I’ve had some time to think about the Dropzone Commander games that I played over the weekend. While I enjoy the gathering of friends and the rolling of dice, the games themselves were more of a farce than a gaming experience. That isn’t a slight on my opponents as they played with the superior strategy and won out legitimately. Moreover, the game did not excite or engage like it did in the past and now I find myself wondering where to go from here.
Now, right from the start I’ll come out that this is totally subjective. I’m just drawing on my own personal experiences and while Ignacy Trzewiczek would have you believe that one cannot form an opinion on a game after only a handful of plays or that Playtesters can become broken commodities if they get too tied to previous editions, I disagree. It’s not to say that people can’t abuse a snap decision off one playthrough but all too often, I see designers and publishers guilty of the same thing in their rush to get their product to market.
With that rabbit hole out of the way, I’ll try to identify why the game is failing in my experience. Many aspects of the game are still present in concept: combined arms are still necessary to combat your opponent but the shift in power centering on the infantry means that units that were singular in there role need to be on the extreme edge of power to garner table time. Otherwise the infantry rise up and replace them.
For example, multiple elite infantry can now exceed the firepower of dedicated anti-air or anti-tank units (or both). In my opening comic of the Scourge troops not worrying about the lurking Behemoth in the background, they can mechanically exceed the weapon firepower of any armor unit in the game. Even the might Hades PHR walker doesn’t sport a weapon that can exceed Energy value 13, but these Scourge standard infantry can along with other infantry units.
While I disagree conceptually that my band of Berserkers can exceed the raw physical power of the industrial cutting claw of a 3 story tall Pizarro Walker, using only their pick axe’s and chainsaws, the balance starts to look suspect as infantry punch outside their weight class. The fact that I can take that squad of Berserkers (70 points) and drop them on top any 2 damage unit in the game and destroy it 92% of the time sounds very wrong (they auto-hit and will damage anything in the game on a 2+). If they were the only ones able to do that, I could see that it was an oversight but multiple infantry can achieve this God-level of power.
With the latest errata and FAQ responses, the design team seems to push this as an actual feature rather than a bug. Even more concerning is the want to make Infantry a powerful weapon against yet another unit option: the Behemoth. As if outclassing dedicated anti-air and anti-tank units wasn’t enough.
Playing our recent games revealed another aspect of this edition, the pacing is extremely quick. Most of our games wrapped up in 2 or 3 rounds. My game in particular only took a single activation cycle of my army to conclude.
When a game can be determined in one round, the pace is off. It is hard to determine if this was the intention of the designers or the product of scenarios not meshing with the rules. If the game should be a fast and furious scramble to secure victory, the scenarios could set that expectation by indicating the game ending in three rounds instead of six.
I have not played enough games of the new edition to uncover whether the game is merely faster or just dependent on crucial initial die rolls such as initiative and the first search roll. The latter consideration would indicate a serious design flaw if the game can be determined as quickly as who got to go first or who succeeded in their first objective search rolls.
All of this and more has me frustrated with the edition and the direction the game is heading. The latest errata and FAQ show a design team entrenched in their offering and wanting to take a “wait and see” approach to further development of the game. With so much of their fan feedback in direct opposition, I’m not sure what they are actually waiting on. I can only assume they are waiting to see more real game feedback, like their player base now paid for the chance to beta test the game.
Unfortunately, I’m seeing the opposite in my community. The game is either dropping in the play rotation or being shelved until “they figure their rules out.” With less games being played, the designers will see less feedback and game will just fizzle out. I don’t really know where to go with what used to be one of our favorite miniatures games. I know I don’t want to just shelve the game for another 3 months waiting for the next Errata but I also don’t want to sit here and playtest their rules for them.
It is clear from the commentary in their FAQ (like the excerpt I called out above), that they have a direction they want the game to move towards. For now, I’ll just have to retreat back into pimping and painting while I think about whether that is the direction I want to continue in.