We had our first chance to play the new beta rules of Dropzone Commander (currently version 2.4.1).  It was nice to see Dropzone hit the table but since they’ve only released stats for the four core factions, I was relegated to playing with my friend’s UCM models.  We decided to keep it simple and play with only the starter set of models and out of five of us, we had all four factions covered.

Since we had five players, we split into two games, one with three players and the other with two.  The Shaltari and PHR faced off in the other game and I sat in on a three way UCM vs UCM vs Scourge.  Since the new rules don’t have any scenarios, we made a simple “grab and extract” game by placing three objective tokens in the center and each player started off the table and entered from a single point equidistant from the other two players.

Since the main goal was to get familiar with the new rules, we weren’t too concerned with making a fully balanced scenario nor using totally balanced armies (as the starter boxes typically aren’t balanced between themselves to begin with).

My opponent’s UCM won initiative and sent out his Rapiers to the middle of the board to shut down transports trying to get in near the objectives.  I was next so I started by getting in behind the closest building.  Version 2 has all aerial units fly at the model’s peg height instead of the previous edition’s six inches above the table. This means that it is easier for fliers to navigate the board behind buildings without getting caught by anti-air units.

Even so, my opponent’s Rapiers have a clear sight line all around the center.

With his Rapiers defending the line, he rolls his Bears in to try a play for the center objectives as well.

Round 2 sees both of my opponents get into the objective buildings.  The Scourge is fast enough to get into two of the center ones and the other UCM takes the last one and sets up to get into one of the other buildings.

I drop my Rapiers around a nook and decide to have them fire.  Anti-Air units can’t “drop and fire” against air units but I can target ground units and while it is a long shot that I’ll damage the Scourge tanks, I decide to try it anyway.  I throw nine dice and need 4s to hit but only land three.  With E7 vs Armor 8, I need 6s to damage and don’t get it.  The Scourge tanks return fire and luckily, I only lose one tank.

While I forgot to take a picture, I also did a “drop and fire” run with my Anti-Tank Scimitars against my rival UCM’s Rapiers to weaken his anti-air zone.  Because the drop adds a +2 penalty to hit, I roll all 2s and totally miss.  He rolls up his anti-tank Scimitars and return fire killing two of my tanks.

Having done so well with my Rapiers and Scimitars, I decide to take the fight man-to-man (or man-to-scum in the case of those dirty Scourge parasites).  This ends round 2.

CQB (close-quarters battle) has changed quite a bit in this edition so I was eager to see how it worked.  The rules are supposed to be streamlined but we quickly found ourselves in the weeds of the new rule book. My rival UCM wins initiative again and decides to activate his infantry battlegroup.  Since he got into the building first, he was the occupier, which conveys several advantages including gaining 2 extra dice to the CQB battle per base.  It also gives his units a +1 on his search (or -1 to the target value).

After a lot of back and forth through the rules, we find a slight exploit where my opponent brings in his second infantry squad, has his first infantry search, find the objective, then leave the building (after succeeding a Fortitude test).  Normally, you can’t leave a structure if you have enemies in with you unless you have more squads than enemy squads.  By throwing his new squad in before the original squad activated, he was able to get the objective squad to leave and still satisfy the need for one squad to stay and fight the enemy.  Oddly, this triggered a weird situation where we didn’t have a squad that started and ended their activation in the building so CQB didn’t actually trigger.

The objective-carrying squad gets out and decides to pass the objective around to his scimitars in a weird game of hot potato. After some more rules reviews, we realize the UCM player can only pass off the objective to a Rapier within 2 inches.  When the Rapiers activate, they can then “hot potato” it to their buddies.

Not wanting the UCM to get their objective off the map, the Scourge pulls around with a couple of anti-air tanks and bring the aerial transports to 1 life each. The Scourge transport takes aim at the exposed infantry but another romp through the rule books determines that they have body cover and soft cover if the tank units act like barricades.  I’m not sure that is correct but we let it play and the infantry avoided taking any damage.

I get to go and decide to also activate my infantry.  I have two potential CQB battles going on.  Since only one building of mine has an objective, I start with it.  The Scourge inside are the occupiers so I try to search but get a 3 (need a 4 since the building is medium-sized and my transport is waiting right outside).  Failing my search and not having any infantry shenanigans to pull off like my rival UCM player, I rush headlong into combat.

We each have 3 bases of infantry and with these starter troops, that should be 15 dice each.  His infantry have taken some hits through collateral damage as we’ve pummeled the building a couple of time so he actually has 13 dice. However, he’s the occupier so he gains 2 extra dice per base so he’s actually up to 19 dice.  I would normally have 15 dice but I sent dudes off to search for the objective and so I lose 3 dice (which I later realize is wrong, I should lose 3 dice per base so I’d only roll 6 dice total).

I need 4s to damage and decide to roll sub-optimally getting only 5 kills.   The Scourge have no problem and need 4s as well but land 12 hits on 19 dice and wipe my 15 man squad down to three.  They immediately fail their Fortitude test and flee to the waiting transport outside.

I repeat the same scenario against the UCM. This time (because I didn’t search) I get all my dice.

It doesn’t help. My rival UCM opponent takes a cue from the Scourge player and gets 12 hits on 15 dice and wipes my 15 man squad down to three. They also decide to flee, failing a fortitude test and get in their waiting transport.

so yeah, that was my turn.

The Scourge decide to use the demoralizing opportunity to activate their infantry, find both objectives, vacate to waiting transports and take off for their extraction point.

We finish out the round with both UCM players trying to get into position to take down the transport at the exclusion of everything else. Well, almost everything. My rival UCM still has an objective and he starts to drive to towards his extraction point.  Ultimately, it won’t matter if the Scourge get both objectives off as he will have the most VPs and win.

UCM wins initiative (not me, the other guy…). That makes four rounds in a row with the same initiative order of UCM, UCM, Scourge.  He can’t get a shot off or only gets one damage in (can’t remember) but I have a clean shot down the back edge of the board.  I need 3s to hit so, appropriately, I get mostly 2s.  Scourge activates the transport and gets off the map to take the victory.

So our first game of the new edition (beta) was in the bag.  I’ve been playing with the “drop and fire” rules for several games already and I loved that change from before so no change of opinion there.  It totally failed both times I tried it and the return fire from those units already on the ground ended up destroying a lot of my units so it seemed appropriate.  The alternative would be to have played the long game and dropped far away and try to either hold a defensive edge or slowly drive into the battle.  Even though it is possibly more swingy, I like that it makes engagement happen sooner.

Flexible transport activations and flexible transport of units didn’t really come up much and we were forgetting to utilize those options to their fullest for most of the game.  This will just take time to get used to but I like the concept.  I’m not sure it will create an issue where a player “novas” and activates a battlegroup and all his transports for a larger first strike than normally possible but we’ll have to see as we play larger games and get used to the format.

CQB is streamlined a little bit by removing some of the complicated way you allocate damage dice (now is just freely assigned as you see fit) and removing the requirement that infantry in CQB have to wait until the occupier activates (which led to weird interactions where the occupier would wait until the last minute to activate and then everything could go.  It wasn’t bad, just the way the game sort of flowed).

If they had left it there, it might be fine (except the whole infantry swap thing the UCM player did seemed really awkward). Instead they added a lot of dice manipulations based on actions, sometimes determined by specific bases within a squad sometimes determined by the whole squad, or based on your board state, being the occupier or not.  Not only is this awkward due to too much variety in similar rules but it seems way too extreme of a bonus or penalty.  It turns what sounded like some additional and interesting decision points into more of a trap.   Losing 3 dice per base to search sounds like suicide when your normal infantry has five dice per base to start. More elite versions of infantry can have up to 15 dice per base but just pushes the normal infantry into more of a useless role as elites will need to be used all the time.  Elite infantry was already a popular choice in the last version and this makes that more necessary than needed.

Adding a 2 dice bonus per base to the occupier can make the dice penalties even more extreme.  In that Scourge battle, it could have been 21 dice to 6 dice even though both squads would be full health and roughly equal in game terms.  That basically says to me “you never search if you’re not the occupier,” which leads to me to wonder why even have the option.  If it is to make for a desperate move and make the game more luck-based, then that is what it will create but I don’t think it is needed.  I think if they want to make it an interesting decision, they should reduce and homogenize the rules to make it a flat bonus or penalty per squad.

They also seemed to complicate things by adding a bunch of options for carrying, passing, dropping, and hiding objectives.  Some of these are based on triggers and then necessitate die rolls.  These die rolls aren’t based on any infantry stat like a Fortitude test but a new 5+ roll that you’ll have to look up or remember.

The rest of the changes we didn’t get to try out but hope to in the next session.  We will likely stick to small or starter games to make sure we can focus on the new rules more than the units.  We may even add in Resistance at the Starter box level since the changes seem pretty obvious and with Starter boxes, we won’t have to worry about specific point values yet.