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Dropzone Commander – Rulebook Review


DropZone Commander Cover Art

Last night I sat down to start working out the basic force for my Dropzone Commander UCM army. I’ve read the rules cover to cover now and am therefore trying to make a list so that I know what to assemble and paint first, there’s no use me frantically putting everything together and then trying to get a game in and finding that the stuff I’ve yet to get to is exactly what I need. After some brief Maths I found that the UCM Mega army comes in at 2320 points. That’s without organising things into battlegroups and without taking any upgrades or paying for a commander. The Kodiak is included but you’d need to spend at least another 35 points to get a basic commander in there.

However, that’s not really what I want to be sharing today. After having spent a good amount of time with the rules I thought I’d share my thoughts on them as well as on the actual book itself. When the 6 Inch Move posse first clapped eyes on DzC way back at Salute we were blown away by the quality of the models and I believe that we weren’t the only ones. Reading various fora on the Internet has certainly shown that we were not alone. One thing that did concern us was that on the day Hawk were remarkably quiet on the pricing and any details on the rules. Obviously this trend continued as we counted down the days (and in some cases hours and minutes) until the various milestones were met.

While the models were screaming at us to buy them, they really are very nice after all, we were very worried about the rules. As with any game the rules are the meat and potatoes, without a set of rules these fantastic models would just be ornaments sitting on a shelf. After we saw the website go live and were then privy to the costs we were even more worried as we then saw that this game was going to require a significant outlay and we didn’t want to spend all that money only to have the rules suck and then we’d feel rather short-changed.

As you know luck was with us as we got invited down to Hawk HQ for a game with the man himself. A great day was had and although it was rather a long one (the Burger King on the way home helped) it left us in a much more favourable position concerning the game overall. After that initial taste Carabus and I both threw down our cash for a Mega Premium army each and all we’d done was play one game. Getting our greedy little mitts on the rulebook itself was something we were then eager for as the release date approached.

Now that I have the thing physically in hand I must say that my first impressions are very, very positive. I’d seen the draft during our visit and I’ll admit that I had concerns about the quality of the book, £15 isn’t a lot after all as I’m used to seeing books in the £20-30 range. However, once I opened it up and had a flick through it I can happily say that I ate my words as I’ve not seen many books that are of this quality. The heady waft of “new book smell” aside the paper is nice and thick, the printing very good and the layout is among the best that I have seen. Everything appears pretty much where you’d expect it to be as you go through. The wording is clear and concise, things are explained well with diagrams where necessary. I can’t see there being a lot of room for dispute with things in DzC, from a first read through things look very tightly written. Obviously final judgements will have to be reserved until we’ve got some games under our collective belts but I’ve read rules in the past where I’ve picked up on things very quickly that could be ambiguous or interpreted in various ways. GW are rather infamous for leaving things open to interpretation.

The book starts with a brief introduction into the history of the galaxy, all from the UCM’s point of view, something I like very much, not least because they are my faction but because it makes sense to see things like that. You learn about mankind’s contact with the various alien races as well as where those dirty PHR folks came from, traitorous scum that they are! Then follows the rules, laid out in a nice format that explains every section in the right amount of detail. There wasn’t much that seemed difficult to understand and nothing that was really tricky if you spent a few minutes looking things over and giving it some thought. Once you’ve gone through all the rules each faction has its own section of the book which explains their individual background and technology before giving you the complete army list to select your force from. Each army section also includes the battlegroup force organisation chart for that particular army. While these look a little complicated to start with they’re actually quite simple once you figure it out and all the information is there for you to do it. Building an army list is quite an involved process as you make sure you adhere to the various rules (no battle group may exceed more than a third of the total army value for instance). You need to make sure your stuff has the right transports for use in the game as well as working out where in an activation you want certain units if you have a choice of which battlegroup those units can go in. I must say that I like having to think about things like this.

DropZone Commander

What I have missed out is that between the rules and the army lists there is a selection of scenarios. These are also very well laid out, it gives you recommended terrain levels depending not only on the size of your game but also based on how many players there are. Dave has obviously put a lot of time and thought into what people are likely to want to do with the game and tried to cater to those possibilities.

For those of you still on the fence about the game let me give you a few details on the rules now things are out and about. Believe me when I say you could do far worse than spend £15 on the book and then let that guide your decision of whether or not you want to play.

A typical scenario runs for 6 turns in an alternating activation turn sequence. Activations are performed by battlegroups which is a collection of squads and their transports. There is plenty of customisability in just what you take in each battlegroup. For instance in a clash (the mid-sized game) you are required to take one command battlegroup, one infantry battlegroup and one armour battlegroup. Within each of those groups you have a choice again of what to take to fill that group, the options available fit with what type of battlegroup it is. For example you won’t be putting in your heavy tanks into an infantry group. There are also a maximum number of battlegroups dependant on army size.

When a battlegroup activates all the models in it activate, they can move and shoot or shoot and move, but all units have to perform those actions at the same time. This gives the order in which you activate your battlegroups an extra layer of importance, you’ll have to be thinking ahead as well, just because you’ve activated one battlegroup to set in motion your grand plan doesn’t mean your opponent won’t screw it up if he activates the “wrong” battlegroup in the following activation before you get to activate the group you want in order for your plan to work.

The fastest moving models are generally the drop ships, anything ground based is normally significantly slower although I will mention that the Scourge APCs little turbo boost rule came out of discussions between myself, Carabus and the Shell Case chaps when we were playing our demo game. Movement must be considered as you can only move up to half of your allowance if you want to embark or disembark transported units. You’ll also not necessarily want to be exposing your stuff on a drop-off. Movement is vital to how this game plays and will need to be carefully considered. Most units have weapons with which to shoot. Close combat only happens in buildings when troops fight each other, normally over an objective. Other than that everything is a shooting attack, after all, why bring a knife to a gun fight? Every unit with a ranged weapon has a chart which provides details of that weapon. They each have a number of shots they fire and an accuracy value. The accuracy of a weapon shows the results on a single D6 that is needed for a hit. There are also two ranges to the weapon, a full range and a countered range. The countered range is used against a target that has Active countermeasures (pretty much everything in the game), against anything else you use the other value. There is also an MF value which is the maximum value that the model can move in order to shoot that weapon. If a hit is rolled you use a table to work out the roll “to wound” this pits the weapon’s Energy value (a number between 1 and 13) against the Armour of the target (a number between 1 and 10). For instance if an Energy 8 gun hits an Armour 8 target then you need a 5+ in order to damage it. If a model has Passive countermeasure then they can take a saving throw to stop the hit. Otherwise it’s a single damage point with each unit having a number of DP. Once the DP is gone that unit is destroyed. It’s a simple enough system to learn but with plenty of variety that I don’t really have the space to go in to. There are also a number of special rules for other weapons that make things really interesting in how they are used. Generally each weapon falls into either anti-armour, anti-air or anti-infantry and they don’t tend to be all that good when used outside of their main purpose.

DropZone Commander

Battles are not really geared for a straight up shoot out either, you’ll be playing over objectives in every single one of the rulebook scenarios and I’m really happy with that. All too often some games systems come down to a giant melee in the middle where the vagaries of dice rolls have more to do with the result of the game than a player’s strategy and tactics. Personally if I want to win or lose on a dice roll I can play Snakes and Ladders.

Without wanting to sound like a gushing fanboi this is one of the nicest books I’ve had in my hands for a long time. I quite like reading rulebooks for stuff and have far more than I am ever going to use for gaming. We are all aware of just how much hard work and effort Dave has put into his products and this is another piece of evidence of just how important quality is to him. I’m very happy with it. Now, to properly review it I must put any negatives there are. Luckily, these are slim and easily correctable. We’ve seen the Errata grow in the past week to correct some of the errors in the book, overall all that I have found has been some typos and a few grammar errors (over my past two jobs I’ve edited stuff in a very unofficial capacity within the departments I’ve been in, I’m known as being a stickler for properly punctuated and grammatically correct sentences). These stand out to me because I’m rather hard on myself when these things crop up – so Dave, if you need another proof reader I’m happy to offer my services 🙂

I look forward to now sitting down with hobby knife and superglue and getting my stuff on the table so I can really start to enjoy what we’ve got here. Personally, I think there are going to be a lot of happy hobbyists out there as I think the excitement of this game is just beginning.