Introduction to Gaming in the Drop-verse

Hey everyone! Truthiness here again to talk Drop-verse. We got a huge swell of interest on our Discord about Dropfleet and Dropzone Commander after our first article. I’m sure that’s in no way related to news about a certain other game we like to play. In any case, Snipafist asked me to expand on the basics of the two games and the five factions to help out any prospective new players interested in this awesome universe. Be warned, I fully intend to cover both games in all of these articles, so if you’re just interested in boats or just interested in tanks..sorry, not sorry. I love both of these games, and I will infect you with my enthusiasm if it kills me!

On the Ground

Dropzone Commander is first and foremost about objective play. There is no “line up and kill each other” format. Every game is intended to be played with a scenario. There are some in the digital rulebook, a bunch in the Battle for Earth, and even more generated by the community for tournaments and the like. Each scenario requires you to secure something, be it an area, a building, seize something of value and extract it, and so on. There are four general categories of units: infantry, armor, artillery, and airpower. You know, just like modern warfare.

Armor is the “standard” unit of the game. It will form the core of your combat power, and will be the units that operate out in the open. You will have a whole lot of armor. They hit hard and can take a punch in turn. Armor on armor fights will do a lot to determine what sections of the board you can control, deter enemy units from approaching your more vulnerable backline, and generally just do a lot of the killing. Especially Scourge Hunters. I hate those annoying buggers.

Oh, sorry? Did you want to sleep tonight?

Infantry, however, are vitally important. Just about every scenario requires you to enter buildings to either secure or find objectives. Infantry are the only ones that can do that. In the open, infantry are going to get murdered. In buildings, however, they can be very dangerous to armored units that get too close. And there should be a ton of buildings in your DzC games if you look at the scenarios. You have to balance your ability to take and hold objectives with your other assets. If you can murder all the other armor, but can’t get into important buildings, you are going to lose.

Airpower comes in two flavors. The standard aircraft generally has a high movement rate, but low armor. You must have anti-air weapons to target them, so they can be relatively safe. Then you have fast movers, which are things like Jet Fighters and Bombers. They have a limited turning radius, limiting their targeting flexibility, but they are able to move on and off the table at will. They also are harder to hit with anti-air weapons, so are great at striking backline units.

Speaking of backline, I absolutely love how this game has handled artillery. It is usually fragile, difficult to move, or both, but when it hits, it is absolutely horrific. They are able to fire from beyond line of sight, but they suffer significant penalties, with one exception: if a scout unit can see their target, there is no penalty. Anyone with a military background should appreciate what this represents: trained spotters calling for fire!

A Shaltari Daimyo in his best He-man pose

List building requirements enforce some diversity of units as well. You have five different types of Battlegroups. Frontline Battlegroups are infantry focused. Armour Battlegroups are...shockingly...armor focused. Vanguard are a mix of specialized units. HQ Battlegroups are where your commander will reside. And War Engine Battlegroups are for the as-yet-unreleased Behemoths can be taken. You are required to take a certain amount of HQ, Frontline, and Armour Battlegroups based on point value, and you are also capped on all types of Battlegroups depending on point value as well. There is an officially supported Dropzone Commander Army Builder run by TTCombat. Unit stats are updated for balance every so often. You can find that builder here.

One of the features that separates DzC from other games at a similar scale is the nature of deployment. The game is intended to simulate a rapid insertion from orbit, as befits the lore of the universe. In most scenarios, your units start off the board and will need to move on. All of your units are highly encouraged to start mounted in an aerial transport. If they don’t they are penalized by being forced to come on a turn later than your units deployed by aerial transport, though there are some exceptions. A big part of list building in DzC is balancing your transport needs with combat power. Once on the ground, units are generally pretty slow, so your transports continue to serve the vital purpose of re-deploying your ground units to react to threats in a pitch, or extracting a unit that has found an objective.


Once you get on the table, DzC is an alternating activation style of game. You activate a Battlegroup, and then your opponent activates a Battlegroup. First player is determined by a roll off each round. That roll, plus your commander value, determines who gets to choose first or second that turn. There is no such thing as a guaranteed last/first in this game. The randomized nature of first player and a cap on the number of Battlegroups you can take largely keeps last/first shenanigans in check.

Shooting weapons should be pretty familiar if you’ve played any other D6 based infantry combat game. Weapons have a minimum value to hit (for example 3+ means you need a 3, 4, 5, or 6 on a D6 to score a hit). Environmental factors can or reduce your chances to hit, such as cover, or recently disembarking from a transport, and a roll of a 1 always misses regardless of any bonuses. If you score a hit, you then roll a further D6. You take that result, add the Energy value of the weapon, and compare that to the Armour value of your target. If you equal or beat the Armour value, you cause damage. There are things that add a little complexity, such as needing anti-air weapons to shoot at aircraft, or area effect weapons that can score partial hits at reduced energy, but that’s shooting in a nutshell. Roll to hit, roll to damage. It’s that simple.

What's the sound of artillery?! Boom! Boom!

What's the sounds of artillery? Boom! Boom!

There are other elements, most notably command cards, that spice things up a good deal, but that is something you’ll learn as you play. Just remember, this game is about objectives: if you aren’t killing enemy units with the express purpose of supporting the objective, you are going to lose. It makes for some wonderfully tense games. I’ve been getting blown out in the force on force fight, only to have that infantry unit with a critical objective get out in just the nick of time.

In Space

Just like DzC, Dropfleet Commander is all about objective-focused gameplay. In fact, at a high conceptual level, the two games are fairly similar. Both games focus a good portion of their objectives in ways that the major damage dealers often cannot directly impact. Yet again, there is no “line up and kill each other” format. Every game is intended to be played with a scenario. There are a bunch in the old rulebook, more in Battle for Earth, and even more generated by the community for tournaments and the like. Each scenario requires you to secure something. That something always includes ground clusters, but can also sometimes include space stations. Ground clusters are composed of 2-4 sectors of varying types. For example, a military sector can shoot back into space, industrial sectors are worth more when determining control of a cluster, and so on. You get victory points based on your control of these clusters, and you often get some victory points based on the number of ships you have in space above the cluster as well.

There are a bunch of different ship classes as well as some key capabilities you’ll need to balance to be successful in DfC. Starting with ship classes, there are general smalls, mediums heavies, super heavies, and dreadnoughts. These are generally separated not just by model size, but also hull points. Hull points are very important in DfC, not just for how much damage they can take, but also a couple other effects. First, when a ship is reduced to half hull, they have to roll on the crippling damage table. These results vary, but a lot of them result in additional hull damage. Small ships can often be destroyed by the crippling result, whereas larger ships can survive them. In addition, all ships in this game have a chance to explode when destroyed. The smaller the ship, the less likely it is to cause collateral damage to nearby ships.

Hi, would you like to hear about our lord and savior, a giant glowy orb?

Small ships have the highest amount of diversity. This can range from Corvettes (usually around 2 hull points) mainly intended for atmospheric combat, to your standard Frigates (generally around 4-5 hull points), to your Destroyers and Monitors (usually around 6 hull points). Smalls are generally lighter armed and armored, faster, and have a reduced signature value (more on what that means later).

Medium ships are your line cruisers. These usually come in the light or standard variety. Light cruisers are often a bridge between smalls and mediums. They usually have similar weapons as your standard cruisers, but with less hull (usually around 8-9 hull points) and less armor. They have a larger potential explosion radius than your small ships, but have the same reduced chance to have catastrophic damage. Standard cruisers are usually your bread and butter. They are often your best balance between efficiency, toughness, and firepower.

Heavy ships are where your big guns start to come out in the form of Heavy Cruisers and Battlecruisers. The firepower on these bad boys is usually significant, and their hull points and their armor value quite high. However, if you compare these ships with their medium and small counterparts, you should usually start to notice you’re getting more firepower and hull with the other ships. It usually also usually comes at the cost of a higher signature value (I promise, I’ll get to that). That’s not to say Heavies are a bad investment. Again, they usually have some of your nastiest capabilities and most concentrated firepower. You also need a good spot for your commander, and Battlecruisers offer discounts on commander cost if they are your flagship.

Superheavies and Dreadnoughts are the apex predators of DfC. Superheavies, aka Battleships, at one point were the largest ships in the game. They have not just higher signature values, but also generally higher scan ranges than your faction’s standard value (I swear, it will all make sense down below). This is where the insane guns and capabilities come out to play. Just wait until you get hit by a PHR dark energy cannon. Dreadnoughts are so big that they have their own specific crippling rules and results. Superheavies have discounts to commander costs (more so than Battlecruisers) and Dreadnought comes with a free max level commander.

Eat your heart out, Cthulhu

In addition to ship size, you also have launch capabilities to consider. There are three types of launch assets. First there are fighters and bombers. A ship that is able to launch one of these is typically able to launch the other. You just have to choose which to launch in a given turn. A ship with launch capability has a per-turn limit, so if a ship has “Fighter and Bombers- 2,” that means you can launch 2 fighters, 2 bombers, or one of each in the launch phase. Bombers blow up ships and fighters defend against close action attacks and bombers by adding to the point defense value of a chosen ship. Second, there are torpedoes. These are generally rare, but quite brutal. They can hit quite hard and bypass point defenses, but are slower to arrive on target than bombers.

The third type of launch deserves its own section as it is probably the most important asset in the game. That is your drop capability. This is the way you get units on the ground or onto space stations and start scoring on those critical objectives. There are two types of drop assets: dropships and bulk landers. Dropships are better able to bypass defenses. They are also usually on faster ships able to get to clusters faster. Bulk landers put more troops on the ground and can put down defenses to disrupt enemy attempts to drop within the same cluster. Ships with drop assets are usually lightly armed, so you need to balance your combat needs with your scoring needs. If you go too high on drop assets, you might not be able to protect your drop assets. Go too light and you risk getting out-fought on the ground.

Like DzC, DfC forces a balance of capabilities in list building. There are X types of Pathfinder Battlegroups, which focus on small ships, Line Battlegroups, which focus on medium ships, Vanguard Battlegroups, which focus on heavy ships, and Flag Battlegroups, which focus on superheavies and dreadnought. Each type of battlegroup is able to take multiple ship sizes, but have a minimum type of a certain class within the battlegroup. Different point levels require certain types of battlegroups and also cap the maximum number of battlegroups (both certain types and overall total). There is an official builder maintained by TTCombat found at this link . They have updated the builder very quickly with each new release and are committed to balance changes going forward.

On the table, battlegroups act as a unit. DfC is an alternating activation game. Each battlegroup has an activation card. At the beginning of the turn, you arrange your battlegroup cards facedown in the order in which you want to activate them. Once planning is done, both players flip their first card and compare the strategy value of your battlegroups. That value is determined by the size of the ships in the battlegroup. The larger the battlegroup and the larger the ships, the higher the strategy value. The player with the lowest strategy value between the two revealed cards gets to decide which battlegroup activates first. Once both players have activated their revealed battlegroups, you then flip the next pair of cards and repeat the process until you’re both out of cards for the turn.

Movement is pretty restrictive in DfC. Without special orders, a ship can only turn 45 degrees, which is done at the beginning of movement. First you turn however far you intend to turn and then the ship moves in a straight line, the distance of which is based on thrust value. There are multiple special orders that can adjust this, but that’s the mechanic at its core.. Ships of the same class size have to maintain coherency with each other and the entire battlegroup has to maintain a coherency as well. If they break coherency, they suffer a penalty to their strategy value.

UCM heard you like ships in the shape of giant guns

Another key part of movement is orbital layers. Ships start in high orbit, and can move down to low orbit. Ships with the “atmospheric” rule can move down a layer further into the atmosphere. Moving down has no penalty, but moving back up a layer costs 4” of movement. There are penalties for firing between orbital layers, and there are crippling damage results that can cause you to lose orbital layers. If a non-atmospheric ship is forced into the atmosphere, they are immediately destroyed. Managing your orbital layer is a key part of movement. It takes time to get a feel, but you can pull off some interesting tricks to avoid incoming fire or slow your speed without special orders.

Finally, shooting is perhaps the most unique aspect of DfC. Every ship has a signature characteristic (or “sig” as you’ll usually see it called), and a scan value. To determine range, you generally add the firing ship’s scan value and the target ship’s sig value. At first glance, it’s going to seem like range is pretty short in DfC. For example, a UCM ship, which will generally have a 6” scan and a sig of 6”. A UCM cruiser firing at another UCM cruiser needs to close to within 12” to fire. However, different circumstances and order can cause ships to accumulate spikes. A minor spike adds 6” of a ship’s sig. A major spike adds 12”. A big part of gameplay is managing your ships’ spikes. Sometimes it’s time to stay quiet to avoid getting shot. Other times it’s best to go weapons free and light yourself up like a Christmas tree. Just like movement and orbital layers, it takes time to get a feel for sig management, but the mechanic makes for very fun and dynamic engagements.

There are many more aspects to the game. For example, command cards, just like DzC, are a big part of the game. In fact, I generally think the cards in DfC are more interesting and impactful than DzC. That’s for when you start to get more advanced, though. For now, just remember: objectives, objectives, objectives. Just like on the ground, you can easily lose a game of Dropfleet if you focus on nothing but destroying enemy ships. The game rewards a balanced approach, which is one of my favorite aspects.

Fear the space hedgehogs

That’s all for today! If you have questions, feel free to jump into the Steel Strategy Unnamed Place Discord at We’ll do our best to answer your questions there. Thanks for stopping by!