With the new rules for Dropzone Commander 2nd Edition read, I was able to get in a game this past weekend. We’re still new to the system but felt like we should put the game through its paces to see where it stands.
We decided to start off simple: 1,000 points and the first scenario, Targets of Opportunity. No real surprises in this scenario as it is the same standard scenario I first demo’d at Gen Con for Dropzone 1st edition years ago. Three buildings along the center, each supporting a hidden mobile objective. The debris and other models like the Orbital Laser were just there to choke up the field a little and had no other bearing on the game.
My list was one that tried to pull in some hard-hitting infantry and take advantage of the new CQ (close quarters) attacks that are in this edition.
- CV3 commander: M3 Alexander (Lifthawk)
- Gun Wagons (3) (Kraken)
- Resistance Fighters (2) x2 (Jacksons > Kraken)
- Occupation Veterans (2) (Strikehawk Tiltrotor) + Typhoons (2)
- Berserkers (2) (Skulltaker)
At an even 1,000 points, I liked the list building capabilities. I had 5 battlegroups and 8 stands of infantry. My two elite infantry types were respresented and the Occupation Vets in a Strikehawk that could give them Rapid Insertion (no penalty for attacking an occupying force in a garrison) would hopefully make for a nasty surprise.
Throwing Jackson APCs into a Kraken hovercraft transport has been something I’ve wanted to try for a long time and I’m glad it can happen. The fact that I can take the Kraken half full with two Jacksons allowed me to have a Commander value over 1. I felt a little light on anti-air but the Gun Wagons have been a staple for along time and should be enough of a deterrent to keep me safe.
My opponent was playing PHR and for simplicity’s sake, took the old PHR starter, modified it a little and added units to get up to 1,000 points (I may not have the list completely correct or in the right groups).
- CV2 commander: Zeus + Odin (Neptune)
- Menchits (2) + Ares (2) + Phobos (2) (Poseidon)
- Immortals (2) x2 (Junos > Neptune)
- Helios (2) + Janus (2) (Neptune, Triton A2)
With the board set up, we were ready to begin. I won initiative and let PHR go first. They ran their Poseidon up and dropped the Phobos walkers as far up as possible to get them into position to own one of the long open roads. I put in my commander on the right flank and hid behind a building. The PHR Helios took the right flank and the Janus transport went straight up the left side to an objective building. I pushed my Occupation Vets into the center and then pulled my Typhoons up to aggressively hunt the Phobos that couldn’t reaction fire this round.
With a 12″ move and a 24″ range on their E10 guns, the Typhoons are quite potent. The crashed droppod gave one of the Phobos cover so I threw all 6 shots at the other walker caught out in the open.
Oh boy. It was going to be one of those games. With my single hit, I whiffed the damage roll and came up with nothing.
The PHR put their commander in play, dropping the Odin and the Zeus near the Phobos sentries. I pushed my Berserkers all the way up on my left flank to see if the Immortals would jump into the objective building later. My Resistance Fighters hover into the center looking for which building to make their strike in.
Round 2 starts with me winning initiative again. This time I take it and try to take down the Phobos with my Typhoons. If I move, they can reaction fire so I just shoot the same Phobos out in the open. This time, my shots average out and I take it down. The Typhoons are linked to my Occupation Vets and since I don’t think the Immortals will make a play for the center, I take them up to the central building and go inside.
It’s round 2 and I have a choice. I can have the Vets look for the objective and succeed on a 5+ or they can whack the hornet’s nest. They run to the opposite edge of the building and decide to try and take out that final Phobos. I land enough hits to focus fire and take it down.
Those PHR boys really didn’t like that at all so they drop two Menchits and two Ares. I’m not too worried because they are all going to be a bit woozy on the drop but then I remembered the Menchits are flamers. I did get lucky and they don’t land many shots off and deal 4 damage. The rest of the shots from everything else just shatters glass and does no real damage. The collateral damage on the building randomly targets the build and fizzles out.
With everyone occupied with the Occupation Vets, my Resistance Fighters take to the other building and find the objective. Being round 2, I needed 5+ with two squads rolling dice and got a 6. I was currently in the lead now with one VP.
PHR starts to mobilize its Janus to sneak up on my Typhoons. I drop my Alex down and have an open shot on one of the Menchits but whiff the damage roll. My secondary weapons can’t do anything useful so the commander just sits tight.
The Immortals make a play for the left flank objective and pile in. Seeing how effective my Occupation Vets were at skipping the objective and running for the windows, the Immortals follow suite. They use the new combined arms ability (Reduced-X) to take four shots at my Skulltaker transport. I get luck and they only land one shot but it crits and takes my transport to half damage.
I don’t want to wait and see if anything else can happen to take down my Skulltaker so I fire back at the Immortals and flame them as well. It ends up being pretty weak and only deals two damage. Then I launch my Berserkers inside to try and dislodge them. They come out swinging and rip through all but two guys on one base. The Immortals make their fortitude save and stay put.
I win initiative on the next round and activate my Berserkers again along with the Skulltaker and Strikehawk. I send the Strikehawk out after the Janus and wipe them both out.
Then my Skulltaker takes out the remaining Immortals. PHR is now out of infantry and are in a real bad spot. The Menchits get over to the other building where my Fighters are with the objective and are able to flame them, knocking them down to one lone guy. The Fighter make his Fortitude save and stays in the building.
I take that as my clue to bug out. My Fighters load up and I have the commander’s lifthawk pick them up for a proper escort.
Now that my commander is without a transport, the Helios come over to see if they can do anything. They have Penetrative shots so maybe they’ll get lucky. I eat my words and they get a surprising 4 damage through, leaving my commander limping at one damage remaining.
My Commander then responds and, with a command card allowing for rerolled misses, I take down one of the Helios. That basically ends the round. A few more units shuffle around and take meaningless shots but with my objective out of reach and almost off the board, there isn’t any way for the PHR to catch up. We call the game satisfied we’d seen a lot of what the new rules can do.
So I tried to keep the report just focused on what happened and not interject comments or judgement. Having said that, here are my closing thoughts on the first game:
The game seemed to move quickly. I didn’t feel like we had to look up many rules. We tried to actually look up things as we went and purposely slow down to make sure we weren’t falling back on the previous edition rules. With a lot of the rules streamlined, the game felt simpler or at least easier to feel like I knew what I was doing and could execute without having to try and remember what an obscure weapon keyword did or make sure we were doing CQB correctly.
I also really like the way the Resistance units interact in army building. The illogical restrictions on what could ride in what was stripped out and the flexibility made things more tactical and logical. It didn’t seem easier or simpler just to eschew strategy as I did have to think about where transports were and the consequences of what they were doing. When I grabbed my Fighters with the objective with the Lifthawk instead of going back into the Kraken, I knew that would leave my commander stranded and it almost bit me hard. Likewise, I wanted to run all my transports at one point to come and take the heat off my commander but forgot that I loaded both the Skulltaker and the Strikehawk back with their respective infantry and I now couldn’t use them since they belonged to other battlegroups.
Even though a faster game is good, speed also seemed like an issue. With units able to full move after disembarking from a transport, the game feels like units more too fast. I totally like that hovercrafts can full move and disembark units as they were really too slow to be of much use before but when units disembark 2″ away and drive another 6″ and drop troops out 2″ away again (usually within 2″ of a garrison) that’s 12 inches compared to a previous 7 inches for most transports with infantry. In several cases, that is a first turn entry into a garrison in the middle of the map. Couple that with the ability to search upon entering and it means you have to rush the board to either get in first or get in and retaliate on turn one to have a shot. With the Resistance having slower transports, it could put them out of reach and unable to threaten garrisons before the other side has searched and left with an objective.
Another change was made to dealing damage. Gone is the look up table that I never enjoyed and a simple “Energy plus die result = target Armor” rule. I like it. It is clean and easy to understand. Unfortunately, it feels like it may need some reviewing as it leads to interesting situations when you look at critical successes in damage. For criticals, you now need to exceed the Armor by 2. This can be easy if your shot is powerful enough, so much so that you might already exceed the armor without the die result and so any result beyond a natural 1 (an automatic failure) is a critical result. My PHR friend sees all his 2 damage walkers overpaying for having extra damage capacity if things can auto-crit easily. If we take the example of my Occupation Veterans shooting at the Phobos, with Focus-3 pumping up the Energy value on my weapon, I could have easily gotten it beyond the armor value of the target so that a 2+ automatically kills the 2 damage point walker. If I was really mean, I could have looked 2 inches to the left and targeted his commander (high energy also bypasses any Passive Save ability).
This leads to another issue where energy values can be pumped up to ridiculous levels. Those Occupation Veterans hit that Phobos seven times. With a base energy level of 4, I could have dropped all the remaining hits and pumped it up to E22. In a game where the most powerful listed weapons are super railguns that are longer than a 737 airliner and only reaching E13, a ragtag group of infantry with overclocked rifles yielding output so much higher is conceptually silly.
Most infantry have another special rule that also raises the energy value of their shots: Reduced-X. This can also create high energy outputs from standard infantry. Does any of this break the game mechanically? Hard to say. Conceptually, it is really awkward but maybe the game can deal with it just fine. Right now I’m not confident that will be the case but will need more plays to really confirm.
Last in this category is building demo or the lack thereof. On the one hand, building demo seems a lot tougher and I’m totally ok with this. Taking down building after building with just a few tanks didn’t seem fun and when things like a beefed up machine gun was contributing to the destruction of a highrise apartment building, that seemed a bit off. So buildings being tougher is totally fine in my book. The Collateral Damage token that goes with it, however, is convoluted and seems to go directly against this edition’s main edict of streamlining things.
First, Collateral Damage is a token that can be applied when a weapon does a critical hit. Or sometimes the weapon adds one automatically. The weapon doesn’t even need to hit sometimes to just add a token. The token then needs to trigger during the Round Up (end) phase. It splits targets with all the squads in the building and the building itself and then does one energy 4 damage shots per token on whatever the target ended up being. This also triggers whenever the token was placed and squads are already inside. Each token does this (random assignment then damage) and stays (ironically) if it deals damage or is removed if it doesn’t deal damage. I was really surprised how convoluted this whole process got and it really took us out of the game to get all this figured out. Even when we knew what it would do, it was the only new or revised rule in the game that felt clunky and took us out of the pacing of the game. Even though some of the new rules were streamlined maybe too far and were questionable on how to implement, this went the total opposite direction.
Unfortunately, there are some items here and they aren’t fun to go through. The biggest thing here is the way Transports load and unload units. This section in the rules is such a mess we couldn’t even use them. There are contradictions on how to even implement the rule where units can’t be within 2 inches of aircraft trying to land and pick them up but the units must be within 2 inches to be picked up. If a squad embarks or disembarks it’s a choice it has to make as part of its move but if the aircraft makes the choice during its activation, it is free but must end its move after taking off from landing to pick them up. Ground transports don’t get the option to pick up or drop off units at all so I guess the squad has to do it during their activation. Aerial Transports say to ignore the rules for the destruction of ground transportation but aren’t complete on what to do when they are destroyed. It is a total mess. Even worse is that the game is Dropzone Commander where the whole concept of the game is fast redeployment of military assets. If you wanted to get one thing right, it would be this main differentiator from all other army-based sci fi wargames.
My friends and I tried to understand how some of these contradictions could even work but things got so convoluted or unplayable that I just got lost and gave up. In our game here, we basically went back to the 1st edition rules and used the new measurement distances.
I go back and forth whether this next item should be put here or in the category above but the new replacement to CQB is really not that fun to me. I know they wanted to streamline things and 1st edition was clunky, the beta 2nd edition was wacky and way too convoluted, but this streamline seems the opposite of who should be rewarded in a close quarters fight.
Now that infantry can act immediately upon entering a building, they can also attack right away. But attacks aren’t simultaneous, they are treated just like regular units fighting on the battlefield so when you have, say, four bases of Immortals hunkered in a building and two bases of Berserkers bust in on them, those Berserkers are throwing 30 dice their way. As an advantage, the occupier gets to make the attackers reroll their successes. While this is nice in theory, all it takes is for the dice not to go your way and it is all over.
In the case of my Berserkers, they landed a lucky 16 damage on 30 dice (needing 4+ to damage). Statistically speaking, they should have done around 7-8 damage after rerolling successes. But they didn’t and all the hard work the occupier took in taking up the advantageous position was undone by these berserkers-come-lately. It seems like the “advantage” of getting attacked first really isn’t there and if you are caught on the wrong side of a double activation where you lost initiative for the next round, you stand a good chance of just getting wiped out even if the rerolls mitigated most of the first attack’s damage. You couple this with multiple ways the attackers can mitigate the occupiers advantage with Rapid Insertion skills and it gets even worse. There is one command card that can let you attack first and another that can let you vacate but that is really all you can hope for to defend from this situation. Or I guess you can just not enter and wait for your opponent to jump in. Of course if you both wait, then you play a sort of lame, anti-heroic game of chicken. Either way, it doesn’t make for a pleasant experience.
Okay, enough. I can’t bag on the rules anymore even though I’m sure there are other things in there that need to be addressed. The main reason I can’t is because I still really like the game. I think there are some nice things going on in that rulebook and I’m eager to play again despite its shortcomings. I feel like the game has momentum now and if they can address the rules issues quickly, you’ll see the game grow and push into exciting new territory. If they can’t, then my friends and I will figure out a way to make it work on our own. All I do know is, at the end of the day, we’ll still be having fun with Dropzone.