Dropzone Commander Review – Opinion Post 10


Dropzone Commander Review - Opinion Post

Dropzone Commander Review – Opinion Post

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

OPINION SECTION

This was a longer review than intended, and as such the regular Opinions section has been split into this separate post.

The original Review post can be found HERE.

Matt

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.

 

Troy

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.

Luke

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.

The good

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.

The meh

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 bad

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.

DETAILS

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!

Dropzone Commander Review - Starter Boxset

Starter Box set. Fantastic 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.

BATTLE REPORT CAN BE FOUND HERE

THOUGHTS

What do you think of Dropzone Commander and this review? Share your thoughts, experiences and ideas in the comments section.


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10 thoughts on “Dropzone Commander Review – Opinion Post

  • egges

    A well written review. Thanks! As a very subjective gamer in the matter (stopped playing 40k when 7:th came out and loved DZC from the start so I went from competitive 40k to DZC) I have some very different opinions on the matter 🙂

    1. We had lots of problems in the beginning with remembering on who have activated what and which dropship belongs to which squad and so on. But after finding your own system it works much better. Irritating when you play another person who doesn’t have the same check on their units though.

    2. We had three stages when playing the game (1) dropships are awsome! (2) dropships are pointless after disembarks have been made and (3) (the current state after a year or so) the player that saves the correct dropships to the end of the game and re-position in the correct turn (usually five) wins. We have had very few games being a totally wihn for one player. The starter set are a bit different though as the points and rock-scissor-paper system is much more noticeable. I have gotten the same experience from other players as well. After the initial distrust to dropships they will be find highly useful.

    3. The game do suffer from lots of “child-diseases” with many things becomes hard to understand if you scrutinize the rules to the extent of 40k.

    4. In a 1500pts, although you can blame dices, more often than not during my 20 years of 40k gaming the loss or win was based on movement and planning a head. A very important aspect of this is the lack of being able to fire while disembarking – you just need to plan ahead and make the hard choice – move or shoot. And the player that moves in the right time wins which I really like.

  • unhingedtangent Post author

    Thanks for the insightful reply Egges, glad you liked the review.
    We also started to look at DzC once 7th Ed 40k was released as it just wasn’t doing it for us (we did end up making it playable, for us, with a set of house rules). DzC certainly helped fill the gap and we do enjoy playing it. The transition from competitive 40k play, to casual DzC, is a big one. I found it a lot less stressful after giving up competitive 40k.

    Regarding you points:
    1) We haven’t hit on a ideal way yet, the best we do is use a set of tokens that are placed on the army list to indicate what has activated. Sometimes we’ll add tokens to each squad. Dropships and spread out battlegroups do seem to be the main offenders.

    2) I think we need more experience, I would say we are in phase 2, working out how to get the most out of dropships.

    3) I still find it hard to just read a set of rules and not look for hidden intent, or to stop double checking things. We are so used to poorly written rules that we still stop and think, yes, rules can be so simply explained. We definitely over-scrutinse the rules. The bad (necessary) habits are slowly disappearing thanks to some recent purchases of new, well written and supported rulesets. Taking things on face value seems to be the way to go.

    4) I agree, in most games movement and planning ahead wins games, regardless of the game rules. The tricky part is learning the nuances of rules well enough to put it into effect.

    If I might ask how do you handle the recording of activated units, what do you find works?

    Thanks,
    Matt

    • egges

      We are going for some competitive DZC in our zone which works very well although I feel you still need to go with a “you forgot to move that? Go ahead”-style more than in 40k. Mostly because the phases are repeated often and you can do stuff in different order each time which is very different from 40k “move all, shoot all, assault all, fight all cc” and so on. I’m only been to five DZC tournaments (small ones at that) and so far I haven’t had any problem agreeing with opponent regarding this. But it is an noticable difference from 40k. Usually I didn’t have any problem with 40k either “of course you going to use that psychic power in the beginning of the turn” but I feel DZC need slightly more help.

      My point being, I really like DZC as a tournament game. I’m a hard believer that if you write a game for tournaments, players will make cool casual games up anyhow. If you make a casual game not for tournaments as 40k basically is, you miss out on the competitive part.

      Best way to keep track of battlegroups:
      1. Use empty cards, write down the information for each battlegroup on each card. Mark how you differentiate each similar dropship on the card. Then lay down that card for that battlegroup when activating the battlegroup and the battlegroups you haven’t activated are still in your hand.
      2. Use the army list and mark each battlegroup with a die, toke or something. Remove the token when they have been activated. Again key is here to write down on the army list how you recognize the different similar dropships.
      3. Token on each activated unit on the table sucks. Don’t bother :-). We haven’t got that one working well after a year and a half.

      Shaltari are a bit different though. Most Shaltari players here have specific cards for each gate. Turn the card around or remove the card after activation. Again, make sure to be able to identify the units.

      A very simple way to identify similar dropships is to have rings on the flying bases. For the starter set (scourge as an example) you would then have three cards on hand. One with “AA tanks and Marauder 0”. This Marauder does not have any rings on the flying base in this case. The second card says “Hunters and Marauder 1” and that Marauder have a single sing around it’s base. The infantry then is on the last card and the marauder has the number 2. It is a little more work but you get that back many times. And for Shaltari you need separate cards for each gate.

      Squad markings doesn’t really work that well on dropships. The second you change something the markings are way off. So don’t bother painting squad markings connected to dropships. Squad markings for the tanks and so are fine but do not bother with a corresponding marking on the dropship.

      Damn lots of text! But a fun topic. Hope it clears some things up.

      • unhingedtangent Post author

        Ah you raise a point I strongly believe, a solid/ tight rule set benefits both competitive and casual gamers. I can’t see a downside to designing one.

        I hadn’t really considered DzC as a tournament game, although I realise it could easily be used. I do agree that the difference in activations and order of action lends itself to a more flexible turn.

        Thanks for your thoughts of keeping tabs of battlegroup activations. I don’t mind the card idea, I might look at adopting that.
        I also really like the ‘rings’ on the transport bases idea.

        No worries about the length of text. I enjoy the conversation.

        Have you had much experience with the first expansion, the resistance or named army commanders?

        • egges

          Not much with the characters. Hawk created them and basically said “They are cool but not for tournaments, so their rules might be a bit…unbalanced”. We plan too use them for special scenarios or something. Regarding the expansion I have a pretty good experience of the expansion units but have only played about 4 games against the resistance.

          The new units are pretty balanced but to be always the critic, some special rules felt a bit odd. I think that special rules should only be added when the basic rules are too weak (try counting the amount of special rules you need to know with 10 Grey knight terminators with different weapons…ghaaa) and I felt there are several rules not really adding something to the game in the expansion.

          Same thing with the resistance. It felt they wanted to add everything and there are several basic concept about DZC that the resistance ignore (out of transport and shoot at the same turn). But the more I play against them the more I feel they are balanced and although I dislike several of their special quality I understand how they were forced to design the army with their restriction” this army should not be more expensive than the others to play”. The small trucks should be much weaker and only 6 points but that doesn’t work in DZC.

          • unhingedtangent Post author

            Thanks for the overview.
            It certainly is difficult to balance a ragtag force of what looks like cheap points vehicles, when you are trying to not make one army a lot more expensive to but than the others. I’ll be interested to read the expansion and see how they arranged it all.

            One thing we did enjoy with DzC is the lack of special rules, as you say 40k is full of them. I think the current rules have 90 odd special rules. It is too many and needs far too much referencing. Some special rules are fine, and can go a long way to creating an individual feel for an army, but it is a fine balancing act. The streamlined simplicity of a solid set of base rules, and good unit organisation works much better, in my opinion.

            Time will tell if Hawk can maintain this balance, but so far they have put in the effort and shown they are dedicated to continuing it. I can’t wait, then, to see what the next expansion will be.

  • unhingedtangent Post author

    We played another game, and I tried your suggestion of battlegroup cards, combined with rings on the flying stands.
    For me, it worked a treat and I found it very easy to remember what was in the battlegroup and whether it had been activated or not.
    Troy still prefers tokens on his army list and gates, so it really is testament to how many ways work, and the key is to finding and using what works for you.

    Thanks again for the help Egges.