UCM Cruiser Guide
Updated 22 October 2022
Welcome to part three of our UCM fleet deep dive. Here we’ll be talking about the mainstay ships of the Drop-verse: cruisers. While you can go lighter on these ships, you’re going to have at least some of them. Our goal here is to give you an idea of how strong these ships are, where they slot into your fleet, and how you should use them on the table. We give each ship a 1-5 rating based on our totally arbitrary feelings about these ships. You can and should disagree as you gain more experience with these ships, and these ratings should by no means deter you from at least trying out a ship. We’re using a unique symbol for each faction. UCM gets explosions to represent their “when in doubt, apply more firepower” approach and generally brutal looking aesthetic. A ship rated with five explosions is something we consider extremely good, probably a “must take” in a competitive sense. On the other end, one explosion means you’re probably going to struggle to justify bringing the ship. Let’s dive in.
Osaka Light Cruiser
Osakas are very efficient ships. They’re almost Scourge-like in their affinity for better living through firepower. They come in at over 20 points cheaper than their medium cruiser counterpart (the Rio). They lose armor, hull, and the Rio’s smaller 4+ lock guns in the process. Rather than diminish their power, though, I personally think it gives them some great advantages. They can maximize their firepower while remaining on standard orders, so rather than lighting themselves up like the Vegas Strip to use a second, smaller weapon like the Rio, they can discard any spikes they may have accumulated. Spending 164 for 8+D6 shots with a 3+ lock appeals to me quite a bit. Spending another 46 points for 8 shots on a 4+ lock that comes with a major spike really does not. The catch is that you always need at least 2 Osakas to be truly effective. Once one goes down, you lose a lot of firepower from the loss of squadron, though it isn’t all that expensive to add some redundancy in the form of a third Osaka. Osakas also do not hold up well under fire, with their reduced armor and hit points compared to the Rio. In honesty, it’s really not fair to compare the Rio and the Osaka. The Rio is for the middle of the field, where you know you can’t avoid being targeted and as such don’t care as much about spikes. The Osaka is a flanker, providing supporting fire while avoiding fire itself.
Like you’ll find with most cruisers, a low strategy rating is pretty much out of the question. You start at a minimum of 10. You can get away with just 2 Osakas, but since they are often a major portion of your firepower if you bring them, I very much like pairing them with a Lima. If you don’t mind them possibly coming on late, my ideal battlegroup is 3 Osakas and a Lima. The amount of firepower that group can bring is staggering, even if it loses one of the Osakas. If you’re going lighter on launch and need some Aegis protection, a Jakarta can fill in that same scanning role. The Osakas are perfectly comfortable on standard orders while the Jakarta scans. The catch is that you need to be careful with your orbital layers since scanning prevents layer shifting, which could in turn lose you the protection of Aegis. Keep the group back and/or on the flanks so that you don’t have to worry as much about incoming fire.
New Cairo Light Cruiser
The dynamic between New Cairos and Berlins is kind of the opposite of that between Osakas and Rios. Unlike the Osaka/Rio dynamic, New Cairos and Berlins don’t really have different roles. Both are vanguard units, looking to be out in front of your fleet, using their burnthrough lasers to both do damage to heavily armored targets as well as add spikes via their flash rule. Such a role inevitably means they take return fire. The New Cairo’s 4+ armor and lower hit point value make it difficult to survive as a vanguard unit. The speed is certainly a perk to increase your reach, but that’s about it.
Another big disadvantage of the New Cairo is that it comes in pairs at a minimum. This isn’t a big deal with the Osaka/Rio dynamic since both ships want to be taken in pairs at a minimum anyway to take advantage of squadron. You don’t need that with the burnthrough weapons and you may not necessarily want it. Starting off with a minimum strategy rating of 10 on a battlegroup that wants to be in the game early is a problem in a distant deployment. If you are hell bent on using New Cairos, at least try to keep their strategy rating below 15. Their flash rule is a big part of why you’re paying what you’re paying. If the ships don’t appear until turn three, you will likely find their ability to toss around spikes less relevant.
San Francisco Troopship
The San Francisco is essentially a mandatory asset for the UCM. It is the single source of bulk landers in the UCM fleet, and having at least some bulk landers is an absolutely critical part of Dropfleet’s objective play. Bulk Landers add a lot of troops to pile on objectives or a defensive battery to shoot down enemy drop assets. The defense battery is especially important when you're defending a station, as bombardment can't bail you out of a bad situation. I've started to come around a bit more on this ship in recent months. It's hard to look at the San Fran side by side with other factions' options and not be a little sad. PHR in particular has some fantastic bulk lander platforms. However, the San Fran is reasonably tough with 10 hull and 3+ amor and solid reach with an 8" thrust . They're probably slightly better than their Scourge counterpart. Their guns are barely worth considering, but that's not why you're bringing them. Bulk Landers are a really critical asset. I've come to like bringing two of them, usually ensure at least one of them survives until late game. They're going to pull fire, but you can use that to your advantage by taking attention away from your damage dealers.
At a bare minimum, you want to bring at least one. I generally like my San Fran as part of a dedicated atmosphere-focused Battlegroup. My preferred UCM fleet right now has one Battlegroup with a San Fran, three Lysanders and three Santiagos: everything you need to fight like hell for objectives. I like at least one group like this so that I can get as many atmospheric assets on the board as fast as possible. As with all cruisers, you can’t really keep the strategy rating all that low, but I think it’s still a good idea to keep it below 15. The ground game can snowball if you get behind, so I like to ensure that my San Frans are always on the board by at least turn 2 in a distant deployment. The San Fran also has a giant bullseye on its back, so you'll want to keep it well protected. Make sure you’ve got some of your heavier ships around it to present a targeting dilemma. You want to be able to say “if you go for my troopship, I’m gonna make you pay.”
Man is the Seattle a controversial ship. You either love this ship or you hate it. After spending some time on the “hate it” side of the fence, I now stand firmly in the “love it” camp. The Seattle is the ultimate DFC generalist. It is not a particularly efficient or scary carrier. UCM fighters and bombers, after all, are amongst the least scary version of either in the game. Nor is its main gun all that terrifying. Osakas can mass similar fires in greater volume for much cheaper. It’s the combination of the two that makes for a fantastic ship for me. While other carriers can launch more fighters and bombers, they can’t match the Seattle’s direct firepower. And while UCM fighters and bombers aren’t that scary, they can start adding up very quickly. Two Seattles and a Johannesburg are suddenly launch 9 and bring a solid amount of resilience and firepower to the table to boot. It’s a solid core of a fleet, allowing you to defend yourself well if your opponent is launch-heavy, while allowing you to be aggressive if they are launch-light.
As a launch ship, the Seattle is pretty comfortable being in a larger Battlegroup as well as coming onto the table in later turns. Massed launch doesn’t really start truly coming into play until at least turn 2, so if you’re entering the game on turn 2 or turn 3, you react to where your opponent has deployed and launch fighters from the backline to support your forward ships. It’s OK to be mainly defensive with your launch as UCM. Your opponent’s bombers are almost certainly going to be more of a threat than yours, so mitigating those assets while your Seattles close the gap and use their main guns is a perfectly acceptable way to use them. The Seattle is also quite a resilient ship, meaning it can often afford to take some punishment. It needs to be around during the launch phase to be most effective, anyway, so it cares a lot less about getting that first or last activation than some of your small ships.
The Madrid is the ultimate embodiment of “nuke it from orbit, just to be sure.” Sure, it has some other guns, but the Madrid’s only real job is to obliterate some dudes on the ground with prejudice. More importantly, it does that for very cheap. Point for point it is the most efficient bombardment ship in the game save for the Istanbul, which has a major speed downside. Because of the Madrid, UCM is probably the faction most able to make major comebacks in the ground game. A Madrid jetting into a hotly contested cluster can reasonably kill a sector in a single volley, often swinging that cluster in your favor in short order. In scenarios that reward destroying sectors, UCM are at a decided advantage thanks to the Madrid. I don’t really tend to leave home without one.
Bombardment is generally a late game tool, and since the Madrid specializes in bombardment, you can afford to leave it off the table for last in a column deployment, or put it in a high strategy rating Battlegroup for a distant deployment. As for exactly where the Madrid should go in your fleet…well, that’s entirely up to you. Because it doesn’t have very specific deployment or activation needs, it can afford to get tacked on to wherever you can afford to add 5 points of strategy rating. Like the San Fran, it is likely to be a high priority target for your opponent. If you’re playing a scenario that encourages maximum damage with your bombardment, it’s best to keep it protected in a similar way. If you’re just using it to strategically shift a cluster or two, then feel free to use it to draw fire. It is very hard to stop a determined Madrid from getting to at least one sector before it dies, so you’ll get value out of it regardless. The effectiveness of bombardment can sometimes be mitigated by a crafty opponent. The rules forbid you from bombarding a sector with friendly ground forces, so a good opponent will keep their troops in sectors you can’t bombard if faced with a Madrid problem. Still, it is absolutely excellent for its cost and effectiveness.
The Berlin costs only 17 points more than the New Cairo. That cost alone is worth the increased armor and hit points. The extra guns are just a nice bonus for when you’re in brawling range and don’t need to turn. If you can use them and your laser, great. If not, it’s really no big loss. You’ll need to carefully manage the narrow arc. Don’t be afraid to use come to new heading orders. That’s why you paid for the Berlin’s extra armor after all; so you can deal with the extra spikes. Above all, your love for the Berlin, however, is going to come down to how tolerant you are of streaky damage. I for one have gotten burned by too many cold dice to trust two dice on a 3+. Hence my relatively low personal ranking of the Berlin. There are others that swear by their face melting prowess.
As mentioned above for the New Cairo, the Berlin is a vanguard unit. It wants to be on the table early, melting armor and adding spikes so other friendly units can take advantage. I wouldn’t put them in a battlegroup of higher than 14 strategy rating. One of the big advantages of the Berlin over any other UCM burnthrough platform is the ability to get it into a sub-10 strategy rating battlegroup. True, Viennas can as well, but they don’t really count. They have a far lower damage cap as well as a significant speed disadvantage. The Berlin can push forward quickly, reliably get on the table early, and attempt to push the initiative with a low strategy rating. That’s a rather unique burnthrough asset for UCM.
The Rio is a perfectly fine ship. It’s tough, has solid speed, and has plenty of firepower. Thanks to their squadron rule, though, you always have to have at least two of them if you want them to be worth their cost. At full strength, Rios on weapons free orders deal out a high volume of firepower. As soon as one of the Rios goes down, though, the drop off is significant. While that’s true of Osakas as well, Rios has the unfortunate problem of lighting themselves up like a Christmas Tree, while the Osakas can remain on standard orders, discarding any spikes they happen to pick up. The cost increase on Rios also doesn’t help. Yes, it comes with more hull and better armor. But you know what’s better than that? Not being seen in the first place. It’s not entirely fair to compare Osakas to Rios as they perform different roles despite the similar weapons. Rios are for the frontlines, where you know you’re going to have to take fire regardless of how well you manage your spikes. Osakas excel mainly as flankers. Still, I think the Rio is outclassed in its role by the Seattle. The Seattle has all the toughness of the Rio, the same main gun, plus a launch of 3. Even with losing the smaller gun and squadron rule, in addition to the higher cost, the Seattle still comes out on top in that comparison in my opinion.
That said, the Rio isn’t bad by any means. If you don’t like the Seattle, you probably will like the Rio. After all, 2 Rios and a Jakarta costs less than two Seattles while maintaining a similar amount of protection against launch (in the immediate area). When running Rios, that is my preferred way to do so. A Battlegroup of 2-3 Rios and a Jakarta is a pretty powerful core of your fleet. It pumps out a lot of fire and is pretty hard to bring down. The Jakarta can scan in a pitch if needed, but keep in mind that means both being unable to adjust orbital layers and being unable to go weapons free with the Rios themselves. If you brought them, you probably want to be going weapons free.