Top Five Reasons to Try Dropzone and Dropfleet Commander
Hey everyone! It's Truthiness here bringing you our first entry of the Blissfully Ignorant Gaming Blog! Unlike our CYGSO blog, which focuses on Star Wars Armada, this section of the website will cover a wider variety of games, just like the BIG Podcast. Today, I'm talking about a pair of games you may have heard Shmitty and I raving about, or seen played on our YouTube channel: Dropzone and Dropfleet Commander. These games were originally published by Hawk Games and resurrected by TTCombat. Both are an absolute blast to play, so much so that you'll probably see a fair number of blog entries from me in the near future. To start us off, Shmitty and I had a chat and came up with the top five things we love about these games.
#1- The Models
I mean, have you seen them? Go look again. We can wait.
The main knock against 10mm scale games is the detail often feels lacking on the models. Well, DzC takes that stereotype and throws it out the airlock. The models in this game continue to amaze us, especially since each faction has a very distinct style. To paraphrase Snipafist, you have five options: average joe, H.R. Giger aliens, anime porcupine aliens, better than humanity, and die historic on the fury road. If anything, the DFC fleets are even more stunning than the DzC ground forces. UCM maintain that brutal utilitarian look, but in space it somehow comes off even better. It looks like a fleet of flying guns. PHR keep those sleek lines and awesome high tech feel. Scourge are so fluid and monstrous. Resistance look exactly as kitbashed as you would want and expect from jury-rigged spaceships. And the Shaltari look utterly and totally alien. The flying saucers are an especially nice touch.
While each army visually evokes popular sci-fi franchises, they are put together in a way that is uniquely Dropzone. Both the Scourge and Shaltari look completely alien, both from the human forces and from each other. Even the three human-based armies have their own distinct flavor, from the hyper-advanced PHR, the utilitarian sci-fi of the UCM, to the retro futuristic equipment and post-apocalyptic forces of the Resistance. If one of these factions doesn’t reach out and grab your attention...you might want to get your head examined, because there is something missing deep in your soul.
The truly impressive part to us is the care they take with the relative scale of models within a faction. In every single case, the dropships in DzC are fully in scale with the ground forces. The aerial transports are able to physically fit the models they are intended to transport. There is no need for abstraction. A Resistance Hovercraft really can hold that horde of Technicals. A PHR Neptune has the hardware for carrying a walker on its underside and each PHR ground unit has a matching attachment point modeled onto it as well. Scourge skimmers slide right into the Marauder like Battlestar Galactica’s Cylon Raiders. You can add magnets to these attachment points, allowing your dropships to truly carry their cargo into battle. In space, every detail on the ship has a purpose, and the kits give you so many options. The attention to detail from the sculptors is incredibly impressive. These great little touches can be found across all five factions.
#2- Free, Recently Updated, Rules
The rules are 100% free. You can read them right here before investing a penny:
The Drop-verse manages the impressive balancing act of simple, yet deep. What we mean by that is the games rely on their core rules to provide distinction between units, with special rule exceptions kept to a minimum. These are our favorite game systems, as they make for an easier introduction for new players, while simultaneously providing tactical depth for veteran players. Games shouldn’t be about “gotcha” moments trying to remember an ever increasing number of special rules. It is not an easy accomplishment, but we think DzC and DfC really nail it.
Rule tweaks have been consistent for both games. DzC v2.1 streamlined the game a little over a year ago, and v2.2 making some adjustments only a couple months back. For Dropfleet, the updates are even more recent. The rules have been entirely digitized and streamlined, just like DzC, with the 1.3 rulebook dropping just last week. TTCombat seems committed to regular updates going forward. The rule adjustments for DzC also came with unit balancing, the latest of which was absolutely massive. The next big thing on the horizon is behemoths. The behemoth rules are especially intriguing, though no behemoth unit has actually been released to date. Dropfleet has had a bunch of new units lately, but appears to be waiting on an imminent website redesign before a big rebalancing.
#3- The Universe
We love this universe. No grimdark, but no flawless protagonists either. As you read the background material you can see why each force has a clear motivation for fighting in the wars of the Reconquest. The reasons for alliances and betrayals are all internally consistent. It never feels too random when a new force appears in a theater, and just about any matchup can be justified in universe. The best part is the studio has shown a willingness to push the story forward, giving us more background in an increasingly rich universe.
Here’s a very quick synopsis of the story so far:
Mankind became a spacefaring race, quickly encountering technologically superior aliens called the Shaltari. The Shaltari gave humanity advanced travel abilities (jump nodes) and some choice colony worlds. However, it turned out the Shaltari were a heavily factioned race, and some other tribes attacked the humans. It turned out those first tribes were hoping to use humans as meat for their civil wars, as Shaltari breed very slowly. The humans told the Shaltari to sod off and an age of peace reigned for a while, with Earth and the Cradle Worlds becoming beacons of human civilization.
Eventually an object called the White Sphere crashed on Earth and broadcast a warning of impending disaster for mankind. It gave coordinates for an exodus away from Earth and its Cradle World colonies. Some tried to leave, but the Earth Navy tried to stop them. This resulted in a battle where the escaping ships fired first, crippling the Earth Navy. Shortly after, Earth and the Cradle Worlds were simultaneously invaded by a race of parasitic aliens called the Scourge. Only a faction of humanity escaped to the poorer outer colonies, where they turned off their jump nodes. Contact with Earth, the Cradle Worlds, and the colony Kalium was lost at this time. The outer colonies formed the United Colonies of Mankind (UCM) who organized their societies with the sole purpose of reconquering the Earth and Cradle Worlds.
Eventually scouting parties were sent to the colony worlds to plot for an invasion and they made contact with human Resistance forces. These forces were usually cooperative with the UCM, but some were occasionally run by belligerent petty warlords. The Resistance used a combination of old Earth Alliance Army (EAA) equipment and militarized civilian equipment. On the eve of the first wave of the Reconquest, an emissary of the Post Human Republic arrived at the UCM capital to warn them against the planned invasion. The UCM recognized the PHR as the “Abandonists” who had followed the White Sphere and told them to sod off. The Reconquest went generally in the UCM’s favor early on with a few colonies liberated, although setbacks caused some systems to turn into a meat grinder. The Shaltari and PHR frequently intervened, although seemingly at random. Eventually the PHR conquered a system of their own and the Shaltari cut the UCM out of another.
The Scourge contacted the UCM and let them know that humanity was one of many races the Shaltari had thrown in their way in the hope that they would grind each other up. The UCM responded that they would kill the Shaltari after they were done with the Scourge, which led to a Scourge invasion of some of the UCM outer colonies. It became obvious at this point that Shaltari intervention was geared at causing maximum casualties on both sides of the conflict, but no one knew what the hell the PHR was up to. Things had ground to something of a stalemate when an opening was blown in the Scourge defenses on Earth by a Resistance force. The UCM didn’t have the manpower to exploit the opening, until they were approached with an offer of alliance by both the PHR and the lost colony of Kalium. Kalium had been cut off but maintained a vast army of old Earth Alliance Army (EAA) equipment. Together the “Triad” invaded Earth, but with no guarantee of success. And that’s where we are in the current fluff.
One of our favorite features of Dropzone Commander is simply the 10mm scale. The most popular sci-fi ground combat games out there, specifically Warhammer 40,000 and Star Wars: Legion, use a 28-32mm scale. While it allows model designers to add smaller details, when it comes to the gameplay, they essentially feel like a minor skirmish. It’s about a platoon level fight. That’s fun in their own right, but not really representative of what an actual war would look like. To even get up to a company-size engagement, 40k and Legion games get very long and quite expensive in terms of models you have to buy. And by the time you bring a few squads of infantry and a tank or two there isn’t much room on the table to feel like there is a maneuver game left.
In terms of model size, Dropzone Commander is about Battalion size engagements and higher. This scale allows you to get a force on the table that feels like a real army, but never feels crowded. In DzC, the smaller scale allows you to field an army with a vast array of different forces, from small scouting units to larger war engines and artillery, with each having room to do its job. The game plays with more depth in maneuver than many other tabletop games because of its scale. The scale also allows for a much larger variety of weapon ranges to be represented. For example, a 32mm game can’t really do artillery or flyers in an enjoyable way because the scale is miles beyond what can reasonably fit on the table. There’s a reason a lot of historical wargames use a scale closer to DzC than to 40k. It makes for a much deeper tactical experience.
While Dropfleet models are closer in scale to other fleet games, it manages to put a whole heck of a lot more models on the table. Thanks to the simple-yet-deep rules, it makes for games comparable in length Star Wars: Armada and Battlefleet Gothic. All those ships on the table make it feel like a fleet game, more so than any other game
#5- Objective Based Play Enabling True Combined Arms Warfare
In a great many games, one type of unit tends to dominate over all others. In Legion and 40k, there’s really just armor vs infantry, with infantry generally being better (depending on the edition of 40k). In a lot of ways, that comes back to scale. On the ground, at 28-32mm scale, armor and infantry are all you can really fit. It’s a binary relationship, which means one will almost inevitably be better than the other. In actual warfare, though, you have aircraft and artillery as well to tilt the scales. This is something that DzC gets very very right. Each unit type has a job. Infantry are the only ones able to secure objectives and enter garrisons. They can suffer badly in the open, but are quite stubborn in the safety of a garrison. Armor is the bread and butter of the game. They gain and hold ground, and provide the bulk of your most efficient firepower. Artillery murders things from afar, but dies quickly with things in its face. Aircraft provide mobility and quick strike, being especially good at going after artillery.
In Dropfleet, there are similar corollaries. Your line ships have the big guns. Your drop assets bring the landing units you need to secure objectives. You have units dedicated to reaching into atmosphere to hunt down dropships. If you don’t bring enough line ships, your drop assets are going to get hunted down badly. If you don’t bring enough drop assets, you are going to lose the objectives, no matter how many enemy ships you blow up. It is a delicate balancing act in list building that really highlights the benefits of the objective based focus of both games. To truly succeed, you can’t really skew hard toward one unit type in either game. The list of possible problems goes on and on. At the end of the day, skew is noticeably bad in DzC and DfC, rewarding a true combined arms approach. That is a huge and wonderful achievement.
Bonus- If You Can’t Hold It, Blow It to Hell
Not convinced so far? OK, we’ve got a bonus one for you: if you can’t hold it, just flatten it! For real. Can’t secure a building? Blow it up with artillery. Can’t secure a sector? Bombard it from space. How is that not amazing? It’s not a small thing to do, but the fact that it is an option tells you how much fun you can have in the Drop-verse.