Dropzone Commander; My First Game


Yesterday saw the get-together of us gamers here at the floating citadel and my first real game of the much talked about Dropzone Commander.  I had heard some good reports of DZC from my fellows; notably Zombiepirate and Cerebus and after playing a demo game at Salute last month I decided to dish out the cash and go with the Shaltari.  I’ve spent the past few weeks devouring the rules, assembling models and I have now started to paint a few.  Above are the ones I’ve finished.  Yesterday’s game was a bit of an eye-opener, as none of us have seen the Shaltari in action, so I’d like to share my thoughts on the game as a whole and the Shaltari in particular.

First off is my army list.  We had decided to play a 1500pts game (about average size).  For those who are unaware, DZC has a slightly different army selection to other games.  The army is divided into battlegroups (at 1500pts a maximum of 6), and each battlegroup is divided into units (at 1500pts between 1-3).  These battlegroups activate at the same time, though they don’t have to work together.  The battlegroups have different names and compositions depending on the army but are essentially; HQ, Armour, Infantry, Special (choice of heavy support or fast scout) and Air support (Fleet).  For my army I decided to max out on Battlegroups to give me some flexibility.  I also ended up with at least one unit of everything (part be chance, part because I wanted to see what they could all do).  I have not included the two new units.  So here is the list:

  • HQ Battlegroup; 1 Coyote Warstrider with a Shaltari Warchief upgrade
  • Armour Battlegroup; 1 unit of 5 Tomahawk tanks, 1 unit of 3 Kukri AA tanks
  • Infantry Battlegroup; 2 units of 2 bases of Braves, 1 unit of 2 Thunderbird Gunships
  • Special Battlegroup 1; 1 Jaguar Warstrider, 1 Ocelot Warstrider
  • Special Battlegroup 2; 1 unit of 2 bases of Firstborns, 1 unit of Yari light tanks with AA guns
  • Fleet Battlegroup; 1 Warspear Heavy Fighter
  • Gates; 1 Gaia Heavy Gate, 2 Eden Medium Gates, 2 Spirit Light Gates, 1 Haven Terragate

In one of those rarities in gaming the army actually comes to bang on 1500pts.  The Shaltari are different from the other armies in that their transports (the teleportation gates) are not attached to specific units, but instead form a pool from which you activate the chosen gate with any battlegroup you like as the game progresses.  Each one can only be activated once though.

So how did the battle go?  My opponent was Zombiepirate with his UCM army, and then came my first surprise.  In an event that almost led to a collapse in the space-time continuum and the end of the universe as we know it…Zombiepirate had more stuff painted than me!  To be fair to my long time friend and gaming opponent, he has been putting in some work on his DZC models.  We had decided on the basic scenario of a cityscape with 5 objectives to capture and take off the table (you get one victory point if you control an objective and 2 if you get it off the table).

The game began with me being lucky, getting both the initiative and having my reserve fighter turning up to perform strafing runs (more about this brave pilot later).  All of the units are kept in readiness off the table and arrive via transports when the battlegroup becomes available.  As units cannot shoot on a turn they disembark (or dematerialize in my case) the only shots came from my fighter who swooped in and took out a light transport carrying the Wolverine scouts.  Sadly both buggies survived the crash.  Zombiepirate advanced on the two objectives nearest to him on my right flank and also to the one in the centre.  I also went for the centre and an objective on my left.  This is I think, one of the biggest differences with DZC over other gaming systems; it is designed around objective grabs, not destruction of the enemy.  DZC is more like modern warfare’s surgical strikes and rapid insertion and extraction as opposed to a more World War I style annihilation found in other games such as 40K.  This I found to be a big difference in gaming style.  As a long time Tyranid player, I am use to just throwing my troops at stuff.  With this game I really had to think and there were moments where I took a few minutes to decide which battlegroup to activate, nevermind where & what they were going to do.

As the game progressed, there were units blowing up a plenty.  The first big casualty was my Coyote Command Warstrider, which got taken out by the UCM tanks and some excellent shooting on the part of Zombiepirate.  My shield rolls failed me, but luckily the escape module worked and my commander survived the game (unlike the UCM commander), allowing me to still use the command cards.  Casualties on my side were fairly light.  It may only be a 5+ save those shields give me, but I made some fantastic rolls.  My fighter pilot gained a promotion when he flew threw the entire UCM AA fire to strike the heavy dropship and come out the other end without so much as the paint being scratched.  The centre witnessed the biggest rumble of the game with opposing infantry fighting room-to-room for the objective and my Firstborns showing why they are elite infantry and cutting apart the UCM infantry.  The game eventually ended up with Zombiepirate scoring 4 VP to my 3.  So victory to the UCM.  This I put down mostly to lack of experience on my part.  As Cerebus can attest, I left an infantry unit out of most of the game instead of sending it to the final objective earlier in the game…I just thought too much about destroying my enemy instead of objectives… oh well learning curve.

Shaltari army thoughts and the things I learnt.  They make a very different army.  Not having dedicated transports means you can do what I did a few times and relocate units across the battlefield in seconds, so long as the gates are there.  Such shannigans can be really good when timed well.  The disadvantage to this, any unit that dematerializes cannot shoot that turn.  The fact that Shaltari gates continue to carry objectives when a unit passes through it, means that the gate can get the objective off the field whilst your unit searches for another.  The 30″ movement of the light gate is scarily fast in a game where most ground units move 4″ or less.  The tanks have some awesome firepower (though I do hate the armour 10 on the UCM…it makes them so hard to destroy).  I would recommend always moving 6″ to give the enemy the to hit penalty and help make the most of your armour 7 and 5+ save tanks.  AA vehicles are  a MUST in this game.  Having my fighter flying up and down the UCM lines, picking out targets was a great advantage…though after my game I’d recommend attack small-medium transports as they will carry the infantry & objectives off the table…and not the big transports which deliver the tanks (once they’ve dropped the armour they really don’t do much else).  Without a save aircraft go down easily to AA fire and having good flak cover means your enemy really has to think about where to put their air support and “do I risk it?” moments are common.  The warstriders…mixed feelings about these.  My commander was unlucky getting one-shotted in the second turn.  The Jaguar performed well, taking out tanks and coming with its own AA guns extends your flak shield.  The Ocelot however I’m not sure about.  It is one of my favorite looking Shaltari models, but I found that its one-shot particle cannon not much use.  The problem is that it cannot move & fire, which restricts it somewhat and although the gun is epic in its power, it’s still only 1 shot.  The best use I can see for it is when your enemy brings their own heavy armour which will have multiple hit points, then the high chance of doing double damage will really pay off.  The Thunderbird Gunships are my other favorite Shaltari model, but they need to be kept out of AA range as they are vulnerable to it.  I’d still keep them in the army as if there is no AA guns, these units can roam free around the table.  After playing the game, I have realised what my fellow gamers have; Infantry is key.  You really need to get as much Infantry as possible…somewhat a weakness of the Shaltari as their Infantry only come in units of 2 bases (opposed to 3 for most armies) and they only have 3 hit points (unlike the 5 of most armies).  This being said they are very dangerous in combat.  With an Armour of 4 they can only be wounded on 6s in close combat, so get them into a building and they will be almost impossible to take out.  The Firstborns are even tougher having 12 attacks per base and a 4+ save in combat.  It was they who won me the combat in the centre and killed 3 bases on UCM infantry in a single combat with only 1 hit in return.  Another unit that will be a must I think.

Conclusions of the Shaltari;  Use your speed as much as you can: your skimmers are harder to hit if they move 6″ or more, the ability to move your infantry from objective holding in a building, to gate, to inside another building to find another objective is fantastic.  The gates holding the objectives frees up your limited supply of infantry to look for another.  This is perhaps their biggest tactical advantage.  The 5+ save is good, but don’t rely on it all the time.  My fighter pilot go lucky, my commander less so.  As for the game itself, different and fantastic.  It is very different to anything else I have played and really makes you think about your army choices and how you are playing.  You can’t go into autopilot gaming mode, you need to think.  Great game, look forward to more.