crisply reproduced and all the photographs, pictures and diagrams are clear. It's just a damn fine quality softback book. But... I'd still prefer a hardback book! I just find they're more pleasing to throw at your opponents when things start going wrong.
|There are still pirate ships on display|
Again I can't fairly score this section of the review. As I received this free of charge. It was all well packed as always and was delivered in double quick time. But, as again it's not fair of me to give a score for service, under the circumstances.
Price 7.5 out of 10
Tricky one this, because it is a good quality book, the rules are well handled and the extra options are very much welcome and don't unhinge the game at all. So why just the 7.5 out of 10? Which by the way isn't a bad score. The original rulebook contains some 112 pages for £22.50. That's roughly 20p per page. Meanwhile the Deep Jungle expansion book retails normally for around £21.60 for 80 pages, or 27p per page. Scandalous! Yeah OK so I know that cost isn't only directly proportional to the number of pages in a book, and that development time and other factors play a part too. But, I can't help but feel it's just not quite as good a value for money purchase as the original rulebook was. If you love the game like I do it still remains an essential purchase, but maybe the price could've been a bit lower.
Overall 8.5 out of 10
In conclusion I think this is a very successful expansion book. The subtle changes made to the rules work really well, and do much to enhance the game. That could have been a very different story. The fact that these rule changes also give enough scope to add some unique rules that give rise to a lively new faction is just an added bonus in my eyes. But it is the new faction that most gamers will take away from this book. The Amazons work wonderfully well within the newly expanded rules. It would have been so easy for Freebooter Miniatures to have just added another 'average' faction with whacky special rules and produced some semi-nude Amazons and be done with it. They'd have sold regardless of the effort put into the rules and background I'm sure. So it is commendable that they took their time and did them properly as a faction, and in doing so ensured they maintained the balance between the original four forces as well. That's a neat trick to pull off, and some more experienced games companies have failed at similar attempts in the past. However, should they wish to add a second expansion book to the mix, bringing the total number of books to three, they'd better think carefully about how they do that. While the index in Deep Jungle makes it as easy as possible to find things in both books, adding a third book would probably be too much. The next book should in effect be Freebooter's Fate 1.5 and have everything brought back inside the one tome as it were... but still, as things stand I'm a happy bunny. Peace out!