With my work in Tabletop Simulator for Dropzone Commander far enough along for testing, Colton and I threw down a virtual game. We went wake back to basics, with only a small 500 point force each on the “Targets of Opportunity” bellwether scenario.
Targets of Opportunity is the main scenario Hawk Wargames used to demo and most players start on this scenario somehow in their Dropzone Commander education. It showcases a good range of the rules and can scale well with the size of force that you bring to the table. Its defining feature is three hidden objectives in buildings along the center line. Your goal is to find them with Infantry and extract the objectives off the table.
This mission has been the Achilles’ heel of the new ruleset as the changes the designers made have unbalanced the pacing of the main goal. Since it has been a while and the rules have undergone some much needed clarity, we’re giving the latest rules a shot (no experimental or house rules) to try to find what (if anything) might need adjustment. The game will also give us a chance to see where the Tabletop Simulator module needs adjusting as well.
Right off the bat, in turn 1, we see the issue that we’ve always known about with this edition: Transport speed. I won initiative with my Resistance squad and quickly found that I don’t have the speed to get to the central buildings holding the objectives. Colton’s Scourge force is faster (second fastest in the game at this) and is able to have one dropship get two APCs close enough to have his infantry walk in. Unopposed, his troops get a free turn 1 search for the objectives. This isn’t easy as he has a 16% chance of success but getting either of these or both (5% chance) would put him way ahead.
One could argue that maybe Tabletop Simulator is fudging the distances and this wouldn’t be an issue in a real game. While I can’t attest for the module being 100.00% accurate, I’d say it is 98% accurate in the sizes and in-game measurements. The real game can easily be mathed out simply showing that the Scourge dropship can fly 12″ and drop the APCs 2″ out. The APCs can skim 6″ and the Infantry can jump out 2″, race 2″ and, if within 2″ of a building, can hop safely inside. With a total “threat” of 24 inches, no building on the centerline is out of reach. Comparatively, Resistance’s dropship equivalent is 8″+2″+6″+2″+2″+2″ for a 20 inch threat range. Unless the building on the center is 8″ wide (usually they are 4″), Resistance isn’t getting in there on turn 1 with their main dropships. They have some other options outside the small starter they can help them but we’ll have to leave that for another day.
With the math out of the way, showing that TTS is working much like a real game would, Colton didn’t get lucky with either of his search attempts. At least I have another round to try and thwart his victory. My forces ramp up the right flank gearing up to assault the central building with the bulk of my infantry and a side contingent will head to the right side.
I win initiative again and have my infantry pile in. Since Scourge were in first, they have “occupier’s advantage” and make me re-roll my attack successes. After two sets of infantry coming in, it doesn’t matter as I take 15 guys down to 4. They opt to fail their fortitude save and bug out, getting in their APC and dropship and retreating.
My infantry showcase another issue we have with this edition. They were able to be transported up to the building, walk in and go to the far edge of the building wall to fire down out anything outside the building, and finally go toe-to-toe with the enemies inside. We later saw that this was illegal with my specific troops as the weapon I used to shoot outside can’t be used if I’ve moved that round. Colton’s Scourge could easily have done that though and this irks us on the realism front since it seems hard to imagine that troops could do all these things in one turn.
The rest of turn 2 sees my AA Gun Wagons come out and try to take down the fleeing dropship with decimated infantry inside. It stays up and Colton’s skimmers start running towards my exposed units. Colton’s other infantry fails to find anything and we’re left with his AA skimmers coming to try and drop my Dropship holding my reserve infantry before I can put them in the far right building.
Turn 3 has me win initiative again and I get my exposed transports out of the way of his Hunter anti-tank squad. I also get my infantry into the far right building and they successfully find the objective. If the Hunters weren’t so close, I could pass off the objective and try to get it out of here but everyone nearby have already activated. My central infantry fail to find their objective as well.
Colton’s Hunters come in to take out a few of my Gun Wagons but only clear one (which was expected). My Gun Wagons take down his Dropship, killing the APC and the wounded infantry on board. Going tit-for-tat, Scourge Reapers down my Lifthawk.
I pull back my anti-tank weapons as I try to remove those Reapers from destroying my last Lifthawk (and best bet to get an objective off the board). Colton’s infantry fail again to find their objective and we’re back waiting to see if Colton can take the initiative.
He doesn’t. Turn 4 is mine as well so using some rule shenanigans, I have my big hovercraft get the objective from my infantry in the building and retreat back near my tanks who eventually take down a Reaper. The APCs inside bail out of the Hovercraft with the objective and hid behind the building hoping to get off the board.
Colton’s skimmers want none of that so they dropship hop (get sucked in, fly over, and race out) over to behind my tanks hoping for the initiative to take down some of my units. The Reapers close in as well, closing me in. Turn 4 sees both of the other infantry squads finding their objectives. I don’t have any transports nearby and won’t make it out trying to hoof it. Colton does and his APC takes off with it. I have no hope of catching it while pinned in in the opposite corner so he’ll easily get 2 victory points by the end of the game. I’m currently sitting on 2 victory points and can make it three if I keep the one under fire and get it off the board.
Colton finally wins the initiative! He has a lot of choices here. He could shoot my APC with the objective and if successful could likely move in and take it. The rules aren’t clear on where it is placed. I would assume wherever the unit fell but when dropping it on purpose, you can place it within 2″ of the unit. If an enemy is within 1″ of the fallen squad, it can automatically claim it. In this case, the Hunters aren’t close enough to do that so either the objective is where it is on the board or pushed another 2″ up. Either way, the Hunters could move up, claim it and run away.
Colton didn’t do this because I think he thought the APCs were one squad and to drop an objective, you have to kill the entire squad, which were great odds. He decides to take down a tank instead and cripples that squad.
I drive my APC over to my Lifthawk which picks him and flies to the board edge. I’m half an inch shy of leaving so I’m not out safe yet. I take down another Reaper to protect my dropship and create a barrier with the remaining tank and big hovercraft. This forces the Reaper to go around the building and not have the range to fire on the critical transport.
I win initiative again in Turn 6 and get my objective off the map. Colton tries some building demo on my remaining objective but I have too many guys in there to worry about collateral damage and the building has too much remaining to fall in the remaining turn.
Colton also gets his objective off the map and the game concludes with a close 3-2 victory for Resistance.
So with a game under the TTS hood, there was a lot to be excited for. The game seemed to play pretty well in the system. It felt like we were playing Dropzone. Measuring was awkward sometimes and we just ignored 3D firing distances when going to and from Transports unless a special case happened (like when Colton’s Marauder dropship got on top a 4″ tall building and tried to fire its 6″ range gun at something on the ground).
The other exciting thing is it didn’t just feel like Dropzone due to TTS, it felt like Dropzone with this current ruleset. After the stress (not in a good way) of the first two turns where a fast faction could just get a few lucky rolls and be almost unstoppably close to winning, the game settled into a nice and familiar game overall. With the introduction of the “experimental rule” making a search take two action, I think this is a system we can work with. We can (and will) house rule that using close-quarters (CQ) weapons is a separate “CQ action” so that infantry can’t just “do all the things” in one round. These two changes should help slow the game down give players a chance to make tactical and meaningful decisions. Nothing is worse than setting up a great board, finding the time to meet and play, and watch the game disintegrate in two quick turns.
I’ll finish up this TTS mod and get it uploaded so others can play some virtual Dropzone. Hopefully the game can right itself with virtual play helping the designers see where the improvement areas are until in-person play can resume.