Do you want to get into Dropzone Commander without breaking the bank. Who wouldn’t? There are a lot of great games out there, and only so much money to go around. Fortunately, getting into the game isn’t that expensive, thanks to the many different starter sets and great deals.
In this article, we’re going to break down the best ways to get into Dropzone Commander on the cheap, and how to build a force for each faction that’s fun, thematic and a strong foundation for the future, all on a roughly-$150 budget.
Starting with the Starter(s)
If you have another person who also wants to start at the same time, the 2 Player Starter Set really is the best way to get in. The set contains starter forces for both UCM and Scourge; the full DZC 1.1 rule book; a 3 ft. x 3 ft. poster game mat; cardboard counters and templates; dice; a tape measure; and ten cardboard buildings. If your budget allows, I’d even recommend you get two 2-person starters and divide the contents. Each of you will have balanced/ sizable forces, counters and templates, and a full rule book. Collectively you’ll have the poster game mats and terrain for full sized DZC games.
The list price of a 2 Player Starter Set is $95, but a lot of places offer it for around $75. With 2 sets in the mix, you and your friend are likely only spend about $75 for all of the above, which is an amazing savings; you’re both essentially getting a quarter of your miniatures, the rulebooks, mats, terrain, and game counters for free. This is how Commenter and I dove in ourselves.
Faction Starter Boxes
But if it’s just you, or your friend has simply fallen in love with some other faction, then there are other ways. The 4 individual plastic Faction Starter Armies list at $55 (about $45 in many places) and contain the very solid core force you’ll find useful for your army. Hawk did well to provide basic Anti-Tank (AT), Anti-Air (AA), transport and infantry power in these starter boxes. Each starter force (either from the 2 player set, or an individual faction starter set) contains about 500-600 points for your army.
Here’s a quick breakdown of each individual faction starter set:
- Condor x 3: It’s the standard UCM do-it-all taxi dropship. Each can carry three regular tanks, two heavy tanks, a Kodiak, a Ferrum, or two APC’s.
- Sabre x 3: UCM’s standard AT tank. Though a little slow, it offers the highest armor in the game, a strength 10, 24” range railgun with amazing accuracy and the unique Articulated rule which allows you to easily fire from behind low terrain. What it lacks in mobility, it makes up for in power and range.
- Rapier x 3: This is UCM’s “go-to” AA tank. Rapiers have the same heavy armor and Articulated weapon type as the Sabre, three strong AA shots, good range and an articulating 360-degree firing arc. Good for swatting enemy aircraft and skimmers.
- Bear Armored Personnel Carrier x 3: These provide ground transport and an extra layer of protection when your infantry needs to move around.
- Legionnaires Infantry x 6: This basic infantry is versatile if a bit average in Close Quarters Battles (CQB), but with all the different objective based scenarios in DZC, you’ll need the manpower.
- Marauder Medium Dropships x 3: The Scourge’s workhorse dropship. These flying organic shelving systems will carry any Scourge skimmers (including the heavy tanks if you buy them later) and have an annoyingly-strong shooting attack.
- Hunters x 3: Lethal AT skimmer tanks which are super fast on the ground and have tremendous weapon power, but break if you lay hands on them. As skimmers, it’s much more difficult for your enemies to hit them.
- Reapers x 3: AA skimmer tanks – Short ranged, incredibly strong AA at 2 shots per Reaper and 2+ accuracy(!), 360° arc. Like Hunters, they are very fast but fragile. Fortunately, they are also Hell on enemy aircraft and skimmers.
- Invader APCs x 2: This nimble skimmer has no weapons but can be very fast, adding an extra layer of confidence for your infantry and their insidious parasites.
- Scourge Warriors x 6: The basic Scourge infantry are about equivalent to the UCM Legionnaires. Fortunately, their plasma rifles en masse can also threaten heavy armor.
- Neptune Medium Dropships x 3: The standard cyborg dropship is vital to PHR, given that your ground forces are generally slower than any other faction’s ground units. Carries 2 regular or heavy walkers, 2 Jetskimmers, or 2 tanks.
- Ares Walkers x 2: AT mechs with 2 DP and a very powerful and cruelly accurate railgun that always hits on a 3+. Skimmers, hovercraft, and other dodgy opponents hate them.
- Phobos Walkers x 2: Arguably the best AA unit—and perhaps the best standard unit—in the game rocks tough armor, 2 DP, ridiculous range and power, and 3 shots. As a bonus, you can mix different walkers in the same squad – so you can pair up an Ares and Phobos for extra annoyance.
- Immortals infantry x 4: Pretty tough compared to other standard infantry; like Captain America tough. Whether shooting or fighting in CQB, they can do it all.
- Juno tanks x 2: Basically, better-looking UCM APC’s, but with a light AT weapon capable of taking down lighter ground threats and damaging buildings at range.
NOTE FROM COMMENTER: The 4 PHR walkers included in the starter set have weapon options for Ares, Phobos, and/or Menchits (Menchit=short range fiery anti-infantry walker). For maximum punch, most players will choose 2 Ares and 2 Phobos. But dedicated hobbyists can magnetize the weapon arms to open up super versatility as needed.
Shaltari: The most mobile force in the game – period
The Shaltari Starter introduces a completely different system for transport – gates – as well as universal passive saves (force fields), making them deceptively mobile and tough.
- Eden Medium Gates x 3: Ubiquitous, fast, and arguably more versatile than dropships, these gates have delicate armor. Fortunately, they come with a force field and a little close range AA for enemy aircraft that flutter too close…
- Tomahawk Grav Tank x 3: Lightly-armored AT skimmers with good movement and great range for its powerful gauss gun. The combination of skimmer speed and a 5+ force field let them persecute the enemy from afar.
- Kukri AA Grav Tank x 3: Lightly-armored AA skimmers with average power, fast movement, decent range and a hailstorm of 360° aerial shots.
- Haven Terragates x 3: Arguably the best “APC” in the game. Fast, low profile teleportation gates (which are very tough for a Shaltari unit) allow mind-blowing redeployment of infantry.
- Braves infantry x 6: These wanna-be Iron Men are the toughest, best armed and armored basic infantry in the game.
NOTE FROM COMMENTER: Technically, you only get enough base pieces to make 4 stands, but with a little plasticard you’ve got the bits to make 2 more bases from the starter set. And I recommend you do just that.
Resistance: Two-For-One Force with Old Technology and New Tricks
Note: This Starter set is resin instead of plastic (for now), so it’s $90 MSRP (about $80 widely). On the plus side, the sheer model variety and model detail in this faction starter box is the *best* of the bunch.
- Lifthawk Dropships x 2: The toughest of any starter box dropship is also the most flexible, sporting missiles and machineguns for ground attack and an AA gun upgrade for aircraft. It carries both Resistance Tanks and APCs.
- Kraken Light Hovercraft x 1: These open-topped “half-skimmers” are essential transport for Resistance technicals, battle buses, and wagon units, granting these passengers Active Countermeasures while mounted and letting their contents disgorge and shoot in the same turn.
- Jackson APCs x 3: A lightly-armored ground transport with shots capable of damaging buildings, or can be upgraded with spider mines to help infantry in close quarters combat.
- Gun Wagons x 3: Basically semi-trucks with AA guns slapped on back, they are one of the cheapest and (in the Commenter’s opinion) best standard choices in the game. 2 DP each, but watch out for low armor and especially no Active Countermeasures to prevent other factions’ armor from sniping them off the board.
- Hannibal Heavy Tanks x 2: The only Heavy choice in the starter sets, Hannibals are incredibly tough (2 DP and high armor), and have 2 average AT shots and a machine gun. However, they are quite slow.
- Resistance Fighters x 6: Currently, the cheapest infantry in the game are under-gunned but resolute. Their low cost and small squads let you easily fan out to search for objectives – a crucial feature for DZC.
What to Buy Next?
When thinking about your next expansion, in all cases except Shaltari (more on them later) you really can’t go wrong with a second faction starter set. The faction starters (unlike those of other games) provide elements that are genuinely useful as you continue to build up your force. As an added bonus, the starter box contents represent a significant savings over buying the units individually, even if you don’t use all the contents. With just two starter boxes, you’ll have in the neighborhood of 1200 points, which brings you up to “Clash” level games (which most folks play), and very close to the 1500 point games that are the current DZC standard.
The other thing you’ll want for Clash-sized games is a commander for your army and the deck of Command cards for the faction. At the Clash and Battle sized games, command battlegroups are a requirement, and adding a command unit to two faction starter sets should round you out to an even 1500 points. As an added bonus, command units are generally mighty and can lend powerful support to your other units, and the cards let you pull off all sorts of nasty strategic tricks.
Once you’ve got these elements in place, you’ll probably want to purchase units that offer faster, more daring ways to move your infantry around. Light dropships or gates are what we’re talking about (unless you’re Resistance…then they’re motorcycles!). If you’re playing UCM, PHR or Scourge, I recommend you get 2 blisters of two light dropships, as most faction starters come with enough infantry to fill 2 or 3 light dropships out of the gate and you’ll want something that can get you searching for objectives as early as possible in the game. When you take to the unfriendly skies, you’ll be glad you have them.
Here are our humble recommendations for your first $100 of after-starter purchases.
- Second UCM starter box ($55): The units in the starter are so versatile, that doubling them is the easy and sound choice. The additional Rapiers (the “go-to” AA of the faction) and Condors (your tank taxis) are an absolute must. The additional Sabres (after you get around to buying an Albatross heavy dropship) will provide you with the classic UCM brick (6 Sabres and 3 Rapiers) which can really hold its own against most foes. The additional infantry is most welcome as well. Few of these duplicate units will be wasted going forward.
- Commander – Kodiak x 1 ($17): That’s right – it’s a Winnebago with a pop-up trailer. It’s durable but slow, definitely keyed to sit back and call down orbital bombardment wherever you need something dead. Thanks to the recent errata, the Kodiak now has a small template for its Orbital Strike, giving it even greater lethality.
- UCM Command Deck ($8): Supports the team, makes the enemy scream. Strong support for your aircraft and CQB battles.
- Raven Type-A x 2 ($16): The UCM light dropships get your infantry around the table much faster than Condors. Seriously consider two blisters if you are able, or instead grab…
- Archangel Interceptors x 2 ($17): These inexpensive Fast Movers let you take advantage of the UCM’s aircraft-slanted command deck, and provide valuable backfield striking power against enemy artillery and dropships that your slower tanks lack.
If you want something different, go for the most notorious / reviled UCM unit of all…the Ferrum Class Drone Base.
- Lt. General Luciana M. Cato x 1 ($41): The Ferrum can do it all: your drones have great mobility; anti-tank power (thanks to Focus Fire); anti-aircraft capability; can act as scouts (to spread your Kodiak’s command range and spot for its orbital strike); and can respawn dead drones each turn, which has a profound psychological impact on your opponent. The base itself even has some light AA and is tough enough to survive multiple attack runs by enemy planes. We recommend the Cato character version of a Ferrum because it has a bit more bling, some fancy Command Cards, and the option to be taken as a Command unit for just a few bucks more than the regular Ferrum.
- Second PHR Starter Box ($55): the PHR benefits from a second starter box more than any other faction. 4 bases of infantry is too few for larger-than-starter-box games, and the Neptune dropships and Type-1 walkers are the real workhorses of the entire army. A second box exponentially increases your fighting power and gives you units you’re guaranteed to use (well, except your Juno APCs).
- Commander – Zeus x 2 ($19): This heavy walker may be slow, but it has powerful gun, high armor and the best passive shield in the game. If your Zeus is going to be riding a Neptune (yes, it should be), you’ll probably want another heavy walker to accompany it – our recommendation is an Odin, so leave the shield arm off the second Zeus to proxy an Odin for the first few games while you save up for more blisters.
- PHR Command Deck ($8): PHR probably has the strongest deck of cards, with lots of ability to repair your own units, and actively hack the enemy’s. (Ab)use them as much as you can.
- Triton A1 x 2 ($19), 2 blisters: These light dropships are the toughest in the game, and provide crucial speed improvements to the infamously slow PHR. As an added bonus, you can outfit your Tritons like light gunships with miniguns and missile pods. They also just got a point cost reduction in the most recent errata. It’s nice to be able to choose between Tritons or the Neptune/Juno combo for your infantry depending on the game scenario.
If you really don’t want a second starter box, or you have the budget to go above and beyond your $100, we suggest getting…
- Honorable Mention: Marcos Barros ($41): Admit it: you got into PHR because you like huge intimidating behemoths with weapon load-outs that will make the enemy crap themselves…like a giant robotic scorpion. The PHR has three: the Hades, the custom ride of Famous Commander Marcos Barros, and the new generic Nemesis Command Walker. Eventually, you’ll probably want to get ‘em all, but if you’re on a budget, consider buying the Barros version first. Sure, it’s $3 more expensive, but its armaments are basically identical to the Nemesis (and damn close to the Hades) and comes with additional command cards when you want to use it as Barros as well. You should be able to run it in friendly games as any one of the three versions, at least until you can save your pennies to get more.
Commenter and I are of two minds on how to build a budget Scourge force. I think a second boxset is the way to go with Scourge. Dollar-for-dollar and model-for-model, you get more bang for your buck from a second boxset. The additional Hunters and Reapers provide you with a very economical, solid, and aggressive backbone for your force. Having a second unit of Reapers, in particular, provides some measure of AA security; without them, I’d be concerned that the enemy would run over my forces, especially with their air units. The additional Marauder dropships provide good mobility and can be used with other Scourge skimmers you buy later, and the extra infantry are a must for Objectives/Intel/scoring because you’ll be playing in games from 1000 to 1500 pts.
After the second boxset I’d recommend grabbing the floating, pulsing, super destructive Desolator commander, the Command Deck, and a blister (or 2) of Intruder Alphas to move your infantry more quickly. Commenter, however, feels differently – and since it’s currently his primary faction, I suppose I’ll take off his gag for a minute.
DropzoneCommenter: My experience playing the Scourge is that you shouldn’t think about them like other forces; the army succeeds by playing the objectives, hunting straggling enemy units, and being opportunistic at all times. Casualty is right that more tanks and Reapers are a big help – something you’ll want to get later – but light dropships and aircraft are more essential to Scourge victory, since they allow you to quickly redeploy your forces to grab objectives or counterattack wherever the opportunity presents itself. The Scourge are massively boosted by their command deck as well, making Scouts a more worthwhile early investment for their army than any other.
My $100 of to-buy stuff after you’ve got a starter box is:
- Commander – Desolator ($27): Aside from being your basic commander and one of the coolest models in the game, the King Squid lets you fly around going all Independence Day on formations of enemy armor and buildings whenever you want.
- Scourge Command Deck ($8): The Scourge Command Deck brings crucial survivability and tricks to their army…traits that make the Scourge more dependent upon Command Cards than most other armies.
- Intruder Alpha x 2 ($16): Scourge’s light dropships have a 30” move, allowing you to zip around the battlefield grabbing objectives. They’re also useful for carrying units of Destroyers (see below).
- Intruder Beta x 2 ($16): The Beta variant carry the Scourge scout units, allowing you to spread your command radius around the table.
- Destroyers x 4 bases ($14): Arguably the toughest infantry in the game, Destroyers are a huge boost to the Scourge army with strong CQB skill, incredible toughness, and reliable anti-tank shooting. They’re tough enough they can search for objectives in buildings further forward or more exposed to enemy fire than Scourge Warriors.
- Prowlers x 8 ($14) or Minders x 8 ($19): The Scourge has the best scout units in the game in the ground-based Prowlers and the flying Minders. Because the Scourge benefits so much from Command Cards, scout units are essential to spreading your Sphere of Influence, and it doesn’t hurt that both units are incredibly cheap and strong for their cost (Prowlers have a massive E11 close combat attack, while Minders have a 2+ accuracy E6 AA shot).
- Honorable Mention: Reaver Heavy Gunships x 2 ($19): If you have a few extra bucks, these versatile gunships are a huge boon to the Scourge army. With 24” aircraft movement and 2 E10 + 1 E9 shots that can be spread amongst different targets, these things are a great way to counter light armor or ambush enemy ground units without AA cover.
It bears mentioning that a second starter box set for Shaltari is not a terrible choice because the 6 included tanks are fast, accurate, and powerful units in their own right, and the extra infantry don’t hurt either. However, the sheer variety and power (translate: fun) of some of the other units in their arsenal is very compelling. And for this reason, consider these instead of the second boxset:
- Commander – Coyote Warstrider ($18): The boss man for the space porcupines sports 2 big guns with great range and accuracy. He’s well-armored, very tough, and has a powerful energy shield. If all else fails… EJECT!
- Shaltari Command Deck ($8): Yeah, let’s make the Ewoks even more powerful! The recent errata also boosted some Shaltari cards, giving them a bit more utility out of an already-decent deck.
- Spirit Gates x 2 ($16): Small, but they can put infantry anywhere…right now. They may be armored like paper airplanes, but they move like the wind.
- Firedrake ($22.50): This ridiculously awesome gunship has a reputation that’s well-deserved. Abusive and effective, this guy can pump out a powerful blast template up to 48” away, up to 12 anti-infantry shots ignoring cover, and also be used as a medium gate when needed. The fact that it looks amazing doesn’t hurt, either.
- Jaguar Warstrider ($18): This Swiss army knife of the Shaltari sports the same firepower as 2 Tomahawks and a Kukri grav tank on a remarkably tough walker. As a Heavy choice, you can also pair him up with your commander’s battlegroup or let him run around on his own. Once you get the money together, you’ll probably want at least one more of these bad boys: with two Jaguars and the 3 Kukri from your starter set, your force will employ 2 solid AA units to keep your DZ clear of any aerial pests.
That rounds out about $100 beyond the Shaltari starter set, and I’ll need to go wash my hands after recommending these UBER-power pieces for this faction.
The Resistance is a tough faction to stick to the budget on, since their starter is still in resin. Though it lists for $90 – $80 in lot of places – a second starter set gives you a good deal of useful units (especially those Lifthawk Dropships and Kraken hovercraft). Buying a second starter set also happens to save you about $50 over buying the units individually, so it’s definitely worth considering.
- Commander – M3 Alexander ($21): Though many Resistance players are crowing about the new Thunderstorm command hovercraft, the Alexander is both much cheaper and a better fit with the starter box’s contents. The tank is mighty slow, but it’s a beast with a (literally) devastating main gun that can snipe the width of the table, powerful light anti armor cannons, and a point defense system should it get swarmed. It pairs well with the Hannibals that come with the starter box.
- Resistance Command Deck ($13.50): The Resistance Command Deck is both strong and can be used for either Allied or Feral forces, giving you 2 different ways to play the same faction.
- Freeriders x 4 stands ($17): Infantry is one of the Resistance’s greatest strengths; the army has nearly twice as many infantry options as any other force in the game. Freeriders are probably the best of their number—motorcycle-riding maniacs (who move faster than many aircraft in the game) can also perform drive-by sticky bomb attacks on enemy armor, and are exceptionally hard to hit thanks to their dispersed formation and Evasion +3 countermeasures.
- Breaching Drill ($22): One of the Resistance’s dirtiest tricks relies on the Breaching Drill—a unit that appears anywhere on the table and allows you to deploy and extract infantry through it. Placed correctly, the drill is an amazing tactical tool, allowing your small squads of Resistance Fighters to drop off objectives without having to leg it all the way back across the table or letting you execute sneak attacks with your Freeriders deep behind enemy lines.
- Cyclone Helicopters x 2 ($28): Arguably the Resistance’s coolest looking model is also an amazing gunship; carries a barrage missile pod (indirect fire blast weapon), heavy machine guns, and 2 separate AT missile launchers, making it deadly to anything on the ground. If you don’t want the Breaching Drill, I’d recommend a second blister – they’re that good.
And there you have it. This briefing sums up what these two tactical war consultants (backseat blog bozos) advise in the way of proceeding with your initial army acquisitions on your way to prosecuting your battles to most effectively accomplish the mission and “neutralize” any resistance along the way. With a solid core of units providing the right balance of combined arms (AA, AT, Air and Transport), your detachment should be able to stand strong and hopefully avoid a crater-side curb stomp so early in such a promising command career.
Despite our lengthy pontifications about purchasing strategy, remember that you are about to jump into a dynamic and fun game. Get what interests you and enjoy the experience. That’s what we did.
Good Luck, Commander…
Choosing a DZC Force Series
- Part 1: The United Colonies of Mankind (UCM)
- Part 2: The Scourge
- Part 3: The Post-Human Republic (PHR)
- Part 4: The Shaltari
- Part 5: The Resistance