Retro Recall: Man O’ War

April 23, 2019 by dracs

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Long ago, in a mythical age known only as "the 90s", I was spending the evening at my gaming club when one of the old guard gamers came in with a stack of boxes under their arm. They were having a clear out and decided to give away some of their old Games Workshop boxed games.

I dug through these crumbling, ancient sets with the fascination of a young Indiana Jones discovering a relic. Suddenly, I was brought up short by some colourful art. The box showed orcs and dwarfs fighting ship to ship, while in the background naval war raged. The game's title was Man o' War.

I Ship It

Man o' War was one of Games Workshop's specialised games. Set in the world of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, it stepped away from the massed ranks and skirmishes of its parent games to show the clashes happening across the oceans of the Warhammer World.

Players took control of massive fleets of ships from the various factions fighting within the world, each with its own flavour and style.

Bretonia fielded massive galleons straight out of the Age of Exploration, while dwarfs ploughed through the waves on their steamships and submarines. High Elves had graceful ships, while their Dark Elf cousins could call up monsters from the depths to ride upon. Here also we saw the orcs demonstrating their... creative flare that they became known for in the universe of 40k.

It was this diversity that really called to me with this game. I was already heavily invested in the world of Warhammer by this point, but the ships of Man o' War showed me the cultural differences and beliefs of the different factions in a way the land battles didn't allow for.

Searching For Sunken Treasure

I took that starter box home with me. That weekend, while caravanning in Norfolk, myself and a friend of mine tried to puzzle the game out on the linoleum floor of the caravan kitchen.

Sadly, we never managed to get a game. This was largely my fault as, instead of leaning the rules, I found myself constantly distracted by the different snatches of background and illustrations of the various ships you could field.

The game was already long out of print by the time I got a hold of it, and the core set itself only provided very basic ships to learn to play with. However, I remember looking in every hobby store about me for a Dwarf Dreadnought, or a Dark Elf Doomreaver.

Man o' War leaves me in the odd place of being nostalgic for a game I have never actually played. I don't believe it would be far-fetched to say that this game is responsible for first sparking my interest in naval warfare and pirates, and left me wondering just what could lurk in the depths of the Warhammer seas.

Where Is It Now?

As with many of Games Workshop's specialist games, Man o' War sadly went the way of the dodo. It still maintains a popular following among gamers, but it is very difficult to find a game if you want to try.

Games Workshop did make one memorable attempt to feed the need for Man o' War with their boxed game Dreadfleet back in 2011, which were, coincidentally, some of the first videos I appeared in for Beasts of War.

Gah, I was so awkward!

However, Dreadfleet failed to meet the expectations of its forebear. True, the game brought us some cool characters and great ship models. But it was more board game than miniatures game, following set stories and scenarios with specific characters, rather than letting you field your own mighty fleet.

Man o' War also saw a surprising return in video game form with the launch of Man o' War: Corsair on Steam.

It's a game I have been curious to try, for its heritage alone, but I'll admit that what I've seen of it has left me feeling underwhelmed.

There have been rumours, however, that we might see a return of the game for the Age of Sigmar setting. In a world that includes factions like the Idonneth Deepkin, this would be really cool to see. While it might lose a lot of the character of its original, Age of Sigmar is such a broad setting that a naval combat game would undoubtedly lead to some imaginative ships and monsters.

Do you think an Age Of Sigmar Man o' War would work?

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