The Central Planets are lost
The Scourge are conquering all before them, and assimilating everything in their path.
Humankind has been forced to flee to the outer colonies, slowly building and reforming. Now, the embers of revenge burn brightly…
Product: Dropzone Commander
Company: Hawk Wargames
Dropzone Commander Review
This was a longer review than intended, and as such the regular Opinions section has been split into this separate post.
Dropzone Commander leaves me with an interesting conundrum. I love 10mm scale, and I love the look and quality of the miniatures, they are excellent. Just looking at the miniatures and the painting pages makes me want to get my UCM on the table (love the look of Archangels gunning down a target!)
The gameplay though still reminds me of a basic IGOUGO game (no surprises really), and can sometimes stagnate if you don’t do a good job of using your dropships. Vehicles are understandably slow, as the aim is to use your dropships to manoeuvre. I think in theory this is great, but perhaps the execution may need a little tidying up (my main issue stems in not being able to shoot from deployment and dropships only moving half movement when you deploy).
This leads me to loving the look of the game but being slightly frustrated at gameplay at times. Maybe I just need more experience.
Something that confuses me is the use of two range bands for weapon ranges, one normal, the other against active countermeasures. It seems to be a little redundant to allow most weapons an unlimited ranged except against countermeasures, and then give 99% of units in the game active countermeasures. I would either find something else for countermeasures to do (like affect your chance to hit) and leave weapons at infinite range, or just give each weapon a limiting range and be done with it. At the moment, the main use for unlimited range is shooting at buildings, or troops.
Some of the rules are clunky and could use a bit of a tidy up, but they do a lot right. I like the start they have made, I like where they are going and really look forward to further releases.
As it stands, at Version 1.0, I rate Dropzone Commander a 7/10.
My army of choice so far for DzC has been the Shaltari. This may colour my review of the game a little, as they play differently from most of the other races, but the basics are the same. For those yet to play, the Shaltari don’t have drop ships as such, and ferry troops around via ‘gates’ (someone played a little too much Portal). This means units don’t have dedicated transports, and can ‘embark’ and ‘disembark’ from any available (and capable) gate craft. With clever placement, use of cover, and an enemy who is otherwise engaged, you can teleport your forces from gates in your deployment zone to strategically placed gates in the battlezone. This is a favourite tactic of mine against Luke, as the look of disgust on his face is priceless…
Like most of the armies I play, the force is fragile (although it does pack some heavy hitters like the Caiman) and quick, takes some forethought to play and can either win or lose spectacularly. I find the walkers a little slow (more on that later) and the difficult terrain rules for skimmers a pain, but the Shaltari are unparalleled in dense urban warfare where their mobile force can keep the larger buildings between themselves and the enemy.
Now what about the game itself?
For me, Dropzone Commander sits in a niche somewhere between Warmaster and Warhamer 40K (sorry for the GW comparisons). There is a certain element of predictability in the game from setup, and partway through most games the victor is certainly evident. There haven’t been too many knife edge results in our games. The feel of the game is very similar to Dystopian wars, but I expect the comparisons are inevitable given the scales. The scale also brings another interesting factor to the game, the discrepancy between movement and firing ranges. Movement seems just too slow. When a weapon can fire the length of the table if it needs to, but the tank firing it can only move 3 inches, then the vehicles seem to be crawling. This is especially evident when a mission requires you to get to the other side of the board, or move into position to take an objective. I can only presume this has been done to highlight the difference in speeds of flyers and tanks, but in practice it leads to heavy reliance on the aerial transports. When they have been taken out, expect the game to devolve into cat and mouse where no one is shooting as they crawl around trying to get to where they need to be, or move to position over 3 rounds only to find the opponent has moved 3 inches and is blocked by a building. But then, there isn’t always a lot of shooting even when there are available transports. Units can’t fire the turn they disembark, often meaning your prize cannon (I’m looking at you, ocelot) spends turn 1 in the transport as it moves quickly across the board, turn 2 disembarking, turn 3 re-embarking because the enemy scattered as soon as they saw its firing lanes, turn 4 disembarking and finally shooting on turn 5 (and usually rolling a one if my luck has anything to do with it). I would suggest that allowing disembarking units to fire at greatly reduced effectiveness could see some much needed ‘flow’ come into the game. Because of the way it works now, this game actually feels better in more open terrain. Then, however, a different sort of problems sets in…
The lack of an ‘exploding dice’ mechanic coupled with low amounts of dice means most engagements can be predicted easily. This is both a good and bad thing in that it allows commanders to reliably commit forces, but it does take some of the risk/reward joy out of a game. A game spent static at range will soon become a dice rolling exercise with little tactics. Terrain is very important in DzC, you can easily have too much… and too little.
Does all of this mean that DzC is broken? Not at all. This game just requires a little tweaking (it is still technically a first edition and the Devs are still active in listening to the players. Take a hint GW) and it will achieve all it has set out to do. I still have a lot of fun playing the game and it looks great on some of the tables I have seen made by the truly insane. At the moment it sits at the same level as Dystopian wars, but with different things stopping it becoming a true favourite. I’m sure future editions will see this game go on to bigger and better things.
At the moment, I give it a 7.
As the PHR player of the group, I bought heavily into Dropzone Commander. Big walkers dealing death to all and sundry? Yeah, I’ll do that, thanks!
Off the table, DzC has a very good background. It’s a nice change for humanity to be leading the charge, rather than being assailed on all sides and fighting a losing battle. I’ve personally found the setting allows for very personal stories that a lot of other games just don’t really manage to get.
On the table the game has a lot of potential. Hawk Wargames have done some great things with the system. Currently there’s minimal special rules to clutter up a free-flowing game. They’ve tightened the army building process so you can’t just load up on all the mega-killers and be done with it. Incidentally a lot of games are going this way to really push for balance, with the exception of a company who shall remain unnamed (Go Work it out…).
A simple stat block describes the mechanical capabilities of each model and weapon which allows for rapid referencing. Due to the well managed stats though, it’s not hard to remember your units’ numbers quickly.
Resolution of tests is quick and simple. Modifiers are applied to a target number. Roll the dice. Done.
The cost has to be mentioned too. The starter box is stunning value and an incredible way to get into the game. Everything you need is there, including building terrain, models for two small armies of the UCM and Scourge factions, and a full rule book. It’s one of those things that I’d buy just for the bargain value (if I was flush with cash!). The models throughout the entire range are superbly detailed, too.
My group has found that the game can bog down when working out battlegroup activations, and which models have moved and fired or not. A reaction system is used in some instances which can complicate the book keeping around this issue, but I feel that having the opportunity to fire as required is a good thing.
The method of “you go I go” for the battlegroups keeps both players involved in the game, but can add to the decision making time. I’m sure with more games under our belts we’d be able to speed up the process though. Inexperience has a bit to answer for in this case.
The system works and it is relatively streamlined. But it’s not great. Firstly, dice pools are sometimes as low as a single die. Maybe it’s my history with 40k, but I like rolling multiple cubes in a single go. For one thing it normalises the roll – you know what to expect for an average when using multiples, but with a single die you’re as likely to score a 6 as you are a 1. As most scenarios are only 6 or so rounds, this doesn’t really give the chance for probabilities to assert itself properly (I’m sure I’ll have arguments with some about that statement!).
The game also feels static; like once deployment has occurred then that’s more or less where your models will stay (± a few inches). Even the faster factions will typically have a semi-permanent footprint for much of their force, with only a few outriders actually maneouvering. As the PHR player this is most noticeable for me, and that’s fine, but when the Shaltari or Scourge players mirror my slow advance it seems… odd. Troy touched on this in his review, and his suggestion of allowing firing after disembarking has merit.
There seems to be little benefit in keeping structures upright as it’s easier to shift stubborn units from their hiding places by simply bringing the walls down around them. PHR in particular is the “building destruction” faction. Leading from this is the fact that the system is heavily skewed towards urban settings, exacerbating the problem. It’s possible to play other environments, but the rules (in my opinion) aren’t really set up for it. Infantry in the open are hopelessly vulnerable, for instance. In a building heavy situation this is fine – they can jump inside, but out in a field or a forest it just means that they’re not going to do much but die.
To wrap up this review (which is longer than I originally intended!), I am looking forward to the 2nd edition. While the system is fundamentally sound, there are things that need to change to progress it from “yeah, I don’t mind it” to “HELLS YES, we need to play this game!”
DzC will make its way onto our table occasionally, but it’s currently not a mainstay of our wargaming nights. I wish every luck to Hawk in improving the mechanics (and I’m happy to provide some input if they want me to… *;) winking), and the game is only getting better as more stuff is added. They seem committed to a balanced and streamlined set of rules, and for that they get a big thumbs up.
Rating 6.5 out of 10. I can see good things in this game and enjoy playing it, but want it to be better.
Publisher: Hawk Wargames
Contents: Rulebook. There is also a Starter box in which you receive two, approximate 300 point forces, rulebook, dice, tape measure, tokens, cheat sheets and paper terrain. Excellent value!
Game Style: 2 or more player (core rules cover multiplayer games) IGOUGO system of alternating unit activations. D6 based, roll and beat target number, with modifiers.