Monday 21 November 2016

Dropfleet Commander Gameplay overview

A few weeks ago now I wrote about my experiences of testing out different colour schemes for my UCM, well, of those 8 I created, I settled for a ninth one... Duly placing an order at Firestorm Games for a starter set, which arrived in rapid time I set to assembling my UCM fleet for our first few games, and here are my initial thoughts on the game and rules.

For those who have played Battlefleet Gothic, the format will be instantly familiar, being a landscape soft cover format, however a protective sleeve is also provided to aid storing the book on a bookshelf and aid presentation in stores.

The book starts off with some history of the Dropzone universe, and for those who are already up to speed with this lore, the story is advanced a little from Reconquest Phase 2. It's worth mentioning the art through the book at this stage too, as the presentation is really quite beautiful.
Next on we get to the rules. These are actually very, very simple, however are explained with a lot of box outs and examples. I'll discuss the actual game play a little later, however I did enjoy how the rules were set out and explained.  

 After the rules we come to the scenarios, of which 8 are included covering various different deployment types and scenario options. I'll speak about these broadly when I cover the rules as they are critical to the way the game itself is played.

At the end of the scenario section is a guide to integrating Dropfleet into your games of Dropzone, and vice versa, as well as rules for campaign play. This was a touch that particularly pleased me, as the concept of both games links so well and seemed so suited for this type of gaming. 

 Following on from these we come to fleet building and army lists. These cover the human UCM forces, the post human PHR, as well as the alien Scourge and Shaltari. Each list is presented with a history of each race, their technology, and any specific special rules that may apply, before detailing each ship they can use with a nice picture, some more lore about each class, and of course their rules too. 
The book is finished off with a story, and some templates and counters to print and use in your games.

Presentation and quality are excellent. There's no index sadly, however the book is quite easy to navigate as each section is colour coded so finding stuff is surprisingly quick.

How it works
Space ships rumble around blowing each other up whilst dropping men and tanks onto a planet. 
In more specific terms... 

As previously mentioned, forces are organised into battlegroups, these are then rated according to the tonnage of the battle group. the more ships, the higher the tonnage. The contents of a battle group and its tonnage rating are written onto an activation card, with each battlegroup having its own card. In the planning stage of the turn, you organise these into the order you want each group to activate, and then place them face down. each player then reveals their top card, and the lowest rated one gets to activate first or second.

 Once both players have activated their battlegroups, then the next card is revealed, and so on until all cards have been turned face up. Once they are, the turn is over and they can be resorted. In practice, this tends to lead to smaller lighter groups being more tactically flexible, but heavier groups being more resilient and slower to respond, which feels right. Note that the ratings aren't adjusted as ships are destroyed. 

When activated, you declare an order for the battlegroup, and this can either be a special order, or a standard order, with ships being able to individually use that battlegroups special order or standard orders. Special orders allow vessels to do something slightly different to the norm, such as move faster, fire more weapons, make an extra turn, etc. 

Force selection
Before speaking specifically about force selection, It's worth mentioning that all the scenarios require you to land troops on an objective, so every fleet will require a balance of forces that can deploy ground troops to the objective, as well as ships capable of defending that objective and driving off the opposition, aaaand then holding a location too. There's a lot to think about, and you will struggle to have all the tools you need to do this in a force. 

Forces are divided into battlegroups, with the maximum amount of battle groups decided by points size of the game. Up to 999 points is skirmish level, 1000-1999 is clash and battle is 2000-3000. Skirmish level allows you up to 4 battle groups, clash is 6, and battle is 7. Battle groups themselves are divided again into pathfinder type, which focuses on lighter classes such as frigates, corvettes and a small number of cruisers. Line, which sees Cruisers and a few escorting frigates, Vanguard which contains your battle cruisers and their support, and finally Flag, which is your super heavy battleship types. 

Into this mix of battlegroups you will need to get some strike carriers which fall into the Frigate category, and probably a bulk lander or two, which fall into the cruiser band. There is also a number of compulsory battlegroup types depending on size of the battle, and a limit on how many launch assets (fighters, bombers torpedoes), that can be contained in a fleet as well 

This all serves to make the list building side of the game quite critical, as you will have to start formulating plans and schemes of what you want your formations to do even before the game is set up. This may not be to everyone's taste, but personally I love it, and if you're familiar with Dropzone this will be fairly recognisable. 

Ships have thrust value, this is how far they can move, and most orders mean that they have to move at least half this distance. Turns are restricted as well, with only one 45 degree turn at the start of the move permitted under most circumstances. Ships can also change orbital layer, making them harder to hit from other layers, and necessary for deploying troops to the objectives.


Range is unlimited for weapons, and the ability to shoot at a target is determined by combining your ships scan rating, the signature of the target, and any sensor spikes they may have accumulated , which can add either 6" or 12" depending on whether they are minor or major spikes. To actually hit the target, just grab the number of dice listed under the attack rating for the weapon, and roll over the weapons lock value. The target then gets to save these by rolling over their ships armour value, with any dice not exceeding the armour value resulting in damage. When the ship is at half it's number of hull points you roll on the critical damage table, and usually something awful happens (In my experience). Once all the hull points have gone, a ship is destroyed. 
When rolling to hit, if you score 2 more than your lock value, then no armour save is permitted. Ships tend to die fairly quickly, and the game is quite punishing if you make a mistake, (and your opponent capitalises on it.)

Fighters, Bombers and Dropships, oh my! 

Launch assets are very simpley handled, and essentially work like a shooting attack, with fighters adding to a ships defensive fire dice pool, and bombers working like any other weapon. Drop ships go to the planet and deploy your ground assets,  which can fight your opponents in the following turn, and that's about it. Torpedoes are very nasty, and thankfully very limited too. Launch assets can be launched in every turn too, they are not restricted for the most part.  

Game play impressions
I've managed to squeek a few games in all at around the thousand point level, playing a few different scenarios, and my initial feelings are very positive. 

Suggested game play is a 4x4 area, however we have used a 6x4 as we like to have more room for movement and it forces you to commit to a course of action.  Victory conditions in most scenarios earn victory points in the 4th and 6th turns, so you have to constantly keep fighting, without resting on initial success. 

The first turn or two generally tends to be slower, with fleets entering the board and jostling for position, before turns 3 and 4 seeing the major clashes around objective points and ships starting to explode. turn 5 sees the battered survivors of the early clash reorganising and attempting to get into that final point of dominance at the end of the game. 

All the games we have played have pretty much come down to the final turn, final dice throw of the game with the battles utterly undecided until that point. 

We've done a few multi player games, and even with 4 players we've come to a resolution in 3 hours or so. 
I'm very impressed with Hawks latest effort, and can't wait to get my Kickstarter and Battleships now...

For more info check out Hawk Wargames, and as ever you can see more of my work at Volley Fire Painting Service