Saturday 15 June 2013

Dropzone Commander Rulebook Review

This one created quite a bit of excitement locally but never really took off. I had the chance to look over a rulebook, but "passed" on them at the time -  my primary complaint was the models are 10mm rather than the more universal 15mm, so I could not use them alongside or against my existing models from GZG, Rebel, Khurasan, etc. 

Since then DZC (at least locally) has disappeared off the radar, and I don't see it too often in the wargaming blogs and sites I frequent.  Curious, I sent for my own copy, with the aim of testing the rules and deciding for myself.

I like the Posthuman Republic stuff... even if it looks like it was designed by Steve Jobs

The Shiny
The rulebook is very shiny - a lush glossy softcover. Whilst dubious about how it would stand up to repeated handling, I appreciate the quality finish and lavish photos of miniatures in action.  The terrain and modelling displayed is topnotch "gamer p0rn" and considering a home-style MS-Word B&W rulebook from 2HW also costs $20, the professional quality rulebook looks like exceptional value. It is pleasant to read, has photocopyable templates at the back, and sections are colour coded so you can find the general area. However, there is not a specific index so you will have to hunt around for a specific rules. This was pretty annoying. The rules aren't that long (35 ish pages) but... no index? Also, the rules seemed spread around a bit (not always logically) which exacerbated the problem. There is no quick-reference charts at the back of the book either. I'm sure they are a pdf on their website (edit: found them) but I'm not a fan of having to hunt around to download things that could just as easily have been included in the rules themselves.
Verdict: Eye candy, easy to understand - but could be better organized. 

The Fluff
Pretty generic. The backstories for how the four factions came to be. We have the manipulative-Eldar-greys Shaltari who want to use humanity for their own ends, organic living weapon "devour all life" Tyrannids Scourge, the standard humans (United Colonies of Man) and the good Cylons cyborgs of the Post Human Republic.  Nothing to get excited about here. The only thing I noted was the exceptional ugliness of the Scourge designs (their dropships look like CD-stackers with gribble stuck to it) and the weird leafy bits on the Shaltari which turned me off them completely.

The Scourge dropship looks more like a CD storage device than anything else

Likewise, the leafy lattice attachments to the Shaltari aerial vehicles make them look more like grandma's over-ornate brooch (or for that matter, a studded collar or female body part) rather than a weapon of war...
Unit Stats
The basic stats are
Armour - resilience
Movement <---this is often surprisingly short - i.e. 4" for a tank
Countermeasures class
Damage Points - hits can take before being destroyed
Pts Value
Squad Size/Coherency - the amount of units per squad, and coherency range
Special Rules

Nothing new here, except for the short move distance and the "countermeasures" (active or passive).

Units are grouped in squads which are part of an overall battlegroup. Opponents alternate activating battlegroups. So it's a mix of IGOUGO and "alternate movement" - you move a large portion of your force.  Squads can be deployed onto the table or kept "in readiness" and deployed later through any friendly board edge.  Squads "in reserve",however, must pass a dice roll to enter the board.

Players can also use and discard "command cards." They are not necessary to play, but add "flavour" to games and add another layer of tactical options.  Commanders are mounted inside specialist vehicles and they can play cards on units within their command radius. 

Troops move slowly. I mean, really slowly. Infantry move only around 2" which forces you to use dropships and transports.  It makes sense in the context of the game, but I found it a bit jarring compared to other games I am used to.

I was really taken by their "Cityscape" card terrain and I'll probably get it for other purposes... $45 for a table full of terrain is not too shabby...

Weapons had a "standard" range an a "countered" range (if their target is equipped with countermeasures systems). Countermeasures are active (only good against kinetic weapons) and passive (die roll for % chance to block all weapons types).  Basically countermeasures act as a range reduction (i.e. infinite range if no CM, 36" maximum if CM).  Not a huge fan of "guess the range" in any game but it seems silly in sci fi (laser rangefinders anyone?).

Given the long weapon ranges and short movement ranges, terrain is very important. I was impressed with their coloured card-stock terrain (which fills a complete 6x4' table for $45).  I did not like the hit allocation system which seemed a little clunky.

Buildings and structures are quite important as they can be garrisoned by troops; searching or holding buildings forms the basis of many scenarios.  Infantry tend to shine when hidden inside buildings and can storm a building to evict enemy troops.

Not all aerial craft look silly...  the Archangel interceptor (above) and the Athena class look pretty sharp...

Aircraft & Dropships
Given the proliferation of dropships and gunships, AA fire is important and can be used in "reaction" provided the unit has not already fired that turn. 

Aircraft are classes as VTOL-like "normal" craft and "fast movers" (i.e. like modern jets); the latter move to fast to be on the table and have a special move sequence. They move from a nominated table edge, to their firing position, then off another table edge.  Interceptors can attack enemy fast movers in a similar move sequence.  Aircraft can fly normally (6" altitude) or "on the deck" (2"); aircraft flying so low must make piloting tests or crash into buildings and terrain in their path.  Aircraft can land and take off from the battlefield as long as the LZ is not too "hot"

As you'd expect for a game named "Dropzone Commander" dropships are vital for moving troops (and vehicles) to objectives.  Troops can be carried Russian-doll style i.e. infantry carried in an APC that is carried in a dropship. 

These are far more complex than the usual "kill em all" 40k-style deathmatch.  Troops often have to search buildings for "objectives", collect intel, holding buildings in the enemy half of the table, seizing vital buildings and strongpoints, breaking through enemy defences, hunting for objectives behind enemy lines, demolishing key structures, assassinating commanders, seizing a bridgehead.. and so on.  I was very impressed with the variety and range of missions and they should keep you interested for a long time.The average table is only 4x4' (easy to make terrain for) though you can use bigger tables.

Having your gun on a flexible arm makes a lot of sense.... you can go "hull down" almost anywhere...

"Army Books" and Army Building
This is the "codex" for each faction. It contains a little background on the government, alliances, technology and weaponry of each faction, as well as comprehensive stats for each unit.
I noticed the only thing without countermeasures is infantry, and each faction is either "active" or
passive" which makes me wonder if there was a simpler way to do the countermeasures rules.

Army building itself gave me a mild headache, and might be a confusing for a new player. I suspect there will be an Excel spreadsheet or app along soon to simplify stuff. (Edit: also found it)  A good balance of troop types are needed given the way various unit types interact with each other.

Mixed feelings about this still; the 10mm models don't work with my usual 15mm, and some gorgeous models are offset by some other rather ugly designs. The rules themselves are nothing revolutionary but seem to work well to  force a combined-arms approach due to the short movement ranges of infantry, which dictate the use of transports and dropships to actually move from A to B in a reasonable amount of time; and the fact infantry are necessary to capture buildings and complete scenarios.

The movement ranges seem short compared to other games; and the long range of most weapons compared to relatively short move distances means you need plenty of terrain; in fact lots of terrain is dictated by most scenarios. The paper terrain sets (both free and premade) look useful - I'll probably grab the $45 preprinted set regardless of whether I get the official minis or not. 

I do really like the wide range of scenarios which range well beyond the usual "kill em all."  Heck there was even a scenario for a four-way! Army building was a bit too complicated for me, but there is a tool that will help with this. The last two sentences sounded weird when I re-read them :-/
I also like how there aren't a zillion special rules and "exceptions" (*cough* Infinity Malifaux Warmachine *cough*).

Personally I'm not sure if I'll get into it as I am already heavily invested in 28mm, 15mm and 6mm sci fi and I don't need another scale, neither do the rules mechanics excite me enough to switch me away from the platoon-level action and logical gameplay of Tomorrow's War.  The rules are a good alternative to the 6mm sets (Epic, Future War Commander) but being tied to a specific product line hurts them a bit.  Though a starter is $80, a decent army would run you $150-$250... and for $10 I can play "Supreme Commander" on PC....

Recommended: A tidy, well-presented game which emits a strong "Command and Conquer" vibe.  Gameplay is solid but unspectacular, but it comes together to make a strong "package."  It seems a quality product with good effort put into it.


  1. Well done review. I've always been impressed with paint and sculpts of the models. But nothing yet has convinced me to get the rules.

    1. Well I'm not going to try to convince you, as the rules are certainly nothing revolutionary. The short infantry movement and mission types "forces" a unique combined arms approach that relies on dropships; but rule wise, the best thing I can say about it is there is not a lot of "special rules" that seem to overcomplicate games these days; and I DO like the interesting range of scenarios.

      The rules have a similar level of complexity to say, Flames of War and would finish in ~2 hours.