Deepwars by Antimatter Games Review

Today we’re going to take a look at Antimatter Games DeepWars, a 28mm miniature war  game of underwater combat set in an alternate Earth in the 17th Century. I’d like to give a shout out to Eric over at Antimatter Games for sending us their game for us to take a look at.

Deepwars is actually Antimatter’s second game. The first game is called ShadowSea. ShadowSea tells the story of intrepid human explorers finding an underground realm full of alien technology and tremendous treasures. Some of the technology found are these mysterious crystals used to power all sorts of machines and equipment. This gives the game its “crystalpunk” aesthetic, which is  pretty awesome. All of the guns and powered dive suits are studded with these crystals, they make the world go around.

 

The humans also encounter a race called Dracolids, a race of humanoid dragons. Seeking access the human lands, the Dracolids formed an alliance with some of the undersea races called the Scaly Horde in a bid to escape their underground lands. A motley mix of all sorts of undersea beasts and monsters The Horde serve as the primary antagonist. There are also the Ancients of Atalan, a splinter of an ancient race, recently returned. While not physically the strongest, they possess a natural affinity for being underwater, and superior technology. They are very ornate and slim, very elvish.

Dracolid Brute
Atalan Sorceress

 

The Dark Mariners are another antagonist faction. Also an offshoot of a fallen eldar race, their technology lags behind Atalan, but they make up for it in mutations and summoning of horrors from the great beyond. They are very obviously inspired by the Cthulhu mythos, tentacles galore. The fourth and final faction is the human Treasure Hunters. Seeking glory and treasure on the bottom of the sea, they come equipped with jury rigged crystal tech, and armored 17th century diving suits.

Human Fortune Hunter
Dark Mariner Deep Soldier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unit profiles are on cards containing all rules and stats, as well as a damage grid, and any gear the model has. Very similar to Warmachine, the cards manage to have a lot of info, without being crowded or confusing. The two main stats are Quality and Combat. Quality is a measure of how “good” a model is. A high quality model will have better reflexes, and typically get more actions than a lower one. Quality is sometimes called for to make specific checks, for example, avoiding being exploded by a sea mine.

 

Combat is an all encompassing fighting stat, it covers both shooting and melee, attack and defense. There are also 3 minor stats:Strength, Resistance,Will. Strength is a measure of how strong a model is, used for lifting, dragging, smashing obstacles, and other physical tests. Resistance is how physically tough a model is, used to avoid special effects from enemy attacks like being electrocuted by a giant electric eel. Will is how mentally tough a model is, as well as its resistance to magic, used to avoid fleeing from combat and resisting magic.Models also have a melee combat modifier, a ranged combat modifier, and an armor value. The cards also contains any special equipment, weapons, and abilities a model has. Overall a very solid, and easy to use reference.

 

To activate models on a player’s turn, a player has to make a choice. Models are activated one at a time typically, and a player activates models until the turn passes to the other player. A player may chose to make a “quick activation” which allows a model to make a single action (move, shoot, etc.) but has no chance to end the turn. The player may also roll up to 3 dice in a quality check to increase the number of actions a model gets.  For each die rolled at or above a model’s Quality value, that model gets 1 action. However, on 2 or more failures, the turn passes to the other player. So you may miss out on activating models. There is a definite strategy involved in how and when to activate models.

 

Models can also be activated in groups. If they are a group of identical generic models, or if they are commanded by a character. In this case, you must make an activation roll using the worst quality in the group, and all models get the number of actions earned by the roll. There are also group melee and ranged attacks similar that are very powerful.

 

All combat is determined by the same stat. For melee, it is an opposed roll. The attacker and defender both roll a d6, add their combat ability, and any other modifiers they have. Whoever has a higher score here, attacker or defender, has a chance to wound a model. If the difference in the combat scores fail to exceed the losing models armor, it is knocked back, and all models gain a +2 to attack it for the rest of the turn. If the combat score difference exceeds the armor value it does a wound and knocks the loser down. If a model has its armor value doubled or tripled by the winner, the loser receives 2 or 3 wounds. Ranged attacks are handled very similarly. There is no opposed roll, however there are more modifiers for range, cover, target size and other factors.

 

The mechanics for the game are solid, but nothing special. They play fast, and have lots of options I haven’t discussed above, but the mechanics are not where this game shines. Currently we have a lot of big games stripping down and streamlining the options. This game goes in the opposite direction. There are options galore. A lot of mainstream games are sorely lacking a strong narrative component. We play them more for the competitive side. This game could be played in a competitive setting, but I think as a narrative focused game it really shines.

 

The amount of missions available in every flavor is mind boggling. There are 7 base mission types with a huge variety of zones for these missions to take place in. Are you hunting for treasure in the shallows, or attacking an enemy base at the bottom of the pitch black Abyssal zone. The Blood Reef expansion adds onto this with more missions, more zones, and the ability to play amphibious games. Each zone has a separate set of rules for things such as light levels that really add flavor.

 

Each zone has tables to help set up the battle with appropriate scenery, hazards, and predators. The depth here is unbelievable. My personal favorite is a rotting whale carcass which sank is a piece of scenery in the abyssal zone. It acts as a normal piece of scenery, except models who stray to close may be consumed by the hagfish that are scavenging the corpse. A way to dispose of the danger however is an explosive weapon. That may clear the hagfish, but it throws a huge cloud of whale gore into the water lowering visibility further, and has the chance to attack an even deadlier beast like a Kraken to the fray. There are tons of examples like this, but as you can see the depth is unreal. When properly laid out, the tables feel alive.

The core book has rules for tournaments and regular skirmishes of varying sizes.. It also has 3 different sets of campaign rules, that are easy to use, but fairly deep. You can play a solo campaign against the beasts of the sea, a more traditional competitive warband vs. warband campaign, or a co-op campaign vs. a player acting as the Gamemaster. Your warbands grow and evolve, leveraging the treasures they find for greater power, or they may wither and be consumed by the depths.

 

The blood reef expansion adds more gear, weapons, missions, and zones. It also adds a new faction the Nereids, a race of merpeople. There are also several new models for existing factions  and new sea monsters to stalk players.

 

My speed painted starter boxes

 

Fighting underwater also gives the game a unique feel. Models can move in any direction, including up or down. However ascending or descending too quickly may kill a model. Visibility is often restricted as well, as the water absorbs much of the surface light. Both of these case highlight how model special rules impact the game. Certain special abilities allow models to change depth faster and safer than others. There are also a variety of senses models have. The Gurk for example, are blind, and use echolocation to find prey, suited perfectly for the dark depths they inhabit. Some models are reliant on the light they carry with them and have limited visibility. There are also other equipment quirks, such as the humans dive suits. If they aren’t properly reinforced some humans risk explosive decompression if they take damage at depth. Again more examples of the hundreds of little things that make this game feel so narrative and alive.

 

The physical copies of the books are of impressive quality. They are softcover, but pretty sturdy. The text is clear and easy to read, with a useful index and table of contents. They come with a brief fluff section, and come with lots of diagrams and picture examples of the rules interactions. The art in the book is cohesive and gorgeous. It is very evocative of the setting, and really helps set the mood. Blood Reef is exactly the same. Easy to use, full of info, and very pretty. I was also sent a painting guide. It covers some of the Scaly Horde models, and is very in depth on the “studio” paint scheme. Easy to understand,and with lots of examples, Id recommend picking it up if you’re a serious painter.

 

The model quality is kind of hit and miss. You can definitely tell the older and newer models apart. Some of the models are just too static, especially some of the Atalans. Most of the models are above average, and some like the Beast of Blood Reef are jaw dropping. Each model comes with a base,and a scenic base insert which for a lot of models is integral in mounting the model so it looks like it is swimming. This is a pretty neat feature, and makes have attractive basing a snap. The models range from tiny and frail, to massive. Some of the bigger characters and monsters are massive.

Beast of Blood Reef, 145mm nose to tail

Most models are metal, but some are resin. Their resin is fantastic. Easy to assemble and the sculpts are awesome. The metal can be difficult to handle as all metal models are. Some models have tiny connection points that make pinning impossible. There are also tiny bits like the air hoses on the Atalan backpacks that I just left off after breaking 3 trying to bend then into place. Some of the models poses also limit the amount of contact with the base like the Deep Caller, resulting in a bit of fragility. They arent the most difficult metal models Ive ever assemble (im looking at you Infinity) but they aren’t easy. It took me about 4 serious evenings to assemble and paint two starter boxes and two additional resin models.

Elluvi Darkeye, leader of the Dark Mariners, 120mm by 50mm model of awesome

The starter boxes are a good value.  A 300 point warband (the standard recommended value) of four models for about $45. The box comes with starter rules and the cards. So for a $45 buy in you can be playing regular sized games.

 

Most infantry come in at $10-20 with the bigger characters and beasties around $50, and a few models in the $20-45 range. I feel the models are fairly priced, especially the bigger models. The terrain they sell, strikes me as expensive however.  The 11” X 14” ruined temple for nearly $225 seems super excessive, as do the giant mushrooms at $10 a pop. I understand resin is expensive and these are premium items, but they dont seem to fall in line with the rest of the pricing. The core book comes in at $30, which I think is a great deal,and Blood Reef is just $17. The game is fairly cheap to play, the model count is low, and the models priced fairly.

 

Overall I was a huge fan of the game. The mechanics worked well, but the flavor was amazing. There are some many little things to keep track of, but none of that felt meaningless or tedious. The options are a bit overwhelming sometimes, but I feel that would lessen with more practice. The themes and aesthetics are solid and cohesive, and the setting is unique. As a big competitive gamer, playing this game was quite a change from what I normally enjoy. I found myself settling in for an interactive story more than a contest, even at starter box level. I see a lot of negative comments online about how simple the mechanics are, but that is not the strongest point of Deepwars. The game is so vibrant and alive, its very different from a lot of things out there. I really recommend checking this game out. The buy in is low, and it is very different from what a lot of us are out there playing, its very refreshing to see a different approach work.

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